#399: Cargoverhang

It costs, bigtime, if you want to leave your shipping container on a dockside.

Today’s invention is a way to stack such boxes, whilst making the best possible use of the quayside area available.

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There have been recent mathematical advances in understanding the ways in which blocks can be formed into overhanging piles. I suggest that these therefore be used to allow containers to form piles which have small ‘footprints’ and yet which can reach out, stably, over the adjacent water.

Obviously, there is some work to do in determining what the optimal order might be in terms of removing the containers when required, but the wildly expensive ground space required to form a stack can be significantly reduced.

This might also work for portakabins, apartments or even car parking pallets. It might even allow container ships to carry many more overhanging containers when at sea.

#383: Weightbelt

Musculoskeletal problems often arise in people who carry heavy items about -especially if the loads are distributed asymmetrically. Classic examples are children carrying a schoolbag crammed with books (and mobile electronics) on a single shoulder and the accountant with a box case full of papers -gripped in one hand. (Actually it’s more likely to contain cash, for which complaint I have less sympathy).

Today’s invention is a new way to enable people to carry such loads more easily.

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This consists of a pair of lightweight plastic handles connected by a webbing strap. A large weight can be held by the hook beneath one handle. This is then supported by the nearer hand, in the usual way (fingers fatigue under load, without other backup).

The strap allows the weight to be also spread across the shoulders and the distal hand, which can press down with elbow locked, to help support the load.

#358: Carol corral

Today’s invention is a metal fence for schools and playgrounds which is also a musical instrument.

Think of this as a vertical xylophone. Each metal upright (or tubular bell) would be moored, so as to retain the children, but free to vibrate when struck.

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The vertical spacing of the moorings for each ‘rail’ would be movable (by an adult with a key) so as to create sections of the fence arrayed like the notes on a xylophone -and other sections which could play a tune as a child runs past, brushing them with a stick.

#347: Protext

There are all sorts of rules which apply when you want to photocopy someone else’s document. Today’s invention is an attempt to limit the amount of such copying that can be done.

The vertical spacing between lines of text can, given current print technology, be subtly varied to act as a kind of barcode. These small variations could be undetectable by human observers and yet easily recorded by a photocopier.

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Such spacing might form a pattern unique to each book or even each page. When a (networked) photocopier is being used, it could easily identify the ISBN of the document in question (or even an id number of an individual copy) and refuse to make more duplicates than the legal limit.

#345: Locaticons

Long numerical domain names defeat their purpose -you might as well try to remember ip addresses?…well, perhaps not. The boy’s own book of internet facts tells me that domain names like this are perfectly legitimate:

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www
.00000000000000
.00000000000000
.00010000010000
.00101000101000
.00100111001000
.00100000001000
.00010000010000
.00001000100000
.00000101000000
.00000010000000
.00000000000000
.00000000000000
.00000000000000
.00000000000000.break-step.com

So anyone with a domain name can, using today’s invention, provide people with an image-based way to access their web content (using an in-page widget to record mouse movements in pixels and translate that into a url).

In practice, since people have trouble drawing accurately and there are 2^(14*14) binary variants on the above ‘image’, this scheme would probably need to be limited to a 5*5 grid. It’s surprising how many shapes can be represented recognisably within only 25 pixels.

A clever implementation would involve also mapping near-miss drawings onto the correct url.

#335: Mudskippers

Pulling your foot out of quicksand takes a force equivalent to that needed to lift a medium-sized car. The reason behind this is that quicksand is locally changed from fairly solid material to a viscous liquid by the agitation which even a boot causes its structure.

Stand on this and you sink, pretty rapidly. When you then try pulling your leg out of quicksand, you are working against a partial vacuum left behind by the attempted movement -the viscous fluid is ‘unwilling’ to flow into the small space you are trying to create beneath the boot.

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Today’s invention is a boot which allows people to move acoss quicksand because they can withdraw their feet more easily.

It consists of a simple plastic tube, running from knee height to the underside of the boot. This could be moulded into the boots or simply attached post-purchase. When a boot equipped in this way is plunged into quicksand it can be withdrawn because air flows smoothly down the tube and fills the space created by lifting the foot.

The tube might benefit from having a duckbill valve at the bottom end to stop water being forced up the pipe when stepping into quicksand.

#325: Cleaning tracers

I made the mistake of being at a conference the other day in which industry gurus pontificated about forthcoming commercial opportunities for technology.

One comment that did make me sit up and take notice was that consumers now have an expectation that even mundane products will need to entertain to be commerciallly competitive. One way to achive this would be to turn even boring tasks into a form of game (people already watch the tumble dryer, play with the programmable vacuum cleaner and communicate via the message-writing toaster).

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You don’t want to just clean up the dirt, you want to zap it in some kind of challenging shoot-em-up.

I’ve noticed that it’s often quite hard, when using e.g. a vacuum cleaner, to be clear about what parts of a floor have been effectively cleaned.

Today’s invention is an attachment to such systems which distributes (spatially randomly) a quantity of high visibility particles onto a carpet. These act as tracers so that when they have been all recovered (to be scattered again elsewhere later) the carpet will have been effectively visited everywhere and therefore cleaned.

Unpleasant employers of domestic cleaners could use the returned particle count as a measure of diligence.

#318: Voiceball

I attended a lecture the other day in which members of the audience were invited to ask questions. Several of them did so before the woman who was walking around with the wireless mic had a chance to reach them.

This was a ridiculous situation and it made me think that there must be a better approach. Even if each lecture theatres can’t be equipped with many such microphones, surely having someone physically carry one from place to place is the equivalent of having a man walk in front of your car carrying a red flag.

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Today’s invention is a small wireless microphone embedded in a foam rubber ball. Audience members can then simply pass the mic around by throwing it to one another. This introduces an extra element of fun into ‘audience participation’.

This might work rather well in certain boardrooms where the rooms themselves are huge and the board members ill-disciplined enough to just talk without being invited to by the chairman. Such a microphone therefore imposes a certain order on proceedings, but without the legwork and delays associated with passing the device from hand to hand.

#300: Ypod

A propos my recent ranting about personal stereo earpieces and the cables that are always in a knot, why on earth do they have to be so long anyway? Are there people who insist on storing the player in their sock, and running the wires up their leg?

Anyway, today’s invention is a DIY answer to the eternal question of self-knitting ipod ear bud wires.

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Basically, the idea is to get a long zip (something like a brightly coloured, plastic anorak one will do). On each side of the zip, fold the fabric around one of the wires and glue it back onto itself to form a long, thin sleeve.

With the player attached to the lower end of the zip, you can now join the sleeves by running up the zip keeper up between them. Voila, you have just created a low-tangle, Y-shaped, wearable keeper for your music player.

If you need something even slimmer, then you could consider asking a plastic bag manufacturer to embed a few million metres of wires in a few million metres of zip-close bag seal…just be careful not to a) make the chopped lengths too long and b) retain some width of material in the ‘zip’, otherwise the whole thing returns to spaghetti.

#297: Decal decoys

There’s a great emphasis currently on anti-theft design…rucksacks with integral knifeproof chicken wire, that sort of thing.

Cars already have the protection of a huge range of such devices from steering locks to trackers to alarms…to electrified door handles.

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Today’s invention is an addition to this armoury.

For ‘prestige’ vehicles, which are often stolen to order, having imperfections in the paintwork severely lessens their value. Despite what happens in the movies, thieves aren’t really interested in respraying vehicles.

So I suggest equipping such cars with a small collection of realistic stick-on transfers. Some would look like rust spots, others like obvious flaws in the paint. You could even apply apparent key damage scores.

These could be made very realistic: convincing to anyone walking by without a microscope.

Such special effects would strongly deter criminals and, when not needed, simply peel off the pristine paintwork.