THE PASSIONATE SKEPTIC

Technical Innovation 
(c) Thor May 1998; all rights reserved

 

Double Sided Printers
  / Underground Heat Banks and Portable Heat PotsVery Slow MachinesHoverlift for Grounded Ships / Water WindowsThe Little RoomPipeline Superhighway for Cargo... People?A Tutor's Editor for Correcting Student Essays?Genetic AcceleratorSlow Speech ChipPizza Net / Economical Computer CodeVirtual Machines / Register of Ideas Waiting for a Computer Program / Electronic Mannequin / Cable-Guided Blimp for Crop DustingFat Tester / LLSAS (Large-light-surface-area-ship) / Micro-Point Acoustic Drill / Remote Controlled Lawn Mower & Security Patrol / Very Slow Solar Lawn Mower / Water Desalination
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Double Sided Printers 

16 March 1998 

Motor vehicle technology has been revolutionized by Unite States legislative requirements on emission controls. I believe that a similar environmental effect could be achieved by requiring printers to be designed for printing on both sides of a sheet of paper simultaneously. Double print heads would not only save paper but also double printing speeds: a far better solution than a software + manual option of re-feeding paper (which in practice is only rarely used). Potentially almost half the amount of paper going through offices could be saved. 

A cheap, economical printer that could print into bound volumes would also work against the throw-away mentality, and be a boon in many other ways. 
 

 
 
Underground Heat Banks and Portable Heat Pots 

11 May 1997 

Energy can be stored in a variety of ways. For example, chemical storage, storage in magnetic fields, storage as heat, storage as momentum (planetary motion), storage as gravitational force (e.g. hydro dams), or storage as heat (e.g. geothermal energy). Chemical storage may be stable (e.g. combustible compounds) or unstable (e.g.. a battery). It may be biologically sourced (wood; microbes) or synthesized. Chemical storage may be translated into heat (burning wood), or electricity. 

The modern era has paid huge attention to extracting thermal energy from combustion, and to a lesser extent, extracting electromagnetic energy from thermal, solar or chemical sources. 

It could be productive to research other forms of energy translation. For example, nature works a huge energy cycle by translating solar energy into gravitational force by evaporation, precipitation and river flow. Are there efficient ways on the human scale to back up a head of water (or some other liquid) in a similar manner? 

Perhaps one very productive path could lie in conserved heat energy to power small engines and domestic energy needs. 

The latter could involve sinking "heat wells" into the earth. These would be a kind of giant thermos flask containing a material (probably a liquid) which was heated by thermal transfer from solar energy in the daytime, and used to power domestic needs at night. 

Small, portable "heat pots" for powering vehicle engines would pose a greater challenge. This would imply a way of containing in perfect insulation material at plasma-like temperatures, a way of tapping the energy over an extended period, and a way of economically renewing the core thermal temperature at extended intervals. 
 

 
 
Very Slow Machines 
 
27 May 1996 

Characteristics: low energy / low materials stress => long life / 
     some intelligence required => unattended performance. 

Applications: lawnmower; floor scrubber; carpet cleaner; bath 
     scrubber; wall cleaner; window cleaner; painting machine; paint 
     stripper; mulcher; pulverizer; hole digger .. 

Note: nature has many very slow machines, from plants to weather cycles. Lessons to learn?

 
Hoverlift for Grounded Ships 
 
22 April 1996 

Design a skirt (welded on if necessary) that can be attached to the hull of grounded vessels in order to give an air lift sufficient to  float them off. The ship's own power plant should be more than sufficient to run compressors for the air supply.

 
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Water Windows 
 
9 September 1995 
 
Fill sleeves with water to make insulated walls, windows, dividers. Include colouring, or dope to take an electric current for heating. 
 
 
The Little Room 
 
28 July 1994 

Design and market a series of demountable "inner rooms" which can be inserted into existing rooms. They should be soundproofed and furnished and completely self-contained. Commercial offices have long made use of cubicles, but the concept has not been developed for domestic environments. Surely there is a tremendous latent demand for an isolation box. What better place to escape the children or hide them? Where else can you practice a saxophone in the suburbs? Where can a man strip down an engine or hammer together a cupboard in a two bedroom flat?

 
Pipeline Superhighway for Cargo... People? 

23 July 1994 

Why can't we extend oil pipeline technology to create a network of global cargo arteries, filled with sea water, pumped by tidal power, wave-motion and wind power, carrying cargoes in the form of watertight capsules to be sucked through the system? 

Such a system could not only bridge oceans with submerged pipelines, but span continents regardless of the inhospitality of the terrain, and suitably disguised or buried, have minimal environmental impact. 

The engineering technology involved would seem to be fairly simple. The main challenge might be in devising a mechanism for the diversion of capsules to intermediate destinations. With electronic identification, some kind of hydraulic exit-porting should not be beyond our ingenuity. 

In a far more extended sense one could see the concept of tube/capsule transport extended to articulating major population centres. Carrying people is trickier than cargo of course:   it would play havoc with our claustrophobia to be trapped without an external air supply in a sea water artery. The people-capsules would have to be multi-media, sense-surround virtual realities to take our minds off the machinery. 
 

 
A Tutor's Editor for Correcting Student Essays? 
 
13 April 1994 

One can see in the not too distant future that every tertiary student will have an e-mail account and be expected to submit assignments electronically. Lecturers and tutors are desperately busy people. The tutor picking up these assignments needs a quick way to mark corrections on the script -- something comparable with what a pencil can so efficiently manage now, but in a form that can rapidly be returned to the student's electronic letterbox.  One solution would appear to be touch-screen marking of the kind found on devices like the new Newton Message Pad. Something like the speed-bar circles etc. selectable in Excel could do part of a similar job, except that it takes mouse movement and selection which is not nearly as quick as a pencil. A problem also is that these sorts of graphical overlays are not transmissible in the plain vanilla ASCII of simple e-mail. Perhaps what we need is an easily selectable menu of symbols from the ANSI extended character set which could be given coded meanings for editing. Keyboard macros could insert them in the student text where needed.  Alas, this is unlikely to have the same immediate visual power and inclusion as a  squiggly line under a stretch of typical student gobbledegook. Another critical facility would be attachable "notes" (small windows?) into the text for tutor comments. 

How about someone out there coming up with a lean mean editing shell for tutors along the lines suggested above? 
 

 
 
Genetic Accelerator 
 
14 July 1984 

It would seem that entirely modern homo sapiens have been around for no more than about 3500 generations (taking 25 years as a generation cycle). Imagine the possibility of a laboratory procedure which could accelerate the production and reproduction of human embryos. How would such incipient creatures, unaffected by adult environments, evolve ? If we go further and presuppose a researcher's faculty to select on the basis of genetic tendencies as well as telescoping generations into a minuscule time frame, the capacity to devolve a virtually new species would be at hand. 
 

 
 
Slow Speech Chip 
 
12 August 1989 

insert a special IC chip into tape recorders to compensate for distortion in speech when the tape is run slowly; (Tandy Corp. already has something analogous for fast speech). The market significance of the idea is that over 400 million people speak English as a second language (and countless millions are bilingual in other languages). A large proportion of these people cannot decode English spoken at normal speed, as in radio broadcasts. Clearly, the market for this product would run to many millions of dollars. 
 

 
 
Pizza Net 

21 September 1992 

Develop a binding agent to replace cheese in pizzas, and hence allow the marketing of low fat pizzas. The item could be sold in pre-cut mats to fit on pizza pastries. Candidates : seaweed? apple or other fruit fibre extract? albumen?

 
 
Economical Computer Code 
 
26 January 1998 

Needed: soft-agents to reverse engineer and reprogram  software with economical code. Most current computer programs are like American cars of the 1950s: lumbering tanks with ridiculous bodywork, overpowered  gas-guzzling engines, and no brakes or suspension worth knowing about.

 
 
Virtual Machines 

16 January 1997 

Develop a family of applications to dismantle and build simulations of machines - anything from car engines to Heath Robinson type crazy inventions. The end user would pick up everything down to the last bolt and, using proper tools, place it or fashion it or insert it. Measurements could be made and registered, even units of torque, temperature, sound etc.  These simulations could be used for a whole range of activities from professional training to invention to sheer pleasure activities (much more interesting than jigsaw puzzles). 

Develop a special object-based language to make the creation of such simulations relatively painless. 

A sophisticated spin-off from this family of activities would be to build the skills and the tools for the "universal employer" remote reality jobs (see other entry under "Social Innovation").

 
 
Register of Ideas Waiting for a Program 

27 October 1996 

This would be an Internet wish list of Programs waiting to be written. It draws on the obvious fact that many ideas for programs are had by people without the time or ability to write the programs themselves, whereas many technically excellent programmers may simply lack the imagination to think up unique projects. 
 

 
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Electronic Mannequin 
 
27  October 1996 

* Program a set of virtual mannequins which, like wooden artist's mannequins, can have their limbs moved to any position. 

* Make any body part of the mannequins selectable and able to be zoomed for micro adjustment. 

* Allow selected elements to be exported in both bitmap and raster form to common applications. 

* Have available attachable galleries of faces (with an "ageing" feature; mouth, nose, ear, eye & wrinkle variation features; skin tone adjustments); a wardrobe of wigs and garments. 

* Have available adjustable galleries of backdrops 

* Have available a comic frame creation feature.

 
 
Cable-Guided Blimp for Crop Dusting 
 
22 December 1991 

Develop a very low-level cable guided blimp for aerial spraying to minimize the overspray from crop dusting; (ref. chemical pollution from cotton plantations). As a low cost solution this could also have wide application in the 3rd World. 

 
Fat Tester 
(c) Thor May 1998; all rights reserved 
25 September 1993 

Develop a mini-blender + throw-away chemical  testing cartridges enabling consumers to test the total fact component of any food or beverage item. 
 

 
 
LLSAS (Large-light-surface-area-ship) 
 
20 June 1990 

Develop a cargo vessel from  "sheet" type floating material, flexible on the wave/air surface, with a thin pocket to carry cargo. Solar power collectors on surface.

 
 
Micro-Point Acoustic Drill 
 
19 May 1988 

Develop a drill to use focused close-contact acoustic impact to break crystal structures, molecules, fibres etc. Vacuum to remove detritus. No moving  parts. Potential for remote control in deep drilling. 
 

 
Remote Controlled Lawn Mower & Security Patrol 
 
October 1992 

Develop a remote-controlled lawn mower  and/or mechanical security patrol; possibly hover principle. If electric, have a base power point with a self-retracting extension lead to keep it out of the way of the blades. Application: old people who cannot move around easily.

 
 
Very Slow Solar Lawn Mower 
 
14 December 1993 

Develop a very slow, solar powered lawn muncher-cruncher. Tether it and let it snip its way around the lawn.

 
Water Desalination 

17 January 1993 

Would it be viable to desalinate sea water for desert irrigation with very large condensation traps? The principle would be to have a dome or  half-cylindrical structure (very large) with a shallow trough of salt water flowing at the inner periphery. The dome surface would be transparent at this periphery, enabling solar evaporation, but the trapped vapour would rise to the opaque (externally reflective) and much cooler inner-roof surface where it would condense and precipitate onto a central area below: possible cropland, or a storage tank. 

Large sand dunes might be engineered to act as condensation traps in the manner described. 
 

Technical Innovation (c) Thor May 1998; all rights reserved



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