Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Economic Stimulation

Wednesday’s Afternoon Inquisition always comes courtesy of the previous week’s Comment o’ the Week, which was tmarie:


Everyone knows the economy is… well, not awesome right now. I’m learning to be a little more careful with my spending, but I’m still seemingly overwhelmed with my financial obligations: student loans, car payment, bills bills bills, and of course all the random stuff that just so happens to pop up out of nowhere. I really do wish I could come up with some brilliant idea, either a service or a product, to patent and sell.

So get creative! If you could come up with a product/service and sell it (assuming people would buy it), what would it be? Who would it benefit? And what would you do with your profits?


The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. I’d love to have a heated mouse and keyboard. When you’re cold, everyone says you can just put on more layers, but it’s difficult to type with gloves on. I used to have a roommate who actually opened the windows in the middle of winter because she was too hot. Our “compromise” didn’t work for either of us and my hands were always freezing. I should invent a heated keyboard and mouse for this type of situation, and maybe even a cooling mouse and keyboard too.

    My other idea, also inspired by that roommate, is earplugs with a speaker built in, connected wirelessly to an alarm clock. She started snoring after a few months, and I had to start to using earplugs. However, this caused the problem of also blocking out my alarm clock. Fortunately my anxiety about missing the alarm made me hyper-conscious of the sound so even the faint alarm that I heard was enough. But it would have been much more relaxing to have the sound go off in my earplugs.

  2. The new Apple-each variety has all the information you need to know about one topic. Eat one, and it will open your eyes. It would be beneficial to all (except teachers) because instead of spending years, and thousands of dollars, and writing disserations, just eat an Apple, and KNOW.

    With the profits, I’d fund my life-long excentric millionaire dream-to build a lifesized house out of legos!

  3. Inspired by @catgirl my products will be:

    Fingerless, USB-powered, heated gloves.

    Wireless earbuds that play soothing sounds or music all night long until a preset alarm time when they send a high-voltage zap through your brain. You’ll never sleep through your alarm clock again, and you’ll save a fortune on coffee.

    The profits? I’ll drink them of course.

  4. @catgirl: Aye. Was part of a company that wrote personal porn stories for people. The work was easy and fun but it failed because

    1. men like to watch porn, not read it (mostly)
    2. porn is free on the ‘net.

    Still, one of the best jobs I ever had. If I could figure out a way to do something like that again, this time making money… I would be very happy.

  5. @catgirl: Typically, because they’re looking for something for specific, either a certain star in particular like marilove or else a certain fetish. The free porn out there is very hit or miss, but theoretically if you pay you’ll be guaranteed to get what you want.

  6. I just want a wireless remote for a PC with an OPTICAL trackball. I have greasey fingers, I guess, so my current non-optical one gets all oily and stops responding in one direction until I clean it.

  7. A chip/device embedded in things, keychains for example, that would allow me to phone the object I am looking for and make it beep until I found it.

  8. Oh, jeez, there’s so many. Lots of ideas but not much motivation to do anything about them. Here’s one I came up with a few years ago:

    Big Red Bow

    Set up a company that will store large gifts (e.g. cars, big-screen TVs, etc) and deliver them to the specified address at an exact date and time, with a big red bow tied around it.

    Example: You buy a big-screen TV for Dad’s birthday. Big Red Bow will keep it in storage and deliver it to Dad’s doorstep at 7:00am on his birthday.

    The big red bow is included in the base price. Optional items might include:
    -a giant personalized greeting card
    -installation of major appliances

    Big Red Bow would also provide (for a fee) unpacking and assembly services for large items that come in pieces (e.g. swing sets).

  9. Another one:

    A telepresence robot that folds up into a FedEx package. To use it, you ship it to whatever location you’re needed (e.g. business meeting). When it arrives, it calls you (via wifi, 3G, etc) and you tell it to unpack itself. You conduct your business remotely using the robot as your proxy. When you’re done, you pilot the robot back to a FedEx outlet, have it fill out a shipping label and ship itself home or to the next destination. Handy when you have to be in 2 places at once.

  10. Affordable and stylish clothes for tall people.

    Tall is not a 6 foot 300 pound man or a 5 foot 6 250 pound woman. I stare longingly at the clothes in stores. If I was 6 inches shorter I could look so good. But no. I am stuck catalog shoping and shelling out way to much money for a really limited number of choices.

    I guess I would spend it on a trip to Tam or Comiccon or Dragon Con and some really nice suits. And another fedora, maybe a bowler and a couple of tweed caps.

  11. I almost went ahead with the venture I’m about to explain, but my conscience got the better of me.
    I was going to take care of religious people’s pets after the rapture, and charge a monthly fee until it happened. I’d sell them rapture pet insurance for something like $5 a month. I was even thinking of sinking my initial profits into actual petcare facility stuff so that it wouldn’t appear to be a total scam.
    I sat on the idea, and then I think, eventually someone else came up with the same idea.
    I assure you though, I came up with the idea first.

  12. Perfect match finder-it uses some mystical force to find the nearest, most compatible person for you.

    Hey, I’m really bummed about my lack of relationship, and wish there was some way to find my perfect match…I’m almost ready to resort to woo.

  13. @steve: That’s actually a good idea. Almost every office I’ve worked in had many people complaining about their hands being cold.

    I want a Cone of Silence and would donate to the homeless, the unemployed and animal rescue.

    I also want a USB-powered phaser to eliminate annoying co-workers.

    I also want employer security spoofing software, so I could surf the Web to my heart’s content and no one would know.

  14. My money making idea is this.

    People who suffer from “Wet” Macular Degeneration currently have to be injected on a monthly basis with the medication they require. Clearly an injection into the eye is a painful and somewhat unpleasant procedure, and even if only marginal risky every injection is, in effect “throwing the dice” again.

    I propose to develope a micro-capsual direct injectable vector for the drugs currently in use. The capsuals will degrade and disintergrate at differential rates so that a constant supply of the drug will be availible in situ, reducing the frequency of injections required.

    Clearly this will improve patient complience and reduce the level of doctor/patient contact time.

    And that’s why you should give me your grant money please.

    No one enjoys sticking needles in people’s eyes more than I, but I reckon there’s a Nobel in this for me.

    I’ve not really thought it all the way through…
    but sex sells!!
    I would use the profits to get a good cleaning product for the microphone.

  16. RE: earthbound
    For years I’ve wanted to make and market Shroud of Turin beach towels. Then I heard Ned Flanders on the Simpsons mention he had one. I still don’t know if anyone actually MAKES them.

    I would like to start an online publishing company that republishes very hard-to-find books from years past. Fans of genre fiction can tell you about any number of old books that were not popular in their day and so have faded away, to just now start getting a good reputation. The books of R.R. Ryan and Walter S. Masterman come to mind.

  17. Oh, and all the capsual technology already exsist, it’s just a case of getting the equipment together and running the clinical trials

  18. Actually, part of me would also like to ruthless cash in on some top-notch woo. Maybe 2012 or Earology or a fake religion (like Hubbard’s but with more randy sex and few death threats). I am, at heart, an ethical person, of course, but I am sure that with a little effort on my part and maybe some time working in Marketing, I could overcome those pesky remnants of a long dead past.

  19. I really was desperate for money at one point in my life and I worked at a health food store. Like every health food store it sold a lot of crap. I really considered going into the business of homeopathic beauty supplies. Just sell regular beauty supplies “infused” with homeopathic ingredients to make them “better”. Girls stuff is retardedly overpriced anyhow.

  20. @Kaylia_Marie: I would have bought that. I actually DO like to read porn.

    @James Fox: And that.

    I think I would invent Pocket James Randis, or Pocket George Hrabs, or Pocket Rebecca Watsons, or Pocket PZs. That way, when you catch someone spouting bs, you don’t have to say “wait right there while I Snopes that,” you can just pull out your favorite pocket debunker and let them go to town. High-pitched helium voice would be an extra add-on.

  21. I’d sell the right to have your name engraved on a piece of the first permanent moon base. The larger the donation, the more expensive/prominent/large, the part.

    You’d eventually get a framed photograph of the part in situ, or, for those with parts hidden from view, of the communal plaque for such names. Maybe a frame with moon dust in the lacquer.

  22. Bonded, certified, and affordable private secretarial services.

    I’ve been reading a lot of Edwardian fiction, and all these bourgeois protagonists have a private secretary. Not a butler or a valet, but someone eminently trustworthy to sort through your mail, take care of bills, run errands, handle insurance, manage finances, etc.

    Of course, today, no one could afford — and most people don’t need — a full-time private secretary. I bet my secretarial needs could be taken care of in an hour or two per week, max.

    A modern private secretary could probably handle ten or twenty clients at a time, charge a flat fee, and make a decent living. And I would gladly pay to have someone to take that shit off my hands.

    The trick is that it would have to be someone you would be able to trust implicitly with your account numbers, passwords, power of attorney, etc. That’s why there’s a “secret” in “secretary.” And I’m not sure how you would manage that.

  23. Self-cleaning litterbox. A mesh liner rests inside the box, under the litter, and every 24 hours it lifts itself, shakes out the excess, and trundles to the garbage can, where it dumps itself out, then returns to the box and resettles itself under the litter. You’d probably have some freaked-out cats for a while, though. (Actually, I’d just settle for the mesh liner – few things make me feel as unsettled as digging around for turds, like some kind of bizarre treasure hunt.)

  24. @Indigo: “A mesh liner rests inside the box, under the litter, and every 24 hours it lifts itself, shakes out the excess, and trundles to the garbage can”

    I’m certain my cats would figure out how to ride it around like a poo-covered sedan chair. “Pimp this, Homie!”

  25. Can’t believe I just read all those comments:

    I’d invent a cure for cancer. Everyone could have it for free (or my net cost) but they would be required to participate in an annual global week long holiday honoring me. Said holiday would consist of the best of all the other holidays: presents, candy, chocolate easter bunnies, pumpkin pie, drinking, dancing, and boobs.

  26. @Howard — You still can afford a personal secretary for only $4-10/hour if you don’t mind your secretary living in India and telecommuting to outsource your life.

  27. @JESherman:

    I would like to start an online publishing company that republishes very hard-to-find books from years past. Fans of genre fiction can tell you about any number of old books that were not popular in their day and so have faded away, to just now start getting a good reputation.

    Automated publish-on-demand for unit quantities of books already exists. All you need to do, then, is start a club of people sufficiently dedicated to certain books that they are willing to go to the trouble of scanning old editions page by page, and cleaning up the files as needed. It might be easiest if you stuck to “facsimile editions” (i.e., you wouldn’t have to edit or typset anything) of books so old that not only has the work gone into the public domain, but that particular edition has as well.

    You might want to look to the New England Science Fiction Association Press as an example. All of the scanning and editing (they don’t do facsimile editions, so there is more work) is done by volunteers. They found a simple way to handle royalties that is a big hit with those authors that are still alive: They pay royalties every time they do a printing. That way they don’t have to tally up their royalties for each month and send someone a check for $1.5o because they sold two copies of his collection. Instead of the publish-on-demand method, though, they do library-bound hardcovers. You have to be pretty sure of sales to commit to something like that.

  28. A sex toy that is a cross between a vacuum and a belt sander and interacts with the porn on my computer screen, what’s that? someone already invented it? The future is here!

    I shudder to think of the people it benefits, and I would probably spend the profits on women wearing big read bows reading original/fetish porn to me.

  29. @JOHNEA13: PANDAAAAA!! With a red bow…

    OOO! I just thought of another one. When I was bored in elementary school, I started sketching out my scheme to collect lightning in order to feed the world’s electricity needs at a ridiculously low price. I’m sure it was just a big metal bowl hooked up to the power grid, but whatever, I though it was brilliant when I was 8.

  30. I actually made money for a while off of my math degrees by tutoring college students in math. It’s kind of a service that shouldn’t need to exist since students can go to their TA or prof for assistance, but there’s a certain intimidation in approaching the person who gives you a grade, so that’s where I came in: help from someone who isn’t judging you. I would get comments like “You should be my TA; you explain this stuff so much better than they do.” I knew better—that the power dynamic of grades was at work—for I had been that TA who “couldn’t explain math” and got low student evaluations as a result. But without the power dynamic, those students were paying me cold cash to do what I “couldn’t” do when in an official position.

  31. You know what would be incredible? Like, if someone got a dead fish, specifically, I don’t know, a bass, or something like that, then nailed it to a piece of wood, then somehow managed to reanimate it using batteries or science or some such hokery, and then inserted a chip (fish and chips! I’m awesome) that made made it play a little tune and not only that, programmed it to open its mouth in time with the aforementioned tune so that it actually looked like the fish was was singing the song when in fact it’s not, because it’s just a dead fish? I mean, not for long, you understand, just for a few seconds or something, because let’s be honest you wouldn’t want to dilute the magic of a dead fish singing… Anyway, that would be AMAZING.

  32. @Erica: I need a maid like that. But I don’t suppose that would work out so well. Maybe my Pocket George Hrab could come with some Pledge and a French maid suit…

    @PeteSchult: Ewwwwww… Usually I find a “buy ‘accessories’ get porn free” deal from my favorite website. That way, I’m just paying for the costumes. :-)

  33. @russellsugden: I’ll invest in your invention, if you can get a patent for it. It sounds like a great idea. Much of the cash (of what’s left) in my 401K is invested in science/tech stocks.

    @peteschult: I’d say, “Go for it.” Professional tutors make good money in the DC Metro area, especially in higher math and the sciences. There’s a lot of parents here that are anxious about getting their kids into the “right” schools.

    @Howard: If the employees were bonded and insured, that secretarial service would work out just fine. Your idea is just a refinement of the “personal assistants/virtual assistants” that are fairly common in DC already for the well-off.

    @Indigo: Self-cleaning litter boxes are around, but the verdict I’ve heard is mixed. They don’t seem to work as well as advertised, mostly because the manufacturer’s are making them out of cheap, flimsy plastic. If they used a better quality of plastic (or metal) for the litter screen, they would probably work fine.

    @Bug_Girl: If it’s only a small red bow you’re wearing, we might be able to strike a deal… ;-)

    How ’bout a whole line of “Pocket Skepchicks” and “Pocket Skepdudes?” :-D “Collect them all! Trade them with your friends!”

  34. A law school colleague and I are putting together a non-profit to start a 100 seat jewelbox repertory theater/screening space here in Philadelphia. We’re planning regular programs of art cinema, and a place where local filmmakers can screen their work without either having to rent a giant theater or cram their guests into art gallery folding chairs.

  35. @Gabrielbrawley: Snow? IN ARIZONA?! :P (Well, yes, it does snow in Northern Arizona, but that’s not where I live. For the record, we have “Excessive Heat Warnings” right now, which I think means we’re just going to all burst into flames.)

    @wendy: I am usually fine during the day (I am desert born and raised, after all!) but I sleep really warm. Even if it’s like 72 degrees I’ll wake up sweating. It’s awesome (not).

  36. If I wanted to patent an invention and sell it to become a brazillionaire, I’d think of something nobody thought of and then post it on a blog before I patented it.

    No, wait….

  37. I own 2 companies, I started out of the University after finishing my PhD. First one makes a product for detecting breast cancer in excised tissue during lumpectomy surgery. Other one makes composites for biomedical and wind blades.

    BTW a disclosure in a public forum of any patentable idea including but not limited to business process, method for, or invention of means you lose European rights (cause Europe sucks) and starts the clock ticking on your 12 month provisional filing.


  38. Everyone has fantastic ideas!


    You’re amazing!

    I’ve decided, quite recently, that the procedure for applying for colleges, financial aid, scholarships, and the entire process isn’t very well known. I’ve had several people ask me for help this past summer getting started on the process. Some schools don’t focus on enough on the practicalities of life. I would like to make that happen. I’d also like to make some sort of curriculum for high schoolers that teaches them how to fill out an application/resume and how to interact in an interview.

    I also think that colleges (maybe not all, but mine definitely) don’t do a good job with really explaining how to go about applying for grad school or how to take care of your students loans once you have your diploma in hand.

    I call dibs on this project…. if someone scoops me, I WILL find you!!

  39. Who needs a “product” anymore? Learn a little Mandarin, start a school of Woo, apply for some of this “stimulus” pork and in 5 years you’ll have your own religion.

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