Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on a high-tech device with seemingly a multitude of uses in lessening our crushing overload of banality: a boredom detector. A talker, via a wearable camera and software that measures facial expressions and movements, could know whether he has lost touch with a listener (via signals from eyebrows, lips, nose, etc.). The device was designed for the autistic (who are typically oblivious of other people’s reactions), but would be useful to anyone underskilled at being interesting. So far, the software is said to be accurate 64 percent of the time, according to a March report in New Scientist.
Butte, Mont., has long been unhappy with the presence of the Berkeley Pit, a huge, putrid, toxic lake filled by runoff from arsenic, copper, cadmium, cobalt, iron and zinc mines. Last year, however, the town began to figure out that tourists would actually pay to see the 500-acre, 900-foot-deep, foul, wretched mess. Attendance was so good that the admission price was recently increased.
The apparently successful Iraq Insurance Co. (a state-owned firm with 50 salespeople nationwide) is thought to be the only company in the world to offer “off-the-shelf” terrorism life insurance (paying a bodyguard’s beneficiary, for example, the equivalent of about $3,500, which is a policeman’s yearly salary, for a $90 premium, according to a New York Times dispatch). As of mid-March, no policyholder had been killed.
MORE ENDORSEMENT POSSIBILITIES
Volleyball is quite popular among female devout Muslim refugees in Kenya, according to a March New York Times dispatch, even though the women’s bulky hijabs frequently shift around, hindering the “digs” and “spikes.” The Nike company recently came to the rescue by designing (and then donating) sleek hijabs that cover the skin and hair appropriately, but also permit much freer movement on the court. Nike is silent on its marketing plans, but worldwide, the number of Muslim girls and women of prime sports-playing age is huge.
THIS WEEK IN ENGINEERED MEAT
In work by various labs in the United States, the Netherlands and Australia (reported by Toronto’s Globe and Mail in March), meat was grown in test tubes, and such dishes may yet be a staple in progressive kitchens. “Before bed, throw starter cells and a package of growth medium into the (coffee maker-sized) meat maker and wake up to harvest-fresh sausage for breakfast,” wrote the papers. Engineered meat would taste like beef or pork, but could be created to be as healthful as salmon. One private group told researchers it was interested in growing human meat, but funding for any of the work will be difficult, said a Medical University of South Carolina scientist.
In February, the Missourian newspaper reported that Columbia resident Adam Ballard, 22, now in his second year in the Army, is overeating and under-exercising so as to gain weight rapidly and exceed the Army’s body-fat requirement, which will force his discharge rather than his deployment to the Middle East war zone. According to The Columbian, 3,285 soldiers were discharged for excess body fat in 2004 (although not all were war-zone shirkers). Ballard said he had no qualms because recruiters had originally assured him a desk job. MTW