(Christopher Lance/Flickr)

Whether a toilet looks acceptable or not depends on what part of the world you’re staring down at it from.

I’m talking, of course, about bidets. For the most part, they’re nearly indistinguishable from any other standard toilet except for a small upward facing nozzle beneath the seat where water shoots out. Long popular in Japan, it allows users to soak and rinse on top of wiping — a notion that’s generally considered strange in America and hence the technology largely unheard of here. Over there, however, it’s simply cleaner.

That’s not to say though that whenever ideas don’t quite suit certain people’s sensibilities, they can’t catch on. For instance, when the late Steve Jobs was asked why he wasn’t very high on opinions gleaned from focus groups, he famously replied, ”A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

There is, after all, no patented formula for what or who we take to. And just as people sometimes fall for the unlikeliest partners, history has shown that people’s love for certain ideas, no matter how crazy, are no exception. Here are six other recent examples of inventions that have gotten a lot of buzz, despite being just plain strange:

The Necomimi: Robotic cat ears that expose our honest emotions

With shades of cosplay, manga and gadgetry all assembled into one, the Necomimi manages to combine everything that’s eccentrically Japanese into a wearable that’s not only cute, but fairly cutting edge.

The headset is essentially a pair of brain-controlled cat ears that allows users to express four types of emotional states: relaxed, mild interest, strong interest and focus. This is made possible by a built-in sensor that detects these states using electroencephalography (EEG), a system that reads and translates emotions based on brainwave patterns. The ears then in turn move accordingly.

And yes, they’ve actually been shown to work. My friend, tech journalist Boonsri Dickinson, tested the device for CNET when they first came out back in 2011 and while intrigued, felt wearing such a gadget made her more transparent than she’s normally comfortable with. Still, as she mentioned, it’s a kind of technology that can be useful for athletes to determine the optimal state for performance.

The Necomimi can be purchased for $49 through maker Neurosky’s Web site.


(Studio Banana Things)

The ostrich pillow: Now you can sleep anywhere

There are times when you’re so weary that nothing’s better than nodding off, no matter how silly it looks.

It’s times like this that Ostrich Pillow comes in handy. Whether it’s being stuck at the office, on a long bus ride or at the library, the melon-shaped padding is designed to envelop the wearer in soft supportive cushioning in any resting position. There’s even two holes to rest your hands.

Launched as Kickstarter campaign in 2012, the Ostrich pillow easily surpassed it’s crowdfunding goal, raising nearly $200,000. The Ostrich pillow is currently being sold online for $99.

Since then, the company, Studio Banana Things, has also spun off numerous versions, including an arm-fitted pillow called the Ostrich Mini and the Ostrich Light, a more portable product that can be worn over the neck, eyes and has the advantage of being more discrete.


(Hovding)

The Hovding bike helmet: It’s almost like wearing nothing at all

While there are those who’d happily put animatronic cat ears and pillows on their heads, you have a good many who complain about laws that require that they wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.

The Hovding allows riders to get around this nuisance with their vanity intact. Dubbed the “invisible helmet,” it’s essentially an airbag system that’s worn around the neck, deploying only when the sensors detect a sudden jolt or the unlikely event that you get knocked off your two-wheeler. Once fully inflated, it does make riders look as if they’re wearing a blimp — a stealthy blimp, but a blimp nonetheless. All the more reason to do your best to ride safely.

After winning the 2011 Index: design award, the world’s most lucrative design prize, the creators went on to raise 13 million in venture capital funding and also developed a new and improved model. The original sold for about $500.

The Hovding helmet currently retails at various sporting goods outlets throughout Europe.

Bug-A-Salt: The ultimate pest pulverizer 

In a perfect world, wandering insects would know best not to invade our personal space. Then there’d be no need for the messy business of chemical bug sprays, mosquitoes swatting or having to resort to exterminators aka professionals.

You can now add the Bug-A-Salt rifle to that arsenal. Touted as a clean, simpler way to rid the house of flies, mosquitoes and other crawling pests, taking them out involves load it up with table salt, cocking the gun, aim and fire. A single shot packs enough force to knock bugs out cold.

It’s not hard to see why Bug-A-Salt has become such a hit. Shooters are able to hone their marksmanship and hunting insects can turn into a bit of game itself. After raising over half a million dollars on Indiegogo in 2012, creator Lorenzo Maggiore has just recently followed it up with a newer model called Camofly 2.0, which uses less salt and offers longer range.

The Indiegogo campaign for Camofly 2.0 ends on March 7, with pre-orders starting at $55.


(R4vi/Flickr)

The selfie stick: Essential tool for those who really love themselves

It’s been derided as the “Narcisstick” as well as the “Wand of Narcissus.” But no matter. For those unapologetic and unabashed about going to great lengths to snap the perfect selfie, the selfie stick is more than just a godsend. It’s essential.

In all practicality though, you’d be hard-pressed to knock the myriad of scenarios in which the tool has proven to be useful. You can take wider shots, with greater depth, fit in more background and friends or even open enough space for the occasional photo bomber or two. It also allows users to capture images from all sorts of angles, including the showy extreme overhead shot.

Still, there’s something about wielding one that announces to everyone around that you are indeed “one of those people.”

The treadmill desk: Get a workout while you work

In a way, the treadmill desk is the perfect solution for our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. It also looks like something out of a SkyMall catalog (which sadly may soon be no more). 

But in all seriousness, what’s not to love? You can speed up your productivity and metabolism — all at once. It’s like the ultimate in multitasking and best of all, our workaholic ways would no longer have to be at odds with doctor’s orders.  A hit among celebrities, writers and scientists, several companies now give workers the option of strolling through their tasks.

Credit James Levine, an obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic, for popularizing the benefits of a workstation workout. In 2007, he published a study showing that subjects who spent three hours a day on treadmill desk, on average, lowered their harmful cholesterol levels by 37 percent. A recently study also found some subjects who used treadmill desks were also a third more likely to answer questions correctly on questionnaire while demonstrating improved concentration and memory.

Still, it shouldn’t be treated as a pancea for not getting enough exercise. Another study at Orgeon State University suggests that meeting the recommended amount of physical activity required more intense activity than walking. Levine recommends that treadmill speeds are limited to around 2 mile per hour or less to ensure they can be used safely while working.