Brightest ideas of the week: October 11, 2009

Oakland City Council admits mistake, researchers make a breakthrough in cancer research, toxic school water is under investigation, and a UCSF professor earns a Nobel Prize.


1. Hospital dictation

High-tech ‘scribes’ put medical records into computers

The details: At the University of Virginia Medical Center, 21st century “scribes” use laptops, instead of quills, as they trail doctors from bed to bed, taking detailed notes that will form part of each patient’s electronic medical record. Hospitals have finally begun the often bumpy transition to digital records instead of clipboards and closets of paper charts. Congress has dedicated $30 billion from the stimulus to help hospitals and doctors convert, who are then eligible to receive bonus Medicare payments.


2. Holdout ended

49ers, rookie wide receiver Crabtree reach six-year deal

The details: After a contract stalemate lasting four weeks into the NFL season, the 49ers finally reached a deal with first-round pick Michael Crabtree. The six-year contract reportedly calls for a $32 million base salary, with $17 million guaranteed. However, if Crabtree has two Pro Bowl seasons during the first four years, the deal becomes a five-year, $28 million contract.


3. Recalculation

NASA tweaks killer asteroid’s trajectory of death

The details: It’s less likely that the movie “Deep Impact” will become a reality in 2036. NASA has downgraded the possibility that a massive Apophis asteroid — the size of two and a half football fields — would hit Earth on April 13, 2036. The scientists recalculated the trajectory of the asteroid, changing the probability to a 4-in-1 million chance the asteroid would connect with Earth.


4. Admitting a mistake

Council votes to roll back parking enforcement hours

The details: Admitting that it made a mistake, the Oakland City -Council voted to roll back its parking meter enforcement hours, ending the enforcement at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. The City Council had voted June 30 to extend the hours as part of an effort to reduce what, at the time, was an $83 million budget deficit. Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente said he hoped the council’s vote will “restore good will” between the council and community members who were angry about the parking hours.


5. Caught in the act

Woman in Philippines cracks Oklahoma robbery case

The details: Three people were caught robbing an Oklahoma City apartment when the owner’s Philippines-based wife spotted them on the Web cam the couple uses to communicate. Officers caught the three suspects after the woman told her husband about the incident, who reported it to police. The suspects were identified in a photo line-up mailed to the woman in the Philippines.


6. Money-saving promise

Bank of America pledges not to raise rates or fees

The details: Bank of America this week announced that it would not raise credit card interest rates or fees before a new law restricting such increases takes effect in February. The announcement follows the recent introduction of new legislation that would move the date of credit card reforms up to Dec. 1. The effect of the pledge is somewhat reduced, however, by the fact that the bank recently moved most of its customers to variable rate cards, which means they could still see their rates increase.


7. One step closer

Researchers make breakthrough cancer discovery

The details: Canadian researchers this week reported evidence that cancer cells genetically mutate as the disease progresses, and that a tumor may be made up of cells with many different genetic mutations. The discovery, made by genetically sequencing cancer cells taken from the same patient at different points in her disease progression, may change the way cancer treatment is pursued because it indicates that different cells in a tumor may respond to different treatments, researchers said.


8. Fixing foul water

Sen. Boxer plans hearing on toxic school water

The details: A U.S. Senate environment committee plans to hold hearings to investigate the problem of toxic drinking water in the nation’s schools. California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer called for the hearings, following an Associated Press investigation revealing that water supplies at thousands of schools have been found to contain unsafe levels of lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins.


9. S.F. takes center stage

The City hosts Presidents Cup

The details: Twenty-four of the world’s best golfers, countless celebrities and former presidents trekked to San Francisco this week for The Presidents Cup, a prestigious biennial team match-play golf event. It was a unique opportunity for The City to take center stage in the sporting world, and it didn’t disappoint. Despite concerns earlier in the year about the condition of Harding Park, the golf course held up admirably and provided a picturesque backdrop.


10. Phried phishermen

Agents arrest dozens for identity theft scheme in U.S., Egypt

The details: Federal authorities said they arrested 33 people involved in a U.S. and Egyptian crime ring, in which an elaborate “phishing” scam bilked bank customers out of at least $1 million. The defendants in what was dubbed “Operation Phish Phry” targeted U.S. banks and victimized hundreds and possibly thousands of account holders by stealing their financial information and using it to transfer about $1.5 million to bogus accounts they controlled, according to federal officials. More than 50 individuals in California, Nevada and North Carolina, and nearly 50 Egyptian citizens have been charged with crimes including computer fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, money laundering and aggravated identify theft.


Bright light of the week: Elizabeth Blackburn

What: UCSF professor wins Nobel Prize.

Why: UC San Francisco molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn was one of three joint winners of a Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. Blackburn received the award for her team’s discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that protects genetic material in cells and maintains healthy cell division. Her work has implications for the study of aging, cancer and other diseases.

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