The Best of the New York Times' Year in Ideas

The New York Times' annual list of the Year in Ideas and GOOD sorted out some of the "potentially transformative" from the less world-changing (a chair that grows crystals on its surface in water anyone?) Nikhil's picks:
  • the Brickley engine, a flattened version of the ol’ internal combustion that may lead to fuel efficiency increases of 20 percent

  • capital insurance, where third parties insure banks so the government doesn’t have to

  • fast-food zoning, a one-year moratorium in opening new fast food restaurants in Los Angeles County

  • the guaranteed retirement account, a pension plan for workers without 401ks, where a small percentage of salary is put into a Social Security account and guaranteed by the government

  • locavestors, investors who, as locavores are to eating, spend their wealth on nearby, small businesses–though small business owners probably want to steer clear of hand-on investors

  • Mahlangu hand-washer, which helps stem disease spread in Africa and is easily converted from a used plastic bottle

  • one-room schoolbus, a plan to turn the several-hour commutes that some kids take to school into useful learning experiences

  • positive deviance, the practice of examining people who are avoiding crises–such as disease outbreaks–and figuring out what they are doing to [do so, and how they may provide an example to the rest of the community]

  • rising-tide tax system, an annually amended tax code that compensates for income inequalities created in the previous year

  • smart grids, which Ben Jervey has written about for us

  • spray-on condom, because one size-fits-all

  • the two-tier teacher contract, a proposal made by the Washington D.C. school chancellor’s Michelle Rhee, which I blogged about several weeks ago

  • upside-down demolition, a practice pioneered by a Japanese company to raze buildings from the bottom-up that causes less debris

Also compelling:

biomechanical energy harvesting: "a knee-brace-like gadget developed by a Canadian scientist harnesses the power of the human gait, generating enough wattage from your daily walking to power a cellphone or two-way radio and then some."


gallons per mile: researchers discovered that this (specifically, gallons per 10,000 miles) would be a more effective unit of measurement than miles per gallon, "which significantly underestimate the gains in fuel efficiency that can be achieved by trading in very low m.p.g. vehicles. That's because the real significance of differences in m.p.g. is often counterintuitive. The jump from 10 to 20 m.p.g., for example, saves more gas than the one from 20 to 40 m.p.g. The move from 10 to 11 m.p.g. can save nearly as much as the leap from 33 to 50 m.p.g." The Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency Web site already offers a conversion calculator.

minicattle: some 42 inches high and weigh about half as much as regular cattle, smaller cows "consume a third as much feed, but they still manage to produce more than half as much meat. 'The productivity per acre is at least twice as much as large animals,' says Richard Gradwohl, a retired business professor."

The Year in Ideas via Good

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