#28: Updated librarian stamping

(I’m really interested to see what sort of ads this page gets assigned in light of the above title).

Today’s invention is stupidly simple. I spend quite some time, despite the present digital era, queueing at the library to borrow good old fashioned books made of good old fashioned tree.

It breaks my heart to see the librarians have to scan in the barcodes for all my books and then pick them all up again, one by one, and stamp the return-by date on every book. My invention today is simply to tape the scanner to the date stamp and do both jobs on each book in quick succession.

If you wanted a high tech solution, you could go for a passive display in each book, which the scanner would update automatically. I’d always go for the duct tape solution, myself but come to think of it -why can’t I just download my library books yet?

#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.’

#11: Evanescent structures

The countryside is littered with shopping trolleys, dragged there by shoppers, vagrants and yobs. The whole process of shopping with these things is a nightmare anyway, for store owners and shoppers alike.

Until someone invents home delivery (!) and all those ugly supermarkets close in favour of underground warehouses, I thought it might be interesting to consider the global proliferation of trolleys problem. Here is an alternative to the coin-in-the-trolley deposit approach (since I can never remember to bring the right coin with me anyway).


Ice. Imagine a trolley which can be as large or small as your purchases require and which, when you have used it, just disappears. So why not just make the entire basket thing of ice? Answer: the cost is way too high…if we just reproduced existing designs, I reckon it would require removal of 4 MJ to cool water enough to generate a solid trolley in the existing design. So my suggestion would be to come up with a trolley ice mould which is sufficiently strong in design to carry the shopping, whilst minimising the material. Surely someone out there with a CAD system and some polymer engineering expertise could cut the required mass of ice by a factor of 10…or 100?

Maybe there’s a way to make a shell-like design which could be sprayed onto a standard former (ie fast) and still be sufficiently light and strong? It would have to run on detachable, ablative skids I guess, but at least the shopping would get home still chilled and you could have separate baskets which exactly fit your own car boot.

#1: Ballcam

Here’s a typically crazy one to start. Create the ball’s view of a game of soccer by inserting some webcams in a subset of the 32 faces. Given enough bandwidth, and fast switching between camera outputs, the forward facing view could always be broadcast, even for a rapidly spinning ball.

You’d need to provide the switching mechanism with some reference by which to judge the forward direction (perhaps a simple layout of coloured lights around the ground would work). Otherwise, fitting accelerometers might be necessary, thus greatly adding to the complexity.

Making the whole thing robust enough to withstand the impacts involved in eg corner kicking would be a challenge. If players can stand heading an inswinger, after all, without obvious brain damage…ok, you’re probably right, damn silly idea.