Monday, January 30, 2012

Lost Inventions That Would Have Made Millions

(Before embarking on this post, I should just like to announce that I am of course perfectly aware of the irony of starting up a blog called 'The Lost Notebook', dedicated to the lostness of all kinds of opportunities and hopes, then forgetting to maintain it. In a sense it seems a necessary step in this blog's development that it fails to mark long arid stretches of time in which anyone who had ever visited it to satisfy a (rapidly-passing) curiosity can get on with forgetting all about it.)

One of the side-effects of possessing no perspective whatever on practical reality other than 'That seems to be what those other, more successful, people inhabit' is the occasional hatching of schemes THAT WILL MAKE MILLIONS. These are always announced in capital letters to a prematurely-wearied partner, parent or friend, who is somehow responsible for making the scheme a reality, then sorting out the book-keeping so I can make feature-length cartoons about something I found in the gutter. Then, naturally, nothing at all happens next.

But every now and then I am reminded of one such scheme (hare-brained? Well, as the March Hare remarked, 'they were the best hare brains of my generation'), and visit accusation and guilt upon the long-suffering other. The most recent example, which is reminding me of this whole pointless cycle of imaginary innovation followed by sloth and unjust recrimination, is the sudden interest of my family in possessing a Kindle. My partner wanted one for Christmas, which logically meant, according to my mother, that my father should want one too. Except he showed the same lack of interest in the device as he had when I invented it.

That's right, back in the late eighties or early nineties (I am, as a side-effect of being an idiot, a little hazy on the detail), when he first became MD of a PCB (printed circuit board) company, I suggested that he should branch out into making an actual product, and that product should be an electronic book. You plugged everything into its memory, then read it on a screen. That's a Kindle, right? Both he and (and herein arrives a further shit-load of irony) my partner pooh-poohed the project, stating that no-one would ever be interested in such a device which wouldn't work anyway.

They're both quite happy to admit to this, and were continuing to claim it would never take off even when I showed them examples of it not only levitating, but circumnavigating the globe, commercially-speaking. Then my partner asked for one for Christmas - because her sister had got one, and I, overlooking an opportunity for hours of unrealistic recrimination, just bought her it. Thus taking imaginary bread from the mouth of our own child, who should have had her own animatronic elephant by now - because I would have invested our profits wisely, of that you need have no fears.

This is of course typical, as demonstrated in numerous other cases, some of which I can't remember because no-one has actually made the thing/developed the idea I had first although I nonetheless definitely had it first. Like the stamp-collecting T-Shirts.

This was a clothing company scheme based on the premiss that most men have absolutely no idea what to wear but like collecting things in a completist/obsessive manner. So you sell them T-Shirts. You sell them T-Shirts in boxed sets where the images are themed so they have to get all of them. The boxed sets appear regularly, like the Post Office's issuing of commemorative stamps - in fact they're seasonal, so they sort of fit in with the fashion world's calendar, and women actually notice them. Because women have no idea what to buy men - or to qualify that, women know exactly what to buy men but are puzzled by the inability of men to like/wear/appreciate the good taste/practicality/sheer style of the objects purchased for them. They have no idea what to buy men that men might like.

(Some of you may already be copying this down, it's such hot shit. Two points: I expect a cut in a plain brown envelope to be left in a series of drop sites so I can act out a Spooks fantasy; and I haven't got round to the killer punch of what is the actual design yet.)

Stamps. You print stamps on them good and big and colourful and accurate, because you're appealing to the collector gene in men who haven't grown up and will instantly revert to their 12 year-old philatelic selves, and because you will never run out of stamps. The sheer diversity of ways you can package them into nostalgia-stimulating groups of strange countries, ex-colonies or themed imagery (birds, spaceships, sports personalities) beggars belief especially when you think how much you can charge per set of 3-to-6 T-Shirts. (Numbers are very important here - men dote on patterns. I'd also make them unbleached Fairtrade organic cotton - remember, women must notice them first. And I'd sell them in T-shirt-shaped boxes - brilliant!)

Once you'd done stamps - though you'd never be done with stamps - I'd advise going on to those football cards they used to and probably still do sell with bubblegum, and those cards you used to get in packets of tea. Men'll buy those, and a significant pathetic subset of men will buy all of those, just to keep them in their original T-shirt-shaped box.

You can see why I got very excited and used A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS with this one, but, strangely, not a peep of enthusiasm was shown in response. Hardly a pip of supportive vim disturbed the usual indifference. They'll see the error of their ways when someone (perhaps even you, dear reader), rips this idea off and makes an absolute bloody fortune. But even this pales into nothing compared with my other brilliant wheeze...

Clockwork floors. Yes, clockwork floors: you are already amazed. I was thinking about the wind-up radio/torch man and wondering if there was some other way the necessary clicks of his cogs could be accumulated, when it struck me. If you arrange the clicky devices under a section of flooring that large numbers of people walk upon all the time in such a way as, subtly and safely, to depress panels within the whole area at a given pressure, then it would be clicking all day long, and you could harvest the resultant electricity. You may say that people would trip and fall over and sue you, but you would be wrong: if people can go down steps, they can walk across a surface that 'gives' slightly as they go. These areas, if correctly-designed, only need to be placed in the entrances of busy buildings or junctions in concourses, and they would power the buildings!

The usual deafening lack of applause meant I took this to an engineering friend who explained the correct technology (not a cog) already existed, but the base price was still too dear for this one to fly. But that's this year: if you invest now in the idea, as the tech catches up, you'll be raking or rather clicking it in. (My idea for similarly self-powering footware, the KogKlog for joggers, is still stranded at the prototype stage.)

There's more, much more, which I'll try to assemble into a subsequent post. But remember, if you'd like to develop any of these ideas, that the Kindle one's already been done and so may involve you in litigation.

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