Wear the web
A QR code is a two-dimensional barcode. QR stands for Quick Response. P8tch (p8t.ch) creates velcro-backed patches printed with QR codes, designed to stick to anything – your backpack, your butt – to raise interest in whatever it is you do, or just in you, über-nerd that you are. The code on the patch translates to a url when scanned by a reader – an application which can be installed on smart phones – which will whisk you off to the website it points to. P8tch suggests that an exchange might happen something like this:
THEM: Excuse me! Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
YOU: Wonderful! Simply scan the p8tch on my shoulder.
THEM: [scans the p8tch] Thank you, I have just subscribed to your RSS feed in Google Reader.
This week, K.R. Sridhar, founder of Bloom Energy, made an appearance on US TV show 60 Minutes, clutching two small blocks which he claims are the answer to the world's energy problems. Sridhar developed the Bloom Box, basically a stack of ceramic discs painted with a secret green "ink" on one side and a black "ink" on the other and separated by a cheap metal alloy, when NASA needed an oxygen generator for their now defunct Mars programme. After the programme was scrapped, Sridar transformed it into a fuel cell with the help of an estimated $400 million in private funding. The design feeds oxygen into one side of the cell while fuel is supplied to the other side to provide the chemical reaction required to generate power. According to Sridar, two of his Bloom boxes have the capacity to power the average high-consumption American home. The average European home will need only one. Twenty big American corporates, including FedEx, Wal-mart and Google are already using supersized versions of the Bloom Box. Ebay has installed its boxes on the front lawn of its San Jose premises and estimates that it gets almost 15% of its energy needs from Bloom, saving about $100,000 since it installed the five boxes 9 months ago. Bloom believes that within 5 to 10 years it can drive down the cost to about $3,000 to make it suitable for home use.
Your brain on music
Music therapy has long been used to help patients recovering from stroke and other brain injuries. Singing has proven particularly effective in rehabilitation. A new study, in which therapy was observed using brain imaging, has shed light on what effect music has on the brain.
The study showed that singing engages not only the speech centre, an area of the brain often damaged during a stroke, but many other parts of the brain, including cognitive, emotional, and physical functions and abilities. As the patients added words to their melodies, the speech centre in the right brain began to develop more connections. If patients tapped out the rhythm of each syllable, it made their results even more effective. According to Dr Aniruddh Patel from the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego: "People sometimes ask where in the brain music is processed and the answer is everywhere above the neck ... Music engages huge swathes of the brain – it's not just lighting up a spot in the auditory cortex."
Robot mimics growth
Artist David Bowen's robotic art installation laser scans an onion plant every 24 hours and then uses a 3D printer to create plastic models that illustrate the plant's growth. Once a sculpture is completed, it is moved along on a conveyor belt to make way for the next piece of art. The installation, called "growth modeling device", won a grand prize in the 13th Japan Media Arts Festival. According to Bowen, his system plays the roles of both observer and creator and responds by producing a mechanical perspective of a changing living object.
Make do with what you have
Makedo (makedo.com.au) is a set of simple gadgets – a connector, a hinge and a construction tool – which assist you in piecing together found objects of any description to make anything from art to functional items. According to Coryy Doctorow on BoingBoing; "Makedo turns everything into a tinkertoy that you can attach to everything else".
Leaves of Grass
Japanese designers Yuruliku delight in adding a touch of whimsy to insignificant items of stationery. Their latest design is called Green Markers – grass-shaped Post-it notes. As your interest and curiosity grow, so will the tuft of grass in your book. For around R60 you can buy a set of 75 Green Markers in a variety of sizes from the online shop on their website yuruliku.com.
If a Wonder Washer and a Hippo Water Roller hooked up and had a baby, it would turn out like the Swirl (judging by the psychedelic design they must also have dropped acid during conception). Swirl is a plastic sphere with a lid and a detachable handle that is used to push the ball around. The idea is to fill it with your laundry, roll it to the closest water source, add water, and then roll it, bounce it or kick it back home. If all goes according to plan, by the time you get back, your washing should be done. The Swirl is aimed particularly at people in rural areas where lugging laundry to the river or lake often over long distances and difficult terrain and then spending hours washing it all, is a time-consuming and exhausting task. As far as I can tell, the Swirl is still a concept but already it has fans begging for it to go into production (studioblog.designaffairs.com).
In the English tradition of pub brawling, the pint glass is the weapon of choice. The annual cost to the state of injuries caused by pint glasses? A whopping £2.7 million! Britain's Home Secretary, Alan Johnson has decided to tackle the problem not by introducing harsher laws to control bar fights, but by making pint glasses that are less likely to splinter when broken over someone's head. The British Design Council has appointed entrepreneurial British firm DesignBridge to reinvent it. So far, DesignBridge has come up with two prototypes – the Twin Wall and the Glass Plus. Twin Wall is constructed from two ultra-thin glasses bonded together with resin and Glass Plus has a thin layer of clear bio-resin which is applied to the inside of the glass during production.
Physicists at Caltech have developed a microscopic device that can measure the mass of a single molecule in real time. The tiny scale will help determine the chemical identities of unknown substances and could eventually allow scientists to analyse thousands of different proteins in a matter of milliseconds using much smaller samples than before.
Give your ear teeth
Sonitus Medical (sonitusmedical.com) has developed a new device that uses the natural conduction of teeth and bone to transmit sound to the inner ear even when the outer and middle ear have been damaged. The SoundBite system consists of an ITM (in-the-mouth) hearing device that fits around either the upper left or right back teeth and a small microphone unit which is worn behind the ear. No modifications to the teeth are required.
Robot window washer
Dubai is a city of skyscrapers with a gazillion windows that need to be kept clean, a task that requires a veritable army of intrepid individuals willing to take it on. Swiss company Serbot AG claims that their two window-washing robots, Gekko and Clean Ant will prove to be more efficient than the human variety. In the first place they are faster, but their real advantage lies in their fearlessness: they are happy to venture out in a hurricane if necessary.
sOccket to me
Take a soccer ball and present it to any group of kids and the effect is instant; unless they are dyed-in-the-wool couch potatoes, they will start kicking it around. The idea behind sOccket, the brainchild of Harvard engineering students Jessica Lin, Jessica Matthews, Julia Silverman and Hamali Thakkar, is to harvest the energy kids generate while they play. Inside the sOccket ball is a simple inductive coil system, similar to the ones found inside self-charging shake torches. Just 15 minutes of kicking and bouncing the sOccket around will produce enough energy to power an LED light for about 3 hours. The ball is still in its prototype stage, but was recently piloted in Durban and Nairobi. The only possible downside to the project is that the ball is not regulation: its weight and feel is a little different from the standard football. For more information, visit the sOccket website at soccket.com.
A vigilant webcam viewer recently came to the rescue of a German tourist trapped on sea ice off the country's north coast. The man apparently wandered too far out and became disorientated because he could not tell the difference between sea and land and did not recognise any landmarks. A woman watching the sunset on a webcam pointed at the beach of St. Peter-Ording, on the North Sea, from hundreds of kilometres away, spotted the light from the man's torch and alerted police.
Take a tablet
The biggest tech story so far this year, possibly this century, is the launch of Apple's iPad on Wednesday this week. According to consumer electronics blog, Engadget, who posted "The Apple Tablet: a complete history, supposedly" on the eve of the reveal, "Apple's been kicking around the idea of a tablet since at least... oh, 1983". No wonder then that geeks around the world waited with bated breath when there were murmurings late last year that the product would surface for real early this year. The iPad, which is basically a larger version of the iPod, has been well-received by most critics. There is no doubt that it is a wonderful machine, designed to fit into your life as comfortably as a well-bound novel, although it lacks a camera (a pity since it is crammed with picture-viewing features), video output (it is great for watching videos though) and USB and firewire ports. One would do well to note tech reporter Leo Laporte's comment on his uStream feed. Laporte concludes that the iPad should be view more as an "appliance" for media consumers rather than a computer in the traditional sense. The iPad is not a work tool unless your job is reading, watching movies, playing computer games and looking through your photo albums, but it will be a cash cow for application developers. All the applications that have been created for the iPhone will work on the iPad and, with the increased functionality thanks to the size of the touch screen, there will be space for many more. The tablet will go on sale in the United States at the end of March and will sell for upwards of R4000.
We have become so accustomed to zooming into our computer monitors that it is easy to forget that zoomed in versions of things can also be printed on good old paper. Map² is a pocket-sized map of London that allows you to zoom into part of a small scale map without you having to unfold the entire map. The map is folded so that you can unfold one quadrant of the map to reveal a blown up version of that section. You can buy the map for around R80 on the website at thezoomablemap.com.
Rickets makes a comeback
The British Medical Journal has published a report by two medical experts which claims that there has been an increase in the incidence of rickets, a disease that was common during the Victorian era, among British children. Professor Simon Pearce and Dr Tim Cheetham, of Newcastle University say that because children are spending more time indoors consuming digital media, they are being exposed to less sunshine, the body's chief source of vitamin D. A lack of vitamin D causes rickets, which is characterised by inflammation of the joints and muscle weakness. If left untreated, it can result in fractures and deformities and has also been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, several cancers and autoimmune conditions. In adults, vitamin D deficiency causes osteomalacia, a painful manifestation of soft bones. Pearce and Cheetham are calling for a change in health policy to remedy the problem and recommend that vitamin D be added, by law, to foodstuffs such as milk.
Profiling for dummies
Dating site OKCupid.com reviewed 7,000 photos uploaded on their site and analysed them based on the number of messages and conversations their subjects received. Some surprising findings emerged: a flirty or mysterious face works better than a smile, self-shot webcam pictures are perfectly acceptable, wear a shirt if you have a large hairy belly, but if you have a six-pack, flaunt it and, if you don't want to show your face, you don't have to, just make sure you are doing something moderately interesting, like abseiling.
Repotting and transplanting are among the most risky tasks for any gardener, since plants might not react favourably to being uprooted and reorientated. Hyunjun Kim's "re_flowerpot" simply breaks into two parts, keeping root disturbance to a minimum.
The technology to connect to the internet without wires has been around for long enough for it to have become synonymous with a connection to the ether. Another kind of wirelessness – which will some day free us from wires altogether – was showcased at last week's Consumer Electronics Show. Chinese manufacturer Haier showed off a television designed to be completely wireless, relying on wireless technology not only for content, but also for power. The Haier TV uses a magnetic-based power system developed by MIT spin-off company WiTricity, and is capable of receiving 100 W of power from up to about a metre away. The power unit plugs into the wall and sends power via radio waves to the electromagnetic coil in the back of the television. In addition to the impressive power trick, the television features Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI), which is capable of streaming content at 3 Gigabytes per second from distances of up to 30 metres away, disposing of the need for video input cables. The set was chosen to receive a 2010 CES "Product of the Future Award" from Popular Science magazine.
Upload big things
Google Docs is a free, Web-based word processor, spreadsheet and presentation application. This week, the Google blog (googleblog.blogspot.com) announced that it would allow users to upload any file type to the Google cloud – the storage space on the internet – and that they would be given a whole gigabyte, for free, to do so. Documents uploaded in this way can be viewed and shared on any computer.
Look up The Most Useless Machine EVER! on instructables.com for instructions on how to build a machine that does nothing but switch itself off.
Disney for big people
If you love your iPhone as much as your toddler loves Ben 10, then you will find this bedding, available from the Swedish store Ellos (ellos.se) absolutely irresistible.
According to Slate Magazine's (slate.com) Farhad Manjoo, January is a magical month in the technology industry, largely because of the unveiling of a slew of new gadgetry at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Things have been a little dry in Gadget Land for the past year thanks to a slow economy which has created a reluctance to pump capital into any major projects. But as the economy recovers, predictions for 2010 are looking positive.
HD or 3D
Most South Africans have probably not quite digested the idea of High Definition television. If you have gone out and purchased an HD set and all the peripherals that make you believe the action is happening right in your sitting room, the bad news is that you are already due for an upgrade. John Taylor, an LG vice president told the New York Times in an interview this week: "The stars are aligning to make 2010 the launch year of 3-D." The success of the new technology will depend on whether consumers are ready to ditch their recently unpacked sets in favour of new 3-D ones which will retail in the US for a hefty $2,000. Buyers will also have to purchase special goggles to view the new format. ESPN plans to show World Cup footage in 3D and Discovery, Imax and Sony are planning to create a 3-D entertainment channel next year.
At first glance, the AR Drone looks like a floating candlebra. It is, in fact, a quadricopter, a lightweight device powered by four small, but powerful, sets of blades that keep it aloft. But the AR Drone is much more. It is equipped with two mini video cameras which relay data to an iPhone. A downloadable application turns the phone into both remote control and video game. On the screen you not only see the footage of your house or garden filmed by the drone, but also virtual monsters or fighter planes that appear courtesy of the augmented reality (AR) technology, which layers digital information and data over moving pictures of your surroundings. According to Wilson Rothman, features editor of gadget website Gizmodo, it is about time the revolutionary idea took off: "This is surely every kid's dream game made real."
Despite all the hooha raised by science fiction writer Philip K Dick's family about Google's illegal use of the name Nexus One for their new phone, the handset is still being touted as the next big thing. Dick's family claims that Google stole the name from a character in the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was later turned into the movie Bladerunner. Google says the name has nothing to do with Dick's work and critics are raving about the phone, which uses Android, an open source operating system that frees consumers to choose from competing service providers.
A company called Idea has invented a kitchen timer that eliminates the need for fiddling with knobs and dials when your hands are covered in dough. All you need do is turn the cube so that the required time – inscribed on each of the cube's six faces – faces upwards. The cube, available from aplusrstore.com, can also be used to time your shower or keep you from napping for too long.
A new USB drive introduced by Japanese company Futen, uses face recognition technology to check the identity of the person using it. Once you have taken a few pics of yourself, Lockface will verify your face via your webcam each time you need to access the data stored on the drive. According to Futen, the device has an error rate of about 2% (it verifies the "wrong" person in 1.91% of cases and refuses to verify the right person in 1.98% of cases). Lockface does have the option to use password encryption, just in case an attack by a swarm of bees renders you unrecognisable. The 4-gigabyte Lockface is only available in Japan (try the Japan Trend Shop, japantrendshop.com if you are interested) and costs around R850.
As the owner of a somewhat neurotic dog who refuses to venture outside for her evening wee on New Years' Eve, I feel that restrictions on the use of fireworks is a good. If you are dead set on making big bangs, there alternatives that will not terrify animals or set fire to your garden. Sega Toys has created the Uchiage Hanabi, a fireworks projector that uses 5 projection lenses to blast moving and animated exploding fireworks onto your walls and ceiling. It even tracks the rocket from launch to explosion, so you can watch it just like a real show – in your lounge, all year round, rain or shine. The projector costs just over a thousand bucks and is available from the Japan Trend Shop.
NoPoPo stands for No Pollution Power and is the name of a battery that derives its charge from liquid. Charging the NoPoPo is simple: suck up your liquid of choice – anything from Coca Cola to urine – with the syringe supplied, and squeeze it into the battery. Apart from being convenient, the NoPoPo batteries are good for the earth, since they are made with 100% non-toxic materials and a ten-year shelf life. (japantrendshop.com)
The Keystick keyboard by designers Yoonsang Kim and Eunsung Park folds up like a fan when you don't need it. It is still in its conceptual phase, but could be a good alternative to roll-up keyboards which tend to feel mushy in comparison with the real thing.
Charlie Sorrel, the guy at Wired magazine responsible for many of the product reviews in Wired's Gadget Lab blog, is obsessed with bicycles. I know this because in my search for inspiration, there is usually a bike in some form or another that seems a little out of place in amongst the state-of-the-art digital wotnots. Enter the Copenhagen Wheel, a device that at last marries mechanical and digital on two wheels. The wheel, developed by researchers at MIT, attaches to any bicycle and stores the energy you lose when you brake so that you can access it when you need a boost. "When you brake, your kinetic energy is recuperated by an electric motor and then stored by batteries within the wheel, so that you can have it back to you when you need it," explains professor Carlo Ratti, Director of the MIT Senseable City Lab. The wheel is also equipped with a series of sensors and a Bluetooth connection to the user's iPhone, which is mounted on the handlebars. Using the phone as an interface, the wheel can monitor speed, direction and distance, collect data on air pollution and connect with friends. Bike riding citizens of Copenhagen will be able to join an incentive scheme whereby they can clock up so-called green miles – similar to air miles, but good for the environment – although it is not yet clear what the reward will be. The wheel was unveiled this week at the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change.
A shift in refrigeration
I like the Shift fridge not only because it is a clever design-meets-concept take on the age-old problem of food preservation, but because it illlustrates how minor lifestyle modifications can make a difference. The idea is simple. The Shift refrigerator has a small door that opens to a compartment where the most commonly used grocery items are stored: milk, cheese and the like – so you don't have to open the big door, which allows a lot of cooled air to escape. Opening a smaller door means that less energy needs to be spent on replenishing cooled air.
Five year phone
Cell phone manufacturers and service providers do their damndest to get you to throw your "old" phone away. If you are a contract customer you will be badgered constantly until you take delivery of your "upgrade". If you are a lowly pay-as-you-go client you will be nagged by advertising that will convince you that you need to purchase the latest, slimmest, smallest camera-video-music player phone if you intend to make friends, business or love any time in the near future. James Barber's very green Nokia means to challenge all this. His phone is made to last at least five years and, once it does give up the ghost, is 85% recyclable.
Bag a bunny
The Picnica Tote Bag takes the reusable shopping bag to the next level. While most bags of this kind crumple into a ball, this bag is stuffed into a bunny-shaped nylon bag and becomes a soft toy that you can whip out to distract a distraught toddler. In its bag form, the bunny is displayed on the outside. It is available from aplusrstore.com and costs around R250.
Stand out in a cloud
Squid London (squidlondon.com) has come up with the perfect way to brighten up a grey day and demonstrate one's membership of the fashionable set. Squid's Bird Squit umbrella starts out monochrome, but the moment it starts raining, its black and white façade metamorphoses into rainbow hues. SquidLondon has pledged to donate £1 from the sale of every umbrella of their new limited collection to support a local student’s efforts to raise funds for ChildReach International, a UK charity aimed at fighting child poverty in developing countries.
Former professor of physics at Oxford University, Josh Silver, has invented a pair of spectacles that he says are a "tremendous glimpse of the obvious". Silver's specs consist of fluid-filled sacs sandwiched between two plastic discs. Each sac is equipped with a tiny syringe attached to the arms of the glasses. The wearer simply adjusts a dial on the syringe to increase or decrease the amount of fluid in the sacs, thereby increasing or decreasing the strength of the lens. Once the correct setting is achieved, the sac is sealed and the syringes are removed. The beauty of this innovation is that it can be mass-produced, eliminating the need to manufacture millions of unique lenses. It is also empowering: no optician is required to fit them, since it is the user who decides which setting suits best.Read more on the Centre for Vision in the Developing World website at www.vdw.ox.ac.uk.
Social networking site Facebook has introduced new privacy settings designed to prevent your dancing-on-the-table-while-at-the-annual-office-party pics from getting into the wrong hands. Or so it seems. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) the new settings could actually make you more vulnerable. Each Facebook user will be asked to review their settings when next they log in, prompting them to classify visitors to their profiles as friends, friends of friends, everyone or "custom", where you can divide your friends into smaller groups. EFF lawyer Kevin Bankston says that although it is a good thing that users can make decisions around who sees what, they are in fact pushing more information out into the public realm by making the changes to their profiles. If a user now opts for Facebook's default privacy settings, all their status messages and wall posts will be visible to all and sundry, whereas before they were only visible to friends. Facebook's vice president of communications, public policy and marketing, Elliot Schrage, stated at a press conference that it has introduced the new settings to encourage all users to "make informed decisions about their privacy or about the Facebook experience they want."
License to misbehave
An experiment designed by researchers at the University of Zurich has demonstrated that the link between testosterone and aggressive, sex-crazed behaviour is largely a perception fuelled by the media. In a double-blind randomised controlled trial, women were either told that they were being given the hormone and then were given a placebo or were in fact injected with testosterone, but not told. The results were interesting. The women who believed that they had been given testosterone behaved more aggressively and selfishly, while those who actually received it were more altruistic. Read a summary of the report from Nature magazine on the Science Blogs website (scienceblogs.com).
According to Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, whose idea it was to invent a substance that could mend or improve on just about anything, humans are natural hackers who, given half a chance, will come up with a fix. Sugru, the product of that notion – and five years of experimentation – is a clay-like polymer made from a type of silicon that can stick to almost any substance and can be moulded to any specification. When it cures, it retains its malleable, rubber-like quality. Sugru held a workshop recently to come up with as many uses as possible to demonstrate Sugru's effectiveness. It was used – see the video on sugru.com – to mend shoes, glasses and tv remotes and in a myriad other ways to improve existing products and fix broken ones. Sugru sold their first 1000 packets in six hours but have promised that they will come up with more of the magic stuff. Jane says of Sugru, an Irish word for play: "I was inspired by the internet and the whole idea of user-generated content. I wanted something that people could make their own and use in their own way."
Toys.brando.com have come up with a gadget that will make the idea of setting up metres of dominoes just for the fun of seeing them knock one another over seem far more appealing. The Auto Domino Building Truck is a battery operated toy that poops up to 200 dominoes in straight lines, or in circles if you lock the steering. The truck is loaded via a magazine that clips onto its roof.
According to a recent study by University of Rochester psychologists Netta Weinstein, Andrew Przybylski and Richard Ryan, people exposed to nature, even if only in the form of slideshows, become more caring. Participants were instructed to look at images of either the built environment or natural landscapes. Then they answered a series of questions or were given tests of generosity. The researchers found that the subjects who had been familiarised with nature were more willing to open their wallets and share. Coauthor Andrew Przybylski's theory is that nature helps to connect people to their authentic selves which are inherently communal because humans evolved in hunter-gatherer societies that depended on mutuality for survival.
Split the bill in style
The Piece of Cake is a conceptual device designed to iron out the complexities of splitting the lunch bill with friends when everyone is insisting on paying with their credit cards. The touchscreen interface in the centre of the cake is where you choose how many people are to share the bill. Each user isolates the items on the bill that they are responsible for and then swipes and pays accordingly. (yankodesign.com)
For centuries, the colour blue has presented a unique set of problems for painters, cloth makers and scientists. Recreating the elusive hue, which even nature reluctantly presents, has always been difficult, achieved at great expense by grinding up precious lapis lazuli or toying with noxious substances. Blues squeezed from plants are apt to fade. The search for a safe alternative has ended. While messing around with manganese oxide, scientists at Oregon State University accidentally produced a bright blue pigment when the powder was heated in a furnace. The work has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
While attending a school for hearing impaired children, ten year-old Hayleigh Scott noticed that many of her fellow learners tried to hide their hearing aids by covering them with their hair. Hayleigh had a different view: "I wanted to make my hearing aids shine and be fancy and proud of my hearing aids", she says on her website, hayleighscherishedcharms.com. So she began designing jewellery designed to embellish rather than hide the devices.
Talk to the tote
How is that it is so difficult to spot your bag on the carousel at the airport? Is it a kind of performance anxiety that overcomes one or is it simply that most luggage looks the same? Thingsyouneverknew.com specialises in gadgets that you never knew existed, including the Luggage Locator, a device which you attach to your bag. When you activate it with aremote which you carry on your person, the Luggage Locator will respond by flashing six coloured LED lights and playing the unique message that you have prerecorded. It will prattle on for 30 seconds or so, giving you ample time to locate the source ... and your bag.
It is a well-documented fact that few humans are perfectly symmetrical and when it comes to feet, this can be painfully evident in some of us. Unevenfeet.com aims to address the podiatric problems of the proportionately disinclined by hooking them up with a user who has the same problem but on the opposite side. Once users have united they can make joint purchases of footwear.
Convinced of the ability of sound to affect human biology, acoustic engineer Sandy Hawkins spent 15 years developing an instrument that would be able to shift mucous deep in the lungs of patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He worked on making a machine that could generate the 16 hertz waves that would mimic the frequency of the lung's cilia – hair-like structures on the bronchial walls that herd phlegm out of the lungs and into the mouth. Hawkins spent much ofhis R&D time on reducing the size of the enormous sub-woofers needed to vibrate at this very low frequency. Then, in a Eureka! moment, while working on a mouthpiece filter for the machine, he noticed that when he blew into it, it produced a vibration in his chest. Minutes later, Hawkins had sketched the design for the Lung Flute, a simple tube with a plastic reed inside it which vibrates at precisely the correct frequency when you blow into it. 10 to 15 puffs later, your lungs respond by giving up the goo. According to Corey Binns, the Popular Science writer who reviewed the apparatus for the magazine's "Best of What's New" 2009, it definitely works.
Innovation of the Year
In partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Berry Plastics (berryplastics.com) has created a blast protection wallpaper called X-flex, designed for use in areas that are prone to blasts and other lethal forces. X-flex, which comes in a roll with sticky backing has a dual function. It keeps walls from collapsing after an impact as well as preventing debris from exploding inward into the room. See the video of popsci's wrecking ball test on popsci.com.
There are some gadgets that are difficult to improve on, especially those that have been around for such a long time that they have become a symbol of a subculture. Take the stethoscope for instance. It was invented in 1852. Apart from a few minor modifications, the instrument has remained unchanged. Until now that is. Thanks to bluetooth connectivity, the stethoscope has been transformed into a precision tool, no longer subject to the guesswork that doctors indulge in while they appear to be listening attentively to the swish-swish of blood as it passes through your aortic valve. 3M/Littmann's Electronic Stethoscope Model 3200 comes with Zargis Cardioscan, software that hooks the device up to a computer and gives a faultless diagnosis of whatever might (or not) be ailing you. The stethoscope, which will eliminate the need for expensive echocardiograms in patients who present with suspect but harmless heart sounds, was named Innovation of the Year by Popular Science magazine.
World's toughest wallpaper
No more free lunches
If you looked at this picture and had an "Ew!" reaction, then it is doing exactly what it is meant to. The sandwich inside the bag is perfectly fine; it is just the bag it is in that looks as if it is infested with mould. Just the thing to stop would-be sandwich thieves from lifting your lovingly-prepared lunch. Anti-theft lunch bags are available in packs of 25 from thinkofthe.com for $10. Five percent of every purchase is donated to Freedom from Hunger.
The latest incarnation of Wii things is Baby and Me, a package that ships with an actual doll with a snap-in port for a Wii controller which, as the box says, “will bring your baby to life”. Everything a child might do with an ordinary doll – dressing up, bathing, feeding – is duplicated in Wii fashion. Baby and Me is due for release in Australia next month.
If you have ever convinced yourself, after a misguided googling episode, that you have some dread disease when all you really have is a plantar's wart, you may be suffering from cyberchondria, the web-induced form of hyperchondria. Cyberchondriacs, believing that their doctors are misguided or that the internet offers a bigger resource of knowledge, characteristically diagnose themselves with the most extreme disease related to minor symptoms such as headaches or stiff necks. Stephen Josephson, a clinical associate professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, says that many of the health concerns that people have are caused by anxiety, which can prompt compulsive behavior. He says, "It's a paradox: The more you read in an attempt to reduce your fear, the more you try to figure things out, the more anxiety peaks. Very few people know how to navigate the Internet and evaluate information when they're anxious, and yet that's when they tend to go online."
Energy innovators The Power Collective (thepowercollective.com) have won the 2009 Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge with their design for a cost-effective, quiet and visually unobtrusive turbine that is able to generate power from low or variable wind condtions. The Ridgeblade is fitted to the ridge line on a a pitched roof where wind is forced up the slope of the roof. Here air flow is focused and accelerated through the turbine. The Power Collective aims to begin production early next year.
Sanyo's Eneloop batteries come packaged with Eneloopy, a cute canine reminiscent of cartoon character Snoopy. Eneloopy is not just a toy (although he will most certainly appeal to younger users); he is a battery checker designed to determine if your Eneloop rechargeable batteries have any charge left in them. If they do, Eneloopy's nose light glows: green represents a full charge, orange is a partial charge, and red indicates the battery needs to be charged. No light at all means that the battery is completely discharged. Eneloopy comes with a "bone" to squeeze the battery out of the checker. And a food bowl to keep the bone in.
Discover magazine maintains that the most important scientific researchers could be those who are trying to turn ice cream from artery-clogging dieter's nemesis into health food. This would mean adding fibre, antioxidants and probiotics. But would it still be ice cream?
The manufacturers of washing powder brand Wisk have come up with a clever way to extend their reach to the internet. Boring things like detergent are hard enough to market in the real world, but turning them into memes has, until now, been considered a virtual impossiblility. Wisk came up with Wisk-it, a Facebook application designed to get rid of your dirty laundry on your friend's Facebook pages: those nasty pictures of you dancing on the table, or in your fat and pimply teens. Once you install the app, it pulls up all pictures of you on Facebook. When you click on the pic you want removed, a message is sent to the friend who owns the image requesting that it be taken down. Wisk-it is available on Facebook.
USB breast warmers
According to crunchgear.com, Thanko (thanko.jp) is "famous for its plethora of USB-enabled gadgets that make no sense whatsoever". We have Thanko to thank for the USB soldering iron, the USB shaver and wee man, a cupid-like mini figure that pees. The latest in their line of USB heating devices, which includes heated gloves, socks and a butt-warmer, is a USB boob-warmer. The device consists of a pair of kidney shaped pads which, when strategically placed, will defrost your peaks.
If your ordinary false eyelashes are not getting you the attention you need, why not upgrade to Soomi Park's LED version? Park's eye lights are attached to thin wires which run across the temples to a power source and a switch which is triggered as the wearer moves her eyes, adding a new dimension to the meaningful look. Korean designer Park embarked on the project as a comment on the obsession of Asian women with making their eyes appear larger. See the video on Park's website soomipark.com.
The authors of the bestseller What's your poo telling you? have created an iPhone application to go with the book. The Poo Log is, according to Discover magazine's Discoblog, "a digital timer and journal for recording and studying the wondrous uniqueness of each bowel movement." It also offers medical advice and helpful tips like, "Light a match. Now."
Face to face with a thirsty hummingbird
When my son saw this contraption, he mistook it for a well-used paintballing helmet. It is, in fact, nothing of the sort. The Eye to Eye Wearable Hummingbird Feeder was created so that the wearer can get as close as humanly possible to a hummingbird while it sips nectar from the little hole between your eyes. A video taken from inside the mask is available for viewing on heatstick.com, where the mask can be purchased for around R500.
A new web meme (an element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices) has lately been doing the rounds. Some browsers of Google Books (which, in case you have not discovered it, is a huge repository of searchable scanned documents that can be accessed online) have come across scans which show the fingers of the scanners sheathed in condom-like pink rubber, a reminder that there are real live people behind all the virtual workings.
Just the word "retouch" should be sufficient to turn any parent right off the idea of having a photo of their fresh- faced toddler turned into a waxen effigy. Apparently, there are several online companies which will turn your cutie pie into a doll, if you so wish. See the rest of the disturbing collection on the website of film maker James Gunn (jamesgunn.com)
Light up your mouth
Truth be told, I would rather not see inside my mouth while I am brushing my teeth, but if you are inquisitive about your oral health, the Beldente LED toothbrush will throw some light on the subject. According to inventorspot.com, the LED in the toothbrush also has a wavelength of 400 ~ 750nm that has an inhibitory effect on the pathogen that causes periodontal disease. It is available from Japanese retailer Rakuten (rakuten.co.jp) for about R400 and ships with complimentary toothpaste that contains Vitamin E and Xylitol. The LED lamp has a lifespan of five million hours.
Paper water bottle
Brandimage created this paper water bottle in response to what is happening to the environment and in the bottling industry. They are marketing it – cleverly – as a tool to be used by companies to show their support for the environment. The 360 Paper Water Bottle is made from bamboo, palm leaves, and other natural plants and can be branded with any company's identity to show off their greenness.
Pout like Angelina
Want a delicious, fleshy mouth like Angelina Jolie? Cosmesearch.com is offering a "no injections, no pain" DIY lip enhancing system called JolieLips, designed to plump up your lips and increase your sex appeal – if you do it correctly, that is. Melissa Dahl, reviewer for msnbc.com's Does it Work blog, tested it. While she found the experience "vaguely dirty" and profoundly slobbery, she was initially pleased with the results and confidently applied the kit's pump (a ghastly embossed rubber device reminiscent of an enema pump) to her lips for a second time (the kit's instructions recommend repeating the process several times a day). The following morning, however, she found her face much changed; her lips were bruised blue and remained that way for an entire weekend, during which several concerned people enquired whether everything was okay at home. Dahl's verdict: "Fuller lips just weren’t worth the physical and emotional pain I experienced with JolieLips. I’ll stick with my lip gloss."
Any mother will tell you that taking a niggly baby's temperature can be as awkward as changing a nappy while driving a tractor. The Baby Glow baby-gro, "World's Softest Thermometer", makes it much easier. The garment is fashioned from temperature-sensitive cloth that changes colour – from its original pastel pink, blue and green to white – when baby's temperature rises above 37ºC. (babyglow.uk.com)
As safe as fishes
Nissan mimicked three aspects of fish behaviour in their latest anti-collision technology showcased this month at the CEATEC Japan conference in Chiba. A robot called Eporo demonstrates the way humans should drive. According to Nissan, who has taken similar cues from bumblebee flight, fish display "extraordinary ‘anti-collision’ abilities, navigating instinctively and intelligently through challenging terrain by detecting and avoiding obstacles." Firstly, fish can change direction without colliding with their fellow fish. Second, lane-splitting comes naturally to fish and they also match each others’ speed while doing so. Finally, fish can get within a hair's breadth of one another's bumpers without making contact. According to principal engineer at Nissan, Toshiyuki Andou: "We, in a motorised world, have a lot to learn from the behaviour of a school of fish in terms of each fish’s degree of freedom and safety within a school and high migration efficiency of a school itself."
Environmentally Correct Awards
The medals for the 2010 Winter Olympics to be held in Vancouver, are not only unusual in their design. Designers Corrine Hunt and Omer Arbel, have created each medal as a one-of-a-kind artwork, their lines inspired by the Orca whale and the raven. Also, the medals are manufactured from recycled e-waste; used electronics like TV's, computers and keyboards. See how the medals were made at vancouver2010.com.
A recent post on creativecloseup.com called 15 Incredible Conceptual Designs You Wish Existed includes this Light Lane which, unlike conventional safety lights, projects beyond the bicycle's frame to provide a well-defined boundary to create a bigger and more visible safety margin between rider and driver. If they won't give us bike lanes, we'll make our own!
I've always wanted a whirling stool
The Torillo (small bull?) stool, will appeal to those who feel that furniture should be both functional and fun. Yanko design's review says the Torillo, which rotates through 360 degrees (the horns are for holding on), is more "nostalgic herald" than "futuristic envisage". Like the Light Lane, this piece of furniture is still in its conceptual phase.
Twitter kills clones
Twitter has a problem: too many Tweets. If all the excess Tweets were original, this might not be such a bad thing, but the truth is that the micro-blogging service regularly gets clogged up with "dupes", duplicate messages that are simply copied verbatim and ad nauseum, which not only uses up space on Twitter's server, but makes Twitter look a little silly and is annoying when one is looking for meaningful content. Twitter is attempting to remedy this ill by blocking duplicate texts. This may stop spam, but, as techcrunch.com points out, retweeting is fundamental to the way Twitter works: you find a link you like and pass it along. On the other hand, since you are limited to 160 characters, should you not make them your own?
It seems that the post-coital smoke has been replaced by another habit – tweeting. A survey by Retrevo (retrevo.com) reveals that 36% of men and women under the age of 35 resort to social media after sex. Men are twice as likely than women to exhibit this behaviour.
Barbie too fat for designer
"Cankles" is defined in the urban dictionary as "the area in affected female legs where the calf meets the foot in an abrupt, nontapering terminus". This, according to shoe designer Christian Louboutin, is what ails Barbie, who is about to receive a makeover ( a little lipo?) so that the already impossibly slender doll is better able to show off Louboutin's fabulous footwear, which will be worn by three limited edition Louboutin Barbies due to be released (complete with mini Louboutin shoe boxes) over the coming months.
The Refined Feline, a company that specialises in custom cat furniture, has created this corner commode to accommodate the needs of the most discerning cat ... and his staff. The unit is designed to give kitty the privacy he needs, while keeping odours and unsightly litter boxes out of the way. It comes in honey, mahogany, and espresso finishes and costs around R1500. (therefinedfeline.com)
If you have ever woken from an upright sleep with a crick in your neck or your head on a stranger's shoulder, this rather strange-looking headgear is the solution. While it is certainly not designed with the wearer's self respect in mind, the Nap Cap is sure to keep your head up while you nod off. The cap is equipped with sturdy elasticised straps that tie your noggin to the back of whatever furniture you are seated on. (vacationgadgets.com)
The Japanese designers of the Pet Evacuation Jacket have every base covered in the event that you and your pet find yourselves in a disaster zone. The jacket is made of the latest high-tech fire-retardant fabric with Velcro fasteners and is fitted with a handle as well as a longer strap that can double as a leash. It has enough storage space for food, pet and human, and water, to keep you and your pet going in the vital 24 to 48 hours after evacuation. Other supplies include a food bowl, muzzle, hermetically-sealed odour control bag, protective rain hood and rubber booties, freezer gel packs (to control heat), a bell and a waterproof ID capsule with blank paper. There is also space for human supplies: bandages, aromatic panic-calming oil, first-aid gloves, a mini-radio and an emergency whistle. This high tech saviour suit will set you back about R4000, but it does seem worthwhile if you live in a dangerous place. (japantrendshop.com)
Nowadays, you need an extra bag in your luggage just to accommodate the peripherals you need to keep your devices charged. The Powermat, a slab about the size of an upmarket novel, charges up to three batteries at the same time using magnetic induction. (powermat.com)
Sony Ericsson's new MH907 headphones put your ears in control with a headset that responds to motion. When you take the buds out of your ears, the 'phones automatically pause whatever track is playing on your player, so that you don't have to fumble around for buttons. If you use them with a mobile phone, the SensMe technology hangs up when you dislodge the buds from your ears.
What the L, Google?
In case you missed it, Google spelt its logo with two els on Sunday last week. The double consonant was meant as a cryptic celebratory salute to Google's eleventh anniversary. Oddly enough, Ron Callari of Inventor Spot, notes that Wikipedia puts Google's birthday on the 4th of September.
Wear your peripherals
Dutch design student Erik De Nijs built a wireless keyboard into a pair of jeans as his take on a project which required him to combine two brand items to create a new product. While the Beauty and the Geek pants were meant more as an artistic statement than a practical wearable item, if the problem of washability can be overcome they might well become mainstream.
There seems to be no end to the things Apple's iPhone can do. A new application for the very smart phone called Eye Glasses magnifies hard-to-read text up to eight times by using the phone's camera feed and making it much bigger.