From The Office Of Incredible Ideas
An explosive introduction
In the old days, incredible ideas and inventions were dreamed up by bearded professors and eccentric scientists who inhabited laboratories in the dungeons of spooky castles and cluttered, book-lined studies in the attics of run-down ancient houses. However, during the course of the 20th Century, these castles and ancient houses were taken over by the heritage industry, the bearded professors and eccentric scientists were evicted and their laboratories and studies cleared out to make way for cafes and gift shops.
The professors and scientists migrated to universities and government research facilities, where they learned to inhabit cluttered book-lined offices. Sadly, cuts to education and research budgets forced universities and government departments to reduce staff numbers and a number of professors and scientists once again found themselves without a place to work. However, one group of freshly unemployed but enterprising eccentric professors and scientists decided to pool redundancy payments to fund an exciting start-up enterprise: The Office of Incredible Ideas.
The team moved into a workspace taking up the entire top floor of a converted print works. The rest of the building was inhabited by pop-up hipster upcyclers and artisan makers who, on seeing the new arrivals sporting the fashions of bygone decades, took them for devotees of vintage shabby-chic and welcomed them with open arms. The professors and scientists cheerfully shook hands with their new neighbours, admired their beards and vintage outfits, ordered a round of exotic coffees and expensive sandwiches, unpacked their books and happily set to work on their incredible ideas.
Sadly, like so many exciting start-ups, the venture did not last long. However, instead of fizzling out under a crushing damp squib of cash-flow problems, it ended one Thursday afternoon with a tremendous bang. A bang that blew off most of the roof and destroyed the entire third-floor workspace. None of the professors and scientists survived. The hipsters mourned the demise of their inventive neighbours, sighed at the loss of exotic coffee and expensive sandwich revenue and scoured the smoking ruins for things to upcycle.
Only a few singed pages of a notebook were recovered and the following transcript is all that remains from the Office of Incredible Ideas. And what ideas they were...
The Emergency Breakfast Van
You know the feeling - there wasn't time for breakfast and you ran, empty-bellied, out of the door. Now you're on your way but you're hungry - not just a little peckish, looking forward to a biscuit with a mid-morning coffee, but really gut-achingly hungry, the kind of emptiness that takes over your mind and makes it impossible to think of anything but food...
So why don't you dive into a cafe you pass on the way? Well, if there wasn't time for breakfast at home there's probably not much time to nip into cafes either. Even if you did, there's likely to be a queue stretching into the middle of next week. Perhaps you decide to chance it anyway, only to be confronted by that dozy part-timer who never seems to understand what you're asking for, never knows where anything is and, even when they've finally located the thing right in front of them that you and three other people are pointing at, they have this horrible knack of preparing things so that you can't see what they're doing. Consequently, you end up with some vital component left out or - and this is much worse - something you can't abide slipped in, rendering the whole thing inedible and destined for the nearest bin. You go on your miserable way out of pocket, twice as hungry and five times more fed up.
What you need is a someone you can call upon to cook up exactly what you want, done precisely the way you like it, and bring it to you en-route, hot, tasty and life-saving...
What you need is the emergency breakfast van - the rescue service for people who didn't have time for breakfast at home or can't dive into a breakfast bolt-holes along the way for whatever reason.
In some ways, this the kind of thing you'd expect to read about in the pages of a magical story but we all know that rushing out without breakfast is a real problem - one that requires a real solution.
The emergency breakfast van works through mobile app technology. You start off by downloading the app and when you create your account you'll be invited to select up to three breakfast options - say, tea and two slices of brown toast with marmalade, or a toasted bagel and a skinny latte, or a bacon sandwich on white bread with brown sauce and large builder's-strength tea with three sugars. Note that these items are fairly compact, can easily be eaten while sitting on a station platform bench, on the march or, as a last resort, at your desk when you get to work.
How does it all work? Simply fire up the app, select your chosen breakfast and the location-finder in your phone tells the service centre where you are and the estimated time of arrival at your pick-up point. If you're on a bus or train the van can meet you at your stop, if you're walking or cycling then the van comes direct to you. Don't panic if you're a driver stuck in a massive traffic jam - a handy drone will soon be buzzing in to save your life.
What does the emergency breakfast van look like? It's something like a mobile burger van but with the robust cleanliness of an ambulance and the authority of a fire engine. Its livery is yellow and white with some touches of brown - the yellow and white reflect the colours of a breakfast egg or milk and butter, while brown evokes toast, coffee or tea. Some have suggested the van could be shaped like an agg or a teapot but this would be impractical when you consider that you need a vehicle capable of commanding respect on the road. As stated earlier, going without breakfast is a serious matter and the emergency breakfast van is a serious solution - leave the novelty vans in the amusement parks where they belong.
This all sounds most excellent, you say, where do I sign up? Sadly, until someone with business know-how and money to invest agrees to make the emergency breakfast van a reality, you'll just have to set the alarm a bit earlier...
The Remote Control Scissor Robot
Just about everyone who has ever travelled on a bus or train will have experienced the curse of the person playing music through leaky headphones. You know how it sounds: TSS TSS FZZZLE-FZZLE FZZ-FZZ TSSS PSSHHH… You’ve no idea what they’re listening to but you know you hate it.
What to do about it? You could tap the offender on the shoulder and politely request that they reduce the volume but that could open a can of worms capable of closing down an entire supermarket.
If the offender doesn’t care about polluting the air with their noise, there’s a danger that they don’t think twice about indulging in other anti-social acts - such as shouting at, punching or even stabbing people who ask them to lower the volume of their music, no matter how politely the request is made or how many witnesses may be present.
Confrontation is not the answer here. To avoid the danger of physical or verbal attack, the solution needs to be discreet and anonymous. Moreover, the offender must be made to pay for their crimes of noise pollution. How can we achieve this? By simply cutting the wires connecting the earpieces to the music device. Once the wires are cut, the earpieces are useless and the offender will have no choice but to pay for a new set. In the meantime, they will be forced to sit in silence, wondering what on earth cut the wire.
The answer is the Robobug of Retribution, a micro robotic device cunningly disguised as an insignificant little beetle guided by an app on a smartphone or tablet. This marvel of robotic engineering quietly crawls along the floor and climbs up walls, furniture or clothing, just like a real insect. A flying device would attract too much attention and spur the world’s wavers of rolled-up newspapers to action. The same applies to a spider-like design. Our device must be discreet and unthreatening in appearance if it is to reach and successfully attack its target.
So our bug is quietly deployed on its mission. A tiny fibre optic camera enables the operator to view the terrain immediately in front of the robot and guide it on its way. Of course, the control interface is wisely designed to look like the graphics of a typical shoot-up combat game, not real video - that could arouse suspicion from neighbouring passengers.
Our bug makes its way across the floor, climbs up the seat, onto the offender’s body and approaches the target.
The noise-carrying cable is now visible on our sight screen. We press a button marked SET TARGET. A crosshair sight marker appears. We guide it to the wire and press an exciting amber button marked LOCK ON TARGET. We hit the button and it turns red with dangerous flame-coloured writing that reads ATTACK TARGET. Yes! Hit the button, it’s time for the kill. Our bug moves in, opens its microscopic but dangerously sharp jaws and SNIP!
The headphones fall silent. The offender looks confused, hastily examines their device, sees it is still working and looks even more confused.
Then the offender notices the limp wire that dangles uselessly towards the ground. Their face falls, they examine the neatly cut ends. They cast furtive glances of suspicion and fear at their immediate neighbours. Who did this? What was their weapon? Is the same weapon, or an even deadlier one about to be deployed to inflict bodily harm? Let them wonder, let them stew in their pit of anger, fear and self-pity. Take pride in the peace you have brought to the journey, not just for yourself but your fellow passengers as well. They will never know what you have done for them but they are glad that you did it.
When can the world expect this miniature marvel to hit the shops? Sadly, the phenomenal cost of developing such an intricate piece of technology requires a budget of proportions known only to builders of military hardware and space probes. Moreover, a piece of equipment essentially intended to cause criminal damage presents a minefield of legal implications. The individual operator may only be liable for paying compensation to the value of replacement headphones and legal costs, but the manufacturers, distributors and retailers would face far greater penalties for conspiracy to enable criminal activity. The business people in charge of financing new products will merely shake their heads and move on to something less risky.
For the time being, you'll have to make do with investing in a set of good quality, low noise emitting headphones of your own...
Knotshaw's Railway Rambler
There are days when the sun shines, kindly and warm, on the waking world and the prospect of going to work seems a criminal waste of fine weather. If only you had the nerve to "accidentally" get on the wrong train - one that happens to be heading non-stop to the seaside.
You'd phone your line manager, apologise profusely for your blunder and explain it would take so long for you to get back it would hardly be worth it. They won't see you until tomorrow. Sorry about that... And with that you sit back and watch the sunlit hills going by as the train rolls you to the seaside. If only you had some of your workmates going along with you - that would be so much fun...
Now, if one person claims to have got on the wrong train, it's possible that it's a genuine mistake. However, if 15 workers call in to report that they've foolishly got themselves on a train running non-stop to the seaside, it's certainly a conspiracy. But what is the manager to do? Dismissal of 15 people en-masse could have catastrophic effects on business performance, leading to the manager facing awkward questions from higher levels. "What do you mean you sacked half your department, Jones? It will be hard to convince the board that you are worth retaining when they receive this month's revenue figures, Jones..." A manager with any sense would think twice about such action.
What the seaside-bound workers need is a credible excuse. That excuse is Knotshaw's Railway Rambler - a smartphone app for rail navigation with a cunning twist.
Taken at face value, Knotshaw's Guide, as it is affectionately known to its small body of devotees, is designed to alert commuters to unexpected delays on their regular journey and offers alternative routes to avoid these trouble spots. It's not that widely used on account of some bugs that have been known to send whole groups of users on wildly inaccurate routes, landing them at distant, hard to get back from seaside destinations. However, these widely publicised bugs are merely a cover story. The manager demands to know how 15 people all ended up on the wrong train at the same time? Simple, it was all down to that catastrophic glitch in the Knotshaw system you've been reading about in the papers and social media... The manager asks aloud why these people still insist on using this clearly unreliable app? Oh, that's simple, replies the office know-it-all - who has no hope of ever being invited to join the seaside conspiracy - there's a refer your friends deal to get money off rail tickets, that's why some people are willing to risk using it...
The manager frowns and retreats, wondering how they are going to get through the day stuck with just the office know-it-all and a handful of creeps and bores for company...
So what is really going on here? The Knotshaw dodge works like this: start by selecting an option from the app menu marked CREATE EXCURSION. You set the day for the trip with the help of a built-in weather forecast, select a suitably sunny seaside destination within reasonable travelling distance, choose an arrival time and press SAVE EXCURSION. Now comes the really clever bit: the app then asks you to INVITE FRIENDS. As with many apps, Knotshaw's Railway Rambler provides the facility to link up with other registered users and invite friends who haven't yet registered to sign up and join your network. So, whenever you create an excursion you select the friends you'd like to invite, they then receive an invitation to join the excursion.
Everyone who accepts the invitation will then receive a detailed route plan guiding them from their particular "home" station, selected at sign-up stage, to the rendez-vous platform in time for the seaside train. Every traveller knows when they will have to start out and the changes on the way. An interactive map illustrates the progress of each participating traveller to the meeting point, adding to the excitement of the adventure.
Sadly, the Knotshaw excuse has a limited shelf life. It is only a matter of time before someone in today's cool crowd of Knotshaw dodgers finds themselves elevated to a managerial position and the game is up. The newly-appointed manager knows the Knotsure excuse is merely a cover and will simply order the whole band of wayward travellers to get on the next train back to work and collect their written warnings on the way in...