13 September 2009

Premise: This video game allows you to live out your wildest fantasies of performing poetry live in front of a crowd of almost a dozen nonchalant fans.  Watch as your avatar, dressed in a trenchcoat and unwashed jeans, or perhaps a plaid tunic and a Utilikilt, reads Allen Ginsberg’s Please Master to a mostly unimpressed audience in a poorly-lit basement café while you tap along.  Will you be rewarded with faint finger-snapping, or suffer the shame and humiliation of dead silence?  Will you be able to tell the difference?  The Street Poet expansion pack contains a tilt sensor that detects if you are leaning in close enough to terrify your victim with your glassy eyes, uneven stubble and liquor-tainted heavy breathing.

Tragic Flaw: Besides the fact that multiplayer and network play possibilities are severely lacking, I don’t know who would possibly want to lip-sync along to Alden Nowlan in front of their friends at a party.  Or at least I hope I don’t.

Genesis: I was shaving, and thinking of how ineffably sad the concept of RockBand is.  Now that the Beatles properties have been pried from Michael Jackson’s cold dead hands and pressed into the service of this franchise, it’s even worse than it was before.  Really, there are only two kinds of people who don’t like RockBand: people who like playing music, and people who like playing games.  RockBand is the fishstick of video games; as a fish stick is neither a stick, nor is it fish, RockBand is neither a game, nor is it music.  Basically, when you play RockBand, you are listening to music, and tapping along (oh, it’s all just tapping along, whether it’s pressing buttons or hitting “drums” or “singing”).  There is nothing wrong with this; I do it on the bus all the time.  For free.  But with RockBand, if you tap along “wrong”, you fail.  Nothing like trivializing the artistic process, eh?  RockBand makes the art of playing music seem like a trumped-up version of Pocket Repeat with visual cues.  It drove Kurt Cobain to paint the insides of his head all over the walls, and Michael Jackson to rabidly protect the Lennon-McCartney catalogue from corporate interests at the risk of his reputation and personal health, and they were tapping along right.  I can only imagine Wii Surgery and Difficult Childbirth (for the PSP) are next.  RockBand’s only saving grace is that it taps the market demographic of “people who don’t like music or video games”, making both cheaper for the rest of us, and then keeps those people safely at home so we can attend concerts without being bothered by their presence.

Disposition: Does not scan.


Heritage Landscape

16 August 2009

Preamble: The human race has sent, by now, countless samples of its cultural heritage into space.  The Voyager and Pioneer probes, the Arecibo transmission, and almost every television and radio transmission of the 20th century have been launched into the great dark expanse of starry void surrounding our little planet.  We did this in the hopes that some spacefaring culture would pick up and find a way to decode our messages, and decide we were worth talking to.

The trouble with probes is that they take a long time to get anywhere, and are more likely to hit an object and be destroyed than they are to be scooped up by the galactic equivalent of 1-800-GOT-JUNK.  Think for a second; when was the last time that you really looked at a hairball to see if it contained a cleverly coded message from your cat?

Radio signals travel at the speed of light, which is about as fast as we’re capable of sending anything into space.  However, the messages we send were chosen and encoded by people who think cryptanalysis is fun and natural.  They’re non-intuitive, unless you have the mathematical capabilities of an idiot savant.  Do we really want Earth to be contacted by nerds with no social skills?  The Internet is bad enough as it is.

There’s a much simpler way to do things.  As with everything else, the Chinese figured it out first.  The Great Wall of China is one of the two major man-made structures visible from space.  (The Lebanese are working on one too, which will be much better, open later, and have fresh local citrus fruit year-round.)  Light travels at the, uh, speed of light.  If we want to broadcast our cultural heritage to the stars, we should do it with light.

Premise: A geocentric satellite, positioned directly above the Canadian Arctic, using a combination of IMAX and military laser technology, will project Canadian Heritage Minutes onto the arctic tundra, rendering the Great White North the galaxy’s largest movie screen.  Alien cultures will be able to see Canada’s most important historical moments.  If they can read lips, they may also learn our language.

Tragic Flaw: The alien culture that sees these will do one of two things:

Take them seriously: If these Heritage Minutes are all we show the rest of the galaxy, they will naturally assume that we send Chinese boys into rock formations carrying explosives, wear ridiculous amounts and styles of facial hair, and have really wacky attitudes toward gender.  They will show up pleading for the continued use of their peach baskets.

Laugh: Canada is the laughingstock of Earth.  Do we want Earth to be the galaxy’s Canada?

The other unfortunate side-effect, in either case, will be the permanent blinding of everyone in northern Canada.  Oh, and the polar ice cap will melt, flooding James Bay and causing Waterworld.

Genesis: On the way back to Ottawa from Perth, we passed through Kanata, and everything else followed naturally.  Oh, and Kate Beaton.

Disposition: It’ll never fly.

Anti-Cat-Hair Couch

12 August 2009

Premise: Couch cushions (or carpet underpadding, etc.) are woven through with a grid of aluminum wire.  A similar grid of wire is laid out on the ceiling.  The two grids are connected, via a switch, to a high-voltage DC power supply (salvaged from an old vacuum-tube television set).  Throw the switch, and any cat hairs or other small particles on the couch (or carpet) surface are given a strong negative charge, lifting them off the couch and onto the ceiling.

Tragic Flaw: After you turn it off, either your ceiling is full of cat hair or it just falls back down to the ground.  Also, with the high voltage required, anything electrical in the room (your computer, TV, cat, or self) is going to get a debilitating shock.

Genesis: This is how the Swiffer works.  No, really; the Swiffer’s just on a smaller scale.  (Never, by the way, clean personal electronics with a Swiffer rag.  I have seen LCD displays flicker ominously when exposed to that degree of static electricity.)  The idea for this setup came from a text file (before the World Wide Web, kids) called How to Kill.  One particularly baroque method suggested was a pair of (electrified) wire grids set up in a men’s urinal.  The victim completes the circuit with their urine stream, and is killed instantly.  Although there are a number of reasons that wouldn’t exactly work, the idea of giving something a strong negative charge so that it flies at (or through) a target with a strong positive charge is quite plausible—it’s how TVs used to work.

Disposition: I’m working on a scale model, but miniature cats are proving hard to find.


10 August 2009

Premise: Twatter is a social networking tool for women to share the intimate details of their menstrual cycles, in real-time, wherever they may be, through the exchange of short status messages.

Genesis: I was sitting at a table with some ladies associated with the 2009 Ottawa Fringe Festival.  One of them had recently purchased an iPhone and was browsing through the App Store when she happened upon iPeriod.  As we were all quite deep into the Apricot Wheat, laughing over the incredibly baroque list of features, someone mentioned that all it was missing was a way to tell if you were in sync with your girlfriends.

“There should be something,” she said, “like Twitter, but for that.”

“Well,” I said, “It would have to be called Twatter.”

Surprisingly, they let me stay.

Tragic Flaw: I’m not entirely sure.  It just seems like a bad idea.  I doubt I’m qualified to either create or judge the value of such a system.  Now, if I had the relevant apparatus, personally, I would be all over iPeriod.  Categorizing, quantifying and statisticizing is practically a religion for me.  The problem is, my body doesn’t do anything interesting.  I’m missing the biological lava lamp that is the female reproductive system, with all its neat little bells, whistles and numerical readouts.  Maybe next life.

Disposition: Discarded.


9 August 2009

Premise: Do you not have enough time in the morning?  Is the old “coffee and cigarette” routine getting you down?  Why not have coffee that is a cigarette?  The Nicocino™ is a tasty cappucino infused with 1.5mg of satisfying nicotine.

Tragic Flaw: Have you ever tasted water infused with nicotine?  It tastes like hot-dogs, but in a bad way.  There is also a distinct discoloration of the cappucino foam.  If those factors aren’t enough to turn you off, nicotine and milk do not mix.  This is why cows rarely smoke.  Try a glass of milk and a cigarette sometime, and see if you don’t agree.

Genesis: Oh, I probably thought this one up first thing in the morning some years ago.  I was experimenting with nicotine-infused water to use while working out at the gym, but then discovered that nicotine really is a paralytic, and decreases muscle oxygenation.  So I stopped going to the gym.

Disposition: Actually, you can try this one at home. You will need: a cappucino, a cigarette, matches or a lighter, a plastic coffee-stirrer or a heat-resistant straw, and some PVA glue.

  1. Light the cigarette.
  2. Draw on the cigarette, but do not inhale the smoke.
  3. Blow the smoke very slowly deep into the cappucino through the straw, so that as little smoke as possible is visible from the bubbles at the surface.  This takes practice, but once you’ve got it, it’s easy.
  4. Continue until the cigarette is finished.

Voilà!  Your Nicocino™ is ready.

Google Catitude

8 August 2009

Premise: A service whereby you can track all of your cats and all of your friends’ cats on a map.  See where your cat friends are at any time!  Cats with smartphones can track you back (but they likely won’t).

Tragic Flaw: Probably only of interest to cat ladies, and cat ladies always know where all sixteen of their cats are anyway.  Maybe also of interest to amateur doctors and very, very desperately hungry people.  The resolution isn’t high enough to see that your cats are on your kitchen countertop, and you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it anyway.

Genesis: This was a bathroom idea.  I was thinking about Google Latitude, and how it would be great if I had a lot of friends who weren’t on Twitter, or who had something other than an iPhone, or who wanted me to know where they were.  Then I thought, “What if I didn’t have any friends at all?

Disposition: Google will probably do this for April Fool’s next year and try to sue me.


7 August 2009

Art © 2009, David Noel

Art © 2009, David Noel

Premise: We take the crispiest golden fries, squeakiest St. Albert cheese curds, and saltiest light chicken gravy; then we compress them into a bar so you can have that fresh poutine taste on the go.  A moderate amount of ginseng and taurine are added, permitting us to claim Natural Health Product on the wrapper, and skirt the nutritional facts disclosure.

Slogan: Le goût de chez nous. (The taste of chez nous, literally “our place,” but used colloquially to denote Québec francophone culture.)

Tragic Flaw: Nothing is more disgusting than cold poutine.  Of course, you could conceivably pop it in the microwave, but there’s probably Mylar in the wrapper.

Disposition: At the concept art stage.

Shame-sharing: Thank you to Martin Dauplaise and Scott Gooding for initial idea support and development, and David Noel for the concept art.

Storytime: So, David came up with an absolutely wonderful concept drawing of the wrapper for Ta-Bar-Snack™.  It was so good, in fact, that I immediately ran over to his desk with the concept art and a stolen Sharpie marker.

“It’s perfect,” I said, “so here are the changes I want you to make.  The wordmark needs to have all three elements capitalized and separated by hyphens.  It should also be set in Bauhaus 93.”

“Yeah,” said David with a sigh, “this happens all the time in the studio.”

I nodded.  “Be thankful I didn’t ask for Papyrus.”