#399: Cargoverhang

It costs, bigtime, if you want to leave your shipping container on a dockside.

Today’s invention is a way to stack such boxes, whilst making the best possible use of the quayside area available.


There have been recent mathematical advances in understanding the ways in which blocks can be formed into overhanging piles. I suggest that these therefore be used to allow containers to form piles which have small ‘footprints’ and yet which can reach out, stably, over the adjacent water.

Obviously, there is some work to do in determining what the optimal order might be in terms of removing the containers when required, but the wildly expensive ground space required to form a stack can be significantly reduced.

This might also work for portakabins, apartments or even car parking pallets. It might even allow container ships to carry many more overhanging containers when at sea.

#398: Lap(top)belt

Mobility is one of the great things about laptops. We encourage our sales staff to drive about the country with an occasional pitstop to take calls and catch up with the form filling on their flip-top friend.

Naturally, their machine gets tossed on the passenger seat beside them: -until there’s an accident, in which case it becomes a high momentum paving stone with an embedded sheet of glass.


Today’s invention is a variant on the standard Kensington-type lock. At one end of a short cable, the usual push-in-and-lock fitment attaches to the computer. At the other end, a clip which can be snapped straight into the passenger seat buckle housing (for easy removal when the driving is done).

The cable itself could be made with an embedded shock absorber in order to limit the damage to the internal drives and connectors which a collision could cause the machine itself.

#397: Easiearrings

I have discussed earrings a surprising number of times -ie more than zero. I’m certainly no expert in the design of jewellery, but it seems to me that there are people who don’t mind having holes punched in their ears and others for whom it seems a big concession to make to vanity.

Today’s invention is a way for people who will only wear clip-ons to be able to buy all those earrings intended to be pushed through a slot in one’s lobal cartilage.


This consists of a small clip-on earring with a protruberance on the bottom of the clip side. There is a horizontal hole drilled in this which allows a push-through earring post to be inserted and locked in place, as usual (The clip-on protruberance thus takes the place of the ear). The dangly bit of the push-through hangs below the ear as usual and the butterfly spring locking part (if there is one) is hidden behind the lobe.

Ear piercing is thus no longer necessary and buying presents for glamorous females is (slightly) simplified.

#396: Treat vase

I used to be massively overweight. Eating when distracted is a great way to overlook the sheer volume of food being taken on board.

A particular technique which helps is to put some food eg on a plate but then realise that it can be returned to its wrapper or container…it’s easy to feel committed to eating a certain quantity, just because you have ‘chosen’ to put it on your plate.


Today’s invention allows people to pause and question that commitment…which can make you feel much more powerful and in control of your eating.

Most food packaging is designed to help the user to get easy access to the contents. For treats like nuts or small sweets, I propose the following. Treats are placed in a simple cylindrical container which has an inward pointing conical neck (which can be unscrewed to allow food to be decanted in). The aperture at the tip of the cone can be adjusted to correspond roughly to the size of the treat (perhaps by pinching it into a narrower oval).

Inverting the container allows a small volume of treats to appear in the hand or in a dish. The cone makes it much easier to return some of the items to the container than it was to extract them.

This action alone sparks the realisation that not everything taken out must be consumed and builds confidence in deciding what to eat.

#395: Clamp foil

Having your wheels clamped can be both maddening and wildly expensive. It’s fair enough, I suppose, if you’ve parked stupidly somewhere and caused a dangerous obstruction. I’m less convinced, however, by the private companies who use wheel boots on cars parked on unmarked urban spaces (there’s usually a sign in 10-point font somewhere behind a lamppost saying “Park here and it will cost over £200 to get your car freed”).

So, today’s invention provides a way for people to avoid getting clamped. It is designed to make it hard for a car to be lifted safely onto a transporter too. This relies on the notion that a wheel clamper (or car tower) is concerned not to damage the vehicle in question (which is not always the case, despite the legal implications).


The invention consists of a semicircular strip of metal attached to the car body at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions around the wheel arch (any garage can install this without fuss and it might even be a factory-fit for certain models). This strip can be freed to rotate out of the wheel arch so that its 12 o’clock point touches the ground.

A second strip, in the shape of another segment of a circular arch, is attached at the 12 o’clock position in the wheelarch. Its other end can be swung out and locked to the first arch, sitting on the ground.

This allows all four wheels to be defended from clampers by walking around the car on departure, swinging out eight metal strips and locking four locks. There is now no way to easily attach any kind of wheel clamp or to feed bars under the tyres to allow the whole car to be llfted (without damaging the vehicle’s bodywork).

On that point, all four ‘cages’ would be marked prominently with the owner’s telephone number and a warning about not attempting to restrain or move the car -on pain of extreme litigation.

#394: FaceScreen

Tamagotchi have grown up a little -we now have eg Pixel Chix , a phenomenon consisting of a game-like metaphor played out on a single LCD screen embedded in a mini doll’s house. Today’s invention is a social networking tool for these animated avatars.

If a child wants to take their pixelated friend, Chix1, to a party at someone else’s, they plug their phone into the house (via the normal house-to-house interface) and transfer the character to it (Chix1 waves goodbye, exists the house, waves hello on the phone screen a second later). When the phone comes within bluetooth range of the phone where Chix2 has been loaded, Chix1 will say “Can I go and play on Chix2’s phone please?”


They can then interact on the phone screen before eg having a sleepover at one or other’s house, etc…you get the picture. This would allow clothes and pet swapping too of course. It would be important for believability that only one embodiment of eg Chix2 be active at any one time, anywhere on the network (but parents could delete one and recreate it elsewhere, by text message, in the event of an alleged kidnapping).

This would have been a natural for the Disney phone operation and might even have stopped the whole thing imploding.

#393: SatelliteDial

I won’t get started on what’s wrong with TV…but it seems to me that satellite TV is even worse, consisting as it does of lots of the content that got rejected from the mediocre terrestrial portfolio. Not only that, but satellite dishes really don’t add much to the aesthetic appeal of houses to which they get attached (I was recently shocked to find one lurking on the back face of my chimney, left there by a previous owner with a subscription to Sky Sports -I know this because I continue to get post advertising all their ‘great new packages.’)

Anyway, today’s invention is a downloadable template which, when placed on someone’s satellite dish, allows them to spray paint a pattern on it. This consists of the markings required to make the dish act as a sundial.


The paint would be chosen so as to match the house colourscheme and the template for any given house would be calculated based on the precise direction in which a particular dish should be pointing to receive maximal signal strength.

When people eventually realise that TV is futile, the whole thing can be swung into a vertical orientation to act as a birdbath.

#392: PuzzLed

Have you ever thought about what the ultimate jigsaw puzzle would look like? At a certain level of complexity, puzzles based on static images all seem to become indistinguishably different. Whether it’s a closeup of a plate of baked beans or an image of the cut lines on the back of a jigsaw, recut into a different jigsaw…or whatever.

I hate solving jigsaws only slightly less than watching someone else work on one, but designing the ultimate puzzle is still something I’m thinking about.


Anyway, on a related theme, Rubik’s cube is both mechanically ingenious and a challenging puzzle…two things I greatly admire. I lost interest in it when they started having robots undertake the solution algorithm and it became just a wrist exercise.

There are now versions of the original cube which contain some lights, but today’s invention is to improve on these by fitting each of the square facets with an LED (and no sticky coloured squares). The lighting behaviour would be programmable, so that it would be possible to challenge your smartest friends with a cube algorithm whose target end state was, for example, that in which the lights on the cube faces mirror the colours on the conventional cube.

The difference with this design would be, though, that the lights would be free to switch colours, depending eg on the colours of their neighbours. This could be made fiendishly difficult and keep any computer scientists you know completely absorbed and thus out of trouble when away from their workstations.

Imagine believing that you were one move away from completion, only to have the colours then change, under algorithmic control, on a far-side facet ; )

#391: Graduart

Gauss, the mathematical genius, once said of his most elegant proofs that when a building is complete, the scaffolding shouldn’t be still on show. Actually, some of the intellectual scaffolding underlying his thinking might well have been messy but there’s surely huge value in being brave enough to show the process of creation as well as the polished result.

This applies, I reckon, to art as well.


Today’s invention is an advanced digital ‘photoframe’. Imagine a future larger-scale frame (or a bigscreen tablet PC) which comes supplied with only one digital content element. It is a second-by-second movie of a painting or sculpture in progress. Every brush stroke or chisel blow is shown from start to finish, when the final masterpiece appears.

In this case, the frame comes with no networking cards and it’s sealed to prevent anyone hacking the internal chips without destroying their content. No-one can make copies therefore (other than by filming the screen). There might only ever be one ‘original’ sold (at a very high price for the entire high-resolution movie).

This approach, however, opens the door for visual artists also to sell lower resolution versions of their work (at a much bigger range of reduced prices than conventional prints allow). There might be versions for example in which the development is shown only every day, or in which the movie stops a few days short of completion. The highest price versions could also contain some ‘special features’ such as interviews with the artist made throughout the creative endeavour.

#390: Screenscraper

Chilled by the process of scraping my windscreen clear of ice in the mornings, it seemed to me there must be a better way.

Today’s invention is an upgrade to the standard window cleaning device in which a magnetic handle is swept across the inside surface of a window, driving a magnetic pad to clean the outside.


Here, the external pad is equipped with a replaceable plastic blade (in the form of a credit card blank). This can be used to scrape at the ice on a windscreen -without having to stand outside.

The inside section could have a slender handle which would allow the far side of the screen to be reached from the driver’s seat and (if necessary) to carry a wire from the cigarette lighter to a heating coil inside the pad which is in contact with the screen’s inner surface.

This would work best in conjunction with a windscreen wiper motor circuit which, when sensing a fall in temperature below zero, would occasionally activate the windscreen wipers overnight and thus minimise the build-up of ice on the screen.