Best ideas of the week: Nov. 15, 2009

American works without pay to bring wheelchairs to disabled Iraqi children, new safety developments in store for backseat ­passengers, and veterans are honored for service.

1. Shot in the arm
Google service provides locations to H1N1 vaccine
The details: Google has provided so many useful services — who hasn’t used Google Earth to try and look into their own home? — that something of this variety only makes too much sense. With the vaccine for the H1N1 virus in such high demand, Google has launched a flu-shot finder service ( that spots places to get the swine flu and seasonal influenza shots. The service will soon be available at and on the American Lung Association Web site.

2. Extreme tomb makeover
King Tut’s tomb set for five-year renovation project
The details: Egypt’s famous Tomb of Tutankhamun will undergo a five-year project to clean and restore the lavish wall paintings in the underground chambers of the boy king whose golden mask and artifacts have long awed the world. Thousands of tourists visit the underground chambers in the Valley of the Kings every month, bringing heat and humidity, which damage the more than 3,000-year-old tomb.

3. Back-seat safety
Ford introduces inflating seat belts
The details: It has long been disturbing to us that car companies don’t protect the precious cargo in backseats — kids, extended family, elderly passengers, friends along for the ride — the same way they do those sitting in the front. Now the folks at Ford have introduced inflatable seat belts that operate much like front-seat air bags.

4. Grateful thieves
Muggers return wallet to victim after seeing Army ID
The details: A group of four men suspected of pulling off a series of muggings found a victim who they simply couldn’t rob. An unnamed 21-year-old Army reservist was on his way home from work in
Milwaukee at 1:15 a.m. Tuesday when the group approached him and forced him into an alley. After taking his wallet, $16, keys, cell phone and even a PowerBar wrapper, one of the robbers found an Army ID in his wallet. The group’s leader then ordered all of the items returned, and said how much he respected what the reservist was doing for his country and apologized.

5. Protection at a price
Banks need customer consent on overdraft fees
The details: Banks will have to secure their customers’ consent before charging large overdraft fees on ATM and debit card transactions, according to a new rule announced Thursday by the Federal Reserve. The rule responds to complaints from consumer groups, members of Congress and other regulators that the overdraft fees are unfair because many people assume they can’t spend more on a debit card than is available in their account. Instead, many banks allow the transactions to go through, and then charge fees of up to $35.

6. Crowd-control
Retailer to keep stores open to prevent Black Friday injuries
The details: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — trying to prevent an out-of-control mob like the one that crushed an employee last year — announced that it will keep its stores open 24 hours and take new crowd-control measures Thanksgiving weekend. Day-after-Thanksgiving sales will still begin at 5 a.m. Nov. 27, but most U.S. stores will be open 24 hours to prevent a mad dash. Instead of lining up outside a store in one big crush, customers would be able to gather in different areas of the store, waiting for the deals to begin.

7. ‘Let’s roll’
Work begins on Flight 93 memorial
The details: Relatives of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001, in the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 took part in the groundbreaking ceremony for a permanent national memorial at the western Pennsylvania crash site. The 2,200-acre park will have a chapel with 40 chimes, one for each of the victims, at its entrance. Passengers on the San Francisco flight fought off terrorists who probably intended to crash the airline into the Capitol or the White House.

8. Sailing on light
Spacecraft to be powered by solar winds
The details: Next year, a box no bigger than a loaf of bread will emerge from a rocket 500 miles above Earth and unfurl four
gossamer-fragile sails. The goal of LightSail-1 is to stay aloft for a few hours while climbing a few miles. But that will be sufficient to demonstrate that “sailing on light” could someday take mankind to the stars. The flight is privately sponsored by the Planetary Society, with financing by an anonymous donor.

9. Mortgage aid
Foreclosure relief reaching more borrowers
The details: After a disappointingly slow start, the Obama administration’s mortgage relief program has now reached one in five eligible homeowners. More than 650,000 borrowers have signed up for loan modification trials lasting up to five months, reducing monthly payments to more affordable levels. In California, about 130,000 homeowners have been enrolled in the “Making Home Affordable” loan modification plan, which works out to about 19 percent of homeowners who were either two payments behind or in foreclosure.

10. New set of wheels
Texas Man gives hope to disabled Iraqi kids
The details: Brad Blauser moved to Iraq in 2004 to be a civilian contractor. He never expected five years later he would still be abroad, changing the lives of children in the region. Last year he quit his job to work full-time — without any compensation — collaborating with nonprofits Reach Out and Care Wheels to get local Iraqi children equipped with pediatric wheelchairs. According UNICEF, an estimated one in seven Iraqi children ages 2 to 14 lives with a disability — such as Spina bifida, palsy and polio. So far, Blauser has distributed nearly 650 wheelchairs.


Bright light of the week: Tribute to veterans

What: Those who served should be honored — on Veterans Day and all year round.

Why: Veterans Day honors all men and women who served in the American military. And those who gave their lives for their country have always had a special place of honor on a national holiday originally created to celebrate the end of World War I and called Armistice Day — until WWI turned out not to be the “war to end all wars” after all. Like too many other historical holidays, Veterans Day might have lost some focus on its first serious purpose. But those who wore the uniform should be honorably remembered year-round, not only on one arbitrary day.

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