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Articles / Loopy Ideas Are Fine, If You’re an Entrepreneur
« on: August 15, 2015, 11:54:14 AM »
There is a belief within American media that a successful person can succeed at anything. He (and it’s invariably he) is omnicompetent, and people who question him and laugh at his outlandish ideas will invariably fail and end up working for him. If he cares about something, it’s important; if he says something can be done, it can. The people who are already doing the same thing are peons and their opinions are to be discounted, since they are biased and he never is. He doesn’t need to provide references or evidence – even supposedly scientific science fiction falls into this trope, in which the hero gets ideas from his gut, is always right, and never needs to do experiments.

Thus we get Hyperloop, a loopy intercity rail transit idea proposed by Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk, an entrepreneur who hopes to make a living some day building cars. And thus a fair amount of the media coverage is analysis-free summary of what Tesla already said: see stenography by ABC, Forbes, the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, and even BusinessWeek (which added that critics deal with “limited information”). Some media channels are more nuanced, sometimes even critical; the Wall Street Journal deserves especial credit, but Wonkblog also has a second, mildly critical post. But none has pressed Musk or Tesla about the inconsistencies in his proposal, which far exceed the obvious questions about the proposed $6 billion price tag (compare $53 billion in today’s money for California HSR). For better prior criticism, see James Sinclair’s post and Clem Tillier’s comment on California HSR Blog.

My specific problems are that Hyperloop a) made up the cost projections, b) has awful passenger comfort, c) has very little capacity, and d) lies about energy consumption of conventional HSR. All of these come from Musk’s complex in which he must reinvent everything and ignore prior work done in the field; these also raise doubts about the systems safety that he claims is impeccable.

In principle, Hyperloop is supposed to get people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in half an hour, running in a tube with near-vacuum at speeds topping at 1,220 km/h. In practice, both the costs and the running times are full of magic asterisks. The LA end is really Sylmar, at the edge of the LA Basin; with additional access time and security checks, this is no faster than conventional HSR doing the trip in 2:40. There is a crossing of the San Francisco Bay, but there’s no mention of the high cost of bridging over or tunneling under the Bay – we’re supposed to take it on faith the unit cost is the same as along the I-5 corridor in the Central Valley.

There is no systematic attempt at figuring out standard practices for cost, or earthquake safety (about which the report is full of FUD about the risks of a “ground-based system”). There are no references for anything; they’re beneath the entrepreneur’s dignity. It’s fine if Musk thinks he can build certain structures for lower cost than is normal, or achieve better safety, but he should at least mention how. Instead, we get “it is expected” and “targeted” language. On Wikipedia, it would get hammered with “citation needed” and “avoid weasel words.”

The worst is the cost of the civil infrastructure, the dominant term in any major transportation project’s cost. Hundreds of years of incrementally-built expertise in bridge building is brushed aside with the following passage:

The pods and linear motors are relatively minor expenses compared to the tube itself – several hundred million dollars at most, compared with several billion dollars for the tube. Even several billion is a low number when compared with several tens of billion proposed for the track of the California rail project.

The key advantages of a tube vs. a railway track are that it can be built above the ground on pylons and it can be built in prefabricated sections that are dropped in place and joined with an orbital seam welder. By building it on pylons, you can almost entirely avoid the need to buy land by following alongside the mostly very straight California Interstate 5 highway, with only minor deviations when the highway makes a sharp turn.

In reality, an all-elevated system is a bug rather than a feature. Central Valley land is cheap; pylons are expensive, as can be readily seen by the costs of elevated highways and trains all over the world. The unit costs for viaducts on California HSR, without overhead and management fees, are already several times as high as Musk’s cost: as per PDF-page 15 of the cost overrun breakdown, unit costs for viaducts range from $50 million to $80 million per mile. Overheads and contingencies convert per-mile cost almost perfectly to per-km costs. And yet Musk thinks he can build more than 500 km of viaduct for $2.5 billion, as per PDF-page 28 of his proposal: a tenth the unit cost. The unrealistically low tunnel unit cost is at least excused on PDF-page 31 on the grounds that the tunnel diameter is low (this can also be done with trains if they’re as narrow as Hyperloop, whose capsule seating is 2-abreast rather than 4- or 5-abreast as on HSR; see below on capacity). The low viaduct unit cost is not.

This alone suggests that the real cost of constructing civil infrastructure for Hyperloop is ten times as high as advertised, to say nothing of the Bay crossing. So it’s the same cost as standard HSR. It’s supposedly faster, but since it doesn’t go all the way to Downtown Los Angeles it doesn’t actually provide faster door-to-door trip times.

Nor is the system more comfortable for the passenger. Levitating systems can get away with higher cant than conventional rail because they sway less: Transrapid’s lateral acceleration in the horizontal plane is about 3.6 m/s^2 in Shanghai, and the company claims 4.37 m/s^2 is possible. On standard-gauge rail, the conversion rate is approximately 150 mm of total equivalent cant per 1 m/s^2. HSR cant tops at 180-200 mm, and cant deficiency tops at 180 mm for Talgos and 270-300 mm for medium-speed Pendolinos, so about 2.5 m/s^2 at high speed; this was shown safe by simulation in Martin Lindahl’s thesis, which is also a good source for track construction standards.

But Hyperloop goes one step further and proposes a lateral acceleration of 4.9 m/s^2: 0.5 g. This is after canting, according to the standards proposed:

The Hyperloop will be capable of traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco in approximately 35 minutes. This requirement tends to size other portions of the system. Given the performance specification of the Hyperloop, a route has been devised to satisfy this design requirement. The Hyperloop route should be based on several considerations, including:
  • Maintaining the tube as closely as possible to existing rights of way (e.g., following the I-5).
  • Limiting the maximum capsule speed to 760 mph (1,220 kph) for aerodynamic considerations.
  • Limiting accelerations on the passengers to 0.5g.
  • Optimizing locations of the linear motor tube sections driving the capsules.
  • Local geographical constraints, including location of urban areas, mountain ranges, reservoirs, national parks, roads, railroads, airports, etc. The route must respect existing structures.
For aerodynamic efficiency, the velocity of a capsule in the Hyperloop is typically:
  • 300 mph (480 kph) where local geography necessitates a tube bend radii < 1.0 mile (1.6 km)
  • 760 mph (1,220 kph) where local geography allows a tube bend > 3.0 miles (4.8 km) or where local geography permits a straight tube.
These bend radii have been calculated so that the passenger does not experience inertial accelerations that exceed 0.5 g. This is deemed the maximum inertial acceleration that can be comfortably sustained by humans for short periods. To further reduce the inertial acceleration experienced by passengers, the capsule and/or tube will incorporate a mechanism that will allow a degree of ‘banking’.

0.5 g, or 4.9 m/s^2, is extreme. Non-tilting trains do not accelerate laterally at more than 1.2 m/s^2 in the plane of the track (i.e. after accounting for cant), and at high speed they have lower lateral acceleration, about 0.67 m/s^2 with limiting cases of about 0.8 for some tilting trains relative to the plane of the train floor. For example, the Tokaido Shinkansen has 200 mm of cant and maximum speed of 255 km/h on non-tilting trains on 2,500-meter curves, for 100 mm of cant deficiency, or 0.67 m/s^2.

The proposed relationship between curve radius and speed in the Hyperloop standards is for a lateral acceleration much greater than 4.9 m/s^2 in the horizontal plane: 480 km/h at 1,600 meters is 11.1 m/s^2. This only drops to 5 m/s^2 after perfectly canting the track, converting the downward 9.8 m/s^2 gravity and the sideways acceleration into a single 14.8 m/s^2 acceleration vector downward in the plane of the capsule floor, or 5 m/s^2 more than passengers are used to. This is worse than sideways acceleration: track standards for vertical acceleration are tighter than for horizontal acceleration, about 0.5-0.67 m/s^2, one tenth to one seventh what Musk wants to subject his passengers to. It’s not transportation; it’s a barf ride.

Even 4.9 m/s^2 in the horizontal plane is too much. With perfect canting, it combines with gravity to accelerate passengers downward by 11 m/s^2, 1.2 m/s^2 more than the usual, twice as high as the usual standards. Motion sickness is still to be fully expected in such a case. Transrapid’s 4.37 m/s^2, which adds 0.93 m/s^2 in the vertical component with perfect canting, is the limit of what’s possible.

Speaking of vertical acceleration, this gets no comment at all in the Hyperloop proposal. At 1,220 km/h, it is very hard to climb grades, which would require very tall viaducts and deep tunnels under mountains. Climbing grades is easy, but vertical acceleration is such that the vertical curve radius has to be very large. A lateral acceleration of 0.67 m/s^2 would impose a minimum vertical curve radius of 170 km, versus 15 km at 360 km/h HSR speed. Changing the grade from flat to 2% would take 3.4 km, and changing back would take the same, so for climbing small hills, the effective average grade is very low (it takes 6.8 km to climb 68 meters).

Nor does jerk get any treatment. Reversing a curve takes several seconds at the cant and cant deficiency of conventional HSR (about 3 seconds by Swedish standards, more by German ones); reversing a curve with the extreme canting levels of Hyperloop would take much longer. Maintaining comfort at high total equivalent cant requires tight control of the third derivative as well as the second one; see a tilting train thesis for references.

The barf ride that is as expensive as California HSR and takes as long door-to-door is also very low-capacity. The capsules are inexplicably very short, with 28 passengers per capsule. The proposed headway is 30 seconds, for 3,360 passengers per direction per hour. A freeway lane can do better: about 2,000 vehicles, with an average intercity car occupancy of 2. HSR can do 12,000 passengers per direction per hour: 12 trains per hour is possible, and each train can easily fit 1,000 people (the Tokaido Shinkansen tops at 14 tph and 1,323 passengers per train).

But even 30 seconds appears well beyond the limit of emergency braking. It’s common in gadgetbahn to propose extremely tight headways, presuming computerized control allowing vehicles to behave as if they’re connected by a rod. Personal rapid transit proponents argue the same. In reality, such systems have been a subject of research for train control for quite a while now, with no positive results so far. Safety today still means safe stopping distances. If vehicles brake at a constant rate, the safe headway is half the total deceleration time; if a vehicle brakes from 1,220 km/h to zero in 60 seconds, the average acceleration is more than 5 m/s^2, twice the current regulatory safety limit for passengers with seat belts.

Most of this could be chalked to the feeling of some entrepreneurs that they must reinvent everything. The indifference to civil engineering costs, passenger comfort issues, and signal safety could all be chalked to this. So could the FUD about earthquake safety of HSR on PDF-page 5.

However, one thing could not: the chart on PDF-page 9 showing that only the Hyperloop is energy-efficient. The chart has a train consuming nearly 900 megajoules per person for an LA-San Francisco trip, about as much as a car or a plane; this is about 1,300 kJ per passenger-km. This may be true of Amtrak’s diesel locomotives; but energy consumption for HSR in Spain is on average 73 Watt-hour (263 kJ) per passenger-km (see PDF-page 17 on a UIC paper on the subject of HSR carbon emissions), one fifth as much as Tesla claims. Tesla either engages in fraud or is channeling dodgy research about the electricity consumption of high-speed trains.

Indeed, a train with a thousand seats, 20 MW of power drawn, 60% seat occupancy, and a speed of 360 km/h can only ever expend 333 kJ per passenger-km while accelerating, and much less while cruising (acceleration at lower speed requires more energy per unit of distance, but cruising at lower speed expends only a fraction of the energy of full-power acceleration). Tesla’s train energy consumption numbers do not pass a sanity check, which suggests either reckless disregard for the research or fraud. I wouldn’t put either past Musk: the lack of references is consistent with the former, and the fact that Musk’s current primary endeavor is a car company is consistent with the latter.

There is no redeeming feature of Hyperloop. Small things can possibly be fixed; the cost problems, the locations of the stations, and the passenger comfort issues given cost constraints can’t. Industry insiders with ties to other speculative proposals meant to replace conventional rail, such as maglev, are in fact skeptical of Hyperloop’s promises of perfect safety.

It’s possible to discover something new, but people who do almost always realize the context of the discovery. If Musk really found a way to build viaducts for $5 million per kilometer, this is a huge thing for civil engineering in general and he should announce this in the most general context of urban transportation, rather than the niche of intercity transportation. If Musk has experiments showing that it’s possible to have sharper turns or faster deceleration than claimed by Transrapid, then he’s made a major discovery in aviation and should announce it as such. That he thinks it just applies to his project suggests he doesn’t really have any real improvement.

In math, one common sanity check on a result is, “does it prove too much?” If my ten-page paper proves a result that implies a famous open problem, then either my paper is wrong or I’ve proved the famous open problem, and it’s up to me to take extra care to make sure I did not miss anything. Most people in this situation do this extra step and then realize that they were subtly wrong. If a famous question could be solved in ten pages, it probably wouldn’t still be open. The same is even true in undergrad-level proof classes: if your homework answer proves things that are too strong, you’ve almost certainly made a mistake.

Musk’s real sin is not the elementary mistakes; it’s this lack of context. The lack of references comes from the same place, and so does the utter indifference to the unrealistically low costs. This turns it from a wrong idea that still has interesting contributions to make to a hackneyed proposal that should be dismissed and forgotten as soon as possible.

I write this not to help bury Musk; I’m not nearly famous enough to even hit a nail in his coffin. I write this to point out that, in the US, people will treat any crank seriously if he has enough money or enough prowess in another field. A sufficiently rich person is surrounded by sycophants and stenographers who won’t check his numbers against anything.

There are two stories here. In the less interesting one, Musk is a modern-day streetcar conspiracy mogul: he has a car company, he hopes to make money off of it in the future and uses non-generally accepted accounting to claim he already does, and he constantly trash-talks high-speed rail, which competes with his product. Since he’s not proposing to build Hyperloop soon, it could be viewed as clever distraction or FUD.

The more interesting possibility, which I am inclined toward, is that this is not fraud, or not primarily fraud. Musk is the sort of person who thinks he can wend his way from starting online companies to building cars and selling them without dealerships. I have not seen a single defense of the technical details of the proposal except for one Facebook comment that claims, doubly erroneously, that the high lateral acceleration is no problem because the tubes can be canted. Everyone, including the Facebook comment, instead gushes about Musk personally. The thinking is that he’s rich, so he must always have something interesting to say; he can’t be a huckster when venturing outside his field. It would be unthinkable to treat people as professionals in their own fields, who take years to make a successful sideways move and who need to be extremely careful not to make elementary mistakes. The superheros of American media coverage would instantly collapse, relegated to a specialized role while mere mortals take over most functions.

This culture of superstars is a major obstacle frustrating any attempt to improve existing technology. It more or less works for commercial websites, where the startup capital requirements are low, profits per employee are vast, and employee turnover is such that corporate culture is impossible. People get extremely rich for doing something first, even if in their absence their competitors would’ve done the same six months later. Valve, a video game company that recognizes this, oriented its entire structure around having no formal management at all, but for the most part what this leads to is extremely rich people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who get treated like superstars and think they can do anything.

In infrastructure, this is not workable. Trains are 19th-century technology, as are cars and buses. Planes are from the 20th century. Companies can get extremely successful improving the technology somehow, but this works differently from the kind of entrepreneurship that’s successful in the software and internet sectors. The most important airline invention since the jet engine is either the widebody (i.e. more capacity) or the suite of features that make for low-cost flights, such as quick turnarounds. What Southwest and its ultra low-cost successors have done is precious: they’ve figured how to trim every airline expense, from better crew utilization to incentives for lower-transaction cost booking methods. This requires perfect knowledge of preexisting practices and still takes decades to do. The growth rate of Microsoft, Google, and Facebook is not possible in such an environment, and so the individual superstar matters far less than a positive corporate culture that can transmit itself over multiple generations of managers.

There is plenty of room for improvement in HSR technology, then, but it’s of a different kind. It involves adapting techniques used by low-cost airlines to reduce costs, as SNCF is doing right now with its new low-cost TGV product. It perhaps involves controlling construction costs more tightly, though $5 million per km for viaducts seems like an impossible fantasy. But it has to come from within the business, or from someone who intimately understands the business.

And with the kind of success that US media harps on, this is almost impossible to do domestically. Someone as smart as Musk, or any of many other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, could find a detailed breakdown of the operating and construction costs of civil infrastructure, and figure out ways of reducing them, Megabus- or Southwest-style. That’s what I would do if I had the unlimited resources Musk has: I’d obtain unit costs at far greater detail than “X meters of tunnel cost $Y” and compare what New York is doing wrong that Madrid is doing right. But I don’t have the resources – in money, in ability to manage people, in time. And the people who do are constantly told that they don’t need to do that, that they’re smart enough they can reinvent everything and that the world will bow to their greatness.

Update: people all over the Internet, including in comments below, defend the low cost projections on the grounds that the system is lighter and thinner than your average train. The proposal itself also defends the low tunneling costs on those same grounds. To see to what extent Musk takes his own idea seriously, compare the two proposals: the first for a passenger-only tube, and the second for a larger tube capable of carrying both passengers and vehicles. On PDF-pp. 25-26, the proposal states that the passenger-only tube would have an internal diameter of 2.23 meters and the passenger-plus-vehicle tube would have an internal diameter of 3.3 meters, 47% more. Despite that, the tunneling costs on PDF-p. 28 are $600 and $700 million, a difference of just 17%.

The same is true of the “but the Hyperloop capsule is lighter than a train” argument for lower pylon construction costs. Together with the differences in tube thickness posited on PDF-p. 27, 20-23 mm versus 23-25, there is 60% more tube lining in the passenger-plus-vehicle version, but the tube and pylons are projected to cost just 24% more. In this larger version, the twin tube has 0.025*3.3*pi*2 = 0.5 cubic meters of steel per meter of length, weighing about 4 tons. This ranges from a bit less than twice to a bit more than twice the weight of a train. To say nothing of the pylons’ need to support their own considerable weight, which is larger than for HSR due to the need for taller viaducts coming from the constrained ability to change grade. They are far more obtrusive than trees and telephone poles, contra the claims of minimal obtrusiveness and disruption.

Update: Hyperloop is in the news again; I’ve been getting a lot of pingbacks copying this article. You can read the plan here; the construction costs are now up from a laughable sub-$10 million per kilometer to $10-30 million, which is perfectly feasible if you’re building in flat terrain and if what you’re building is conventional rail and not a vactrain. There’s virtually no discussion of why the costs are so much lower, just an assurance that the team ran the numbers and that they’re looking into minimizing the costs of the construction material (costs that, for conventional HSR, are a small proportion of the total construction costs – concrete is cheap, it’s pouring it that’s expensive). On PDF-p. 19 of the new plan, the accelerations are explicitly stated to be 0.5 g in normal service, which the person heading the team trying to build it claims is not a barf ride in the article, but which is in reality is again worse than the acceleration felt by passengers on an airplane taking off. There already exists a mode of transportation that involves security theater, travel at 1,000 km/h, poor comfort, and motion sickness.

Credit: Pedestrian Observations

Looking to attract some attention to its InfoComm and CE Week 2013 booths, Leon Speakers created a piece of functional artwork that it calls the sound sculpture. Not quite as dramatic as the company's original sound sculpture, a 16-foot (4.9-m) dragon revealed in 2010, but still intriguing in its own right, the new sound sculpture hangs on the wall, where it seeks to dazzle both the eyes and ears.

Leon had a couple of new market products on display at its booth just inside the entryway of CE Week, but it was the colorful, finned sound sculpture that really drew you in. The wall piece utilizes a series of white slats that give it a look more akin to a car grille than a speaker grille. Because the slats vary in shape and depth, the sound that you hear alters as you walk from one side to the other. Adding to the fluid experience, a series of LED lights change color to provide mood lighting.

The Leon wall sculpture houses a multi-channel array of woofers and tweeters that undulates from the lower left corner to the upper right corner. So as to eliminate unsightly wires and boxes, the speakers are driven by an integrated amplifier.

Though Leon might protest the point, it seems clear that the sound sculpture was designed to captivate the eyes first, with the ears as an afterthought. The company doesn't provide much detail about how the driver array and fins improve the speaker's acoustics, and a rep we spoke to said that the speaker sculpture is most useful for ambient background music.

So, we take it that it won't compete with other speakers in the five-figure price range in terms of mesmerizing the listener's ear drums with audiophile sound. It is more a piece for restaurants, shops and galleries looking for a stylish combination of background music and wall art. In fact, Leon says that a few have been snapped up and bolted to the walls of "chic restaurants and a designer showroom in Miami."

Leon specializes in selling these limited edition custom sound sculptures, along with more consumer-level speakers and subwoofers. The rep said that custom speakers start around US$15,000.

Source: Leon Speakers

Transportation / Airbag Electric Vehicle that is kind to humans
« on: January 04, 2013, 07:11:41 AM »
It might not win any beauty contests, but this electric vehicle developed by students at Hiroshima University would be my pick if I had the choice of which car I was going to be involved with in case of an accident. Instead of relying on interior airbags to cushion the driver during a collision, the iSAVE-SC1 is essentially a drivable cushion that should soften the blow for driver and pedestrian alike.

While the air-filled cushions probably don’t help the aerodynamics of the three-wheeled vehicle – contributing to a reported 50 km/h (31 mph) top speed and range on an overnight charge of 30 km (18.6 miles) – the goal of the students in the Humanix group wasn’t performance, but to build a vehicle that is “kind to humans.”

While a price of 790,000 yen (approx. US$9,212) is being bandied about, as well as features such as interchangeable plastic roof and cushioned bumpers that will come in a variety of different colors, we wouldn’t expect to see the vehicle on public roads. However, the concept would appear to have some merit for areas where pedestrians and slow moving vehicles have the potential to mingle, such as airports or amusement parks.

The iSAVE-SC1 can be seen ramming volunteers in this video.

Articles / World’s Most Annoying Technologies
« on: October 24, 2012, 02:45:49 AM »
Most consumer technologies, when wielded correctly, are magnificent. But so are bagpipes. In the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, technology can be an annoyance enabler. The technologies below are not the future we were hoping for.

Camera Flash

Here’s the deal with the flash on your camera: Most of the time it doesn’t help. You’re either too far away from the action or you’re too close. That photo you shot at the concert? Still dark. The flash didn’t help, and everyone within a four-foot radius is nightblind now. That photo from the girls’ night out where your friends were two feet away? The flash made them look like ghouls. Go to your smartphone or camera’s settings and turn off the flash. Do it now.

The Apple TV Remote

I’m pretty sure the Apple TV remote's ability to disappear from this astral plane into a sofa vortex has got to be the number one reason Apple developed the Remote app for iOS. And when they aren’t lost, they’re accidentally turning iTunes on and off, or launching slideshows inadvertently. One place they can be fun? When you’re in the audience and someone else is presenting from a MacBook.


Optical drives are the new floppy drives. The decline of CD and DVD ROM drives is punctuated by the rise of ultrabooks and the MacBook Air. Despite that, some software vendors still insist on releasing updates on optical discs. Thumb drives are cheap and reusable, guys. Can we agree to just use those?

Electric Range

Sure, electric ranges have numeric dials. But with no flame to view, that’s too often a guessing game that leaves your tortilla too white or grilled cheese blackened. Need more proof the electric range is inferior to gas? Walk into the kitchen of any restaurant and you’ll never see an electric range.

Adobe Flash

A long time ago a company named Macromedia released Flash. The tool was used to create low-footprint animations, games and splash screens back when modems were slow and bandwidth was expensive. Flash was amazing and everyone loved it.

Today, Adobe Flash is an over-bloated mess and your computer hates it. It crashes browsers and computers and makes your system's fan blow like a hurricane. Worse, there’s basically no need for it anymore. HTML5, H.264 and a slew of other technologies have made it obsolete. If you’re considering building a Flash-powered website, please stop now.

The Hornit

The Hornit is a 140dB bicycle horn. Like a car horn, it’s meant to be used in emergencies. But just as car horns are too often used as New Jersey brake pedals, so too are Hornits abused by cyclists who use them to say “screw you” rather than “please don’t kill me.” Problem is, they don’t just scare the bejesus out of that motorist who cut you off in traffic, but also every pedestrian, dog, bystander and baby within a one-mile radius.

Bluetooth Headsets

Look, here’s a good rule of thumb: Once you get out of the car, or leave your desk, take off the headset. Nobody wants to hear your end of the conversation. That’s not idle speculation, it’s science! Headsets just make it worse. At least when there’s a phone involved, there are visual cues that say “I’m on the phone.” I mean, other than hearing one end of a shouted conversation.

The Electric Guitar

In the hands of a master, the guitar is an amazing mixture of music, sex and fire-breathing dragons. In the hands of the kid down the street with an amp and a fuzz box, it’s an endless loop of the first three notes of a Limp Bizkit song. Who knew you could make Limp Bizkit sound worse? Are you learning to play the guitar? That’s awesome! Buy headphones.

Leaf Blower

Is your home set on a large wooded lot with acreage to spare between you and your closest neighbor? Did a tornado power through your yard last night, leaving your property covered in limbs and leaves? No? Then get a rake, dude. Leaf blowers are so irritating, they have been been outlawed in some towns. Others should follow suit.

Onscreen Alphabetic Keyboards

The QWERTY keyboard layout has been around since the 1870s. Sure, it’s an anachronism in many respects, but we’re used to it. Everyone knows what a keyboard should look like. So it’s completely confusing that Apple and Microsoft insist on using on-screen keyboards for Apple TV and Xbox 360 that place the letters in alphabetical order. Hey guys, look at keyboard before building on-screen interfaces.

Wall Warts

Wall Warts are the power supplies that hog the space of two outlets on a powerstrip. The problem is easily solvable by offsetting the transformer to the left or right of the outlet. If your product’s power supply doesn’t do that, look for a replacement--or at least don’t bring it to the café and take up two outlets.


We've been hearing for years that wireless HDMI and inductive charging are right around the corner, but cables are persistently necessary to power our devices and deliver media to our giant HDTVs. Wires are messy and need to be eliminated. It won’t happen all at once, but stop teasing us with wireless solutions unless you can deliver.

Phone Voice Recognition

How many times have you called the electric company, the cable company, or customer service only to hear the prompt... 'please say why you're calling...'? This is one thing that infuriates me. Not to mention the dialogue that I know we've all had... 'representative. Representative..... REPRESENTATIVE!... F* this.' Click. Using the voice prompts when you call a company is like direct-dialing into the seventh level of hell. Phone voice recognition systems never understand complex statements, and often even have trouble with simple words and numbers. Oh, hey, it turns out five and nine sound very similar to a computer. My advice is to just keep saying “operator” until an actual human being comes on the line.

Car Alarms

YES I'M USING ALL CAPS BECAUSE THEY ARE LOUD AND ANNOYING! Caps make everything more urgent. Which is funny because the last time someone thought that a car alarm was an urgent matter was approximately in March of 1988. No one cares anymore. We’ve learned to ignore the plaintive wails of car alarms, no matter the time or place, which is pretty awesome for car thieves.

iPad Camera

iPads as cameras. I wish they never put a back-facing camera on them. If you have an iPad, there’s a good chance that somewhere in your arsenal of tech lies a smartphone or a digital camera. So why not use the better camera on those smaller devices instead of looking ridiculous trying to take a photo with what essentially is a really fancy monitor.

Fax Machines

I wish I could forget fax machines. No matter how much we may want to banish the fax machine to the nether world of wind and ghosts, the medical, real estate, accounting, and all those other industries that still require hard copies of our signatures just won’t let it go. Now, whenever you need to fax something to a company that’s based on '90s technology it’s a mad search for a local business that still uses these over-the-phone copy machines.

Touchless bathrooms

The touchless water faucets. Only half work and here you are moving your hands all over the place looking for 'the beam' while everyone else is merrily washing their hands. And on the back end of this task is the hand 'dryers'. You stick your hands in the blowing air only to have to wipe them on your pants after the blowing stops. At some point everyone became concerned with cooties. Touchless faucets do reduce wasted water and air dryers reduce trash. But all this touchless technology keeps patrons in the bathroom longer. Which is bad news for guys and horrible news for ladies. Plus, has anyone ever gotten their hands completely dry with an air blower? Also, cooties are fake. Just scrub well. You’ll be fine.

Credit Card Machines

Credit card swipe machines at grocery stores and drug stores. Somehow, every single one of them is totally different and requires twice as many key presses and screens as should be necessary. Sometimes the “Yes” button is next to the screen. Sometimes it’s on the number pad. Sometimes it’s on a touchscreen that can only be activated with a pen that’s fallen behind the pad and you have to haul up with the cable like a fisherman hauling up a net. The entire time the cashier is staring at you like you’ve never made a cashless transaction. Plus you’re probably also getting cooties from running your fingers all over that dirty machine.

QR Codes

Oh look, a QR code. Well, let me find the app on my phone that I use once every three months so I scan it and see what sort of exciting information it has for me. Oh, it’s a link to a website. QR codes are our era’s AOL keywords. But don’t worry, they’re also just as likely to disappear.

Alarm Clock Snooze Button

The snooze button is a horrible invention for anyone who has to be anywhere on time. As a regular snoozer, I can assure you that getting seven to 10 minutes of extra sleep is not really sleep. It’s sham sleep that leaves you more tired than if you had just gotten out of bed when the original alarm went off.


The sub-woofer, combined with bass...come on--we can hear your stereo from the 12th floor with our windows closed! In the late '80s early '90s filling your hatchback with 12-inch woofers to drop the most bass on your block was all the rage. After realizing that artists used frequencies above 80 Hz for their songs, most people moved on to listening to to music with all the speakers available at Circuit City. If you’re still pumping the bass, you’re a bad person and you’re destroying the artistic integrity of music. Oh, and you’re hassling Lucy.


It does little to stop spam as a ton of services to bypass them, like decaptcher, exist for a very low cost. Captcha is good for exactly two things: stopping really stupid robots and getting frustrated humans to click on a refresh button to show a brand new Captcha that they still can’t read.


For many, Facebook has become a necessary evil. You want to keep up with your old buddies from high school, but why, oh why do you have to update your privacy setting every six months? Now Facebook has Open Graph apps that make you install the app to do something as simple as read an article your friend posted to Facebook. Thanks, Facebook, that's much better than a direct link to the site.

I'm sure I’ve missed more than a few horrible annoying pieces of technology. Share your favorite -- or unfavorite -- in the comments.

Business & Commerce / The Strange Politics of Fixed Exchange Rate Systems
« on: October 12, 2012, 08:19:45 AM »
Next to North Korea’s 5 year plans, fixed exchange rates must be the worst economic policy ever devised by man:

1. The fixed exchange rate regime of the interwar period was a complete disaster, arguably causing WWII.
2. The Chilean peg of the early 1980s led to a massive recession, before they switched to inflation targeting.
3. The 1994 Mexican crisis.
4. The 1997-98 East Asian crisis.

Then people said the regimes had to be more impregnable, so that even a speculative attack wouldn’t undermine the peg. This led to:

5. The Argentine depression of 1998-2001

Then people said even the currency board wasn’t enough, As long as you still had a currency, there was always the possibility of devaluation. This led to the idea of the single currency, the ultimate doomsday device:

6. The eurozone crisis of 2008–2018

When you talk to proponents of a single currency, they talk of the huge efficiency gains, as if the Swiss and Swedes and Norwegians and Danes are disadvantaged by holding on to their old currencies. (Actually they are slightly disadvantaged, as the euro is such a monumental failure that desperate Europeans are buying Swiss and Danish bonds with negative nominal yields, even more negative than Germany.)

People sometimes ask what it is that conservatives like so much about fixed rates. But what’s really weird is that this isn’t even true:

  • In the early 1930s many US unions and the socialists were opposed to dollar devaluation. Fisher was a more aggressive proponent than Keynes (who favored just a small devaluation and then a return to the gold standard.)
  • Under Bretton Woods (the one semi-successful fixed rate regime) Milton Friedman was the most famous opponent of fixed rates.
  • The radical left in Greece wants to stay in the euro, and Berlusconi suggests Italy should consider leaving.
  • The socialist Mitterrand pressured the Germans into supporting the euro project.
  • Here’s Margaret Thatcher’s view:

    It has been 20 years since Margaret Thatcher fell. Pressure had been building on a number of fronts, but the issue which finally destroyed her was the yet-to-be-born euro. In the last weekend of October 1990, she travelled to a European summit in Rome, where Jacques Delors’ dream of European Monetary Union was high on the agenda. But while Mrs Thatcher was fighting her lone battle against the prospective single currency abroad, she was being fatally undermined at home. Geoffrey Howe, her bitterest cabinet critic, went on television to tell the interviewer Brian Walden that in principle Britain did not oppose the euro.

    In her Commons statement after returning home, she was forced to slap Howe down: “this government believes in the pound sterling.” Howe resigned, and days later delivered the famous speech from the back benches that set in motion a leadership contest.

    Today, Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography, first published in 1993, reads like a prophecy. It shows how deeply and with what extraordinary wisdom she had examined Delors’ proposals for the single currency. Her overriding objection was not ill-considered or xenophobic, as subsequent critics have repeatedly claimed.

    They were economic. Right back in 1990, Mrs Thatcher foresaw with painful clarity the devastation it was bound to cause. Her autobiography records how she warned John Major, her euro-friendly chancellor of the exchequer, that the single currency could not accommodate both industrial powerhouses such as Germany and smaller countries such as Greece. Germany, forecast Thatcher, would be phobic about inflation, while the euro would prove fatal to the poorer countries because it would “devastate their inefficient economies”.

    It is as if, all those years ago, the British prime minister possessed a crystal ball that enabled her to foresee the catastrophic events of the past year or so in Ireland, Greece and Portugal. Indeed, it is one of the tragedies of European history that the world chose not to believe her. President Mitterrand of France and Chancellor Kohl of Germany dismissed her words of caution. And when Mrs Thatcher was driven from office in 1990, a crucial voice was lost, and a new consensus started to form in Britain in favour of the euro.

    This consensus stretched across the entire spectrum of the British establishment. It took in Tony Blair’s New Labour and all of Paddy Ashdown’s Liberal Democrats. The CBI came out for the euro, and so did the trades unions. The Foreign Office was doctrinally pro-single currency. Leading businessmen, such as Peter Sutherland (chairman of BP and Goldman Sachs International) and the fashion-conscious Richard Branson were strongly in favour. The Financial Times, a newspaper whose judgment has been wrong on every great economic issue of the last 40 years, was another supporter.

Ah, the good old days when the right was right.

Yes, smart liberals like Paul Krugman were also opposed. Many conservatives favored the euro. But nonetheless it’s undoubtedly true that fixed exchange rates appeal to both sides of the political spectrum. But why?

This is just a guess, but for the right it might represent “hard money” and a lack of discretion for monetary policymakers. For the left it might represent a distrust of market prices, which fluctuate wildly in response to the whims of speculators. Whatever the reason, this unholy alliance of the left and right has produced one policy fiasco after another.

In fairness to the other side, Bretton Woods worked pretty well in the 1950s and 1960s. In my view that reflected rapid growth in European countries like Italy, which benefited from the Balassa-Samuelson effect. Fixed rates may be OK for small open economies like Hong Kong or Dubai (but Singapore suggests they aren’t essential). They might be the lesser of evils for countries prone to hyperinflation like Zimbabwe. They might work in small homogeneous areas like Austria/Germany/Benelux. But in the modern world the presumption should be flexible exchange rates with NGDP targeting. The burden of proof should be on those advocating fixed rates.

Credit: Scott Sumner

Transportation / Biking To The Supermarket Made Easy
« on: October 12, 2012, 02:36:44 AM »
If you’re all about living green, ditching your car for your bike seems like a good idea…until your cupboards are bare. That’s when this silly DIY project by Ryan McFarland doesn’t seem so ridiculous. For going green while going grocery shopping, combining a shopping cart with a bicycle makes perfect sense. It allows you to ride to the store and carry your goods home with ample cargo capacity. Of course, I doubt it handles very well, especially once you load in a week’s worth of groceries. But it’s quite the head turner, nonetheless.

Transportation / Pedal-less 'running' bike
« on: October 11, 2012, 07:19:57 AM »
Back in the stone age, Fred Flintstone would drive his car along using his feet, so why not get rid of a bike's pedals and gears and drive it along in the same way? The Fliz Bike concept from Germany does just that, and even has you hang your body from the frame in a harness.

Some inventions are so well realized that they have hardly changed in over 100 years. The bicycle is a great example. While improvements in technology and materials have resulted in steady advancements, the basic layout of an upright rider turning pedals connected by a chain to the rear wheel hasn't changed since the Safety Bicycle from the 1890s.

The Fliz Bike takes us back to the original hobby-horse-style walking bike of the 1820s, before people figured out that pedals and a chain make the whole thing so much easier. As if that wasn't odd enough, the Fliz also gets rid of the seat, and hangs the rider from the frame in a rather uncomfortable-looking sling. It's almost as if they were just looking for different ways to do it, rather than better. While the Fliz might be okay for goofing around on flat city streets, it's hard to see how you could climb even the slightest hill.

High-Tech / Disney patents augmented reality cakes
« on: October 05, 2012, 06:36:00 AM »
We've seen some creative uses of augmented reality show up in almost everything, from sandboxes to shopping aisles, but now it looks like we may soon see AR technology implemented in the unlikeliest of places: our food. A recent patent from Disney outlines plans for augmented reality cakes and other food products that would display interactive movies and images on edible treats. Using a projector and some motion sensors, a simple birthday could be transformed into anything from a customized storybook to a fully interactive fantasy world.

Most of the patent's ideas seem conceptual for now, though it does outline two main methods for projecting an image onto a cake. The simplest involves a small projector built into a cake topper that can store and display digital images onto a flat cake's surface. The patent describes playing a montage of photos or video clips like an edible picture frame, but also suggests adding sensors for tracking movement to interact with the projection. That way, a person could flip through a virtual storybook laid out on the cake or wave an accompanying wand that would make flowers or fairy dust appear.

For a more elaborate AR experience though, Disney's patent details plans for connecting a computer to an overhead projector outfitted with depth sensors and motion trackers. It may require more equipment, but the additional sensors mean interactive elements can be added to cakes that don't have a flat surface. The patent explains that an entire digital world could be mapped out over the surface of a cake, complete with snow-capped mountains, flowing waterfalls, and misty graveyards, amongst many other things. Anyone would be able to manipulate the world by changing the landscape or using certain props to trigger scripted events (for example, place a tree onto a field and then watch a forest sprout up). The trackers could even detect when a piece is removed and have digital water flow into the missing space.

What Disney's patent lays out in spades though are ideas for interacting with an AR dessert. Among the many concepts specifically mentioned are turning a cake surface into a digital coloring book, using remote controlled figurines to advance a story, and even shining a flashlight onto a scene to reveal ghosts and other hidden objects. The patent mostly describes concepts involving cakes but notes that the technology could be applied to almost any food.

With Disney involved, it's not hard to imagine dozens of classic characters and stories being brought to life on a children's birthday cake. Unfortunately, the company has not made any public statements regarding this technology so there's no way of knowing when or it will reveal any of these AR cakes and in what scale. Given the size of the equipment required, the fully interactive cake seems like it might be best reserved for the Disney theme parks, but a cake topper with a built-in projector sounds like something that could easily find it's way onto toy store shelves. Either way though, it's looking like augmented reality food could start showing up at parties and other events that call for fanciful desserts in the near future.

Source: Google Patents

Building & Construction / Public Bathroom Made Of One-Way Mirrors
« on: October 04, 2012, 07:17:07 AM »
Artist Monica Bonvicini created this usable public toilet made of 1-way mirrors. It allows a user to do the doo while watching the world pass them by. The art installation, which you can find in London, is called Don’t Miss A Sec. That’s cool, I guess, but you should see my art installation called Please Take a Sec and Go To The Damn Bathroom In A Private Place With Zero-Way Mirrors. The last thing I need when I’m in public is to know there’s some pervo taking a crapola just inside that big mirrored box over there. The second to last thing I need when I’m in public is to be able to hear the tooty sounds of a stranger coming from that big mirrored box over there. Call me sensitive, but NUH UH.

Popeye gets his strength from downing a can of spinach and what works for him also works for solar panels. Researchers at Vanderbilt University led by David Cliffel and Kane Jennings have come up with a way to dope silicon with a protein found in spinach to create a more efficient "biohybrid" solar cell that produces substantially more electrical current than previous efforts and may one day lead to cheaper, more efficient solar panels.

Millions of years of evolution has made photosynthesis an extremely efficient process for generating energy, but developing artificial photosynthesis systems for electricity generation anywhere near as efficient has proven difficult.

It has been known for over 40 years that a complex photoelectric protein called Photosystem 1 (PS1) could still work outside of a living plant cell and it was later discovered that the protein could convert sunlight into electrical energy with an efficiency of nearly 100 percent, far surpassing the efficiencies of current most man-made solar cells. Add to that the fact that an organic solar cell is made of cheap and readily available materials rather than exotic elements and PS1 looked like a winner.

While scientists have found ways to efficiently extract PS1 from leaves and have successfully used it to make biohybrid cells that produce electrical current when exposed to sunlight, the amount of power these cells can produce per square inch is far below that of commercial photovoltaic cells. Additionally, the performance of the solar cells deteriorated rapidly.

The Vanderbilt team’s breakthrough is that where earlier attempts added PS1 to metal, they used it to dope silicon to create a more efficient biohybrid solar cell. Producing the cells was relatively simple. The surface of a silicon wafer is treated with an aqueous solution of PS1 then placed in a vacuum chamber to evaporate the water. This leaves a layer of PS1 only 100 molecules thick.

This combination of silicon and PS1 removes the problem with metal cells, which is that metal allows electricity from the PS1 to flow in both directions, lowering output. With silicon, the electricity only flows in one direction. The result is dramatic. A silicon/PS1 cell generated 850 microamps of electricity per square centimeter at 0.3 volts – two and a half times more current than earlier biohybrid cells. The team estimates that a two-foot (0.6 m) panel would yield 100 milliamps at one volt, which is enough to power small electrical devices.

“This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals. It also produces a modest increase in voltage,” said David Cliffel, associate professor of chemistry.

The cells also showed much greater longevity. Where older biohybrid cells deteriorated in a matter of weeks, the Vanderbilt biohybrid operated for nine months without losing performance.

The researchers have applied for a patent for the process and hope to convert the technology into a functioning solar cell. Their work appears in the journal Advanced Materials.

Source: Vanderbilt University

Abandoned Ideas / The reclamation of endangered or abandoned ideas
« on: July 21, 2012, 04:36:10 AM »
Claims by idea assassins that systems thinking is dead, design thinking is dead, innovation is dead, are attempts to claim credit for hits never consummated. In addition, some consultants are famous for taking good ideas and turning them into fads. Businesses and governmental agencies are famous for taking fads and turning them into bad ideas that are then abandoned by both when the oversimplified or misshaped concepts fail to deliver cheap or easy solutions. Whether declared dead or abandoned the ideas remain viable in the right environments in interaction with the right people.

For example the term innovation is used in ways that make it difficult to discern what someone actually means when they are championing it or abandoning it. Is it creativity, is it implementation, is it market share, is it....? When innovation is declared dead what actually is being declared to be no longer among us?

Innovation has been assumed up to the present to be a positive thing (where alive and well). If we assume the term means (as I do) bringing something into the world and making it part of people’s lives there follows concerns for why that would be automatically assumed to be positive. Crack cocaine is one of the most successful innovations in American history. It is found everywhere at every level of society. Even though it can be declared a successful innovation it is not necessarily a 'good' innovation.

Discerning the assumptions behind the term innovation as it is popularly used is a challenge. Innovation is not the same thing as creativity. If democracy (a very old idea) becomes a real part of the governance of a people who have only been under some form of dictatorial rule (tribal, political, religious etc.) it can be considered an innovation in their lives but certainly not a novel, new or creative form of governance in human affairs.

Implementation and innovation are often interchanged as terms. Implementation is an executive function. It is the activity of making something happen or putting something into effect. Implementation occurs on behalf of someone—while innovation is usually treated as a sales function. It is an activity that attempts to influence people to buy, consume, behave, adapt, etc.

The distinction between implementation and innovation is not a judgmental call. Innovation often leads to happy outcomes as in the case of Apple. Paraphrasing Steve Jobs—consumers don’t know what they want until they are shown it. Of course changing people’s behavior through innovation (the new fad among some designers) rather than serving them through implementation raises a number of concerns.

The reasons for innovation can be very different depending on the intention and purposes of the innovators (the same is true for implementation and implementers). It can lead to reformation  (change of means) or transformation (change of ends) in a social system as pointed out by Russell Ackoff.

Innovation and implementation are subset activities of designing. Designing is also the strategy used in formation—the implementation of a desired new form of reality.

Innovation is an example of a vital and viable idea that needs to be more clearly developed and understood through an ongoing dialogue rather than being cut off in its prime by assassination attempts or abandonment.

Credit: Harold Nelson

Space & Futuristic / Solid State Aircraft
« on: July 17, 2012, 08:15:45 AM »
Anthony Colozza
Ohio Aerospace Institute

Due to recent advances in polymers, photovoltaics, and batteries, the development of a revolutionary type of unmanned aircraft may now be feasible. This flight vehicle would integrate airfoil, propulsion, energy production, energy storage, and control into one seamless design with no conventional mechanical moving parts. The integration of these components comprises the “Solid State” aircraft concept that has wide implication for terrestrial and planetary flight applications.

The most innovative aspect of this concept is the use of an ionic polymeric-metal composite (IPMC) as the source of control and propulsion. This material has the unique ability to deform in the presence of an electric field like an artificial muscle, and return to its original shape when the field is removed. Combining the IPMIC with emerging thinfilm batteries and thin-film photovoltaics provides both energy source and storage in the same structure.

Combining the unique characteristics of these materials enables flapping of the aircraft wing to generate the main propulsive force. With a flight profile similar to that of a hawk or eagle, the Solid State Aircraft will be able to soar for long periods of time and utilize flapping to regain lost altitude. During Phase I work on this concept, analysis was performed on the glide duration, flap duration, wing length, and wing motion of travel. It was determined that a versatile, robust, advanced aeronautical architecture can be produced taking into account these parameters. This architecture would enable flight over a broad flight envelope comprised of a range of latitudes and times of the year on Earth, Venus, and Mars.

Blackfriars Bridge
Blackfriars Bridge
London's new Blackfriars station, spanning the river Thames, will be the world's largest solar bridge when it opens in time for the Olympics in June 2012.

Powered by more over 4,400 solar photovoltaic panels, the bridge is being completely renovated by Network Rail in partnership with Solarcentury.

An electrical engineering collaboration along with Balfour Beatty and Jacobs Engineering, the structure will generate 900,000kWh of electricity a year and 50% of the station's energy needs, reducing carbon emissions by about 511 tonnes a year.

Further energy saving measures include rainwater harvesting and sun pipes for natural lighting.

Network Rail and Solarcentury say the project will radically reduce grid electricity consumption and create energy independence. It is claimed to be one of the most significant steps in micro-generation in the UK.

As well as providing better Thameslink services between Bedford and Brighton, it demonstrates how clean solar power can be designed for use in dense urban areas. Solarcentury has a public mission to tackle global warming using solar energy in the built environment.

The £5.5m Victorian bridge renovation is the world's second solar bridge. The Kurilpa footbridge in Brisbane, Australia – significantly smaller in size – was constructed in 2009.

Articles / A Catalog of Inventions that are Needed
« on: June 26, 2012, 08:18:51 AM »
Great ideas for inventions that are needed are often thought up by people who do not have the resources to develop them themselves. Some of these are listed below. Further details about them can be obtained from the originators, if named. If anyone makes a fortune through developing any of these ideas for inventions, please remember the originator.

Often the same invention has many originators. Valerie Yule's design for an electronic 'pocket typewriter' was laughed at by electronics experts in the early 1980s because although the technology had already been invented, it was believed that 'people could not handle the small buttons,' except when there were a minimal number as on a pocket calculator. Now we have 'electronic note-books' everywhere, with small buttons.

Ed Oberg was a prizewinner in an Australian Social Inventions competition for an idea about Punter-Power, an easy way to use the gambling instinct to back innovatory enterprise. Now the idea is discussed on ABC Science Show, coming from someone else.

ACSION was advocating making cars with modules so that someone just going down the street did not drive tons of metal more suitable for traversing the Great Desert with a tribe on board. Now the Australian organisation for scientific and industrial research is developing just that.

Think up some more inventions that are needed.

A starter list of Problems needing innovative solutions

Let us know if some of them are already solved.

  • Alphanumeric design to prevent confusions of letters and numbers such as pdbq
  • Appliances that are durable, mendable, multi-use, with updatable modules.
  • Peace Toys to replace guns, killing and militarism
  • Clothes - Australian Fashions that are different, beautiful, multicultural, durable.
  • Fashions for the elderly and infirm that are comfortable, good-looking and durable
  • Space Clothing replacing wasteful Space Heating. Everyone can control thetemperature of their immediate personal space, regardless of the climate around them.
  • Conservation Clothes designed so that only the parts needing washing need be thoroughly washed.
  • More Computer Games where knowledge and thinking, not violence, win the games e.g Youth to Age Computer Game - you grow older as you play
  • Conflict Simulators to use instead of resorting to wars, strikes or marital uproar
  • Conservation. Full use of sewage - as a major resource, not a pollution problem
  • Culture. More fun, beauty, diversity, for everyone to join in, and less wasteful.
  • � Electronic tagging for people's strayable belongings, eg. glasses, has already begin.
  • Food-chain bypassing, so that food can be manufactured directly from desert rocks.
  • Homes - All new homes designed for energy-saving and protection against local risks e.g bushfires, floods, droughts, with space for salvage/storage, modifiable, renovatable.
  • Paper, Erasable - can be wiped down with a scanner to reprint or rewrite again
  • Paper Recycling that can easily be done on the spot
  • Pocket typewriter that you can operate by touch in your pocket anywhere, even in he dark or if you cannot see. A further advance on electronic notebooks
  • Poker machines that do something useful when operated by people addicted to noise&jingle
  • Remote Control Gun Exploder that explodes or disables any other loaded weapon
  • Souvenirs that are more fun, diverse,more beautiful, cheaper and easily transportable
  • Personal space-heating to avoid wasteful All-Space-Heating .(See Clothes)
  • Transport. Car modules that can shunt on, to expand cars. Cars that are easily mendable, modifiable and last well for 15-years.
  • Public Transport. Linking main routes with flexible taxi-buses.
  • Waiting areas & shelters comfortable not just cleanable/ vandalproof
  • Truth-Print that prints or converts print to show the truth in black, fiction in blue and what cannot be determined as either true or false in purple. What a boon for news readers, if not for the newspapers themselves
  • Window heat-savers that are transparent, that can be pulled down or attached in winter-time, with Window-heat-shields that can be pulled down or attached in summertime.


Adult Initiation Ceremony for teenagers

Agism - how to prevent agist segregation of old, young and teenagers

Alphanumeric improvement to prevent confusions of letters and numbers,such as pdbq

Appliances - mendable and modules so they are easiily repaired and updated

Architecture - Awards for the Ugliest


Beauty for Melbourne to make it good to live in,good to visit - like Florence or Bali.

Benchmarks and Stopmarks. Quizzes to test present limits and future tolerance

Boredom. Education from infancy to avoid being bored.

Born to Live - help to prevent suicide by better alternatives when staying alive


Catalogue of Inventions that are needed

Censorship Alternatives. How to promote the best, rather than censor the worst.

Charities - preventing waste in promotions

Child Abuse - TV shows that help to prevent this

Children's Peace Toys to replace guns, killing and militarism.

Clothes. Medical Clothing - to improve health/ comfort, especially for elderly/ infirm.

- Australian Fashions that are different, beautiful,cheap, durable,multicultural

- Fashions for the elderly that are comfortable, good-looking and durable.

- Space Clothing can reduce the costs and wastes of Space Heating

- Conservation-designed to reduce washing of clean parts,and so prevent waste. Washable, not dispossable 'Patches' that can be pasted on underclothes and peeled off, to minimise washing the whole garment.

Collecting - things for collectors to collect

Common Wealth. How to keep its real meaning alive.

Computer Games - where knowledge and thinking, not violence, win the games

- Youth to Age Game - you grow older as you play.

Conflict simulator instead of wars & strikes.

Conservation.Full use of sewage - a presently wasted resource

Cracked people - making the most of ratbags, so they can be community assets


Defence - constance civil uses for standing defence forces, for emergencies etc.

Disaimiabilia - reducing dislikability and public attitudes to 'dislikable' people

Drinking behaviour - a better Oz drinking culture -singing not hooning or violence.

Drugs. Alternatives to drugs to make life more enjoyable/bearable


Economic concepts for the 21st century

Eldercare - ideas to improve it

Elections. Making them more democratic and valid.

Electronic tagging for absent-minded people's strayable belongings, eg. glasses.


Games. Invent some new games!

Gardens - Conservation in the Suburbs so that gardens waste less & produce timber

Gambling - Constructive redirections for the gambling instinct

Green Offices conservation measures

Guns - Alternatives for sports shooters - e.g. musical instruments,as beautiful as guns and also make noises.


Health - preventing old age problems and continuing usefulness.

Health. Hospitals - Ways to ensure sick and elderly are treated as adult humans

Heroes. Real Heroes for children and teenagers

History - Lessons of History (with counterviews included)

History of Freedom Book

Homes - Designs for energy-saving

- Designs to protect against bushfires

- Designs to protect against floods

- The Sustainable Household as important as Marketplace in economic thinking


Ideas. Register of Australian Ideas that got nowhere in OZ but succeeded elsewhere

Index of Oppression to be published with GNP and economic indexes.

Intellectual property and social inventions. Rewards without lawyers.

'Inventions Needed' - a list to get everyone's minds working.


Jobs that are needed. Long lists. The issue is only how to pay for them.


Kitchen design for 21C with recycling/salvage space e.g.a cupboard with pallets


Language, non-sexist

Land Speculation. Preventing speculators getting unearned income from land.


Manhood Test boys can go in for if they want to. A 'Womanhood Test' is actually the same, but the men do not know this.

Manners Book. Manners to oil the wheels of everyday living together, not 'etiquette'.

Medical Litigation - some suggestions for this growing problem

Meetings - ways to reduce time-wasting

Money - ways to use money as a means of exchange for goods and services without it flowing off into sinks - overseas or accumulated by the hyper-wealthy.


Novel - the Future of the Novel in 21C. How it could be different


Paper, Erasable - can be wiped down to reprint or rewrite again.

Paper Recycling on the spot

People They Laughed At Book to teach that it may be premature to laugh at ratbags.

Perishing Publications - idea to help the academic problem of 'publish or perish'

Pleasures that are Non-Consumptive

Pocket typewriter that you can operate by touch in your pocket anywhere.

Plastic bags. Re-uses for.

Plastic newspaper wraps. Re-uses for.

Pokies that do something useful when operated by people addicted to noise&jingle machines

Political Psychology Manual for all citizens and school leavers.

Polly-Save-A-Bird - Collectible artificial birds instead of collecting live rare birds.

Prophecies for 2000

Psychology. Pre-Trauma Prevention, so people can be resistant when emergencies happen.

Public Transport. Making waiting areas and shelters comfortable not just cleanable.


Remote Control Gun Exploder explodes or disables any other loaded weapon.


Safety. 'Automatic Pilot' practices behavior for emergencies when you may not be able to think

Schooling - Learning How to Fail is something we all need to know

Schools - Techniques to help children with Attention-Deficit problems

Sexist Language Solutions

Sexual Harassment Solutions

Shower-Clock. A steam-proof clock on the shower-wall to show how time goes.

The Silly Catalog. Listing what is silly in our society makes new ideas seem sensible.

Social Education - What adults should know and no-one leaves school till they do.

Stroke Language everyone learns,for emergency communication with the incapacitated, using eye-blinks.


Transport Car modules that can shunt on to expand cars.(I fiind CSIRO is working on this idea now.)

Transport.Cars - easily mendable and 15-year durability

TV Ideas: Contrasts within shows- to learn about good and evil and the grey between.

TV Cartoons telling old legends with animation based on famous paintings


Violence - Alternatives

Violent Blokes - Solutions


Waste of people - Preventing.

Window heat-savers

Words as Swords. People live by myths and clichés. New concepts are needed

Water How to get salt out of water by a more water-conservative and simpler process than evaporation

Lighting Night-lighting that goes on sensors of human activity or movement so it is only on as people need it or burglars are around. Including street lighting, but in the cities brighter than the country cats'eyes, and llight for empty premises like shops - responds to any movement inside including rats

Packaging Edible packaging - possibly sprayed on some things. That can be washed and eaten cooked or fresh. Rice-paper bags

Heating Space heating - personal

Clothes bordeom, velcro accessories

Some Stupid Things could be changed:

  • Standing lists of inventions are needed, to exercise creative minds.
  • Adequate financial and status rewards for inventors are needed. When do they come on Honours lists with sportsfolk, entertainers and other public figures, as models to encourage the young?
  • Co-operative progress is hampered by commercial confidentiality and Intellectual Property
  • New ideas and innovators get knee-jerk responses of ridicule or worse, are just ignored.

Yet even a zany new idea can have the germ of something great.

High-Tech / Silence Gun: Strange weapon that immediately quiets you
« on: June 06, 2012, 12:31:28 PM »
This delayed auditory feedback device makes it all but impossible for a human to speak
This delayed auditory feedback device makes it all but impossible for a human to speak
Ever since humans first invented guns, they've been inventing new uses for them. Some shoot bullets; others shoot lasers. But a strange and unsettling new gun being developed by Japanese researchers shoots sound waves in an effort to disrupt and silence anyone who dares speak out of turn.

The gun operates based on the concept of delayed auditory feedback. An attached microphone picks up the sound being made by the target and plays it back 0.2 seconds later. The effect is incredibly confusing to the human brain, making it all but impossible to talk or hold a conversation. The device doesn't cause the person it's being used on any physical harm — it simply messes with their head.

When the human brain hears its own speech perfectly in sync during normal speech, it easily processes the input and allows you to largely ignore the sound of your own voice. However, by offsetting the response just a bit, the brain hears your mouth speaking as well as the strange echo effect produced by the gun. This unusual combination is confusing enough to effectively shut down the part of your brain responsible for managing speech, and you fall immediately silent.

The first versions of the weapon — if we can even call it that — were dependent on a separate PC to process the input and relay it back to the speaker. However, the second prototype (pictured above) does away with the need for additional hardware and includes all the necessary processing bits within its casing, making it easily portable.

The developers say the gun could be used for seemingly innocuous purposes, such as enforcing rules requiring library patrons to keep quiet. It could also see action during large meetings when it is important that onlookers not disrupt the speaker; anyone who fancies a noisy outburst would immediately be silenced by the high-tech handheld.

The free speech implications of the speech jammer are somewhat disconcerting: A protestor or speaker at a political rally could be easily silenced just for having unpopular views. Political rallies and other protest gatherings could easily be quieted by the strange gun, should law enforcement or other agencies decide to equip themselves with the technology.

[Image credit: Cornell]

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