RAMBLINGS OF A MAD SCIENTIST:
100 IDEAS FOR A STRANGER TOMORROW
by Zimmer Barnes
© May 2016
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Special thanks to literally every single person I’ve met in the last five years. Even more thanks to Mitch Altman, Trevor Barnhart, Douglas Kelley, Dr. Adventure, Joey and Ady Wright, Hardknock, Max, Jo, Megan Rouch, Avery, Dr. Trude Sundberg, Peter the Adequate, Josh Harks, Jim Barnes, Peter Tangen, Amy Chang, Mr. Kalimorf von Kamel, The Fantastic Kent Cummins, Cristal C., Ellen Wang, Alfred and Elizabeth Kopecky, Nyx, Gloria Chiang, Austin Bednorz, Olga, Haitham Ennasr, Helen, Ausma, Malik Sullivan, Michael Diamond, Victim, Martin Hennessee, Mike Barnett, Jeff Larson, Knight Owl, Syaani, Sole, Maoyi, Carolyn Barnes, Tony Trezza, Chaim Lazaros, Torrey, Gusto the Great, TSAF, Theodore James, Zero, Nick Farr, Lizzie Cole, Tea Krulos, Dr. Ben Koo, Psytek, Michelle Hermark, Woody, Julia, everyone at the Fantastic Magic Camp, everyone at Q Space, everyone at ATX Hackerspace, everyone at Tsinghua University, everyone at Transitions, everyone at the Beijing LGBT Center, everyone at Alpha One Labs, everyone at the Last HOPE, the Next HOPE and HOPE X, everyone at the Initiative, everyone in the RLSH community, everyone at NYC Resistor, everyone at 8 Bit Bar, everyone in Task Force XX, everyone at 155 Caochangdi, and everyone who donated to my Kickstarter campaign.
This book is covered in the fingerprints of those that helped me out for a few minutes or helped me out for a lifetime. Whether you bought something from me, gave me a place to crash, taught me to use a tool, gave me a job, gave me praise or gave me criticism, I seriously couldn’t have done it without you.
Probably forgot someone really important. They read that whole long thing expecting their name and it never came. Too late now.
The truth is that when I started writing down ideas, I had no intention of writing down 100 of them, let alone thousands. I had a few projects I wanted to complete, and I realized I’d totally forget about them trying to hold them all in my head and in everyday conversation. Over time, it became a habit of mine to write down each weird idea as it came to me. That slow shift meant I naturally came up with more and more ideas. Eventually, virtually any frustration with the real world would trigger some kind of solution for me to document.
Today, I keep a running list of ideas. I go back and forth between writing on pen and paper, which tends to spark more creative thinking, and recording digitally for convenience. Every 100 ideas I put in a new document and name it after a new color. This list of 100 ideas comes from five such colors, Cinnabar, Vermillion, Saffron, Viridian and Cerulean. I’ve pulled twenty ideas from each color to provide an eclectic sample of the weird things I’ve written down over the years.
This is a sample of 20% of 500 ideas, and I've written down hundreds more since I finished Cerulean. I write down 1 to 100+ new ideas every week, depending on how inspired I am. These ideas have sat on paper notebooks and doc files for long enough. Maybe you'll find one of them just right for you, and you'll be able to run off and do something incredible with it. I've got hundreds of ideas, so if one of these speaks to you, it's yours! I wish you the best.
If you take nothing else away from reading this, please consider keeping a pen and notebook on you. Start recording your ideas, plans, and any projects you want to do. You’ll feel better, you’ll be able to focus, you’ll dream more, and we will all be better for it.
It took over two years to write down the first hundred; this period of time in my life was intense. I was on a superhero team, in a documentary, I was hit by a car, my mother went to prison, I moved back to Texas, I left a serious relationship, and I entered a new one.
More than any other block of ideas, the first was the most personal, the most challenging, and took the longest to get on paper. I call it Codex Cinnabar. My record for shortest time to 100 ideas took just five days, but my first hundred took over 700. Enjoy!
#0001: The Bomb Clock
Problem: Most alarm clocks don’t require actual cognition to turn off, and are too easy to deactivate without really having been woken up. Then again, I’m the person that can drink a cup of coffee and fall back asleep. I clearly need drastic measures.
Solution: This alarm clock looks like an armed bomb right out of an action movie, and at a designated time, starts beeping with just seconds to disarm it. A series of flashing lights will need to be studied that indicate which of several colored wires need to be pulled from their sockets in the correct sequence. An alarm blares loudly if the bomb is not correctly defused. As an extreme measure, it could be wired to real firecrackers that would go off if you’re unsuccessful or ignore it.
#0004: North Star
Problem: It was 2009, and I had joined a superhero team in New York. We would patrol some really high crime neighborhoods without any weapons, since virtually everything is illegal in NYC.
Solution: I made the North Star out of super bright LEDs. This was my first “real” electronics project after a few lessons in soldering. It was strapped to my chest with a battery pack on the back. It also could carry all of my EMT supplies, which was a plus. In theory, the intensity of the light would blind an attacker long enough to give myself or a teammate the chance to get away or win, depending on the circumstances. Although I never used it in a fight, it came in handy when I explored some amazing underground tunnels.
#0007: The Apollo
Problem: Phone batteries are terrible, and even portable batteries are frustratingly inefficient. Everything is terrible.
Solution: This project I actually made and it turned into an amazing Kickstarter project. It was a solar powered generator which was wearable on the upper arm and could charge phones and tablets via USB. This basically made their battery life infinite on a sunny day. Some people liked that it was built for survival, and some wanted it to look sleeker and slimmer. I’ve learned a lot since then and I’ve thought about releasing a second version with new solar tech that’s more efficient. In the meantime, it gave me a great excuse to participate in a few Maker Faires, where I set up a booth recharging people’s cell phones.
#0010: Kidney Heating and Cooling System
Problem: It’s often way too cold or way too hot, and it’s annoying to constantly change how you dress because of it.
Solution: This is actually close to real consumer products for deep sea divers, where heaters are placed over their kidneys. It’s hard to heat your heart and other organs because they’re deep in there, but your kidneys are close to the surface. By heating your kidneys, you heat your whole body. I think this tech should have heating and cooling, and be something you can wear anywhere, not just when you’re diving in the arctic. Discrete body sensors could monitor your temperature and heat you up or cool you down as needed. You might never need more than a light jacket to stay comfortable in a broad range of weather.
#0013: Raven Discs
Problem: Lots of “haunted houses” aren’t actually that scary.
Solution: Mad scientist Vic Tandy discovered that very low frequency sounds in the 17-19 kHz band can produce feelings of anxiety and fear, as well as cause visual hallucinations in some cases. I want to design and build a small portable device that can produce these sounds and plant them around a room or house, basically turning any area into a “haunted” area.
#0019: Night Vision Contact Lenses
Problem: I have really bad night vision.
Solution: Cats have a portion of their eye called the tapetum lucidum which enhances light and results in exceptional night vision. I became fascinated with reproducing this concept in a contact lens, but it’s probably unlikely, since the TL in a cat eye is at the back of the eyeball, not the front.
#0023: Overhang Gauntlets
Problem: I hate fumbling around in my pockets for things I need.
Solution: Two comic book characters, Talon and Nightwing, have cool arm gauntlets that have secret compartments for them to hold stuff. I think it’d be cool to carry stuff like charger cables, earbuds and a metro card on my forearm instead of having to hunt for it in my pocket. I really want to make a pair of these.
#0026: Laser Stethoscope
Problem: Checking someone’s breath rate is labor intensive in hospitals.
Solution: Using a laser, it’s possible to determine distances down to the point of detecting and measuring breathing. And I want to build a stethoscope that can measure breathing from across the room so doctors don’t have to do so manually.
#0033: Wearable Grasshopper Terrarium
Problem: In a societal collapse, how would you get a source of protein without raising livestock?
Solution: This project is a hip-mounted egg-shaped terrarium for grasshoppers. Grasshoppers can live off just the nutrients and water in fresh cut grass. By making it portable and wearable someone surviving in extreme conditions, or in a zombie apocalypse, can always have protein available to eat, even if eating insects is kinda gross to most people. Survival!
#0040: Padded Sit-Up Shoes
Problem: I’m bad at sit-ups when I’m alone.
Solution: When I do sit-ups, I can’t do them properly without someone holding my feet. I hacked this by tucking my feet under a couch or bed, but this can hurt. So I want to invent special shoes that are padded on top so that they are comfy to do sit-ups in.
#0042: Algae Core
Problem: I want nutritious, vegan food ingredients that I can add to anything.
Solution: This device has three major components: a central vertical cylinder which has dozens of LEDs that provide strong light, a series of tubes of water that circulate around the light via an airlift pump, and plants grown aeroponically. Algae spores in the water grow in the presence of light and some can absorb lots of vitamins present in the water mixture. When the concentration of algae gets high enough, it can be drained out and consumed as a healthy vegan food ingredient. Around the edge of these tubes vegetables can be grown without soil, with a nutrient rich water mist continually sprayed to nourish them.
#0049: Fabric UV Sunglasses
Problem: When out on a bright day, wearing sunglasses will leave tan lines on your face.
Solution: If the glass eyepieces were suspended on a strip of fabric that didn’t block UV rays, you could avoid the tan lines by tying it around your head like a badass eye mask.
#0060: Privacy Flap Phone Case
Problem: If someone hacked my phone, they could activate my camera and look at me live. Every hacker I know keeps paper over their web camera for exactly this reason, but there’s no good way to do this on a smart phone.
Solution: Have a case with the security built in: a sliding door to cover your front and back cameras when not in use, and rubber flaps to plug the microphone when it isn’t in use either.
#0061: The Oracle Project
Problem: For a while, I was information broker to superheroes. I helped track news reports on missing persons, police data on shootings and muggings, and helped track down locations of wanted criminals. Lots of useful information brokering tools existed on the web, but I didn’t have a one-stop-shop place for all of the programs and sites I was using to help superheroes do their missions.
Solution: I made a badass wiki called The Oracle Project or TOP for short. Over time, lots of awesome people began adding stuff to it. It morphed into a way for people to get information ranging from their local community, to military training on how to sweep a room safely, to ways to identify explosives. Over time, it got to where it was rarely updated, so I saved the information on my blog and shut the wiki down. I’ve been getting more and more requests for it to be back up, so it might be due for a resurrection.
[*#0062: Infrared Paint Geotagging Game *]
Problem: A lot of mobile games don’t interact easily with the real world.
Solution: A mobile game that challenges you to explore your city and find clues to a mystery in the real world, using your map to find a secret location, and going there with your phone to scan a mysterious sign. The sign would use infrared paint and lights so that only a digital camera can detect the message.
#0072: Parking Garage Vertical Farm
Problem: Food is expensive and energy intensive to transport into a large city, and vertical farms are expensive to build in urban areas.
Solution: Transform a parking garage into a farm by laying down dirt, topsoil, and earthworms inside the slopes and level areas. Vegetables and fruits can be planted inside and plastic sheets can be put over the open sides at night to maintain warmth. During the day, the sheeting can be lifted to provide as much sunlight as possible, and solar panels on the roof can power LED lights to give the plants near the center of the structure even more light. Plants that need lots of sunlight can be positioned near the windows, and plants that need less can go in the center of the building.
#0086: Solar LED Pendant
Problem: Jewelry doesn’t light up or have other functions.
Solution: A necklace where the center feature isn’t a jewel, but an LED that slowly pulses in brightness and changes color. The LEDs would be surrounding a chic 2 cm square black solar panel which would power the LEDs via a battery discreetly secured behind the solar panel. The battery could also have a hidden USB outlet so that it can power a cell phone in an emergency.
#0095: Smart Bike
Problem: Bicycles aren’t smart devices at all, it’s annoying to remember to bring a bike lock, and bikes don’t have headlights.
Solution: A bicycle that comes with a thumbprint scanner to lock and unlock your bike just like an iPhone 6. It could come standard with a solar panel and battery to charge headlights and even have a USB out to charge your phone and tablet on the go. If it was really crazy, it could have a small Wi-Fi hotspot on it as well, and maybe even a projector to show outdoor movies to your friends.
#0098: Security Camera Eyelids
Problem: Anyone can tell you how to disable a security camera; just spray paint at it or toss a rock. Cameras can’t fight these threats the way biological eyes can.
Solution: Install structures above and below the camera to mimic eyelids to “blink” when movement near or toward the camera is detected. This could prevent a camera being disabled by a thrown rock or spray paint. If they were made from clear plastic, they could keep recording video even through lots of blinking.
#0100: Food Stain Inspired Clothing Line
Problem: If I spill food on my shirt, it looks sloppy.
Solution: T-Shirts and Jeans that have colorful paint splatters inspired by the worst of food stains. If you’re wearing one of these highly fashionable clothing items, and also spill food on yourself, it’ll just be adding to the value of the art!
Once I had committed 100 ideas to paper, I kept going. It was exciting. Triple digits! Having a hundred patents would mean I qualified for the Wikipedia page on prolific inventors throughout human history (a must read). I didn’t have patentable ideas, exactly, but I felt like I had something tangible. I wasn’t just dreaming, I was documenting. A few of the ideas I built for real. I kept writing more, not fully aware that I was writing faster. During this period of my life I went back to work at a childhood employer, The Fantastic Magic Camp. I also did a few superhero missions in Texas, even meeting new people in the community like Nex and Hardknock. This batch took over a year to write. I call it Codex Vermillion.
#0101: Zombie Celebrity Card Game
Problem: All of the best celebrities are dead, and with nerds so into zombies these days, why not have a game that brings them back to life?
Solution: I was able to actually make a crude version of this game, but went with a board game style instead of cards. Players get to explore a haunted area and occasionally get attacked by the best dead celebrities. Instead of recycling zombie tropes, I pulled from B movies of all stripes. Marilyn Monroe, for example, is a velociraptor and Ronald Reagan is a carnivorous coca plant. I played it with friends and they really liked it. I currently have two amazing friends, Megan Rouch and Amy Chang, sketching and painting the monsters and playable characters.
#0105: Solar Bezel Tablet Case
Problem: Tablet batteries don’t recharge themselves.
Solution: I want to put solar on basically everything. Tablet devices usually have a large bezel around the sides that don’t have a lot of functionality. They should be solar! You could add lots of battery life to your device on a sunny day. This would work really well for e-reader devices that are easy to use in strong sunlight.
#0107: Bike Seat with Proximity Sensor
Problem: It’s really dangerous to ride a bike because you could be hit by a car.
Solution: Lasers are cheap and easy to use as a way to determine distance from an object. Sonar and radar can be used as well. If these units and sensors are distributed around the seat of a bicycle, and the seat also has a motor, then the seat could buzz whenever a nearby object is detected. This could alert the bike rider of someone getting too close from behind or coming at them quickly. This might provide enough time to respond and get out of the way, even if they don’t see the vehicle coming.
#0114: Mean Joke Straw
Problem: I want to be mean to my friends and need something to play a prank on them.
Solution: A plastic drinking straw with a barrier inside so that it’s actually impossible for stuff to move from one end of the straw to the other. If you and your friends are drinking thick milkshakes, you could be really mean and give one of these straws to a friend. While the rest of you are enjoying delicious shakes, theirs will never work and they’ll be confused as to why their shake is always too thick to enjoy. Very mean!
#0120: Acrylic Shadow Puppet Stage
Problem: I want to make puppets and show them off.
Solution: I designed a kick ass puppet stage and made it out of acrylic. I went back and forth on whether to include this, as it’s not like I really invented anything, but the arts matter too, right? The screen was made out of a sheer fabric; because of this, when lit from the back, it glowed a bit. The stage even had cool little red stars in the corners made from tissue paper. It was super cute.
DISCLAIMER: Any shadow puppet resemblances to characters from video games or any other intellectual properties are purely coincidental.
#0128: Passive Learning Screen Saver
Problem: Passive learning is effective, but hard to integrate into day to day work.
Solution: A screensaver for a computer that displays scrolling information about interesting topics that you need to study. Any time it’s not in use, you can glance over and learn something instead of just seeing swirling colors or whatnot.
#0135: Income Inequality Interview Project
Problem: I want to learn more about income inequality and the effects it has on people.
Solution: A book with interviews of people that used to be middle class and have now either moved into the upper class or fallen into poverty. The book would chart their individual journeys.
#0137: Karate Chop Gloves
Problem: When I karate chop assassins, it’s kind of puny.
Solution: Gloves that have a hard, rubber edge along the side to make karate chops much more effective. Karate!
#0142: Non-Newtonian Fluid Launcher
Problem: Non-lethal technology is often unnecessarily cruel and ineffective.
Solution: A launcher for an orb of inexpensive propellant that is solid at moderate velocities and turns to a gooey liquid when it hits, rendering someone incapacitated non-violently. This would be a happier end to a violent (insert undesirable political issue) protestor than pepper spray (or worse) any day of the week.
#0148: US 50 State Voting Power Map
Problem: There are a lot of counties and even whole states in the US where it’s completely pointless to vote, and it’s hard to tell if you’re in one of them.
Solution: A mobile application that takes your location and tells you who your Senators and Representatives are. It also shows you the margin of how much these people won by in your county, as well as the margin for the sitting President, and how this compares historically. It then gives you a score from 1-100 in terms of how much a single vote can impact the outcome compared to other parts of the United States. This could theoretically work in any country with a democratic system and empower people to vote.
#0153: Kitchen Appliance Identifier
Problem: I don’t cook that much and sometimes I have absolutely no idea what strange contraption I’ve found when I start exploring a kitchen.
Solution: An app which lets you upload a picture of a mystery kitchen gadget against an opposite color background. It cross references the image against a database of known kitchen appliances from a variety of angles and identifies the object in question. This could also be helpful in identifying all sorts of items.
#0156: Beyond Good Citizenship
Problem: Lots and lots of people just like me try to become real life superheroes, and often can make many of the mistakes I made when I first began.
Solution: For a while now, I’ve been wanting to write a manual for superheroes with tips on what to wear, gear to bring, training to have, and sample missions to go on. For a time, this was channeled into The Oracle Project, and then into the short-lived video based training series, “Unlimited.” It’s been a goal of mine to collect and document all of the knowledge from veterans of the Real Life Superhero community to provide as a resource for the new guard. My working title has been “Beyond Good Citizenship.” Like the board game, the life support system, and other concepts this one is a work-in-progress.
#0161: No Stem Headphone Jacks
Problem: This one time, I had my earphones in and was listening to music on my phone, but then I jumped a fence and the part of the earphone jack in my phone broke to the side, breaking my phone. Forever! Headphones have this stupid hard piece that sticks out of the phone, and it makes it easy for dummies like me to break it.
Solution: Headphones should have audio jack female ports, with mobile phones having an audio jack male port that’s receded into the device. The headphone port could be put into the hole and click in without a hard piece sticking out of the device that could inadvertently damage the phone.
#0163: Transdermal Camera Implant
Problem: I can see things with my eyes, but I can’t show people my memories.
Solution: Pierce a camera to your eyebrow, obviously. This is something I want to try out, especially if it’s on a friend that already has an eyebrow piercing. Basically, if you had an X frame of lightweight material, you could fit a small camera, microphone, microSD card storage and battery on it, and hopefully keep the weight low so you don’t look like you’re constantly winking your cyborg eye at people. It’d be cool to see my day as a snapshot from my point of view every 10 seconds or so.
#0173: Sonar Toilet with Laser Beams
Problem: Toilets often use way more water than necessary, and not nearly enough lasers.
Solution: A toilet with built-in sonar to detect different types of waste. It would flush more for solids and less for liquids. And let’s be honest, a sonar toilet with laser beams would be very distinguished.
#0176: Generational DJ Party
Problem: It’s difficult to have a playlist that pleases everyone.
Solution: A DJ service which knows the age of your audience and can play everyone’s favorite stuff from high school. Everyone at a party anonymously puts in their birthday, and the DJ can pull up a list of all the songs that were the top of the charts when that person would have been in high school and/or college. Then they can mix in the songs that are most likely to elicit an emotional resonance and nostalgia power from the audience.
#0182: Piggy Back Pedicabs
Problem: High heeled shoes hurt to wear for long, and going out means a lot of walking.
Solution: Instead of driving a pedicab or a taxi, workers can have harnesses on their backs that ladies can sit in. They can carry them on their backs to their next destination if their heels are too painful to walk in or if they’ve had a lot to drink. Or both.
#0189: Pet Look-a-Like Adoption Service
Problem: When looking for a pet, it’s good to get just the right match.
Solution: An app that lets you upload a picture of yourself and shows you a few dog breeds that share similarities with your face. Specifically, it can show you actual dogs nearby that are up for adoption in animal shelters, and you can go adopt a dog that looks just like you!
#0194: Light-Up Wallet
Problem: When it’s dark, it’s difficult to find the correct bills in your wallet.
Solution: Embedded LEDs in a wallet would activate whenever pressure sensors indicate that the wallet has been unfolded, letting the user see their money easily.
#0198: Umbrella That Hides Secrets
Problem: Not many everyday objects have nifty places to hide stuff.
Solution: An umbrella has a handle that is full of empty space waiting to be used for awesome purposes. You should be able to unscrew the end and fit all kinds of shit in there. Also, the handle should also function as a hammer if you have emergency hammer needs.
The next block of 100 ideas saw some big changes, as I took one of my ideas public on Kickstarter. It ended up being a small success at a time when some were making millions on the platform, and 69% of technology projects ended in failure. While mine succeeded, it didn't translate into any serious income: I worked researching rare books at a second hand store by day and moving furniture in the evenings. I like to think that having these very different roles helped push my brain into new directions and new possibilities. This is Codex Saffron.
#0204: Fit and Fat Restaurant
Problem: Some friends like healthy food, and some friends like food that tastes excellent.
Solution: Have a restaurant that has half of the menu dominated by vegan, healthy stuff, and the other half of the menu for big belly burgers, pizza, milkshakes, and cake.
#0208: Dual Swivel Car Mirrors
Problem: Flip down visors in cars can only pivot one way.
Solution: Have a car mirror that is connected on the left and right corner by a pop out ball joint. That way, the mirror could be pivoted left or right, depending on where the sun is. This could keep sunlight out of driver’s eyes better than the current model and save lives. Also, considering the flip down mirror was the invention that made millions and millions of dollars (which eventually went into funding the mercenary corporation Blackwater – true story), this should be worth at least a mere one million, right? You’re welcome.
#0211: Turn Signal Booty Shorts
Problem: When jogging, it’s hard to signal to those behind you when turning.
Solution: Booty shorts! These shorts would have glowing EL wire on the butt in the shape of an arrow pointing left and right, on the respective butt cheek. The wearer could tap a button to indicate they are turning and have this light up an arrow, so the people behind them could see that they’re not continuing forward.
#0220: Fractal Windmill
Problem: Wind power mills take up space but don’t provide enough energy.
Solution: Windmills where each blade has a tiny circular rotating blade windmill inside of it, so that each of the six blades have six smaller blades in that circular hole. This could conceivably capture more wind energy for an area.
#0222: Smart Weights
Problem: Stopping to record the weights you used and how many reps were completed interrupts a workout.
Solution: Free weights that have internal batteries, accelerometers and Bluetooth so that they can accurately sense which weights have been picked up and used for exercise. They could then report this to a computer. After someone has worked out, they’d be able to instantly see how long they worked out, which weights they used, how many repetitions they did, and how this compares to their previous exercise sessions.
#0234: Laser Cat Scratch Toy
Problem: Sometimes cats are hard to entertain, and showing them a laser requires you to lazily move your hand, and I’m too lazy for that.
Solution: A cat scratch toy that also has a randomly rotating laser at the top that can activate when owners have left the house for more than a specified number of hours so that the cat can be entertained.
#0237: Interesting Websites Podcast
Problem: New, absolutely amazing stuff gets added to the Internet all the time. It’s hard to be one of the first people that finds and benefits from its awe inspiring power.
Solution: A podcast which is focused on awesome new websites the hosts have discovered. It would explore how they can be used, why they are innovative, and could cover changes to popular websites that have new features or user agreements.
#0241: Jackalope Pet Helmet
Problem: There aren’t enough products out there that can make your pet look really stupid and/or like a mythical beast.
Solution: A helmet you could strap to your pet’s head to make it look like they have antler, just like the mythical Jackalope of American legend. These would have to be really lightweight to avoid neck strain on smaller animals. It would also be really funny to watch them walk around with giant antlers.
#0246: Vertical Plane Laser Cutter
Problem: It’s hard to laser etch stuff directly on a wall, because usually laser cutters only cut on horizontal material you put inside of the cutter.
Solution: A portable laser cutter and etcher that you can screw into and secure against a wall. You can then program it to etch a cool image like a logo, map, photograph or more.
#0251: Sobriety Test Key Box
Problem: Lots of people are killed because of drunk driving every week.
Solution: Have a box at the door in which you place your car keys. The box would be linked to a specific chip you get, as well as your ID number. When you leave the bar, you have to pass a brief sobriety test to get your keys back. Those that pass get to drive home and those that don’t get a taxi called for them.
#0255: Life Support System in a Chair
Problem: How do you keep someone alive, healthy and comfortable if they don’t help you out in the slightest? Can you make furniture that someone can sleep in, pee in, poop in, shower in, eat in and live in without it being an absolute disaster?
Solution: This is an enormously complex project that I got crazy obsessed with and actually half built. I calculated the angle someone could lie at and be comfortable both asleep or awake. I’d also like to make it adjustable. I found a source for something called a bite valve that you can bite to receive liquid nutrients, yet won’t leak if you aren’t biting on the end of the tube. I also wanted a person to be able to urinate or defecate, and devised a way for the toilet component to have a bidet. It would clean the user afterwards, hands free, and rotate the contents away and seal them so they don’t smell. Finally, I envisioned a car wash-like system allowing someone to shower with minimal effort without leaving the chair. The full scope of the project touched on a lot of incredibly difficult challenges, and it was definitely gross to think about, but I’m still very fascinated. Our care of those with mobility impairments hasn’t changed nearly enough in the past hundred years, and the current model of people having to change a bedpan and wipe someone is downright barbaric when you think of how this could very much be automated.
#0260: Pen Tip Fake Fingernail
Problem: You can never find a pen when you need one.
Solution: Have a fake fingernail accessory that encloses a tiny ballpoint pen in the acrylic. You could take notes with the tip and even create incredible, ground-breaking finger pen art.
#0262: Mechanical Ringer Phone Case
Problem: Digital ringtones don’t always have full sound.
Solution: Have a phone case that contains a mechanical ringer similar to ones used on bicycles. When your phone gets a text, a Bluetooth connection triggers the mechanical ringer, making sure you know that you got a text because it’ll be loud and wouldn’t sound digital at all. Hipsters would buy this, right?
#0268: Blood Absorbing Suit
Problem: Serious bodily trauma causes injury and bleeding.
Solution: Blood will clot more quickly and easily in the presence of aluminum sulfate. There should exist a full body suit that contains many pockets containing powdered aluminum sulfate, so that if trauma from a bullet, blade or anything else penetrates the suit and the wearer, the wound would instantly be covered in the powder. This would stop serious blood loss from occurring.
#0271: Motorized Seesaw for Push-Ups
Problem: It takes multiple angles of push-ups to work all areas of your chest well.
Solution: A “seesaw” type apparatus you can do push-ups on, with a motor that pivots the surface of the system to one side and then slowly to the other. Doing push-ups on this surface would result in your muscles adapting to the decline or incline, and therefore work both the upper and lower sections of your pecs.
#0277: Bamboo and Willow Bark Flip Flops
Problem: Taking an aspirin can relieve discomfort, but it’s hard to remember to take it. I’m really lazy, ok?
Solution: The active ingredient in aspirin is derived from willow bark. Making flip flops out of this bark, as well as sturdy bamboo, would allow the substance to be slowly and steady absorbed through your feet when you wear them. This would give you a break from discomfort and the ability to relax more.
#0281: Skin Lightening Sunscreen
Problem: For a while, I was way obsessed with having crazy pale skin. I do, naturally, and there’s all kinds of ways you can make your skin even lighter. However, applying skin lightening treatments and sunscreen both is time consuming and makes your skin super greasy.
Solution: Have skin lightening agents and sunscreen agents present in one lotion so that you don’t have to apply two for the same effects. I thought this “invention” was super clever when I first wrote it down, but after living in China for two years off and on, it’s just remarkably naive. Colorism and racism know no borders or boundaries, and skin whitening products are everywhere in China. Even the tips I was using back home were blogs primarily targeted for black and Hispanic users. This idea is a testament to me being laughably uninformed about the world, so of course it had to make the list. Everyone should go watch “Dark Girls” (a documentary on this subject directed by D. Channsin Berry and Bill Duke) right now.
#0288: Man vs Robot Fights
Problem: Watching people fight each other is entertaining, and watching robots fight against each other is entertaining, but no one gets to see the winners square off against each other.
Solution: An online TV show where top fighters and athletes get to enter the ring against state of the art robots operated by artificial intelligence or human pilots, and we all get to watch who emerges as the winner.
#0289: Segmented Kevlar Armor
Problem: Kevlar armor is usually all in one piece, so that it’s completely bullet resistant; however, this severely limits mobility. Lots of search and rescue workers forgo it completely, even though some added durability would be life-saving.
Solution: Alongside a US Army veteran, Joey Wright, and an expert costumer, Douglas Kelley, we devised what we believed to be a good middle ground that kept a lot of major weak points protected, while allowing for much more flexibility for the wearer. It took years of off and on work, but we eventually created a segmented vest from Kevlar that was bullet-resistant up to a 9mm handgun, and was flexible enough that the wearer could bend side to side and touch their toes. For good measure, we wired in a new North Star, this time using a halogen bulb instead of LEDs. As a result, it was over five times brighter/
#0298: Adjustable Topographical Chess Board
Problem: Chess is a great game, but it’s really old, and it doesn’t simulate warfare and stimulate strategic thinking as much as it could.
Solution: A chess board where you can change the height of any square on the board, so that every game has a unique topography. This would change how the players view valuable or strategic territory on the board.
It took just a few months to produce this block, which I call Codex Viridian. During this time, I did lots of homeless outreach through the winter, experimented creating a ton of laser cut art, learned to boot Android devices into homebrew CyanogenMod, and played on my phone and tablet incessantly. Many of these ideas I never made, but having more time to spend at ATX Hackerspace, and to spend with old books and new friends, I developed a hundred ideas faster than ever.
#0301: Junk Mail Homeless Houses
Problem: Millions of people around the world are homeless.
Solution: Millions of Americans get junk mail delivered to their house which goes right in the trash. This paper pulp material would be excellent for covering a structure. It could also be used to insulate these structures, which could, in turn, be used to shelter the poorest people from the elements.
#0310: Lost Disposable Camera Collage
Problem: Once upon a time, lots of people used disposable cameras but never had the film developed.
Solution: Gather all these disposable cameras, develop the film, and create an art project made from all of these lost and found images from the 1980s and 1990s.
#0311: Etched Beer Bottle
Problem: Beer bottles aren’t easily recycled as much as they should be.
Solution: A beer bottle which has an upper edge right under the neck made of a thinner glass than the rest of the bottle. If it’s hit too hard, the glass should break along this edge. With a little sanding, the beer drinker now has a glass cup as a memento of drinking a delicious beer.
#0314: Tarantula Eyelashes
Problem: Fake eyelashes don’t look fake enough.
Solution: Paste-on eyelashes in the shape of four long and disturbing tarantula spider legs, which make it look like the spider is jumping when the wearer blinks. Terrifying.
#0316: Old Book Spray
Problem: Old books smell amazing, but usually, tablet cases don’t smell amazing.
Solution: Researchers agree that the “old book smell” comes from two sources: the wood fiber decomposing and the binding glue breaking down. The wood fiber closely resembles the smell of grass, and the binding glue used on old books is from an organic substance that closely resembles vanilla. There should be little spray bottles for sale, one to spray on a grass scent to the inside of your tablet, and another to spray on the vanilla scent, so that even using a digital device, it smells like a nice old book.
#0320: Portable Shake Sawdust Toilet
Problem: There are huge sanitation issues in areas of the world that are without working plumbing systems.
Solution: A portable toilet which has a flat rectangular prism shape. It can be filled halfway with sawdust, so that when it is used and closed up, it can be shaken. The sawdust will both help the waste decompose more quickly and produce less smell when it needs to be reopened for further use or disposal.
#0335: Christmas Tree Body Bag
Problem: When a Christmas tree leaves a house, the needles are brittle, break off, and get everywhere.
Solution: A way to wrap the entire tree in a bag before it is removed from the house, minimizing the mess it produces.
#0337: Book-Into-Tablet Cover
Problem: Tablets are cool, but I wanted to make my own cover for it.
Solution: This is another entry here that isn’t quite an invention, but it was a lot of fun to make in real life. I actually made this from an old book which, when I checked, I discovered was actually worth very little and wasn’t in great shape to begin with. It was almost exactly the dimensions of a tablet I bought, so I cut out the paper, preserving it for reading, and then inserted elastic straps in the interior corners. It held the tablet just fine and I could carry around what looked like a book from the 1930’s, instead of a rectangular hunk of black plastic. As a plus, the tablet was a Barnes and Noble Nook Color, which I wiped and put full CyanogenMod Android on, so it was a cool way to mix code and crafts. If you want to try this, I strongly recommend against using the Nook Color, since it was first released to the public in 1908.
#0349: Biblically Accurate Genesis Comic Book
Problem: Most people don’t understand how fantastical and ridiculous the Book of Genesis from the Bible really is.
Solution: A graphic novel that illustrates a flat earth with stars, the moon, and the sun embedded in a dome over it. The dome would have windows through which rain falls due to a giant ocean in the sky over the dome. It would be awesome.
#0352: Hoodie Cloak with Inside Pockets
Problem: I read Harry Potter and now think cloaks are badass; unfortunately, a lot of them don’t have pockets for my stuff, and I like to carry a lot of shit around with me.
Solution: A cloak made of cotton fabric with a hoodie’s thickness. Along the inside would be pockets for my phone, wallet, keys and more. Maybe a Harry Potter book pocket!
#0353: Blink-Powered Digital Contact Lenses
Problem: It’s not always convenient to look at your phone to get information, but wearing a Google Glass type device makes you look like a pretentious douchebag.
Solution: A smart contact lens that has an e-ink display in eye view. This could be connected via an NFC field to link with your phone, and be powered by a pressure motor so that you get power every time you blink. You’d always have the time in your view, and you’d be able to see news alerts and texts in real time.
#0360: Uniform Sized Weights
Problem: Exercise weights made of the same material must become increasingly larger in direct proportion to the weight.
Solution: Have weights that are all the same size but are made from different materials, so that each weighs different amounts and can be used in strength training.
#0362: IR and UV Energy Panels
Problem: Solar panels harness the power of photons of light from the visible spectrum, while ultraviolet and infrared light go to waste.
Solution: Have a solar panel that can absorb the power of radiation from the entire energy spectrum instead of just visible light. This would be especially applicable in space, on the Moon and on Mars where there is little or no atmosphere to block this radiation.
#0365: Heads Up Display/Smart Watch Hybrid
Problem: HUDs, or Heads Up Displays, were all the rage until Google Glass made it the uncool gadget (and subculture) everyone loved to hate. People just don’t like talking to someone wearing a camera and lens on their face, it takes some getting used to. Meanwhile, we like the idea of smart watches in theory because Dick Tracy was awesome, but their functionality is fairly limited too.
Solution: I’d really love to see these devices combined, so that it can be worn on the face for POV video and live streaming, but worn on a watch when you just want to get a text update or send a quick audio message. Plus, you wouldn’t wig people out by wearing it when you aren’t using it.
#0367: Tiny Two Loop Belt
Problem: When I’m not wearing a belt, I can’t clip items onto my waistband.
Solution: A “belt” that is small enough to fasten onto two belt loops. This allows just enough space to clip your item on without having to wear an entire belt.
#0371: Auto Farming App
Problem: Games like FarmVille and Clash of Clans make you constantly return to play the game for points.
Solution: A meta-app that you can program to log in and satisfy requirements at specific intervals, allowing you to earn points without logging into the game and actually playing.
#0374: 3D Scan Sunglasses
Problem: A lot of time, sunglasses look cool but don’t fit the exact contours of your face.
Solution: Use a 3D scan of your face and have sunglasses printed that fit your features and contours. A perfect fit!
#0380: Crooked Painting Art Project
Problem: Some people are naturally nosy and can’t mind their own damn business.
Solution: As an art project, a painting is hung incredibly crooked on a wall. If anyone goes to straighten it, a tiny camera will snap a picture of the culprit’s face. You can collect their images and shame them for just trying to help.
#0381: Antibacterial Phone Screen Cover
Problem: Humans are fucking filthy, and they get all kinds of awful and unsanitary stuff all over their phone screens when they touch them with their filthy ape fingers.
Solution: Some surfaces are naturally antibacterial and hostile to bacterial life. This surface could be rendered transparent and made into a phone screen cover, so that the phone’s screen will naturally resist being contaminated and spreading your horrible disease that could have killed us all.
#0383: Large Block Work Spaces
Problem: Cubicles are ugly, expensive, and not very modular.
Solution: If you had large, flat-ish blocks that could fit into each other, in the same vein as Legos, you could construct a really cool-shaped desk for yourself in any configuration you wanted. It would also probably be a lot cheaper. You could change it all around if you wanted, and if a piece got damaged, you’d only have to replace that one part and not the entire unit.
This block of ideas is where it all changed. I got way more into art and research, and delved deeper into the hacker world. In 2014 I had the honor of speaking at HOPE X (a biannual hacker conference hosted in NYC) where my presentation, Vigilante Justice: Masks, Guns, and Networks, was very well received. That same year, the keynote speaker was Edward-freaking-Snowden! After that, I was invited to China by Mitch Altman, learned 700 words in Mandarin, and hopped on a plane. I jotted down some ideas on the plane and by the time I landed I’d hit 475 ideas. I then quickly finished this block, which I call Codex Cerulean. Ever since that experience, I haven’t been able to stop writing. My average for the past year has been about 200 ideas a month. Maybe that will continue. I’m optimistic that it will. That process, that jumpstart, happened right here in Codex Cerulean.
#0410: Mini EMP Discs
Problem: It’s difficult to totally, completely wipe sensitive information off of a mobile device.
Solution: Some capacitors have the ability to trigger a localized electromagnetic pulse, and there are some fun DIY videos out there on how to make them work. Basically, when activated, they completely brick any cell phone or tablet they are touching. If this were a genuine product, it could be standard protocol for phones used by activists, attorneys and journalists to ensure the information is unrecoverable from a device when they are done with it.
#0413: Food Cylinder
Problem: When food is microwaved it heats from the inside out, and therefore is very unevenly heated.
Solution: If you arrange food in a donut shape it heats more evenly, but this is basically impossible for soup and difficult for other dishes. I want to make a simple glass cylinder that you can plop onto a plate or into a bowl so that the contents get evenly heated in a microwave. Not really reaching for the stars on this one, but man I would totally buy this. Microwave cooking for one is my jam.
#0416: Shower Infuser
Problem: It’s fairly straightforward to add oils and scents to bath water, but there’s no really good way to do the same for shower water.
Solution: A reservoir container that fits over a shower head so the water flows through it before going further. This reservoir can be filled with milk, lemon juice or other oils, fragrances, soaps, or liquids in order to aid skin health, relaxation or to just smell nice.
#0418: Ant Colony Mobile Game
Problem: Ants have an incredibly intricate way of forming, and few people understand just how freaking smart and cool they are.
Solution: A mobile game where you play as an ant colony. You’d start out as the queen and get to dig deep into the Earth, deciding the general depth of your colony. The queen would produce eggs, which hatch, and players would have to decide how many to produce, which worker ants would do what, and how many to have leave the colony at a time. The player would also have to choose how to respond to new information coming in from roaming ants that discover a large amount of food or a predator.
#0420: Body Proportions Rating App
Problem: There is a new way to judge people based on their habits and personal appearance, and not enough people know they could be shaming themselves for not working out more.
Solution: Biggly compares the circumference of your waist, wrist, neck, thighs and other areas and shows you a score on how well your proportions stack up against “ideal” proportions for the human form. By taking a picture of yourself in form fitting clothing against an opposite color background, you can skip tediously measuring yourself and instead just have your proportions approximated and get your score.
#0425: Parking Trophy
Problem: Sometimes people are the worst at parking a car, and inconvenience a ton of people when they do it. Is there a good way to help them understand?
Solution: A small, plastic trophy of a man holding a steering wheel, with a peel and stick adhesive base. I seriously want to carry a dozen of these in my car for the times I find the guy who took up four whole parking spaces. A quick peel and stick could leave this beauty stuck to his hood as a testament to his ridiculousness.
#0429: Cryptocurrency Mining Game
Problem: Puzzle games are fun, but don’t affect change in the real world, and they could be doing exactly that.
Solution: A mobile puzzle game where doing simple arithmetic contributes towards math needed to unlock a block of cryptocurrency (a currency that uses cryptography to be created and distributed), and you get entitled to a piece of it for your gaming efforts. This could be an addictive new mobile game that’s all the more fun because you can get money from it while helping to get lots of new cryptocurrencies into more hands; this, in turn, helps stabilize the market and increase its value.
#0432: Micro Public Transit
Problem: Government run public transit systems can be extremely lacking in small cities and nonexistent in small towns. Meanwhile, services like Uber and Lyft aren’t great for the environment, and can be pricey.
Solution: Functioning somewhere between a privately run bus system and a carpool, vans would run predetermined routes around the city and stop at predetermined areas that best serve the people who want to use them. Everyone could pay a monthly fee to cover gas and maintenance. Ideally, you’d have a system that requires less startup funds than a train line, would be cheaper to run than each person getting an individual taxi, more comprehensive than a carpool plan, and more environmentally friendly than owning your own car.
#0433: Dance to Create Music Technology
Problem: Creating music is a really technical process that few can really master; also, it’s to make people dance, and yet this process doesn’t have much in common with dancing.
Solution: A motion sensor and software that translate dance moves into music, so someone can dance while creating music as a DJ. It would be programmable so that a wave of a left wrist might trigger a sound effect or beat, or squatting to the floor and coming back up might trigger something else. This allows an artist can program it however they want, and to then dance to create their mix.
#0438: Electrolyte Flavor Packs
Problem: Water is not filled with flavors, sugar, or electrolytes, and my body craves all of the above.
Solution: Small powder packs to add to water which turn it into a good flavor and have electrolytes and vitamins. Yes, this totally exists already. This is why you have to act fast in making your inventions, because other people are smart too.
#0445: Handheld Microwave Emitter
Problem: RFID tags can be used to track you and they aren’t easily destroyed.
Solution: A handheld tool that emits a powerful microwave blast. By targeting an RFID tag the user can short circuit and destroy it, as well as its ability to be read and tracked by scanners. This could be done on passports, shoplifted clothing items, books, and more! Also, shoplifting is bad. Don’t do it.
#0448: Annoying Facebook Post Blocker
Problem: Some people on Facebook are annoying and they talk about subjects that are annoying.
Solution: A Facebook plugin that blocks posts containing words or names you’re sick of hearing about, such as “Donald Trump,” “Tea Party,” or “Zika Virus.” Imagine just blocking topics instead of having to unfollow people? It would change my social media use. Seriously, I hope this exists and I just haven’t heard of it yet.
#0456: Belt with Zip Tie Handcuff Cutters
Problem: If you get put in zip tie handcuffs, you will probably not be able to escape easily.
Solution: A belt buckle that discreetly incorporates a blade for quickly cutting through plastic cuffs to freedom. Freedom! It would be very helpful to an action hero. Like yourself. Obviously.
#0463: Bitcoin Jewelry
Problem: Bitcoin is valuable, but not aesthetically pleasing.
Solution: Create jewelry with a seemingly innocuous hologram which actually protects a Bitcoin string of code beneath it. It would be right on display and be worth an anonymous amount of money, even if the actual jewelry is made from low cost materials.
#0467: Cryptocurrency Crowdfunding Site
Problem: Crowdfunding platforms are limited because of them being public record.
Solution: Have a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter where instead of contributing money in dollars, you can donate in somewhat more anonymous Bitcoin, Litecoin or Dogecoin. This could support projects that would thrive having anonymous donors that aren’t linked to someone’s identity or bank information. This would also be more secure since there wouldn’t be any bank information for a hacker to steal on the site.
#0472: Balcony Yard
Problem: When living in an apartment, you can’t feel grass beneath your feet all the time.
Solution: A kit to transform any balcony into a yard, with a layer of topsoil and wonderful easy-to-grow and maintain grass. I’d really love to be on a second or third story balcony and yet still feel grass between my toes.
#0478: Astrobiology Hackerspace
Problem: The future of humanity is in space; whether we have people living on other planets in twenty years or two thousand years is really just a matter of political and social will.
Solution: I want to make a hackerspace (a community space where people can share tools and ideas, and build awesome stuff) that’s primarily focused on astrobiology. Specifically, it would focus on methods of space exploration using robots and people, how to search for life in the universe, and ways to sustain human life on space stations, exoplanets and starships. I have ideas about tardigrade experiments…
#0480: Location-Tweeting Wi-Fi Drones
Problem: Wi-Fi isn’t available out in public.
Solution: Drones that fly around providing Wi-Fi. They could broadcast their location so you can plan your day, and if you need one full-time, you could book one to follow you around and beam you Wi-Fi all day.
#0481: Maker Pet Kit
Problem: It’s 2016 and a lot of the unfun duties of taking care of a pet are still boring and repetitive and time consuming. And unfun!
Solution: A DIY pet house with a ton of cool features: heat sensors for pet detection and activate climate control inside the house, heating or a fan, a laser pointer to entertain a distracted pet, and automated food and water replacement from larger tanks that only seldom require replenishing.
#0485: Modular Shower Curtain Walls
Problem: Cubicles are ugly; they represent the worst culture in corporate America, they’re actually pretty expensive, and basically no one finds cubicles an ideal place to think of something new and fresh.
Solution: Make modular temporary walls that are cheap and easy to modify. Shower curtains come in all kinds of colors and patterns, and I would love to make a structure that can stretch one flat like an animal skin. You could cut it down smaller or to whichever dimensions you want, as shower curtains are usually pretty large. Then, if you had connector pieces at the top and bottom, you could construct a long wall of shower curtain plastic, or arrange a cubicle of colorful squares. You create make a miniature greenhouse for plants with clear shower curtains, or make multiple bedrooms in a hostel or loft apartment. This is something I really, really want to make. I want to see big, boring offices transformed with something much less expensive and much more fun. As a plus, vinyl insulates heat pretty well, so it could take less heating or cooling to control the climate.
I don’t know if any of these ideas will turn into billion dollar companies, technologies that save the human race, or killer products everyone has to have. If anything, I’ve decided to make them public to make a point: I wasn’t born writing down ideas. I wasn’t raised to do it. I didn’t set out to do it. I fell into the habit, and before I knew it, it became a part of my life. I believe I have good ideas, and I genuinely think we all do. Between being awake and asleep, in the shower, at work, in boring meetings, when we’re tipsy, or having intense late night conversations with friends. When we’re frustrated, when we’re having the worst day ever, when nothing goes right and we can’t help imagining a world that’s just a little bit brighter and stranger.
I think the world would change if we all carried pen and paper. We should value all of our ideas. When inspiration strikes, record it. Even if it’s terrible. Especially if it’s terrible. I’ve learned to respect my most terrible ideas because I encourage myself to produce more terrible ideas. And usually, when I look back over them later, I realize a few aren’t so bad after all.
Think of it this way: maybe 99% of your ideas will be awful, terrible, no good, very bad. And that's OK. That means that if you start writing down every idea you can think of, you'll eventually have your very own Codex Cinnabar of one hundred weird ideas, and tucked inside will be that one idea that you can run with. It just might be the next big thing.
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Thank you so much for reading these ideas and sharing this time with me. If you have any thoughts, suggestions, constructive criticism or vicious hate mail, I can be reached at [email protected] I’m on Facebook at . I even have a Patreon page! Patrons get access to secret projects I’m working on and cool stuff in the mail. You can join us in cool research for just $1. Check out my work at www.patreon.com/zimmerbarnes.
Inventor notebooks, once considered hidden treasure troves of creativity, have fallen out of fashion. Zimmer Barnes’ “Ramblings of a Mad Scientist” marks their roaring comeback. This collection invigorates and inspires with one hundred original concepts, ideas, and inventions spanning many topics, including transportation, mobile devices, wearable electronics, games, emerging technologies, and more. All ideas contained within are free to use, shared with the public domain, as opposed to being patented. Barnes takes casual readers and aspiring inventors alike through his personal journey of discovery, while prompting th to tap into their own inner creativity and imagine a stranger tomorrow for all of us.