Idea #20: Use U-Haul trucks as a “human migration indicator”

First, I’d like to apologize to any regular readers for my absence. It’s my senior year of high school, and when I’m not busy with clubs, college applications, or studying, I’m usually flat-out tired. I know that’s hardly an excuse, but it’s something.

Call me Captain Obvious, but when people in America move, they tend to bring their belongings with them. Though the amount of stuff they bring depends on how much they own or are willing to leave behind, most families can’t fit two closets, a kitchen, three bedrooms, and Fido into the Honda, so they turn to moving companies. U-Haul is one of those companies, and it’s unique in that it’s more or less a self-service system, meaning that customers do what they desire with the product. That’s what gives its network so much potential as an indicator.

This idea writeup is short and simple. People in different professions often wonder where the population moves. U-Haul vehicles are already location-tracked, and customers pick up and deposit them at their own start and finish points. By taking the start data and the finish data and putting them on a map, analysts can see trends in movement across North America. During the upcoming winter holidays, will more New Englanders travel South than West? During which month do the most people depart from Vancouver? Data from the trucks can give views that answer questions like these and allow for market research that is nothing if not interesting.

One limitation to this idea is the budget factor. U-Haul only caters to one segment of a broad market, and more expensive companies that include labor in their services quickly snap up other potential clients. As a result, the market’s “migration patterns” that come from analysis like this probably won’t be entirely accurate.

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Cool Idea #7: Sign language messaging

Aerial view of the University of Washington ca...

Image via Wikipedia

I should probably let them speak for themselves (bad pun), but I imagine that any mobile communication is difficult for the deaf. To my limited knowledge, phone calls are out of the question, text messages are tedious and ambiguous, and video calling is expensive and still in its infancy. That’s why this research project by University of Washington students is so promising. Essentially, the team has created software called MobileASL that works with the cameras built into video calling-capable cell phones. The software recognizes American Sign Language gestures made by one caller and transmits them, live, to the other caller’s device in the form of small files, presumably pictures. This idea is powerful because it is much less taxing than video is on users’ batteries, networks, and wallets. It should also be more accurate than choppy video calls.

All in all, this project has great potential, and I’m sure it will be adopted widely. The only dilemma I see is that two-way communication requires front-facing cameras, something that I’ve only seen on a limited number of devices. Hopefully, these will become more commonplace as competitors mimic the iPhone or as MobileASL gains steam.

For more information, including a video explanation, navigate to the project’s official website at mobileasl.cs.washington.edu. Alternatively, check out a blog post explaining more MobileASL features at From the Moon and Beyond.

Bonus: Feel free to let me know if you think that this sounds strange, but I’d like to propose the idea of calling the software ASCell for the sake of convenience.


Cool Idea #6: The back scratcher T-shirt

It doesn’t look like I’m legally allowed to display the image here, but check out the shirt at http://www.zazzle.com/official_back_scratch_shirt-235946969835287295 (you’ll have to select the “back” view). Regardless, I’ll try to describe it briefly.

Remember Battleship? The game with a grid that had you guess the squares on which Little Billy had placed his ships? This shirt is like Battleship, but ships are replaced with itches, and Little Billy doesn’t lie to you about where the itches are. A 26×26 grid (A-Z and 1-26) dominates the back of the shirt. The wearer tells the scratcher where the itch is by giving him the exact coordinates that he wants scratched.

Besides the learning curve and the possibility of the shirt moving and throwing off scratcher-scratchee (?) coordination, the only issue I see is that the design doesn’t seem to cover the entire back, especially vertically. The uncovered spots are easy for a person to get on his/her own, but it would have been a nice feature that made the shirt a little bit more practical. The design also feels a little too basic, as though it needed something like duration and noogie vs. probe, but it accomplishes what it set out to do.


Cool Idea #5: The Secret Stash Project

The Secret Stash Project can be useful to spies, secret agents, and you.

What is it? Here’s what the project’s official website tells us.

This project is about concealing valuables, secrets, bad habits and personal information in our workplaces. Here, hidden spaces/ messages were created within 8 general objects such as wood boards, lamps and disposable coffee cups.

Why doing this?

We all have the need of hiding.

We hide our valuables from being stolen, we conceal our past from our loved ones, we never show our real side to colleagues, we all have secrets. Or, sometimes we just want to keep something only for ourselves.

How?

Utilize stereotypes and visual camouflage.

We make judgments based mainly on our experiences and what we see. This dependency on visual information can create large blind spots. Thus, usual stereotypes of how we perceive solid, transparency and lighting are employed in this project to play with notions of ‘solid and void’, and ‘true and false’.

In essence, the project is just a clever way of utilizing the ways that our minds fill in the blanks. When we see a nondescript box for a chessboard, for example, we more or less automatically assume that the pieces inside and that the box is just two five-sided pieces of cardboard that fit with each other. By utilizing the mental processes behind the assumption, the Secret Stash Project allows for the concealment of objects of value. The box may just be the uppermost piece of cardboard, or it may not store a chess set.

I like this idea mainly for the items that it has spawned. Some of the ones that I’ve heard of probably came about independently, but the ones like the book used as a Kindle case on The Compost Pile and the implementations shown in the video (link to Vimeo) on Yiting Cheng’s website are directly related to the project as I know it.

If you’ve seen any cool secret stashes or products that make use of assumptions, please share them below. Do not include ideas that are illegal.


Cool Idea #4: Plinky

Plinky (plinky.com) is an idea that I truly wish I had thought of. Though frequent bloggers usually have some innate ability to write about almost anything they choose, they sometimes stumble and can’t think of anything good to discuss. This is the premise for Plinky’s existence. The concept remedies this by giving a blogger a sort of external source made for her to find writing inspiration. Each day, she can find a new thought-provoking prompt to write about.

Not only is Plinky a great idea, but it appears to be dead simple to use. Being run by Automattic, the site should work directly with your account here on WordPress.com, so any transitions will likely occur smoothly. The layout is free of clutter, contains everything that’s needed to post (I think…), and looks great. My guess is that for its simplicity and other factors, Plinky will become a fundamental part of several bloggers’ routines.

Before ending this post, I’d like to share a few more thoughts on the service. I don’t see Plinky being something to which a blogger will turn on a daily basis, and that’s actually a good thing. By stockpiling inspiration, compulsive bloggers will have something to write about when the ideas just won’t come. The only issue is that WordPress might get flooded with nearly identical posts, but the likelihood of that happening is negligible. I also would like to commend the team behind the questions for the quality of its work. The prompts are strangely reminiscent of the University of Chicago’s famously quirky (yet fun) admissions essay questions. Those questions are selected from hundreds of ideas submitted by just as many people over the course of a year, and to be able to match their quality on a daily basis is something that deserves great respect.


Idea #19: A paperback book sleevecase

Though my school has let my classmates and me out for the season, I’m still recovering from the heavy spinal trauma of carrying several textbooks and other heavy items to and fro during the last few days of classes. The tomes including a 700+ page physics book, a Pre-Calculus text of similar length and with post-it notes protruding at every angle imaginable, and a skinnier but abnormally tall Spanish resource. In addition to several folders, two calculators, a clipboard with papers attached, a reporter’s notepad, and a Rubik’s Cube, I also carried three paperbacks: a class copy of The Kite Runner and my own editions of The Da Vinci Code and Unmasking the Face.

By the end of the school year, the carnage that had taken place within my bag was terrible. The textbooks, being hardcover, weathered the jostling pretty well. I easily marked “Good” or “Same” in the condition space right before my teachers collected them. However, this wasn’t so true for the other books. My calculators sank into the pages of The Kite Runner the day before I had to turn it in, and the pages ended up wrinkled and folded inward. The other two paperbacks were similarly afflicted, as was the notepad. I had recently paid roughly $30 for two books that were now fraying like string.

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I’m sure that I’m not the only one who’s faced this issue. Plenty of students carry books in their backpacks, and this damage doesn’t occur exclusively when the bag weighs 30+ pounds–I’ve had the same issue without textbooks in my backpack. As long as a book opens enough to allow things to get lodged into its pages, it happens. To solve this is as simple as creating a small sleeve that’s just tight enough for a paperback book to fit into. Ideally, the sleeve would be adjustable so as to accommodate several different sizes, but the basic idea is to create an envelope for the item so that it doesn’t open. One example of this design is the be.ez notebook sleeve. Of course, zippers might be overkill for a book protector. As long as the case wraps tightly around the item, it should function perfectly.

Questions? Qualms? Ideas? Seen this in action and would like to let me know so that I may live a life less worried? Post any of these below or at the wiki. While you’re at it, don’t forget to rate this post. The buttons are near the top of this post.


Question: What happens to the vuvuzelas after the World Cup ends?

Image uploaded by Manuguf

In case you don’t know this already, vuvuzelas are those love-them-or-hate-them noisemakers that you hear in the background during broadcasts of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. My guess is that thousands have been sold, and that people who bought them solely for the sake of the event will eventually get bored of them. What happens then? Will they get pitched (har har) into the trash? Recycled? Sold as collector’s items? Or something else entirely?

If you have any questions, suggestions, ideas, or facts about vuvuzelas post-2010, please post them below.