Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock

As I was going for my nap this afternoon, I had a vision of an invention that somebody needs to invent for me:

Instead of an alarm clock that wakes you up at a particular time, this alarm clock would wake you up at a particular stage in your sleep cycle —— whatever stage that is that's easiest to wake up at (which, after some research, turns out is the dream stage, REM.)

But, lo and behold, more proof that this blog should be titled "My great inventions that someone has already invented":
Someone already came up with a similar product, called Zeo (sounds like a character in Power Rangers , huh?) Their website looks right-on. Zeo is exactly what I had already invented in my brain: It's a headband that you wear during the night which monitors your sleep patterns. It wakes you up after a certain number of cycles. Not only does Zeo wake you up at the "right" time, but it also monitors your night's sleep, so you can see what your brainwaves were doing all night.

Apparently, Zeo isn't for sale yet, but they are choosing a select group of people to be their beta-testers. My middle name is Guinea Pig, so I signed up for their waiting list.

I did some more googling, and there's a similar product already out there, Sleeptracker. Instead of a headband, it's a wristwatch. I'm still unclear about how this could monitor your brainwaves. Maybe it doesn't; it finds out what it needs to know based on your pulse.

Just based on their website, I don't trust Sleeptracker as much as the guys who make Zeo. Too info-mercial, too daytime-television.

Anyone have experience with this type of stuff? Once I did a professional sleep study at a hospital. The intent was to analyze my brainwaves throughout the night to see when and how long I was going into the various cycles of sleep: beta, delta, REM. It was way more complicated than wearing a headband, let alone a wristwatch. They covered my scalp with so many clips and suction cups that it was uncomfortable.

I'm doubtful that a headband could be as accurate as all those sensors of the professional lab. But maybe it's not important to be all that accurate when a crude reading will suffice for the given purposes.

Further testing will be required. Who wants to get me a Sleeptracker for my birthday?

Robo Music Teacher

Before I present this idea, I'd like to state that I have taken music lessons all my life. First it was piano, then guitar, then drums. My parents paid for the lessons, and I'm glad that they did because a music education is really valuable. Moreover, it's important to have a face-to-face with a human teacher. You get a lot more out of a real-life person than a book or a video cassette.

However, I remember that when I took lessons, I'd be all jazzed-up during the lesson, but as soon as I got home, all lonely in my room, I'd lose the motivation to practice.

With that said, I want to present my robo-teacher idea. I don't view this as a replacement to a real teacher, but rather a supplement.

It's just a piece of software that interfaces with either your electronic drum kit or your Rock Band drum kit. I'm not a fan of Rock Band, but the potential of that hardware is untapped: What you have there is a drum kit interfaced with and audio-visual setup (your TV).

Robo Teacher would work like this: you wear the headphones and/or watch the TV screen. It gives you some segment to practice. You play it on your electronic drum kit, and the software recognizes the accuracy of your playing. It advances you to higher levels of complexity as you master each fundamental.

The software would be fun since it would immediately respond to your progress. Just like a video game, you'll advance to higher levels as your skills improve. Only here, the skill is applicable to real life! That, by the way, is one of the primary things that bugs me about Rock Band. It takes lots of practice to get good at something that essentially is an imitation of real life, but not actually applicable to real life. (Reminds me a lot of my blog about Nintendo Wii.)

The robo-music teacher will be a lucrative franchise because with each advancing level of mastery, there will be a new piece of software to buy. "Level 2 Intermediate," "Level 3 ..." And different styles of music to fit all tastes, "Master Samba Rhythm in 3 Weeks," "Rock Essentials," "Metal..."

And not to reiterate the obvious, but this would be better than a video game because you'd walk away with real-life skills. Imagine that! You could learn "Merengue Essentials" from a digital tutor, and the next week be on stage playing with a real band.

Back to the idea of a real teacher versus a digital one: In my opinion they are not in competition. A human teacher is better at some things than a digital teacher: A human can explain the concepts, inspire the student and focus the student's skills and abilities. But they can't sit there for hours while you drill some 4 measures over and over again. Eventually you, the student, just have to do the tedious work alone.

I'm a Spanish tutor now. I can go to the kid's house and explain the concepts to them, have conversations in Spanish and help them focus on what to practice. But there comes a time when you have to say, "Just memorize these 55 verbs and their conjugations." I remember when I was struggling to learn to type, my mom got me Mario Teaches Typing. Suddenly something "tedious" became fun. Same thing here, kinda.

Recycled plastic tube chair

I haven't blogged for a few weeks because I've been making real-life art, such as this thing:

It's a chair made of reclaimed plastic tubes. They're throw-aways from the assembly line where my friend works. It took about two weeks to build. I designed that hexagon pattern on the computer. We decided the hexagons would be better than flat rows in order to leave gaps and therefore make it lighter. It was really exciting to see it go from design to real life.

We drilled holes in each tube and tied them together with about 100 zip ties (why are zip ties so expensive, by the way? About $6 for a pack of 100).

We chose zip ties in the first place because our drilled holes weren't exact, so the alignment between one tube and the next wasn't perfect. Therefore, the zip ties were necessary to cover up for our imprecise drilling. However, I would have preferred bolts because they would have been much stronger. I also shyed away from glue because it's expensive and an eye-skin irritant. Furthermore, I avoided glue because I wanted it to be mechanically connected. Glue seemed like a cop-out.

The zip ties made the whole thing "flexy." So when you sat in it, it would bend and give to your weight.

It wasn't very comfortable nor practical because of it's size, especially in the original incarnation:

As you can see, the original model was much longer, which obviously gave more back support, but its weight and size were annoying. We chopped off the back.

When you sat in it, it would bend and crackle, but hold up fine. For us skinny vegans, that is. Then one of our real-life-size friends came and sat in it. He leaned back, "ahhh..." and... Pop! The whole back fell off. After we all had a good laugh about it, I just put the whole thing — in two pieces — out on the curb. It was taking up too much room in the common area, and I was done with it. A day later, someone took it! I hope they had something creative in mind for it.

Hobbyist silkscreen stencil printer

If you've ever tried doing your own silkscreening (more accurately, "screen printing"), you'll know what a hassle it is to do the first part of the process: Mixing the photo emulsion, applying it and exposing it. It's fraught with challenges like getting the proper consistency of the emulsion, the proper light and exposure time. Before you can even print one shirt, you mess up a lot of screens just figuring out how to make the stencil.

I started thinking about these cutting-edge printers that I've heard about. 3-D plastic printers (scroll down a couple of articles). A guy in Make magazine made a chocolate printer for decorating cakes, and presumably for making 3-D objects out of chocolate.

This wouldn't even be that complicated. It would just be a printer that is set up to make silkscreen stencils. No photo emulsion. It just prints some sort of (inexpensive) quick-drying liquid on the custom-sized screens. When it drys, you have a screen ready for printing.

Of course, it plugs right into your computer, so the step to go from design to application is instantaneous.

This would probably be an expensive product, but not super-expensive. Probably for the high-roller amateur or small-biz professionals.

Personal Mobile Percussion Station

Like every other drummer, I love to play drums on the wheel of my car. At stop lights, heavy traffic, or parked waiting for a friend, I'm tapping away on my steering wheel.

The potential product here so obvious, so simple, and so in-demand it's begging to be invented.

It's just a cover that goes around the wheel of the car. Inside the cover is some kind of trigger, like the kind used on electronic drum kits. The triggers are wired to some sort of sound machine, and that's wired straight into the car's sound system.

So, as you can sit there and drum, you hear the beats come right through your speakers. You can even play along with your favorite songs on the radio.

Every drummer I've ever talked to LOVES this idea.

The add-ons are endless: Imagine a "karaoke" track where instead of the vocals taken out, it's the drum section that's missing. So, you can play with your favorite music. Or, how about a "Learn Drums in Your Car" CD? As an advanced feature, it could even have accuracy-recognition software, kinda like Rock Band does.

I had the opportunity to pitch this idea to the president of BOSS. He just laughed it off like a joke.

But it makes perfect sense, really, a corporate electronic music manufacturer isn't going to create a nutty niche product like this. Especially because of legal issues: the potential for mis-use is so high (people playing while actually driving.)

That's why it's up to us basement inventors to come up with this thing and sell it underground. Here's an opportunity for us to come up!