Thursday, September 16, 2010

Inventions Running Around the Blockhead

This article is about some inventions I've thought about lately—ones that are real, and ones I'd like to see become real. Maybe other people can think of inventions they'd like to see in the marketplace, or ones they'd like to create themselves.

I'm impressed with
the miniaturization of computer text. Electronic text displays have come a long way from movie and billboard marquees to very compact displays on phones and name tags. In between those sizes and times, one of my former co-workers came up with a handheld communicator. The intended user, someone incapable of speech (mute), could type text and show it to others. At that time, it seemed a big breakthrough to replace the-paper-and-pencil method I've seen in numerous movies and TV shows over the years. (The most recent instance I saw was a character in a VERY POPULAR TV SERIES communicating by writing down text in English. She had temporarily reverted to speaking in Korean only as a result of her head knock.)

One device I've not seen many of is the programmable scrolling-text name tag, although I've seen lots of ads for them. The links that have most caught my eye are at,, and

One name tag owner I know has had her tag for over a year, and she says she still gets lots of comments. Another person I know has created her own, using spare parts. She says she's gotten lots of comments also. These devices are good for conversation icebreakers. They're novel, not that common. People react to motion; vision edge detectors provide information about relative locations over time. (Companies that target children take full advantage of kids' attraction to motion in addition to using colors and shapes.)

Devices I've appreciated
pertain to grocery stores. Two of them are the self-service checkout station and the techy produce scale.

  • The self-service checkout station, found in some stores and in one big box home improvement store, is convenient when I have few items. I consider using the station much speedier than an express line.
  • The techy produce scale doesn't just weigh something. I provide the code for the item and print out the price ticket. It's a good way to verify the item name, unit price, and total price.

Would like
a computerized merchandise mapper. When I go to the store looking for something I don't get frequently, the hunt is often a challenge. When it comes to drugstores, home improvement stores, or department stores, I dislike the hunt even more. For me, I feel I waste a certain amount of time hunting for things because

  • I have no idea where the item might be.
  • I have only a faint idea where the item might be.
  • The store moves the item or the category, whether it's down the aisle or over an aisle or two.
  • I don't know if the store carries the item.
  • I don't know if the store has discontinued the item.

Using a store computer, a customer would select a search term, drill down to more specifics if desired, then have the screen display a map of the store with a customer "You are here" icon and a "It is here" icon. The map might even include a dashed line to suggest a pace route. Think Google walking route map on a smaller scale.

Would like
a dental-mirror-size dual-mirror device wearable for backstroke swimming. I don't like getting my face in the water, so I prefer to do the frogkick backstroke. The downside is not being able to see where I'm going. The logical way to cope is to note reference objects above and slow down or stop accordingly before hitting the the pool wall. Some enterprising soul could come up with such a head-hugging device that has multiple, adjustable, even telescoping positions. The positions would make the device adaptable for different views, even for wearing on a walk to avoid fast approaching, uh, objects.

Would like
a lightweight, transparent, sandwichboard clipboard with broad base for holding papers vertically--useable for paper sheets and recipe cards, and other similar media.

Magnetic or spring-clip holders with concave surfaces are ok, but the curvedness, which I assume exists to help with holding the paper upright, is a small detraction. Flipping pages requires repeated motions if I'm working with manual-size documents. Rotating the device results in convex text, not quite as easy to read as concave text.

I've also tried using large, approximately 2" wide, square, clip magnets. Because the edges are straight, they don't help keep the piece of paper rigid. Adding a piece of thin cardboard, curved slightly backward, helps some, but the non-transparency makes it necessary to flip the paper over. I also tried folding over a piece of transparent mylar to try using it like a sandwich configuration with the paper in the middle. No good. The "sandwich" flops over from the high center of gravity, pulling the clip(s) over.

For a few days, I've laid down a 2" clip with a piece of paper in the jaws. An existing water jug serves as a back wall so the paper rests against it and the text faces me.

Would like
a hybrid hand-buzzer and audible noisemaker. My primary application inspiration is notifying when a small-department meeting or the speaker is running overtime. The hand-buzzer aspect would be the size, shape, and main trigger, pressed by the owner. I suppose a keychain fob would also work, although similarities between devices could result in visual confusion. The noisemaker aspect would be a device that emits variable noises and volumes. I'm not talking about radios, although engineering overdesign might include that feature also.

The noise types could be limitless--short ding chime for gentle notification, loud and long raspberry or body noise for demonstrative disapproval notification. Another application would be use as a hand-held alarm. Sure, I know there are pocket alarms, but they seem pretty feature-limited. Of course, now that I'm talking about variations in noise and volume, the device would require more controls than just a dead man's switch.

For added versatility, the noisemaker could include a bright LED for use as a flashlight. How about muscling it up by also adding a laser pointer for use in meetings? Problem might be that an annoyed meeting attendee might use the lights to harass others. Another feature to consider adding is a sound sampler/player. How cool to record and play back sounds or voice clips of your choosing! The imagination runs amok! Uh, oh, the mischievous self is periscopically poking just above the surface.

One device is more of a curiosity for me rather than something I consider life-changing. I wonder why brass mouthpieces are round instead of lip-shaped. Lips aren't shaped like brass-instrument mouthpieces; brass mouthpieces aren't shaped like lips. ??


Deb Wible said...

Quite interesting! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Yes, it would be a big help for stores to have inventory/location information. Query: do you think that Fry's might have less returns if you could look up the spec of what you are buying?

For your paper holder, what about a 1/4 thick piece of plexiglass in some sort of holder. Clip at the top rather than the bottom so it doesn't bend. Transparent, so you can flip to see the back. If you don't want to build something to hold the plexiglass vertical, go to Harbor Freight and ask about drill press vises.

whilldtkwriter said...

I don't know enough about Fry's returns to form an opinion if available specs would lessen goods return rate. Maybe you could solicit opinions and post to door64 and/or Austin High-Tech LinkedIn group.

Regarding the paper holder, certainly a heavy base could help. Google images of dp vises make them overkill, but I am getting ideas. Base holding clear plexiglass w/badge-type clip at the top is a good idea. Thanks.

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