09 April 2008
SETI League
PriUPS Project

Listen to or download MP3 version of this blogitem

Two Critical Inventions

I am, personally, a precision stapler.  A corollary of my dislike of waste ensures that I plan each stapling job carefully.  I pre-position the items to be stapled with great care, making sure the papers are aligned and the stapler is placed in the exact location necessary to be certain first that the papers are affixed to each other securely and symmetrically, and second, that the ultimate staple location will not prevent the papers from being manipulated into a position where they may be read in their entirety.  This occasionally requires some measurement and calculation to determine the optimum location, but it is well rewarded with the satisfying kerchunk of a staple driven home with a calibrated palm-thrust, and the realization that no second attempt will be required due to insufficient or excessive force of the palm or misplacement of the staple bending die. 

I never use paper clips.  I read once in a book by the recently-late William F. Buckley that I share that characteristic with the much-less-recently late Benito Mussolini of Italy, although I believe he was more vociferous about it.  He had a point.  Do you know how many staples you can make from one paper clip, if you have the patience?

One of the most unnerving and distressing facts of office life is that one occasionally runs out of staples.  So that we don't have a misunderstanding here, by "run out" I mean that the manual stapler on ones desk ejects its last staple and must be refilled, not that there are no more staples in the office with which to refill it.  (The latter situation is at least conceivable; I'm sure that if I live to 100+, maintain my current schedule and level of precision, and paper continues to exist, my actual box of staple refills will become depleted.  But that's not what I'm talking about.)  Rather, after one has used exquisite care in preparing an assemblage of papers, the disappointment engendered by palming the implement of staplage just right, only to have no staple emitted is a palpable disappointment.  Worse, it inevitably results in the misalignment of the papers along with the requirement to refill the stapler and the predictable necessity of recalculation and repositioning.

I hear you thinking!  "How silly you are being, Richard.  All you have to do is check the fullness state of the stapler after each completed operation and when there are no staples remaining, refill the instrument."   Ha!  You are making the joke in your thought, or perhaps were distracted by the theory of Mr. Mussolini.  If I were to do that, I would have to check the stapler fullness state perhaps a hundred times.  Is that not wasteful, too?  Clearly there is a better solution.  It is, of course, the

Almost-Out-of-Staples Indicator

All one needs to do is place a photocell on one side of the staple guide and LED on the other.  When the stick of staples is sufficiently short, the light from the LED will shine on the photocell, causing it to conduct and signal the operator, perhaps with another flashing LED or small sounder such as a piezoelectric speaker.  The whole electronic portion of the apparatus could easily be powered with a photovoltaic cell on top of the stapler and a tiny rechargeable battery in its base.  Considering the very short duty cycle of the electronics, i.e., for perhaps a few seconds per day, ambient light falling on the stapling instrument (which is normally kept on an illuminated surface) should be sufficient to keep the battery charged.

The added cost of these components would probably result in only a modest increase in the price of the stapler, which are produced by the millions.  Perhaps an extra $2 at retail would be sufficient to cover the cost and, of course my royalty.  At 5% of the $2 a dime per stapler I would be able to afford not only replacement staples until age 200+, but, given the extra sales engendered by people eager to upgrade, I could probably afford to hire a person to do my stapling for me.  I think they call that "win-win" in business jargon.

May I Please Be Preternaturally Clear...

This second invention has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with me.  I would no sooner think of committing the solecism this second invention is intended to prevent than I would of, say, invoking the five-second rule when a particularly precious chocolate item suddenly succumbs to the strictures of curved space-time.  No, no, not me.

For reasons apparent to the human female species, and mysterious to the male species, the angular position of toilet seats is a matter of concern to the former.  You may have read about this, or discovered it independently.  Leaving the seat "up" is anathematic, despite the fact that "up" is, in fact, more energetically favorable and one would think it would be appreciated by all, since lowering the seat releases energy.  Thus, if a male raises it and a female lowers it, the female would logically be expected to be grateful for the extra attention paid to making her life just a tiny bit easier.  Did I use the term "logic" in this paragraph?  My fingers must have slipped.

Fact:  Despite the conservation argument immediately above, in the realm of potentially shared toilets, it is desirable   very desirable for the human male to leave the seat "down."  This second invention is a simple and obvious one.  It uses almost the same components as the first:  A photovoltaic cell, small rechargeable battery, and LED.  Also needed, a small timing IC of no particular precision and a "MEMS" accelerometer.  (In the past a "mercury switch" would have been used, but of course now we know that if the switch breaks, the mercury will contaminate the water supply, endangering the alligators and rats in the sewer.)  The operation of the invention is intuitive.  If the toilet seat is raised, the timing IC is triggered by the MEMS, and a minute or so later the LED begins to flash, reminding the human male to recover the energy expended raising the seat by now lowering it.

I'm requesting no royalties for this invention.  Unlike my occasional forays into precision stapling, I need no assistance with the activity this invention is designed to facilitate, and am hoping none will be proffered at any price.

NP:  "Holloway Girl" - Marillion

Richard Factor

Yesterday  |  Tomorrow