The Futurist: Simple Ways To Make Common Gadgets Better

If your house is anything like the CrunchGear Mansion, it’s filled to the brim with gadgetry and electronica. And with all this newfangled convenience comes an equal dose of frustration. Like when your cell phone clock goes dead the second the A train pops underground. It’s almost enough to make you strap on your old Mickey Mouse wristwatch.

So this got us to thinking — what are some common problems that ruin our gadget-loving experience, and how can we fix them? If any companies are interested in the following ideas, I’ll be standing by.


If you’re like me, you’ve ditched your wrist-bound Casio in favor of whipping out your cell phone to fulfill your temporal curiosity. Not only does it free you of a potential fashion faux pas (I’ll be damned if I can tell a good-looking watch from a clunker that came from the bottom of a cereal box), but it gives you access to an onboard calculator, without geekifying your wrist.

Of course, the real advantage of your cell phone’s clock is that it instantly locks onto the perfect time, every time, thanks to the info being picked up over the network. Essentially, this means no more calling up that phone number that has the right time after the beep, with your finger braced and ready to press. And no more clocks that keep too fast or too slow a time.

Of course, the problem is that, with every phone I’ve ever used, the clock dies the second I step onto the subway, or any network dead spots for that matter. How difficult could it possibly be to have the clock continue keeping time when reception is lost, and then tune back into the master-network Big Ben when it picks it up again? I’m sure there are phones out there that aren’t bound to the network, but it’s ridiculous that it’s taken this long for the feature to become standard.


It’s not just my watch that my phone has caused me to ditch. Nope, I’m officially alarm clock-free now, too. The cell phone alarm is a godsend—as long as the battery is decently charged, no power surge will ever cause you to miss an important meeting again.

Here’s the problem: With every phone I have ever used, the setting for the alarm’s volume is the same as the ringer’s. Now if I want to wake up in the morning, I’ve got to jack my volume up all the way. Unfortunately, that means that anybody who happens to want to hang out late at night or accidentally dialed a wrong number gets the dubious distinction of waking me up.

What would be great is a separate volume control for the phone and alarm, so I can shut off the outside world when I want to sleep, but still rely on my alarm to wake me in the AM.


Nothing gets on my Netflix-addicted nerves like getting a scratched DVD in the mail. I understand that they can’t all be winners, but it’s freakin’ hard to wait another couple of days for a working copy of that must-see flick to come. And if you are knee-deep in a TV series, it throws your whole schedule off.

Luckily, just about every electronics store is stocked with loads of options for buffing out the scratches in your DVD collection. Fair enough. But what would be REALLY convenient would be a DVD player that comes with a built-in de-scratcher. Once the player detects a flaw, it automatically scuffs it out, preventing you from even having to push eject.


If you’ve ever had a nice new movie projector, it’s hard to ever watch TV on a 42-inch set again. Unfortunately, it’s even harder to find a proper place for the thing unless you’ve got a free Saturday, a few bucks, and some leftover shop-class skills. And once that projector holder is in place, watching it anywhere else brings up a case of the Here We Go Agains.

What I’d like to see is a projector that comes with a panel attached. This panel would have an ultra-strong adhesive (perhaps replaceable once it wears off), that allows you to easily stick it to any wall or ceiling. Best case scenario would be a panel attached to some swiveling arm. Find the wall and angle you want to stick it to, and swivel the arm into place. I’m running to the patent office now.

Seth Porges writes on future technology and its role in personal electronics for his column, The Futurist. It appears every Thursday and an archive of past columns is available here.