Archive for: September 2007
September 20, 2007
I met someone the other day who had a hard-to-pronounce surname. In fact it was so difficult to say that he didn’t pronounce it and simply handed out his business card.
So today’s invention is a business card for people who may have a hard-to-say name. Based on the same technology as those dreadful musical birthday cards, these might each contain a small chip with a soundfile on board (This could be passed wirelessly to the chip but in practice, you might have to live with a version of your name spoken in a machine-like voice constructed from a menu of syllables, chosen from the manufacturer’s website). The card could incorporate a contact switch, activated simply by pressing it.
Now that meetings are increasingly likely to involve a wide diversity of participants, it may well improve subsequent name recognition and avoid some embarrassment for people to supply each other with a way to hear names sounded out clearly, even after the meeting itself.
One can only hope that people don’t start handing out personal ringtones.
September 19, 2007
People tend to habituate and take little notice of announcements which are frequently repeated. You only need to watch the antics of air stewardesses telling frequent fliers about lifesaving emergency procedures -and being studiously ignored.
This phenomenon is even move noticeable when it comes to recorded announcements on the railways. It’s perfectly possible to hear an automated announcement of which n stations a train is about to visit, n times in the course of a journey.
Today’s invention is simply to persist with oft-repeated messages but to have each recorded by a variety of different, engaging voices saying the material with slightly different phrasing. In this way, a higher level of attention can be generated for each announcement.
As long as the diction was clear, regional accents or a heightened emotional note might be used to good effect -especially if a warning was involved. Each message might vary randomly in tone from start to finish in order to keep people cognitively ‘tuned in’.
September 18, 2007
Ever interested in new ways to get some exercise, I’ve noticed that some rowing machines, or ergometers, actually now comprise a flywheel which spins in a tub of water…to give the gormless user the impression that they are actually navigating a waterway.
This is all very well but it nearly doubles the cost (and weight) of a conventional, air braked, rowing machine that is a major purchase in any case.
If you really want the genuine feel of the Mortlake Turn on an autumn Sunday, whilst also having to exert some serious physical effort, I commend today’s invention.
Rather than have a paddle wheel rotate in water, why not use a standard air resistance machine but equipped with an after-market fibreglass bath? This would be designed to fit around the seat and the rail on which it runs and also to allow the oarsman to be immersed in water to a depth (and temperature) of his/her own choice.
This more nearly simulates what real rowing is like when things aren’t going too well -whilst also providing a harder workout against the resistance of the water surrounding the rower’s moving legs and lower torso.
September 17, 2007
I was recently unfortunate enough to be briefly in hospital. There is a lot of stuff wrong in hospitals, even if we overlook the central fact that there are many too few doctors -a situation engineered purely to maintain their fee rate.
One particularly lamentable aspect is the lack of patient privacy. I found myself unavoidably party to conversations, behind flimsy fabric screens, that should really have stayed private between doctors and their patients.
Today’s invention is a double hood device, one end of which is worn by a doctor; the other by his/her patient. This could be made in the form of eg two polystyrene hemispheres joined by a semi-cylindrical tunnel. Medics would have to ask patients if they wanted to talk privately and if so, both would place a hemispherical helmet on their heads and talk quietly via the tunnel.
In this way, their discussion would remain confidential -both could sit without discomfort and without increased risk of cross infection.
Several such devices could be cheaply made available in every ward, perhaps designed to nest compactly together. If made in soundproof fabric, they could be designed to unfold in an origami-esque way.
September 16, 2007
A propos my recent ranting about personal stereo earpieces and the cables that are always in a knot, why on earth do they have to be so long anyway? Are there people who insist on storing the player in their sock, and running the wires up their leg?
Anyway, today’s invention is a DIY answer to the eternal question of self-knitting ipod ear bud wires.
Basically, the idea is to get a long zip (something like a brightly coloured, plastic anorak one will do). On each side of the zip, fold the fabric around one of the wires and glue it back onto itself to form a long, thin sleeve.
With the player attached to the lower end of the zip, you can now join the sleeves by running up the zip keeper up between them. Voila, you have just created a low-tangle, Y-shaped, wearable keeper for your music player.
If you need something even slimmer, then you could consider asking a plastic bag manufacturer to embed a few million metres of wires in a few million metres of zip-close bag seal…just be careful not to a) make the chopped lengths too long and b) retain some width of material in the ‘zip’, otherwise the whole thing returns to spaghetti.
September 15, 2007
Some organisations are obsessed with their internal pecking order. It’s presumably a reflection of our tribal origins that we like to know that Beryl in accounts reports to Mr Bainbridge, acting Deputy regional vice undermanager -even if he’s incompetent and she really runs the outfit.
It’s often true that the status organogram of a big organisation, despite being so carefully drafted, doesn’t really reflect who talks to whom.
Today’s invention is a software tool which automatically detects and updates the de facto reporting structure within an organisation.
Every time an email is created, this program records a list of the people to whom it is sent, cc’d and bcc’d. Over time, sufficient data are gathered to allow a map of the actual interconnectivities between people to be shown. This would represent direction, frequency, bandwidth and priority of exactly who talks to whom.
In this way, those individuals who are most critical to the communications process can be easily identified. My suspicion is that these crucial individuals will not be those at the top of the notional pyramid.
Analysis of Subject lines might also allow identification of eg any large scale wastages of bandwidth, such as that person in purchasing who’s always sharing their weekly footbal results, wedding photos or ‘amusing anecdotes’ by spamming half their colleagues.
September 14, 2007
I’m increasingly amazed by the cheapness and memory capacity of USB thumbdrives. There are many documented attempts to make a workable RAID* array using these devices.
Today’s invention is another such attempt.
Instead, however, of connecting a small number of these in the conventional way, into a common hub, I propose that each drive should have a USB connector on either end. This would therefore allow drives to be chained together (using flexible connectors), offering the prospect of a) a unified, massively scalable, logical memory system and b) a wearable storage belt, capable of being adopted as a consumer fashion item.
This might best take the form of two parallel ‘memory ropes, ‘ providing increased redundancy (either by mirroring: copying data to several disks or striping: splitting data between disks) in the event of some breakage under flexure. Someone seems to have picked up on the idea here and more recently, here.
*(Redundant Array of Inexpensive (or Independent) Drives (or Disks))
September 13, 2007
There’s a great emphasis currently on anti-theft design…rucksacks with integral knifeproof chicken wire, that sort of thing.
Cars already have the protection of a huge range of such devices from steering locks to trackers to alarms…to electrified door handles.
Today’s invention is an addition to this armoury.
For ‘prestige’ vehicles, which are often stolen to order, having imperfections in the paintwork severely lessens their value. Despite what happens in the movies, thieves aren’t really interested in respraying vehicles.
So I suggest equipping such cars with a small collection of realistic stick-on transfers. Some would look like rust spots, others like obvious flaws in the paint. You could even apply apparent key damage scores.
These could be made very realistic: convincing to anyone walking by without a microscope.
Such special effects would strongly deter criminals and, when not needed, simply peel off the pristine paintwork.
September 12, 2007
When trying to train a dog, I believe many experts now advocate the use of a clicker device. This is basically a flexible square of metal which, when deflected and released, emits a loud and consistent click: much more consistent than a word of command from an owner.
The idea apparently is to make the noise when the animal is behaving as required.
Today’s invention combines this with another form of Pavlovian reinforcement, the use of ‘treats.’
A container, similar to a saccharin tablet dispenser, would be used to spit out one treat pellet at a time. This action would deflect a metal plate, causing the required click.
The noise and pellet would reinforce each other’s effects and become associated with behaviour that was desired by the owner.
September 11, 2007
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Despite the huge effort that goes into designing digital cameras, they still suffer from some obvious and important flaws. On a £100 device, this probably isn’t that crucial, but if you are in the market for a £2,000 camera, and trying to take hard-to-get shots, the user interface shouldn’t be getting in your way.
Neither should your nose. Most ‘professional’ SLR’s don’t (yet) provide you with a preview screen at the back, so the user is obliged to peer through a viewfinder. Sometimes this even comes equipped with a nice squishy eyepiece. The problem is that lots of photographers have noses that make using an eyepiece damn near impossible. One solution would be create two large triangular recesses in the camera back on either side of the eyepiece. I guess you’d describe such a design as quirky or even ‘organic.’
Today’s invention, however, is to place the final eyepiece lens at the end of a tube, sticking out from the back of the camera and thus allowing space for anyone’s nose. It might even come with a foam rubber pad which could be rotated about its axis to provide a cushion/brace for either cheek to press against (even when the camera body is being held at an angle).
For extra benefit, it might be possible to mould a cheekpiece for each individual (just as with boil-in-the-bag gumshields) and to make it transparent in order not to obscure the data on the rear display.