More new ideas of 2008

This is the second installment looking at innovations of the past year that have both the potential to make all our lives more comfortable and, at the same time, illustrate why researchers and inventors typically live such lonely, pathetic existences.

The Dog-Poop DNA Bank – The mayor of a small city near Tel Aviv wanted a more effective way to enforce regulations requiring pet owners to clean up after their dogs have done their business. So he turned to the city’s director of veterinary services to come up with a system that could use DNA fingerprinting technology to attach (so to speak) unclaimed feces to specific dog owners. An army of 13-year-old volunteers recruited by the mayor’s office fanned out across the city, going door to door to collect samples of poop with which to create a DNA bank. Surprisingly, about 90 percent of city residents who had kids showing up on their doorstep asking for some shit complied with the request. Once the problem of random canine defecation is solved, scientists will then turn to less pressing issues like genetic research on dog diseases and returning strays to their owners.

Eat Kangaroos to Fight Global Warming – An official with Australia’s wildlife services, which you’d imagine is supposed to be protecting indigenous species, proposes that raising and eating kangaroos instead of sheep and beef could cut methane emissions by as much as three percent. Unlike the ruminants we’re used to slaughtering and devouring, kangaroos have a different stomach structure with different organisms to digest their food — probably something to do with the pouch. Already considered a specialty meat that’s (not surprisingly) a bit gamy in taste, the hoppers-cum-whoppers sustained native Australians for 40,000 years before Europeans arrived with their stupid cows. Reaction in the land Down Under has not been especially positive: the official can’t find any funding to further his study, plus he’s battling newspaper headlines that read “Skippy on the Menu!”

Scrupulosity Disorder – Researchers from Brigham Young University suggest that as many as a million Americans suffer from this disorder defined as “obsessive doubt about moral behavior often resulting in compulsive religious observance.” Not to be confused with your standard evangelicals, sufferers worry about thinking bad thoughts, whether or not these thoughts are acted on in the physical world. An omniscient God, after all, sees past the bumper stickers on your SUV and into your heart, where you may be doing things like being aware of curse words. Though possibly related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, there can be a fine line for chronic hand-washers like certain sects who observe such a ritual as part of ordinary religious observance. Treatment is thus problematic but another researcher says once patients are released from the crippling doubt about their own virtue, they can emerge with a new sense of faith, even if it means slightly more soiled hands.

The Spray-On Condom – The idea with this device is not so much the convenience of application but with the way it can made to fit a variety of sizes. Rather than asking retailers to stock a quantity of as many as 30 or so sizes, the spray-on condom can be customized to each man. The inventor, a German entrepreneur, got the idea in an automated car wash – not in the back seat while canoodling but while observing that the car was being inserted into a tube-like structure and then sprayed with latex from all sides. (Oh, baby). The only drawbacks reported in real-life testing were that the spray was a little cold and that the latex would take up to two minutes to dry. That, and the fact that the European Union’s strict product standards will make it difficult to bring to market, means the condom won’t be commercially available any time soon. I guess if you can wait two minutes, you can wait two years.

Vending Machine for Crows – An NYU graduate student (probably a marketing major) put coins and peanuts into a dish attached to a vending machine he created. The crows arrived and picked out all the peanuts, leaving only the coins. As they pushed the coins out of the way while looking for more peanuts, the coins were dropped into a slot which then dispensed more peanuts. When the crows figured out the equation that coins plus slot equaled more nuts, the more entrepreneurial birds starting looking for loose change on the ground to put into the slot. Realizing that the flock was quickly becoming his intellectual match, the grad student brought in a few more researchers to help him figure what all this might mean. Rather than arriving at the obvious answer (a fleet of trained ravens who could steal cash from the pockets of pedestrians, thereby giving the students the power to ultimately rule the world), they’re trying to do something positive. “Why not see if they can do something useful for us, so we can all live in close proximity?” they asked. They’re now busy trying to apply their techniques to train rats to sort garbage for us, instead of imagining a future in which they could practically bathe in dimes.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: