The Broccoli Plan

Nutritionists tell us that broccoli is one of the healthiest foods for us, but this super veggie must be shipped from far away to reach markets where it isn’t so easily grown. For instance, 90% of broccoli sold on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard is shipped from California and Mexico—with less than desirable environmental impacts.

To solve this problem, researchers led by Cornell University horticulturalist Thomas Bjorkman are developing new strains of broccoli that can tolerate the more-humid East Coast climate. Once the right varieties have been developed, the project will also train local growers and marketers, organizing them into production networks.

With USDA support, the team aims to develop a $100 million broccoli industry on the East Coast over the next 10 years.

Source: Cornell University, www.cornell.edu.

Eye Exams via Smart Phones

Need an eye exam? There’s an app for that.

A $2 smart-phone application could tell you in minutes what prescription eyeglasses you need. Developed by the MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture research group, the NETRA (Near-Eye Tool for Refractive Assessment) combines software with a small, lightweight plastic viewfinder that clips onto your smart phone.

Within minutes, NETRA can diagnose whether someone is nearsighted or farsighted, or suffers from astigmatism or the vision loss associated with aging. The researchers claim that NETRA is safe, fast, accurate, and easy to use.

Currently being field-tested, the device is intended primarily for use in poorer communities, such as those in the developing world, that lack access to proper eye care. While eyeglasses themselves can be inexpensive, the testing equipment up until now has been fairly cost-prohibitive, especially for those in underdeveloped areas.

Source: MIT Media Lab, www.media.mit.edu/press/netra.

Catching Up With the Stars

The Hubble Space Telescope has enormously accelerated astronomers’ ability to detect star movement, from 50 years with ground-based telescopes to just a few years.

It is Hubble’s razor-sharp visual acuity that enables the measurement of the stars’ motion, so predicting stars’ future movement has likewise been speeded up: Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore have collected Hubble’s images from 2002 to 2006 to simulate stars’ projected migration over the next 10,000 years.

Source: Hubble Site, http://hubblesite.org.

Artificial Experimenter

Software that can take over the routine aspects of experimentation could help reduce its costs.

An “artificial experimenter” developed at Britain’s University of Southampton autonomously analyzes a project’s data, builds hypotheses, and chooses the experiments to perform, according to one of the developers, PhD student Chris Lovell of the School of Electronics and Computer Science. The program will also help detect anomalies in error-prone areas such as biological experimentation.

The next step is to join the AI software with automated platforms—labs on a chip—to perform the experiments requested by the artificial experimenter, using fewer resources in the process.

Source: University of Southampton, School of Electronics and Computer Science, www.ecs.soton.ac.uk.

WordBuzz: Weisure

Mobility, connectedness, and competitiveness have long been blurring the boundaries between activities performed in the workplace and everywhere else. Now, a term has been coined to define these omnitasking hours: weisure (work and leisure).

Attributed to Dalton Conley’s book Elsewhere, U.S.A. published by Pantheon, 2009, the term was soon popularized by CNN in a story entitled “Welcome to the ‘weisure’ lifestyle.”

Comment: We are hoping someone can still come up with a less-unwieldy coinage (something less frighteningly similar to seizure). Please send your suggestions for renaming this concept of time-use-blurring to letters@wfs.org.

Comments

Plabor

In response to the challenge in the March-April 2011 Futurist, how about "playbor" or "plabor" (pronounced like the former)?

[My first thought--"lork" (pronounced "lurk")--wasn't any better than "weisure"--but it did make me laugh!]

Brian Neil Burg
Fullerton, CA

About the author
Patrick Tucker is the senior editor of THE FUTURIST magazine and director of communications for the World Future Society.

Blurk

From a reader:
Re: "We are hoping someone can still come up with a less-unwieldy coinage (something less frighteningly similar to seizure)..."

I would suggest blurk--sounds like blur + work. It's catchier than weisure and captures that sense of blurred boundaries that we all feel.

Ginny Holbert
www.fluxandflummox.com

About the author
Patrick Tucker is the senior editor of THE FUTURIST magazine and director of communications for the World Future Society.