The Tom Sawyer of Innovation

When Nintendo released its Wii videogame console in December 2006, it was sold out before it hit the shelves. Stores had more advance orders than they could fill. The company went on to sell more than 20 million Wii consoles within the first year, outselling the next most popular gaming systems, the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, combined. But the real significance of the Wii may come from another statistic: 500,000. That's the number of people who downloaded, in a single four-month period, JohnnyChung Lee's software for turning the Wii's unique handset—which allows the player to control the action on screen with a wave of the hand—into something that has nothing to do with videogames: the "pen" for a digital whiteboard, on which people can write and draw from a distance. Lee is one of a growing community of programmers who have expropriated the technology behind the Wii for their own inventions, using it in ways Nintendo never intended. The result has been a groundswell of innovation...

Of Subways and Squirrels

Starting PointOn Dec. 22, 1984, Manhattan electrical engineer Bernie Goetz opens fire on four black teens who hassle him for $5 on a city subway. All four are wounded, and one is left paralyzed. Fever PitchGoetz is hailed as a hero "subway vigilante" by New Yorkers fed up with raging crime. He's acquitted of attempted murder and spends eight months in jail. Present DayIn 1996, Goetz is found guilty in civil court of acting recklessly, and the teen he paralyzed is awarded $43 million—forcing Goetz into bankruptcy. In 2001, he runs unsuccessfully for mayor, then in 2005 for the city's public-advocate office. (He lost.) Now 60, Goetz is a vegetarian activist and operates a makeshift squirrel hospital out of his apartment. (Squirrels, he tells NEWSWEEK, are "sociable, playful, affectionate and loving.") As for the past, Goetz—and New York—have moved on. "It's inconceivable New York City crime would go back to the way it was," he says.

Power From a Distance

Roy Kuennen had a problem to solve. In 1996, one of Amway Corp.'s products, a household water filter, kept breaking down. The filter used an ultraviolet lamp to kill bacteria, but the lamp had to be submerged in water, which corroded the electrical wires that powered the lamp. Kuennen, an engineer, got the wacky idea to remove the wires altogether and power the lamp with a coil magnet.Twelve years later, the wireless revolution that brought the mobile phone, Bluetooth and WiFi is about to extend its claim to the domain of power. A handful of companies are now trying to beam power directly to mobile phones, PDAs, laptops and other gadgets without our having to remember to plug them in overnight. The promise of wire-free power, though, may run afoul of the current penchant for all things green because it usually involves a loss of efficiency.The first products on the market won't force consumers into paroxysms of guilt. A charging pad for the Motorola Razr, made by WildCharge of...

PR For Dictators

In the 1930s, the Nazis hired an American named Ivy Lee to improve relations between Hitler's government and Washington, until the deal provoked outrage and led to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.If only Lee could see us now. According to Kevin McCauley, editor of O'Dwyer's Public Relations News—a leading industry publication—questionable regimes are seeking more and more PR help, in longer-term multi-million-dollar campaigns. From African despots to Central Asian autocrats, rulers with shady human-rights records are spending more to have their bad images burnished by savvy Western firms.The latest prospective client is Belarussia President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who met this month to discuss representation with Britain's Tim Bell (the man who helped Margaret Thatcher get elected). Bell has his work cut out for him: Lukashenko was once quoted as saying, "Not everything connected with Hitler was bad." Spin that.