(Part of The Future: A Retrospective)
|Cost||Under $100/1989 ($160/2007)|
Geez, I thought I just finished writing about a whole bunch of sports stuff. But no, the 1980s distinguished between parasailing (game) and weird golf (game) and baseball (sport). I guess a game is if you're not in head-to-head competition with someone.
Anyhoo, this is a baseball bat instrumented with a weight and a slide potentiometer that measures the speed of your swing. The speed is displayed on an LED readout "on the top of the bat", which seems to be just asking for trouble.
The SwingSpeed shows up in Sewer, Gas, and Electric, and that's about it. SG&E has the digital readout on the bottom of the handle. Gettin' sloppy there, author Matt Ruff! Putting the digital readout in the handle would mean running wires the entire length of the bat, significantly increasing the chance of stress-related breakage!
|Swimming Propulsion Device|
|Cost||$300/1989 ($490/2007) per pair|
There are those who call them "legs". No, actually they're Mega Man-like arm attachments that propel you through the water. Invented by Michael Borges (patent #4700654), they didn't have a manufacturer as of Future Stuff and I don't think they were ever made. However, there are many "underwater propulsion vehicles" that work on the same principles, though it looks like you hold them in both hands. Which kind of makes sense, because we tend to use our hands for gesturing. Forget about the propulsion device for a second and you'll crash into the reef. I don't know. Maybe I'm just making up problems. I do like the Mega Man angle.
|Sweet-Spot Tennis Racket|
"A company called DynaSpot is making a totally 'sweet' racquet that puts a 'sweet spot' in every shot and reduces the forces that cause tennis elbow by about 40 percent." Sweet racquet, dude. Marvin Sassler had the idea (and the tennis elbow), and Gerald Geraldi designed "a racquet frame...with partially filled tubes of liquid... that absorb the torque when the ball is hit." Here's the patent.
"Dynaspot rackets are currently not available." but the website includes some historical and technical notes. At one point these rackets were being used in tournaments in Europe, but that seems a lot like corking your bat, and the DynaSpot website plays down the idea that you might use this racket in a real sporting situation.
|"Umpire" Tennis Balls|
An unusually low percentage and far-out arrival time for this item. a 1998 NYT article takes a raised-eyebrow approach: "THE age of electronics has worked its way onto the tennis court with a device designed to take the guesswork out of line calling." The magical tennis balls "contain electricity-conducting metallic fibers" (FS) and the court is wired with sensors that close a circuit when hit by the ball. All of this to avoid pissy, hair-tearing disputes about whether the ball landed in or outside a line. At this point I would just play Wii Tennis instead.
All the problems that would doom Accu-Call are present in the NYT article, if not in Future Stuff: the high cost of wiring a court with the sensors, its incompatibility with grass courts, the fact that it automates the only function of tennis referees. However, I'm pretty sure they used this at the Enfield Tennis Academy. Just what they need for their next game of Eschaton.
|No-Slip Raquetball Glove|
Welcome to the Crypt! I think you'll find this glove... gripping! Ah ha ha ha--what? The Crypt is being filled in and used as the base of a condo development? People will be just dying to move in! Security will escort me out, you say? Perhaps they'll [Rest of pun missing. -LR]
|Seat Bicycle Pump|
Another useless N/A, though I'm not complaining since it means I don't have to run my inflation conversion script.
The Seat Post Tire Pump from Bike-O-Matic (such a generic company name it might cycle around and become very distinctive) is a pump that hooks on to your bicycle seat. The hose stays coiled up until you need to refill one of your tires. This is a cool idea; the only thing I can think of against it is that it replaces your normal seat post, and might introduce a new point of failure.
One of a couple similar patents. It never caught on, though you can get the similar Dahon BioLogic Zorin PostPump for $40/2007. Today, Bike-O-Matic is now the name of an automatic transmission for a geared bike.
Also note that bicycling is classified as a sport, even though it's the same kind of thing as skiing, which Future Stuff classified as a game. Hold on, it gets even more confusing in the next chapter.
|Automatic Table Tennis Server|
Taiwan's Holy Industry Company, from the category of company names that are also things Robin might say, has invented the Challenger 108. This automated genius plays gentle music--the gentle music of handing you your ass at ping-pong! The 108 in the name refers to the Atari 2600-like combinatoric total of ways you can tweak the Challenger's serve. "You can control the speed, the direction, the interval, the slice, the left-right motion..."
The Challenger 108 and HIC don't show up on the web, but this kind of machine exists and sells for about $300 on eBay.
|Archer's Laser Range Finder|
One thing I've always thought would be cool would be explosive-tipped arrows. As far as I know, only Rambo has ever used explosive-tipped arrows, and I'm pretty sure Rambo is fictional, but I like the combination of high-tech and obsolete technology. That's why I enjoyed this Future Stuff entry, which is a laser range finder for your bow. Inventor Robin Hines took what I guess was a preexisting idea for guns and missiles, and backported it to the Bronze Age.
But actually, reading this entry I don't see any reason why this same range finder wouldn't work with a gun. It's a handheld device that tells you how far it is to something. Then you might decide to shoot that thing, or not. So did Robin Hines invent the whole concept of the laser range finder? I don't know. Hines's company, Quantine, doesn't show up on the web, and range finder manufacturers Cubic Precision (great name) were acquired by Brunson in 1997.
Laser range finders are sold today for about $300/2007. "Go ahead. Range objects as small as fence posts, or get an instant read on that lone buck in the meadow." I will range objects as small as fence posts, thank you!
|The Ski Valet|
For some reason this product just screams "1980s" to me. There's something so very 1980s-yuppie about "a folding device on wheels" that "can be mounted on a car ski rack" and carries your skiing equipment. Probably has "Ski Valet" written in big white letters with little tiny serifs. It's got all sorts of yuppie features, like covers, multiple pockets, weight-stabilization. Designed by the Yuppie-sounding Bresslergroup (so Euro!) with the Husski brand name that's now used on a UK brand of snowboards. I'm guessing that's just a coincidence of naming.
Just to harp on the game/sport distinction a little more, here we see here that uphill skiing is a game, but downhill skiing is a sport.
|Sports Shock Meter|
How disturbing is ice hockey, compared to cockfighting? The Sports Shock Meter will tell you! Very indirectly, by measuring how much force is applied to the players over a period of time.
Future stuff treats the Measureguard as a kind of health meter for athletes. "In effect, this meter will tell coaches and officials how "used" a player has become and the likelihood that he is susceptible to certain kinds of injuries." The device is "attached to the back of a foodball helmet or other athletic gear." Reduce your players to numbers and swap them out at will! Hopefully this will reduce injuries.
I dunno, do you guys like the pun-like jokes where I deliberately misinterpret the name of the Future Stuff item? The Punch Meter tells you... how much punch is left. Man, this chapter is a slog. Not since "TVs, Videos, and Cameras"!
The Punch Meter was invented by Sports Shock Meter inventor John Carlin, he of the famous "seven properties you can't measure on television" bit. It's actually covered by the same patent as the Measureguard, and it's called the Measureband, which makes it sound like an especially anal-retentive Angband variant.
The Measureband goes around your wrists and measures how hard you hit something. "This information is transmitted by radio signal to a processor that records the number of blows, the time of each blow, the frequency, force, and accumulation of force." This allows boxing matches to be recreated just like chess matches. Future stuff suggests that "spectators could appreciate boxing more by knowing instantly the effectiveness of each punch." I know that's just what I need--a chart telling me how much I should be enjoying boxing.
John Carlin also invented the Athletic Activities Counter, which is really dull.
|Perfect Line Golf Ball|
This is like a golf ball invented by Buckminster Fuller. Listen: "The experts line up their putts along the ball's partling line, an axis that divides the ball in half... Most designs are based on dimples arranged in equilateral triangles, giving the ball bilateral symmetry... [this] ball's dimples are arranged in twenty-four isosceles triangles... This, in effect, gives the ball six planes of bilateral symmetry. So golfers have a much better chance of stroking true putts."
Who's behind this fearful symmetry? William Gobush of golf ball oligopolist Acushnet. I'm fairly sure this hyperoptimized golf ball didn't catch on, not because there's a shortage of people wiling to pay ridiculous amounts for improvements that get lost in the noise, but because tournament rules specify things like what sort of golf ball you can use.
|The Dry Sports Chair|
Who among us has not experienced the shame of sitting on wet grass? The Crazy Creek Chair folds up and saves you from "a wet tush". Or, as we medical types call it, "wet grass ass."
"The seat...has even been used by a few innovative golfers to hold ice and beer while on the course. 'We've also heard the chair can act as a floatation device,' says [co-inventor] Ms. Chandler." No, that's your chair on the airplane! It also folds out into a sleeping pad.
Crazy Creek Products is still in business and these chairs are sold for about$20/2007.
|Retrieving Duck Decoy|
"A new kind of duck-hunting decoy could revolutionize the sport and permanently sideline your faithful Laborador retriever." Excellent... I've been wanting to betray that faithful hound for some time.
Even the Future Stuff authors understand that this one is really creepy. "It's called Robo-Duck, and while it looks like any other duck decoy, there are some chilling differences." It's remote-controlled from the comfort of your duck blind. Not only does it lure ducks to their deaths, it then picks up the pellet-filled corpses in its "20-inch steel talons" and brings them back to you. "'They remind me of the jaws of an alligator,' says Jean Bogner, owner of Outdoorsmen's Herter's."
Who sees this robotic "Benedict Arnold Duck" and wants one? Well, one interested party was "a customer in Saudi Arabia who wanted a Robo-Duck for his private duck pond." Ultimately, though, you never saw these on the market because Dick Cheney bought them all.
Contemporaneous NYT article: "The seriousness of Robo-Duck's challenge to that cozy tradition [of hunting dogs, crackling fires, etc.] is difficult to assess."
|Electronic Fishing Lure|
Continuing the trend of unneccessarily adding electronics and steel talons to things. "Chemical engineer Michael Garr" never thought this would happen to him, but one day he was fishing and the guy next to him was doing really good business, them-reeling-in-wise, using a painted section of a broomstick as a lure.
What lesson did the aptly-named Mr. Garr take from this? That he should invent the fanciest gadget-lure known to man, a lure that would feature its own Steve Jobs-esque Reality Distortion Field, driving early adopter fish to chomp down in droves. "Garr's lure evolved from painted broomstick ends and rolling-pin handles with glass eyes and small electric Christmas lights to today's clear plastic, battery-operated models complete with microprocessor chips inside." Here's the patent.
Nowadays you can get lit lures and conversion kits to trick out your existing fishing lures with flashing lights. I think the whole thing is ridiculous, but I use "the whole thing" to include the sport of fly fishing itself, so I'm not in a good position to judge how effective these things are.
This document (source) is part of Crummy, the webspace of Leonard Richardson (contact information). It was last modified on Monday, March 31 2008, 00:26:30 Nowhere Standard Time and last built on Wednesday, July 23 2014, 12:00:06 Nowhere Standard Time.