#475: Noveliser

In this era of the mash-up, lots of quality content finds itself being ‘repurposed’.

Today’s invention is simply to make a book of a feature film semi-automatically: based on the text of subtitles and some carefully chosen stills from the movie. Subtitles, I’ve noticed, now contain verbal descriptions of sound effects and enable people to basically follow what’s going on, even without the moving pictures. Adding in some scene directions from the original (digital) script would also aid readability.


This could be another low cost way to add to the long tail of commercial opportunities for certain films, after their initial sales have begun to decline (it’s also easier to follow the plot in such a book if the story is already reasonably well known).

#474: Convectasaur

Open fires are very attractive but they tend to be poor at distributing heat within a room, let alone around a house.

Today’s invention is a device which allows a single fireplace to provide more uniform home heating.


A mobile robot (ideally with stair climbing ability) carries a metal plate on its back. It is programmed to hold the plate in contact with the flames until its temperature reaches a target value). The plate is withdrawn inside a wire mesh box and the robot then moves to a region of the home where the ambient air temperature is detected to be low.

Air passes through the mesh cover, across the vertical plate and becomes warmed. When the plate temperature has decreased by a certain amount, the robot returns to the fire.

You could have several of these devices per house, coordinated to appear at the fireplace in turn. Use Pleos and it might even resemble the disputed cooling fins of certain dinosaurs.

#473: Reptilights

Monostatic bodies, such as the Gomboc in the picture, will roll around (like an inverted turtle) until they find the one orientation in which they are stable. (These objects are different from something like a weeble, or weighted top, in that they have uniform density).

This suggests a new form of domestic lighting. In today’s invention, an array of gombocs would be located on a metal tray. Each would contain a circuit with a small watch battery, an led and a pair of slightly protruding contacts at the stable basepoint on the ‘underside’. These contacts would act as a switch which would be closed by each body contacting the tray as it rolls through the stable position.


Any movement of the tray would set in motion all the oscillating gombocs, switching on and off their leds at the rolling frequency. This would produce an interesting light pattern in response eg to pulling a chair or a drawer out…or opening a door. Using bodies of different sizes or densities would add even more variety to the lighting patterns. Translucent bodies with embedded lights would be particularly attractive.

#472: Hearabouts

Car drivers often complain that they feel isolated from their surroundings, unlike their counterparts on motorcycles, for example.

Today’s invention is to connect their in-car entertainment system speakers to a GPS unit and a mobile comms link which will provide a local soundtrack -based on the vehicle’s location (and perhaps also the current weather conditions).

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This might involve regional music, snatches of conversation, wildlife noises, wind-in-the-trees, birdsong -anything which could help provide passengers in a car with an experience which is more embedded in the surrounding environment (It probably wouldn’t include enhanced road noise, if you were travelling on a motorway).

This might even have a calming, and slowing, influence on motorists.

#471: Dirtsquirt

The inside of my car is like a midden. It was bad when we had children but with the addition of a dog to our family all the interior carpets are now impregnated with sand and deer excrement -not the kind of mixture the average valet service is prepared to tackle, unless supplied with a bacteriological warfare suit.

Today’s invention is a simple system to remove the dirt before it gets inside the vehicle.


There would be a small shower head fed water from the windscreen washer tank via a plastic hose. An additional pump would probably be required, rather than relying on the standard built-in version and the water would need to contain only human-compatible screen wash.

Sandy feet after paddling (or paws) would be sluiced off into a plastic tray. The resulting dirty water would then be pumped back into the tank via a simple washable filter (I wouldn’t care too much about washing my windscreen with slightly less than sterile water).

#470: ZipFaster

‘Footering’ is the term I use to describe when I’m all fingers and thumbs trying to engage the zip fastener of my winter coat. I’m always doing this, needless to say, when it’s winter and when the fingers and thumbs themselves are starting to freeze.

Today’s invention is an attempt to allow easier, even one-handed, zipping up.


The diagram shows a future zip ‘keeper’ with a pull tag on the left hand side. Each half of the keeper is shown in a different colour: one half would be permanently attached to each side of the zip.

When both halves of the keeper are grabbed in one hand, magnets on each of the meeting faces align them and join the bottom ends of the two sides of the zip together. This forces the two sets of zip teeth to mesh (the bottom-most ones may have to be created with slightly more open teeth engagement than normal, to allow this).

The zip can thus be sealed in the usual way, but with much less visual supervision and dexterity required.

#469: Wolfware

People tend to find imagining future pain quite a hard thing to do. This, and the sheer technical difficulty, often cause them not to backup their electronic data properly/at all.

Today’s invention is a partial solution to the problem of lost-data-due-to-death-of-disk.


Each computer would run a background process to detect if data are being backed up at a sensible frequency. If not, a loud sound effect -of a crashing hard disk on startup- would be played. This would be accompanied by some 1970s-style text expressing a cryptic message about the demise of the disk and all the data too.

A few minutes of pained silence would then ensue, at the end of which boot-up would proceed as normal but only after issuing the message: “False alarm! This is what may happen soon if you don’t get a backup mechanism in place. -Contact…”.

A similar technique could be applied to encourage installation of eg anti-virus software.

#468: Jackshield

Imagine a piece of delicate electronic equipment, which would be guaranteed to be fragile and vulnerable to dirt, yet which is then expected to be routinely forced through holes in plasterboard and along dust filled gaps between walls and floors.

Even though lots of kit is now wirelessly connected, the humble RJ-45 plug is still the lynchpin in many networks. Think about how long it takes to get one of these square-headed guys from A to B, only for it then to be found to be broken -mechanically or electrically, or both.

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Today’s invention is a cap which fits over such a connector and which streamlines its passage through tight holes. This is made in a tough, flexible polymer and takes the shape of a long, thin tapering ‘nose’ with a low-friction coating. There would be a loop at the end of the nose to which a cable can be attached for dragging the cable behind it. The RJ-45 plug is sealed tightly within the nose, so that dust is excluded and the retaining tab can’t be broken off in transit.

#467: Roadrating

Lots of countries demand that drivers under instruction advertise the fact by displaying eg an ‘L’ symbol or its equivalent. Why, I wondered, don’t we also insist on similar displays by those people who have incurred penalty points on their licences for poor or inconsiderate driving?

Today’s invention is a simple row of orange LEDs mounted in the back of everyone’s car. This would act as a bar chart, showing other drivers the extent to which someone was either a Learner or a points holder. Ten orange lights showing? …give me a wide berth.


This scheme could be extended to allow drivers to comment on each others’ driving skills in real time by transmitting signals from car to car which would automatically contribute to one’s orange light total. Signals from other drivers would be given less weight or shorter duration than official points. Give too many negative points to others, though, and you start to receive oranges yourself.

Ideally, I’d like to see anyone with eg 8 orange lights paying significantly more for their fuel than someone with none.

#466: Fistassist

As someone with surprisingly small hands, I’m often amazed by the degree of extra grip which a pair of stout gloves can provide. I guess it’s partly just that their leathery padding removes a large amount of potential pain caused by sharp metal edges attempting to rasp their way through my lily-white phalanges.

For people who need to hold a tool of their trade all day…such as mechanics, tennis players, housepainters, blacksmiths or gardeners, maintaining a grip, under sustained load, becomes second nature -but I’m sure it does longterm damage to joints and nerves. As for weekend tool wielders, we need all the help we can get.


Today’s invention is a pair of gloves with assisted grip power. These would be of breathable but heavy duty material, possibly with gel-filled palm pads. On the outside, a series of stout rubberised straps would be fitted…the ratchet-and-flip-catch kind found on eg ski boots or divers’ watches.

There would be a strap running from the back of each finger to the inside of the wrist and from the thumb across the closed fist to the back of the hand. These could all be pulled taught to provide massively increased grip, without demanding a high level of muscle contraction.

Each flip catch and rubber strap-end would have a bite pad to enable these to be done up and released without relying on the other hand.