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7. Limbs 2.0:
In the lead-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics, South African sprint runner Oscar Pistorius made history for a delectable irony: He was the first man whose competitors claimed he had an unfair advantage because he was a double amputee — or more to the point, because his prosthetic carbon-fiber limbs were considered a boost, not a hindrance.
But to many amputees, so-called "body-powered" prosthetic limbs remain cumbersome, uncomfortable and limited in their movements and capacities. Advanced models can be prohibitively expensive — published estimates vary from $6,000 to $35,000, depending on type and other factors — yet still feature relatively few individual movements, or what's often referred to as "degrees of freedom."
About the time Pistorius was making headlines, however, Vanderbilt professor of mechanical engineering Michael Goldfarb was testing a radical idea: prosthetic limbs that hinged upon an ingenious application of rocket propulsion — specifically, the type of motor system used to position the space shuttle in orbit. Using a motor powered by pencil-sized cartridges filled with hydrogen peroxide, which converts to pure steam at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, the prototypical limbs were able to perform functions such as lifting and walking up stairs.
It's an image that conjures up visions of steampunk robotics — and as Goldfarb admits, it was a creative end run around the limitations of batteries and micro-electronics at the time. The idea was ultimately discarded. But in just five years, battery power, materials and electronic capability have increased dramatically — and so have the possibilities for astounding advances in prosthetic limbs.
Video footage released by Vanderbilt shows some of the potential. Instead of the two-pronged, unwieldy hook many amputees wear, a researcher demonstrates an exoskeletal hand with five distinct fingers, which gently close together around a soda can. But electrodes that measure electrical impulses on the skin transmitted from the brain cause the thumb, index finger and remaining knuckle-jointed fingers to move separately — something no body-powered hook can do.
"The hand is the least mature of our prototypes," says Goldfarb, who became fascinated with prosthetics in high school, when he worked summers at a local VA hospital. With the help of his fellow researchers, including a veteran physical therapist and an upper-extremity amputee, he says he has addressed four of the five major concerns amputees have about prosthetic devices: aesthetics, function, weight — his prosthetic arm weighs 500 grams, or slightly more than a pound — and neural control, the ability to send signals directly from the brain to the stamp-sized microcontroller that activates movement.
The fifth concern is a tall order: sensory response — i.e., touch. But Goldfarb says this is an exciting time to work in his field, as the technology has just started to catch up to the researchers' vision: "You can do this for real now," he says. JIM RIDLEY
8. After-School Sessions:
Notes for Notes
"The studio is the great equalizer," says Philip Gilley, co-founder of Notes for Notes, a program that will equip and staff two fully operational recording studios inside Nashville Boys and Girls Clubs this fall.
The program — first launched in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2007 and expanding to Music City thanks in part to a grant from the Hot Topic Foundation — gives kids an opportunity to sit at the controls and learn the recording process in a fully operational studio, with the guidance of staff mentors, visiting music pros and the occasional special guest. (Jack Johnson, for one, dropped in one of the Santa Barbara locations earlier this year.)
"It's a vibe and a culture as much as a facility," Gilley says, emphasizing the program's open-ended and inclusive nature. So far, that vibe has attracted some big names in support: The Steve Miller Band recently helped raise $50,000 at a benefit concert for the organization, and the Notes for Notes advisory board includes luminaries the likes of Jeff Bridges, David Crosby, Carol Burnett and Depeche Mode's Martin Gore, to name but a few.
Where Music Row exists to churn out hits and hitmakers, Notes for Notes has a broader, less results-oriented set of goals. "A lot of these kids don't have anywhere else to go, and where they want to go is the recording studio," Gilley says. "What keeps them coming back is the relationships that form — not just between us and them, but with the other kids."
Gilley says getting kids to believe in their own creative power can create reverberations far beyond the mixing board. And while performing may be the most identifiable aspect, the music industry as a whole encompasses many jobs — from sound engineers to promoters to lighting and stage crew — that kids might not know about. "If we give them that taste and that introduction," Gilley says, it can open doors that weren't just closed, but invisible.
Even so, Notes for Notes is not a vocational program, any more than it's a star factory. "We just want to show kids that music is empowering," Gilley says. "It's not like we're trying to create the next Taylor Swift. They may start off doing music and do a song, and even if it doesn't turn into something they want to pursue, they might think, 'I made this — what else can I do?' " STEVE HARUCH
9. The Social Network: QuoteTh.is
"The quote is an art unto itself. A great quote is a perfectly packaged parcel of wisdom; self-explanatory yet enticing."
That quote, about the beauty of quotes (how meta!), is from the website for QuoteTh.is, a new social media widget being developed by Nemonics Media, a startup headed by East Nashvillian Jacob Gordon, a writer who's contributed to Dwell, GOOD, MSN and Discovery Channel's sustainability website,TreeHugger.
QuoteTh.is has two main facets. First, people who create digital content of any kind — blogs, news websites, ebooks, etc. — can add a bit of simple code that allows readers to share a quote across multiple platforms with just a couple of mouse clicks or finger taps. Here's how it works: The writer selects the noteworthy quotes, and when you, the reader, run your mouse over those highlighted quotes, the QuoteTh.is icon pops up. Click it, and you're taken to an interface where you can simultaneously post it on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. The quote is automatically formatted to fit each platform — featured quote and link on your Facebook wall, hashtags and shortened links on Twitter. All you have to do is click "Share."
Second, readers can use QuoteTh.is to share any quote they like, even if it hasn't been preselected by the author. Just drop the bookmarklet into your browser toolbar. When you see a quote you want to share, highlight it, click QuoteTh.is — and voilà!
As a digital journalist and professional podcaster, Gordon knows firsthand how important it is for online content to be shared between friends and networks around the Web. Furthermore, he envisions a bigger purpose for QuoteTh.is: All the quotes shared using the application will accumulate into what is essentially a crowd-sourced quote library. "The next time you go onto Google and search for a quote on, say, rioting in London or improved fuel economy standards, you could find yourself on a QuoteTh.is page with a quote about the subject, info on the person who shared it, and then a link back to the article where it was originally published online."
Eventually, he adds, you'll be able to go to QuoteTh.is and search for any topic. "Similar to Twitter, we'll have trending topics as well, based on keywords and tags," he says.
Gordon and his tech-whiz business partner Nathan Loyer (formerly the senior open source Web architect at Asurion) currently have QuoteTh.is in alpha testing. If all goes well, he hopes it will eventually be even more ubiquitous on the Internet than his face is. See, before he moved to Nashville, Gordon worked at American Apparel in Los Angeles, in a variety of roles: copywriter, manager of the LA factory's environmental footprint (a position he created) and last but not least, model. Google "hipster V-neck," and Gordon is still one of the top image results, even four years after his last modeling job there. He's not a bad-looking guy — and you can quote us on that. JACK SILVERMAN
10. Nashville's First Complete Street: The 28th/31st Avenue Connector
When the mayor's office announced in September that construction would soon begin on a new street connecting Jefferson, West End and Charlotte via 28th and 31st avenues, the focus was rightly on the rift in the city's demographic infrastructure it will help mend. But the new connector is more than just another stretch of asphalt that bridges three sectors of the city too long isolated from each other: It's also the first large-scale project to be built under Nashville's Complete Streets directive.
Executive Order No. 40 did not generate much fanfare when Mayor Karl Dean signed it on Oct. 6, 2010. But it moves Nashville forward in an important way by mandating a progressive policy of multimodal, environmentally conscious design for all new Nashville streets. The first construction project under Complete Streets was the renovation of Deaderick Street downtown, giving it new life as Tennessee's first so-called "green street," complete with porous concrete and solar powered parking meters. The 28th/31st Avenue Connector — which was already in the planning stages when Executive Order No. 40 was being drafted — will be the first ground-up Complete Streets build, with an emphasis on low-impact construction and including wide sidewalks, color-coded bike lanes, LED markers, a rain garden median (designed to both retain water for irrigation and divert stormwater from the roadway and drains) on-street trash and recycling, bioswales (eco-friendly drainage and filtering gardens) and a new transit service that will likely be part of a university run that includes stops at the TSU, Vanderbilt and Belmont campuses. The connector will also be home to six new bus shelters, painted by local artists.
While some may decry the inefficacy of government, Complete Streets' many moving parts interlock surprisingly well. High-level officials from MTA, Public Works and the Water and Parks departments all been involved in the planning and design of the 28th/31st Avenue Connector, not to mention input from TDOT and nonprofits including the Land Trust of Tennessee and the Cumberland Compact. The Complete Streets program — along with similar initiatives in McKinney, Texas, and Portland, Maine — also garnered an EPA Technical Assistance Grant, providing both financial backing and specialized training. (Incidentally, TDOT regulations do not allow pervious paving surfaces on major streets yet, though there are test patches already in place around Nashville.)
The result of all this research and planning — a state-of-the-art, multiuse surface that accommodates cars, bikes and pedestrians, and is specifically designed to minimize environmental impact — reflects not just a new thoroughfare, but a new direction for Nashville as well. STEVE HARUCH
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