Open Thread: Inventing Things That Already Exist

Husband asked me to stop by Wal-mart today because we're getting low on toilet paper and Wal-mart is the only one who carries our preferred recycled-content brand. The lot was full and I kept circling looking for a space. My brain process went something like this:

They need to make something like "20-item checkout", only for parking spaces.
Like, a 20-minute visit space for people just wanting to pick up one thing and go.
'Course, you'd have to do something to ensure people didn't abuse it. 
But having spikes come out of the ground and pierce your tires at the 21 minute mark seems harsh.
Maybe they could just boot your car after 20 minutes and you could pay to get the boot removed.

And that was the point at which I realized I'd invented metered parking spaces. Which, in my defense, are a rarity in Texas, but still. I have used them once or twice in my life.

Do you ever invent stuff in your head that you later realize already exists? Writing plots can and do count here. OPEN THREAD BELOW!


Bayley G said...

In North Carolina, they often have, right next to the handicap spaces, "Pregnant women and family" spaces that are reserved for those who are a) of limited mobility due to pregnancy or b) are accompanying small children who might tire crossing a giant mall parking lot. They're honor-system, obviously, but I love that they take a moment to recognize some non-legally-disabled persons like that.

Heqit said...

At several stores here in Virginia they have the Pregnant Women and People with Small Children spaces (which I love even as a single childless person - yay for recognition that not everyone in our society is alone and easily mobile!) and then, right next to them, spaces for "Quick Stops - 20 Minutes or Less". They're not metered, but people seem to do pretty well with them on the honor system. It's an idea I like a lot, and would be happy to see spread.

Will Wildman said...

I was thinking once about a story from the perspective of a Magic Plot Device shop, one of those cramped 'occult' spaces that disappears as soon as the protagonist has bought a Completely Harmless Object from them. And I was thinking about video games in which all of the shopkeepers have the same face in every town: every armorsmith looks exactly the same, and apparently thirty years ago someone had identical octuplets and they set up herb shops in every plot-relevant town in the game world. And I thought about the idea that there's only one mysterious mystical item shop, but it moves around all the time to make sure it's available to adventurers or soon-to-be heroes, warping from one place to another. And I got to thinking about the adventures that the shopkeeper must be having when they're not busy selling a haunted doll or an enchanted tome to some unsuspected bystander, and how the shop must knock and bump around when it's transporting secretly across space and possibly time.

And then I realised I had basically invented Doctor Who all over again.

I like time travel as a concept, but the more I try to play with it the closer an individual seems to get to falling into that archetype (possibly just because I like that archetype so much). My currently-developing time-traveller concept will hopefully play out more like a cross between an exploratory cartographer and a deep-sea diver.

chris the cynic said...

I was thinking that with appropriate analysis one could use a computer program to extract the style of a composer from said composer's music and then use that to generate new music in that style. Recently I was informed that that was invented in the 1980s.

I know that there are other examples because I know that I have, multiple times, had a sort of, "Damn it. I was gonna do that, and I was going to get rich, and it was going to be wonderful," experience on learning something already existed, but I can't think of what they were.

Nina said...

My grocery store has parking spaces for people with children right up front, which I had never seen before. The only similar concept I have seen is expectant mom parking at Babies 'R' Us. I love them since I frequently shop with my toddler and walking across a busy parking lot with hir is nerve-wracking and time-consuming.

EdinburghEye said...

My mother has developed late-onset diabetes, a few months ago.

This is like a family curse - her mother and grandfather also got it., I fully anticipate I probably will too, eventually, if I live so long. (Attempting to Live Right to minimise the possibility, but, well... Family Curse.)

My mother's GP has a diabetes nurse, who has been trying to get my mum to do sensible things like keep a food diary and monitor her blood sugar and think in a diabetic kind of way about her eating patterns.

My mother doesn't want to do that. To her this feels (I can tell from the way she talks about it) like the Food Police. You know: the diet cops who watch what you eat and tell you you shouldn't be eating it, and make a point of telling you how many calories that slice of cake had when really, you don't want to know. The worst Food Police are the ones in your own head, of course, but like every fat person (and my mother is also fat) I've encountered the ones who police you for reals.

The sensible way to think about the diabetics nurse would be that she is endeavouring to help you discover a sensible way of diabetic eating that suits you. I can see this, for my mother, and i hope that when the Family Curse descends on me, I'll remember it for myself.

But meantime my mother is resisting keeping a food diary, justifying what she eats rather than accepting it and thinking about how her eating pattern works with her blood sugar levels, and in general denying herself the useful information she needs in order to live long as a healthy diabetic.

I am staying well out of this. But it occurred to me that my mother might conceivably find it easier to talk to an Eliza-style AI - a chatbot that would respond - sort-of - to her questions, take in the information she gave it, and be machinely non-judgemental.

I looked and found SIdiary, which didn't seem to be quite what I wanted, but then I found that two or three years ago Mohamad Zain Jasni and Lokman Abbas Salimi had written a paper Designing a Chatbot for diabetic patients.

Great minds think alike. I just have to find someone who knows enough about diabetes to help me get the emacs code to do the thing.

Anthony Rosa said...

Will Wildman: Actually, you just described the plot of xxxHolic, better than Doctor Who.

Dav said...

I've had bad experiences with nurses with regards to diet talk, and I'm in a family of adult-onset diabetics as well (although so far, it hasn't hit me yet). There's often a lot of baggage with diabetes - I've found stuff on the American Diabetics site that is triggery as all get-out.

Until the chatbot is programmed, The Fat Nutritionist, whom I adore, used to and I believe still does individual internet counseling. She's trained in eating disorders, and fully on board with health at every size. For me, personally, working on the issues I have with food is a huge part of eating healthily (and will be immensely more so if my diet ever requires more restrictions).

Ana Mardoll said...

Seconding The Fat Nutritionist. She is AWESOME. I love her posts.

chris the cynic said...

Contour Stencils. I was thinking about how one might go about making image interpolating software, ended up coming up with an incredibly complex idea, then considered how it could be simplified, and finally came up with an idea that I later found had already been done, and is called contour stencils. (The link is actually to the second version of that thing, geometric contour stencils.)

So people who actually know what they're doing beat me to that one. On the plus side, it means I'll never have to work out the math involved.

GeniusLemur said...

This one's embarrassing. In my High Fantasy world, there's a reptilian, mostly tribal race that can speak human languages, but only with difficulty. So I invented a style of talking for when they speak with humans: keep things brief, use the smallest words possible, omit any words that aren't strictly necessary. Then I actually wrote some dialogue in this style, and found I'd invented Hollywood Indian talk.

Silver Adept said...

@Will Wildman

The American Pokemon hung a lampshade on the "set of octets who all opened up an herbal shop" by having Nurse Joy and Officer jenny all come from a family, all of whom were named the same and who all went into the same profession. There's at least one episode where the entire Nurses Joy get together for something, so that you can see them all in one place.

As for inventing that which already exists, I'm pretty sure I've done it a couple times, but more often than not, it's not inventing what already exists, it's "trying to do things the most complex ways when there are much more simple ways that will do just fine."

Deird said...

I invented the internet.

I had these kids who had a computer in their room, hooked up to their phone so that they could get information about the world RIGHT THERE ON THEIR COMPUTER. Such a cool invention!

...and then I found out it already existed.

chris the cynic said...

It doesn't exactly fit with the, "This should exist, oh, it already does," thing being discussed, but it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't mention the most recent time I found out something I invented in my head existed in reality.

When I was quite little it always seemed wrong to me that some of the keys on my mother's flute had holes and some did not. I didn't know what the holes were for, but damn it the keys should all get the same treatment And since I didn't know whether you'd want the keys to have holes or not to have holes the solution was simple: They'd have other keys on top of them so that any given key could go from being a key with a hole to a key without a hole.

Which is to say that I more or less worked out the Kingma system of flute key design in my head as a child. I found out it existed last month. I think that it probably already existed when I was thinking this, but it probably would have been a pretty recent invention at the time.

esmerelda ogg said...

(Replying to both Hegit and Bayley G, actually) - We have those in New Jersey, too! I wonder just how widespread they are these days?

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