By all the laws of anything, Winston Chen should not have quit his well-paying, midcareer job at a software company at age 40. But one day he was watching a TED Talk, one of those popular online video presentations, delivered by a New York designer.
"He presented this absolutely irresistible idea," Chen says. "He said, 'Why don't we take five years out of retirement and spread them throughout your working life?' "
You're out navigating the jammed sidewalks of Kenya's capital city when you suddenly realize you're in desperate need of a toilet. You crane your neck over the crowds, vainly seeking a McDonalds, a Starbucks — no such luck. What next?
There could be an app for that. Twendeloo, which is Swahili for "Let's Go to the Loo," would allow you to use your phone to locate the nearest public restroom in Nairobi's business district, then give it a rating for cleanliness.
Communications barriers have long vexed us, as showcased in the movie "Rush Hour."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "RUSH HOUR")
CHRIS TUCKER: (As Carter) Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?
LYDEN: Scientists in the 17th century were working hard to understand; mainly, the secrets of the universe but also, each other. With Latin on the decline, they were seeking a whole new way of communicating that would defy barriers and borders - a universal language.
Ira Leifer, next to an RV he has outfitted with methane sensors and other equipment to sniff the air.
Credit Richard Harris / NPR
This map shows methane measurements Ira Leifer took as he drove in his RV around the Los Angeles basin. Notice the pronounced spike in levels of methane around the La Brea Tar Pits in the center of the image. Geological faults here allow "natural" methane to escape. The redder the color, the more methane was detected.
Credit Courtesy of Ira Leifer and Paige Farrell, et. al. / Published in Atmospheric Environment
Ira Leifer, at his garage-turned-lab in Santa Barbara, has been studying the levels of methane in the atmosphere.
Credit Richard Harris / NPR
Leifer stands atop his roving chemistry lab. He and his team took 6,600 methane readings on the cross-country drive from Florida to California.
If you're driving down the road someday and you come across a camper with a 50-foot periscope sticking up into the sky, you just might have crossed paths with Ira Leifer. His quirky vehicle is on a serious mission. It's sniffing the air for methane, a gas that contributes to global warming.
Leifer is an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. But you'll more often find him off campus, in a garage, next to a string of auto body shops near the airport.
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. Yesterday, President Obama sent out a tweet drawing attention to a study about climate change. The study found that scientists who say climate change is largely caused by human activities vastly outnumber the skeptics. NPR's Richard Harris has more on the study that caught the White House's attention.
What's on your plate? What do you like to eat? What are you eating for lunch, dinner at this point? As with many things, the answer to that might have a lot to do with what you're accustomed to do and, you know, what part of the world you live in. In some parts of the world, insects can be a delicious part of the diet. Well here not so much.
In Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein, astrophysicist Mario Livio explores the colossal errors committed by scientific greats, from chemist Linus Pauling's botched model of DNA, to Charles Darwin's failure to understand genetics--the very mechanism of natural selection.