Storing handwriting samples
Profit-making venture:  For a fee, store clients’ handwriting samples and messages to their future selves.  Also capture and store samples from historical figures.  Perform a matching service so people can look up their past incarnations by identifying their own handwriting.

Parental commercials
Profit-making venture:  Customize children’s videotapes and DVDs with commercials of the parents’ choice—generic admonitory messages about behavior, health, etc., or even parents’ own 30-second spots issuing various reminders to their kids.

Antidote for a too-quiet house
Profit-making venture:  Produce audiotapes of family sounds and vocals in at least three flavors: dinnertable racket, general household commotion, and chatter and disturbances in the car. The latter would double as a training tape for beginning drivers to practice with before they get behind the wheel with young passengers. All three tapes would provide some ambient auditory texture for empty-nesters who used to long for a little P&Q and never thought they were going to miss all that noise.

Idea for a movie:  modern survival by ancient skills
The main character is a 21st-century author who writes novels set in prehistoric times (think Jean Auel), for which she has gathered a wealth of authentic detail both by study and by practicing and testing and disovering for herself: she has learned to make fire, knap flint, identify healing herbs, and so on. When a major disaster strikes—some kind of environmental and attendant political calamity—she is the only one in her community who knows how to survive right there in the actual physical world using her own hands and the tools, materials, and provisions that come straight from the earth without passing through a hardware store or supermarket. She and a small group who follow her survive by means of ancient arts and techniques that she knows through her research for her realistic fiction. The movie shows us not only what we can do without but, perhaps more important, which handed-down knowledge, lore, and skills are too precious to lose.


Idea for a movie:  reverse cliche
British comedy.  Housekeeper-sleuth is secondary character whose detective proclivities interfere with the plans of the focal characters, brothers of a formerly well-to-do family whose larcenous scheme to restore their hereditary fortunes is complicated when one of them falls for the intended (and, unknown to them, impecunious) victim’s granddaughter and they have to undo their theft with the crime-solving domestic hot on their trail.

Idea for a movie:  reverse cliche
Focus on the ordinary people who are normally just spectators when Superman flies by carrying a wrecked train or Batman rounds up a crew of bad guys.  Follow the ordinary character while Superman occasionally zips by in the background.

Idea for a movie:  koans
Seven Koans

Incidents in a person’s life interwoven with seven koans that reveal an insight or understanding that illuminates the experience just shown in the narrative.

Example:  Character does everything in his power to achieve a certain desired result and does not do anything wrong, but it turns out badly anyway.

Dramatize the koan of the master who asks each of two monks to raise the window shade.  Each does exactly the same thing.  The first one is praised and the second is punished.

The Internet at Your Fingertips
Size limitations of palm-sized, wristwatch-sized, or even fingernail-sized communicator screens will no longer be a problem once someone invents an optical device that allows you to read print too tiny for the naked eye.  Then you could read not just a few lines but whole pages of documents and complete messages from the Internet on screens no bigger than a few characters of ordinary type.  Imagine this:  a monocle on a chain around your neck, complete with its own hinged slipcase like those on pocket compasses and magnifying glasses, that has not only magnifying power calibrated to the scale of a screen implanted on your thumbnail but also visual filters similar to those of 3-D glasses to allow you to see several different kinds of text and images.  Optionally, you could have the viewing device installed in your eyeglasses.

Another feature of the viewing device might be a grid-based function that calculates the object of your gaze.  With this feature, you could manipulate microscopic selection buttons and menu options by training yourself to look at them in a certain way—say, focusing on them for a definable period of time and then blinking twice.


Dial 91 for “Uh-oh!”
Secret Signal on the Phone

Ever been on the phone in a situation where you couldn’t speak privately and you really wanted to clue the other person to carry the ball—talk to you in a way that lets you answer discreetly?
     Happens all the time, right?  Pretty often, anyway.  In business, personal, health care, institutional, and all kinds of other contexts, we may often find ourselves wanting to communicate only to the person on the other end of the phone and not to everyone sitting nearby at our end.
     But if your caller doesn’t pick up your cues and start asking you yes-and-no questions or facilitating your noncommittal one-word answers, you can call more attention to yourself by your verbal evasiveness, making all your cubicle neighbors’ or family members’ radars home in on you, than if you just said straight out, “I’m looking for a salary in the $90k range, but I can’t come in for an interview tomorrow morning because I have to go for a lower GI exam right after I see my accountant about the IRS audit of my 1989 taxes, which I didn’t do because I was in prison for embezzlement at the time.”  Meanwhile, your caller is completely missing your hints and saying maddening things like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.  Can’t you speak more plainly?”
     Privacy is a vanishing luxury in a world where supermarkets know exactly what the contents of your grocery cart say about you, and have programmed their computers to remember it, and direct-mail advertisers can target you for certain kinds of pitches depending on which magazines you read, and employers can inspect your e-mail.  Wouldn’t you at least like to be able to carry out an occasional piece of unavoidable telephone business in a way that doesn’t make you feel naked?
     Here’s my solution.  Ready?  With touch-tone phones in nearly universal use, you can punch a little auditory signal to your caller that he or she will hear but that will be inaudible to anyone around you.  The tone sounds like “uh-oh” and says to your caller, “I can’t talk.  Help me out here.  Ask me yes-and-no questions.  You say the embarrassing words out loud so I don’t have to.  Listen for nuances.  Fill in the blanks.  Complete the sentences that trail off with half a thought.  Or at least get it that I can’t talk freely right now, and I’ll call you back when I can, so you don’t go away thinking I told you everything I was trying to say.”  Just press 9-1 on your phone number pad and you’ll hear it:  “Uh-oh.”
     Try it the next time you talk to your doctor’s office, your tax preparer, your partner, your daughter’s principal, your therapist, your bookie.  Tell them it means, “I can’t talk.  Help me out here.”  Tell them to listen for it whenever you’re on the phone with them.  Spread the word.  Pretty soon we should see some relief for the dilemma between loss of confidentiality and utter incomprehensibility.
     For rotary dials, just speak the number “nine one”:  not as discreet, but just as effective.
     This signal did not exist before this morning, when I thought it up in one of those situations where ideas come readily but you can’t write them down (I’d be more specific, but I can’t talk right now).  Help yourself, use it freely.  The more people who recognize it, the easier it will be to get through a lot of awkward moments on the phone.
     And remember, you heard it here first.


Theme to develop:  magical threshold
Characters who enter a magical realm from the everyday world (classic fantasy formula):
Peter Pan children
Narnia children
Dorothy Gale
Alice in Wonderland
Mary Poppins children
Charlie in Willie Wonka

Theme to develop:  the hero foretold
Child whose coming is prophesied:
Harry Potter

Rough notes:  The impulse to magic
Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment:
Parents believe child should be diverted from what troubles him
Refusal to let children know that human nature causes much that goes wrong in life
Pretense that there is no dark side
Children know better
Fairy tales deal with the struggle of existence
Start from where the kid is
 Death of a parent, or fear of
Give credence to seriousness and promote confidence

Crowley:  Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law
Huson, 22, 27:  four cornerstones—the lure of secrecy
Cavendish, 31—quoting Eliphas Levi:  to know, to dare, to will, to keep silence

Eve bit the apple for the same reason

Our fantasies of power—daydreams, invisibility, walking through walls, attractiveness to the opposite sex, wealth, etc.—readily identifies with our own fantasies
Have control in world where we don’t
—> Fear of the unknown:  by these means, make the unknown known
Existential struggle
My will—thy will be done

Form hypotheses, explanations about what is out there
Works because it tells the truth
Openly exposing the fantasy—difference between one that succeeds and one that doesn’t
Grownups think the same things they did when they were kids—only they really don’t want to talk about it now

September 1999

Absurd catalog items
There’s no idea so stupid that somebody won’t pay money for it.
1.  Reusable plastic lemon wedges.  For  noncooking applications that call for lemon juice.  A natural-size plastic lemon sectioned into wedges, each with a pulplike sponge that absorbs lemon juice.  Assemble into whole plastic lemon and pour lemon juice into small opening at one end.  Wedges can then be separated and used individually as garnish, seafood condiment, and so on. 
2.  Alarm clock earplugs.  (This one’s Ethan’s.)  Earplugs that allow you to sleep undisturbed through household noise or while traveling, yet not sleep through your alarm.  Earplugs contain miniature beeper that goes off at time set in order to wake you up.  This might actually work.



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