The Ideas Factory: From queue-pushing pilots to court dogs - five thoughts we liked this week

1. Transport: Rethinking American airport security

If a pilot can steer a plane into the ground, then what's the point in making him or her wait go through airport security? America's Transportation Security Administration is trialling the idea of letting pilots dodge the procedure. It's part of a TSA programme called Known Crewmember and is currently on trial at Chicago's O'Hare International. It's soon to be expanded to other US airports, including Boston and Miami.

Other regular passengers aren't forgotten either – airport authorities are experimenting with different security measures to improve airport experiences. For instance, the TSA is planning to reduce screening for "trusted-travellers" and "regular travellers" would not undergo the process to remove their shoes or coat.


2. Health: Russia rethinks what beer is

The stereotype of Russia as a country beset by chronic alcoholism wasn't helped by fact that until three weeks ago the country classified beer not as an alcoholic product, but as a foodstuff. President Dmitry Medvedev has since signed legislation to rectify the matter, which was about time for a country in which around 500,000 people die from alcoholism each year.

The new law will keep an eye on beer production and sales which, ideally, will reduce the production of distinctly bad-for-your-health illegal beers.


3. Work: Friendly colleagues make you live longer Could the moody person at the desk next to yours end up killing you? Perhaps not, but research from an Israeli university suggests that they might take years off your life. A worker with less friendly colleagues has more chance of dying with high blood pressure or heart disease then a person with nice colleagues. People with "no peer social support" have 2.4 per cent greater chance of dying earlier than others. The study, led by Arie Shirom at Tel Aviv University, tracked 820 working people for 20 years.


4. Criminal justice: A cuddly dog to help witnesses testify

In particularly sensitive criminal trials, getting – often traumatised – witnesses to describe what has happened to them can be an ordeal for the people involved. In Poughkeepsie, in upstate New York, a dog named Rosie helped the prosecutors secure a conviction. The labrador sat by a 15-year-old girl's feet and comforted her as she testified that her father had raped an impregnated her. Therapy dogs have been used in US courts before, but this case has led to a debate – does the cuteness of the dog make it even harder to look at the accused fairly?

Defenders of Rosie, and other therapy dogs, have argued that the animals can play a vital role in comforting witnesses.

Source: The New York Times

5. Technology: A sun-powered smartphone

One of the main ways for a smartphone to lose energy is through the light used on its screen. Researchers at UCLA are aiming to make losing power at music festivals a thing of the past with technology that uses polarising organic photovoltaic cells to recycle solar light energy on a phone's LCD screen. That means, in theory, that a phone exposed to the sun will keep its charge for significantly longer than usual. Doesn't help if you live in Manchester, though.

Source : Engadget