#448: Buzzcast

It’s a recognised problem that people who have to wear a surgical cast for a long period develop circulatory problems, leading to eg a certain amount of muscle wastage.

Today’s invention attempts to lessen the severity of such symptoms. It consists of a process in which two or three cheap old mobile phones are strapped onto the limb in question before being encased in plaster (or hard shell bandage).


These can be called periodically and caused to vibrate, thus promoting local circulation and helping to preserve tissue health.

#447: Paperaser

It’s pretty annoying that we are exhorted at the end of almost every email to ‘save the planet’ by not printing things out -and yet paper is such a convenient, portable, readable medium. Actually, you can’t easily beat pencil and paper for overall ease of use.

Today’s invention is a small printer which moves a printhead about in the usual way but which writes using a small stick of graphite (fed automatically, as in a propelling pencil).


This printer has no paper tray because it uses only one sheet (until it wears out). Once having ‘drawn’ out the required map or shopping list or child’s drawing, the sheet can be reinserted (probably in the oposite direction) and the printhead then applies a small, rotary eraser to the places previously drawn upon.

In this way, we get all the convenience of using paper and we also ensure that many fewer trees get the chop.

#446: Movary camera

I was talking to a friend the other day who had managed to gain access to a very high speed camera (nominally for filming various biological processes). 2500 frames a second results in a lot of data to store and it occurred to me that much of it is bound to be of not very much happening.

Just as with the various attempts to create videophones, one way to minimise bandwidth usage and storage is to detect from frame to frame when things are changing and transmit only that changed information.


Today’s invention begins from a similar starting point. It’s a video camera which detects when frame content is changing rapidly and increases the rate at which images are captured. By contrast, the frame rate could be drastically reduced in situations where people were making movies of one static view of eg King’s College Chapel, or other essentially motionless subject matter.

This would obviously increase the amount of material which could be captured in the onboard memory of a movie camera and allow it to be more easily transmitted across networks.

#445: Slowdry

I happen to have a laptop with a fanspeed that is permanently set to ‘hurricane.’ This set me thinking about ways to reuse this excessive airflow. I was almost convinced that drying nailpolish would be a good application…but how many people would be prepared to sit at their keyboard, without typing, whilst their nail varnish dried? The stench of billowing acetone would be overpowering too, I reckon.

So, today’s invention is a showercap with a lightweight hose which connects to the various fan outlets of an overblowing computer. The user can don the cap after arriving at their workstation, direct from the shower, thus saving themselves maybe 10 minutes per day using an environmenticidal hairdryer.


It may take an hour for one’s hair to dry but at least it’s an effective reuse of energy and if you want it to blow harder faster, just try working under Vista (obviously I’m not serious about that part).

#444: Glowstools

Having recently become a dog owner, I’m now painfully aware of the need to avoid standing in the excrement which she deposits liberally around what’s left of our garden.

You can, I understand, now buy dog food that’s laced with fluorescent material, precisely to deal with with this issue. Who knows what effect this synthetic stuff may have on the animal’s metabolism in the long term, though.


Today’s invention is an entirely organic, natural alternative.

Bioluminescent funghi, such as those available via www.nipht.com, are remarkable organisms which glow bright green. They could be supplied as a healthy food supplement for dog food (a multi-billion dollar industry). The glowing dogpoo which inevitably results would be easily detectable and removable.

Any deposits which weren’t removed (eg by irresponsible owners) would at least be avoidable and might be even more quickly broken down by the action of these smart toadstools.

#443: Combmould

Left to their own devices, bees will form a hive with a nest chamber made of wax (wasps do a similar thing but their papery edifice is less useful…)

Today’s invention is to encourage a colony of bees to form a nest inside a former for some stress-bearing engineering component (eg an aerospace engine mounting).


The hexagonal, 3-D matrix which the bees will naturally build would, if made of eg aluminium, be phenomenally strong and lightweight.

Now, we use the ancient process of lost wax in which a thermosetting material coats the hexagonal mesh and forms a matrix from which the wax will escape when the whole thing is heated. This leaves behind a 3-D, complex mould into which some exotic molten alloy can be poured to create the desired components.

This represents a natural augmentation to finite element stress analysis in design.

#442: Privashields

I’m getting sick of people reading over my shoulder documents I write or read eg on planes.

Today’s invention is simply to supply laptops with a pair of ‘blinkers’, making the screen visible only to the rightful user -not adjacent passengers.


These could be made of two opaque sheets of soft plastic hinged to the edges of the screen so that, when closing the machine, the blinkers would fold inwards, forming additional protection for it from the keyboard.

#441: Coderope

I’ve been reading about the history of encryption (without understanding everything, written as it is by people who assume that everyone shares the same background knowledge). I enjoyed being reminded of the idea of writing a message on a spiral strip of paper wound around a baton of a particular diameter, to form a continuous sheet. Unwinding the strip allows you to pass it, as a coded message, to someone who knows the correct baton diameter to be able to read the writing.

Today’s invention is related to that approach.


It consists of a bundle of fibres, with say half black and half white (‘on’ or ‘off’). At different locations along the length of this cable, the fibres are arranged to form a crude ‘image’ of eg a letter or some other piece of information (<200 fibres would be enough).

Only the intended recipient would know where to section the rope to be able to see the intended letters in the right order. At other locations, there would be merely noise or decoy symbols.

This could be made so that the bundle was of optical fibres, bonded together to preserve the images and interrogatable from outside using eg a lightmeter device spun in a tight helix around the cable circumference.

Message symbols within the rope could occur very spatially frequently (limited by the wavelength of light) making it possible to compress a lot of information into a small space. This would potentially allow it to be understood only by someone with a machine capable of extreme precision in determining where to take the readings along the cable length.

#440: Ssshleeper

Huge numbers of people around the world commute by train each day. Many of them will have spent the previous evening watching inane late-night tv programmes and therefore be in search of a good sleep en route. This can be disrupted by many external influences. One major one is the entirely pointless ticket collectors that roam around clipping or inspecting people’s tickets (when the barriers at journey’s end seem entirely adequate on their own).

Today’s invention is a transparent plastic case which is attached to the passenger by a light chain. This allows the ticket in question to be left for inspection (and obscure clipping rituals) without its owner having to be woken by yells of ‘tickets please’.


I’d really appreciate one of these with a small microphone and some processing power on board which could listen to the wheel rotations on the track and calculate (even if the train speed varied from day to day) exactly when to sound the alarm in time to avoid me missing my stop.

This would mercifully bring an end to all those earsplitting broadcast announcements of one’s arrival at every single station.

#439: Jewel bearing

I’ve never warmed to the design of CDs and DVDs. These media are particularly difficult to extract from their cases and insert correctly in a player -without breaking some piece of flimsy plastic or scratching the surface so badly that they never play again. This is especially true of in-car audio where they surely represent more of a hazard, whilst driving, than a mobile phone.

I’d happily advocate MP3 based content on a thumbdrive, but I do realise that the reproduction quality is less good than on an optical disk (even if I can’t hear/see much difference).


So if handling these disks is hard to do: don’t.

Today’s invention is simply to provide jewel cases with an internal bearing for the disk to rotate upon and a window for the laser to shine through when reading the surface…a little like the floppy disks they used to use as long as ten years ago.