Ideas – Sensible to Sensational, Sociological to Technological

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.

Gertrude Stein said this in her Reflections on the Atom Bomb (1946) – imagine what she would have said about the interweb!

In what I expect will become a new regular feature, here’s a round-up of ideas culled from that mind-boggling expanse of information – ideas from a variety of recent articles, reports and blog posts – ranging from simple bits of social engineering to cutting edge electrical engineering…

Making Computer Repairs Tax-Free

Removing tax from computer repairs could have a real impact on the IT industry’s carbon footprint, according to a petition of the UK government. Old computer equipment often ends up in landfill, or in toxic illegal re-cycling centers in developing countries, because users think it is not cost-effective to repair it. Making repairs tax free could be a simple bit of financial engineering to encourage skilled jobs and keep electronics out of the waste stream, says the author of the campaign. (more)

It’s easy to see that this would be equally true for a whole range of electronic goods – televisions, stereos, etc. There might be other legal and tax-code measures that might also boost a repair rather than replace approach with such items. One obvious one is high fees for the disposal of e-waste.

More Bare Breasts in Public

The lives of nearly 900 babies would be saved each year, along with billions of dollars, if 90 percent of U.S. women breast-fed their babies for the first six months of life.
via More Breast Feeding Could Save 900 Babies a Year – CBS News.

This is a startling statistic. Given how widely known the benefits of breast-feeding are, I can only speculate on the reasons why more infants are not already breast-fed – presumably, the need for women to work, prudishness (among the public), and lack of support and facilities for breast-feeding are among them.

Starting High School Later

Monkseaton High School in North Tyneside, UK, began an experiment in October that saw its 800 pupils ranging in age from 13-19 attend school an hour later than normal, at 10am. Early results indicate that ‘general absence has dropped by 8% and persistent absenteeism by 27%.’ Head teacher Paul Kelley supported the idea because he believed that ‘it was now medically established that it was better for teenagers to start their school day later in terms of their mental and physical health and how they learn better in the afternoon’, and he now claims that the children are becoming ‘happier better educated teenagers’ as a result of the experiment. The experiment is being overseen by Oxford neuroscience professor Russell Foster. ‘He performed memory tests on pupils at the school which suggested the more difficult lessons should take place in the afternoon. He said young people’s body clocks may shift as they reach their teenage years — meaning they want to get up later not because they are lazy but because they are biologically programmed to do. (more)

Shifting school (and work) schedules can have a range of other beneficial impacts – for instance, by decreasing rush hour traffic, reducing energy use because people no longer wake up when it’s dark, etc.

Chips in Pills

This is pretty far out there, but researchers at the University of Florida have developed pills that will send messages back to the doctor when they have been ingested. In general, I’m opposed to surveillance, but the failure of people to complete courses of medication for diseases like tuberculosis is contributing to the rise of drug-resistant strains that threaten to become major health problems. Gonorrhea, once easily treated, is the latest disease developing resistance. (more)

Although still in prototype, each pill is the standard size, with an antenna printed on the surface with ink made of nontoxic, conductive silver nanoparticles. Contained within the pill is a microchip the size of a period which transmits a signal to a nearby receiver. The receiver then sends a message back to the doctor. Currently it is just the transmitting device but in the future it could be built into watches, cell phones or other common items. The antenna breaks down within the body and the mircochip passes through the digestive tract safely.
via Chip in Pill Tells Doctors Whether or Not You Take Your Meds | Tech Vert.

Trash Power

Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL  The New York Times April 12, 2010

HORSHOLM, Denmark — The lawyers and engineers who dwell in an elegant enclave here are at peace with the hulking neighbor just over the back fence: a vast energy plant that burns thousands of tons of household garbage and industrial waste, round the clock.

Far cleaner than conventional incinerators, this new type of plant converts local trash into heat and electricity. Dozens of filters catch pollutants, from mercury to dioxin, that would have emerged from its smokestack only a decade ago.

In that time, such plants have become both the mainstay of garbage disposal and a crucial fuel source across Denmark, from wealthy exurbs like Horsholm to Copenhagen’s downtown area. Their use has not only reduced the country’s energy costs and reliance on oil and gas, but also benefited the environment, diminishing the use of landfills and cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The plants run so cleanly that many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.(more)

and Poop Power

Toilets that generate power… The Pentagon’s got a new idea for generating renewable power at overseas military bases, and it’s an eco-friendly initiative inspired by one of nature’s most irrefutable truths: everyone poops. It’s no surprise that Darpa, the military’s risk-taking research agency, is behind this one. (more)

More Poop Ideas

A biodegradable and self-sterilizing bag for people of the toilet-disenfranchised world (40% of humankind) to dispose of their bodily waste and turn it into safe fertilizer has been created by a Swedish entrepreneur. It’s a dead simple and brilliant solution to a vexing problem. From the article: ‘Once used, the bag can be knotted and buried, and a layer of urea crystals breaks down the waste into fertilizer, killing off disease-producing pathogens found in feces. The bag, called the Peepoo, is the brainchild of Anders Wilhelmson, an architect and professor in Stockholm. “Not only is it sanitary,” said Mr. Wilhelmson, who has patented the bag, “they can reuse this to grow crops.” (more)

Solar Powered Mobile Phones – Made from Recycled Soda Bottles

KDDI, Corp of Japan has invented a phone with its own solar power. Unfortunately it takes 10 minutes of soaking up the rays to power a one-minute phone call, but it’s new and I’m sure it will be improved upon soon. The sun can power the phone’s battery up to an 80 percent charge, reducing the amount of electricity you’ll need to charge your phone. Even better, the phones are made from the plastics extracted from recycled water bottles.

via Solar Panels, from the Ocean to the Grove to Your Phone.

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