Magnetic Spatula - Keeps accidents from happening...

A while back I was having dinner with friends and family at BJ's Brewhouse, and we all ordered a pizza as an appetizer. To start with, the pizza is served on an elevated platform, which helped accommodate the limited tabletop real estate - an excellent idea. But the star of the show was the pizza-serving spatula, which was magnetized so that it stably sticks to the serving plate. (Though after a few of their beer samplers, this may be mistaken for magic.) This kept the spatula from falling or being knocked off of its elevated perch on the pizza plate - which would have almost certainly resulted in ruined or spilled drinks, soiled clotches, and so on. It's simple, it's effective, it's brilliant - and it gave me an excuse to blog about beer and pizza. Two thumbs up!

Sledding, B.Y.O.Snow

I try to do something fun here on Fridays, and what's more fun than sledding? Of course, it's a problem for those of us who live in dry climates, warm climates, or both (thanks, Sacramento!), but here's a product that makes it possible anyway. Slicer (by 'Ice Meister,' niiice) is a sled that brings its own cold stuff - in this case, ice blocks frozen to its underside. You put the Slicer in your freezer with water, and once it's frozen you're ready to go - on any hill, anytime, winter or summer. I love the simplicity of the idea, and the adherence to the basic principle that makes sledding work: it's still just sliding against frozen water. Though in the summer, the wipeouts might be a little less fluffy...
[via Treehugger and Gizmodo]

iPhone Auto-Correcting Text: Sometimes useful, sometimes not...

The iPhone's auto-correcting text is a (mostly) magical thing; it's usually able to correctly guess the word you meant to type, even with quite a few flubs of the fingers. But there are some times when you're using words that the iPhone doesn't know - or doesn't approve of - and auto-correct quickly becomes a major frustration. Well, Lifehacker has found a quick and simple workaround - if you know your message will contain autocorrect-unfriendly words, start the whole thing with a single "z" and start typing in front of it. Just keep typing, and iPhone's autocorrect will be so stymied that it doesn't even try. Good designs are never perfect - but a well-designed workaround is sometimes the best way to inch a bit closer towards perfection.

Cube Cheater iPhone App - Life-saver or fun-killer?

My wife recently had a hankering for a Rubik's Cube, so I got her one, and it's been a fine outlet for extra mental energy. And then I saw this post on the Make blog about an iPhone app called "Cube Cheater" - you simply take a photo of the cube with the phone's camera, and the app will walk you through solving the puzzle, step by step. So the question is: Is this is a lifesaver which can free a frustrated puzzler from the tyranny of the cube, or a fun-killer which negates the whole point of the puzzle? If you had this app, would you be too tempted to use it? And most importantly, what will my wife's reaction be when she reads this post?? Stay tuned, I'll update it in the comments - or maybe she will...

New Technologies: Sometimes you need a little help...

Here's a fun blast from the past: a 19th-century sign putting users' minds at ease with this newfangled contraption, the electric light bulb. It sure seems funny to us now, but new technology often needs some explanation to users - especially when use patterns are disrupted. Yup, you don't need a match to turn on the light bulb! Here are some modern analogues, off the top of my head:

"Do not attempt to schedule times and channels on Tivo. Simply search for the name of your show."

"Do not listen for a dial tone on your mobile phone. Simply select a contact from your list and press 'call.'"

"Do not attempt to employ the Dewey Decimal System on the internet. Simply type your query into Google."

Ain't technology grand?
[via NextNature, BoingBoing, and Gizmodo]

Add-Art: Replace online ads with high culture...

Add-Art is a plug-in for the Firefox web browser which, quite simply, replaces online advertisements with art. It's a neat idea - swapping out mind-numbing consumerism for high culture - even though it would be a bit disruptive if adopted en masse (and wrecked the effectiveness of online advertising). One more comment: I looked at the art collections that have been used to replace ads, and something struck me... They don't look that much different from ads. Pretty much any "art" image could conceivably be an ad - and come to think of it, many ads out there are visually compelling, interesting pieces of art. Maybe I'm jaded, but the line between the two seems fairly blurred!

Apple's "Macbook Wheel" - A parody with a nugget of truth...

Fake news source The Onion has a video segment on a (fake) new Apple product, the Macbook Wheel - a laptop that replaces the keyboard with a giant iPod-style clickwheel. It's a parody, of course - and a good one - but it's especially funny because it hits close to home. As I've posted before, iPods have outgrown the clickwheel - what was a great solution for a basic device with a few options is a poor solution for a complex device with hundreds of options. Extrapolate to the thousands of activities on a laptop, and it becomes the stuff of comedy. And man, is it good comedy - from features like "predictive sentence technology" to the slogan "everything is just a few hundred clicks away." And Apple fans, you too - you're the guy in the video saying "I'll buy almost anything if it's shiny and made by Apple." Too true.
[via Gizmodo]

Measurement Gloves - Not so "handy" (ugh)...

On Fridays I like to show a little something silly, laughable, or just too-clever-by-half - so here's your weekly dose. Measurement Gloves (available for $25 CAD at UpToYouToronto) make a misguided attempt to productize the technique of using your hand as a measurement tool. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that anyone would buy these, let alone have them on hand (the puns never stop!) when needed, who wouldn't first try measuring their own hands to make them useful in the same way. Plus, what happens if your hands are a little too big, stretching the gloves and ruining the "calibration?" Finally, the fashion risk is downright perilous - except in some reaches of geek society where these may just be haute couture. Get a good laugh, folks, but save your 25 Canadian bucks.
[via Gizmodo, Nerd Approved, & Fashionably Geek]

Riiflex - Dumbells for Wiimotes...

Got a Wii? Good for you, you're getting some exercise. A Wii Fit? Even better, you're getting more. Wanna take it to the next level? How 'bout adding a few pounds to that little piece of plastic you're waving around! Yup, soon you'll be able to do just that with Riiflex, "Dumbells for the Wii Remote." There's no doubt that with the right weight added to the right games, you're definitely increasing your workout - and soon we just might have Wii gamers (seniors and kids?) with ripped arms. But one bit of advice: definitely, definitely use the wrist strap!
[via Gizmodo]

Expandable Bookcases: Fitting your library...

Even though physical-book libraries are increasingly anachronistic, well, you've still gotta have a place to stash your books. But getting the right amount of bookshelf real estate can be tricky - not enough space and your books overflow, but too much and you library looks embarrassingly sparse. So here are two solutions: bookcases that start small and expand to accommodate more. Pictured at top is the Platzhalter, a lighthearted piece more appropriate as a conversation starter than a piece of furniture. At bottom, though, is the more reasonable REK bookcase - something that may actually look at home in the home. Not bad - and not a bad idea!
[via Gizmodo & Gizmodo]

Sandwich Camouflage: Spoiled food = foiled thief?

These Anti-Theft Lunch Bags practice security by deception rather than force: each bag is printed with green splotchy spots, making it look like the sandwich inside is a moldy mess. I've posted about a similar technique - making your bike look ugly to deter theft - but this one's a bit different. Even though both an uglified bike and an uglified sandwich work, one is decidedly less appetizing. So, is that the problem with this design? The possibility that even the user who knows the secret is turned off by the illusion? Maybe. But personally, I'm not about to find out.
[via Design Spotter & Make]

Pizza from Tivo - Couch potato heaven!

I'm not a big fan of the word, but this just might be a justifiable use of it: synergy. Domino's Pizza and Tivo have teamed up, to allow Tivo users to order delivery from their TV set: just follow the always-easy-to-use Tivo interface to make your choices, and even track the delivery progress until your pie arrives. There's a lot to be said, usability-wise, for this blissful union:
-Orders will be clearly and correctly communicated to Domino's, not like talking to some inattentive teen on the phone.
-The ordering process can be democratized, with all involved parties watching and guiding the choices on the big screen (better than one person on a PC!).
-It's just...right! When you're watching TV, you want pizza, and when you're eating pizza, you want to watch TV.
So yes, I'm giving this one a Tivo-style Thumbs Up. And getting kinda hungry...
[via Gizmodo]

Sports on HDTV: Not using the whole screen...

Blue Donut has a rant on how sports are presented on HDTVs: specifically, all the shots are framed so that they could still be viewed on old, 4:3 ratio non-hi-def TVs. This means that all that extra screen real estate on wider, 16:9 ratio hi-def TVs is filled with nothing important - the crowd, empty field, etc. The name of this practice, Blue Donut says, is "center-cut protection." However, I would suggest that it's not all that bad - as TVs become bigger (and we sit the same distance from them), the experience becomes more immersive. More of the screen is in the viewer's peripheral vision - so the edges shouldn't contain anything important, because we won't really "see" it, we'll just "feel" it. Center-cut protection may be necessary for compatibility for now - but I almost hope that it stays on as a way to make television viewing comfortable, immersive, and balanced.
[via Gizmodo]