Popcorn with a side of acoustic sensors...

Instructions for microwave popcorn always give the same guidance: "wait until the time between pops is 2-3 seconds." And it usually works pretty well, so why shouldn't microwaves use the same method? Whirlpool's new AccuPop Cycle does, and I'm a fan - so much so that I proposed the same system in an "Introduction to Sensors" class way back in 2002! Oh well - just another missed chance to make millions, I guess...

Liftware: Stabilized utensils to counteract tremors

People living with Parkinsons and essential tremors experience difficulties with everyday tasks - and one task that's especially sensitive to tremors is the use of eating utensils. Lift Labs is helping by adding active stabilization to a modular utensil: the handheld Liftware uses sensors and actuators to compensate for tremors, keeping the end of the spoon or fork relatively still. It may seem like a small fix in the lives of its users, but every little bit counts and adds to independence and morale - very worthy design goals!
[via Gizmodo]

Smarter Smoke Detectors

It's tremendously encouraging to see long-neglected products benefit from smart redesigns, and there may be no better recent example than the lowly smoke detector. Hated for difficulty in testing, silencing, battery changing, and... pretty much everything, smoke detectors have been so badly designed that some users prefer to risk disabling them entirely. However, a new wave of products - most prominently Nest Protect and Birdi - solve those problems and then some. Each gives more helpful and gentle reminders to change the battery, and each is designed to "not just start yelling at you" for common false alarms like burned toast. They have novel interaction methods, including gestures and mobile phone integration, and monitor carbon monoxide and air quality and more. To all of which I say: it's about time, and keep it coming!

Fighting back against "Vertical Videos"

Count me among the many who have a pet peeve for vertical videos - those taken in portrait orientation with mobile phones. It's not users' fault: they're innocently holding their phones in the most natural and comfortable way! Nope, it's the design of the software, which doesn't have to allow this travesty in devices with high-res cameras and orientation sensors. Horizn is an app that smartly keeps the video always landscape and level, but this problem won't be truly abolished until it's the default functionality of the camera!
[via Engadget]

Flip Cup, a double-duty bathroom accessory

You need a rinsing cup in your bathroom, you need a toothbrush stand in your bathroom, so why not combine them? Flip Cup does just that, while cleverly allowing the cup to dry with its curved lip exposing the interior while upside down. The minty-green color is a nice thematic cue to fresh breath (the whole thing looks like a freeze-frame of sloshing mouthwash), but any grime that accumulates inside the toothbrush holder may compromise that clean feeling!
[via Gizmodo]

Ultra vs Super vs Micro

A recent project needed some sanding with 3M Sanding Sponges, and I discovered a flaw in their system. You can see the three grades: Microfine, Ultrafine, and Superfine. Okay... so which is roughest and which is finest? Those three words have no default relation to each other, so the labels become useless. Adding a number to the label would help, which I did later with a Sharpie - and for the record, from roughest to finest (according to their website) it's Super, then Ultra, then Micro. Now I'm just waiting for them to develop an even finer grade - which they'll call Super-Micro? Ultra-Micro? Super-Duper-Ultra-Micro??

Blind Minder: Green home automation

Home thermostats usually control temperature only by turning on power-consuming furnaces or air conditioners. But there are other power-free ways to heat or cool a house: opening and closing windows, curtains, and blinds. Despite being greener and lower-cost, these methods are used less simply because they're not automated - it takes conscious effort to apply them. So, Make published a DIY project that controls mini blinds automatically based on temperature - it's simple, effective, has the potential to save money and energy. I sincerely hope that soon it'll lower the barrier even further by becoming a ready-to-install home product!
[Make via Lifehacker]