Saturday, November 19, 2016

More Inventions I Would Like To See

A Still Better Shower

The conventional controls for a shower or sink consist of one for hot water, one for cold. Getting your preferred mix is a process of trial and error adjustment, repeated every time you take a shower or wash your hands.

An improved version, now fairly common, has one control for the hot/cold ratio, another for the volume. Having once gotten the ratio right you can leave that control at your preferred setting and use the volume control to turn the water on at the beginning of your shower, off at the end.

Provided you are in no hurry. When I turn the water on the shower runs cold because it takes time for water to get from the water heater in the basement to the bathroom on the second floor. To reduce my wait, I shift the shower to all hot. That not only gets hot water to me faster, it also means that while I am waiting I am not wasting cold water down the drain. But now, when the water warms up, I have to find the proper mix. Every time I take a shower. It's an improvement over the older version, since I can to some extent set the ratio control by memory. But it could be better.

The simple solution is to add a control which shifts the shower to all hot temporarily without changing the lever that will set the ratio once that control is turned off.

Since I am in Silicon Valley and greedy, I am still not satisfied. The high tech version  monitors water temperature. As long as my desired temperature is impossible because what is coming out of the hot water pipe is colder than that, it runs straight hot. Once the temperature of the hot water gets high enough it automatically starts adding in cold, keeping the shower temperature at my optimum thereafter. The luxury model has a light, or perhaps a bell, to tell me when it is safe to get into the shower.

Making Conversation Possible

You are in a crowded restaurant, a bar, a meeting room filled with people. There is someone you are trying to converse with. Since the environment is noisy, you raise your voice. So does everyone else. As the room becomes louder, conversation becomes increasingly difficult, perhaps impossible.

There is a simple solution. Everyone wears a bluetooth earpiece/mike. Look at someone, next to you or across the room, click a button on the earpiece. Your earpiece is now linked to hers, so you can converse quietly. Setting the link by looking at someone may require Google Glass, but there is a lower tech version, some easy identifier, perhaps a number on the name tag that everyone at the event wears.

Social norms would have to be worked out. The person you want to speak with may not want to speak with you, so there needs to be some way of accepting or denying the request to link. In a room full of conversations I am quite likely to be wondering around looking for interesting ones, which is hard to do if I cannot hear them. So there should be an option to make the conversation open, meaning that anyone who chooses can listen and join in, or closed.

So far as I can tell, all the technology needed already exists and would be reasonably inexpensive to implement. All it takes it an enterprising entrepreneur.

Before you go into business, however, there is one question you may want to consider. In quite a lot of the environments I am describing, the noise is not merely accidental. Bars, in particular, tend to play music, often loud enough to make conversation even more difficult than it would otherwise be. That suggests that some people, perhaps many people, prefer a noisy environment. The only reason I can think of for such a perverse taste is the increased privacy–at some level of background noise, nobody more than four feet away can hear what you are saying. My technology should provide a better solution to that problem. 

But there may be other reasons I have not thought of.


offby1 said...

"...the whole point of loud music is to make it possible to date without talking"

-- Roger Ebert (

Anonymous said...

"The only reason I can think of for such a perverse taste..."

Many people have that taste, without having to justify it with some extraneous reason. So they won't want your solution.

Anonymous said...

Thermostatic shower controls and faucets have existed for years. Grohe makes them, I'm sure there are other manufacturers as well.

We have Grohe shower controls - you set them, and forget them, and just turn the shower on and off with the volume control. The shower is always the temp you prefer. When you start the water, it runs hot water only until adding cold water is needed to hold the temp, then adds in cold as needed. If someone flushes the toilet or the hot water temp drops as the hot water tank gets drained, it adjusts automatically.

Lawrence Kesteloot said...

Regarding the volume of music in bars:



One thing about the BlueTooth headphone idea is that the latency would have to be crazy low for it to not be out of sync with the visuals. That might be possible with a direct connection.

Jonathan said...

It seems to me that the ideal shower system doesn't let water through at all unless it's close to the desired temperature. I suppose this could be achieved by diverting water to some other outlet until it reaches acceptable.

David Friedman said...

Lawrence: You are worried that facial expressions won't be in sync with words? How precisely in sync do they have to be? I doubt that my facial expression, while speaking, changes much in a tenth of a second. You could test that by taking a video of someone giving a talk, shifting the audio a little, and seeing how strange it did or didn't look.

Jonathan: I believe there are systems where the hot water continually circulates through the pipe, thus eliminating the time lag problem entirely, at some cost in electric power to pump the water and energy to balance the heat loss from hot water pipes with hot water in them. The latter isn't really a cost in the winter, since it's helping to heat the house.

Jonathan said...

"I believe there are systems where the hot water continually circulates through the pipe"

Wow, so the pump and heater both work 24 hours a day. That sounds expensive, and would presumably make pump and heater wear out faster. We have mild winters here in Catalonia, so even in winter we normally need hot water circulating only intermittently for central heating.

I think I can bear to wait a bit for the hot water to arrive. But it would be nice to have it reliably at the right temperature.

Power Child said...

Having to wait for hot water, and fiddling with controls to get it to the temperature you want, builds character. It's good for you.

Also, think about how awful it is to use other people's showers, or hotel showers. You have to figure out how their controls work, then spend a lot of extra time figuring out how to get the shower the way you want it. Well, that experience would seem even worse if your home shower was as ideal as you wanted it! That's something to consider, since you're a person who travels a lot.

Before you respond "Someone might have made those arguments before indoor plumbing," I offer that maybe there is an optimization point (or several discrete optimization points) at which comfort/convenience and character-building are in balance.

Lawrence Kesteloot said...

David wrote: "You are worried that facial expressions won't be in sync with words?" No, not facial expressions, but the movement of lips. According to at least once source, the audio can't be more than 125 ms behind. (!!PDF-E.pdf) A direct across-the-room Bluetooth connection might work (I don't know), but a round-trip to a central server wouldn't.

Anonymous said...

You are aiming for a totally electronic shower. One with a dedicated water heater controlled by a computer. It could be installed inside the wall, with a fake tile to allow easy repair and servicing. Expensive today, but it does exist. I would like a visual thermometer with coloured LED that tells exactly when then water is 39.3 ºC, which is my preferred temperature. Ripe mango color, if I can choose. Winter squash color would be 40 ºC.

Many of the nifty inventions that where created for the camper life can be fitted in real houses for much better comfort.

As much as I like a good shower, I strongly recommend cold shower followed by a far infrarred sauna session. That's perfect cleanlines from inside out.

albatross said...

Re: Noise level in restaurants and bars

There are a couple other advantages to having a loud restaurant:

a. It may keep people from sticking around too long, particularly while studying/reading a book/sitting with their laptop.

b. Parents can bring small children to a loud restaurant without so much worry that their kids are going to annoy the other diners. A really quiet, elegant restaurant is a lot less comfortable to bring small children to, as a garden-variety bit of whining or argument between siblings can draw stares from all the other diners.

Alex J. said...

If you have the constant-flow-dial-a-temp style control, you could mark your favored temperature with a grease pencil.

montestruc said...

My dad knew of a way to fix this issue for water temperature. It is in general too expensive for homes, but is used in motels and hotels. Insulate the pipe running hot water to the rooms, make the pipe larger than normal. Add a second insulated pipe from the end of the first pipe, back to the water heater normal size with a a low power low pressure pump to keep constant low circulation. Higher first cost, and higher operating cost as you lose more heat in the pipes, and the electrical cost of the pump and added maintenence. It totally eliminates the temperature delay if done right.

Richard Ober Hammer said...

If you have a lavatory sink in the same bathroom as the shower, and assuming one 3/4" pipe carries hot water from your hot water heater to this bathroom, then you can hasten arrival of hot water at your shower by running the hot tap in the lavatory until hot water arrives there.

montestruc said...

Yes that works, all it requires is that an assumption of the economic sensibility of the home builder be valid, as in he/she runs one hot water line from the water heater to that bath, and splits it at the bath to the various functions. It need not be a 3/4 inch line, but often is.

montestruc said...

Extreamly expensive in terms of the cost of the electrical system. The power needed to heat the water to shower temperatures at that rate of flow is huge. You would need to significantly upgrade the power capasity of your hook-up to the grid.

Stephen Dawson said...

David, standard Bluetooth "latency" is around 150ms. That may separation between visuals and sound exceeds the brains capacity to align them, so words no longer match lip movements. Some low latency Bluetooth solutions bring that down to 40ms, so they may work. said...

Shower mixing taps with temperature controls, that behave exactly like your description have been available in Europe for decades, and at least here in Switzerland (and probably Germany as well) they are now pretty much standard for new installations. I wonder why they are not known in the states. But it may be that when it comes to home and bathroom fittings the Anglosaxon world appears not that sofisticated. I rarely see mixing taps in the UK for example, bathtubs and single typically still have separate taps for not an cold. In the US something like the "nest" termostat is considered cool, even though it doesn't do anything a run of the mill clock thermostat does, like home I grew up in already had in the 70ies...

Sciencebzzt said...

The second invention reminds me a bit of the "Gevulot" from Hannu Rajaniemi "The Quantum Thief". From it's wikipedia entry:
Gevulot is a technological device used in the Oubliette, the walking city on the surface of Mars in the Jean-Le-Flambeur universe created by Hannu Rajaniemi. Gevulot is a modulator of human interaction in the Oubliette. It allows for an adjustable degree of privacy between the citizens of the Oubliette. The Gevulot covers the Oubliette citizen and can be controlled by his / her mind. It modulates how much of private information is revealed to the environment or a conversation partner. Citizens of the Oubliette can enter so called "Gevulot contracts" which for instance ensure that a conversion remains totally private and will not be recorded by the Oubliette's exomemory system, which consists of ubiquitous nanosensors and records every event in the Oubliette. Gevulot in the maximum privacy mode blurs out the image of the person hiding behind it totally and replaces it with a placeholder not even revealing the face, name or other credentials.

Anonymous said...

heated water management

1. David, I kindly and self servingly suggest you funnel your entrepreneurial ideas to fellow SCU engineering students first (for full disclosure my son is SCU Engr Sr and budding entrepreneur. )

2. (For non-California readers only) This is actually a good engineering economics issue and more complex depending on other variables (Dad is also engineer) We have "almost always" hot water circulation with timer set for most likely usage times. Pull the handle which is preset to desired final temperature and during these times its a few seconds to perfect. At non-planned times it might take as long as 5 minutes to reach setting in large house. Why the timer? I liked this timer thinking it would save some money but plumber said we also needed it to prevent the pipes from wearing out? (let you figure this out) Our system could "waste" money for excess heating and save money by reducing warm up water usage. Since we live at 8300ft in Colorado the system most of the year is just more needed radiant heating. When and if we do "waste" water, though it is non-PC we W. Colo types just say "ah shucks, less for California car washes". Note our waste water attempts to get to Colorado River as it helps feed many edible wild-life on the way.

The Skip Bureau said...

For #1, I would suggest a cheap(ish) natural-gas small in-line water heater with one of the available electronic temperature controls, and a small microcontroller sequencer. With that, and some appropriate security you can easily have a shower that even turns itself on before you get to it. You would want to pay some attention to security because the temptation to turn your shower cold if I could is not something I know for certain I can resist...

For #2, you really don't want bluetooth. It's *waay* too complicated and too expensive to be easily used in a large setting without everyone having to buy their own. You'd really need the ability to give them out.

For this purpose, I suggest an infrared system. When you look at someone, an infrared LED laser with a tight collimation will hit their earpiece and connect. They have to look at you to talk to you. I'd mount it on glasses to make it stable and track with head movements. The latency would be very low as you can just use frequency modulation because you don't need any sophisticated channel management, unless you want to add encryption. The parts to do it would thus be very cheap and you could hand them out at the door.

The receiver would also be focused to avoid having to listen to everyone who is looking at you.

And, I've had people explain to me that the loudness is simply energy. It makes normal people think that something is happening and they are a part of the action. It gives me a headache.