#503: Incabrix

Bricklaying is a really beautiful craft. In the hands of a master bricky, comparatively coarse materials can assemble into an almost geometrically perfect building. But why? Why are we still messing about with all that mixing mortar and trowelling and hodding etc etc?

Today’s invention is to de-skill building by using more finely manufactured bricks. No need to demand clever, springy materials and attempt to replicate Lego at large scale. These could still be essentially made of fired earth but let’s have them made to fit together very closely…if the Inca can do it, why can’t we? Once the foundations are down (levelled by gravity) the construction can be accelerated -even by self-builders and diy-ers.

Structural strength and assembly accuracy could be achieved, without any mortar, by moulding in male and female location devices in the form of robust interlocking positive and negative pyramids on the top, bottom and end surfaces. The weight alone would hold these in place and no significant air or water transmission would occur because of the minute, angled flow paths between interlocking bricks which this would achieve.

#502: Smoke deflector

Despite the increasing restrictions placed on where people are allowed to smoke, I still frequently find myself surrounded by toxin-laden exhalations (eg when walking past the entrance of any office building).

Today’s invention is a way to limit the extent to which passive smoking is still inflicted on people.

The guts of several domestic smoke detectors would be extracted and attached to eg a waist belt. These would be capable of detecting even small quantities of smoke and their differential concentration readings used by a belt-borne pda to control a number of small fans, also carried on the belt. The nearer the smoke source, the harder would the fans be driven; resulting in active stench suppression.

It might also convey the message that standing ouside smoking is still not a healthy thing to do.

#501: Filterclicks

There are lots of programs available which do Bayesian analysis of text and thus claim, bogusly, to have extracted the semantics of the content. These often get successfully applied, however, in the form of automatic spamblockers or email classifiers, amongst other things.

(Say I get lots of emails. Say 200 contain the word ‘girlfriend’. Of those messages containing ‘girlfriend,’ I decide that 190 are spam. Now the chance that an incoming email which contains the word girlfriend is spam = 190/200. I could then use this to throw away 190 out of every 200 messages received containing the ‘g word’ although in practice it’s more useful, with spam, to ditch everything with a value > say 80%. Over time, this estimate will change if I can be bothered to label as spam stuff which slips through this filter. It may be less useful if for example I join an online dating agency…perish the thought.)

Today’s invention is to apply this logic to what some people regard as the uncontrollable growth of the number of messages in their inboxes. All sorts of rules of thumb are available in software packages to filter email, but when a message is opened under this regime, the user can click on a selection of words within it (one click=’this word makes makes the message less unimportant’, two clicks= ‘this word makes the message more unimportant’ or the like). After a period of labelling individual words like this, the email client can extract the various probabilities and automatically order one’s messages in terms of their importance. It might then insist that the most important be dealt with first.

#500: Triggerings

When operating any kind of power tool it’s important to know where your fingers are, at all times. Monitoring this is a surprisingly demanding mental task, especially when concentrating on actually doing the work.

Today’s invention attempts to ensure that one’s fingers stay safely attached.

Any given tool would have two runners permanently attached so that the edges of four rings would fit into each (think shower curtain rings here). These rings would be slightly sprung apart from one another. To start the device in question, press the ‘on’ button as usual, insert four fingers from one hand into each bank of four rings and squeeze the rings into contact with each other. This would form a circuit, powering up the device in question.

In this way, only when one’s fingers are correctly located and the tool held firmly will it operate, thus ensuring that you can’t run the motormower/ chainsaw/ router etc when fiddling with the spinning sharp bits.

#499: Upgrades

I have to confess, I hate boardgames. They demand too much attention when I could be enjoying myself sitting quietly thinking about something much more original. There are no prizes worth getting excited about. They are usually based on a large element of chance. Five year-olds regularly beat me.

It’s certainly very hard to come up with any kind of interesting boardgame which can be played by a family using equipment that costs only pence to make.

Today’s invention is a variant on snakes and ladders. The board has no fixed snakes or ladders. These are placed on the board randomly to start. Each player is assigned, say, two elasticated snakes and two ladders. The ends of each carry a counter the same as the one used to represent each player. On tossing the die, a player can choose to move one end of one of his or her snakes or ladders forward by the number of squares it indicates (Using one positive and one negative die might be required, to generate retrograde motions).

This allows players to tactically position the feet of ladders in front of their own counter and the heads of snakes in front of those of their opponents.

#498: Neckdam

Scarves don’t work. First, they get lost but even if you manage to hang onto yours, it remains a bulky, itchy thing knotted around your neck.

You can use a scarf to proclaim your allegiance to some seat of higher learning, but do you really want a warm neck enough to look like a perpetual undergraduate? My main concern though is that it’s really hard work to seal in the hot air trying to escape from your body through the gaps and folds of any conventional scarf.


Today’s invention is a rectangular, neoprene envelope, with a circular hole in the middle, which fits over the head and then forms a seal with necks of almost any size. Inside the envelope, one edge of which can be velcro’d inside the back of any coat, is a series of air bladders which can be inflated by a small bellows (ideally, worn under one arm). This unit presses uniformly outwards against one’s coat and inwards against one’s neck. No air can escape and you stay correspondingly much warmer.

When the weather heats up, simply deflate the envelope, pull it over the head and stow it across the back of one’s shoulders, attached to the inside of the coat where it can’t go missing.

A similar arrangement might be developed for cuffs as well.

#497: Repasta

Recalling a previous meal can, it seems, significantly reduce the tendency to eat snacks.

Today’s invention is therefore food wrapping for eg a lunchtime sandwich or a box of pasta salad which carries a particularly sumptuous photograph of the food on a plate. These photos would be designed to be extractable from the disposable part of the package and to be kept on one’s desk or in one’s wallet.


A section of one’s daily transparent lunch packaging could actually tear out and serve as a photoframe: a reminder of how good lunch tasted today that could, over time, stop you from becoming obese.

#496: Exosoles

There is a growing school of thought (apparently) that running shoes aren’t as good as they are cracked up to be. I guess we all suspected that paying £150 for a pair of super-lift-aerothon-springheels was a bad idea, in view of the billion dollar advertising and the child labour element.

Beyond all that, it turns out that people tend to run more naturally in bare feet. This assumes that they don’t have to contend with sub-zero temperatures and ankle-deep dog excrement.


Today’s invention attempts to get the best possible combination. Instead of training shoes: stick-on pads.

These would come in the form of a sheet of material with foam-backed adhesive paste behind a peel-off waxed sheet. The ground-facing side would be of natural, abrasion resistant, grippy stuff.

Cut the material into the shape of two footpads, remove the waxed paper and apply these new soles to one’s feet. (For anyone whose feet get cold during running, I’d suggest running faster or wearing socks with soles removed…an aftermarket opportunity perhaps?)

After a run, peel off the used soles and dump in the recycling.

#495: Shipslide

Ships, like any object moving in fluid, experience drag forces. ‘Skin friction’, the effect of viscosity, is one component, which can become as high as 70% of the total. The implication of this is that a large proportion of the power output from the ship’s propulsion system is wasted in overcoming this form of resistance. Traditional solutions involve painting on sharkskin-like coatings or injecting bubbles into the surrounding water.

Today’s invention attempts to significantly lessen the extent to which water rubbing on a ship’s hull holds it back.


The hulls of vessels (eg supertankers) would be fitted with a number of lightweight external, dish-shaped ‘shields’ (the two outer ellipses in the diagram). These would be mounted, half in the water and half out, on very well lubricated central axles down which air would be blown so that the gap between the hull and the inner side of each shield would remain filled with a film of air.

The normal propulsion of the craft (shown moving rightwards) would cause these shields, with lower halves adhering to the surrounding water, to be rotated as shown.

This would also have the effect of lessening the expense of cleaning off the various forms of fouling caused by marine crustations etc on rigid hulls.

#494: TankTorque

Tractors are equipped with high-torque engines which they need to pull enormous loads (whether riddles, ploughs, slurry tanks, tree stumps -you name it).

This situation can often cause them to execute a low-altitude ‘wheelie’.


In order to avoid staring at the sky, a farmer may attach a collection of big metal weights to the front bumper. This can’t be good for fuel consumption and humping all that metal about is heavy work for even the horniest handed son of toil.

Today’s invention is to mount the fuel tank on a pair of rails running fore and aft on top of the engine (as in the old Ferguson design). When the tractor was pulling hard, the tank would automatically shift forward to act as a counterbalance and keep the front wheels on the ground. The lower the fuel level on board, the farther forward would the tank move.