#161: Auto-lav

I’m amazed at the extent to which toilet seats are a cause of domestic disharmony. Apparently, half the world believes the default state should be ‘up’ and vice versa (actually of course lots of the world doesn’t have access to a flushable ceramic wc, but I’m sure you know what I mean). I’m not talking here about the toilet seat lid, if there is one, just the seat.

Today’s invention is yet another application of the putative floor mats which can sense the orientation of a foot placed upon them. Two of these would be located strategically in front of every toilet.

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If a person (male or female) stands facing away from the convenience, it’s assumed that the lid must be down and vice versa.

The movement of the lid itself could be driven, at a signal from the pads, by one of these new fangled toilet lid lifter devices.

#160: Pass-shapes

I’m sick to death of having to remember passwords. It’s particularly bad that I’m supposed to use letters and numbers and different cases. In addition, once I get a particular password embedded in my cerebellar motor memory (after about a million practices), I then find that if anything interrrupts me in mid-entry, I have to restart from the beginning.

I have been reading about the rather over-complex attempts by a certain big computer company in this area and was also inspired by some of the comments here. Today’s invention is a simple alternative.

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When you need a new password, ‘draw’ a very simple shape in keys on the keyboard. 57dcvbnkj for example is a comparatively easy-to-remember smiley face. zse456tfd is an italic ‘P’ etc

Using disjoint shapes eg serfcxhuikmn (remembered as ‘Sunglasses’) is a way to vastly increase the numbers of possible combinations of shapes and make it harder to tabulate them manually for computer search.

It is true that this is all still vulnerable to ‘shoulder surfing’…hence this invention ( clever as this is, the patent may be permanently ‘pending’, though, given the vast amount of related prior art ).

#159: Chestpod

In the old, pre-digital era, when you took a photograph you could at least look through a viewfinder and brace the camera against your cheekbone.

Latterly, everyone has become accustomed to composing their photographic shots whilst viewing a beautiful big digital screen -and of course you can really only do this with the camera on a tripod -or held at arm’s length.

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Today’s invention is to equip each digital camera with a conventional neckstrap and to augment that with a small collapsible bipod. This would be attached to the camera as normal but instead two short legs would emerge to allow the device to ‘stand’ on one’s chest (or stomach, depending on physique).

This combination of strap and bipod would allow the camera to be held relatively still (without having to cart around a full tripod), whilst still enabling the user to see the screen.  If you are particularly shaky or a string fetishist, try this solution I just came across, as an alternative.

#158: Internal streamlining

When two pipes of different diameter are joined, internally there will be a step change in the bore.

Fluid passing down the pipe (either into the expansion or out of it) will take the opportunity to become fiercely turbulent and recirculate intensely in the ‘shelf’ region). This has the effect that to transport either gas or liquid will require a much bigger pump than if the pipe was of a single internal diameter. It might mean that for pumping crude oil, your pump triples in price or in a domestic heating system, the existing pump simply fails to deliver enough flowrate.

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Ideally, all pipework in a given system would have one bore, or at least have only smooth changes in diameter. Often, that’s not how things work out…engineering conical sections of arbitrary size, in-situ, which are also pressure-rated is a tough job.

Today’s invention is a way to smooth out internal step changes in pipework. When two different size pipes are joined (using reliable, simple bolt-through flanges), spin the jointed section about the longitudinal axis (by using eg a drilling rig for large-scale hardware). Whilst spinning, pour in epoxy material of the type normally used to smooth the internal surfaces. This will be thrown to the corners of the shelf region and take up a natural streamlined shape (think of stirring a cup of tea in a tall cup, or of the surface profile of water going down a plughole),

When the cement has set, the streamlined pipe section can be inserted, as normal, into the main plumbing.

#157: People processor

The amount of time spent by people in waiting for a lift to arrive at their floor is worth about $50 billion every day.

Well, no actually I just made that up, but it’s certainly a lot of wasted time.

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Today’s invention is to supply the area in front of each lift door with foot-shaped pressure mats. The mats would have a left foot and a right foot region. The left foot could dial up, by tapping, the ‘tens’ and the right foot the ‘units’ of their target floor. Each mat would carry an illuminating arrow indicating when an individual should move into the lift.

The mats themselves would be laid out so as to avoid clogging the stairwell with random people. They would also need to be spaced out differently according to different cultural/regional norms about personal space. Actually, of course, lots of cultures don’t do the queueing thing at all: in which case, I’d just let them fight for the damn lift as usual.

Each mat, once actvated by being occupied, transmits information to the lift system so that it knows how many people are waiting to go where. It might even record whether an individual was so massive as to have to wait for a less-full lift.

A clever (although not necessarily globally optimal) algorithm would work out for each lift where it’s ‘best’ to go next (given also the positions of all the other lifts) …best could be defined in terms of fairest, or distance minimising or whatever -depends a bit on the culture within the building.

When a lift arrives, it lights up the arrow on each of the mats of the people it wants to collect. Obviously there would need to be mats catering for wheelchairs.

#156: Glowrings

The wedding industry is worth billions a year.

Even if they opt for a minimalist approach, rather than the full Bride-Magazine-$100,000-helicopters-and-marquee event, few couples get married without at least exchanging rings.

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Today’s invention is simply a pair of rings equipped electronically so that they glow when brought close together.

These would of course be coded for each indiviual, so they wouldn’t light up in the presence of any other ring.

There is also the option to have a variant fitted subcutaneously -as a kind of physical pre-nup. Finally, call me a hopeless romantic, but how about a version which plays a couple’s favourite tune?

#155: Logo tester

The world is full of truly dreadful logos (of which this is an example). Plumbers’ initials bent into the shape of pipework or improbable acronyms entwined into ‘artistic’ 3-D, multicoloured interpretations of coats of arms etc.

Just as in web design, given their chance to express themselves in a logo, most people make a hash and create something that is memorable only for its awfulness and which when photocopied, or otherwise processed, turns into a cross between a visual illusion and a smudge.

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Today’s invention is one way to help assess a candidate logo before the unsuspecting public get to see it stencilled onto the side of a van or pasted across a business letterhead.

I envisage a software tool that can automatically grab the candidate logo, scale it down in order to pixellate it at about the 16*16 pixel level and then allow the designer to view the result. Even someone with no artistic pretensions can tell at a glance whether what they have produced is robust and distinctive enough to stand for their business: or whether it’s back to the drawing board.

#154: No patent, no fee

The whole patent process is adminstratively a mess -I understand, for example, that in some fields it’s taking longer and longer to be granted a patent because all of the good Officers have now been poached by big companies to help them draft more watertight applications.

Worse than that though is that the system acts as a brake on invention, rather than a stimulant.  Even governments are now starting to recognise that patenting protects corporations against citizens (See eg this story).

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Today’s invention is a contingent payment scheme in which patent attorneys can draft and submit claims in return for a share of the IP. Patent agents are quite used to litigating cases on a no-win-no fee basis in certain jurisdictions but I’m proposing that they sign up for a share of the real action. They get to take some risk, on projects they select, in return for potentially huge rewards. No more handouts of Monopoly money for just shuffling papers.

This would certainly separate sheep from goats in terms of the patent agents who understand technology: -they would be the ones to whom inventors would naturally gravitate. There would also be fewer micro-incremental or ‘spoiling’ applications and many more patents at least partly in the hands of genuinely innovative, Fred-in-a-shed inventors.

#153: Gutter washer

You sometimes see people in city centres cleaning the windows of office blocks using a glorified fishing pole, The absurd length of the pole always makes the process look like a lawsuit in the making, as the pole flexes and threatens either to crown some passer by or smash a window and shower those below with high-speed shards.

A related problem exists for householders in that gutters get blocked (with leaves, slate dust, nests and other aerial crud). Usually, the worst blockages occur in places where it’s hard to get ladder access and you start looking at the terrifying costs of a roofing contractor and his scaffolding.

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So today’s invention is a pair of extensible poles of the window cleaning type, long enough to reach roof gutterings of only domestic properties. These would be run in parallel with one pipe connected to a high pressure water hose; the outlet nozzle pointing downward into the gutter. The upper end of the second pipe would have a scoop into which the first would wash debris, before allowing it to become an immovable blockage.

This would avoid washing dirt into the normal downpipe and blocking it, whilst also monitoring the amount of crud dislodged.

Update: someone else’s solution to the problem is now available here.

#152: Email veto

Even though I try to keep email short, I often compose important messages gradually, building in a line or two at a time over a few days and trying to chop out stuff that’s less important. Usually the first thing I do is insert the recipient’s address -so that I can find it easily in the Drafts box – but that means I’m always in danger of accidentally clicking the ‘Send’ button prematurely. (When I decide to start a new message, without closing the current draft, it’s easy to accidentally click the wrong button: just a small interface issue which could easily be corrected).

My spelling is generally ok, but more than once the Thunderbird spellchecker has saved me from actually sending off a draft email by mistake. More than once, however, I’ve sent an embarrassing, half formed (but perfectly spelled) version.

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Extending that logic a little, today’s invention is a mail program plugin which checks my messages for certain signs that they are complete -such as the terms “regards”, “yours sincerely” etc which I only ever add at the last minute to correspond with the final tone of what I’m trying to say. It would also detect if the word “attached” had been used and alert me if no attachment existed.