Written by Ami Albernaz, Kara Baskin, Ellen Bhang, Karen Campbell, James Cronin, Gary Dzen, Geoff Edgers, Michael Farrell, Devra First, Carolyn Johnson, Susan Johnston, Sheryl Julian, Marni Elyse Katz, Deborah Kotz, Michael Morisy, Dan Morrell, Anne v. Nelson, Cristin Nelson, Martine Powers, Shira Springer, Francis Storrs, Tina Sutton, Beth Teitell, Rachel Travers, Eugenia Williamson, Glenn Yoder
In June, Cambridge-based writer Alysia Abbott published “Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father.” Critics praised Abbott for her scope: The book is a heartfelt remembrance of her late father, a gay poet and activist who raised her alone before succumbing to AIDS, as well as a window into San Francisco in the ’70s and ’80s. In December, filmmaker Sophia Coppola announced her intention to adapt “Fairyland” for the screen. “I can’t imagine a better fit,” Abbott says.
An Army of Skin Cancer Screeners
Talk about using your head. The Melanoma Foundation of New England has initiated a first-of-its kind program enlisting hairstylists in the fight for skin cancer detection. Sun damage and suspicious lesions often appear on the unprotected scalp and neck, difficult places for self-examination. By offering free clinics to beauty professionals, who, after all, check out scalps on a regular basis, the foundation trains the people perhaps most likely to spot the cancerous moles in the early, treatable stage.
To sign up: 800-557-6352, mfne.org
A Better Beer Can
Given the aluminum can’s cultural identity as a blue-collar alternative to its more upmarket glass cousin, there is humor in the story of Sam Adams’s high-tech, consultant-aided, $1 million quest to create the “perfect” can for its beer. But the king of craft brews — which notably followed its hipster descendants into aluminum — shared the science, making the model available to any brewer interested in upgrading. With a deeper rim and better airflow to help keep the taste intact, it’s a can worth toasting.
Bike Helmet Vending Machine
Somerville-based HelmetHub tested its first machine on the corner of Boylston Street and Massachusetts Avenue this past fall. The compact kiosk can dispense 36 helmets and accept 25 returns; everything is solar-powered. Expect more of the machines around Boston this spring, and with other cities interested, around the world after that.
Navigating the parking lot that is Route 6 on a summer Friday is no longer an obligatory vacation ritual. The CapeFlyer weekend train service between South Station and Hyannis was enough of a success that its summer tryout was extended through Columbus Day. Riders who’ll need to get beyond Hyannis can bring a bike on the train and transfer to a bus or ferry to get to their final destinations. Or — for those who can’t dispense entirely with the tradition of traffic — rent a car.
It seems far-fetched: Who would possibly be fooled by a cardboard-cutout cop standing guard over a bike rack? But when the MBTA Transit Police posted a two-dimensional likeness of a police officer inside the bike cages at Cambridge’s Alewife Station in July, reported bike thefts dropped by 64 percent the first month. Now T officials are considering installing the cardboard officers at other stations. How does it work? “Even though rationally you understand that’s not a real cop, that feeling of being watched taps into a sort of intuitive level below conscious reasoning, and that affects your behavior,” says David G. Rand, assistant professor of psychology and economics at Yale University.
City Hall to Go
With its cherry-red paint job, Boston’s “City Hall to Go” vehicle looks more like a food truck than a municipal outpost. But since its debut a year ago, the converted SWAT truck has rolled out to 58 different spots in neighborhoods across the city, in the daytime and also on evenings and weekends, helping residents complete basic transactions (paying tickets, registering to vote) without the hassle of a trip downtown. It adds new stops to the rotation based on suggestions and demand.
Choreographer Peter DiMuro was a beloved and respected figure on the modern dance scene in Boston for years before moving away to work with the trailblazing choreographer Liz Lerman outside Washington, D.C. Now back in town, DiMuro has taken up the reins of the Dance Complex in Cambridge following its founder’s retirement, and he’s a superb choice — insightful and ambitious, but with his feet firmly on the ground.
Down Syndrome Breakthrough
In a discovery that could transform research into Down syndrome, scientists from the University of Massachusetts Medical School have silenced the extra copy of a chromosome that is at the root of the condition. The research, so far performed in cells in a dish, is far from being tested as a therapy. But it provides a powerful tool for probing the underlying biology of Down syndrome and aiding the search for drugs.
In March, a medical geneticist from Brigham and Women’s Hospital waded into one of medicine’s newest ethical minefields — whether and how much to search for disease risks that lurk in DNA when analyzing a person’s genome. Dr. Robert Green co-led a panel of experts who set off a valuable and still-ongoing national debate with the controversial recommendation that testing laboratories should search for two dozen genetic conditions, regardless of how much patients want to know.
Usually the most talented students scoot right out of Berklee when the professional gigs call. Not Grace Gibson. The actress, musician, and transfer student into the school could be seen this winter in the movie “Black Nativity” singing with Jennifer Hudson. Thrilling, but not enough to make Gibson forget her larger plan. “My mom always said you only have this one time in your life to be selfish and purely focus on learning,” Gibson says. Not that she’s going to disappear. Her first video, a cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” that she co-directed, should drop early this year. Gibson’s also been auditioning for TV pilots and film roles. “I don’t hold my breath,” she says of waiting to hear. “I’m a real believer in whatever’s meant for me will happen.”
Hate seeing TV spoilers on Twitter? Jennie Lamere, an 18-year-old from Nashua, has the antidote: an app called Twivo. In April, then still a senior in high school, Lamere was the only woman to present at a Hill Holliday-sponsored “hack” in Boston. She won, then spent the summer interning at Twitter’s local offices before heading off to college.
A marriage of two of the city’s defining industries, education and technology, this business accelerator program nurtures startups looking to build the next big thing in teaching tech. This year’s first class of seven companies graduated in September, featuring everything from Cognii, which offers automated assessment of students’ written answers, to Listen Edition, a startup from WBUR veteran Monica Brady-Meyrov that builds lesson plans around public radio programs.
He’s already thrown out the first pitch at Fenway, played a gig outside Quincy Market, and wowed the Symphony Hall audience with his reading of Wagner. But for the dynamic Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, the real work begins when he takes over as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 15th music director. BSO management knows it has scored an energetic successor to the brilliant but often injured James Levine. Now the question is how Nelsons, 35, will match up as the orchestra’s leader.
Last March, Boston’s mayor’s office hosted a competition to test new pavement materials that allow public works crews to fill potholes on nights and weekends, when local asphalt plants are closed. The winners: Aquaphalt and Unique Paving Materials, both of which make a black, sticky goo that can be poured into yawning chasms and hardens almost immediately. Unlike asphalt, which must be kept heated, these materials can be stored in bags or buckets in the trunk of a car. They passed muster with Public Works Department crews, and the city has phased both products into standard pothole-filling protocol.
Signs With the Times
The best thing to happen to traffic jams in ages? (No, you didn’t miss the introduction of flying cars.) This spring, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation rolled out 48 electronic signs that relay real-time traffic updates — such as that driving the next 5 miles will take 30 minutes — on the Mass. Pike, Route 3, and, for heavy summer traffic, Route 6 on the Cape (a pilot on I-93 launched in 2012). The $2.2-million project is high tech: Roadside detectors ping Bluetooth-enabled devices in passing cars, then algorithms determine the drive-time estimates that get updated every three minutes. But they’re a welcome addition for reasons far simpler. Traffic isn’t nearly as frustrating if you know what to expect.
Almost 400 years after the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving, a local has done it again: Norwood’s Dana Gitell is the genius who named the calendar convergence of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah “Thanksgivukkah.” The holiday quickly garnered its own T-shirts, cards, and other products — behold the “menurkey” — and was even recognized by President Obama. “It’s an event so rare some have even coined it ‘Thanksgivukkah,’ ” he said in his Hannukah statement, to the delight of the Gitell clan. But the best part? Thanksgivukkah-related products raised more than $20,000 for the hunger-fighting charity Mazon.
Violence-Free Rest Areas
In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting, the pow-pow-pow of a shoot-’em-up arcade game took on a new, horrifying veneer for Andrew and Tracey Hyams, a Newton couple who encountered the game’s plastic machine guns at a Mass. Pike rest station just days after the tragedy. “We don’t believe that violent video games are the singular cause of mass shootings,” the Hyamses wrote in a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. But, they continued, games that “desensitize players to the realities of mass destruction, have no place in state-sponsored highway rest stops.” The transportation agency promptly removed all nine of its shooter games and established violence-free rest areas.
The Wired Park Bench
Seat-e debuted on the Rose Kennedy Greenway this past fall as a place where pedestrians can recharge — literally. Besides offering a place to sit, the benches have solar-powered ports where passersby can juice up phones. Now other cities want the benches, too. But the true sign of their urban approval was the graffiti.
PUT ME IN, COACH: FILLING BIG SHOES
Two dramatic exits — Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and Celtics coach Doc Rivers — had left vacancies at the city’s most-storied sports franchises. Enter John Farrell and Brad Stevens. Beneath the surface, the two arrived as similarly well-suited team leaders — humble, knowledge-thirsty, detail-oriented, and unfazed by the intense Boston sports spotlight. Both far exceeded expectations with personalities far less brash than their predecessors, giving fans reasons to celebrate. Farrell, 51, took his bearded ballplayers from worst to first and won the World Series. The clean-shaven skipper guided a team that was relentless on the field and quirky off it. Stevens, 37, silenced skeptics who questioned his readiness for the NBA after six seasons leading Butler University. Stripped of stars by trades and injuries, the whiz kid coach turned a Celtics rebuilding year into an Atlantic Division-leading start. It’s all enough to spark more championship visions.
COOL CROWDFUNDED IDEAS
Higher Ground Farm
Building a farm in Boston’s busy Seaport sounds like a tough sell, but Courtney Hennessey and John Stoddard were determined. To make it work, they just set their sights higher — at roof level, to be exact. With $23,981 they raised on Kickstarter, the duo secured 55,000 square feet on the roof of the Boston Design Center and launched the city’s first commercial rooftop farm, growing herbs, tomatoes, and other produce to sell to local restaurants and grocers. (A side benefit: The farm insulates its host building in the winter and aids with heat dissipation in the summer.) In 2014, Hennessey and Stoddard hope to open a farm stand.
Tired of fishing through purses and pockets for a Charlie Card, Edward Tiong and Olivia Seow, two exchange students at MIT, came up with a simple solution: Put a ring on it and have your fare ready whenever you need it. Ring Theory, their new company, puts RFID chips (the technology that powers Charlie Cards) into specially designed 3-D-printed rings. “MBTA thought that it would be a fun idea to work on and were very supportive in us exploring it from the start,” Tiong says. Kickstarter users made it possible — they’re the ones already wearing the rings.
Rings to go on sale next month at ringtheory.net and at the MIT Museum in Kendall Square
Churning out everything from prototype medical devices to mall-kiosk kitsch, 3-D printers have had a big year, but perhaps no innovation makes the technology more accessible than the 3Doodler. The Somerville-born project ditched complicated design hardware and software for a stubby pen with a glue-gun-like tip, inviting users to “draw” small freestanding objects as if they were sketching (very slowly) on paper. Early adopters are already crafting designs for jewelry and the like; users have an online community for showing off finished products and swapping stencils. And it’s a big community: The Kickstarter campaign raised more than $2 million from 26,457 backers eager to scribble in three dimensions.
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