Archive for: September 2007

30th September 2007

#314: Keymound

Filed under: Possible inventions - 30 Sep 2007

I’ve been sifting through some crazy patents lately. It’s hard to believe quite how many have been granted in connection with the humble keyboard.

There are keyboards with keys whose size corresponds to their frequency of use, inflatable and self-illuminating keyboards, radio-controlled ones and even some made of chocolate etc, etc.


I’ve noticed that those of us who type a lot, and are wary of carpal tunnel syndrome, tend to have their keys arranged in a well-defined ergonomic ‘mound’. People who do most of their work on a laptop are not so well catered to, however.

Today’s invention is an ergonomic keyboard for laptops, consisting of keys the individual height of which can be set. This would allow you to experiment with having eg the most frequently used keys standing up more than those less used ones. More practically, it would allow the formation of an ergonomic mound arrangement.

On opening the laptop, each key would be driven, by a small spring, to the comfortable working height determined for it by the user.

Once the work was complete, the screen would simply push the mound flat, as the laptop was closed up in the usual way.

29th September 2007

#313: Re-treads

Filed under: Whimsical inventions - 29 Sep 2007

‘Spiral’ staircases cost the earth and they can also be anything but space-efficient.

Today’s invention is a way to have an elegant, even avant-garde, ‘spiral’ staircase at low cost and with the potential to fold away when not in use.


Take ten or so old bicycle frames (eg wrecks with no remaining cycle parts, of the kind you find chained to railings all over towns like Cambridge and which are routinely removed and junked). Discard any remaining forks, handlebars etc from the frames (you might choose to have the frames all grit blasted and coated in bright yellow epoxy paint, but it’s down to personal taste, darling). The forks and handlebars themselves might make hatstands, but that would be eccentric ; )

Remove the struts to where the rear axle fitted, so that you are left with a basic quadrlateral with two, nearly parallel tubes forming opposite sides. Through the tube where the forks used to be attached feed a scaffold pole long enough to run from floor to ceiling. Repeat this with all of the frames. Now array the frames in a helical pattern and attach a tread where each seat post used to go.

The frames can be moored so as to not rotate about the central pole (perhaps by tightening the old handlebar nuts). Releasing these allows the steps to be rotated into a single, space-saving ‘fin’ when not in use.

28th September 2007

#312: Swappinge

Filed under: Feasible inventions - 28 Sep 2007

Have you ever had difficulty squeezing items that are just the wrong shape into a car boot, or thought how nice it would be to eat a picnic lunch without having to have the council dump some benches in every beauty spot?

Today’s invention is a coordinated pair of hinges for a car boot (although a similar, vertical, system might be adapted to domestic doors in order to allow greater flexibility when that damned bookcase (you just managed to get home in the boot) proves difficult to move about the house).


It consists of two sets of hinges. One set is in the conventional position, along the upper edge of the lid. A second, identical set lies along the bottom edge. Each of these hinges contains a sliding axle which can be moved inwards to lock (and allow the hinge action) and outwards to enable the lid to open at top or bottom. They would be electrically linked, so that one set moves out to the open position only after the other set has moved in.

This arrangement has a requirement to distinguish which set of locks/hinges is to be opened (which might best be achieved by two conventional locks and a single mechanical key). It allows the boot lid to be opened at the top as usual or to be opened at the bottom to allow the boot to be loaded from above. In that case, the outfolded lid could alternatively act as an L-section picnic seat). The lid might even be removed entirely to accommodate the latest addition to your collection of slightly oversized stuff.

27th September 2007

#311: Portable keypad

Filed under: Possible inventions - 27 Sep 2007

It’s a tough job to make public-access interface systems, such as the keypads of ATMs, which can stand up to all forms of ‘use’ (Including attack by blowtorches and portable roaddrills- I’m not kidding).

Today’s invention is an adaptation of the well-known sliding tile puzzle which allows ATMs and other public kiosk systems to be simplified and made more robust. Each authorised user would be equipped with a puzzle, perhaps the size of two adjacent credit cards. The tiles would be movable from behind, whilst the user held the puzzle in front of a camera lens, located behind a small area of armoured glass.


Different configurations of the (clearly marked) puzzle pieces (of which there are 16! for a 4*4 grid) would be interpretable as instructions to the kiosk eg “withdraw £10”. This would allow the guts of the device to remain almost completely inaccessible to would-be thieves and vandals and the code embodied in the arrangement of an individual’s pieces would make their interpretation by any shoulder-surfer almost impossible.

It would also shorten queues, since people would array their pieces on approach to the machine. Each time a puzzle is used, the pieces would be slid a little away from their last-used configuration, making stealing someone’s puzzle a waste of time.

26th September 2007

#310: Peoplego

Filed under: Feasible inventions - 26 Sep 2007

It’s important that children don’t pick up on the wrong messages in connection with healthy eating and bodyshape. Given that dolls and ‘action figures’ are all designed to be respectively stick-thin or absurdly musclebound, maybe we need a small addition to the market for such toys.

Today’s invention is a range of dolls, of both sexes, designed to resemble more faithfully the variations in real people. These would have body parts constructed, lego-like, from multiple ‘slices’ (eg ten or so oval sections, might be snapped together to form a fairly smoothly-tapering limb or torso section). There would be a very large number of such slices in each doll kit, with diameters varying over a wide range (to accommodate everything from an obese waistline to an anorexic ankle, using the same basic oval shape).


There would also be a collection of articulated joints which would then connect the chosen body sections together.

Using these kits, children could assemble figures with a wide variation in body geometry and perhaps learn to make their own choices about which are attractive shapes.

25th September 2007

#309: Socket lock

Filed under: Feasible inventions - 25 Sep 2007

Designers of public buildings have to be fairly careful about where they place power sockets. Aside from the question of public safety, anyone with a compatible plug can insert it and draw power until they get told to stop.

Today’s invention is a power socket incorporating a lock mechanism. This might have internal barrels (just like a Yale lock) which make spring-loaded contact with one of the three pins on the incoming plug. This pin will have a corresponding key shape formed on one side, so that only certain plugs can enter the socket and draw power.


Sockets could be designed to admit only a small number of different plugs (with each building or business having its own set cut by a conventional locksmith).

Foreign appliances would be excluded, preventing someone from using an electric fire in their hotel room or running a fast-food van’s fryer from a railway station supply. Picking the lock would be a perilous endeavour.

This approach might be extended to laptops, for example. Supplying each with a power lead with a key on the end entering the machine would decrease the chances of a machine being stolen when not attached to its (unique) lead. No-one would want to have to buy a replacement battery every time one discharged.

24th September 2007

#308: No-trip wire

Filed under: Possible inventions - 24 Sep 2007

Even if your computer is plugged into the wall using some kind of magnetic (dis)connector, there is stiil that nagging doubt that someone will fail to see the cable and manage to trip the whole thing (or themselves) to oblivion.

Today’s invention is to supply many valuable electrical items with a power cord which consists of, or carries, a section of light rope -the kind of stuff used in discos and naff shop displays the instant anyone mentions Christmas (ie from late July).


This would allow passing foot traffic to see a moving pattern of lights ‘pointing at’ the computer/ hi-fi /TV in question and thus to increase their chances of avoiding it. You might be able to choose to have the pattern change according to the current activity of the machine in question.

Now that these strings of lights are available in a ribbon-like form, it might make sense to use that, lying flat on the ground, in order to further minimise the trip hazard.

23rd September 2007

#307: Link enhancer

Filed under: Feasible inventions - 23 Sep 2007

Just a few years ago, the idea of being able to embed a video in your website would have been thought far-fetched. The whole YouTube phenomenon now makes that routinely possible (even if their website itself looks like some kind of cutting room jumble sale).

Looks are important in this highly visual medium, especially if you’re relying on ad revenue -which brings me to today’s invention.


Often, when I run across some kind of a video link on another website, the still image which contains the link is ‘muddy’, indistinct, blurred and frankly uninviting. It usually consists of a single frame of video, so it’s not surprising that the perceived quality will be low, given how much mental work goes into interpreting any flickering sequence of images into a meaningful, continuous film. Take a look here at an example of exactly what I mean.

More often than not, this smudge doesn’t tie up wth the crisp text which surrounds it -lessening the chance that you will bother viewing the movie at all.

Today’s invention is a tool which enables anyone creating a link to a video to choose one representative ‘frame’ (by stepping through the sequence). The tool will then grab several before and after images and use these (together with the usual automatic processes such as contrast and edge enhancement) to make a clearer, more inviting image link.

22nd September 2007

#306: Motion highlighter

Filed under: Possible inventions - 22 Sep 2007

Attention! this might just be important. The problem is that so many things compete for our attention that we are in danger of missing crucial events (such as a pedestrian stepping off the pavement into the path of our vehicle).

We are usually understood to be able to keep track of only about six things at a time. The real world contains many more possible calls on consciousness…we are often blissfully unaware of how much we miss. One example (which I’ve mentioned before) is that, when attempting to detect the seemingly imperceptible differences between two “alike” images, all you have to do is “fuse” these by crossing your eyes a little and visually superimposing them. Areas of disparity then all stand out simultaneously as twinkling regions.


Today’s invention exploits this phenomenon. Imagine a driver wearing a small display on which is shown an image of the scene as it looked (to one eye) a few minutes ago. His other eye views the scene normally and these two images will naturally fuse in the brain.

Parts of the scene which have changed in the last few moments will be highlighted in one’s visual field as twinkling regions. This allows a driver, for example, to detect even slightly moving objects more easily -and avoid colliding with them.

21st September 2007

#305: Flushbox

Filed under: Feasible inventions - 21 Sep 2007

I’ve noticed that bathrooms tend to contain many items which just don’t get properly clean by being run under the tap occasionally.

This includes eg, toothbrushes, hair brushes, combs, soap dishes, shaving kit, sponges, nailbrushes, make-up ‘tools’ etc…even the dreaded dentures.


Today’s invention is a scaled-down dishwasher system for the bathroom. As a subsidiary idea, I’d also like to suggest that dishwasher-proof detachable sleeves be fitted to all handles in the bathroom -so that once in a while these could be properly scrubbed (especially for those who insist on having a toilet brush).

Together, these could effectively limit the gradual accumulation of crud and germs (although toothbrushes and other items might need to be washed in a separate compartment).

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