The ideas factory: From punctuation to 'pay what you can' hotels – six thoughts we liked this week

1. Do parking tickets indicate corruption?

President Barack Obama made the news this weekend for not paying London's congestion charge when he brought The Beast to the city in May – but do the number of parking tickets received by diplomats worldwide correlate with how corrupt a nation is? Forbes' Jon Bruner took a paper ranking diplomats' non-payment by country (Kuwait comes top) and compared it to figures of global corruption from Transparency International. The correlation is robust, but not universal, due to Russia and China's exemplary parking violation record.

Source: Freakonomics.com

2. The reinvention of the lavatory

Forty-two million dollars for a new toilet? It's a quote that even the proud owner of the world's first gold-plated yacht (RRP £3bn) might balk at. Actually it's the amount of money the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are offering to the inventors who make loos more efficient and capable of transforming waste into energy. The hope is to provide the 2.6 billion people without toilets access to them without having to build prohibitively expensive sewers. Good work, Bill.

Source: Techcrunch.com

3. 'Pay what you like' hotels made from concrete tubes

So far this year we've witnessed malls made of shipping containers, but even they seem traditional compared to Das Park Hotel, in the heart of the Germany's industrial Ruhr region. The hotel, which reopened in 2008 certainly takes on the local aesthetic – its rooms are repurposed concrete drains.It's in the middle of a park and shares local facilities, allowing it to operate a "pay as much as you can" system.

Source: Twitter

4. Is this ':' what the world's first '?' looked like?

The question mark has been dated as far back as the eighth century. But that's nothing in punctuation years, according to one academic. Cambridge's Dr Chip Coakley has identified what he reckons is the world's first question mark. Really? Yes! By studying manuscripts written in Syriac, a middle eastern language used in Christian literature before the rise of Islam, Coakley concluded that a double dot symbol in an old Syriac Bible signified a question. "It's satisfying to have made sense of some of those weird dots," he said.

Source: Cambridge University

5. Niche maps that are useful and beautiful

London writer/designers Herb Lester Associates specialise in maps, but they're so far away from Ordnance Survey that they're barely on the same scale. Lovingly illustrated, they offer guides to destinations as diverse as Soho in the 1960s (handy!); being "alone in Paris" and a map of places to meet and work in London.

Source : The Sabotage Times

6. What effect will always being 'on' have on us?

Constantly being attached to our smartphones may now mainly affect our relationships with other halves, who are frustrated at the constant sight of our scalps. Wired journalist Brian X Chen thinks the effects will be significantly wider ranging than domestic strife. He thinks that they'll lead to academics asking students to surf Wikipedia rather than be lectured to; paramedics using special lenses to check vital signs and to the police being able to check fingerprints on the spot. The practical uses of checking Twitter in bed aren't included in his new book, Always On, though.

Source: NPR

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