I own a lot of 'em. :-) I'm generally impressed with the sophisticated designs and manufacture of the VCRs, video games, and other consumer electronics I've looked at. In fact, I'm amazed by how much stuff some engineers can cram into a product designed to sell for $129. Sometimes I think about going into that line of work, but for now, the following ideafiles are my contribution to this interesting industry.
A telephone system for homes and small offices, compatible with typical house telephone wiring, and offering many convenience features not commonly found on small telephone systems.
Here's a really bad idea! How about a portable DC power supply for laptop computers that uses a butane turbine and a generator, instead of just a boring old heavy battery? In my defense, this isn't my idea, but I admit I like it. :-)
The first thing I'd change about the classic electric-vehicle concept is that vehicles shouldn't be purely electrical. Electrical charge storage today means batteries, and batteries are heavy, don't store much charge, and are very expensive-- especially when they wear out rapidly. Instead, I think electric vehicles should really be hybrid devices: a set of batteries plus an ultra-low-emissions engine of some kind. A few alternatives are described here.
Yes, this is possibly the single best definition of a nerd: Someone who has opinions on calculator watches. Well, live with it. Better yet, click on the link and read about it. :-)
Do you have a huge, essentially unmanageable collection of business cards? Have you thought about getting one of those business-card scanners? So have I. People just keep telling me they don't work well enough. What's needed here?
There are already portable computers of virtually every size and description. It isn't quite a continuous spectrum, however. The gaps are almost more interesting to me than the products you can buy today. What's missing? Why? Should someone try to fill these holes?
Many years ago I manned a booth at a trade show, duplicating cassette tapes using a whole table full of high-speed duplication decks. The same equipment is still being used today, and it's just not fast enough to keep up with a big show. It's almost pathetic seeing these old analog decks in one booth surrounded by other booths demonstrating high-tech digital audio gear. Why don't they talk to each other??
Various PC manufacturers have developed systems intended for use in the living room: so-called Entertainment PCs. Microsoft's guidelines on these systems, part of the new PC98 hardware design guide, correctly point out that the thermal management techniques used on mainstream desktop PCs (primarily big noisy fans) are unsuitably loud for the living room. Microsoft doesn't suggest an alternative, however, so I will. I turn for my inspiration to high-end stereo amplifiers, which manage to dissipate hundreds of watts of heat without using fans. How? By running their semiconductor power amplifiers at junction temperatures of 200° C, and their heat sinks at 150° C. Heat transfer to the ambient air is more efficient at higher heat-sink temperatures, allowing more energy to be carried away.
Video baby monitors are fairly popular these days, but the cameras and transmitters use too much power to be good for battery operation. A still-frame video transmitter with matching receiver could send perhaps one frame per second (more or less), digitally encoded and compressed, with much lower average power consumption. The same burst could send one second of audio to go along with the video frame. A product like this could enable routine monitoring of other kinds of personal propertycars, for examplethat are normally too far away from an AC outlet to support conventional surveillance cameras.
This isn't a totally original idea; I've seen other descriptions of consumer-oriented digital video recorders. The C-Cube DVx realtime MPEG-2 encoder/decoder chip, for example, may find great success in such products. I just hope product designers give us more than a VCR with a hard disk. Hard disks aren't just a different kind of video tape. They don't wear out (or at least not as quickly), and they offer dramatically faster random access. Combine these two features, and you can have real-time recording with pause, rewind, and fast-forward features that don't interfere with the continued recording of the programand in effect, you could decide whether to record a program after it's over. In other words, if the disk can hold two hours of video, it could always hold the last two hours of programming up to the current real-time moment, allowing you to pause playback for up to two hours to answer the phone, rewind and watch something again, or save a show that's just ended. I'll elaborate when I get the time...
I like many of the features of the Advanced Photo System (APS), used in Kodak's Advantix cameras and a wide range of products from other camera companies. Drop-in film loading, mid-roll film exchange, and magnetic/optical recording of exposure parameters give APS great technical advantages over 35mm cameras. However, APS film is smaller than 35mm, which probably reflects a conscious decision by Kodak and the other APS developers to position APS as an amateur product. Many professional photographers use medium-format equipment, where the film is 60mm wide and has no sprocket holes, so the image is over twice as tall as on 35mm film. I would like to propose a professional version of APSa Professional Photo System, or PPS. Include a high-resolution digital imager for composition, autoexposure and autofocus, and it becomes an excellent dual-purpose product. I don't know that anyone's working on this, but if someone offers it, I'll buy one.
Ever have a good idea in the shower? I have. I even have a small white board mounted high up on the wall, right up against the ceiling, in my shower so I have somewhere to scribble down these ideas before they get away. This isn't a very practical idea unless you're well over six feet tall like I am. A more useful way to record ideas would be a waterproof voice-memo recorder. Call it "Notes On A Rope." :-)
Okay, we've all got piles of remote controls sitting around, right?. I have five things here in my computer room that perform that function, plus three in my bedroom and seven more in the living room. They're all good for sending commands to TVs and VCRs, but not to any of the things I'd like to be able to control from a distance. Like light switches. Speakerphones, maybe. I'd suggest allowing these devices to emulate a couple of different brands of cable-TV decoder boxes, mapping functions as appropriate onto the available commands. No house will have more than one brand of cable TV, so this ensures we can find a protocol that isn't in use.
There are lots of companies offering radio frequency identification (RF ID) tags for inventory control and theft prevention in clothing stores, for access control in high-tech buildings, etc. Most of these systems operate only at short ranges, but a system that supports about a six-foot range and doesn't consume much power could be used by individuals to help them keep track of personal property. Carry a small transceiver on your belt and little transponders on each of your important things (key ring, PDA, etc.). If you set down one of these things and walk more than six feet away, the transceiver beeps at you. Could be annoying. Could save you from losing something valuable, too.
The new Windows CE palm-sized PCs have too many buttons. They can't be used casually, while sitting on a flat surface, or held in your off hand, because you really have to hold them in the same hand every time to be able to reach and activate all those darn buttons. On the other hand, the Apple Newton has too few buttons: just power and reset. This forces you to grab the stylus to swap applications, activate the built-in voice memo recorder (which takes multiple taps, a different number of them depending on the state of the unit), or do other good and useful things. It would be better to have a few easy to reach, easy to use buttons for a few predetermined purposes, plus extra optional buttons that require careful hand positioning plus some training for other functions. Here are my analysis and recommendations.
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