For September’s Digital Design Weekend at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, artists Michiko Nitta and Michael Burton commissioned soprano Louise Ashcroft to sing, altering pitch and volume while wearing a face mask made of algae. According to the artists, since algae’s growth changes with the amount and quality of carbon dioxide it receives, Ashcroft’s voice, blowing CO2 against the algae, should vary the growth’s “taste” as to bitterness or sweetness. After the performance, the audience sampled the algae at various stages and apparently agreed. The artists said they were demonstrating how biotechnology could transform organisms.
The entrepreneurial spirit
n Jordan and Bryan Silverman’s start-up venture, Star Toilet Paper, distributes rolls to public restrooms in restaurants, stadiums and other locations absolutely free — because the brothers have sold ads on each sheet. (Company slogan: “Don’t rush. Look before you flush.”) Jordan, with 50 advertisers enlisted so far, told the Detroit Free Press in August that he came up with the idea while sitting on the can at the University of Michigan library.
n After an international trade association reported that women bought 548 million pairs of shoes in 2011 (not even counting those used exclusively for sports), the manufacturer Nine West has decided to start its own cable TV channel with programing on “various aspects of footwear,” according to an August New York Times report. Programs will feature celebrities rhapsodizing about their favorite pair, women who hoard shoes (purchasing many more than they know they’ll ever wear even one time), tips on developing one’s stiletto-walking skills and shoe closet designs. It’s about a “conversation,” said a Nine West executive, “not about a shoe.”
n Habersham Funding of Georgia and its competitors make their money by buying terminally ill clients’ life insurance policies for lump sums, then continuing to pay the policies’ premiums so that they collect as beneficiaries upon death. The companies’ business model therefore depends on those clients dying quickly; a client who outlives expectations turns the investment sour. Thus, according to an August report by the New York Times, the companies run extensive background checks on the illnesses and lifestyles of potential clients and employ sophisticated computer algorithms that predict, better than doctors can, how long a client will live. Supposedly, according to the report, the companies are nonchalant about erroneous predictions. No company, they claim, has an official policy of hoping for early death.
Leading economic indicators
n Scorpion antivenom made in Mexico sells in Mexico for about $100 a dose, but for a while over the last year, the going rate in the emergency room of the Chandler (Ariz.) Regional Medical Center was $39,652 a dose, charged to Marcie Edmonds, who was stung while opening a box of air-conditioner filters in June. She received two doses by IV and was released after three hours, to later find a co-pay bill of $25,537 awaiting her (with her Humana plan picking up $57,509), according to the Arizona Republic newspaper. The Republic found that Arizona hospitals retailed it for between $7,900 and $12,467 per dose — except for Chandler. Following the newspaper’s report, Chandler decided to re-price the venom at $8,000 a dose, thus eating a $31,652 “loss.”
n Among the least-important effects of last summer’s drought in the Midwest: Officials overseeing the annual Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw said there would be fewer high-quality cow patties. Said chairwoman Ellen Paulson: “When it’s hot, the cows don’t eat as much. And what was produced, they just dried up too quick.” A few patties had been saved from the 2011 competition, but, she said, “It’s not like you can go out and buy them.”