bytesback- January 2000

Hot ideas that stick

In mid-November, hundreds of inventors from all over the world descended upon Brussels for the 48th annual Eureka Exposition, a showcase of new inventions both practical and bizarre. Some of the creations are designed to meet specific needs, such as a pedal-powered lawnmower for Belgians who aren't allowed to use motorised mowers due to noise restrictions (the inventor rode the device up and down the aisles, blades spinning, sending fellow exhibitors running to protect their ankles). Some seem quite sensible ideas, such as a supplementary motor for electric cars that derives its power from a small canister of compressed hydrogen - handy if you run out of juice and there's not a power point in sight, but whatever you do, don't light a match.

Others were the work of pure genius. Dutchman Luc Van Mulders got so tired of serviettes escaping his collar or lap during dinner that he hit the drawing board to come up with something better. Adapting the adhesive properties of Post-It notes, he has devised a serviette that can be stuck temporarily to a necktie or shirt, and removed at the end of a meal. Unfortunately, he's given it the regrettable moniker of Serfix; we suspect someone in marketing will have a word with him before it hits the stores.

Backbytes' favourite item on show was a household solution for those of us who want to keep warm through the long winter, but can't stand obtrusive bar heaters taking up valuable space. Russian Zinaida Voronkova, already an established inventor, has developed transparent electric heaters, which can be installed as a substitute for the windows in your home that do little more than stop birds flying in. Those particularly worried about things flying in through windows (those with enemies in the criminal underworld, for example) will be pleased to know that Voronkova's windows are also bulletproof. The winters must get very rough in Russia.

Didn't expect that

Every once in a while, things go wrong with computers. This may seem an obvious thing to say, but actually it's the most sensible thing you'll read on the subject.

Especially compared to the error messages Windows provides. Most error messages look like useful information that you can use to solve your problem, when in fact all they're really saying is "something went wrong. I have no idea what, but here's a guess." Take this one, for instance, returned by Microsoft Exchange 5.5.

Perhaps, the programmers have such a low opinion of the application's reliability that they consider it noteworthy for it to complete a task successfully.

Love him to bits

It's funny how fashions change. Not very long ago, any number of Web sites dedicated to the notion that Jar Jar Binks was an unworthy addition to Star Wars lore and should be removed by any means necessary were springing up. The fashion seems to have tickled the fancy of one group of Web-heads, who promptly launched a service called "Must Be Destroyed".

The idea behind their site (at is that readers can send in their suggestions as to which pop-culture icon should be eliminated, and what means of destruction should be employed.

Despite what you may expect, though, Jar Jar has not yet been a target. Since the site's launch, the overwhelming weight of opinion has been to the detriment of Pikachu, that little yellow thing from the Pokemon empire. The creators have re-dubbed their site "Pokemon Must be Destroyed" and every day a new QuickTime movie can be downloaded depicting the horrible demise of the irritating yellow pipsqueak. Readers are invited to choose from a list of potential deaths for Pikachu, or suggest their own, and the filmmakers will go and do it.

While the character has been around for a while in the video game and TV cartoon versions of Pokemon, it's only with the release of the blockbuster movie that Pikachu and his minions have had the opportunity to really get up the noses of the parents and older siblings of Pokemon's main audience. Pokemon Must Be Destroyed is explicitly targeted at these older viewers, who may be wanting to relieve some tension after taking the littlies to the movie.

At last, Jar Jar can sleep easy.

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