#25: Touch typing via visual feedback

I’ve always had trouble developing new motor skills. It took me four attempts to pass the driving test and my inability to learn dancesteps is truly remarkable.

Touch tying is therefore a complete masydteyeu ayuidi dmer (last few words were typed with me looking at the screen, not my fingers).


Invention of the day is therefore a simple feedback mechanism. Direct a webcam onto your hands from above and position the resulting image somewhere near your text editor window. It takes a little getting used to but it seems to work -if you’re as incorrigibly bad at this sort of thing as me.

There may also be some mileage in using audio feedback here. A keyboard with two-stage keys would be capable of ‘saying’ the letter you were just about to get wrong, when its key was only partly depressed.

#24: Low-cost head-up display

LED studded wands which, when waved back and forth, display eg the time have been around for a number of years (They are the ones that take advantage of the persistence of vision and seem to project an image in thin air).

I suggest making some practical use of these by attaching one to a windscreen wiper -which would generate the required movement. Ideally, the wipers could be manually offset from the screen to allow the display to continue working, even in dry weather.

This could be wired to an onboard GPS system to indicate the speed of the vehicle (57MPH -SLOW DOWN) or to highlight the location of eg a parking space or a particular feature in the street scene ahead.

#22: Autofocus proximity detector

I’m taking a fair number of photographs these days whilst in ‘macro’ mode. One problem I’ve found is that when concentrating on composing the image I’m always in danger of allowing the servoing lens system to collide with whatever I’m photographing. That’s not a problem if it’s a flower but it’s very bad news indeed if the lens makes even kissing contact with some more rigid surface.

So, I propose that the existing autofocus mechanism in digital cameras be enhanced to help avoid ‘parking collisions’ of this type. Basically it requires an af sensor on the tip of the lens and a fast feedback control loop, when in macro mode, that advances the lens by an amount which is always less than the distance from the object (plus some margin for error, based on other significant factors eg my camera shake).

#21: Antinoise window boxes

For people unable to fit double glazing (due eg to building regulations) window boxes could be filled with artificial plants.

These would have a range of stem lengths tuned to absorb the low frequency techno-funk that drives me nuts.


Alternatively, the stalks could be automatically shortened or lengthened and actively wafted about in order to cancel whatever offensive noise young Barry has taken it into his baseball-capped head to create outside my window.

#20: Consciousness as process scheduler

I thought this up after reading an article about how US Govt. intelligence agencies are using ‘new’ tools eg blogging and wiki’s to share data. It made the point that allowing anyone in the organisation to post information works well, but that only the very smartest people must be in control of whittling down what’s posted.

It seems to me that that’s largely what consciousness does. It acts as a kind of arbiter between the multiple calls to action which the mind throws up….and chooses what should be done next (we seem to be able to do only a very small number of things in parallel -ie one. Although some women seem capable of time sharing numerous different thought streams effectively).

This filtering also appears to do more than just that. It looks to me that if you have, say 1000, mental processes competing to be chosen as the next one to be given control, consciousness doesn’t just make a choice….it also reorders the remaining candidates….a kind of page ranking applied to queueing mental programs. Exactly how this gets accomplished isn’t clear at all.

(I’m reminded that a similar thing occurs in attempts to minimise network congestion, whereby when packets are competing to pass through some gateway, those not selected are forced backwards in the queue by some pseudorandom amount).

What I know about operating systems could be written in fat felt tip on the head of a pin, but process scheduling in a computer has always looked pretty primitive, especially by comparison with the complexity of some of the programs themselves. Processes wait in a queue and get intermittent access to resources if they are next and no higher priority process appears. Priority tends to be based on some very simple, static rule for each OS (eg Round Robin, First-in-first-out etc).

Invention of the day therefore is a ‘page ranking’ system for computing processes, using a simple model of conscious supervision. This would almost certainly need to involve a feedback mechanism whereby certain system outputs caused a state of happiness and others fear, disgust etc. This effectively defines eg fear as ‘the degree to which some event makes me select a self-protecting process’. Anger would therefore be ‘the extent to which some event makes me select an agressive response process’. Notice I’m not using quotes here: the machine would be actually feeling these responses. Processes could then be reordered according to the extent to which they had contributed to increasing system happiness in the past. According to this model, certain processes finding themselves repeatedly demoted in the queue (starved) could be regarded as ‘repressed.’

#19: Crock-o-mat

I’m bored by loading and unloading the dishwasher -almost as bored as I would be by handwashing the damn dishes.

Here, therefore, is my proposed solution. Manufacturers please note. Let’s have new machines divided into 2 separate compartments. At any time, one would be involved in washing and one containing dishes waiting to be washed (ie being filled intermittently by people deciding to have some emergency pain-au-chocolat or Shreddies in the brief gaps between main-er meals.


One beauty of the system is that, although it would be running for a high percentage of the time, my kitchen wouldn’t disappear under a mountain of festering, dirty dishes.The system would have a third tray, full of clean stuff, which would fit within a big cupboard or compartment. When the wash is done, whatever small amount of clean stuff is left in the tray in the cupboard gets entered into the machine, to be filled gradually, and the cleaned trayful is placed en masse into the cupboard. The tray which has been waiting can then start being washed.

This eliminates the tiresome step of having to extract randomly-placed stuff from the machine and locate individual items in their designated spaces (our knives, forks and spoons merrily exchange partners in the cutlery drawer about twice a week, when all elements of any two of the three sets are being washed).

This requires three complete sets of cutlery+crockery. The main difficulty with that, aside from cost, is that unless I want to spend a lot of time neatly packing each tray (and I really don’t) the machine itself may have to be bigger than normal (ie wider). I figure that’s a small price to pay for minimising the downsides of all this endless shovelling and display of filthy kitchen things. There would obviously no requirement to store dishes in cupboards any more, since they would all be involved in the eternal waiting, washing, feeding cycle.

Ideally, I’d like to get such a system built into our dining table, so that, at the press of a button, the three trays circulate -the dirty stuff disappears and the clean stuff emerges.

#18: Multimedials

Medals have always interested me, both as beautiful objects and because of what they represent. They act primarily as part of the extended phenotype, providing women with increased information about the reproductive fitness of their wearers.

Medals also make a promise to young men that bravery in battle will make them more attractive. As a means of celebrating that bravery, whilst also combatting war, today’s invention is the multimedial: a minor variant on the clamshell mobile phone. These can be worn just as medals currently are, but with each able to show images on an electronic display when worn in the open position.


Soldiers these days commonly carry small moviecameras with them. I suggest they be equipped with a multimedial and if decorated, the footage they shot at the time should be played on the display of the device at subsequent ceremonies and occasions. This would provide members of the public with an insight into what war is really like, without its heroes having to talk about their activities.

Another major advantage of this idea is that the chestfuls of clamshells adorning our monarchs would be conspicuously, yet eloquently, quiet.

#17: USB Passport

The UK Government have been faffing for ages about whether, and in what form, to impose ID cards on we citizens. (Of course, people forget that we used to have such things in the UK during the last war, when it was compulsory to carry a brown, dogeared card with a sepia photo which made everyone look like a Nazi spy).

According to some ‘latest poll’, 30% of us would be willing to pay £20 for an ID card -out of our own pockets (That’s surely a bargain, to avoid sitting next to some sweating crazy hugging a briefcase and fiddling with his shoe heels at 20,000 feet).


Anyway, you can now buy a 1-Gigabyte USB flash drive, with fingerprint recognition, for about £18 (1 off).

My idea is therefore to equip all of we potential hijackers, money launderers and terrorists with one of these drives. To get onto a plane, you stab your device into a reader attached to any of the 20 year-old PC’s which litter airports. Your fingerprint would allow the PC to access information on the drive which could then be cross checked with data from the top secret MoD undesirables list. It might even allow some additional security questions (‘Mother’s maiden name?’ seems a bit old fashioned -and assumes she was later married, of course).

These cheapy devices currently make a mistake and incorrectly admit someone about 1 in 100,000 times I believe, whilst stopping someone incorrectly only about 1 in 10,000 times. Both of these rates, if correct, seem pretty good given the low cost involved.

That cost could be further reduced, considering that HM Govt. would be able to buy these at a huge discount for 60 million off (it would also be a hell of a lot cheaper than the current Heathrow shenannigans: www.misense.org )

The only problem then would be the much more difficult one of working out which way to put the USB connector in the slot (a future iotd perhaps).

#16: Reshredder

To transform a one-cut office paper shredder into its more expensive two-cut cousin, I suggest a reshredder insert that allows the output from a one-chop machine to be caught and fed, at right angles, into the same machine again.

This could be achieved by use of a plastic hopper costing only a few pence.