Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My second good idea

On the use of a lock and key-like interface to determine characteristics of power distribution on a direct current power bus.

I don’t think I’m unique. Every once in a while I get a good idea and sometimes I get a really great idea. We all do. Who hasn’t had a “Eureka!” experience? You find yourself doing something you always done but the process or the device annoys you, just a little. Then you think to yourself, “Why don’t they make it this way or do it that way?” Eureka! You’ve just an invented something.

We usually don’t do anything about ideas like that. It simmers, stews in our brain, and then goes away, filed in that “someday I’ll do something about it” box. Once in a while we discover that someone has patented a device that works just the way you imagined it would years before and we kick ourselves. We never kick ourselves very hard, never hard enough to do anything about it. If we had patented the idea or even talked about the idea publicly then we might be able to get the patent invalidated because our idea is considered prior art but who has time, who has an economic incentive? Not me.

I’ve had two ideas good enough (so far) to file patents on. The first one would have improved the performance of the Internet cheaply by “caching” content in nearby locations. Companies like Akamai do it today but more expensively than I would have. Some “Venture Capitalists” were interested but then the dot com bubble burst and I abandoned the patent. Anyone can use it now if they want to. You can pay me to show you how.

Last summer I had another great idea. I have lots of computers here and a network befitting a small company as well as lots of gadgets requiring lots of AC power strips. I buy power strips in bulk. Staples once had a sale where you paid $5 for a power strip and you mailed in a rebate form for $5. The power strips were free. I bought about 20 of them. I used them all very quickly. Power strips are like socks in a dryer – they disappear. I had to buy more.

The reason I need more and more power strips is because every electronic “thingie” I have won’t just plug into a plain old 115 volt, 15 amp, 60 Hertz AC, 3 pronged plug. All my electronic devices run on 3 to 12 Volt DC power and have a power supply that plugs into a 115 Volt AC power receptacle. These power supplies reduce the voltage with a small transformer and “rectify” the power, turn it from alternating current into direct current with a diode bridge. Going any further is a technological rat hole from which I might not escape so let it suffice to say that a power supply is one of those brick like devices with prongs that plug into your 115 Volt AC wall socket that accompany your cell phones, etc. The problem with these bricks is that only one or two of them fit onto a standard power strip. If you’ve got five or six of these bricks then you may need two or three power strips “daisy chained” together. Each of those bricks burn energy even when the device isn’t on or being charged.

Eureka! Instead of an AC power bus why not a DC power bus where all the devices can plug in directly without needing a power brick? Brilliant! Except for the fact that each of those devices require a different voltage and current. Eureka! Why not have a plug that acts like a key describing the voltage to be supplied and the current to be allowed.
Oddly enough this revelation occurred at 3:40 a.m. I remember because it woke me up and I lay in bed wondering if I would remember it in the morning. I decided that I probably couldn’t so I got up and wrote most of my patent application before 6 a.m.

I let the idea sit for a couple of weeks, made some lousy drawings, filed the provisional patent application, waited, and waited and when the application acknowledgement arrived from the US Patent Office I rejoiced. Now I had a chance to get rich just like the fellow that invented the safety pin or safety razor.

Then, nothing happened. The world didn’t beat a path to my door. Somehow I always thought there were vultures that hung out at the patent office looking for inventions to mass-produce. If there are they missed my filing. Ok, if the world won’t beat a path to my door I’ll knock on some doors myself. There are a limited number of major corporations in the business of producing consumer power supplies and power strips. They are not hard to find so I created a package and send one to the legal/licensing department of every major corporation offering to license my invention. The only reply I got was a very defensive letter from a major Japanese electronics manufacturer stating flatly that nothing they manufactured violated my patent. Apparently their lawyers cannot read any better than their tech-writers can write manuals.

So ends, for now, the saga of my second good idea. It sits molding in a file draw at the United States Patent and Trademark office. To pursue a real, full patent would cost thousands of dollars or so they tell me. Which means that all those major corporations need only wait out the year a provisional patent offers protection before being free to use anything they want. At least I can say with pride, “Patent applied for.”

You can pick up a copy of the patent application here.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The boys of summer on the way home

It’s not often that I get a scoop but by being at the end a chain of emails from person or persons unknown I have three of the most revealing pictures of just who the members of our beloved Boston Red Sox team really are. No further comment is needed. I wish I knew who took the pictures. I’ll probably find out sooner or later – in the mean time enjoy.