#559: SpaceSpotter

There are already numerous clever ways to rent out a parking space on land you own. These days, the pressure on parking is so great that even more creative measures can be investigated.

Given the availability of communications, today’s invention is a system which allows anyone in a parking space to make a small amount of money (or phone credit) just by calling a certain number when they are about to leave their current spot. The information about this space is then provided to the nearest subscriber to the service who has just called the system to say they need somewhere to park. This assumes that everyone in the near future will have a GPS streetmap system on board their vehicle.

The usual Council/City parking fees would still apply, of course, but this extra charge would more nearly optimise the use of space and time in getting stopped near one’s urban destination. Subscribers could set triggers in connection with regular or forthcoming visits to some town, but they would still have to get physically near their end-point to be alerted to any suitable vacant bays (indicated on the screen of their in-car navigation device).

A more sophisticated system would require that a departer wait for an arriver before driving off, although that would require a recognition protocol which might be too socially complex to manage.

#558: Sentry-sight

I’m reliably informed that night-time sentry duty is particularly hard work if you happen to find yourself in some branch of the military. Needless to say, night is exactly when an alert watch is most required by one’s comrades-in-khaki.

Aside from the itchy uniform and the extreme boredom, sentries suffer from hallucinations. Nothing to do with a bracing pint or two in the mess, anyone who stares at a randomly textured field will start to see predominantly the faces of people and animal shapes. It’s not clear why, but if you look at white noise on a screen, viewed slightly defocussed, a similar thing happens (at about every third fixation).

Such visions are known to cause rookie soldiers, who have been watching a darkened beach or forest or field, to start firing -afraid that they are under attack by people they believe are real. Today’s invention attempts to overcome this (interesting) problem.

The sentry is equipped with a foot-operated switch which briefly activates a bright lamp situated at some distance from him and pointing in the direction of his view. This keeps him largely unseen, and may startle or blind any real assailants whilst destroying any illusory ones.

#557: Eazzypizza

Those circular-bladed pizza cutters just don’t work at all well. That sharp blade is just as likely to carve one’s fingers or drag splinters of the worksurface into your dinner. When trying to hack through a baked section of crust, armoured in pepperoni, the force required is quite enough to propel an entire pizza off the plate and into your lap.

So, today’s invention is a simple metal asterisk: a star formed from six (or more) metal blades joined at their intersection and pressed into a pizza base before it’s loaded with miscellaneous (undefined) toppings and placed in the oven. This would have saw teeth on the lower edges and thus nearly penetrate the base -dividing it into equal segments, pre cooking.

In a family in which appetities for pizza differ, the segments’ sizes could be made non-uniform, simply by bending the metal blades to different angles of separation or by placing the cutter off- centre on the pizza.

Before serving, each asterisk would be extracted for reuse, leaving easy-to-separate perforations in the doughy discus.

#556: Boozebrake

The medics currently define binge drinking as having more than a couple of pints of beer in one session. How quickly they seem to forget their own time as medical students -when by that definition, every evening would have been a veritable ‘bender’.

Overconsumption is a serious problem though and so today’s invention is a way to help limit the damage which people do to themselves via alcohol.

Someone entering a bar would be equipped with a glass for the night. The barstaff would stick a tamper-evident label on the base. Every hour, the colour of the stickers on clean glasses would be changed. In the same way that access to swimming baths is managed, people with a certain colour label could only buy a drink when their glass was empty and their colour was declared active. The frequency of colour changing would be managed to achieve a balance between happy customers and sensible behaviour.

This approach would limit everyone’s rate of drinking to a safer level and also avoid synchronous stampedes to the bar.

#555: Fasterfood

Fast food restaurants aren’t designed to provide a calm, restful environment. Their business model relies on feeding people quickly and then having them leave, making space for more paying customers (despite the implications for their digestion).

This is in direct opposition to the traditional restaurant approach of encouraging patrons to get comfortable, relax and spend a long time eating exotic desserts and drinking successive rounds of highly-priced beverages.

There are limited ways in which a fast food place can encourage people to eat and go -without being openly rude. The music can be high-paced and the portions small -or at least easy to eat.

Today’s invention is intended as a subtle support for such speed dining. It consists of a large patch of white light projected upwards within the eating area. This would be programmed to move across the walls and over the ceiling. The speed of movement would be imperceptibly low, but still much faster than that of the sun across the sky. This would give diners the impression of time passing rapidly, but without their being aware of why.

Faffing over the french fries would thus definitely be curtailed.

#554: Bandlength

The web has no real sense of being a world…somewhere with locations which are traveled between. One clicks and the next site appears as fast as the available bandwidth will allow. This is a little like sleeping on a flight around the world, only then to awake in a completely foreign place, with no intervening awareness of transit.

Today’s invention attempts to inject some sense of ‘going places’ into the inevitable pauses between pages.

A ‘virtual landscape’ would be computed, on the fly by one’s browser, between any two successive pages (A->B). This would consist of a sequence of low-res, motion-blurred images of page A morphing into an ultra low-res pre-loaded version of page B -probably flashing right to left across the screen, giving the effect of looking out of the window of a highspeed train. The longer a page B takes to load, the longer the route would appear.

#553: Unplanner

Joking aside, even the most erratically-inclined people are very bad at behaving in ways that are genuinely random.

When you need your next action to be unpredictable by someone else, the universal tendency to fall into an established pattern of behaviour can be a problem. It’s not so important if you are only playing rock, paper, scissors but it may be critical if you happen to be a potential kidnap or assassination target (and being monitored, for long periods, by well-organised assailants).

Today’s invention is an electronic diary planner which chooses, with equal probability and as close to realtime as possible, which of n possible activities/appointments you will undertake, in what order, using what vehicles and via what route(s).

Obviously, the more senior people are, the later these choices can be made because their hosts will be more willing to accommodate last-minute schedule changes (This however effectively terminates the old practice of having weeks’ notice during which to paint everything anew before the visiting head of state appears in an open coach).

As well as making it almost impossible to mount any kind of planned ambush, this has the added advantage that there will be no paper-based itinerary (to be mislaid on a train) weeks ahead of some supposedly low-profile visit.

#552: Hollowhelix

It can be quite difficult for people with limited hand strength to open a bottle of wine (I’m talking here about the conventional cork-stoppered bottles, rather than wine boxes or twist-off tops, although these can present their own difficulties).

Part of the reason that it’s hard to extract a cork, even when using one of the many levers-braced-against-the-bottleneck type devices, is that you are pulling the cork out against a partial vacuum created behind it.

Today’s invention is a standard helical corkscrew but with the modification that it is formed from a tube, rather than a rod. The end of the tube would be a closed needle-like shape, as usual, but downstream from the sharp end there would be a few small holes made from outside into the tube interior. Once the sharp screw end has penetrated the cork, there is therefore no difference in pressure between bottle interior and the atmosphere, making cork withdrawal much easier (These breathing holes would need to be angled so that bits of cork could not get through them).

Purists will, once again, choke on their Jefferson Lafite at the very idea of passing the corkscrew all the way through a cork -but they will all have wine butlers to do the business for them.

#551: Scantop

I’m on a personal crusade against paper. Especially the kind that ends up in dusty, ill-sorted backroom cabinets full of broken slings containing illegible historical notes of undetermined importance.

Today’s invention is therefore simply to incorporate a scanner into every laptop. Their geometries are pleasingly similar: I imagine making a machine with a modified screen which also contains a scanning head and lights. drop your paper document on the keyboard, face-up, close the laptop lid and press ‘scan’.

Now that reasonable quality scanning is available at ridiculously low cost and in suprisingly lightweight packages, I can foresee that everything which now exists in a paper form will soon find itself directly pdf’d by these devices.

#550: DinnerDicer

There are lots of people who find dealing with cutting up their dinner very hard work. This may be because of difficulties in coordination or a lack of limb or hand strength -or some visual impairment.

Today’s invention is a way to arrange for every meal to be neatly and hygienically presliced, enabling a diner to eat bitesized pieces -using a spoon if necessary.

A microwave oven can be equipped with a small laser cutter ($50 is the cost of a homemade one). This would be set up to scan a plate of food and cut it into small, square pieces, without contaminating the meal or cutting the plate and whilst maintaining the overall shape of the food itself.

Slicing patterns other than square grids could be employed, if a more visually appealing arrangement were required.