Beware that disgustingly germy iPad

And more recent highlights from the Ideas blog

One morning last week I stopped at a coffee shop that uses an iPad for a cash register. I ordered a muffin and a coffee, and paid with a credit card. The barista swiped my card and pivoted the iPad to face me, so that I could sign with my finger on the screen. I was about to when I recalled new research out of Northeastern University that finds public iPads are among the most germ-infested places you’re likely to put your hands all day.

The research was conducted by Betsy Hirsch and her colleagues in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, and presented in early October at IDWeek, an annual infectious disease conference, held this year in San Francisco. According to a recent post on a Northeastern research blog, Hirsch and her team analyzed bacteria on the screens of 30 iPads belonging to members of the Northeastern faculty. Half of those 30 iPads were used in hospitals by faculty members with clinical responsibilities, and the other half were used around campus the way anyone might use an iPad. Hirsch found that hospital exposure or not, it didn’t matter: Both groups of iPads were teeming with bacteria, including multiple drug-resistant strains.

The article noted that Apple is rumored to be experimenting with antibacterial screens for future iPads. In the meantime, beware of public touchscreens. For my part, I signed my name at the coffee shop with my knuckle, and hoped for the best.

Art to save an alphabet

Hamid Kachmar


How do you preserve a written language that’s in danger of being forgotten? One idea is to turn it into art. The Sherman Gallery at Boston University is currently running an exhibition of works by Moroccan artist Hamid Kachmar, who for 20 years has been using his paintings to help keep alive an embattled indigenous alphabet. Tifinagh is the ancient script of the Berbers, a minority ethnic group living primarily in Morocco and Algeria, to which Kachmar belongs. Tifinagh has been suppressed historically in Morocco in favor of Arabic, and Kachmar pushes back by making the script’s intricate symbols the main element of his colorful art. In some pieces, the symbols are presented neatly, as if they were being cataloged; in others, Kachmar uses them in more abstract form, to create images that evoke the Berber language’s complicated place in Moroccan culture.

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Hamid Kachmar: Reviving the Ancient Tifinagh Script” runs at the Sherman Gallery through Oct. 20.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at