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Cherry-Picking from 'Year in Ideas'

Did you miss many of the quirky stories that came out in business, science, and style sections around the world this year? The New York Times Magazine's annual compendium of harebrained schemes and possible game-changers--"Year in Ideas"--came out this weekend. The picture of an extended-tongued Albert Einstein on its cover is the perfect encapsulation of the list's line-toeing between genius and mad science, new trends and faux fads.Per usual, the signal to noise ratio is a little lower than ideal--unless the notion of a dog-poop DNA bank appeals to you--but some of 2008's ideas are definitely deserving of mention here. File the following under: "potentially transformative:"
  • the Brickley engine, a flattened version of the ol' internal combustion that may lead to fuel efficiency increases of 20 percent
  • capital insurance, where third parties insure banks so the government doesn't have to
  • fast-food zoning, a one-year moratrium in opening new fast food restaurants in Los Angeles County
  • the guaranteed retirement account, a pension plan for workers without 401ks, where a small percentage of salary is put into a Social Security account and guaranteed by the government
  • locavestors, investors who, as locavores are to eating, spend their wealth on nearby, small businesses--though small business owners probably want to steer clear of hand-on investors
  • Mahlangu hand-washer, which helps stem disease spread in Africa and is easily converted from a used plastic bottle
  • one-room schoolbus, a plan to turn the several-hour commutes that some kids take to school into useful learning experiences
  • positive deviance, the practice of examining people who are avoiding crises--such as disease outbreaks--and figuring out what they are doing to
  • rising-tide tax system, an annually amended tax code that compensates for income inequalities created in the previous year
  • smart grids, which Ben Jervey has written about for us
  • spary-on condom, because one size-fits-all
  • the two-tier teacher contract, a proposal made by the Washington D.C. school chancellor's Michelle Rhee, which I blogged about several weeks ago
  • upside-down demolition, a practice pioneered by a Japanese company to raze buildings from the bottom-up that causes less debris

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