#65: Windfarm camouflage

Some people regard windfarms as unsightly. Compared to pylons and cellphone masts in the form of comedy trees, I’m not convinced.

Today’s invention, however, is a two-fold camouflage technique to help render wind turbines less visible.

1) The turbine masts should be painted in a reflective paint and surrounded by ground-level mirrors which reflect the colour of the surroundings onto each mast.

2) Each of the turbine rotors should be similarly illuminated but with mirrors which are shuttered at the rotation frequency. This stroboscopic illumination would not only cast background colour onto the ‘offending’ machinery, but it would also make them appear relatively still: -removing the attention-grabbing flickering component of their motion.

#64: Condom orientation

“Be sure the roll is on the outside”… easy enough to say in the small print of the multilingual condom instruction manual, but under normal (ie urgent) circumstances, determining which is the inside and outside of a condom can be quite a challenge.

Today’s invention is therefore simply to place a contraceptive sheath in its sealed foil packaging so that eg the side of the packet which should be facing the male’s torso is always of one colour.

This is probably already happening, all we need is to be told that we can rely on it.

#63: Drill guide

I’m often annoyed at myself for failing to make holes perpendicular to the surface of my workpiece, when using a hand-drill.

The world is full of gadgets which aim to help, all of which seem pretty complex. Here is my alternative (which just sounds complex ; )


Think of a ring of metal which has three struts pin-jointed onto it. Each strut is thus free to move so as to stand at 90 degrees to the plane of the ring or to lie flat within that plane. The three struts, when lying in the plane, form an equilateral triangle. A similar set of joints exists between the other ends of the struts and another ring. This ensures that the two rings stay in parallel planes, even when the struts fold (a bit like two picnic tables joined leg-end to leg-end).

This arrangement would be sprung so as to maximally separate the two rings. All this geometry would be attached to the body of a hand-drill, with the drill bit concentric to the two rings.

When you want to drill a perpendicular hole in a surface (even if it’s spherical) you place the lower ring on the surface and move the bit in close to the drill mark. This compresses the spring, and the whole device, purely axially as you drill into the surface. At all times you can see where the bit is going and if the lower ring is always in contact with the workpiece, you get the right result. This guide avoids the need to have a range of different sized inserts, one for each drill bit diameter.

If you need a longer axial travel than this allows, these units can be concatenated to provide it. Although I’m generally dead against making things in plastic when they really need the rigidity/toughness of metal, it might even be possible to implement this design as a one-piece injection moulding, so that the springiness could be a feature of the moulded joints themselves.

#62: Recycled thespians

It’s fairly common these says when making a fim to shoot extra scenes, using existing sets, in order to be able to create an instant sequel. This is obviously much less costly than setting up a whole new project but it does require the backers to believe that there is commercial demand for a sequel, even before release of the main product.

Today’s invention is a variant on this theme that occurred to me whilst watching the charming and brilliantly cast Bandits.

Instead of just reusing sets, why not recycle the actors? They are after all, a major cost to any production. My suggestion would be to present the actors the challenge of reshooting each scene with just their characters swapped. Newman plays Sundance and vice versa. (A surprising number of movies apparently had their original cast exchanged in this way before shooting even began).

Creating an alternative version of certain movies, especially those reliant on the dynamic between two major characters, has a certain extra piquancy and could be achieved for a tiny fraction of the price of a remake.

I’d suggest not releasing the alternative version until the first edition has had time to become established. Can you imagine the consumer demand if it were suddenly announced that there was a forthcoming release of ‘More Like it Hot’ or ‘Louise and Thelma’?

#61: Variable heels

High heels may not be considered very politically correct, yet they continue to sell in massive numbers. I’m advised by my wife that the discomfort of wearing them outweighs the glamour and increased height that they provide. You can’t walk in high heels without doing damage to ankles, toes, back muscles and the parquet flooring -not to mention your dignity.


So, today’s invention is simply glamourous, well fitting ‘flat’ shoes or boots which are very comfortable to walk in, yet which also have a flexible sole allowing a pair of high heels to be clipped securely in place. Actually, there would probably have to be a slot-in shank, running lengthwise in the sole, just to reinforce the right geometry/stiffness combination.

No need to carry extra shoes to that meeting or date, just put the clip-on heels in your bag and stride there confidently (inevitably, you could then have a range of different-coloured heel inserts for each pair of shoes). If you want to get clever, you could always arrange for several sets of different-height heels to nest together to save some space in that already overcrowded handbag.

#60: Virtual storage

Bored by the endless online discussion about how best to store corporate email so that a judge can scrutinise them years later for traces of fraud or political incorrectness? I don’t blame you.

Today’s invention is not about that. I’m interested in making data invulnerable to attack, corruption and other bad things.


Inspired by the redundant structure of the Internet itself, one way to achieve this is to ‘store’ each file as a series of encrypted messages in longterm transit around a peer-to-peer network: -truly virtual storage.

If you need more protection, repeat the original message with a completely different forwarding route. It’s much harder to hit a moving target.

#59: Aural dialling feedback

Who knows what the global cost of mis-dialling phone numbers is.

Today’s invention is simply to equip handsets, both mobile and landline, with the ability to say, via speakerphone, the numbers you have keyed in (either digit by digit or after the whole number has been entered).


My guess is that this would be significantly more effective than squinting at a small screen to check your dexterity.

A possibly useful extra service, for for those of us calling lots of unfamiliar numbers, might be to speak the name of the (directory-listed) person or company you are about to call.

If, despite all these measures, you still dialled a wrong number, the phone could be configured to allow you to record this manually and then extract statistics about what sorts of errors/ substitutions you habitually make. It could then take extra care to alert you to these in future before pressing the call button.

#58: Un-brella

Where would the poor old Patent Office be without the umbrella?

I’ve been thinking about how best to upgrade the humble brolly. Here are some suggestions.


Replace all that folding framework over one’s head with a set of equispaced, flexible petals attached to the top of the shaft. The petals rotate like a propeller, fast enough to stop raindrops getting through to you. Flexible petals don’t poke people’s eyes out and merely brush by obstacles (like those little desk fans).

The whole shebang can be driven by a cordless drill motor (aerofoil-section petals might then help support the weight).

If you want to get really funky (my recommendation), then drive it using a toothed belt attached to one’s foot. The belt would engage with a ratchet on a flywheel in the handle of the brolly only as your foot moves downwards; slipping over the ratchet freely as your foot rises again.

All this gyroscopic rotation would help stabilise the unbrella against gusts of wind but might make cornering complicated.

If you must, the petals can be decorated with slogans which are only visible when spinning.

When the rain stops, the motor can be disconnected and the limp petals easily wrapped around the shaft using an elastic band (Patent number: US 1000299278387467837687282827128918 “Linearly Extensible Continuous Ring-shaped Securing Device or System”).

#57: Less lees

I remember once reading that various foodstuffs manufacturers only make a profit because people routinely fail to extract the last few drops of produce from the container. It’s particularly true of viscous fluids like mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, mustard etc but it might apply equally to higher value produce -especially shampoo/conditioner and related cosmetics.

My invention today is simply to repurpose the old magnetic stirrer device (or perhaps the magnetic window cleaner) in order to speed the evacuation of the bottle concerned. Obviously, it still makes sense to invert the container so that gravity can assist, but life’s too short to ensure that all the contents eventually come out -especially when sandwich urgency has set in.


Each household could have several PTFE-coated magnetic beans (colour-coded to avoid getting shampoo in the honey). They could all be driven by a single powerful, handheld rotating magnet unit.

It might be useful to induce some eddy currents in the bean in order to warm it slightly and reduce viscosity. Even without spinning magnets, rolling a spherical ‘bean’ up and down inside the container, using an external magnet, would be a good way to ‘spoon’ out any residue…especially for bottles with complex internal shapes (these might be supplied each with a captive, rolling bean). This technique would also be useful for clearing out coffee grounds and other hard-to-get-at stuff.

#56: One battery size to rule them all

I’m sick of scouring my entire household for the right number of the right size batteries with the correct charging characteristics. I always seem to have one too few of whatever I need…usually I have one too few even to get the damn charger working.

Today’s invention is simply to replace all the D/R20, C/R14, AA/R6, 9V/6F22, AAA/R03 nightmare with a single, standard battery size. My first choice would be to replace all these ridiculous products with variable-size stacks of one type of existing watch battery. Small, standard modules building to provide flexibly-sized systems seems to be a good idea in general. I could then keep a sack of the batteries somewhere and always be sure that I could drop in the right number for whatever device was suddenly in demand.


OK, I know that the standard watch batteries aren’t easily rechargeable and that their sizes may not add up to be an exact fit for existing compartments and that their outputs may not quite match the requirements of all devices and that some legislative body would have to certify their use in case they somehow triggered a nuclear accident -but I’m also quite sure that these aren’t showstoppers, they just need a bit more technical ingenuity in return for an enormous amount of extra flexibility.

Everyone is waiting for the advent of a novel battery technology which will allow their latest gadget to stay awake for longer. At least with the standard-size idea it would be a lot easier to carry several small replacements and slot these in when necessary.