[Paleopsych] NYT Mag: The 5th Annual Year in Ideas

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The 5th Annual Year in Ideas
New York Times Magazine, 5.12.11

[There are many things here for everyone, esp. transhumanists and 
sociobiologists. Here's the introduction. Then the list of ideas, then the 
articles, then the respective URLs. ENJOY! Read as many as you wish and at 
your leisure.

[I am sending this out to most of those on my address list. I may have 
sent this to some that really didn't want to get it. If so, I apologize. I 
may expunge from my address book those who have not communicated with me 
for some time. If you are on my general list, however, I will never 
expunge you unless I am specifically asked to do so. I appreciate that I 
may bring up matters that are so controversial that some of you may prefer 
just to read my messages and not get yourself associated with me.

[Some of you may have consigned my messages unread to the garbarage bin, 
but I have no way of telling, since I don't use a feature (and may not be 
able to use it on my Pine account anyhow) that will let me know when a 
message has been read. This feature sometimes just silently report backs 
to sender. If someone tries this on me in Pine, I can find out about the 
attempt, but there is no button to press giving my consent. (I found this 
out when I bounced a message to another address and got a request to 
inform the sender that I had opened it. I acceded to the request and hope 
that you, whoever you are--I've forgotten who, are not very confused, as 
the message was many months ago! But I can be extremely tardy in 
responding. Bug me if you really want a reply to anything whatsoever and 
haven't gotten one. I do not ignore my critics intentionally. Indeed, I 
thrive on criticism that goes beyond name-calling.)

[With other software, I would have to open the full raw text and inspect 
each message I get individually. Other versions of this feature require 
the consent of the recipient before sending to send back a message that it 
has been read, but I think you can read it even if you elect not to tell 
the recipient you are doing so.

[Okay, so now ENJOY!]

This issue marks the fifth anniversary of what is becoming a
venerable tradition at the magazine: The Year in Ideas. As always,
we seek to gain some perspective on what has transpired since
January by compiling a digest of the most noteworthy ideas of the
past 12 months. Like the biographer Lytton Strachey surveying the
Victorian Age, we row out over the great ocean of accomplishment
and lower into it a little bucket, which brings up to the light
characteristic specimens from the various depths of the
intellectual sea - ideas from politics and science, medicine and
law, popcorn studies and camel racing. Once we have thrown back all
the innovations that don't meet our exacting standards, we find
ourselves with the following alphabetical catch: 78 notions, big
and small, grand and petty, serious and silly, ingenious and. . .
well, whatever you call it when you tattoo an advertisement on your
forehead for money.

These are the ideas that, for better and worse, helped make 2005
what it was. You'll find entries that address momentous
developments in Iraq ("The Totally Religious, Absolutely Democratic
Constitution") as well as less conspicuous, more ghoulish
occurrences in Pittsburgh ("Zombie Dogs"). There are ideas that may
inspire ("The Laptop That Will Save the World"), that may turn your
stomach ("In Vitro Meat"), that may arouse partisan passions
("Republican Elitism") and that may solve age-old mysteries ("Why
Popcorn Doesn't Pop"). Some mysteries, of course, still remain. For
instance, we do not yet have an entirely satisfying explanation for
how Mark Cuban, the outspoken Internet mogul and N.B.A. owner, came
to be connected with three of the year's most notable ideas
("Collapsing the Distribution Window," "Scientific Free-Throw
Distraction" and "Splogs"). That was just one surprising discovery
we made in the course of assembling the issue. In the pages that
follow, we're sure you'll make your own.

List of ideas, then the articles, then the respective URLs

[112]Accredited Bliss 
[35]Anti-Paparazzi Flash, The
[36]Anti-Rape Condom, The
[37]Branding Nations
[38]Cartoon Empathy
[39]Celebrity Teeth
[40]Cobblestones are Good for You
[41]Collapsing the Distribution Window
[42]Consensual Interruptions
[43]Conservative Blogs are More Effective
[44]Dialing Under the Influence
[45]Do-It-Yourself Cartography
[46]Dolphin Culture
[48]Embryo Adoption
[49]Ergomorphic Footwear

[50]Fair Employment Mark, The
[51]False-Memory Diet, The
[52]Fleeting Relationship, The 
[54]Forehead Billboards
[55]Gastronomic Reversals
[56]Genetic Theory of Harry Potter, The
[57]Global Savings Glut, The
[58]His-and-Her TV, The
[59]Hollywood-Style Documentary, The
[60]Hypomanic American, The
[61]Fertile Red States
[62]In Vitro Meat
[63]Juvenile Cynics
[64]Laptop That Will Save the World, The
[65]Localized Food Aid
[66]Making Global Warming Work for You

[67]Medical Maggots
[69]Monkey Pay-Per-View
[70]National Smiles
[71]Open-Source Reporting
[72]Parking Meters That Don't Give You a Break
[73]Playoff Paradigm, The
[74]Pleistocene Rewilding
[75]Porn Suffix, The
[76]Preventing Suicide Bombing
[77]Readable Medicine Bottle, The
[78]Republican Elitism
[79]Robot Jockeys
[80]Runaway Alarm Clock, The
[81]Scientific Free-Throw Distraction
[82]Seeing With Your Ears
[83]Self-Fulfilling Trade Rumor, The

[84]Serialized Pop Song, The
[85]Sitcom Loyalty Oath, The
[86]Solar Sailing
[87]Sonic Gunman Locator, The
[89]Stash Rocket, The
[90]Stoic Redheads
[91]Stream-of-Consciousness Newspaper, The
[92]Subadolescent Queen Bees
[93]Suburban Loft, The
[94]Synesthetic Cookbook, The
[95]Taxonomy Auctions
[96]"The Crawl" Makes You Stupid
[97]Toothbrush That Sings, The
[98]Totally Religious, Absolutely Democratic Constitution, The
[99]Touch Screens That Touch Back
[100]Trial-Transcript Dramaturgy
[101]Trust Spray
[102]Two-Dimensional Food
[103]Uneavesdroppable Phone Conversation, The
[104]Urine-Powered Battery, The
[105]Video Podcasts
[106]Why Popcorn Doesn't Pop
[107]Worldwide Flat Taxes
[108]Yawn Contagion
[109]Yoo Presidency, The
[110]Zero-Emissions S.U.V., The
[111]Zombie Dogs

Accredited Bliss

If you think financing a motion picture is difficult, consider for
a moment the fund-raising bench mark that the filmmaker David Lynch
set this year for his new David Lynch Foundation for
Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace: $7 billion. The
director of "Mulholland Drive" hopes to finance seven "universities
of peace," with endowments of $1 billion each, where students would
practice Transcendental Meditation.

Developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late 1950's, T.M. is a
technique whereby individuals repeat a mantra to themselves during
two 20-minute sessions per day. Lynch began practicing it 32 years
ago as a student. T.M. rid him of his deep anger, he says, and
enlivened his creative process. "When you dive within," Lynch says,
"you experience an unbounded ocean of bliss consciousness."

Lynch says he believes that undergraduates today - 3 of 10 of whom
say they suffer from depression or an anxiety disorder - need to
find that unbounded ocean even more than he did in 1973. To that
end, he has recently offered to help underwrite for-credit "peace
studies" classes, which would include T.M. instruction, at a number
of universities. Pending approval, American University will offer
one of these classes next year. Researchers there will also begin
studying the technique's effects on student grades, I.Q.'s and
mental health.

Drawing on the work of John Hagelin, a quantum physicist and T.M.
practitioner, Lynch harbors broader hopes that the seven
universities of peace could enable the square root of 1 percent of
the world's population - about 8,000 people - to simultaneously do
an advanced version of the T.M. technique called "yogic flying."
Lynch and Hagelin say that a mass meditation of this size could
have a palliative effect upon the "unified field" of consciousness
that connects all human beings and thereby bring about the
conditions for world peace.

Anti-Paparazzi Flash, The

If you have ever felt sorry for celebrities hounded by cameras as
they go about their daily business - be that pumping gas or
entering a flashy nightclub - you can rest easy. A group of
researchers at Georgia Tech has designed what could become an
effective celebrity protection device: an instrument that detects
the presence of a digital camera's lens and then shoots light
directly at the camera when a photographer tries to take a picture.
The result? A blurry picture of a beam of light. Try selling that
to Us Weekly.

The Georgia Tech team was initially inspired by the campus visit of
a Hewlett Packard representative, who spoke about the company's
efforts to design cameras that can be turned off by remote control.
Gregory Abowd, an associate professor, recalls that after the talk,
the team members thought, There's got to be a better way to do
that, a way that doesn't require the cooperation of the camera. The
key was recognizing that most digital cameras contain a
"retroreflective" surface behind the lens; when a light shines on
this surface, it sends the light back to its source. The Georgia
Tech lab prototype uses a modified video camera to detect the
presence of the retroreflector and a projector to shoot out a
targeted three-inch beam of light at the offending camera.

Anti-Rape Condom, The

The vagina dentata - a vagina with literal or figurative teeth - is
a potent trope in South Asian mythology, urban legend, Freudian
rumination and speculative fiction (the novel "Snow Crash," by Neal
Stephenson, for example). But it took a step toward reality this
August with the unveiling of the Rapex, a female "condom" lined
with rows of plastic spikes on its inner surface.

The Rapex is the brainchild of Sonette Ehlers, a retired blood
technician in South Africa who was moved by the country's
outlandish rape rate, which is among the highest in the world. The
device is designed to be inserted any time a woman feels she is in
danger of sexual assault. Its spikes are fashioned to end an
assault immediately by affixing the Rapex to the assaulter's penis,
but also to cause only superficial damage. The Rapex would create
physical evidence of the attack as well and, as Ehlers laid out a
course of events for reporters at a news conference, send the
offender to a hospital, where he would be promptly arrested.

Branding Nations

If the British consultant Simon Anholt had his way, sitting at the
cabinet table with the secretary of defense and the attorney
general would be a secretary of branding. Indeed, he foresees a day
when the most important part of foreign policy isn't defense or
trade but image - and when countries would protect and promote
their images through coordinated branding departments. "I've
visited a great many countries where they have ministers for things
that are far less important," he says.

This year, Anholt, a prolific speaker, adviser to numerous
governments and editor of the journal Place Branding, published
"Brand America: The Mother of All Brands," in which he predicted
that the days when countries will essentially open their own
in-house marketing shops are right around the corner. "Governments
understand this very well, and most of them are now trying or have
tried in the past to achieve some kind of control over their
images," Anholt writes. He may be on to something, since
governments are quickly realizing that image maintenance isn't just
about reeling in tourists - witness Karen Hughes's high-profile
public-diplomacy efforts or Tony Blair's Public Diplomacy Strategy
Board, an outgrowth of Britain's "Cool Britannia" campaign. Late
last year, the Persian Gulf state Oman hired Landor Associates, a
brand consulting outfit, to develop and promote "Brand Oman."

Cartoon Empathy

For anyone who pays even the slightest attention to cartoons, the
scene is familiar: birds flying, bunnies hopping, floppy-hatted
Smurfs singing and dancing around a campfire. Then without warning
a group of warplanes arrives and starts carpet-bombing. As the
Smurfs scatter, their mushroom village goes up in flames. After the
last bomb falls, amid the burning rubble and surrounded by dead
Smurfs, Baby Smurf sits alone, wailing.

The scene comes from a 30-second TV commercial that began being
shown on Belgian national television this fall, as part of Unicef's
campaign to raise money to help rehabilitate child soldiers in
Sudan, Burundi and Congo. The decision to use cartoon characters in
the ad, rather than show images of actual children, was calculated
not to lessen the horror but to amplify it. "We've found that
people have gotten used to seeing traditional images of children in
despair, especially from African countries," says Philippe Henon, a
spokesman for Unicef Belgium. "Those images are no longer
surprising, and most people certainly don't see them as a call to

Unicef's goal was to convey to adults the horror of war by drawing
on their childhood memories, and Smurfs, Henon says, "were the
image most Belgians ages 30 to 45 connect to the idea of a happy

The spot has generated a considerable amount of controversy.
"People have been shocked," says Henon, who emphasizes that the ad
is intended for an adult audience and is shown only after 9 p.m.
"But we've received a lot of positive reactions. And this has also
been apparent in the donations."

Celebrity Teeth

Last year, if you walked into your dentist's office saying, "Hey,
Doc, can you make my teeth look like Cameron Diaz's or Brad
Pitt's?" the answer would have been, "Yeah, sure - with a lot of
anesthetic, drilling and permanent reconstruction." But things have

Meet the Snap-On Smile - a thin, flexible, resin shell of perfect
teeth that snaps over your actual teeth like a retainer. No
adhesive, no drilling. Its inventor, Marc Liechtung, is a dentist
at Manhattan Dental Arts, where you can walk in on a Monday, make a
painless plaster mold of your teeth and then pick up your new smile
by Friday. All for $1,200 to $1,600. Patients can work with a
"smile guide" to chose one of 17 colors ("yellow-white,"
"yellow-gray," even "Extreme White Buyer Beware") and 18 shapes
("squared," "square-round," "pointy"). But many patients just hand
Liechtung a celebrity photo and say, "Make my teeth look like
this." So he does. But he wants to make one thing clear: "I did not
come up with the Snap-On Smile so people could mimic celebrities."

His goal was an affordable, minimally invasive dental tool. "I had
patients with almost no teeth who didn't have $20,000 for
reconstruction," he says. So this year, after months in the lab, he
unveiled Snap-On Smiles. He is licensing them to dentists and has
sold more than 300 to his own patients, many of whom have perfectly
healthy (and often straight) teeth.

People don't ask Liechtung whether the Snap-On causes permanent
damage (it doesn't) or whether you can eat with it (you can - even
corn on the cob). "No," Liechtung says, "they just want to know:
'Which is the most popular celebrity?' 'What kind of girls get
Halle Berry?' 'Who do guys ask for?'

"In the beginning, it made me sick. I thought I invented some
serious medical device, but all people wanted to do was use it to
make themselves look like celebrities!" Eventually he thought,
Well, why not? "A person comes in, I say I can give them any teeth
they want, who are they going to want to look like? Me? No!"

Cobblestones are Good for You

According to a study published in August in the Journal of the
American Geriatrics Society, if you want to be a fitter, more
relaxed, more agile retiree, the prescription is to walk on

Specially designed paths lined with river stones are a common sight
in Chinese parks, and the people who traverse them in bare or
stocking feet report that they feel at once soothed and
invigorated. Fuzhong Li, a researcher at the Oregon Research
Institute, started thinking about the paths during trips to
Shanghai, and he and two other researchers resolved to test the
walkers' claims. Financed by the National Institute on Aging, they
recruited 54 sedentary but healthy men and women, ages 60 to 92, to
walk in socks three times a week for 16 weeks on special
cobblestone mats. The test subjects were eased into the walking
routine - since the stones were uncomfortable for some at first -
building up to a half-hour of mat time per session. Meanwhile, a
control group of 54 took part in more conventional walking

Collapsing the Distribution Window

In February, the film industry as we know it may change forever.
That's when "Bubble," a low-budget murder mystery directed by
Steven Soderbergh, will appear in theaters - and on cable, and on
DVD, all on the same day. The movie is the first in a six-film deal
between Soderbergh and 2929 Entertainment, a partnership led by the
media moguls Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, which includes theaters,
cable channels and production and distribution companies. While no
one expects "Bubble" to break box-office records, even a modicum of
success could indicate the arrival of something many in the movie
business have anticipated - and feared - for years: universal

With box-office revenue slumping and DVD sales skyrocketing, it's
not surprising that moviemakers are looking for ways to collapse
the period of time it takes for a film to make its way from the
multiplex to home video - in industry-speak, the "distribution
window." The universal-release strategy has a lot of appeal for
moviemakers: in addition to taking better advantage of the red-hot
home-video sector, it's also more cost-effective - instead of
requiring separate marketing efforts for theater and video
releases, universal release requires just one. Plus, the strategy
undercuts film pirates, who sometimes offer knockoff DVD's of films
before they even hit the big screen.

But not everyone likes the idea. John Fithian, head of the National
Association of Theater Owners, has expressed fear that rather than
create new revenue streams, the practice will "be a death threat to
our industry." And some film purists, like the director M. Night
Shyamalan, have said that universal release is also a threat to the
traditional moviegoing experience.

Consensual Interruptions

The problem is all too familiar: You're chatting with a group of
people when someone's cellphone goes off, interrupting the
conversation. What makes the intrusion irritating isn't so much the
call itself - the caller has no way of knowing if he has chosen a
good time to cut in. It's that the group as a whole doesn't have
any say in the matter. Until now.

Stefan Marti, a graduate of the M.I.T. Media Laboratory, who now
works for Samsung, has devised a system that silently surveys the
members of the group about whether accepting an incoming phone call
would be appropriate. Then it permits the call to go through only
if the group agrees unanimously - thus creating a more consensual
sort of interruption.

The system, it must be said, is highly elaborate. It begins with a
special electronic-badge or -necklace device that you and everyone
else you might be conversing with must wear. Your badge can tell
who is in conversation with you by comparing your speech patterns
with those of people nearby. (Anyone within a few feet of you who
is not talking at the same time you are is assumed to be part of
your conversation.)

Each badge is also in wireless contact with your cellphone and a
special ring that you wear on your finger. When a caller tries you
on your cellphone, all the finger rings of the people in your
conversation silently vibrate - a sort of pre-ring announcing to
the group the caller's intention to butt in. If anyone in the group
wants to veto the call, he can do so by simply touching his ring,
and the would-be call is redirected to voice mail. If no one opts
to veto, the call goes through, the phone rings and the
conversation is interrupted.

Having solved the problem of when phone calls should interrupt us,
Marti is now working on how they should do so. Inspired by the
observation that the best interruptions are subtle and nonverbal
but still somewhat public, he has designed an animatronic squirrel
that perches on your shoulder and screens your calls. Instead of
your phone ringing, the squirrel simply wakes and begins to blink.
[?][?][?]Jascha Hoffman

Conservative Blogs are More Effective

When the liberal activist Matt Stoller was running a blog for the
Democrat Jon Corzine's 2005 campaign for governor, he saw the power
of the conservative blogosphere firsthand. Shortly before the
election, a conservative Web site claimed that politically damaging
information about Corzine was about to surface in the media. It
didn't. But New Jersey talk-radio shock jocks quoted the online
speculation, inflicting public-relations damage on Corzine anyway.
To Stoller, it was proof of how conservatives have mastered the art
of using blogs as a deadly campaign weapon.

That might sound counterintuitive. After all, the Howard Dean
campaign showed the power of the liberal blogosphere. And the
liberal-activist Web site DailyKos counts hundreds of thousands of
visitors each day. But Democrats say there's a key difference
between liberals and conservatives online. Liberals use the Web to
air ideas and vent grievances with one another, often ripping into
Democratic leaders. (Hillary Clinton, for instance, is routinely
vilified on liberal Web sites for supporting the Iraq war.)
Conservatives, by contrast, skillfully use the Web to provide
maximum benefit for their issues and candidates. They are generally
less interested in examining every side of every issue and more
focused on eliciting strong emotional responses from their

But what really makes conservatives effective is their pre-existing
media infrastructure, composed of local and national talk-radio
hosts like Rush Limbaugh, the Fox News Channel and sensationalist
say-anything outlets like the Drudge Report - all of which are
quick to pass on the latest tidbit from the blogosphere. "One
blogger on the Republican side can have a real impact on a race
because he can just plug right into the right-wing infrastructure
that the Republicans have built," Stoller says.

Dialing Under the Influence

The truest words are spoken not in jest but rather after one too
many bourbon sours. Liquid courage can turn a normally taciturn
individual into a confrontational blabbermouth, eager to tell
co-workers or former lovers exactly how he feels about them. The
results aren't usually pretty, as has now been immortalized in the
popular culture: Paul Giamatti's wine-addled character succumbs to
a bout of "drinking and dialing" in the movie "Sideways."

Baring one's soul while soused, unfortunately, is easier than ever,
because of the proliferation of mobile phones. A BlackBerry's
primary function may be to keep you apprised of critical e-mail
messages from work, but it is also handy - too handy - for ringing
your fiancée at 4 a.m. and confessing what really happened at your
bachelor party.

Fortunately, Virgin Mobile Australia has a solution: a service
called Dialing Under the Influence (D.U.I.). Before heading out for
a night of debauchery, a Virgin Mobile customer simply dials 333,
then the number of someone who shouldn't be called midbender - a
boss, a recent breakup, the cute boy who works two cubicles over.
The number is then rendered unreachable on that handset until 6
a.m. the next morning, by which time the tongue-loosening effects
of the evening's alcohol will presumably have worn off.

Kerry Parkin, a Virgin Mobile Australia spokeswoman, admits that
the D.U.I. service, which costs about 19 cents per blacklisted
number, was initially hatched as a promotional gimmick. What began
as a publicity stunt, however, has become a favorite among Virgin
Mobile users. The D.U.I. service was used 10,000 times over the
past year, including 250 times by one customer in a single month.
("We think that man might have a problem," Parkin says.)

Do-It-Yourself Cartography

The most influential mashup this year wasn't a Beatles tune remixed
with hip-hop lyrics. It was an online street map of Chicago
overlaid with crime statistics. Chicagocrime.org, which was created
by the journalist Adrian Holovaty, was one of the first Web sites
to combine publicly available data from one site (in this case, the
Chicago Police Department's online database) with a digital map
supplied by another site (in this case, Google).

This summer, Google released software tools that make this sort of
mashup simple to create, even for casual Web users. Thousands of
people began to make useful, often elegant, annotated maps. It
turns out that the best way to organize much of the information
online is geographically. After Holovaty's crime statistics,
real-estate listings and classified ads were among the first forms
of information combined with maps. Then came sporting events,
movies and gas stations with low prices. Now the social
possibilities are being mined, with sites like mapchatter.com,
which lets you search for chat partners by locale, and frappr.com,
where you can map the physical locations of your online pals and
share photos with them. The latest twist is "memory maps," in which
you annotate a satellite photo of your hometown with your personal
history. (A good example is the blogger Matthew Haughey's evocative
project, "My Childhood, Seen by Google Maps.")

Dolphin Culture

Sometimes, when a dolphin in Shark Bay, off the coast of Western
Australia, prepares to forage, she drops to the sea floor, rips a
fat conical chunk of sea sponge out of it, covers her beak with the
sponge cone and sets to work. After she finds the fish she wants,
she drops the sponge. "Sponging," as the scientists at the Shark
Bay Dolphin Research Project call this behavior, is an unusual
instance of an animal using another animal as a tool, but that is
not what makes the sponging interesting to biologists. It's that
dolphins learn to use the sponges - to probe deeply for food while
protecting their beaks - from their mothers.

In "Cultural Transmission of Tool Use in Bottlenose Dolphins," a
paper published this spring in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, Michael Krützen, Janet Mann and several other
researchers argue that they have demonstrated "the first case of an
existing material culture in a marine mammal species." Genetic
explanations for the behavior, they write, are "extremely
unlikely." And there are dolphins in Shark Bay that don't use the
sponges but forage in the same deep-water channels as those that do
- so sponging can't be only habitat-driven either.

The sponging dolphins "see what Mom does and do it," Mann says.
One-tenth of the mothers sponge. Many of their offspring have been
seen sponging, too, and there is at least one documented case of
sponging by a grandmother, a mother and a granddaughter. Nearly all
of the mature spongers are female. Quite a few juvenile males try
sponging, but they don't keep it up. Krützen and his colleagues
speculate that the solitary nature of sponging may be incompatible
with the intense social requirements that characterize mature male
dolphin life.

All but one of the genetically-tested sponging dolphins share
"recent co-ancestry" with an animal the researchers call a
"Sponging Eve," the first dolphin to discover the technique and
pass it on. In other words, they're related to one another. "It's a
little sponge club," Mann explains. But the genetic markers they
share don't seem to correspond to anything that has to do with
their ability to sponge.


Victor Yakovenko, a physicist at the University of Maryland,
happens to think that current patterns of economic inequality are
as natural, and unalterable, as the properties of air molecules in
your kitchen.

He is a self-described "econophysicist." Econophysics, the use of
tools from physics to study markets and similar matters, isn't new,
but the subfield devoted to analyzing how the economic pie is split
acquired new legitimacy in March when the Saha Institute of Nuclear
Physics, in Calcutta, held an international conference on wealth

Econophysicists point out that incomes and wealth behave
suspiciously like atoms. In the United States, for example, beneath
the 97th percentile (roughly $150,000), the dispersion of income
fits a common distribution pattern known as "exponential"
distribution. Exponential distribution happens to be the
distribution pattern of the energy of atoms in gases that are at
thermal equilibrium; it's a pattern that many closed, random
systems gravitate toward. As for the wealthiest 3 percent, their
incomes follow what's called a "power law": there is a very long
tail in the distribution of data. (Consider the huge gap between a
lawyer making $200,000 and Bill Gates.)

Other developed nations seem to display this two-tiered economic
system as well, with the demarcation lines differing only slightly.

Embryo Adoption

This year, opponents of abortion stepped up their use of a
carefully chosen phrase - "embryo adoption" - that describes a
couples' decision to have a baby using the embryos of another

The less loaded term for embryo adoption is "embryo donation." It
typically signifies that a couple who have undergone in vitro
fertilization, and have had as many children as they wish to, are
releasing their leftover embryos for use by other would-be parents.
Of some 400,000 frozen embryos in the country, according to the
RAND Corporation, about 9,000 are designated for other families.
(Another 11,000 are designated for research, while the balance
remain unused in freezers.)

Medically, embryo adoption and embryo donation are identical. But
to promoters of embryo adoption, which term you use makes all the
difference: "We would like for embryos to be recognized as human
life and therefore to be adopted as opposed to treated as
property," explains Kathryn Deiters, director of development at the
Nightlight Christian Adoptions agency, in California, which has
been offering embryo adoptions since the late 1990's. Nightlight
also favors the term "snowflakes." As the agency's executive
director, Ron Stoddart, told The Washington Times: "Like
snowflakes, these embryos are unique, they're fragile and, of
course, they're frozen.. . .It's a perfect analogy."

In May, President Bush delighted the Nightlight agency when he met
with some of its young success stories, who wore "Former Embryo"
stickers on their chests. He used the occasion to stress his
opposition to legislation supporting wider stem-cell research with

Ergomorphic Footwear

Most people expect to break in a new pair of shoes by wearing them
for a few weeks until the material softens and stretches to fit.
But the shoe designer Martin Keen has a better idea.

In April, Keen will launch Mion Footwear, a line of mass-produced
shoes, designed for sailing and water sports, that promise rapid
custom-grade cushioning. Like a memory-foam mattress, Mion insoles
compress after about 10 hours of normal wear to assume the unique
contours of the owner's foot - right down to your inward-curling
pinkie toe. The transformation is permanent, and in the end, the
shoes fit no one else, hence their name, which is pronounced "my

Fair Employment Mark, The

For a decade now, Congress has declined to pass the Employment
Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal for
companies to fire or demote on the basis of sexual orientation. And
yet some of the nation's biggest companies, including AT&T, I.B.M.
and General Mills, say they'd be happy to abide by the legislation.
The Yale Law School professor Ian Ayres and his wife, the
Quinnipiac University School of Law professor Jennifer Gerarda
Brown, wonder: Why wait for Congress to pass a law when you can, in
effect, do it yourself?

In their book "Straightforward: How to Mobilize Heterosexual
Support for Gay Rights," Ayres and Brown present a plan for partly
enacting ENDA without Congress's help. Their Fair Employment mark
is a seal of approval - think of the Orthodox Union's imprimatur
that a product is kosher - mated to a novel legal scheme that would
effectively privatize this area of antidiscrimination law.

Under the plan, companies can acquire a license committing them to
abide by a recent version of ENDA (specifically, one introduced by
Senator Edward Kennedy in 2003) and to open themselves to lawsuits
by employees or job applicants if they violate it. In return, the
companies can display a mark on their products advertising their
commitment to nondiscrimination. The mark itself, a simple "FE"
(not unlike the Underwriters Laboratories' "UL," which signals that
an electronic product has passed safety tests), is intentionally
prosaic - designed not to inflame the minority of consumers who
might boycott a company that protected homosexuals, while
potentially appealing to the more than 80 percent of consumers who
oppose workplace discrimination against gays.

False-Memory Diet, The

According to the results of a study released in August, it is
possible to convince people that they don't like certain fattening
foods - by giving them false memories of experiences in which those
foods made them sick.

The research was conducted by a team including Elizabeth Loftus, a
psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, who is known
for her previous work showing the malleability of human memory and
calling into question the reliability of recovered memories in
sexual-abuse cases. She turned her attention to food as a way to
see if implanted memories could influence actual behavior.

After initial experiments, in which subjects were persuaded that
they became ill after eating hard-boiled eggs and dill pickles as
children, the researchers moved on to greater challenges. In the
next study, up to 40 percent of participants came to believe a
similarly false suggestion about strawberry ice cream - and claimed
that they were now less inclined to eat it.

The process of implanting false memories is relatively simple. In
essence, according to the paper that Loftus's team published in
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, subjects are plied
with "misinformation" about their food histories. But a number of
obstacles remain before members of the general population can use
this technique to stay thin. Attempts to implant bad memories about
potato chips and chocolate-chip cookies, for instance, failed.
"When you have so many recent, frequent and positive experiences
with a food," Loftus explains, "one negative thought is not enough
to overcome them."

More work is needed to determine if the false-memory effect is
lasting and if it is strong enough to withstand the presence of an
actual bowl of ice cream. It's also not clear, at this point, how
people could choose to undergo the process without thereby becoming
less vulnerable to this kind of suggestion.

Fleeting Relationship, The

Americans put a premium on sustaining intimate relationships, but
could it be that they gain as much emotional sustenance from the
relative strangers they meet on commuter trains, in the stands at
softball games and even at strip clubs?

In "Together Alone: Personal Relationships in Public Places," the
sociologists Calvin Morrill and David Snow of the University of
California, Irvine, along with Cindy White, a professor of
communication at the University of Colorado, present a collection
of essays stressing the importance of the interactions that occur
in public spaces, like bars and gyms. "Fleeting relationships,"
Morrill explains, are brief interactions that nonetheless are
"colored by emotional dependence and intimacy." Morrill's
researchers visited strip clubs and found that customers paid not
just for the eroticism but also for the sense of connection they
felt with the dancers. "You can tell a dancer who really cares
about the people she dances with," one customer said. In another
chapter, a singles dance designed to foster serious romance was
instead used by regulars as an enjoyable, safe, commitment-free
place to socialize with strangers and then head home - alone.

The researchers also emphasized the value of "anchored
relationships," which are more enduring than fleeting ones, but
fixed to a single location. One "Together Alone" contributor,
Allison Munch, studied anchored relationships among
amateur-softball-league fans. Munch's spectators rarely saw one
another outside of the stands, but they formed a "floating
community," trading intimate details about their marriages,
watching one another's children and sharing food and clothing. One
fan said that the stands had become their "back porch."


In 1876, Melvil Dewey devised an elegant method for categorizing
the world's books. The Dewey Decimal System divides books into 10
broad subject areas and several hundred sub-areas and then assigns
each volume a precise number - for example, 332.6328 for Jim
Rodgers's investment guide, "Hot Commodities." But on the Internet,
a new approach to categorization is emerging. Thomas Vander Wal, an
information architect and Internet developer, has dubbed it
folksonomy - a people's taxonomy.

A folksonomy begins with tagging. On the Web site Flickr, for
example, users post their photos and label them with descriptive
words. You might tag the picture of your cat, "cat," "Sparky" and
"living room." Then you'll be able to retrieve that photo when
you're searching for the cute shot of Sparky lounging on the couch.
If you open your photos and tags to others, as many Flickr devotees
do, other people can examine and label your photos. A furniture
aficionado might add the tag "Mitchell Gold sofa," which means that
he and others looking for images of this particular kind of couch
could find your photo. "People aren't really categorizing
information," Vander Wal says. "They're throwing words out there
for their own use." But the cumulative force of all the individual
tags can produce a bottom-up, self-organized system for classifying
mountains of digital material.

Grass-roots categorization, by its very nature, is idiosyncratic
rather than systematic. That sacrifices taxonomic perfection but
lowers the barrier to entry. Nobody needs a degree in library
science to participate.

Forehead Billboards

In January, Andrew Fischer, a 21-year-old Web-site developer from
Omaha, Neb., went on eBay and auctioned off advertising space on
his forehead. "As I go around town doing my thing. . .your domain
name will be plastered smack-dab on my noggin," he proposed. In
exchange for a winning bid of $37,375, Fischer sported a temporary
tattoo of the logo for an over-the-counter sleep remedy called
SnoreStop for a full month. "It took me forever to do errands and
stuff," Fischer says. "Everywhere I went people couldn't help
noticing - they had to talk to 'the forehead guy.' I guess that's
what the advertiser was after."

Fischer's forehead - and the pictures of his brightly festooned
brow that circled the globe in news-service stories about the stunt
- amounted to what Christian de Rivel, an executive at SnoreStop,
estimates to be nearly a million dollars of publicity. "Our sales
increased 50 percent as a result," de Rivel says.

A couple of years ago, John Carver of the London marketing agency
Cunning trademarked the term ForeheADs, but until this year the
practice had not gone much beyond college students looking for beer
money. "It goes by a lot of names, like 'skinvertising,' " explains
Drew Black, a spokesman for GoldenPalace.com, an Internet gambling
and entertainment venture. Black is in charge of, among other
things, making purchases on behalf of GoldenPalace.com that help
raise the site's profile - for instance, a grilled cheese sandwich
bearing the image of the Virgin Mary. "Now people mention us by
name in their eBay ads," Black says. "We get many offers for

Gastronomic Reversals

Fried mayonnaise? Hot ice cream? Chocolate pudding that can be
sliced and cut? This year witnessed the flourishing of an unusual
culinary fashion: dishes that, with the addition of certain
chemicals, turn hot into cold or moist into dry or create an
invisible boundary between the two.

When chefs talk about fresh ingredients, gellan does not normally
come to mind. Then again, neither does fried mayonnaise, but you
cannot have one without the other. Gellan, a gum derived from
bacterially fermented carbohydrates, holds emulsions together at
very high heat. Wylie Dufresne, the chef and owner of WD-50 in
Manhattan, uses it to deep-fry mayonnaise, which he serves with
pickled beef tongue in a kind of disassembled deli sandwich. The
mayonnaise, cut into cubes and coated with flour, egg and bread
crumbs before going into the deep-fryer, is brown and crisp on the
outside, oozy inside.

At the restaurant Alinea in Chicago, Alex Stupak, the pastry chef,
has pulled off almost as neat a trick using tapioca maltodextrin, a
starch derivative that absorbs fat. By pulsing it in a food
processor with caramel candy, he can transform caramel into a
powder, which, when eaten, turns right back into caramel as the
ingredients recombine in your mouth.

The sweetener sorbitol also has its charms. It is commonly used in
toothpaste, but add enough to your concoction and it has a
plasticizing effect. Stupak uses it to turn chocolate pudding into
a substance that can be rolled out, sliced and cut into thin strips
that retain the mouth feel of ordinary pudding but can be tied into
knots. This is a tantalizing prospect for pastry chefs, who, Stupak
points out, "are always trying to get away from circles and

Dufresne, meanwhile, has moved on to methylcellulose, a
polysaccharide gel that sets when hot and melts when cold. He has
added it to chilled lemon yogurt in a squeeze bottle. When squirted
into a bowl of hot cocoa dashi, the yogurt turns into plump

Genetic Theory of Harry Potter, The

This summer, the journal Nature published "Harry Potter and the
Recessive Allele," a letter that argued that J. K. Rowling's tales
of the young wizard Harry Potter offer an opportunity to educate
children in modern theories of heredity.

As almost everyone above the age of 3 knows, the Harry Potter
novels depict a world divided into people who possess magical
powers (wizards and witches) and those who do not (Muggles). Not
everyone can be a wizard; indeed, after careful review of the
evidence, the authors of the Nature letter concluded that wizards
evidently inherit their gifts from their parents as predicted by
the theories of the 19th-century geneticist Gregor Mendel.

Apparently, wizardry (or the lack thereof) is determined by a
linked pair of genes, or alleles, that you inherit from your
parents, one allele from each parent. The researchers hypothesized
that wizardry is a recessive trait, like blue eyes, meaning that an
individual who inherits from his parents one wizard allele and one
Muggle allele (wM or Mw) will not display wizarding powers. Only
individuals with two wizard alleles (ww) will display magical
powers. Such individuals - like Harry and his nemesis, Draco Malfoy
- are more likely to be born to parents who possess ww genes.

But children born of mixed marriages need not necessarily live a
life of Mugglehood: those with a pure-blood wizard father (ww) and
a part-Muggle mother (Mw) can inherit the precious ww genes.
Children can also inherit the trait when neither parent is a wizard
but both carry the wizard gene (Mw). Here the researchers cited
Harry's friend Hermione Granger, the child of two Muggle dentists,
as an example of the recessive allele surfacing against the odds.

Case closed? Not a chance: no sooner had the letter appeared than a
group of plant scientists at Cambridge fired off a rebuttal: "Harry
Potter and the Prisoner of Presumption," in which they claimed that
the recessive-allele hypothesis was "deterministic and unsupported
by available evidence."

Global Savings Glut, The

That the United States, with a current account deficit equivalent
to more than 6 percent of its gross domestic product, is living
beyond its means is not in dispute. And, at least until recently,
there was general agreement among economists that the shortfall was
mainly due to American profligacy, in the form of record federal
budget deficits and a household savings rate that has now
officially hit zero.

In March, however, the received wisdom was challenged by a
formidable figure with a penchant for airing provocative views: Ben
Bernanke, who was then a governor of the Federal Reserve and early
next year will most likely replace Alan Greenspan as the central
bank's chairman. In a speech to the Virginia Association of
Economics, Bernanke suggested that the primary cause of the current
account deficit was not America's excessive spending but rather the
rest of the world's excessive thrift - what he coined, memorably, a
"global saving glut."

Bernanke pointed out that Japan, Germany and other advanced
industrialized nations have been squirreling away money to help
support aging populations and that because of a paucity of
attractive domestic investments, a sizable share of those savings
has been put to work in the United States. More important, a number
of developing countries have greatly increased their savings, and a
lot of this money has also come to the United States - through,
among other things, vast purchases of U.S. Treasury securities.

According to Bernanke, all this foreign investment helped inflate
and sustain the stock-market bubble of the late 1990's. It has also
helped keep long-term interest rates low, which in turn has
produced a significant rise in property values and another surge in
household wealth. In short, foreigners needed a place to park their
savings, the United States became the depository of choice and this
enormous inflow of investment put lots of cash in the pockets of
Americans - cash they chose to spend rather than save.

Although Bernanke is universally admired for his intellectual
acuity, his hypothesis has met with some skepticism. Critics note
that the global savings rate as a proportion of global output has
been gradually declining for more than three decades. More cynical
observers suggest that Bernanke's argument is simply a clever
attempt by a Bush administration appointee to deflect blame for the
rapid deterioration in America's finances.

His-and-Her TV, The

When two people curl up on a couch, absorbed in their respective
novels, that state of affairs seems somehow companionable, even if
the two have been transported to opposite ends of the imaginative
universe, with one traipsing down the lush green paths of a
19th-century English estate and the other checking out the
interstellar sex in one of Frank Herbert's sci-fi novels. Modern
technology, of course, has made this kind of apart-while-together
bonding all the more possible: picture a pair of lovebirds, their
fingers entwined as they walk down the street, their free hands
holding up cellphones as they talk to third and fourth parties.

Now the good people at Sharp have created yet another opportunity
for multitasking togetherness. It's called the
controlled-viewing-angle LCD: a screen - for either a computer or a
television, or a combination of the two - that shows different
images depending on the angle from which you view it. With what's
called a parallax barrier laid over the screen, the backlight is
shunted off into left and right directions. One direction
corresponds to one set of images, the other direction to another,
entirely different set.

Hollywood-Style Documentary, The

When critics want to praise the realism of a fictional film, they
sometimes liken it to a documentary. But as filmmakers and
distributors have discovered the commercial potential of nonfiction
movies, the comparison more often runs in reverse. The
documentaries that look most attractive are those that mimic the
tried-and-true conventions of Hollywood, telling unusual or exotic
stories in reassuringly familiar ways.

Of course, documentary remains an elastic category, encompassing
essay films like "The Aristocrats," historical inquiries like
"Ballets Russes" and acts of witness like "Darwin's Nightmare" -
all released to critical praise in 2005. But none of them received
as much attention - or made as much money - as "March of the
Penguins" or "Mad Hot Ballroom," two movies that typify what might
be called the Hollywood-style documentary, or the genre

The genre documentary supplies the emotional and narrative
satisfactions associated with popular commercial cinema, mining its
material directly from the real world rather than synthesizing it
according to screenwriting formulas. Its character arcs and
three-act architecture are supposedly found in nature - or at least
at events like the National Spelling Bee, the setting of
"Spellbound," one of the progenitors of the genre. "Mad Hot
Ballroom," which follows children in three New York schools as they
prepare for a citywide dance tournament, offers up some of the
pleasures, and many of the clichés, of a classic sports movie,
right up to the climactic triumph of the underdog. That the movie
explores a unique event, the outcome of which could not have been
known in advance, makes its sentiments sweeter and more intense.
The kind of uplift that feels a little phony in a "based on a true
story" feature like "Coach Carter" or "Dreamer" is redeemed in the
competition documentary, a subgenre that also includes "Rize" and

Hypomanic American, The

For centuries, scholars have tried to explain the American
character: is it the product of the frontier experience, or of the
heritage of dissenting Protestantism, or of the absence of
feudalism? This year, two professors of psychiatry each published
books attributing American exceptionalism to a new and hitherto
unsuspected source: American DNA. They argue that the United States
is full of energetic risk-takers because it's full of immigrants,
who as a group may carry a genetic marker that expresses itself as
restless curiosity, exuberance and competitive self-promotion - a
combination known as hypomania.

Peter C. Whybrow of U.C.L.A. and John D. Gartner of Johns Hopkins
University Medical School make their cases for an
immigrant-specific genotype in their respective books, "American
Mania" and "The Hypomanic Edge." Even when times are hard, Whybrow
points out, most people don't leave their homelands. The 2 percent
or so who do are a self-selecting group. What distinguishes them,
he suggests, might be the genetic makeup of their dopamine-receptor
system - the pathway in the brain that figures centrally in
boldness and novelty seeking.

The genetic variation that gets neurons firing along the dopamine
circuits seems to have been disproportionately prevalent in the
kinship groups that over generations walked the farthest 10,000 to
20,000 years ago, from Asia across the Bering Strait into the
Americas. This genetic makeup, Whybrow argues, may also be present
to a high degree among the 98 percent of Americans who were either
born in another country or into families that came to this country
in the last three centuries. If the genetic marker cuts across
immigrants of all origins, it's not about where you come from, it's
that you came at all.

Infrared Pet Dry Room, The

In September, at the FCI Seoul International Dog Show, the Korean
engineering company Daun ENG introduced what may be the most
radical new dog product since the chew toy. The Infrared Pet Dry
Room is, as its name suggests, a chamber into which you place a wet
dog in order to dry him or her via infrared radiation. Because
infrared rays penetrate the dermis, they warm and dry an animal
more quickly than a blow-dryer does, and they do so without
resulting in the kinds of skin rashes that blow-dryers often cause.

In Vitro Meat

In July, scientists at the University of Maryland announced the
development of bioengineering techniques that could be used to
mass-produce a new food for public consumption: meat that is grown
in incubators.

The process works by taking stem cells from a biopsy of a live
animal (or a piece of flesh from a slaughtered animal) and putting
them in a three-dimensional growth medium - a sort of scaffolding
made of proteins. Bathed in a nutritional mix of glucose, amino
acids and minerals, the stem cells multiply and differentiate into
muscle cells, which eventually form muscle fibers. Those fibers are
then harvested for a minced-meat product.

Scientists at NASA and at several Dutch universities have been
developing the technology since 2001, and in a few years' time
there may be a lab-grown meat ready to market as sausages or
patties. In 20 years, the scientists predict, they may be able to
grow a whole beef or pork loin. A tissue engineer at the Medical
University of South Carolina has even proposed a countertop device
similar to a bread maker that would produce meat overnight in your

Juvenile Cynics

Adults often extol children for their innocence, but according to a
recent study by researchers at Yale's department of psychology,
kids are in fact the most hardened of cynics.

The study, which was written by Candice M. Mills and Frank C. Keil
and appeared in the May 2005 issue of the journal Psychological
Science, suggests that young children are especially apt to believe
that when people distort the truth, they do so for selfish reasons.
In one part of the experiment, kindergartners, second graders,
fourth graders and sixth graders read or heard short stories about
the outcomes of various contests. The children were then informed
that some of the characters in these stories had falsely reported
the results of the contests. The children had to decide whether the
misstatements were due to lying, bias or innocent error.

More often than not, the children believed that the characters were
lying - provided that a character's spreading of misinformation was
clearly aligned with the promotion of the character's
self-interest. In fact, the study shows young children to be more
cynical than adults because they are more likely to link
self-interest with intentional deception as opposed to a mistake or
subconscious bias. "Young children are less likely than adults to
give people who make incorrect statements in their own favor the
benefit of the doubt," Mills writes, "assuming instead that these
kinds of inaccuracies arise from a malicious intent to deceive."

Mills attributes the study's results partly to the fact that many
elementary-school children have yet to distinguish between
conscious and unconscious thought. Clearly, outright deception is a
simpler concept than subtle bias. In any case, the children's acute
skepticism may be an increasingly important tool for the newest
members of an information-based economy.

Laptop That Will Save the World, The

Here in America, high-speed wireless Internet has become a
commonplace home amenity, and teenagers with Sidekicks can browse
the Web on a beach. For many people in developing nations, however,
the mere thought of owning a computer remains pure fantasy.

But maybe not for long. This year, Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, unveiled a
prototype of a $100 laptop. With millions of dollars in financing
from the likes of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and Google,
Negroponte and his colleagues have designed an extremely durable,
compact, no-frills laptop, which they'd like to see in the hands of
millions of children worldwide by 2008.

So how can any worthwhile computer cost less than a pair of good
headphones? Through a series of cost-cutting tricks. The laptops
will run on free "open source" software, use cheaper "flash" memory
instead of a hard disk and most likely employ new LCD technology to
drop the monitor's cost to just $35. Each laptop will also come
with a hand crank, making it usable even in electricity-free rural

Of course, the real computing mother lode is the Internet, to which
few developing-world users have access. But the M.I.T. laptops will
offer wireless peer-to-peer connections that create a local
network. As long as there's an Internet signal somewhere in the
network area - and making sure that's the case, even in rural
areas, poses a mighty challenge - everyone can get online and use a
built-in Web browser. Theoretically, even children in a small
African village could have "access to more or less all libraries of
the world," Negroponte says. (That's probably not very useful to
children who can't read or understand foreign languages.) His team
is already in talks with several foreign governments, including
those of Egypt, Brazil and Thailand, about bulk orders. Gov. Mitt
Romney of Massachusetts has also proposed a bill to buy 500,000 of
the computers for his state's children.

Localized Food Aid

In emergency medicine, doctors often refer to the "golden hour," or
the 60-minute window after a medical calamity when treatment is
most likely to save the patient. Famine emergencies have a similar
dynamic: if food arrives at the earliest signs of a shortage, more
lives will be saved. Buying food locally often provides the
greatest chance to prevent starvation. That's partly because of the
geography of famine relief. About two-thirds of countries in need
are in Africa, while many of the donor countries are congregated in
North America and Western Europe. Shipping emergency food aid from
the U.S. often takes five months or longer.

Every country that contributes regularly to famine relief has the
flexibility to buy locally, with the exception of the biggest
donor: the United States. Federal laws more than half a century old
dictate that all food aid has to be purchased in and shipped from
U.S. soil. Earlier this year, the Bush administration tried to
relax the rules and allow up to one-fourth of the food-aid budget
to be used to buy commodities from in or around the
famine-afflicted country. The proposal, however, was voted down in

The defeat could be chalked up to the fact that it ran afoul of a
fundamental tenet of U.S. food aid: help the needy but also make
sure you boost the bottom line of agribusiness and shipping
companies. While it's understandable that corporations are loath to
forfeit government money, they have a somewhat surprising ally in
maintaining the status quo: nongovernmental organizations. These
groups, which distribute food in poor countries, have their own
financial stake in fighting local buying. That's because only a
fraction of the food donated by U.S. farmers is used in famine
emergencies. Development and relief groups sell the surplus and
earmark the proceeds for anti-hunger and poverty programs. They
fear that ending the current practice of shipping from the U.S.
will curtail big-business support for food aid, leading to smaller
budgets. Those, in turn, could jeopardize their anti-hunger

Making Global Warming Work for You

If global warming occurs at the pace that most scientists
anticipate, there is going to be money in it for those who have the
right product in the right place at the right time. George Bernard
Shaw once noted that profits are made in the dark; now they will be
made in the heat.

Some farmers in Britain are already finding that longer summers
mean a lower animal feed bill. ("Every day that the sheep can eat
grass instead of us having to carry out cake is a bonus," a Welsh
farmer named John Davies told a local newspaper. "We should look at
the effects of global warming and learn to work with it and use it
effectively.") A Central American company is pitching Americans a
tree called the leucaena, which they claim has the potential to
sequester carbon dioxide - a source of global warming. And an
outerwear manufacturer in New York now makes the linings of its
winter jackets removable after finding that its lightweight
"microfiber windbreaker" was selling year round.

Then there are the experimenters. Klaus Lackner, a geophysics
professor at Columbia University, is working on a windmill-size
structure that takes carbon dioxide from the air and traps it. In
general, though, the Europeans are far ahead of the Americans in
designing for a future they see as inevitable. The Dutch have a
particular interest in getting on top of the global-warming market.
In Amsterdam, innovative architects are designing boutique floating
houses, offices and even stadiums, anticipating the day when the
Netherlands' low landmass is inundated.

Medical Maggots

Most people associate maggots with death and disease. But if Ronald
Sherman has his way, you may soon think of them as lifesavers.
Sherman, a doctor who runs the BioTherapeutics, Education and
Research Foundation in Irvine, Calif., is a leading proponent of
maggot debridement therapy (M.D.T.) - the use of maggots to consume
dead tissue, kill bacteria and stimulate new tissue growth. "They
exert these actions 24 hours a day," Sherman says, "without the
need for a highly trained surgeon and without the high cost of many
other comparable treatments." Sherman has been working with maggots
for two decades. The Food and Drug Administration recently cleared
maggots for marketing and distribution as "medical devices" - the
first living organisms to receive full F.D.A. approval.

Along with leeches, maggots are part of the emerging field of
biotherapy - the therapeutic use of living creatures. M.D.T., used
to clean out gangrenous tissue often found in ulcers, burns and
postoperative infections, is a relatively simple process (and
cheap, at around $100 a treatment). After doctors clean the wound
and isolate it with gauze, the maggots are placed on the tissue,
about 5 to 10 per square centimeter. After being covered with more
gauze, they are left alone for 48 to 72 hours. Most patients feel
nothing, though some report a tingling sensation or pain.


People are distracted by naked supermodels; it doesn't take three
Ph.D.'s to figure that out. But what psychology researchers at Yale
and Vanderbilt Universities have discovered is that erotic - and
violent - images are so distracting that they make people
temporarily blind.

Steven Most, Marvin Chun and David Zald ran a high-speed computer
slide show for students, with hundreds of photographs flicking by
for a tenth of a second apiece. Students were asked to pick out the
picture that was turned 90 degrees from the rest. Most of the time,
it was no problem. But when a snapshot of a bared breast or a
severed limb came just before the perpendicular image, the test
subjects had a 30 percent chance of missing the perpendicular image
completely. Researchers call the effect "attentional
rubbernecking." "It's like when you turn to look at an accident as
you're driving on the highway," Most says. "There's something
involuntary about it." Only students who scored low for anxiety in
psychological profiles managed to find the target picture
consistently - and that was only true when they were distracted by
violent images (not erotic ones) and received detailed instructions
about what to look for.

Zald says that there's a message in the study for marketers who
like to drape the scantily clad around their products. "A sexy
billboard might capture attention," he says. "But people might end
up so focused on the sex, they miss what's being advertised." The
consequences could be even worse if that billboard was above the
highway. "The attentional blindness may only last for a half-second
or less," Zald says. "But when you're going 70 miles an hour, that
can be plenty dangerous."

Monkey Pay-Per-View

Entertainment moguls, take note: scientists are now one step closer
to understanding what a monkey will - and won't - pay to see.

In January, the neurobiologists Michael Platt and Robert Deaner at
Duke University published the results of an experiment that
explored the viewing habits of male rhesus monkeys seated in a
laboratory. If a test monkey chose to look in one direction, it
received a squirt of cherry juice. If it looked in another, it
received a slightly larger or smaller squirt of juice, plus one of
several images to look at: the face of a higher-status or
lower-status monkey or the attractive back end of a female monkey.
By varying the amount of juice that came with each picture, the
researchers were able to calculate the value of each image, in
"relative juice payoff," to the viewer.

The results of the study, called "Monkeys Pay Per View," would not
surprise a theater operator in Times Square, past or present. With
remarkable consistency, the monkeys were willing to forgo a little
juice - to pay extra, in effect - to look at the more important
monkeys or to check out some monkey booty. (The male monkeys did
not seem to prefer female faces over male ones, however.)

For scientists, the results offered the first experimental
confirmation that monkeys discriminate between pictures of their
brethren based on social status. To what extent they are picking up
on facial cues, or bringing to bear their own prior familiarity
with the social group, remains to be spelled out. Regardless, the
study shows that the importance of social information is wired into
their brains: the neural circuits that assign value (in the
currency of juice) have access to the database of social

What holds for nonhuman primates may also hold for people. With a
better understanding of the neural basis of social cognition,
neurobiologists hope to get a handle on diseases like autism, which
effectively disrupts a person's ability to judge the expressions,
intentions and importance of other individuals.

National Smiles

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of
California at Berkeley, contends that Americans and the English
smile differently. On this side of the Atlantic, we simply draw the
corners of our lips up, showing our upper teeth. Think Julia
Roberts or the gracefully aged Robert Redford. "I think Tom Cruise
has a terrific American smile," Keltner, who specializes in the
cultural meaning of emotions, says. In England, they draw the lips
back as well as up, showing their lower teeth. The English smile
can be mistaken for a suppressed grimace or a request to wipe that
stupid smile off your face. Think headwaiter at a restaurant when
your MasterCard seems tapped out, or Prince Charles anytime.

Keltner hit upon this difference in national smiles by accident. He
was studying teasing in American fraternity houses and found that
low-status frat members, when they were teased, smiled using the
risorius muscle - a facial muscle that pulls the lips sideways - as
well as the zygomatic major, which lifts up the lips. It resulted
in a sickly smile that said, in effect, I understand you must
paddle me, brother, but not too hard, please. Several years later,
Keltner went to England on sabbatical and noticed that the English
had a peculiar deferential smile that reminded him of those he had
seen among the junior American frat members. Like the frat
brothers', the English smile telegraphed an acknowledgment of
hierarchy rather than just expressing pleasure.

"What the deferential smile says is, 'I respect what you're
thinking of me and am shaping my behavior accordingly,"' Keltner
says. His theory was put to the test earlier this year when a
British journalist showed Keltner 15 pictures of closely cropped
smiles and Keltner guessed right - Briton or American - 14 times.
"I missed Venus Williams like a fool," he remembers.

Open-Source Reporting

No liberal blogger could complain about a dearth of material in
2005. From the Bush administration's ham-fisted response to
Hurricane Katrina to the indictment of the former Republican
majority leader Tom DeLay, opportunities to lambaste the Republican
Party were abundant. Of course, staying abreast of all these
developing stories was not a facile proposition, at least in the
experience of Joshua M. Marshall, editor of the left-leaning blog
Talkingpointsmemo.com. And so this October he put out a plea for
help, asking his readers to share their knowledge of the spreading
Washington scandals. He termed the effort "open-source
investigative reporting."

The phrase echoes the open-source software movement, whose
programmers pool their expertise to write source code. Other
Internet-based endeavors, like the online encyclopedia Wikipedia,
also draw on a virtual community to produce Web site content.
Talking Points Memo provided an ideal platform for a similar
experiment: the blog attracts some 100,000 readers a day, many of
them hard-core news obsessives. In Marshall's words, they
represented a "huge nationwide information-gathering apparatus."

Marshall challenged his virtual news corps to dig into a succession
of Republican embarrassments. Drawing on news reports, they laid
out a detailed chronology of the events that culminated in the
arraignment of the former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis
Libby for obstruction of justice. After Marshall obtained a list of
gifts that the disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff showered
on Capitol Hill employees, he asked readers familiar with the
Congressional ethics code to determine if the goodies were
violations. Sometimes his directives were less specific. Take, for
example, his post on the former Federal Bureau of Investigation
director Louis Freeh, whom he derided as an incompetent hack.
"Freeh is a walking glass house," Marshall wrote. "Please everyone
collect your rocks."

Parking Meters That Don't Give You a Break

Pulling up to an overfed parking meter, and thus saving a quarter
or two, is one of life's small pleasures. So the elders of Pacific
Grove, Calif., seem like major killjoys for installing 100
high-tech meters that deprive motorists of this karmic reward. A
wire grid beneath each parking space senses the magnetic disruption
caused by a vehicle's departure, causing the meter's time to reset
to zero.

"We're making parking more democratic," insists Kirby Andrews, a
managing director of the Connecticut-based InnovaPark, which
designed Pacific Grove's stingy meters. He points out that the
digital meters can be programmed to help free up spaces more
frequently, either by refusing additional coins until a new car
arrives or by increasing rates over time - $1 for the first hour,
$2 for the second, $4 for the third.

Parking democracy may or may not be on the march, but "dumb" meters
are definitely headed for extinction, replaced by more efficient,
more draconian alternatives. In Montreal, for example, drivers
punch their parking space number into a solar-powered curbside
machine that accepts both credit cards and coins. When time runs
out, the machine registers that fact, and P.D.A.-toting parking
agents can see the violator's space flash red on an on-screen map.

Cities love these new technologies because they make it easier to
ticket scofflaws, turn over spaces and generally stick it to
motorists a wee bit more. The financial results are hard to argue
with: InnovaPark, for example, estimates that by simply resetting
to zero when a car pulls out of a space, its meters rake in 20 to
40 percent more revenue than dumb meters.

Playoff Paradigm, The

Team sports like football and basketball have long benefited from
the frenzy of audience interest that attends the postseason. Now
individual sports like golf, tennis and stock-car racing have
realized that the playoff format can be viable - and lucrative -
for their leagues too.

It took Nascar, the most baldly commercialized of sports, to see
the merits of adopting a playoff format. Last year, Nascar began
packaging the season's last 10 races as a playoff series. (After 26
"regular season" races, the top 10 drivers qualify for the
so-called Chase for the Nextel Cup, in which they vie for the
championship.) In the first year of the new system, TV ratings for
the final 10 races of the season jumped 12 percent. They rose again
this year, despite the failure of the marquee drivers Dale
Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon to make the playoff cut.

Such was the backdrop for the P.G.A.'s announcement this fall that
it will institute its own late-season playoff series beginning in
2007, culminating in a revamped Tour Championship that will, in
fact, crown a Tour champ. (As it stands, the Tour Championship is
an event of such little import that Phil Mickelson skipped it this
year, supposedly so he could go trick-or-treating with his kids.)
The P.G.A.'s new system, which will impose the arc and rigor of a
team sport's season on golf's bloated 10-month tour, borrows
liberally from Nascar, as well as from tennis's new United States
Open Series. "We're the only major sport that doesn't have a
playoff system," said the P.G.A. Tour commissioner, Tim Finchem, in
explaining the plan. Not long after, the L.P.G.A. announced a
playoff system of its own.

Pleistocene Rewilding

The golden era of North America, in the eyes of today's North
Americans, was about 200 years ago, when bison roamed the Great
Plains by the millions. But even that is a watered-down memory.
Thirteen thousand years ago, truly mega fauna, including lions,
cheetahs, camels and five kinds of elephant, also walked the land -
and still would today, had humans not come along to speed their

Why not bring 'em back? In August, in a paper titled "Re-Wilding
North America," a team of naturalists led by Josh Donlan, a Cornell
University graduate student, proposed to do exactly that. Many of
these large vertebrates now face extinction in Africa and Asia, the
authors note; meanwhile, the Great Plains area is slowly emptying
of its people. No time like the present to restore the
Pleistocene-era wilderness. Ecotourists and dollars would flock to
the region. More important, the plan would aid the global
conservation effort and simultaneously serve as an antidote to "the
'pests and weeds' (rats and dandelions) that will otherwise come to
dominate the landscape," the authors wrote.

Of course, the reintroduced beasts wouldn't be the exact same
species as the originals, merely their closest living kin. And key
logistical details need to be ironed out. For instance, would the
predators be fenced-in or freely roaming? Mostly the former, the
naturalists propose - although that sounds more like Busch Gardens
than the Serengeti bush. On the other hand, prides of free-roaming
lions would present a certain. . .liability. (In Tanzania, lion
attacks on people have risen 300 percent in the past 15 years.)
Ours is a nation that can barely stand to shoot the deer
overrunning our lawns. Pity the first wildlife manager seen
shooting a renegade lion on network television.

Porn Suffix, The

Establishing a new Internet suffix like ".com" or ".org" takes deep
pockets and patience. This has not deterred Stuart Lawley, a
Florida entrepreneur, from trying to establish a pornography-only
".xxx" domain. In such a realm, Lawley could restrict porn
marketing to adults only, protect users' privacy, limit spam and
collect fees from Web masters. The .xxx proposal was finally slated
for approval in August by the Internet Corporation for Assigned
Names and Numbers (Icann), but because of a flurry of protest, it
has been shelved for now.

Lawley's scheme has aroused support and dissent across the
political spectrum. The Family Research Council warns that it will
simply breed more smut. But Senator Joe Lieberman supports a
virtual red-light district because he says it would make the job of
filtering out porn easier.

Meanwhile, some pornographers, apparently drawn by the promise of
catchier and more trustworthy U.R.L.'s, have gotten behind Lawley.
Other skin-peddlers, echoing the A.C.L.U., see the establishment of
a voluntary porn zone as the first step toward the deportation of
their industry to a distant corner of the Web, where their sites
could easily be blocked by skittish Internet service providers,
credit card companies and even governments.

The Free Speech Coalition, a lobbying group for the pornography
industry, supports an entirely different approach to Web
architecture. It recommends that children be confined to a
wholesome ".kids" domain. This "walled garden" theory of Internet
safety is not original. It is borrowed from Lawley himself, who has
since dropped it because he deems it impractical.

Preventing Suicide Bombing

How do you stop a suicide bomber on his way to a target? Until
recently, that wasn't an urgent question for scholars in the West.
But it is now, and scientists, military strategists and security
experts are scrambling, in different directions, to find an answer.

Last year, Darpa, the Pentagon's research arm, convened a panel of
experts through the National Research Council to study methods to
detect suicide bombers from a distance, before they strike. The
panel's report presented some provocative ideas, including
"detection by detonation." Under this plan, soldiers at a military
checkpoint would fire radiation at each approaching car. If there
were no explosives on board, the car would pass through the beam
safely. But if the car carried suicide attackers, the radiation
would cause their bombs to explode, killing everyone on board (and
anyone unlucky enough to be nearby), but leaving the checkpoint
unharmed. Another intriguing notion from the report: "distributed
biological sensors" - bees, moths, butterflies or rats specially
trained to pick up bomb vapors, buzzing or fluttering through a
crowd, sniffing for fumes. (The rats, equipped with
global-positioning-system chips, would work the sewers.)

Even if you manage to detect a suicide bomber, what do you do next?
This question was taken up by Edward H. Kaplan, a professor of
public health at Yale, in a paper he published in July, written
with Moshe Kress of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey,
Calif. Kaplan and Kress investigated the physics of a belt-bomb
blast and reached some unexpected conclusions. It turns out that
very few people are killed by the concussive force of a suicide
explosion; the deadly weapon is in fact the shrapnel - the ball
bearings, nails or pieces of metal that the attacker attaches to
the outside of his bomb. The explosions, though, are usually not
powerful enough to send these projectiles all the way through a
human body, which means that if your view of a suicide bomber is
entirely obscured by other people at the moment of detonation, you
are much more likely to escape serious injury. Because of the
geometry of crowds, Kaplan found, a belt bomb set off in a heavily
populated room will actually yield fewer casualties than one set
off in a more sparsely populated area; the unlucky few nearest to
the bomb will absorb all of its force.

The authors used these calculations to question some assumptions
about what authorities should do if they detect a bomber. The
International Association of Chiefs of Police issued guidelines
this year suggesting that police officers who find a bomber in a
crowd should fire shots into the air to cause people near the
bomber to scatter or hit the deck. But Kaplan's calculations
demonstrate that in many cases, this would make things worse - as a
packed crowd ran away from a bomber or dropped to the ground, the
circle of potential victims around him would get wider and thus
more populous, and more lives could be lost.

As Kaplan points out, these physics create an unusual moral
dilemma. If you suddenly find yourself next to a suicide bomber
about to set off his charge, there is what he calls "a huge
conflict between what's best for you as an individual and what's
best for the group." Soon after his paper was published, Kaplan
came across one blogger who had read about his research and
concluded that the heroic thing to do in that situation would be to
approach the bomber and hug him or her, sacrificing yourself but
saving the lives of many people behind you.

Not surprisingly, homeland security experts are still looking for
other neutralization techniques, ones that don't involve hugging.
And here there is another divide in the field. The association of
police chiefs recommended this year that police on the scene simply
shoot suspected bombers in the head - "specifically, at the tip of
the nose when facing the bomber . . .or about one inch below the
base of the skull from behind." The London officers who two weeks
after the July bombings killed an innocent Brazilian man whom they
suspected of being a suicide bomber were operating on similar
instructions, a shoot-to-kill policy known as Operation Kratos.

Readable Medicine Bottle, The

With their squeezed, blocky typefaces, odd assortments of
inexplicable numbers and mysterious codings, the tops that come off
too easily or not at all, prescription medicine bottles remind you,
above all, not to expect too much from medicine. One look at the
forlorn bottle and its dated, amber cast, and we can practically
see the hospital walls in that milky green, the plastic wrap
sweating over the canned fruit salad. Medicine, it seems, is
supposed to resist the aesthetic touch. We have come to accept that
unquestioningly, just as we've come to accept so much else about
the way we move through the world of health care.

It occurred to Deborah Adler to expect more. Adler's grandmother
risked serious harm when she accidentally swallowed her husband's
medicine instead of her own, and Adler couldn't help wondering why
prescription bottles couldn't more clearly demarcate whose bottles
belonged to whom. That simple question spawned a host of others.
Why should the patient have to rotate the bottle to read all the
information on it? Why should the name of the drug be hidden at the
bottom of the label? Why didn't the label say anywhere what the
medicine was for?

Adler began redesigning the bottle for her M.F.A. thesis at the
School of Visual Arts and continued to develop the project after
she graduated and began working with the graphic designer Milton
Glaser. She devised a label that displayed the most relevant
information - patient name, drug name and instructions - up top,
where it couldn't be missed. She and Glaser also reconfigured
outdated warning labels: instead of showing an icon that looked
like either a pastrami hero or a flying saucer for "take with
food," they presented a simple plate with knife and fork. Each
family member, Adler proposed, would have a designated color
associated with his or her bottles. An information card would slip
into a pocket on the back of the bottle, clearly indicating the
medicine's purpose.

Republican Elitism

For more than a generation, the most popular maneuver in the
conservative playbook has been to denounce academic and cultural
elites. In the 1960's, William F. Buckley Jr. quipped that he'd
rather "be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston
telephone book than by the 2,000 members of the Harvard faculty."
In 2003, David Frum, a conservative columnist and former Bush
speechwriter, denounced the "American elite" for its "combination
of guilt and self-doubt." "With his 'axis of evil' speech," he
continued, "President Bush served notice to the world: he felt no
guilt and no self-doubt."

But this year, many conservatives put the elite-baiting aside and
began trafficking in their own elitist pronouncements. Even in the
relatively rarefied world of appellate judges and academic
economists, John Roberts (Harvard College, Harvard Law School),
Samuel A. Alito Jr. (Princeton, Yale Law School) and Ben Bernanke
(Harvard and M.I.T., Princeton professor) stand out for their
impressive credentials. When George Bush nominated them to
important offices, Frum and his fellow conservative commentators
saluted their impeccable qualifications even as they denounced the
nomination of the relatively uncredentialed Harriet Miers (Southern
Methodist University, S.M.U. School of Law).

Of course, for all their insistence that businessmen and ordinary
citizens understand the realities of American life better than
highly credentialed professionals, conservatives have spent decades
building a credentialed professional elite of their own. Ambitious
conservatives have attended top graduate schools, taken positions
at prestigious research groups and law firms, written important
books and papers. They've waited patiently for the day when they
could take their places at the highest levels of government - when,
say, a second-term Republican president would enjoy majorities in
both houses of Congress.

Now that the day has finally come, conservatives don't want the
opportunity fumbled - and certainly not in favor of a few
presidential cronies. For Bush "to take a hazard on anything other
than a known quantity of the highest intellectual and personal
excellence," Frum wrote in the aftermath of the Miers nomination,
would be "simply reckless." Responding to Bush's request that
conservatives trust his assessment of Harriet Miers, George F. Will
thundered: "He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make
sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing
the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the
course of their pre-presidential careers, and this president,
particularly, is not disposed to such reflections." So much for the
idea that what Bush knows in his heart is more important than what
intellectuals know in their heads.

Conservatives still may not want the Harvard faculty running the
country. But it turns out they'd be perfectly happy with alumni of
the Harvard Republican Club.

Robot Jockeys

When the new camel-racing season got under way recently in Qatar
and the United Arab Emirates, spectators with sharp vision noticed
that something was up with the freshman class of jockeys. For the
first time in living memory, they were not young children imported
from impoverished areas of South Asia and Africa. The jockeys in
Qatar were imported from Switzerland; those in the Emirates were
local products. And one more thing: they were also robots.

After years of pressure from human rights groups and Western
governments, gulf sheiks agreed to enforce bans on child jockeys
this year. Rather than opt for heavier adult riders, though, camel
owners obsessed with speed asked robotics firms to start churning
out mechanical boys. So this year's races look more like scenes
from "Futurama" than "Lawrence of Arabia," with thoroughbred camels
guided by child-size robot jockeys racing along desert tracks at
speeds of 25 miles an hour. The jockeys themselves are controlled
by the camel trainers, who follow close behind in S.U.V.'s, hunched
over remote controls that send out wireless signals. At the flick
of a joystick or the press of a button, the trainers can move the
jockeys' arms to pull the camels' reins or administer whippings. As
required, they can also shout abuse at their camels, delivered via

Runaway Alarm Clock, The

Every morning, millions of Americans begin the day with the
annoying beep of an alarm clock - a noise they are likely to
silence with a fumbling tap of the snooze button. While the few
minutes' rest this affords is reprieve enough for some, many hit
the snooze button again and again, prolonging their wake-up time
and leaving themselves late for school or work. For these
undisciplined dozers, a machine has arrived that promises to get
them out of bed - literally.

The device, known as Clocky, looks like a conventional digital
alarm clock, only wrapped in shag carpeting and with wheels
sticking out the sides. Designed by Gauri Nanda when she was a
graduate student at the M.I.T. Media Lab, Clocky, too, has a snooze
button. But a few minutes after the button is pressed, the clock
drives itself off the night stand. Once on the floor, after
righting itself, it will move in random directions, eventually
nesting in another part of the room. Then the alarm sounds again,
forcing the sleeper to rise.

Nanda, who says she hopes that Clocky will arrive on store shelves
next year, explains that her inspiration came from some kittens who
once shared her bedroom, nibbling on her toes in the morning but
running away when confronted. Clocky's movements are equally
unpredictable: it might end up hiding under the bed, lurking in a
corner or simply lounging in the middle of the room. But it will
rarely, if ever, settle within arm's reach. "It reminds you of a
troublesome pet," Nanda says.

Scientific Free-Throw Distraction

Every basketball fan knows that the seats behind a backboard don't
afford a great view of the court, but they do provide an
opportunity to affect a game's outcome. By waving ThunderStix -
those long, skinny balloons that make noise when smacked together -
or other implements of distraction, fans sitting behind the basket
can unnerve an opposing team's foul shooters and make them miss.
But not, a new theory holds, unless the fans gesticulate in a
particular way.

According to Daniel Engber, a basketball fan with a master's degree
in neuroscience, the standard "free-throw defenses" are too
haphazard to be effective. Fans tend to wave their ThunderStix
willy-nilly, creating a unified field of randomly moving objects.
Because of the way the human brain perceives motion, free-throw
shooters can easily ignore this sort of visual commotion. "Fans
might think they're doing something by crazily waving their
ThunderStix," Engber says, "but to the players it's all just a sea
of visual white noise." Which is why, Engber surmises, N.B.A.
teams' free-throw percentages at home and on the road are nearly

The key to a successful free-throw defense, Engber argues, is to
make a player perceive a "field of background motion" that tricks
his brain into thinking that he himself is moving, thereby throwing
off his shooting. In other words, fans should wave their
ThunderStix in tandem.

Last season, Engber proposed this tactic to the Dallas Mavericks'
owner, Mark Cuban, who took him up on the idea. For three games,
Cuban had members of the Mavs' Hoop Troop instruct fans to wave
their ThunderStix from side to side in unison. And as Engber
subsequently reported in the online magazine Slate, the initial
results were encouraging. In the first game, the Mavericks'
opponent, the Boston Celtics, shot 60 percent from the line, about
20 percent below their season average. In the second game, the
Milwaukee Bucks shot a meager 63 percent. But in the third game,
the Los Angeles Lakers shot 78 percent - about the league average.
Which apparently was enough to persuade Cuban to abandon the

Seeing With Your Ears

Seeing is something that most of us expect to do with our eyes. But
what if you are born blind or lose your sight later in life? Peter
Meijer suggests you consider seeing with your ears instead.

Meijer, a research scientist in the Netherlands, has developed a
technology called the vOICe, which allows you to represent visual
information - to "see" - with sounds. The device is a tiny camera,
a laptop and headphones. The camera is mounted on your head and the
laptop takes the video input and converts it into auditory
information, or soundscapes. The scene in front of you is scanned
in stereo: you hear objects on your left through your left ear and
objects on your right through your right ear. Brightness is
translated as volume: bright things are louder. Pitch tells you
what's up and what's down. The image refreshes once a second.

With practice, Meijer says, you can learn to sense instinctively
how the features of a soundscape correspond to objects in the
physical world. Pat Fletcher, for instance, a proficient user of
the vOICe who could see until age 21, describes the grayscale
images in her head as "ghostly" but real. At a meeting of the
Cognitive Neuroscience Society in New York in April, researchers
from Harvard Medical School announced that when they viewed the
activity in the brains of two vOICe users (one blind at birth, the
other who went blind later in life), it was in many respects like
that of a sighted person while seeing.

Self-Fulfilling Trade Rumor, The

Desmond Mason for Jamaal Magloire - it was hardly the stuff of
N.B.A. legend. A swingman (Mason) averaging 12.8 points a game over
his career for a center (Magloire) averaging 9.5. But what was
notable about the trade, which took place in late October just
before the current N.B.A. season began, when the Milwaukee Bucks
sent Mason to the New Orleans Hornets for Magloire, is that it was
inspired by a Web site, hoopshype.com.

At least that's where Larry Harris, the Bucks' general manager,
told The Racine Journal Times he got the idea for the deal. Harris
saw on the site's Rumors page that the Hornets were willing to
trade Magloire (despite the Hornets' coach having publicly said
otherwise), so he contacted the Hornets and promptly traded for
Magloire. It's close to a hoops version of the ontological argument
for the existence of God: Mason for Magloire made so much sense,
apparently, that once the very possibility of Magloire being traded
was posited, it had to be reality.

The rumor that the Hornets were open to trading Magloire did not
originate online; it appeared in a New York Post column by Peter
Vecsey. But the fact that a Web site, not firsthand exposure to the
column itself, brought two dealmakers together hints at how a
couple of Internet-driven phenomena could be changing professional
sports. First, the spread of fantasy leagues means that when it
comes to the major sports, everyone's a general manager; fans parse
player stats online, collect and share all sorts of data and
analysis and conduct their own trades. In some fantasy league
somewhere, some team had probably already traded Mason for

Serialized Pop Song, The

Every summer has its jeep beats - those inescapable radio hits that
swell and subside with the passing S.U.V.'s. Last summer, though,
one track was different: it had no chorus, no hook, no real beat
even. In fact, it wasn't one song but five. It was R. Kelly's
"Trapped in the Closet," a multipart urban operetta released to
radio in "chapters" in anticipation of his 10th studio album,
"TP.3: Reloaded." Each chapter is about three minutes long and has
the same music, a nondescript slow groove, over which Kelly sings a
tale of epic infidelity and improbable plot twists.

"Trapped in the Closet" was a minor cultural moment: Chapters 1
through 5 each occupied the top spot in the urban charts; the album
made its debut at No. 1. Last month, Kelly released a DVD
collecting videos of the original five chapters, plus seven new
ones, with Kelly himself as co-director and star.

If you consider it only as a concept, "Trapped in the Closet" seems
inevitable. It touches on the big entertainment megatrends: the
branded franchise, the automatic spinoff to DVD, the self-updating
content of podcasting, the campy soap opera of "Desperate
Housewives." As for the song itself, that's a different story.
"Trapped in the Closet" may indeed be without precedent. It is also
completely bananas.

Start with the plot. The narrator wakes up in a strange woman's
bed. Before he can get home to his own wife, he's hiding in the
closet from his one-night stand's husband, a pastor (of course)
named Rufus. In short order, the narrator is waving a gun around,
only to be rendered speechless by the appearance of Rufus's lover,
Chuck. And that only gets us up to Chapter 2.

Sitcom Loyalty Oath, The

In April, an unusual document appeared on the Web site
www.getarrested.com. It was a "loyalty oath," which fans of the TV
show "Arrested Development," Fox's critically beloved but
anemically rated sitcom, could sign to make a formal declaration of
their devotion.

The oath was the brainchild of Fox executives, who were
increasingly leery about the future of the show. Despite having won
an Emmy for Best Comedy Series, "Arrested Development," then ending
its second season, was in dire straits. The show had placed 121st
among the programs measured by the Nielsen ratings, and Fox had
shortened the show's second season by four episodes. Fearing that
the program was headed for "hiatus," Internet-based buffs began to
hound Fox with angry phone calls and mass mailings.

The loyalty oath offered aggrieved fans a chance to "speak out and
take action," a Fox spokesman explained. By signing, a viewer
pledged "never-ending loyalty and allegiance to the best comedy on
television today." The signatory further promised to "tune in for
every single episode of the third season" and to recruit friends
and family to join him in the cause. The oath ends with a lusty
call to action: "With these efforts, I promise to keep 'Arrested
Development' alive!" Fox claims that more than 100,000 people have
signed it.

Nonetheless, "Arrested Development" soon lost even more of its
audience, and in November Fox announced that it was shortening the
current third season by nine episodes - an almost sure sign that
the show would soon be canceled.

Solar Sailing

Solar sailing is a bit like a missing link between Carl Sagan and
Patrick O'Brian. "Imagine hoisting a sail and being out there in
space," says Louis Friedman, the project director of Cosmos 1, the
world's first solar-sail spacecraft. "It's a beautiful idea, and it
conjures up the idea of the great sailing ships and whole notion of
exploration." On June 21, Friedman's team placed the unmanned
Cosmos 1 inside an intercontinental ballistic missile and launched
it skyward from a Russian submarine. The missile faltered, and
Cosmos 1 crashed into the sea - a scene recalling great shipwrecks
more than great discoveries.

But if, someday, it works, Friedman says that solar sailing could
have many advantages over conventional space flight. For one thing,
a solar-sailing vessel does not require fuel. Once in space, the
Cosmos 1 would have unfurled eight 50-foot-long sails, which would
have arrayed themselves around the ship like flower petals.
Engineers built the sails from thin sheets of aluminum-coated Mylar
that were designed to reflect photons from the sun's light and thus
propel the craft forward. As with an earthbound ship, the angle of
the sails was to be manipulated to control the direction of the

At first, a solar-sailing vessel would accelerate very slowly. But
its acceleration would be constant, so that in a little over a
year's time the craft could be traveling at speeds in excess of
conventional rockets. For this reason, Friedman sees solar sailing
as the ideal method to visit other planets. It could, he predicts,
shave a few years off a satellite's 10-year trip to Pluto.

Sonic Gunman Locator, The

The bombs get all the headlines, but gunfire is also a constant
threat to American troops in Iraq. Between the shattered buildings,
the rubble piles, the swirling dust storms and the roaring Humvees,
shooters can be very hard to find. The Pentagon's response: start
equipping Humvees with technology that can automatically pinpoint
where the shots are coming from.

One system, known as Boomerang, uses a bundle of seven microphones,
each facing a different direction, mounted on top of an 18-inch
pole. When a bullet flies by, creating a shock wave, each
microphone picks up the sound at a slightly different time. Those
tiny differences allow the system to calculate where the shooter
is. (Boomerang also listens for the blast from the gun's muzzle,
which reaches the system just after the bullet's faster-than-sound
flight.) Inside the Humvee, a recorded voice buzzes through a
dashboard speaker, announcing the shooter's position - "Shot 10
o'clock! Shot 10 o'clock!" - and an analog clocklike display
indicates the direction. Other information, like the shooter's
G.P.S. coordinates, range and elevation, are also provided. "We're
now accurate way beyond 500 meters," says Dave Schmitt, Boomerang's
program manager at BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Mass.


Newton's third law of motion applies on the Internet as well as in
the physical world: for every action, there is an equal and
opposite reaction. The convenience of e-mail messages triggered the
annoyance of spam. And now the democracy of Web logs has brought
forth the duplicity of spam blogs, or splogs.

During one weekend in October, persons unknown used Google's
blog-creation tool, Blogger, to generate more than 13,000 fake
blogs. Hosted on Google's free BlogSpot Web site, these splogs
consisted of nonsense text, postings swiped from legitimate blogs
and, most important, links to sites that sploggers were trying to
promote. Because search engines base their rankings in part on how
many other sites link to a particular site, splogs can propel the
sites to which they are linked to the top of search-engine results.
(In this respect, splogging is similar to "Google bombing," a less
commercialized version of the same linking strategy, usually done
as a prank.)

The blogosphere erupted in indignation. Leading the charge was the
billionaire blogger and bad-boy Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban,
who is also co-owner of IceRocket.com, a tool for searching blogs.
"Get Your BlogSpot [Expletive] Together Google," Cuban thundered on
his widely read Web log. IceRocket.com temporarily stopped
including BlogSpot-hosted sites in its index. And Google quickly
added measures that let people flag counterfeit blogs - and that
try to ensure that those creating blogs with Blogger are human
beings rather than automated scripts.

Still, splogs continue to taint search-engine rankings. Technorati,
a leading blog tracking and searching service, estimates that
between 2 and 8 percent of the 70,000 new Web logs created each day
are actually counterfeit. "Blogs are coming at us left and right,"
Cuban wrote earlier this year. "We are killing off thousands a day,
but they keep on coming. Like Zombies. It's straight from 'Night of
the Living Dead."'

Stash Rocket, The

For years, various freethinkers among us have been at work on the
problem of how to unload the hooch when parents or teachers or
law-enforcement officials close in. To this end, immeasurable
amounts of drugs have been swallowed and flushed and fed to witless
mutts inside Little Debbie snack cakes, but not until the night of
June 24 had the distinguished practice seen its highest expression.

That evening, Michael Ray Sullivan and Joseph Calvin Seidl, two
Kentucky-based, er, entrepreneurs, were pulled off the road by the
police near Kingdom City, Mo., and were forced to unveil for the
first time their handmade, cigarette-lighter-powered,
driver-activated stash rocket.

According to an affidavit by Special Agent Steve Mattas of the Drug
Enforcement Administration, Sullivan and Seidl's design, which was
observed in the trunk of Sullivan's 1990 Ford Thunderbird,
consisted of a "hobby-style rocket that was controlled by an
elaborate system of ropes and pulleys" that lifted the rocket "from
a prone to upright position" upon the opening of the car's trunk.
The rocket was three to four feet long and three to four inches in
diameter and was connected, via a series of wires that the police
say drew their power from the car's cigarette lighter, to a
homemade switch in the front of the car. Its payload consisted of
two gallon-size Ziploc bags that contained roughly two pounds, or
917 grams, of methamphetamine.

Stoic Redheads

Redheads have long been portrayed in literature and art as
strong-willed and fiery. Now there may be a scientific explanation
for these traits. The key, according to researchers at McGill
University in Montreal, is a gene that is linked both to red hair
coloring and to higher levels of pain tolerance. It has been known
since the mid-1990's that mutations of the MC1R gene are
responsible for hair color - and fair skin and freckles - in about
70 percent of redheads. But when Jeffrey S. Mogil and his
colleagues at McGill set out to find a genetic link to pain
inhibition, MC1R wasn't at the top of their list of targets. "We
normally only get excited about genes in the brain when it comes to
pain," he says. "This is in the skin." There was, however, a
little-noticed paper that said MC1R was in fact expressed in the
brain. It was enough of a clue to go on.

So, earlier this year, Mogil ran some mice through a battery of
pain tests, using mice with the red-hair gene as his test group. (A
collaborator in the Netherlands ran the same study with humans,
giving them electrical shocks to the leg.) When animals and humans
experience pain, their brains release natural opiates similar to
morphine. In most cases, however, the MC1R gene produces a protein
that interferes with the efficacy of those substances as well as of
artificial painkillers. What Mogil found is that the variant of
MC1R that causes red hair also appears to allow these opiates to
work unimpeded. As a result, redheads can withstand up to 25
percent more pain than their blond and brunet peers do before
saying "stop."

Stream-of-Consciousness Newspaper, The

Hurricane Katrina transformed many things - the city of New
Orleans, the coastline of Louisiana, President Bush's approval
rating - but perhaps the most surprising change was the one it
wrought on the American newspaper.

Before the storm hit, the editors of The New Orleans Times-Picayune
set up a page on their Web site they called the Hurricane Katrina
Weblog. They had done something similar in previous storms, and for
the first two days, the blog functioned as it had in the past, as a
supplement to the paper, a catchall for breaking news and official
announcements on evacuations and shelters. Then the flood waters
rose, and the printed edition was shut down. Suddenly the blog
became something different: a new kind of newspaper, one in which
there was only a front page.

The paper's staff was forced to evacuate its headquarters. Jim
Amoss, the paper's editor, says that he and his colleagues quickly
realized that the print version of their newspaper had become
temporarily obsolete. They still compiled a daily edition of the
paper and made it available to readers as a full-color download
each evening. But the main event, it was clear, was the blog, which
was soon publishing 25,000 words a day, with new posts appearing
every few minutes. Readership grew exponentially, and several days
after the storm, the blog was getting 20 million to 30 million page
views a day. (Three weeks later, when Hurricane Rita hit, The
Houston Chronicle created a similar, equally successful Internet

Subadolescent Queen Bees

Anyone who has spent time in a middle-school cafeteria knows that
girls can be nasty. As it happens, cattiness isn't confined to the
pubescent set. According to a study released by Brigham Young
University researchers earlier this year, girls as young as 4
manipulate their peers to stay atop the social hierarchy. "They'll
spread rumors and give their peers the silent treatment," says
David Nelson, an assistant professor of marriage, family and human
development at B.Y.U. and an author of the study. "They do whatever
works to maintain control." So much for the sugar-and-spice
reputation of the sandbox set.

High-school bitchiness has been a cultural fixation for several
years now. (Witness the popularity of the movie "Mean Girls,"
itself based on the best-selling book "Queen Bees and Wannabes.")
And psychologists have been studying so-called relational
aggression - as opposed to physical aggression - in both male and
female adolescents for more than a decade. But the B.Y.U. study,
which appeared in April in the journal Early Education and
Development, was the first academic paper to document that very
young girls know how to exert psychological dominance over their
peers. While the study doesn't address how queen bees are formed,
Nelson speculates that many of these children are raised by
unusually controlling parents, who show them that manipulation
reaps results. "They take the relationship paradigm they learn at
home and transfer it to their peer group," he says.

Suburban Loft, The

The loft used to be a distinctly urban animal: empty downtown
factories converted first into living spaces by struggling artists,
then later into trendy up-market condos. But like many city
dwellers, as it has matured, the loft has moved farther away from
the hustle and bustle of downtown life. Last year, the National
Association of Home Builders incorporated the "loft look" in its
annual demonstration home in Las Vegas. A cross between SoHo and
Pleasantville, the house featured an open plan, buffed-concrete
floors and high ceilings, but it also sat amid a manicured lawn in
a gated subdivision. It drew rave reviews and quickly sold for $1.9

The "loft look" - also known as "factory chic" - has since
proliferated across the Sun Belt and Midwest, often in so-called
soft-loft condos (which are built from scratch rather than
converted) but occasionally as single-family detached homes.
Loft-style houses boast roll-up metal garage doors, cage-ensconced
outdoor lights and exposed ductwork - "City living without the
city," boasts the developer of Stone Canyon, a loft subdivision in
Las Vegas. Many of these lofts also come with the sort of trappings
McMansion dwellers have come to expect: walk-in closets, granite
countertops, sunken bathtubs.

Loft-style living is popular not just in blue-state enclaves like
Boulder or Austin: this year developers in Texas announced the
10-story Tower Lofts at Town Square in Sugar Land, Tex., the heart
of Tom DeLay's Congressional district.

Synesthetic Cookbook, The

Can't figure out what to have for dinner? Hugo Liu, a graduate
student at M.I.T.'s Media Lab, has developed a "smart" cookbook
that can recommend a dish on the basis of some of the tastes and
emotions commonly associated with it.

Synesthetic Recipes, a searchable computer database of 60,000
recipes, can't actually read your mind, but it comes close. In the
manner of a conventional cookbook, it is indexed according to 5,000
ingredients and 400 cooking procedures. But it can also be searched
according to terms that range from the descriptive ("silky") and
the playful ("aha") to the referential ("Popeye") and the
temperamental ("brooding"). Looking for something that's "exotic"
and "melodic" and "citrusy"? The cookbook suggests barbecued pork
ribs with a currant glaze or jackfruit pudding.

The database takes its name from synesthesia - the blurring of
sensations, as when you "see" sounds or "hear" colors. To create
his web of food associations, Liu and a team of his fellow M.I.T.
researchers first mined a variety of informational sources: food
sites on the Web, the records of the culinary historian Barbara
KetchamWheaton and a catalog of thousands of simple statements
(like "butter tastes rich") that were volunteered for an unrelated
M.I.T. research project. Liu and his team then cross-referenced
this information and combined it with a giant Web bank of recipes.
Their task - which took about four years - essentially amounted to
programming a computer with the knowledge that, for instance, a
soufflé is ethereal because it's fluffy, that it's fluffy because
it's made with well-aerated egg whites and that whipping egg whites
aerates them.

Taxonomy Auctions

Five years ago, the British primatologist Robert Wallace was
trekking through the Bolivian rain forest when he glimpsed a new
species of monkey - a discovery that eventually gave him and his
colleagues, per the rules of the taxonomy world, exclusive naming
rights. Usually, species names derive from their physical or
geographic characteristics, but biologists have christened their
finds after everything from punk-rock bands to Ernest Hemingway.
Even Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have been honored - with a trio of
slime-mold beetles, but honored nonetheless. Wallace and his
partners, however, had a different idea: Why not sell off the
naming rights and use the proceeds to finance the monkey's habitat?
He and the Wildlife Conservation Society soon got in touch with
Charity Folks, a New York venue for nonprofits, which this past
spring conducted the world's first online taxonomy auction. Ellen
DeGeneres made a bold stab at winning the bid - even publicizing
the auction on her talk show - but the highest offer came from
GoldenPalace.com, a gambling and entertainment Web site, which put
up $650,000. Behold Callicebus aureipalatii - roughly, the golden
palace monkey.

Wallace didn't exactly invent the taxonomy auction - the idea has
been floating around biology circles for a few years. And it's not
the first time biologists have traded names for money: scientists
have long honored their patrons with taxonomic gifts. In Germany,
the nonprofit Biopat allows donors to "sponsor" a species of their
choice in exchange for naming rights; it even provides an online
catalog of unnamed flora and fauna. Nevertheless, March's auction
represents something of a breakthrough - providing not only a
potentially lucrative font of revenue but also a great source of
publicity for an often overlooked field.

"The Crawl" Makes You Stupid

A few days after 9/11, Lori Bergen was watching television news
and, in her words, "slowly going insane." She was glued to the tube
but couldn't focus on what she saw. Bergen, a journalism professor
at Kansas State University, blamed "the crawl" - that stream of
headlines, sports scores and weather updates constantly slinking
across the lower portion of the TV screen - for her inability to
concentrate. "It was distracting, how it was moving all the time,"
she says. "It made it so easy to drift away." So Bergen took a
piece of duct tape and placed it on the bottom of the screen. It
let her focus. And it made her wonder: Was she the only one who
became distracted?

To find out, Bergen and a Kansas State journalism colleague, Tom
Grimes, along with a researcher named Deborah Potter, designed a
study in which students were asked to watch a set of stories from
"CNN Headline News." Half the time the crawl was at the bottom; the
other half it was edited out. What the professors found was that
students watching the show with the crawl remembered about 10
percent fewer facts than those who watched without it. To Bergen,
it was more than a personal vindication. It challenged the notion,
trumpeted by media executives like the former Time Warner C.O.O.
Robert Pittman, that today's young people somehow absorb
information differently than previous generations did. Learning by
constantly nibbling at bits and bites from multiple sources at once
- what people in the business and computer worlds call
"multitasking" - just doesn't work well. It makes you only more
distracted, less effective.

Toothbrush That Sings, The

Brushing your teeth is a drag - particularly when you're 3 years
old. You can't see over the counter, the toothpaste tastes weird
and it all brings you one step closer to bedtime.

Enter Hasbro and the music industry's push to introduce pop tunes
to children's bedtime routines. In February, Hasbro announced its
plans to release Tooth Tunes, a manual toothbrush that transmits a
preloaded two-minute song through the jawbone and into the inner
ear during brushing. Sound outlandish? Plug your ears and hum -
that's approximately how it works. The song is played at the push
of a button, giving Junior a musical party in his mouth, while
nearby Mom hears only a soft hum. A further advantage: When
brushing with Tooth Tunes, Junior will know exactly when he has
reached the dentist-recommended two-minute mark, because that's
when the music stops. As part of its announcement, Hasbro also
revealed that it was negotiating with record companies to license
tunes by pop stars like Hilary Duff and the Black Eyed Peas.

But Hasbro hit a snag and was beat to the musical-toothbrush market
this year by OraWave's Tuned Musical 2-Minute TwinSpin. This device
plays one of eight short tunes through a handle speaker after the
two-minute mark, as a reward for proper brushing. "The average
person brushes for well under a minute, and children much less than
that," says OraWave's president, Tom Hoffecker. Late next year,
OraWave expects to introduce the $35 Tuned Musical MP3 TwinSpin,
which will download songs into the toothbrush handle through a
water-protected U.S.B. port.

Totally Religious, Absolutely Democratic Constitution, The

A decade ago, almost everyone across the political spectrum - from
neoconservatives to Islamic fundamentalists - agreed that democracy
and Islam were inherently incompatible. This consensus followed
from definitions: democracy means the rule of the people, whereas
Islam teaches the sovereignty of God. In October, though, Iraqis
went to the polls and ratified a Constitution that committed itself
with equal strength to both democracy and Islam. The document
announced that Iraq would be a democracy with equality for all and
declared that no law could contradict the principles of democracy.
At the same time, it declared Islam the basic source of law and the
official religion, and it decreed that no law could contradict "the
provisions of the judgments of Islam." The country's leading Shiite
clerics supported the Constitution and instructed their followers
to vote for it. The neoconservatives in Washington took a deep
breath and then hailed it as a milestone in Middle Eastern freedom.

Marrying Islam and democracy has required some reinterpretation of
the two ideas. Islamically-oriented supporters of the Constitution
have accepted the idea that Islam does not dictate every aspect of
ordinary life or of government policy. The Islamic veto will come
in only if particular laws are understood by the high
constitutional court as violations of Islam's basic tenets.

This will put tremendous power in the court itself - which means
that its composition is crucial. While the Constitution specifies
that it will not be composed exclusively of clerics, it does
mandate that experts in Shariah will serve alongside lawyers
trained in secular civil law. How many of each must be determined
by the legislature that will be elected Dec. 15.

Of course, tensions are likely, especially when it comes to
marriage, divorce and inheritance. The Constitution promises every
Iraqi the right to be governed by the family law of the religious
denomination of his or her choice. How then to handle couples who
belong to different denominations - or who want secular laws to
govern their relationship? And if Shariah as interpreted by one
religious group makes it difficult or impossible for women to
initiate divorce, is this a violation of the Constitution's
commitment to democratic equality? Opinions are sure to differ, and
the courts will have to weigh in alongside the legislature.

Touch Screens That Touch Back

Americans are familiar with the touch screens on A.T.M.'s, casino
games and flight check-in kiosks. Curiously, though, none of these
technologies actually take advantage of a user's sense of touch.
Despite our skin's enormous ability to give us feedback about our
surroundings, our eyes dominate our other senses.

That may be about to change. Developments in haptic technology -
that is, technology that simulates the sense of touch - suggest
that our machines are about to start touching back. Immersion, a
company in San Jose, Calif., has developed new systems that enable
touch screens to give tactile feedback: when you press the buttons
on a screen, you actually feel them click, as if they were buttons
on a touch-tone phone - even though the screen is not actually
being depressed.

This is achieved, counterintuitively, by moving the glass of the
touch-screen display quickly from side to side by about 0.2 to 0.3
millimeters - creating the illusion that the glass is moving up and
down far more than it actually is. "Whether you move the glass
sideways or in displacement, most people perceive it as
displacement because that's what they're expecting," says Mike
Levin, vice president of Immersion's industrial control group. "The
brain is tricked into believing that it's a press motion."

Trial-Transcript Dramaturgy

When the judge in the Michael Jackson child-molestation trial
banned cameras from the courtroom, he left the producers at the E!
network with a serious problem. How could they satisfy their
audience's appetite for celebrity news without footage of the king
of pop squirming next to his lawyer? There was only one thing to
do: fake it.

E! whipped up a crude but faithful simulation of this year's
version of the Trial of the Century, using look-alike actors, a
makeshift set and verbatim excerpts of the courtroom transcripts as
the script. The network had staged a high-profile court case once
before - during the O.J. Simpson civil trial - but it was a
less-polished production. ("Midway through the trial, the actor
playing O.J. asked for more money," the producer Jeff Shore
recalls. "He was replaced the next day, but no one seemed to

"The Michael Jackson Trial," which was broadcast every night at
7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., was presented in half-hour and hourlong
installments featuring the highlights of the previous day in court.
To provide some context and narrative glue, a panel of real lawyers
offered analysis. The show was a modest ratings hit, and despite
the complaints of television critics (Tom Shales of The Washington
Post called it "cheap, creepy, foolish and lurid - and those are
its good points"), it was actually quite restrained compared with
most of the news coverage of the case. The direct quoting of
testimony gave a good sense of how tedious even the most circuslike
trial can be. In general, the cast members, who were assisted by
reports from eyewitnesses about the facial expressions and tone of
the real participants, underplayed their roles. The fake Michael
Jackson looked more real than the real one, and even Jimmy Kimmel's
performance as Jay Leno, who was a witness, seemed closer to
method-acting seriousness than broad parody.

Trust Spray

The hormone oxcytocin, which plays a role in childbirth,
breast-feeding, orgasm and feelings of love, is usually thought to
have a happy set of responsibilities within the body. But a new
study suggests that the hormone could be put to more sinister uses.
According to a paper published in the June issue of Nature, a
research team at the University of Zurich has determined that a
nasal spray containing oxcytocin can be used to make human subjects
more trusting.

In the study, 128 male participants played several rounds of a game
borrowed from economic and social-behavior theory. The game
essentially offers rewards to "investors" who are willing to
temporarily entrust some or all of their money to anonymous
"trustees." Almost half of the investors who took three puffs per
nostril of the oxcytocin spray transferred all of their money to
their unseen trustees, whereas only a quarter of those who inhaled
a placebo went that far. "Oxcytocin doesn't make you nicer or more
optimistic or more willing to gamble," says Michael Kosfeld, who
headed the research team. "It causes a substantial increase in
trusting behavior."

Kosfeld grudgingly allows that his team's research could one day be
applied to exploit people. But for the time being, salesmen,
politicians and Lotharios looking to increase their appearance of
trustworthiness will have a hard time gaining much benefit from the
new findings. "At this point you have to use the nasal spray,"
Kosfeld says, "so you really need the consent of the other person,
which requires a certain degree of trust in the first place."
Moreover, the effect lasts only a few minutes - hardly long enough
to negotiate a contract for someone's soul.

Two-Dimensional Food

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but is it dinner? At
Chicago's trendy Moto restaurant, it is: a 20-course tasting menu
can begin with "sushi" made of paper that has been printed with
images of maki and wrapped around vinegared rice and conclude with
a mint-flavored picture of a candy cane. Should you fail to finish
a course, Homaro Cantu, Moto's executive chef, will emerge from the
kitchen with a refund: a phony dollar bill flavored to taste like a
cheeseburger and fries. It may sound like some sort of Surrealist
stunt with dire intestinal consequences, but here's the rub: the
"food" tastes good. Good enough to lure diners back at $240 per
head (including wine).

Cantu, who says that as a child he had "a fascination with how
things tasted, especially inedible things," has essentially
combined a high-end kitchen with a Kinko's. Using a modified
ink-jet printer and organic, food-based inks, he prints images of
food (and other objects) on specially designed paper made of
modified food starch. He skillfully adds intensely flavored liquid
seasoning, and voilà: a printout of a cow that tastes like filet
mignon. (The paper itself is neutral-tasting and free of allergens
and calories; the flavorings are stable, with a long shelf life,
and may contain amino acids and other added nutrients.)

Uneavesdroppable Phone Conversation, The

Sick of your colleagues listening in on your phone conversations?
The traditional method of preventing eavesdropping in the workplace
is to build dampers and baffles into cubicle walls. But now a
device called Babble attacks the problem at the source,
transforming the chatter emanating from your cubicle into a flow of
meaningless mumblings.

Babble, which hit shelves in June, consists of two speakers and a
small sound generator that attaches to your phone. The generator
isolates and records the various phonemes - the building blocks of
intelligible speech - of your speaking voice. Then when you
activate it for a telephone conversation, it generates a stream of
random phonemes that counteract the inflections and drops in your
voice. When that parallel "conversation" emerges from the Babble
loudspeakers and combines with your actual conversation, it
produces a choral arrangement of sweet nothings. "It creates the
music of voice, without the meaning of voice," explains Danny
Hillis, a founder of Applied Minds, a research-and-development firm
that created the technology with Sonare Technologies.

While productivity gains may help justify its $395 price tag,
Babble could also be valuable for protecting the confidentiality of
patient information in places like waiting rooms and hospital
reception areas.

Urine-Powered Battery, The

In their quest to develop a smaller, cheaper battery for medical
test kits - like those used to detect diabetes by analyzing a
person's urine - scientists in Singapore had a eureka moment of
sorts when they realized that the very urine being tested could
also serve as a power source.

In the September issue of The Journal of Micromechanics and
Microengineering, Ki Bang Lee described how he and his team of
researchers created "the first urine-activated paper battery" by
soaking a piece of paper in a solution of copper chloride,
sandwiching it between strips of magnesium and copper and then
laminating the paper battery between two sheets of plastic. In this
setup, the magnesium layer serves as the battery's anode (the
negatively charged terminal) and the copper chloride as the cathode
(the positively charged terminal). An electricity-producing
chemical reaction takes place when a drop of urine, which contains
many electrically charged atoms, is introduced to the paper through
a small opening in the plastic.

Video Podcasts

In October, when Steve Jobs announced Apple's release of the
video-playing iPod, he spoke at length about the hit TV shows and
music videos that could be purchased and downloaded for the device
at the iTunes store. He spent less time talking up the free content
available there that could, in the long run, be more significant:
video podcasts.

Podcasting is an Internet alternative to broadcasting. Instead of
listening to the radio or watching TV, you subscribe to one of the
thousands of Web sites that regularly post audio or video programs.
New episodes of the programs are delivered to your computer and
transferred to a portable player like an iPod, automatically, as
soon as they are published - in much the same way that digital
video recorders like TiVo allow you to subscribe to TV programs.

What gives video podcasts their revolutionary potential is that,
like audio podcasts, they can be made and published on the Web by
producers with large budgets and salaries or producers with no
budgets and allowances. By making it easy to subscribe to podcasts
through iTunes, Apple is allowing home-schooled media makers to
distribute their programming directly to a global audience. Only a
handful of the more than 2,000 Web sites that offer video by
subscription right now are owned by TV stations, and part of the
charm of the format in its infancy is that a professional video
podcast about elections in Azerbaijan, made by a documentary
filmmaker working for washingtonpost.com, can exist side by side in
an iTunes playlist with homemade, autobiographical video podcasts
that open small windows into more personal current events - like a
college kid in Michigan playing drunken miniature golf, women in a
Manhattan office bantering about Cheerios, a fan's-eye view of a
rock show in Minneapolis or a man stuck in an airplane seat during
a long delay trying to make sense of the items for sale in the
SkyMall catalog he finds in the seat pocket in front of him.

Why Popcorn Doesn't Pop

Here's an undeniable fact: when you make popcorn - no matter what
brand you use, no matter how closely you follow the directions -
some kernels just won't pop. Here's another undeniable fact: at
some point someone labeled those unpoppable kernels "Old Maids."
That person was not Bruce Hamaker, who has never used the phrase
but has received hate mail from people saying he's sexist because
of it. They've got the wrong guy. Bruce Hamaker's only connection
to unpopped kernels is entirely inoffensive. He has figured out why
they don't pop.

Popability depends on water. As the kernel heats up, water inside
it releases steam, putting more and more pressure on the kernel
until it explodes. In a recent study, Hamaker, a Purdue University
food chemist, found that popcorn with lower water content left more
unpopped kernels. "That," he says, "led us to the obvious question,
What causes low moisture in certain kernels?" Which led straight to
the hull, the crunchy outside of the corn.

The hull is made up of several thin sheets of cellulose. Turns out,
when cellulose gets hot, it changes structure. Its thin sheets
become crystals that bond so tightly together, water can't pass
through. The more crystalline the hull becomes, the less water can
leak out, and the more likely it is to pop. So the key to maximum
popability is using popcorn strains whose hulls become most

Worldwide Flat Taxes

In the United States, advocates of a flat tax - a single rate
applied to all taxpayers regardless of income level - are generally
regarded as the intellectual heirs to the flat-earthers. Arguments
to replace the graduated income tax with a flat tax have won little
respect in policy circles and even less among voters (witness Steve
Forbes's two failed presidential bids).

Overseas, however, it is a different story. In August, it was
reported that Greece was weighing the introduction of a 25 percent
flat tax, joining a growing list of European countries that either
have adopted the flat tax or are giving the idea strong
consideration. The flat tax has proved especially popular in former
Soviet bloc countries. Estonia was the first to implement one,
establishing a 26 percent flat rate in 1994. Since then, Latvia,
Lithuania, Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania and Georgia have all
flattened their tax rates. Russia itself went to a single bracket
in 2001, and Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary are expected to follow
suit in the near future.

All this has left American flat-taxers exultant. "The world is
flat," crowed The Wall Street Journal in a recent editorial. The
fact that an idea rooted in conservative ideology has gained its
strongest following in formerly Communist Eastern Europe only adds
to their sense of vindication. As they see it, the flat tax is
winning converts because it is easy to administer, helps reduce tax
evasion (especially if the tax rate is set relatively low) and
stimulates economic activity. They point, for instance, to the
impressive growth and the rise in tax revenues that Russia has
enjoyed since introducing its flat tax.

Yawn Contagion

Hanging out with Steve Platek will make you yawn. He'll get you
thinking about yawning, reading about yawning, and sooner or later,
your mouth's gaping. You can't help it. "My favorite way to induce
a yawn," Platek says, "is a video clip of a good yawner paired with
yawn audio." Platek, a cognitive neuroscientist at Drexel
University, alternately describes yawning as "a primitive
unconscious mechanism" or something that's "sweet," "totally cool"
or "awesome." And he's finally figuring out why it's contagious.

Scientists (and everybody else) have known for decades that yawns
are contagious, but they've never known why. Some think it's an
unconscious mirror effect - someone yawns, you yawn in response
almost like a reflex. But Platek says he thinks it has to do with
empathy. The way he sees it, the more empathetic you are, the more
likely it is that you'll identify with a yawner and experience a
yawn yourself. In a recent study, Platek looked at contagious
yawning in people with "high empathy," "low empathy" and everything
in between. He found that higher empathy meant more
yawn-susceptible and lower empathy meant more yawn-immune.

But that wasn't proof enough. So Platek put volunteers in M.R.I.
machines and made them yawn again and again to pinpoint the areas
of the brain involved. When their brains lighted up in the exact
regions of the brain involved in empathy, Platek remembers
thinking, "Wow, this is so cool!"

Some yawning researchers - of which there are few - have identified
many types of yawns. There's the contagious yawn, the I'm-tired
yawn and the I-just-woke-up yawn. There's the threat yawn, which is
the my-teeth-are-bigger-than-yours yawn that's so popular with
primates. ("People do it, too," says Platek, "but unfortunately, we
don't have scary teeth anymore.") There's also the sexual yawn.
(One scientist claims that yawns are used in seduction.)

At some point, you have to wonder: why study yawning? It's quirky,
interesting, but not important, right? Wrong, says Platek. Nearly
every species on the planet yawns: insects, fish, birds, reptiles,
mammals. "Yawning is such a primitive neurological function,"
Platek says, "it's a window into what happened during the evolution
of the brain."

Yoo Presidency, The

Can the president of the United States do whatever he likes in
wartime without oversight from Congress or the courts? This year,
the issue came to a head as the Bush administration struggled to
maintain its aggressive approach to the detention and interrogation
of suspected enemy combatants in the war on terrorism. But this was
also the year that the administration's claims about presidential
supremacy received their most sustained intellectual defense,
rooted in a controversial theory known as the unitary executive.
The defense was set out in a book called "The Powers of War and
Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11," written by
John Yoo. A law professor at Berkeley and a former deputy assistant
attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, Yoo is most famous
for his contributions to memos arguing that the Geneva Conventions
- as well as criminal laws prohibiting torture - don't apply to
enemy combatants.

In his book, Yoo provides a historical basis for claims of broad
presidential power by arguing that the framers of the Constitution
intended to create a unitary executive responsible for ensuring
that all executive-branch policies - from firing cabinet officers
to declaring war - conform to the wishes of the national
constituency that elected the president. Critics have accused Yoo
of ignoring the fact that the framers were wary of giving the
president the power of a king, but Yoo responds that Congress, by
withholding funds for war, can check the president in the same way
that Parliament checked the crown.

Zero-Emissions S.U.V., The

In the 90's, environmentalists could celebrate at least one success
story: the "cap and trade" system, a market-inspired strategy for
reducing harmful factory emissions. The way it works is simple.
Companies that want to produce emissions beyond the legal limit are
allowed to buy the right to release additional emissions from
companies that have managed to keep their own emissions below the
limit. Recently, Karl Ulrich, a professor at the Wharton School of
the University of Pennsylvania, introduced a microversion of the
same policy - only applied to individual automobiles as opposed to
factories. It allows a socially conscious driver to cancel out the
environmental damage caused by his car.

The system is called TerraPass. If a driver can't stomach the
thought of trading in his sleek S.U.V. for a more-fuel-efficient
but less-than-thrilling station wagon, he can pay a fee to a
company that is also called TerraPass. The company then allocates
the money to reduce industrial carbon dioxide emissions, support
renewable energy like wind farms and purchase (but not use)
pollution credits from companies, among other environmentally
conscious endeavors. The fee is proportional to a car's carbon
dioxide emissions - approximately $80 a year in the case of an

Officially introduced just over a year ago, the company has sold
TerraPasses, which take the form of a small decal that drivers can
put on their windshields, to approximately 2,300 people (some of
them not even car owners). The decals announce that a driver is
more environmentally concerned than his choice of transportation
might otherwise suggest. The company takes a small cut of its
sales, taking advantage of the apparently healthy market for guilt

Although TerraPass certainly works on a free-market principle, it's
lacking the element of naked self-interest that would drive a truly
global change. A more exact parallel to the cap-and-trade system
would be one in which drivers who saved fuel by moseying down a 60
miles-per-hour lane could accrue electronic passes they could sell
the next morning on eBay to whoever needed to dart to work or the
airport that morning at 70 m.p.h. The market for environmental
righteousness may be growing, but surely not as fast as the market
for speed. [?][?][?]Susan Dominus

Zombie Dogs

Just as dogs preceded humans in making the first risky voyages into
space, a new generation of canines has now made an equally
path-breaking trip - from life to death and back again.

In a series of experiments, doctors at the Safar Center for
Resuscitation Research at the University of Pittsburgh managed to
plunge several dogs into a state of total, clinical death before
bringing them back to the land of the living. The feat, the
researchers say, points the way toward a time when human beings
will make a similar trip, not as a matter of ghoulish curiosity but
as a means of preserving life in the face of otherwise fatal

The method for making the trip is simple. The Safar Center team
took the dogs, swiftly flushed their bodies of blood and replaced
it with a relatively cool saline solution (approximately 45 to 50
degrees) laced with oxygen and glucose. The dogs quickly went into
cardiac arrest, and with no demonstrable heartbeat or brain
activity, clinically died.

There the dogs remained in what Patrick Kochanek, the director of
the Safar Center, and his colleagues prefer to call a state of
suspended animation. After three full hours, the team reversed
their steps, withdrawing the saline solution, reintroducing the
blood and thereby warming the dogs back to life. In a flourish
worthy of Mary Shelley, they jump-started their patients' hearts
with a gentle electric shock. While a small minority of the dogs
suffered permanent damage, most did not, awakening in full command
of their faculties.

Of course, the experiments were conducted not to titillate fans of
horror films but to save lives. Imagine a stabbing victim brought
to the emergency room, his aorta ruptured, or a soldier mortally
wounded, his organs ripped apart by shrapnel. Ordinarily, doctors
cannot save such patients: they lose blood far more quickly than it
can be replaced; moreover, the underlying trauma requires hours of
painstaking repair. But imagine doctors buying time with the help
of an infusion of an ice-cold solution, then parking their patients
at death's door while they repair and then revive them.


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