Sunday, December 27, 2009

NYT Ideas for 2009

A week or two ago, the New York Times Magazine featured its 9th Annual Year of Ideas, with short reviews of dozens of ideas that surfaced in 2009. You can look through it alphabetically, or browse by topic areas like Arts, Business, Health, or Technology. Here are the ones that made me sit up and take notice:

A ban on cul-de-sacs -- Virginia has placed severe limits on developers who want to lay out communities and build housing along cul-de-sacs. Popular with people who think the dead-end streets are both more secluded and safer for children, cul-de-sacs have a number of negatives, too: they cost towns more money to maintain than through-streets, put greater traffic pressure on the arterial roads that provide access to them, and are harder for emergency service providers to navigate. And they may not even be safer, according to one expert cited in the story: "research actually shows fewer traffic fatalities occur on connected roads."

Cows with names make more milk -- In a classic example of the yin and yang nature of cause and effect, researchers found that cows with names produce 258 liters (6 percent) more milk per year per farm than nameless cows. The study of several hundred British dairies was published in the journal Anthrozoƶs in March. No one claims the cows feel more appreciated; rather, they speculate that farmers who name their cows are more likely to treat them well, resulting in more milk.

Lithium in the water supply -- This element, which is also used to treat depression, occurs naturally in the water supply in some parts of the world, although in much lower amounts than a therapeutic dose. According to the Times, "In the British Journal of Psychiatry earlier this year, the neuropsychiatrist Takeshi Terao and other researchers showed that communities in Japan's Oita Prefecture with higher levels of naturally occurring lithium in their water supplies had fewer suicides than those with lower levels." Everyone agrees more research is needed before any government would even consider adding lithium to its water supply, but I have to say of all the items listed in the Year of Ideas, this is the one that surprised me the most.

Rainfall theory of development -- Sharon Maccini and Dean Yang of the University of Michigan published a data mash-up in the June American Economic Review, comparing local rainfall data in Indonesia with life outcomes by gender. What did they find? Girls born in during years of low rainfall were shorter and got less education than girls born in years when there was more rain. Boys' heights and educational attainments were not affected by the amount of rain. The researchers also demonstrated that "rainfall shocks that occurred when children were in utero had no long-term effect on adult men or women in Indonesia, suggesting that the nutritional bias began only when the sex of the child was revealed after birth. Less rice in this critical period can lead to worse health, followed by less schooling and, finally, fewer assets."

Resomation -- Just as cremation reaches greater social acceptance (the Star Tribune reported today that Minnesota has the highest cremation rate in the nation), a Scottish company has developed an alternative that "liquefies rather than burns body tissues. It uses about a sixth of the energy of cremation and has a much smaller carbon footprint." Already in use at the Mayo Clinic for use with donated bodies, the system doesn't vaporize dental fillings (a hazard of cremation) and results in the same amino acids and peptides that our bodies break down to over years when buried in the ground.

Subscription artists -- A website called Kickstarter allows writers, musicians or artists to post plans for their next project and solicit financial support. So, for instance, a band could promise to put out a thousand CDs if they raise $2,000. The artists can create tiered donation levels, kind of like the premiums on a public radio pledge drive. And no one's credit card gets charged until the goal is met, so there's less risk to the donors of giving without getting the promised return. As the Times wrote, "In essence, Kickstarter offers a form of market research for artists. For perhaps the first time, an artist can quickly answer a nagging question: Does anyone actually want my art badly enough to pay for it?"

Looking through Kickstarter, I found out about the Windowfarms Project, which is a "system for growing nutritious veggies in the windows of homes in a way that looks like an elegant garden/fountain." Now there's an innovative approach to urban farming I've never heard of! They've only got seven days left on their fundraising campaign (it's 90 percent funded, needing another $2,500).


Ms Sparrow said...

I totally agree on a ban on cul-de-sacs. I live on one (only the street deadends on a tall treed slope so there wasn't another option) and when fire trucks or construction vehicles have to negotiate the tight circle, it's bad news. And, when it snows, it's way worse with the reduced space.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

You've done it again...a very nice compendium of "things that make me say 'huh!.'