A collection of ideas for products and projects. Many more ideas occur to me than I have time to implement, so maybe this page will give someone a concept or two they can use.

Eric Armstrong

Housing Development Centered on Dance Hall
Instead of building a housing development around a huge golf course, it could be centered around a dance hall. The idea came to me after discovering how big a part music and dance play in Irish culture. At the main Irish Center in San Francisco, lots of old folks come to the dances, sit in the chairs around the hall, watch the dancers, and talk to their neighbors. Having a bar in the place doesn't hurt either, but like an Irish pub, not everyone drinks! With a dance hall, folks could have a weekly dance of one kind or another. It would also give people a place to practice music and dance during the week. (Dances then give musicians a place to play. Between dances, singers and musicians can give performances.)

Extras: A big game room would also make a good place to "hang out" and find people to play a game with -- and exercise facilities wouldn't hurt. The idea is put a "social center" that people actually use at the heart of the community. (Even where such centers exist, they are frequently vacant, because not enough activities bring people in.) The goal is to create a sense of community. That goal can probably be measured by the number and duration of face-to-face contacts among people in the community.

Competition is also wonderful for creating a sense of "us" (vs. "them"). So community teams could be formed, to play against neighboring communities. These would be informal programs, mostly for young adults. (For example, a community soccer team.)
Tune Teaching Program
Something else I learned from the Irish tradition is the importance of playing music by ear, rather than reading it from a page. It's hard to learn to play by ear, but there is no substitute for that process. The way it works is: first you hear it in your ear, then you hear it your head, then you figure out how to play it on your instrument. That all-important step of playing what you hear in your head gives you the ability to improvise, and express yourself -- because that is what improvisation is.

Now, sheet music is good. Reading music is also handy. But the best musicians I know see the music and hear it in their head. Others who are less fluet use the sheet music to pick out the tune, until they get the idea and, once again, hear the tune in their head, after which they play it. Those are entirely valid uses for sheet music. But most music education in this country (other than the Suzuki method) makes children dependent on the sheet music. That's horrible, for two reasons. First, they can only play what's in front of them. They can't create music, or express themselves musically. That's like being able to copy a manuscript without being capable of writing one. Second, it turns the sheet music into the way to play a piece. The only way. And that is just wrong. Any tune is capable of being played in thousands of ways. There are pauses and frills than can be added. Notes can be held a little longer, or rushed a bit. When you can imagine variations in your head, and play them as they occur to you, then you are a musician. You then have the ability to express yourself musically, and carry on a musical "conversation" with others. And any time you hear something you like, you can learn to play it!

But learning to play by ear is tricky. The best way of teaching that skill seems to be "monkey see, monkey do" (aka "question and answer", or "play and repeat"). In the process, the leader plays a short segment of the tune, and the student(s) play it back. The length of the segment depends on the ability of the student(s), but typically it is just a "phrase" of 3 to 8 notes.

The interesting thing about that process is that, at first, the student depends on sight. The student copies the instructor's finger positions in order to make the sounds. However, despite that, a real connection is being forged between the inner ear, and the fingers. That happens in two ways. First, it occurs because the sound the student makes provides feedback that tells whether the student got it right. (At first, it's recognized by the teacher, but the student quickly picks it up. It's not a subtle difference, like tuning.) Second, after a while the attention naturally tends to drift. You find yourself no longer looking at the instructor's fingers, but when you hear a sequence of notes, you automatically go to the fingering sequence that produces them. (At first, that memory is limited to minutes. But over time, it stretches out to weeks and months. So that you can play things you learned even years ago, after a bit of warm up to "refresh" the tune.)

A program could make it possible to do that "play and repeat" practice, anytime. It could put up a picture of an instrument, and show the notes as they are played. It could also break down the music into parts, phrases, and even smaller segments, dividing a tune into a "tree structure" that isolates common phrases. The student could then select the part or segment they want to work on (or even the whole tune) and repeat it until they've got it. (I have such a program started. It's one of many projects that need attention!)
Yoga Timer
This would make a good embedded Java project, now that Java has MIDI capabilities. A repeating two-stage timer would let you select the amount of time to hold a pose, and the amount of time for switching poses, with two different chimes to mark the intervals, and an indicator to let you know which interval you're in. The timer would keep alternating between the two durations, ringing a little bell to let you know when to switch.
Animated Algebra
This one occurred to me in high school. Algebra always has things moving around. It would be cool to animate the letters as they move around, to teach the concepts. X's could strut on their two logs. Y's could hop on their one. Z's could stretch their top and then scoot their bottom under to catch up.
GI-Jane Machine
In the movie, GI-Jane (Demi Moore) was always doing inverted situps. But I could never see what was holding her feet! A decline bench turns out to have the right kind of leg-bracing. A machine that made it possbile to vary the angle from flat to upright, and that makes it possible to climb in and out of the situp position, would be awesome. It could be combined with a dip stand and a chin up bar. (Add an olympic bar for squats, lifts, and presses, and you have a total workout!) It might also be possible to work in the concept of Chuck Norris' exercise machine, but make it go up to vertical, as well. (His stops way short, so you can't really work up to full body-weight exercise.)
Torso Twister
The "Ab Doer" is a pretty good concept, but the actual device is woefully inadequate. It's just begging for a better design -- one with variable resistance, more twist-resistance, more compact storage, a better universal joint for the main arm, and quieter operation (the click as the main tube moves on it's base is incredibly annoying).
I'd love an astronaut-style recliner with a swing-in display and keyboard. (The swing-in display is a stop-gap until I can get an LCD screen that covers a wall!)
XML Editor / Outliner Component
Dozens of XML editors exist, and virtually all of them are terrible. The reason: They don't have a good outliner component to work with. There is a "tree" component. But the tree only displays a single line in each element. There is no wrapping of text onto multiple lines. So if they have a tree structure so they can use hierarchical expand and collapse, they have to put the content of the currently selected element in a separate window. How baroque! A "tree component" (or "outliner") that allowed its elements to wrap to multiple lines would become the basis for a whole new crop of really excellent, xml-based editors.
Anti-Hydrogenation Movement
If there is one single thing you can do for your health, it would be to avoid all partially hydrogenated oils. In terms of health effects, many byproducts of the partial hydrogenation process qualify quite literally as "metabolic poisons". Yet partially hydrogenated oils are used in most of our commercially baked goods, because it is cheaper than butter. Eliminating that one item from our food supply could make a huge difference in the state of American health, and in our unprecented levels of obesity.

Ways to promote:
--Start a grass-roots movement to boycott products that contain them
--Circulate a petition to outlaw partially hydrogenated oils
--Offer a laminated version of the Fat Facts poster for $1 or $2.
--Engineer some "social judo" by getting tobacco companies to (rightly) shift the blame for cancer to the existence of such substances in our foods (which might have a chance for success, were it not for the fact that the tobacco companies are owned by manufacturers of such things. E.g. R.J.Nabisco.)
Cross-Legged Chair
The "kneeling chair" is pretty good. It puts the back in a wonderfully comfortable position. But I find myself with my weight on my knees (upper shins, really), and that gets darn uncomfortable after a while.

The problem with the kneeling chair is that it puts a single cushion directly below your knees. If it had two cushions positioned slightly to the sides, and angled in, it should be possible to sit in a cross-legged position, with just enough resistance to keep from sliding forward, but with minimimal pressure on the knees. (Or possibly a pair of straps would work.)

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