#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).

#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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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#13: Catflap with integral grooming

For those of us bothered by moulting cats…

Get hold of one of those small vacuum cleaners, the ones that are pretty much useless for anything else. Wire the cleaner so that it switches on as the flap is opened.

Arrange a section of the hose in a loop around an existing catflap aperture. Make a longitudinal slot in the hose and blank off the end, so that, on entry (and exit), all of that surplus fur, skank, rotten leaves, mouse entrails etc are removed from your furry friend.

You still have to brush down the apparatus weekly and remove the bag of course (unless your cat is valuable enough to warrant a posh, overpriced Dyson). It may also deter foreign cats who aren’t prepared to brave the blowdry on the offchance of some extra rabbit’s liver biccies.

#12: Cheaper parking?

Disgusted at the prices which councils are allowed to charge for car parking, I thought it might be possible to drive a car transporter into town, in the early morning, park it covering several bays and buy one ticket for the whole day.

Then, I’d charge people a lower-than-council rate to park their vehicles (with greater security) on the back of the transporter.

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Aside from the costs of a transporter (huge) and the fact that councils would at once disallow parking outside single bays, I rather fancy this.

#6: Vertical access shopping trolley

A shopping trolley (or basket) which contains a fold-out step and allows small people to reach stuff they can’t get to on supermarket shelves (I’m constantly being asked by people to get them a packet of high-altitude cornflakes).

This would enable more stock to be accessible and make better use of expensive floor space. It might also allow extra pricing differentials/incentives: “Reach up for lower prices.”

If insurance companies stymie this, because they won’t allow shoppers to take on the dangerous task of climbing a step, then maybe some kind of vertical ‘magazine’ can be arranged, whereby products are fed in at the top and customers extract them at the bottom, automatically making available the next item. This would have the added advantage that products could be delivered to the shop in such feeder tubes…and the tubes themselves could announce to the stock control system when a tube was empty. In addition, the current danger of getting a glass jar of mayonnaise on the head would be eliminated.

#5: Stereo vision device for use on theme park rides

The central idea is that by enhancing stereo depth perception for users of these rides, their experience will be significantly intensified at very low additional cost.

Mobile phones now commonly incorporate cameraphones. Two such devices may be mounted on a spectacle frame with lenses positioned so as to roughly double the normal interocular distance. This has the effect of providing an intensified, 3-D view and a correspondingly heightened experience for thrillseeking ride customers.

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The spectacle frames might be made available in different or customisable colours, for example. Obviously a similar system might be designed using only prisms, but the use of mobile phones adds value to a purchase which has already been made and makes further use of universally loved and trusted technology. People will, we believe, regard this reuse as ‘cool.’

It may even be possible for a wearer to record their 3-D visual experience for playback (with sound) once the ride is over (assuming synchronisation can be achieved during replay).

Sunglasses manufacturers such as Oakley have already begun to develop all sorts of oddly-shaped, wrap-around glasses embodying electronics.