Apr
08
2011

Free Idea Friday – The Grandma Millie Exchange Program

My mom sent me this video, as Grandma Millie is someone she knows:

Aside from being cool just for the “old people who get out and do stuff are cool” factor, it’s also a pretty interesting idea in general. Granted, anyone can volunteer, so it’s not like the option isn’t there, and Grandma Millie obviously isn’t exactly your standard 89 year old, but it does seem like a really good match. Schools are increasingly underfunded and understaffed, and there’s an ever growing retired / elderly population, especially with the baby boomers coming up.

From visits to my own grandmother, I can tell you that a lot of the people at retirement communities really don’t get many visitors, and particularly not young ones, but particularly love visitors, and particularly young one. Kids move away and get busy with their day to day lives (self as case in point on both) and don’t visit much. And loneliness and a certain lack of purpose seem to crop up in older people’s lives, especially if their spouses are gone. And let’s be honest, retirement homes, assisted living communities, etc are not exactly the most inviting places in the world to visit (or I would imagine, live). There’s a certain slow paced, reverently hushed, orderly plodding about them.

But, as a sort of fitting to the concept of second childhood, elementary school classrooms can also have a sort of slow paced, reverently hushed, orderly plodding about them (granted, with many more bursts of disorderliness and energy, but still).

It would seem like a pretty good fit to have retirement communities, the AARP, or other groups for retired people organize a sort of exchange program with elementary schools, where retired people can go to (or perhaps be bused to / shuttled to if the can’t drive) elementary schools to help with tutoring subjects like reading, math, and music. Teachers would get free or cheap teacher’s aids, kids who might otherwise get overlooked get tutors, and lonely older people get youthful companionship, a sense of purpose and involvement, and something to help stay mentally active. It would seem especially important given that a lot of research shows keeping mentally active and involved helps delay the onset of a lot of the mental deterioration that can come with older age.

There’s also the fact that there’s another adult available all the time in the class room, so there’s the added safety for the retiree that if they fall and need help, or whatever situation may arise where they need prompt assistance, there’s someone there to help, and usually a nurse on site at the school.

From the residents of assisted living communities and retirement homes that I’ve met, as well as older people who live at home and don’t get out much, they also seem to get a lot of their views and opinions of the outside world from watching cable news channels, which tend to give less than a rosy outlook on the state of the world (Are terrorists selling fake prescription drugs to your pharmacy? Stay tuned for our full investigative report after the break, but first, see our exclusive video of a mother who threw her infant child in a snow bank and ran off….). Actually getting out and meeting people can help one’s overall attitude (again, self as evidence for times when I’ve worked way too many hours in the corporate world and decided all people are selfish bastard who would chop off your leg if someone offered them $5 for it… until I head out the bar with friends and remember, oh yeah, most people aren’t so bad). Again, a more positive attitude has also been shown to improve health and increase life expectancy.

There may be lots of logistical issues I’m missing here, and I’m making broad, sweeping generalizations about a various groups of people I’m not a part of and don’t have lots of interactions with. So, the exchange program obviously wouldn’t be for everyone, but it would seem like organizing opportunities for matches like this would be something nice to set up.

Mar
18
2011

Free Idea Friday – Snow (Drift) Sculptures

This time of year, as the mounds, piles, and banks of snow start to melt, I’m always amazed by what they reveal.  Not the grass and bushes and pavement and such, as much as all the various trash that’s gotten frozen into the snow banks and buried over the winter, all to be revealed in a few days as the snow melts away.

This is particularly interesting because I’ve found the one major weather difference between Iowa and Minnesota is how much the snow pack melts during the winter.  In Iowa (at least the parts I lived in) it melts several times throughout the winter.  Maybe not completely, but enough to get down to just a few inches of snow on the ground, and melt everything off the side walks.  In Minneapolis, it’s just those 5 or 10 degrees colder that it takes to keep it almost completely frozen all winter.  Snow we got at the start of December is just melting for the first time now.  The side walks are visible for the first time since Christmas.  The snow and ice here just piles, and piles, and piles up all winter, and then melts all at once over the course of a week or two.

In doing so, it reveals everything that’s been tossed along the side of the roads and side walks all winter too.  So far this year, just in the past few days, I’ve seen the following melting their way out of the snow banks:

  • More beer cans and bottles than I could count
  • A baby stroller
  • A variety of clothes
  • A plastic banana
  • A complete toilet, intact
  • Several feet of rope
  • A complete car bumper
  • A couch
  • A diaper (used)
  • A large headboard
  • Rear view mirrors
  • A tire, with rim, still fully inflated- not a spare tire, but a normal full sized tire
  • Shoes, both men’s and women’s
  • Various parts of bikes
  • A large (carnival sized) stuffed dog
  • A broken cell phone
  • A dog collar
  • And much, much more generic garbage

Note that each and every one of these was not just something that was on top of a snow bank, or tossed on top lately, but every single one of them was buried in the snow to the point that you couldn’t see them at all a few days ago, and still had some snow of it covering part of it when I saw it.  Yes, even the couch, car bumper, tire – all of it.  I’ve walked past many of these over the past several weeks and months and had no idea they were there.

A lot of these are a little fascinating just for how they got there.  Who tossed a used diaper in a snow bank?  How has a whole couch been hiding under a snow bank all winter.  Who lost a shoe when there was already snow on the ground, but apparently continued without it?  Where did the clothes (underwear included, though never a whole outfit in one pile or in a trail, usually just one piece in a place) come from?

Each of these is interesting, and the randomness is sort of amazing, and I’m sure I’ll see more in the coming days are we get rid of the last of snow we have now (I’m sure we’ll still get more – I don’t trust we’re done with snow here until it hits 90 the first time).

So, my idea for this one is I think someone should gather up all of the stuff that has melted out of the snow along one street, or in more dense neighborhoods even a single block, and make sculptures out of it.

It would be interesting to see what you could structurally assemble out of all of it, and to see what different types of stuff you find in each neighborhood.  It seems like there’s lots of modern art that is made out of found objects and discarded items, but I think this would have a sort of cool local flair to it.  Especially if you played up the hidden vs seen, and clean and pure snow vs what it’s hiding aspects.

You could also just gather up everything from one block, and instead of making a structure or sculpture out of it, just lay it out in a compulsively neat grid of items, to contrast with the random, strewn about nature of where you found it.

Of course, you would definitely want to wear some thick gloves for this one.  And you might pass up the diaper.

Comments (0) | Tags: , , , | Written by on Mar 18,2011 |
Apr
09
2010

Free Idea Friday – Interactive Skyway Map

If you’ve ever been in downtown Minneapolis, you’ve probably walked around in the Skyways.  And if you’ve walked around in the Skyways, you’ve probably gotten lost in the Skyways.  Each building built their own, with no central planning that I can discern.  If you look at a map of the Skyways, it basically looks like a two year old scribbled on a map of downtown with a crayon.  And the signs and maps in the Skyways are few and far between, and not all that helpful if you don’t know the official names of each building.  Aside from that, I would say more than half of the businesses and restaurants downtown are on the second level instead of the ground level.  So, I would like to see an app for phones that would help navigate the Skyways.  I was all gung-ho on making this myself a while ago, but as I’ve yet to get around to even starting it, I’m passing it on.  Some potential features:

  • At the most basic, it would have a map of the Skyways, and a “You are here” dot showing where you are in them based on the gps in your phone.
  • Ideally, it would have some sort of description of each Skyway and building’s interior, so if your phone doesn’t have gps you could figure out where you are based on what it looks like (super ideally, you could take a picture of the Skyway in front of you and it would show you where you are).
  • Be able to find routes between places.  Include the times that each Skyway is open and find the shortest / fasted route between two points in the Skyway.  Be able to have some parameters like how far you’re willing to walk outside (maybe 5 blocks if it’s nice, 2 if it’s okay, none at all if it’s really cold – maybe even tie this to a weather service so it can decide this automatically).  If you’re going outside, it should show you pictures of where on which building you need to go back in to get to where you’re going.
  • Tell you how long it will take to walk from here to there (in case you have a meeting in 10 minutes and need to grab lunch quick).
  • Have the locations and, super ideally, menus, prices, specials, and hours of restaurants in the Skyways.  Do this with bars too.
  • Have locations of businesses, both retail and corporate.
  • Have things around getting to and from downtown.  Have location of parking ramps, their rates, average time they fill up, specials, etc.  Integrate it with the app they have for city buses.  Show bike racks.
  • List upcoming events downtown at the Target Center, First Ave, Orchestra Hall, movies, etc.
Comments (1) | Tags: , , , , , | Written by on Apr 09,2010 |
Apr
02
2010

Free Idea Friday – Efficiency and energy

Several ideas this week, all around efficiency and energy:

  • Make an electric powered motorcycle.  Batteries / electric engines can give a lot of torque immediately, which bikers seem to like.  Motorcycles don’t have to carry all the extra weight that cars do for safety mechanisms.  And they generally already tend to be a secondary vehicle for short trips, which seems like it would be an ideal niche to start getting consumers to try electric on a large scale.  Batteries also tend to suffer in cold climates and really cold weather – again, not a problem for motorcycles.
  • Use the heat absorbed by roads during the day to generate electricity.  If you can absorb it to use it for energy and keep the roads at a more steady temperature, you’ll have less plowing/scraping wearing on the road, and less buckling and overall less stress on the material.  Use the heat they retain into the evening and the cool they retain into the morning as a sort of geothermal pump or Stirling engine, or something.  This would also help to reduce the heat island effect that city centers have.
  • Use the snow on the side of a mountain to reflect the sun onto a specific point as a solar concentrater.  You could potentially put a giant mylar type sheet over the whole area too to reflect more light.  Use a Stirling engine to take advantage of the difference in heat between the heat from the concentrated sun and the cold of the surrounding air.
  • Put heat insulators below the burners on stoves so you don’t just heat the air around the coil – force all of the heat up to the surface of the pan, so all of it has to transfer away that way.  Be able to adjust the size of the surface that is being heated so you get full contact with the whole pan, no more no less, and, that way you don’t need several different sized burners / parts.  Make the are area of the surface that is being heated light up so people know right where to put the pan.  Or even better yet, have a sensor that can tell where the pan is and how big it is, and just heat that area.
Comments (0) | Tags: , , , , | Written by on Apr 02,2010 |
Mar
26
2010

Free Idea Friday – Walnut Helmet

I came across this post on Swissmiss about a company called Nutcase Helmets (their website seems a little hit or miss for actually coming up) that makes really cool looking hard shell bike helmets.  And with a name like Nutcase, and making hard shelled bike helmets, an idea occurred to me for a bike helmet that I think would be really funny (your sense of humor may vary).

I’d like to see a bike helmet that looks like a giant walnut shell.  You could even make it the sporty kind with vents to have the bumpy texture of an actual walnut shell, and the rounded front and slightly tapered back would be the right shape too.  And then you could look like when a cartoon mouse is riding a motorcycle or a race car and they have buttons for wheels, and match sticks for handle bars, and a walnut shell for a helmet.  For that matter, you could make a whole custom bike to go with the helmet so it would look like the whole thing was made out of over-sized tiny things – button wheels, match stick handle bars, a walnut helmet, a pleasantly ironic hamster wheel for the gears, toothpick pipes, a thumb tack seat (pointy part down!!), clothespin brakes, the whole deal.  Insert your own gag about joining / leaving the rat race here.  In short:

Wallnut plus Helmet equals AWESOME.

Do the math.

Comments (1) | Tags: , , , , | Written by on Mar 26,2010 |

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