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Best (and worst) inventions

At the end of 2011 I made a number of predictions for you. I wrote: "2012 will be a big year for inventions. There will be a six pack of brilliant inventions by six geniuses -- all will be gadgets/machines/devices/gimmicks that nobody needs." It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. I would amend that to read necessity is the mother of useful invention, but the mother of worthless invention is whimsy (or too much time on somebody's hands).

A recent edition of Time Magazine listed the 25 best inventions of the year. The one that really caught my attention was called "Indoor Clouds." A Dutch artist by the name of Berndnaut (I call him "Burnout") Smilde has developed a way to create a small, perfect white cloud hanging in the air of a room. Pictured is a small cloud hanging in the middle of a bare room with a high ceiling. The article explains: "Once everything is ready, Smilde summons a cloud out of the air using a fog machine. It lasts only moments, but the effect is dramatic and strangely moving. It evokes both the surrealism of Magritte (Rene' Magritte, a Belgian artist known for his witty and bizarre flights of fantasy) and classical beauty of the old masters while reminding one of the ephenerality of art and nature." The other 24 inventions each include a price tag. The cloud, however, is listed as "priceless."

Have you ever wished you could have a cloud in your room? What would you do with it? You could write a song with a new wrinkle: "Some enchanted evening you may see a stranger across a clouded room."

The other inventions in Time's 25 all appear to be somewhat useful -- everything from a motion activated power screwdriver to self inflating tires, body armor for women service members, new space suits, an improved Mars rover and bigger and better robots.

However, the patent office is loaded with silly, worthless inventions. Some are too embarrassing to be described in a family newspaper. Others -- you wouldn't believe they're real. But since I promised you a six-pack, I'll tell you about five more.

The first is a self-turning spaghetti fork for eaters too lazy to twirl spaghetti on their forks without outside energy. The device is operated by two AAA batteries and sells for $27.

Next, there is a rainy-day cigarette holder. Since most buildings do not allow smoking inside anymore, the poor smokers are forced outside to endure the discomfort of rain, snow, hail, wind, heat and cold. This invention is a long cigarette holder with a little umbrella over the tip to keep the rain off the cigarette. The smoker could just buy an umbrella that would cover himself and the cigarette, but what fun would that be?

The guy who bought the self-turning spaghetti fork would undoubtedly want a motorized ice cream container as well. The container rotates the cone as you lick it, so that you never have to turn the cone manually.

What could be more awkward than to want to look at your watch, but you're wearing a jacket and you have to pull up your cuff (if your other hand is free) to check the time? This problem was solved by an ingenious entrepreneur who designed a see-through panel in the jacket cuff that would enable you to see your watch without losing any wrist warmth. What? You don't own one?

Finally, the most brilliant of all -- bottles of diet water. What more can I say?

To inventive geniuses everywhere -- I salute your ingenuity if not your products.