#253: Books unbound

I’ve been carrying around a giant book in my briefcase for the last couple of weeks. Sometimes on a journey I get to read some of it but often there simply isn’t enough elbow room to read.

It occurred to me that most people can only read a few pages at a time. Even on a very long trip, I find there’s a limit to my concentration span of about an hour.


Today’s invention is an upgrade to the age-old process of bookbinding -at least until electronic books become widely available.

Modular (printed) books can save weight on journeys (Charles Dickens’ stories were written to be read as installments). My proposal is to make available books (via eg download from Amazon) on a chapter by chapter basis -at a pro rata price.

These could be printed out, clipped together, read in transit and then ringbound together, back at base.

This would provide portability and cost-effective access to useful subsets of a publication (albeit perhaps only chapter 1 of a novel), without having to fork out for the whole thing.

Such a scheme could be improved upon by progressive printing: the first print uses very light ink of one colour,the next edition would be printed over the same page, using dark ink of contrasting colour -it’s surprisingly easy to read the latest version and thus save a lot of paper (keeping only the electronic version).

#252: Forecourt trunk

Half the spaces at petrol stations go unused these days because people will only fill up using a nozzle which lies on the same side of the vehicle as its filler cap.

People will rarely walk around and put the nozzle in a filler tube on the ‘far’ side of the car because this requires them to park in exactly the right place (given the short length of existing hoses) and then to stretch a filthy, heavy-duty hose across their shiny paintwork.


Today’s invention is to supply petrol pumps with a simple hose extension which is attached to the existing nozzle with a jubilee clip. This still allows use of the existing trigger but enables the extension to easily reach to a filler cap on either side of any car.

The extension tube needn’t be particularly high-specification, since the pressure is restrained by the hosework already in place. It just needs to be fitted with some ‘fronds’ (made by eg attaching a small forest of long cable ties to it) which will support the hose and avoid any danger of scratching the paint.

This would significantly improve the utilisation of spaces and reduce queueing at the pumps.

#251: Badge-boost

I was looking at a Skoda the other day and thinking what a high quality vehicle they had created (for the price).

The only thing which deters many buyers, I suspect, is the badge. I don’t just mean that the marque is regarded with suspicion by serious car buyers, although that may be true. I actually mean that the physical badge they have designed to symbolise their product looks like a green ink stain made by an unsupervised four year old.


The badge itself looks ugly and offputting.So, rather than attempt to argue the point with the board of VW Audi Group, or whoever owns them this week, it occurred to me that there might be a better way.

Today’s invention is an online tool which allows each individual car buyer to design their own badges for their new car. These are intended to replace a manufacturer’s badges completely and overcome any stigma associated with them. The resulting designs could be made via desktop manufacturing machinery and mailed to the owner to be press-fitted and/or glued over the originals, perhaps.

Having my own badge on a new car would certainly allow me to consider buying a range of vehicles which, at the moment, are defaced by carrying ugly, silly versions eg Subaru, Daewoo, Lexus and Mazda, to name but a few.

#250: Invisible wipers

I’ve gone all automotive again, but who cares?

Windscreen wipers. Why on earth are we still making these in black metal and black rubber? Metal is hard to see through and very distracting when flashing back and forth across your visual field.


Today’s invention is to make windscreen wipers of transparent stuff. The arm could easily be designed in a perspex material and the blade made in a clear, durable polymer.

This would almost certainly improve road safety in poor weather conditions.

#249: Lunchtimer

You can buy a range of pet feeders for when you go on holiday. Each day, a new compartment springs open and gives your furry friend access to a regulated amount of dehydrated chicken-liver particles with added fibro-yum.

Today’s invention is a lunchbox version of this for humans who, like me, feel healthier if we eat a number of smaller meals throughout the day but who have a tendency to scoff the lot at around 09:35 every morning if they are all in the same container.


The lunchbox would simply consist of a number of separately locked compartments, each with a different timer. Once the opening time on each was set, these could not be altered until after they had sprung open at the appointed moment.

This would force people to wait for their next snack until they were actually feeling hungry and help reinforce healthier, more personalised, eating patterns.

#248: Jaw-jaw

My visual metaphor thing accidentally switched on the other day, whilst fooling about with a cellphone.

Suddenly, a clamshell phone started resembling the head of a creature (with one half of the shell acting as the articulated mandible of some T Rex-like robot space creature….I really must stay off the espresso).


Anyway, I began thinking about today’s invention: A clamshell phone designed in the shape of the head of eg a parrot, crocodile or whatever. Instead of a ringtone, the creature’s squawk or roar could be issued at the same time as opening and closing the clamshell by a small amount (many such phones already have motors on board to drive the internal buzzer). It might even be possible to lipsynch clamshell movements with the words spoken by a caller.

Design in a pair of flashing LED ‘eyes’ on the top surface and you have a lot of added product personaility in a market saturated with sameness.

#247: Roadshield

I was driving along recently when someone in a parked car decided to fling their door open: right in my path. Fortunately, I managed to swerve out of the way (and, happily, without getting into the path of anything oncoming in the opposite direction).

It made me think about why vehicles actually need doors on both sides. (You could, for example, have a rear-facing loading ramp but that makes getting Granny in the front rather difficult).


Today’s invention is to build cars with no offside doors. This would eradicate the danger people face when standing on the roadway, fiddling with their keys or a childseat, as traffic surges past. It would also hugely strengthen the bodyshells of vehicles, leading to improved safety in collisions. We already make left/right hand drive variants, so this would be just another of those.

This approach would mean that bench seats would have to make a comeback and that Granny would have to remember how to slide along them.

#246: Mobile trainwash

Railways act as if urban real estate was free. They have such a vast acreage of property and yet they are always moaning about having no resources to enable the trains to run on time.

Today’s invention is an attempt to free up some of that valuable urban land that they now use for washing trains -to very limited effect.


Instead of having centralised train washing facilities, imagine that on many trains there is a washing car. It needn’t be a whole car of course, more a railway trailer. This would be equipped with tanks and water jets. Whenever the train pulling this trailer passed another train, it would automatically activate the washers and spray clean one side of the oncoming vehicle. No need to attempt to spray both sides, since the two machines are bound to encounter each other again soon and clean the other side then.

There would only be a limited need for high pressure delivery, since, by angling the jets appropriately, it would be possible to make use of the oncoming train’s speed to achieve a much greater cleaning effect. Ideally, it would be possible to reuse collected rainwater and thus minimise the need to cart around tonnes of liquid.

#245: Birdbutts

People, it seems are largely incapable of putting their cigarette butts into the ashtrays or wastebins provided. I often see smokers just throwing their butts on the ground and it drives me nuts. Those things are biodegradable but the process takes forever. While it’s happening the rest of us are supposed to admire the ubiquitous carpet of disgusting cotton filters and then slip around on it a bit.

Since we can’t rely on members of our own species to clean up after themselves, it’s time again to look for help from some other lifeform: in this case, birds.


Today’s invention is to make cigarette filters from the husks of seeds that birds like to eat …eg sunflower seeds. Strictly, these wouldn’t even have to be non-toxic to humans, since, if you are crazy enough to stick all that poison in your body, a little extra won’t matter.

In fact, filters could be made entirely of harmless organic matter, which would not taint the ‘taste’ of the tobacco but which would still be attractive fodder for avian scavengers. Result: increased bird population, decreased butt population.

The effect of nicotine on our flying friends has yet to be assessed.

#244: Printerdict

Ever on the look-out for ways to save a) the planet and b) some cash, I started thinking again about my occasional need to print documents on bits of paper. The standard Word tool: ‘view as a really messed up version of a novelette’ clearly doesn’t help much…is splitting them into two-page format really supposed to make reading big documents on the screen easier?

Today’s invention is a tool for lessening the amount of waste paper which people generate.


Every time a document is submitted to a printer, its name will be recorded (or if it has insufficient memory, these data could be stored on a print server).

If you attempt to print more than a specified number of copies of this document, within a particular period, an alert will be issued asking you to refer to the previous printout. I’d be keen to have it say “no more prints of this are allowed” but that is a little redmondite, I guess.

With only a small amount of extra ingenuity, it would be possible to adapt this approach for photocopying, so that a document could be OCR’d, recognised and a similar restriction placed on the number of further copies generated.