Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Building a better doorstop: The Jammer

Christine, a friend of the Johnson family, comes with us every year to the Police Security Expo in Atlantic City. It's a free trip for her and an extra hand for us. Provided her hands are operational.

Before the show opens, vendors file in and out of the convention center hauling giant display setups like ants carrying picnic scraps ten times their body weight back to the colony. Doors swing open and shut in constant flux at every threshold. The exhibitors are focused on the task at hand, tired and determined to collapse into their hotel rooms. In such an environment, it's easy to lose track of your surroundings, the people around you, someone's hand wrapped around the edge of one double door as you shove the other one open. Mistakes happen.

A few conventions ago, Christine was helping carry our gear into the center, fumbling with three large banners rolled up and stacked like logs. Holding the load between one arm and her chin, she snatched the side of the door with her free hand just before it swung closed behind the tactical flashlight sellers in front of her. If her fingers had been any less slender, she wouldn't have made it. At the same moment, a man from an EMS supply booth was heading out through the opposing door. When he pushed his door open, the gap between doors narrowed and snagged Christine's fingers, crushing them like coffee beans in a burr grinder. The guy felt so awful about it that he stopped by our booth regularly throughout the next two days to check up on her and tend to her injuries. It was sweet, really. Fast forward to today, and now they're married!

OK, that last part isn't true. That would be a good story, though. One for the grand kids.

If only there were some device that could stop a door from closing. Prop it open with a flowerpot full of dirt? That's a mess just waiting to happen. Remove it from its hinges? Too much work, plus we're not paying to heat/cool the outdoors! Wedge it open with a piece of wood on the floor? Oh. I've just described a doorstop.

Though I'm being a bit facetious, let's bear in mind that traditional doorstops suck. People kick them loose, they slide around on tile floors and always seem to disappear, integrating themselves into some child's building blocks. Not every new product has to be some fancy gizmo with a wireless internet connection and a flux capacitor. Sometimes we just need a better solution to a common problem, like that famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote about building a better mousetrap (to paraphrase): "Someone oughta build a better mousetrap. My house is infested with mice."

Sometimes a solution to a problem is so simple and elegant that it seems obvious in hindsight. "Problem solved," it seems to say. "Next problem, please." Case in point, one of my favorite items from this year's Police Security Expo: the Jammer. It's a candy cane-shaped piece of plastic, available in black or high visibility yellow. Hang it over a door hinge to prevent the door from closing behind you, potentially locking you in or crushing someone's fingers. The bright yellow color makes it easy to mark where you've been, an effective way to communicate that a room has been cleared. You can carry a bunch of them around with you in your pocket, hooked onto a belt loop, dangled from your ears (for fashion), or tucked into your vest. At his booth, Jammer creator Tom Surowiec showed me a chunk of wood with a bent nail sticking out of it, his inspiration. "Firefighters use these," he said. "They're a resourceful bunch."

"That," I said, "is brilliant."