The Television Blaster (4th annual Year in Ideas)

When stuck in airport waiting rooms, Kristine Smock, a mandolin player, likes to practice her instrument. But in recent years, her plucking has been lost under the tinny voices of CNN anchors. ”I feel like vandalizing the TV’s,” the musician said. ”I imagine myself ripping wires out of walls, axing the screen and splintering, shattering glass.”

A more peaceful solution might be a key-chain-size remote control that turns off nearby televisions, called TV-B-Gone.

Its inventor, Mitch Altman, was inspired to develop his TV-zapping device out of frustration with the omnipresent TV sets in bars, restaurants and Laundromats. The technology he went on to develop is simple: an L.E.D. emits the ”power” codes for every brand of set, one after the next. It takes 69 seconds to hit them all. In the first month after Altman’s Web store went live in October, eager customers bought 11,000 remotes, major retailers called and Altman almost recouped the $150,000 investment he had borrowed from his retirement account. He got used to appearing, of all places, on TV.

Altman is aware that some users will exploit TV-B-Gone to alter other people’s environments. In a vacant Laundromat, the device provides self-defense for the mind. At a sports bar during the Rose Bowl, it could provoke a situation when bodily self-defense is more important.

For most customers, however, the problem appears to be not too much power but too little. Several have beseeched Altman to develop gadgets that can conquer other modern nuisances. One correspondent wrote requesting a product ”that will temporarily disable or secretly destroy some component of loud, intrusive car stereos.” Another letter asks for ”a capacitor” to knock mobile phones offline.

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About Steven Bodzin

Steven Bodzin is a reporter. He blogged when he was a freelancer.

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