Assignment #7

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Final idea selection!

After narrowing my ideas down to the top 5, it is now time to select the one to be pitched on Tuesday.

I started by making a Pugh Chart to help analyze the ideas. I selected the vibrating shovel as a base idea. It was always a favorite of mine early on, but I have become less excited about the idea as the semester has progressed.

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I was not surprised to see the heated sidewalk score so low. It has been done before so many times, and energy concerns with the solar panel had been making me re-think that idea. The car window cover is obviously feasible, but it exists in so many variations that I feel it is not worth pursuing. The snow fort block mold shovel is an interesting idea, but I feel that getting people to actually use the thing would be a bit difficult, when there are easier-to-use products that specialize in one area or the other. This leaves me to select the igloo mold as my final product, as I have not found anything remotely similar on the market, nor was I able to find any patents on the idea. I believe that it would be feasible, given that there are large inflatable structures that can hold upwards of 1000 pounds of kids climbing all over them. I believe that given the right materials and a decent pump, the igloo mold would be able to withstand the pressure of snow on top of it. By pouring water over the snow once it is on the mold, the resulting structure should be very stable and resistant to collapse. The inflatable material would also make it cheap to manufacture and easy to store. For these reasons, I believe it to be the most suitable product for continuation.

With that, I give you the Easy Igloo
igloo.jpg

Elevator Pitch
Here is a video of my elevator pitch.

Assignment #6

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MARKETABLE
Now that I have a selection of potentially marketable ideas, I conducted an online survey to see what people thought of the ideas. I asked people to rank each idea from a scale of 1 to 5 to state their interest in purchasing the product.

Overall, 18 people responded to the survey.
The results are as follows:

1. Vibrating Snow Shovel - 3.44
2. Car Window Covers - 3.39
3. Solar Heated Sidewalk - 3.33
4. Heated Driveway Apron - 3.22
5. Snow Fort Shovel - 3.17
6. Inflatable Igloo Mold - 3.11
7. Variable Thickness Jacket - 2.94
8. Ice Rake - 2.78
9. Snow-Whacker - 2.67

For the purposes of this assignment, I am combining the 3rd and 4th place ideas into a single idea, since they both involve melting snow via a modular heated panel. They were also rated nearly identically, so I can essentially consider them to be the same idea.

This leaves the 5 ideas with which I will be proceeding:
Vibrating Snow Shovel
Car Window Covers
Solar Heating Panels
Snow Fort Shovel
Igloo Mold


NOVEL

The next step was to see what was already out there. I did some searching online for each of my products. I had a bit of a hard time coming up with anything similar for a few of them, which, I suppose, is fortunate! I compiled my images into five 2x2 charts for further analysis.

1. Vibrating Snow Shovel
I could not find any existing products which totally matched this idea, so I expanded my search to "electric snow shovel", which yielded a large number of extremely similar products, all resembling miniature snow-blowers. There is a large amount of room for improvement in the "simple and lightweight" area here.
shovel.png

2. Car Window Covers
It turns out that not only does this already exist, but it exists in many, many different varieties. I found very little room for improvement here.
car cover.png

3. Solar Sidewalk Heating Panels
I was somewhat surprised to find that this idea had also been done a number of different ways. However, I was unable to find anything relating to solar power or any other form of renewable energy, so all of these devices are likely to rack up a large electricity bill.
heated sidewalk.png

4. Snow Block Shovel
I found quite a few ideas which were similar in their mechanics, in that they compacted snow into blocks for fort building. I didn't really find anything that did so in the form factor of a shovel, however. I feel as though such a device could fill the large gap in the "simple / grown-ups" quadrant.
fort-shovel.png

5. Igloo Mold
I was glad to see this idea survive the weeding out, even if just barely. I could not find anything appreciably similar to this idea on a large scale, however, many small scale igloo molds exist for cakes / jell-o / ice sculpting, etc. I also found a few specially built structures / scaffolds for constructing igloos, but it appears as though these structures take almost as much time to construct as the igloo itself, so the "simple/realistic" quadrant is still very much lacking.
igloo.png


PATENTS

I did a Google Patents search to see which of my ideas had already been patented.

Vibrating Snow Shovel: Vibrating Snow Shoveling Device

Car Window Covers: A vehicle snow & ice removal system/cover

Heated Sidewalk Panels: Pre-fabricated sidewalk block having a heating wire

Snow block shovel: Snow Mold

Igloo Mold: Igloo Building Block Mold

Most of the ideas had already been patented almost exactly as I had described them, with the exception of the last two. I found nothing that was appreciably similar to my ideas for either the snow block shovel or the igloo mold, only other means for molding snow into blocks.


FEASIBLE
I performed rough estimates for how much the materials would cost to manufacture at this point.

VIBRATING SNOW SHOVEL
approximately 5 pounds of plastic/metal, plus motor/battery ~= $10 in raw materials, $20 in manufacturing.
Biggest concerns:
Can vibration actually dislodge thick snow?

CAR SNOW COVERS
about 1 pound of plastic, if that, should adequately cover a car windshield, making for a $2 manufacturing cost.
Biggest concerns:
Can it adhere to the car and be easily removable? Theft?

HEATED SIDEWALK PANELS
About 10 pounds of metal/plastic, plus the necessary circuitry and the solar panel, approximately $50 in raw materials, $100 manufacturing cost.
Biggest concerns:
Can a solar panel generate enough current to heat a sidewalk?

SNOW FORT BLOCK SHOVEL
About 3 pounds of plastic would make for a $3 raw material cost and a $6 manufacturing cost.
Biggest concerns:
Can a shovel compact snow tightly enough to produce a block suitable for construction?


IGLOO MOLD
about 5 pound of plastic should be enough to make an inflatable igloo shape, making for $10 in manufacturing costs. If an electric pump were included, it would probably add about $20 to the final price.
Biggest concerns:
Can an inflatable structure withstand the weight of snow piled on top of it? Would snow freeze to the structure and make it unable to deflate? Would it pop?

None of these ideas have a particularly outlandish manufacturing cost, with the possible exception of the sidewalk panels. They all have some feasibility concerns which would warrant further testing (with the possible exception of the car window covers as they have been done so many times before).

Assignment #5

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Structured Ideation

I started by examining the snow shovel, as it is arguably the most ubiquitous tool for Snow Removal, which is my area of focus. I started by creating a S.C.A.M.P.E.R.-themed (or C.A.M.P.E.R.S., if you are a more outdoorsy type) mind map about snow shovels to get some ideas for the 7 areas of ideation.
scamper.jpg

S - Substitute
This idea comes from my initial interviews, where the idea of a plow shovel was brought up, a device which can be pushed along the sidewalk and direct all the snow off to the side.
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C - Combine
For this idea I started to think about other things that are used to remove material from a surface, and It thought of an electric shaver, so I figured a shovel with razor blades could be used to break up thick ice.
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A - Assimilate Adapt
I figured a Borg snow-shovel wouldn't be the most practical idea, so I adapted the concept of an ice cream scoop to a snow shovel, allowing you to push stubborn snow out of the blade.
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M - Magnify/Modify
This is an idea from the brainstorming session that I really like - a vibrating snow shovel that breaks up ice. I actually prototyped this idea at Leonardo's Basement on Thursday.
m.jpg

Here is the prototype from Thursday
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P - Put to other use
Here I used the "how would a child use it?" prompt, and thought back to my own childhood using snow shovels to build structures in the yard. I figured instead of the ridged design which breaks up snow, why not a brick-shaped design which compacts snow for building forts?
p.jpg

E - EXTERMINATE Eliminate
I always get tired shoveling deep snow because of the sheer weight of it, so I decided to try to eliminate the lifting portion of snow shoveling, and created a lawnmower style push shovel with a bin in the back to collect loose snow.
e.jpg

R - Reuse/Rearrange
I did some analysis of the common snow shovel as a lever. Currently, the fulcrum is at the handle end. I have often tried to push down on the handle to pry heavy piles of snow off the ground, though most snow shovels are really not designed for this, so I figured I would make one that was by moving the natural fulcrum to the middle of the handle.
r.jpg


Table-Based Ideation

For this excersise I decided to use TRIZ on a snow shovel. I picked Weight of a Moving Object and Force as my parameters. The table produced the following results:

8 - Weight Compensation

10 - preliminary action

18 - mechanical vibration

37 - thermal expansion

I eliminated 18 right away as that idea had already been used in the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. part.

For Weight Compensation I came up with a hydraulic snow shovel that can pry huge blocks of snow and ice.
triz-8.jpg

For Preliminary Action I decided to use another idea from the brainstorming, a Snow Tiller - a rotary device which chews up snow and makes it easier to shovel.
triz-10.jpg

Lastly, for Thermal Expansion, I modified an idea that many people proposed in various formats - some sort of sidewalk cover which deals with snow in a variety of ways. I figured one could use a bimetallic strip which is heated and caused to expand at different rates to break up ice which is on top of it.
triz-37.jpg


The Top Ten Ideas So Far...
As of this phase of the idea generation process, these are my favorite ten ideas for turning into actual products.

1. Heated Solar Sidewalk
This was an idea from the brainstorming session, a series of solar panels powers removable heated plates below the snow.
idea1.jpg

2. Car Screen Protectors
This is an idea from Tuesday's lecture activities. It is essentially a giant peel-off sheet that would take any ice and snow on your car with it, leaving a perfect window behind.
idea2.jpg

3. Heated Driveway Apron Grate
This is an idea I came up with during the brainstorming session. Though expensive to implement, it would save a lot of painful hours trying to break through the ice that piles up after a snowplow goes past your driveway.
idea3.jpg

4. Sno-Wacker
Like the snow-tiller from the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. part, but more portable and in the form factor of a shovel.
idea4.jpg

5. Ice Rake
This is another idea from the brainstorm. It is a rake with a sharp blade on it that you pull towards you along the sidewalk to break up ice before shoveling.
idea5.jpg

6. Igloo Maker
This is an idea from my original list of ten from a few weeks ago. It is an inflatable mold for easy igloo building.
idea 6.jpg

7. Variable Thickness Jacket
Another idea from my original ten, a jacket that can inflate to change its thickness depending on the weather conditions.
idea 7.jpg

These last three ideas were taken from S.C.A.M.P.E.R. up above.
8. Vibrating Snow Shovel
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9. Block Shovel
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10. Plow Shovel
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Assignment #4

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I got together a small group to brainstorm on the subject of Snow and ice removal last weekend.

The participants:

Sam: A Statistics major from Carlton.

Andy: A software engineer.

Terry: A mechanical engineer.

Renee and Adam: My parents, a Lawyer and a Musician, who decided to join us.

Myself: A local product-design enthusiast.


To get everyone warmed up, I created a game called Pitchmen, in which people had 30 seconds to come up with a quick commercial for their pad of post-it notes. The catch, however, was that they had to come up with an entirely new use for the product. A couple of the highlights from the night were stick-on anti-snow dog covers, and Pocket Papercut, a portable self-defense tool.

With everyone in a silly mood, I explained the rules of the brainstorm. Fifteen minutes, no criticisms, draw ideas AND write titles, announce your ideas to the group. People mostly followed the rules. Mostly...
brainstorm.jpg

The prompts I gave them were as follows:
How might we make the process of snow removal easier or more pleasant?

How might we create a universal tool for clearing different types of snow?

Fifteen minutes later, we had a door covered in post-its (my house lacks good post-it-ing surfaces, unfortunately). We generated 60 ideas in 15 minutes, for a total IPM of 4.
ideas.jpg

A quick break to review the ideas, and it was time to do voting. I handed everyone 6 hat-shaped post-it notes and told them to write C on half of them, and P on the other half, for Creative and Practical. They then picked their top 5 choices for most creative and most practical idea.

The democratic process
voting.jpg

The results
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After voting, the ideas were sorted to reveal the top 5 in each category.
They are as follows:

Creative Ideas

Solar Sidewalk Heater - Adam
Similar to solar garden lights, tiny solar panels placed along your sidewalk power heated mats which melt the snow.
adam1.jpg

Vibrating Snow Shovel - Andy
A snow shovel with a vibrating motor which breaks up heavily compacted snow.
andy1.jpg

Dog Treat Snow Spray - Austin and Andy
Strangely enough, Andy and I came up with and announced this idea at the exact same time. A meat-flavored liquid is sprayed into the sidewalk which attracts dogs to come and eat the snow.
aus-andy1.jpg

Sidewalk Electric Blanket - Sam
Sam was great at coming up with ideas by re-purposing existing products. One such example, use an electric blanket to melt snow on your sidewalk or driveway.
sam1.jpg

De-Iceing Sprinkler System - Sam
If you have a sprinkler system in your yard, simply pump de-ice spray through it instead of water in the winter.
sam2.jpg

Practical Ideas

Charcoal Powder - Andy
Andy had the idea that charcoal, since it is black, could absorb sunlight that would otherwise be reflected by the bright snow, and be used to melt through it.
andy11.jpg

Snowblower with Heated Blades - Austin
A snow-blower with electric heating elements on the edges of the shovel end.
austin1.jpg

Heated Sidewalk Tiles - Renee
Similar to a hot-pack, these tiles can store heat energy, and are then placed on a stretch of sidewalk before an impending blizzard. Snow will melt on contact instead of piling up. After the storm, simply lift the tiles up and shake any ice from the melt water off into the yard to reveal a dry, snow-free sidewalk.
renee1.jpg

Families - Renee
This was somewhat of a joke idea, but I am including it anyway because it was one of the most highly voted.
renee2.jpg

Snow Rake - Sam
Building off of leaf clearing tools, Sam came up with a rake with an inward-facing (possibly heated, he says) blade which can chop up ice as you pull it towards you.
sam11.jpg


Honorable Mention - FIRE
One of Sam's ideas was using isopropal alcohol to clear ice and snow, so we decided to give it a shot. Fire is fun! We documented our experimentation for science.
fire.jpg

Assignment #3

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My area of research for Assignment 3 is snow and ice removal. This involves any part of the snow/ice removal process. The tools involved, the physical labor, the time it takes, the reasons for doing it, the aftermath, etc. Since winter is a bit late this year, I could not observe anybody performing snow/ice removal activities in person, but I had some great interviews from people with a wide range of experiences.

INTERVIEW 1: MIKE AND MARCIE O'CONNOR

My first interview was with Mike and Marcie O'Connor, a couple who live here the twin cities, but have a farm out in rural Wisconsin. They run a blog about their farm life. Their farm is over a mile and a half long and nearly 3/4 of a mile wide, and with their house sitting directly in the middle of their property, their road is half a mile long. Being in Wisconsin, they get just as harsh winters as we do. Sometimes even harsher. Their farm house is located in the middle of a valley, which makes matters even worse in the winter as the snow tends to pile up in large drifts upwards of 3 feet deep in the winter. Their SUV can handle snow of 1 foot deep at most, so they need a good means of clearing out the snow.

I spoke with Mike over the phone for an hour as he told very long and very interesting stories of snow clearing from winters past. Mike and Marcie don't mess around when it comes to snow removal. They have not one, but two tractors which are almost completely dedicated to snow. Their largest tractor is a massive beast with an enclosed cab and a twin-bladed snow-blower that can turn any drift they come across into fine powder with ease.

Mike's snow-blowing tractor as captured from one of his farm's many remote cameras. Source: http://www.haven2.com/. There is also a video of the tractor in action.
blower.jpg

As impressive as it may be, the snow-blower has one fatal flaw: its blade rests a full foot off the ground, meaning that any snow shallower than a foot will not be cleared. In his interview, Mike laments the fact that he can only really use his favorite toy once or twice a year. For the shallower snow, they stick to their smaller tractor, equipped with a simple snowplow.

Mike's wife, Marcie, sitting in the open-air cab of their small plow tractor.
plow.jpg

Between these two snow clearing beasts, Mike says they have all the snow gear they could ever need, provided they are at the farm when the snow starts to fall. As previously mentioned, their SUV can conquer snow up to a foot deep, but Mike recalls several times when they have driven to the farm to find the whole place buried under feet of snow. In situations like this, they have to snowshoe through half a mile of blowing drifts to get to their tractors, then spend several hours plowing the driveway before they can finally relax in the farm house.

In the spring, melting snow can have terrible consequences for Mike and Marcie's all-gravel driveway. Rivers of melt-water wash the gravel down the road and can leave terrible ruts. Fortunately, his large tractor serves more than one purpose. By swapping the snow-blower attachment out for a low-hanging wide blade, he turns his tractor into a grader, with which he lovingly restores his driveway to pristine condition every spring. The only problem is, swapping the blower for the blade is a lot of work, and can often consume an entire day. It's up to Mike to time the weather right for the perfect opportunity to make the switch. Should he get it wrong, he may be stuck bolting the heavy blower attachment back on in freezing weather. Mike recounts last spring, when it snowed heavily in mid-may. Melting snow had already badly damaged his road, so he came up with a clever solution to solve the problem without having to swap out his tractor accessories again. He drove in zig-zagging patterns up and down the driveway, creating channels in the snow. These channels slowed and directed the flow of water, greatly reducing the amount of erosion. All and all, Mike describes his winter chores as "Kinda fun, sometimes annoying, but just sorta part of the deal."

INTERVIEW 2: JUDY, MARK, VALERIE, AND JIM

Sunday evening I got the chance to host a group interview, thanks to a very well timed dinner party my family happened to be throwing. Mark and Juxy Cox, and Valerie and Jim Green had a great time reminiscing about past experiences with snow and ice.

Interviewees from left to right: Mark, Valerie, Jim, Judy. I am on the far right.
group.jpg

A common theme that was discussed multiple times was the fact that if you are unlucky enough to have an plowed driveway at the end of a plowed street, the compacted snow from the plow hardens and becomes "like steel" as one person put it. It can take hours for even the toughest snow-blowers to churn through it.

One of the more interesting solutions I heard was from Jim Green, who described the courtyard at his apartment complex. "The architect must have been from California, he didn't account for the snow!" he says. However, they were able to implement a last-minute solution which is really quite clever. Heated pipes running just below the surface of the courtyard pump hot liquid through the entire area whenever a combination temperature and moisture sensor is triggered. This melts the snow very quickly and efficiently, and the runoff water drains into the heated parking garage below, and into the sewer system. "There can be a horrible blizzard, and the very next day the courtyard is dry as a bone!" says Jim. The downside? He points out the cost of operation, between $300 and $500 for a single winter, which is shared between the residents. He says it is well worth it, however.

Later on, the discussion shifted towards an almost boastful comparison of Minnesota to some of the southern states. Mark recalls a business trip to Atlanta, which was cancelled after a "blizzard" deposited a meager half inch of snow on the poor, unsuspecting inhabitants. The snow melted later that day. Another recalls calmly bicycling through the streets of London while the city's natives scrambled for their cars as a few flakes of snow began to fall. If the Twin Cities' snow equipment leaves us able to laugh at storms that leave other regions utterly disabled, surely there must be equipment out there that can cut through even our most damaging snow emergencies?

One interesting bit of old technology which Mark recalled from his youth was a hand snowplow, basically a shovel with a curved conical blade which he recalls nostalgically as being able to clear an entire sidewalk in a single run. He says he has looked over and over for anything similar with no luck, and In my ethnography research I hit similar barriers. There are plenty of angled snow shovels, but nothing with the distinctive conical shape which he describes. A quick sketch of the device is included in my notes below.

notes.jpg

INTERVIEW 3: ALEX AND KARA

For my final interview, I spoke with Alex and Kara, an very do-it-yourself Alaskan couple who take a more low-tech approach to snow removal. Alex cites his tools of the trade for clearing their 4+ feet of snow as being simply: "BIG ASS SHOVELS", to which Kara added "Anything big and flat". They recounted many instances in which they have become hopelessly stuck in deep snow in their cars, and they have found some very clever solutions that they absolutely swear by. "Instead of sand", suggests Kara, "Throw kitty litter under your wheels. Every car in Alaska has a box of kitty litter in the trunk." Alex had more suggestions, such as using floor mats or roof shingles placed under the wheels for increased traction. However, they both agreed on what is truly the best winter snow removal tool at their disposal: "The very best thing that I've found is neighbors". They went on to describe many instances when they have been stuck in horrible snow drifts when complete strangers who just happen to have powerful winches on their trucks (this must be a very common issue up there) stop to tow them free, or hand shovel them out. It seems that snow really has a way of bringing people closer together.

One thing seemed to stick out at me during these interviews, and that is that many common snow tools have very specific purposes and cannot be used for much else. Mike's tractors only get used a few times a year, and he has to have two of them because they are so highly specialized. Jim's heated courtyard works wonders, when it works. If the power is out, there is absolutely no way to remove the snow. Snow-blowers work great, but only on level terrain, and only within a set range of snow depths and densities. Shovels seem to be the most all-purpose tool, but one could easily break back and blade trying to dig out of a snow drift for which all other tools have failed. Alex and Kara seem to be fighting this over-specialization with their clever life-hacks, but even they get buried over their heads sometimes.

The problem statement which seemed to emerge from these interviews was that people need an easy way to clear all types of snow without needing a dozen different tools in their garage and gambling that they predicted the weather correctly.

Assignment #2

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This assignment required a creative atmosphere to get our brains in the right mindset.
An afternoon spent building with K'nex melted away the stress of impending midterms and got my wheels turning.
knex.jpg

After that, it was time to start thinking about winter. An unusually warm start to November made this a bit difficult, but I did my best. I began with a quick mindmap to come up with a few categories.

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After the mind map, I organized my thoughts a bit more. I created a table with products across the top and bottom and played a game of Cross Products to come up with 20* new ideas. (*a couple of combinations I could not think of anything for)

crossproduct.jpg

Now onto the actual product ideas themselves! The three themes which emerged most prominently were Winter Clothing, Snow Clearing / Snow Building, and Gift Wrapping.

HEADLIGHT SKIIS
Winter is coming, and that means winter sports! That also, unfortunately, means longer nights. What do you do when you want to go skiing but you just can't see the trail in front of you in? Skiis with headlights, of course! 1-skiis.jpg
POCKET FIRE
Ok, you've just gotten done with a fun night of darkened skiing. You had the trails to yourselves because the peasants with their non-illuminated skiis had to stay home. However, as you sit there shivering in the cold, you become increasingly jealous of the "peasants" ability to sit in front of a nice, warm fireplace. Never fear, because you've got POCKET FIRE! All the warmth and comfort of a real fireplace in a pocket-sized package! Pop in a refillable gas cartridge and watch the realistic flames come to life on tiny faux logs. 2-fire.jpg
SNOW-ROLLER
You finally make it home at 2:30 in the morning. Oh no! You forgot to shovel the walks. To make matters worse, you promised the kids you would roll giant snowballs for them to make snowmen with the next morning! All seems lost, until you remember your trusty Snow-Roller! Like a snowblower crossed with a hay baler, the Snow-Roller converts all that snow on your sidewalk into convenient rolls for snow construction. You've got the walk cleared in minutes, and the kids will have plenty to build with tomorrow. 3-roller.jpg
LASER PLOW
You crawl into bed at 4 AM, exhausted. You dread waking up the next morning because you agreed to plow the neighborhood streets, and last year you never heard the end of the complaints of noise and scraped asphalt and damaged property. Your neighbors are so petty! You wake up the next morning to find an early present from your Brother attached to your truck: the new LaserPlow! Its 100 watts of snow-vaporizing power leave a noise-free spotless road behind (but aim it away from your face). 4-plow.jpg
ELECTROLUMINESCENT WRAPPING PAPER
After plowing the streets, you get a call from the in-laws. They want to fly the WHOLE FAMILY over for the holidays. *sigh...*, this can only mean one thing, a massive, disorganized pile of presents under the tree. The kids will spend hours picking them over trying to find which ones are theirs, but then you have an idea. You recently heard about new Electroluminescent Wrapping Paper, which can glow at the push of a remote control. Now when it is someone's turn to open presents, you can simply press a button and have all their gifts spring to life with beautiful glowing lights! 5-paper.jpg
IGLOO MOLD
It's the day after christmas, and your kids want to go build a snow fort in the yard. Only problem is, it's not supposed to snow until way past their bedtime. Now's a good time to utilize their coolest present of the year! The Igloo Mold! Place the inflatable rubber mold on the grass before an impending blizzard and let it be. The snow covers the mold and hardens in its place. The next morning, deflate the mold and you've got a perfect igloo! (pour ice water over the snow before removing the mold for extra strength) 6-mold.jpg
FORECAST CLOSET
You've lived in Minnesota all your life, so you would think you would be accustomed to the wild, random changes in the weather, right? No, of course not, don't be ridiculous. Fortunately, this year you are one step ahead of the game with the Forecast Closet. Forecast Closet links to the internet and gets the days forecast when you wake up. Then, using an advanced heuristic algorithm which learns from your personal clothing preferences, it automatically selects the optimal set of winter clothes to wear on that day. No more freezing to death at an outdoor party or burning up while shoveling the walks this year. 7-closet.jpg
VARIABLE THICKNESS JACKET
If the forecast is for a cold morning with a warmer afternoon, as is so common here, the Forecast Closet may just recommend the VTJ: Variable Thickness Jacket. The Variable Thickness Jacket consists of a layer of expandable open-cell foam sandwiched between layers of windproofing and fleece. The foam can be expanded by pumping air into it, which adds insulation to the jacket for warmer days. When it gets too hot, simply suck the air out and have a nice, thin windbreaker. 8-jacket.jpg
SPRAY-ON WRAPPING PAPER
You've been having so much fun playing with all your new wintery gadgets that you almost forgot your cousin's birthday party was in 15 minutes! You've had the perfect present picked out for weeks now (a pocket fireplace, of course), but how will you ever wrap it in time? Thankfully, you have the latest in non-glowing wrapping paper technology at your disposal: the Spray-On Wrapping Paper Can. Spray the paper over the box in a few quick strokes and you've got a beautifully wrapped present in 10 seconds or less! 9-spray.jpg
GLOWING SIDEWALK STRIPS
It's snowing again, you can barely see 3 feet in front of you. You think you are on the block of your cousin's party, but you can't tell. Suddenly, you see something glowing in the snow ahead of you: two orange lines. Your cousin has installed glowing sidewalk strips under the snow. You follow the light to the warm sanctuary of his house, throw your VTJ on the bed, and hand him his spray-wrapped pocket fireplace. (He loves it, of course.) You cannot thank him enough for guiding you there with his glowing sidewalk strips! 10-sidewalk.jpg

That's all for now, may you have a safe, efficient, and productive winter thanks to these ten new winter products!

Assignment #1

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Volcanic Island Cookies

The inspiration for these cookies comes from a combination of caramel rolls and chocolate lava cake. I figured I could make lava cookies, but why not go all the way and turn them into little volcanos?

The first challenge was coming up with the flavor. In this case, chocolate was chosen for the mountain largely out of necessity, as a volcano should logically have a dark color. I started with simple cocoa powder, but I did not like the smooth texture it provided, so I decided to mix in crushed up oreos to give it a more rocky look.

I wish I had Barry's Oreo separator for this part...

2013-10-27 14.43.23.jpg

The sugar cookie base and the chocolate oreo dough
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Creating the volcano shape was the biggest challenge. I tried many different methods. The first, which was a catastrophic failure, was simply to shape the cookies into a rough mountain shape and attempt to bake them. I didn't really expect this to work, but thought maybe the added cookie crumbs might help it to hold its shape. It did not. I ended up with a misshapen, squashed cookie.
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The next idea was to make a hollow cylindrical cookie, with the hope that as it collapsed during baking, the bottom would spread out and form a base for the top. I made snake-like coils and layered them on top of each other as though I were making a vase. This actually worked surprisingly well. However, it had the disadvantage of being completely hollow, and as I planned to fill them with caramel, that was not ideal.

Cookie dough is NOT snakes AT ALL.
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My next attempt utilized a muffin tray. Initially I planned to fill the holes with cookie and carve a crater in the top. This worked quite well, but they really just looked more like muffins than mountains. They had unnaturally smooth sides. Also, a solid muffin of cookie does not like to cook well, the centers were still nearly raw by the time the outside was starting to burn. Not good.

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The muffin tray and coil cookies side-by-side

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The uncooked interior of the muffin-cookie

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My last idea was to invert the muffin tray and place the cookie over the outside. This allowed me to texture the cookie and make it look more organic, as well as keeping the cookie relatively thin so it could cook evenly.

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This design worked perfectly, and from there it was fairly straightforward. Using the same cookie base without the added chocolate, I created a few round sugar cookies to use as the island.

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I then "glued" the volcano to the island with frosting, and added some sprinkle grass and frosting shrubs. I was just about to pour the "lava" over the mountain when I realized that a caramel color would not make for convincing lava. I decided to experiment with adding various combinations of red and yellow food coloring until I got a reasonable shade of orange I could use for my lava.

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With that done, I slowly poured the colored caramel into the crater I had pressed into the top of the cookie and let it spill over the sides a bit.

volcano cookie

Recipe:

1 teaspoon cocoa mix
2 sticks softened butter
2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
9 oreo cookies with cream removed.


1. Mix butter and sugar together. Add eggs, vanilla, and milk. Mix well.

2. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt, then add to butter, sugar, and eggs.

3. Remove HALF of the dough and refrigerate.

4. Remove the creams and crush the Oreo cookies with a rolling pin until they are fine, rocky chunks. Mix crumbs and cocoa powder into dough the other half of the dough.

4. Refrigerate 1 hour.

5. Roll chocolate dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick.

6. Cut approximately circular pieces ~4 inches across and drape them gently over an inverted, buttered muffin tray, do not let the dough break! Use a knife to trim the excess, it is essential that the bottom of the cookie be flat. Carve grooves into the side with a fork, and resist the urge to drive to Devil's Tower. Press the top of the cookie gently into the muffin tray to create a crater.

7. Bake chocolate cookies on the muffin tray for 12 minutes. Gently twist them to remove.

8. Roll plain dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick.

9. Using a large cup or other round object approximately 5 inches across, cut round disks. Sprinkle with green sugar.

10. Bake plain cookies for 5 minutes.

11. Use green frosting to "glue" the volcano to the base cookie, then add decorations as desired.

12. Mix 20 drops red and 8 drops yellow food coloring in a 24oz bottle of caramel syrup. Shake very well.

13. Pour caramel slowly into the crater of the volcano. Allow it to spill over the sides, but not too much. It should be contained completely within the base cookie.

14. Enjoy!

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