Each week for the past six months, we've written about an invention that either solves a unique problem or solves a common problem in a unique way. We thank you, readers, for pointing us toward innovative solutions. Many of our weekly posts have featured your submissions. Who can forget the Case Coolie, which keeps your beers cold without ice?
In combing through our submissions (the form is here), we noticed that many of you have also submitted ideas for things that haven't been created yet — ideas you want to see become reality. And even though we usually don't write about those, we figured it was a good time to compile our favorites and share them in the hopes that other readers might be inspired.
In other words: This isn't a list for the "Best Of 2013"; this is for the "Best Of What We Want To See In 2014."
Which of these innovation ideas are your favorites? Can you make them happen, or do they already exist in some form? Maybe we can do some inventor/investor matchmaking. We're inspired already.
Maybe you want your body to be an ever-changing canvas of expression. Or maybe you're just regretting a late-night visit to the tattoo parlor with your now-ex-significant other. Brandon Porter submitted this idea: a tattoo that uses non-toxic dye in lieu of ink. "They can be permanent if desired, but if a person would like them removed at a later date, the tattoo can be reversed by a non-toxic chemical that makes the dye clear or break down in some fashion." Brandon says he'd use it. So inventors, you've got yourself an investor.
Self-Polarizing Car Windows
There are polarized and self-tinting lenses for glasses on the market — what if we could use that technology for cars? Quinn Kleerekoper suggested self-polarizing car windows to "reduce the glare or intensity of sunlight that distracts drivers during driving in the direction of the sun-setting, not to mention decrease the premature ageing of long-haul truck drivers." Some cars have sunroof glass that can change its shade, and there were some rumors last year that Mercedes-Benz was developing self-tinting car glass, but we haven't heard anything about it since.
Steering Wheel Fans
Another one for drivers: "Some video game controllers have built in fans in the handles so your hands don't get all sweaty when you're gripping the controller for hours of intense game play," says Leah Philippon. "I would like to see this same technology incorporated into vehicle steering wheels." Heated steering wheels are already a thing, so it's about time to help out sweaty folks. And based on the connection between video games and the car industry this year, carmakers seem to have no qualms taking lessons from gamers.
Martha LeMay imagines a magical world in which people don't bring dirt into her house. Upon entering, they step onto a vent with "a powerful suction vacuum inside automatically engages that sucks dirt, mud, sand, pebbles, water, mold, dust, allergens, pet dander, etc. from the shoes." Martha calls it the "Clean Sweep." We found something like that online already, specifically for shoes, but her version is more of an all-purpose upside-down vacuum; dirty pets could step on it, for example.
"Have you ever tried to put leftovers into a container that was too small to get the lid on?" Don Rockwell asks. Um, yes, all the time. Reusable food containers, while incredibly useful in theory, have a very annoying habit of getting separated from their lids — and we think it's about time that someone innovate the kitchenware. Don's solution: "Why not have a lid that stretches or otherwise expands?" That way, you don't need to match up the tops to their containers, because one top would fit any container. We could see pushback from Tupperware, which makes money off of us losing our container lids and needing to buy new ones.
Birdcall ID App
"Hiking is great fun, especially when there are birds singing, but I usually can't identify the birds based on their call," says hiking/birding enthusiast Jessica Saunders. She wants to see a birdcall-recognition smartphone app that can record tweets and identify who's making them. After a little research, we found that an app like this has been in the works since 2011. It's called WeBIRD (which stands for — take a deep breath — the Wisconsin Electronic Bird Identification Resource Database), and it seemed to be coming along nicely, but the creator, Mark Berres, wrote in June that he still needed more time. Mark, hurry up — Jessica is waiting!
If you want to connect with any of these folks about their ideas, don't hesitate to let us know in the comments. And if you have an innovation you want us to consider for our Weekly Innovation series, here's the form. Thanks from me (Emily) and your blog host (Elise) for all your participation this year, and we'll keep it going in 2014.
It's usually easy to keep up with your favorite artists. You can follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook and check them out when they come to your town.
Falling in love with unfamiliar bands? That's not quite as simple. There are so many aspiring musicians out there, you can't possibly listen to all of them.
But a few lucky people get to listen to random new artists for a living, including public radio hosts. So we asked NPR stations around the country to highlight their favorite musical discoveries of the year. The results ranged from a Pulitzer Prize winner to stars of the Kansas City BBQ circuit. Read on for more about the 10 artists you should have known in 2013.
He was the man with "the nose of a blood hound," as one wine critic once put it.
Rudy Kurniawan was once the toast of the fine wine world, renowned for his ability to find some of the rarest - and priciest - wines in the world.
He was also, prosecutors alleged, a fraud who duped some of the country's wealthiest wine purchasers with counterfeit bottles of wine that he manufactured in his home laboratory.
And on Wednesday, a Manhattan jury agreed, finding Kurniawan guilty of fraud in connection with selling counterfeit wines and of defrauding a finance company.
The sensational trial began Dec. 9 in a Manhattan federal court. Prosecutors have argued that Kurniawan used his exceptional palate to blend together younger wines with older French wines of poor vintage. He then slapped counterfeit labels on the bottles, prosecutors alleged, and passed them off as some of the rarest wines on Earth. When these bottles turned up at auctions, the excitement of coming across them often overshadowed bidders' skepticism of whether they were the real thing.
Born in Indonesia but residing in California, Kurniawan began turning heads in the fine wine scene around 2002, winning over sommeliers, wine critics and auctioneers with his palate and his generosity. He often footed the bill at restaurants, where he poured thousands of dollars of wine from his personal collection for his friends.
"I've never known him not to bring a bottle," testified Truly Hardy, director of auction operations for Acker Merrall & Condit.
Around 2004, prosecutors say, Kurniawan began passing off his fake wines. Last week, both Koch and Laurent Ponsot of top Burgundy winemaker Domaine Ponsot, testified that they had long suspected that Kurniawan's wares weren't quite what they seemed. Ponsot told jurors that he became suspicious of Kurniawan in 2008, after the collector consigned to auction dozens of bottles of Domaine Ponsot wine of a vintage that had never existed.
Kurniawan was arrested in March 2012. Among the colorful evidence the FBI seized from his home are stacks upon stacks of rare French wine labels that Kurniawan allegedly forged using a laser printer.
But the central mystery for oenophiles has been slower to unravel: What types of wines might Kurniawan have actually poured into those bottles?
And is it even possible to imitate the taste of, say, a rare half-century-old bottle from Bordeaux? One expert says yes, but not without some very old wine mixed in.
"One of the tricks is having some old wine character" — which you can't get without including aged wine in the blend, says Andrew Waterhouse, a wine chemist and professor of oenology at the University of California, Davis.
The "old wine character" might not always strike the casual drinker as desirable. For example, if a bottle of Bordeaux purports to be more than two decades old, he says, its contents should have the distinctive, herbaceous aroma of canned asparagus.
"When you're tasting a rare, old wine, that's part of the deal," Waterhouse says.
Kurniawan likely had a lot of unremarkable old wine at his disposal.
This week, British wine expert Michael Egan inspected invoices addressed to Kurniawan, which included a 2007 order for 904 old bottles of Burgundy. The bottles are cheap by Kurniawan's standards (about $60) and the particular 1970s vintages listed are "very ordinary to poor," Egan testified. When asked how many bottles of the Burgundy he'd recommend to his own clients (who include Koch), Egan answered dryly: "Zero... unless they were cooking with it."
The prosecution's claim that Kurniawan used young California wines in his counterfeits doesn't surprise Waterhouse. He points out that the finest vintages in France correspond historically with warmer summers. Climatic conditions are similarly favorable in California wine country, where almost every summer is dry and warm.
"Of course, you have to use wines of high quality," Waterhouse adds, but many of the California bottles presented as evidence are "fantastic." He points to a 2006 bottle of Marcassin, a California pinot noir seized from Kurniawan's house. Its $200 price tag isn't exactly cheap, but it is much less than the thousands of dollars that Kurniawan's bottles fetched at auction.
Ironically, many of Kurniawan's artful fakes were probably never sipped or even opened. Wine collectors often view rare bottles as investments or trophies to be displayed.
As for Kurniawan's famous palate? Sitting in federal court, he could be seen nursing it with a steady supply of Mentos, Altoids, and M&Ms.
We're all supposed to be eating right, but most of us are not doing a very good job of that.
Could you eat an apple a day?
Adding in that one piece of fruit could improve cardiovascular health on a par with prescribing of cholesterol-lowering statins for everyone over age 50, according to a report published Tuesday in BMJ.
The authors were inspired to check out the validity of the Victorian-era proverb, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," as part of the journal's traditionally less-than-somber Christmas issue. (Other topics include James Bond's alcohol intake.)
So researchers at the University of Oxford calculated what would happen if 70 percent of Britons over age 50 ate an apple daily, and compared that with putting that same group of people on statin drugs. They estimated 8,500 deaths would be avoided annually because of the apples, and 9,400 due to statins, out of 17.6 million people.
Their conclusion: "Prescribing either an apple a day or a statin a day to everyone over 50 years old is likely to have a similar effect on population vascular mortality," the article concludes.
Apples cost more than statins, the scientists note; generic statins are pretty darned cheap, and apples aren't covered by health insurance. But people taking statins would have to consider the risk of rare side effects including muscle damage and an increased risk of diabetes. And the researchers did not factor in the risk of choking while biting on that apple.
The findings support new guidelines issued in November that would double the number of people being prescribed statins to prevent cardiovascular disease, the authors say, as well as ongoing efforts in the United States and the U.K. to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Talk with your doctor to find out if statins are right for you. But you're probably safe trying that apple without a prescription.
(This post was last updated at 2:20 p.m. ET)
The Federal Reserve has decided to reduce by $10 billion its monthly bond-buying program beginning in January.
The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee says in a statement:
"In light of the cumulative progress toward maximum employment and the improvement in the outlook for labor market conditions, the Committee decided to modestly reduce the pace of its asset purchases. Beginning in January, the Committee will add to its holdings of agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $35 billion per month rather than $40 billion per month, and will add to its holdings of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $40 billion per month rather than $45 billion per month."
The report comes ahead of a 2:30 p.m. ET statement from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke detailing the changes in the stimulus program that the central bank began in September 2012.
The FOMC said:
"The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months and will continue its purchases of Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate, until the outlook for the labor market has improved substantially in a context of price stability."
The committee said it would keep the federal funds rate of 0 to 1/4 percent "at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal."
"Bernanke, in the final weeks of his eight-year tenure, is curtailing the purchases that swelled the Fed's balance sheet almost to $4 trillion as he sought to put millions of jobless Americans back to work. The policy, supported by his designated successor, Vice Chairman Janet Yellen, stirred concern it risks inflating asset-price bubbles even as its economic benefits ebbed."
The policy shift comes amid November's employment report, that saw a better-than-expected 203,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate that fell to 7 percent for the first time in five years.
According to The Associated Press:
"Stocks surged after the Fed's policy statement was released, signaling investors approved of the modest tapering and the stronger pledge to keep short-term rates low for an extended time.
"The Dow Jones industrial average rose more than 150 points minutes after the announcement."