Tank Nanny - A real problem, a decent solution...

It may not have the most appealing name, but the Tank Nanny serves a real purpose: it holds propane tanks safely in place during transportation, using a wide plastic base and a built-in seatbelt slot. I must confess that I've been guilty of letting propane tanks (more than one!) rattle around free in the back seat, and it's certainly an unnerving experience. And this is a satisfyingly straightforward case of the inventor identifying a need and coming up with a real, value-adding solution. The Nanny's website is another issue entirely - overselling "uses" beyond the primary purpose, trying to assert that propane can be "sexy," and the overuse of renderings instead of actual photos robs its credibility. Oh well - I'll happily overlook those missteps to appreciate the much-needed primary use of a well-designed product!
[via Make]

Sweet Dreams - Fade to black (er, silence)...

A simple, small application for those who like to fall asleep to music, Sweet Dreams fades your volume down over time. This is definitely useful - to the point, even, where it seems like it should be a built-in feature of an operating system or media player. Aside from the function, I also appreciate the usability of the interface - three simple sliders, four simple checkboxes, and absolute clarity about each one. And just to confirm the results of your settings, the graph at the bottom shows the planned fadeout schedule. Very user-friendly, transparent, and well-designed!
[via gHacks and Lifehacker]

Smittens - Compromising safety to show your looove...

"Smittens" - even the name is groan-inducing. But if you're looking for a way to show that you care more about your shmoopykins than you do about the safety and utility provided by the use of one of your hands, I suppose this is the way to do it. How better to say "If you trip and fall, dear, I'm right there with ya?" And hey, given to (and subsequently thrown away by) celebrities and audience members at Sundance 2009 and the Ellen Degeneres Show!
[from Pete Kazanjy, thanks Pete!]

WWW - Worst prefix ever...

Fellow usability blogger and non-native English speaker Jasper van Kuijk recently had a very astute rant on the unfortunate convention of preceding web addresses with "www" - in English, this is the worst possible letter to have to repeat three times! It's the only letter with three syllables - in fact, the only letter with more than one syllable - and repeating it three times in a row amounts to a feat of enunciatory acrobatics, especially for speakers of English as a foreign language. The "abbreviation" of 3 w's is actually more difficult to pronounce than what it stands for, the more quickly spoken "world-wide web." Sure, there are some fixes: saying "dub-dub-dub," saying "triple-double-you," or simply omitting the www from the URL. But none of these have really caught on - yet - so we're stuck, wasting time and tongue muscles on an unfortunate, and very unusable, convention.

Coffee Top Caddy - A carrier for your condiments...

Syracuse University industrial design student Josh Harris came up with this simple innovation: the Coffee Top Caddy is a coffee lid with the right kinds of cavities to hold sweeteners and creamers. It's definitely usable (where else are you going to put all that stuff?), but just as importantly, it's feasible - the lid's function, cost, and manufacturing method is unaffected. This is a great case of innovation within the constraints of reality - and something I'll hope to see on the streets soon!
[via Gizmodo]

Stairs with Slide - Hey, why not?

British architect Alex Michaelis built a dream house for his family, and everyone in the family got to make requests. The kids - who must be brilliant - opted for a slide alongside the staircase. And seriously, this is a great idea - why use your legs on the way down, when you can let your butt (or belly) do the work? It looks like a way to keep everyone happy - and, assuming there's a properly padded landing zone, healthy. Whee!
[via Neatorama & Gizmodo]

Sneaky - Use "Sent from iPhone" to write short emails...

The plethora of communications technologies that have developed in the last few decades has given rise to social norms around the proper uses of each - norms which accommodate availability, attention, immediacy, and technological limitations. But some clever folks have figured out how to use these norms to their advantage. For example, if you have a long email to which you're dreading having to write a long reply (as is required by the long-form norm of email, as opposed to the short-form norm of IMs or cellphone text messages), simply append "Sent from iPhone" to the end of the message, and feel free to keep it short. Yep, even if it's not actually from your iPhone - because the message's shortness is excused when the reader thinks you had to painstakingly type it on that tiny keyboard. Sneaky, but clever - and in a pinch, definitely useful!
[via Smarterware and Lifehacker]

Time Zone Help from Gmail...

For anyone who's living with the unfortunate reality of time zones - a long-distance relationship, travel, overseas business contacts - doing the math to avoid a middle-of-the-night call can be tricky at worst, and annoying at best. Google Labs has identified this as the latest of life's little problems to tackle, and added an optional feature to Gmail to help you out. It adds timestamps to emails from contacts with their local time, and icons showing "likely" availability (if it's between 9am and 6pm in the sender's time). Showing the details of the message will also reveal the current time in their location. As someone who's traveled to China, and who finds base-12 arithmetic supremely aggravating, I like this feature. Thanks, Gmail!
[via Lifehacker]

Ski Jump Bathroom Stall

Look closely at the image, there - that's the "view" from the toilet seat at one of several bathroom stalls redecorated as promotions for some new Coca-Cola drink. What's this doing on a blog on use and usability? Well, if you didn't really have to "go" before you entered the stall, that view might just scare it right out of ya! Happy Friday, everyone.
[via Gizmodo]

Nio - Bluetooth keeps tabs on your losables...

For people who too often misplace items that are (or should be) kept on their person, technology is coming to the rescue: Nio is a small dongle which links with your phone via Bluetooth, allowing your phone to alert you if the tag ever leaves Bluetooth's 30-foot range. It would make sense to use for keys, briefcases, purses - but of course if you lose the phone and the Nio at the same time (and in the same way), you're outta luck. It's a fine idea - and one we've kinda seen before - but I'd like to see the unit itself get a little smaller. Also, the marketing line - "do you nio?" (in all-lowercase, no less) - is a little obnoxious. Trying to make a personal-stuff-security product cool or trendy, eh, it doesn't seem to fly...
[via Gadling and Engadget]

BakerTweet - Finally, a real use for Twitter!

Not to hate on Twitter or anything, but, well, I hate Twitter. It's useless, egocentric, and above all, annoying - and the mainstream media's recent fascination with it has only made things worse. But I guess there's hope for even the most inane of technologies - and lo and behold, someone has found a way to make real use of Twitter! The BakerTweet is a system that allows bakeries to "tweet" their each batch of confections as they come out of the oven. Users can follow the Twitter stream of their local bakery, and always be in the know the very second their favorite treats are hot'n'ready. Wisely, the designers of the BakerTweet made it dead-simple for bakeries, who may not be very tech-savvy: the whole thing is contained in a little box ("bakery-proof") with nothing more than a knob to select the item just baked and a button to tweet it! Brilliant, tasty stuff - there's hope for Twitter yet!
[via Slashgear and Gizmodo]

ShotCarver: Fruit-infused liquor on the fly...

As I try to provide for my readers, here's something fun for Friday: ShotCarver, a simple kitchen tool capable of turning any fruit into a quick, flavorful shotglass! I love interesting drinks, especially when they're easy enough to make that they don't have to, you know, be the first drink of the night. And this just seems like a neat way to make an otherwise bland rum or vodka into something celebratory and fun. Add this to the Twist'n'Shot that I already blogged about, and you've got a party on your hands!
[via NerdApproved & Gizmodo]

Chopsticks Aid - One for the forkers...

Some of us didn't learn to use chopsticks while growing up - and by "some of us," I mean "most of us from the Midwest." Therefore, when dining out amongst company who are more adept at the method, there's a question to address: fiddle with the sticks, or bite the bullet and ask for a fork? Well, now a third option is presented by designer Jaroslav Kucera, in the form of this simple plastic attachment which turns any pair of chopsticks into a fork. Now, let's be honest: this product won't spare the user the embarrassment of chopstick naivety - but it just may deflect the conversation to the subject of the novelty of the product itself. It's a clever little thing - and sometimes cleverness itself can be quite useful!
[via Serious Eats, The Daily What, & Gizmodo]