30 March 2011


FIRE FIGHTING WAND. Imagine a flame-quenching method that relies on an electric field-generating wand. The technology now exists, and could add to the arsenal of static systems (e.g. water sprinklers) and portable systems (fire hoses and extinguishers). Here's how it works: An electrode powered from a backpack creates an electrical field. "The electrical field interacts with the charged particles in the flame -- the electrons, ions, and soot particles -- and this collective motion of the charges in the electric field can lead to movement of the gas within the flame .... the flame gets detached from the fuel source, so it gets pushed away." Voila, that portion of the fire is extinguished.

Arthur C. Clarke famously observed that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The beauty of the flame-quenching wand is that it does not need to be in contact with the flames themselves. In an enclosed space such as a burning building, this tool could be used to create a safe escape route for those trapped by a fire. Here is the complete article for your reference.

SCHOOL INNOVATION. Thanks to Andrea Kuszewski for the link to this -- the Chicago Tribune reports an experimental approach to learning which is elegant in its simplicity -- incorporate the technology with which students are already familiar into the curriculum, in ways which reinforce and enhance traditional learning. In this case, "The complete reinvention of the typical urban middle school downplays rote memorization in favor of collaborative learning, critical thinking, and imaginative exploration in an effort to change how today's students learn .... Students will learn from video game designers and computer experts how to design and build their own video games, produce custom websites, podcast, blog, record and edit short films, and connect with technology in meaningful and productive ways .... 'It's a different type of learning because of how they teach it, not what they're teaching,' said sixth-grader Connor Fitzgerald. 'They give you the facts, but more importantly they tell you about the relationships between those facts.'"

As with the fire-fighting wand described above, this actively creative approach to learning is one more tool in a teacher's bag of resources, and it sounds like an excellent one. In the early 1990s I spent five years teaching math and science to teenagers at a private school, where the budget meant we operated on a shoestring. Blackboards, the occasional field trip, and our imaginations were the essential tools we teachers had for engaging our students' interest and imparting what knowledge we could. The teachers who could think creatively were the most successful. To have had the resources described in this article would have been a dream come true. The closest we could come was interdisciplinary teaching. The teaching methods described above represent a quantum leap forward.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA. For more decades than I care to count, I have advocated treating marijuana in the same manner we treat alcohol -- it should be legal to obtain so long as you have reached a prescribed age, and it should be commercially available through licensed vendors. The sale of marijuana would provide a source of tax revenue to each state, just as alcohol does now, and the quality of the product sold could be carefully monitorred.

The closest we've come to such a vision is in those 15 states (see map below, click to enlarge) which have made legal the possession of small amounts of marijuana for those with qualifying medical conditions. Medical marijuana, sold from licensed caregivers, is available in the form of herb, tinctures, and baked goods. According to an MSNBC news report, in a few short years medical marijuana is now a $1.7 billion market, rivaling the $1.9 annual revenue generated by Viagra. Given that only 1 in 30 potential patients is currently registered and purchasing medical marijuana, the potential for growth in the budding (as it were) marijuana cultivation and sales industry is fairly staggering. If another 20 states pass medical marijuana laws, as an independent financial analysis firm's study suggests is possible, the market could grow to $8.9 in 2016.

A few other highlights of the study --

  • California and Colorado account for 92 percent of wholesale and retail sales nationally.

  • Arizona, Michigan and Washington are considered well-positioned for significant growth.

  • There are 24.8 potential consumers for medical marijuana in the United States today. This number reflects the number of Americans with qualifying ailments who live in a current "legal state". Currently, there are fewer than 800,000 patients in these states.

  • Business owners say the largest hurdle to success is not financing, but regulatory uncertainty. [This is due in part to the fact that marijuana remains illegal under Federal law, and due in part to the reluctance of state legislators and local communities to embrace medical marijuana as a legitimate treatment -- even though countless studies have demonstrated its effectiveness.]

  • Nearly two-thirds of medical marijuana caregivers surveyed -- 63 percent -- have been in business less than one year.

In the spirit of innovation and embracing the future which is the common theme of this post, I hope that the public in general, and legislators and law enforcement in particular, will take the time to educate themselves on the realities of marijuana usage, both medically and recreationally. It is long past time to emerge from the Dark Ages.

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