Archive for: December 2006

31st December 2006

#41: Sticky tape end locator

Filed under: Possible inventions - 31 Dec 2006

Ever been frustrated by the time you waste finding the end on a roll of sticky tape?

I’d like to suggest that during the manufacturing process, a continuous, coloured line be applied to the shiny side of the tape (perhaps by the use of the now ubiquitous ink-jet technology). This line would run in the long direction of the tape and its colour would change continuously so that the colour at the free end would always be different from the colour of the line on the previous winding (eg yellow line on blue line, never blue on blue).

If we were worried about the possibility of a fixed spectral sequence accidentally causing overlap of two identical shades, we could always build an interactive system that said “I’m looking at a blue spot, on the layer beneath, so I’ll now apply a spot of contrasting colour”.

On behalf of our colour-blind brethren, the line could also be made to oscillate laterally, so that the free end would always be discriminable by never being aligned with the penultimate winding underneath.

Ideally, the printed line could be water soluble (not glue soluble) so that wiping it with a dampened finger, once the tape had been applied, would return it to pristine transparency.

30th December 2006

#40: 15 seconds of fame

Filed under: Possible inventions - 30 Dec 2006

In order to discourage the spread of graffiti, I’d like to propose providing some giant wipeclean dryboards in city centres. Tiny minded scribblers could scrawl whatever ‘graphics’ they liked on these.

In order to provide an incentive, each exponent would achieve a few seconds of fame as the whiteboard would capture their imagery via webcam and display it on giant screens in Times Square, Piccadilly Circus etc.


As well as BAZ LUVS SHAZZ, it might even inspire some new forms of artistic expression. Naturally there would have to be some form of ‘moderation’ in order to remove obscenities (like “Things go better with Coke.”) Thankfully there are now technological solutions capable of automating that part of the process.

Environmental protection and patronage of the arts in one virtuous package.

29th December 2006

#39: Projected touch screen

Filed under: Possible inventions - 29 Dec 2006

Many shapes can be represented using a surprisingly small number of binary pixels. For n pixels, there are of course 2^n different patterns (although a huge proportion of these are not perceived as shapes).

Using an array of only a few hundred pixels allows eg the face of someone famous to be recognised.


It should be possible to adapt existing projected keyboard technology to allow projection of an array of several hundred ‘pixels’ and thus form a general purpose touch screen capable of displaying a huge number of ‘clickable’ shapes.

An image displayed by this system could sense which ‘key’ was being pressed and substitute a zoomed image of the local region in question. In this way, all public touch screens, for accessing services or navigating plans or maps, could be replaced with projectors generating interactive, vandalproof content at minimal cost.

28th December 2006

#38: SMS dating

Filed under: Feasible inventions - 28 Dec 2006

For shy people, making the first move towards starting a relationship can be hell.

I suggest the following. People entering a bar or club can send a text message to the number displayed inside. This would consist of their personal profile: yes/no responses to up to a few hundred questions they have previously completed online. The SMS server would find the best match to their character and stated requirements amongst those people presently within the bar.


A previously stored image of the newly arrived person would be sent to the matched person’s phone, who would have the option to say yes to a meeting. If the response is yes, then the matched person’s image would be supplied to the newcomer, giving them say 15 minutes to meet and introduce themselves. If a no were received, the next best match would automatically be sought.

On exit from the bar, each person would be reminded to text a goodbye message, removing their profile from the pool.

This use of technology would perhaps help to remove the over-reliance on appearance which rules out (or dooms) many relationships.

27th December 2006

#37: Medical pattern detector

Filed under: Feasible inventions - 27 Dec 2006

Access to anyone with a medical qualification is getting more difficult: and more expensive (This largely the result of the medical profession’s desperate attempts to maintain its fee rates -£100k on average, even for a caring, professional GP seems seriously wrong. In the UK, these people take no risk and are allowed to police themselves).

One contribution to the problem might be the following. If feeling unwell, people could visit their personal secure webpage on which would be displayed, a zoomable, detailed map of their body. They could use this to log any pains or other problems and provide a detailed description of any illness -just as they would if actually visiting a medic). When I say detailed I mean that they should also have the opportunity of describing how they actually feel -if they have a headache, exactly how is it spatially distributed? Does it seem to have a colour?  When does it bother them most? Is it ‘sharp’ or ‘dull’ or ‘throbbing’ etc.


An expert system, aware of their history and genetic background, would monitor these inputs, ask further questions and alert the individual’s doctor in the case of any rapid change in symptoms. It would also watch for recurrent or correlated problems which may seem insignificant but which form a pattern, over time, that is often hard for a patient to spot.

Other functions might include providing hearing or sight tests on the screen, issuing reminders to an individual to take medication or do some exercise. It might even take in eg retinal imagery via webcam. This system would also gradually gather data from the population as a whole which could be mined for otherwise invisible patterns. Perhaps people who are about to die of a heart attack commonly experience a tingling in their limbs of which doctors are never made aware.

This could save the NHS the cost of a few hospitals per year, as long as it wasn’t implemented by the usual incompetent contractors.

26th December 2006

#36: Agricultural advertising

Filed under: Whimsical inventions - 26 Dec 2006

Farmers are always in search of new ways to make some extra cash. If there’s no chance of grabbing a big grant for not farming their fields or of selling up to an airport developer, our ‘Guardians of the Countryside’ are often only too keen to line the roadside with containers bearing rustic messages like or

As today’s invention, I suggest an alternative.


The countryside is already full of underexploited four-legged billboards: ie cows and sheep. Get some waterproof ink in an inkjet device and spray each member of the herd/flock as they enter the byre/pen with a multicoloured, high resolution advert.

25th December 2006

#35: O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us -personal feedback system

Filed under: Possible inventions - 25 Dec 2006

Today’s invention is really just a simple extension of the idea of personal feedback on eBay.

Anyone who wanted to be involved, could equip themselves with a wifi device: effectively a badge working in peer-to-peer mode with a deliberately restricted range. When two people meet, or have any kind of interaction, either can choose to rate the various aspects of that exchange (there would be no way to block someone’s attempt to leave you feedback -once you decide to wear the badge, you would be committed to being judged by your peers). The rating would be multidimensional in order to allow people a chance to describe your behaviour, character, temperament and attitude.


The interface design would be crucial -probably consisting of twenty or so ‘sliders’ one for each dimension of the interactions. Feedback would have to be given when within the restricted wifi range, so I’d imagine that leaving a rating would have to be via some subtle tactile device hidden in a pocket or up a sleeve.

Updates to someone’s badge would would be visible to them only after the interaction, in order to minimise any conflicts but the source of the new rating would be indicated: anonymous peer review is evil.

If one person is constanty saying how nice a meeting with you was, then you might choose either to downgrade the score you give her for honesty or call her up for a date. Similarly, if lots of people seem to have the wrong idea about you, then this gives you a chance to think about the messages you are giving out and possibly modify your behaviour. Either way, maybe it offers an opportunity for decent folk to be both judged by their actions and easily identifiable.

People could thus gain a greater insight into others, if they were prepared to put their own true colours on show.

24th December 2006

#34: 3-D models from exhaustive, 2-D data

Filed under: Feasible inventions - 24 Dec 2006

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between photography and sculpture. In particular, I’ve been waiting for a software tool that would allow me to take, say, 20 digital photographs (what other kind is there?) and then stitch these together to create a seamless, quasi-continuous CAD-like model capable of showing the object in question from any angle.

I know that there are prototypes available in University labs all over the place -some of them may even work under the right conditions, but life’s too short.


My alternative, quick-and-dirty solution, given that I’m not that good at patience, is to take a picture of an object from almost every possible angle. No interpolation, no frame-to-frame registration difficulties, no advanced algorithms. If you need to know what that junction looks like between those four suspension members near the cylindrical brake cylinder? Simply dial up view number 2,002,003,040,105. Rather than rely on processing all those edges and splines, concentrate instead on memory (especially now that Moore’s law is running out of steam and storage costs are falling).

All these images would be stored by the location, distance and orientation of the camera as it is automatically moved around the object. It might even make sense to do what they do in astronomy and build a camera with multiple CCD sensors, arrayed perhaps in a hemispherical configuration.

What about zooming-in for extra detail? Well, I imagine that all the images would be recorded at some convenient minimum distance (determined by the acuity characteristics of the visual system, perhaps). The only zooming that could occur would then be zooming out. Alternatively, the whole process could be undertaken using handheld movie cameras, creating a convenient, continuous steam of images.

Ultimately, I’d like to see this kind of model displayed in a digital photoframe. Simply turning the frame relative to your viewpoint (monitored by wireless sensors as used in the latest Nintendo devices) would allow a different angle of the object in question to be displayed…in other words, a low-cost, digital hologram.

So is this really a model, in the sense of predicting things previously unknown? Possibly not, but I’m still thinking about that one.

23rd December 2006

#33: Proofreading display program

Filed under: Possible inventions - 23 Dec 2006

I’d like to suggest a proofreader’s program, which would display text in random ways -thus forcing the reader to check the detail whilst ignoring the meaning – which is always a distraction (eg upside down, one letter at a time, using different colours for each element etc).

This technique could be applied at different scales ie letter, word, sentence in order to screen out errors which are really only perceived on one scale.

22nd December 2006

#32: Mood alert

Filed under: Possible inventions - 22 Dec 2006

Today’s invention is an attempt to help those of us who are sometimes unaware of the subtle emotional signals sent by our loved ones.

Basically, I’m trying to think of ways in which we autistic-spectrum males can be alerted to what our XX counterparts might mean, rather than perform the usual textual analysis of the words they are using. (I fancied titling this post Textual Intercourse but chickened out).


Inevitably it’s a cellphone-based approach. Each time you get a call from any number, the phone temporarily records sections of the incoming voice and calculates eg the overall average frequency. When next you are called from that number, the average frequency is compared with its historical average value. If there is a significant discrepancy, you are at least alerted to the fact that the emotional tenor has shifted (maybe while you were in the garage, all last weekend?).

You may not be able to avert an emotional crisis but at least you won’t be so surprised when you find your belongings in the street.

Older posts »