By Martin Wolk
updated 12/1/2005 7:10:28 PM ET 2005-12-02T00:10:28

We can hardly think of anything more pathetic than a pet owner trying to give his dog or cat a virtual hug over the Internet.

Wait, we just came up with something: A guy on a business trip trying to give his little boy or girl a hug in cyberspace. Yet that is exactly what some Singapore scientists have in mind, if a recent report from Reuters can be believed.

Leave it to the folks in Singapore, the legendary land of “nos,” to figure out a way of embracing that does not actually entail any human contact.

The idea of a virtual hug is an outgrowth of a technology that already sounds pretty creepy —a vibrating jacket for chickens and other animals that allows them to experience something like the sensation of being touched.

So to actually deliver a cyberspace hug, you first would have to convince your little one to don a special set of pajamas that would increase in pressure and temperature in response to commands sent over the Internet. (Careful, don’t squeeze too hard, or your child may explode!)

In case you miss the sensation of being hugged back, just toss your own adult-sized vibration suit into your suitcase before you head out on your next business trip. Just don’t blame us when you have to explain the thing at security.

More bonehead ideas

  • Speaking of technology overkill, how about a special dish that keeps a stick of butter at the “optimal spreadable” temperature of 18.5 degrees C?

    That is the promise of a British company marketing the Butter Wizard, a $60 device with a built-in fan and a computer chip that can be adjusted depending on the texture of the bread involved, whether super-soft white slices or a crusty French baguette.

    "We were trying to find out what people's frustration with butter was. It's either too hard or too soft," said David Alfille of Alfille Innovations Ltd. "ButterWizard heats or cools the butter and you can adjust the temperature to suit yourself."

    Call us Luddite, but we have done a bit of experimenting on this issue, and we have come up with our own, low-tech solution to this perennial problem: Take the butter out of the fridge and let it warm up a bit before spreading.
  • Here is another solution to a problem we didn’t even know we had: Too many teenagers.

    Oddly enough, this one also comes from the United Kingdom, where Welsh inventor Howard Stapleton claims to have perfected a device that drives away rowdy youngsters who once congregated in front of a store in his hometown.

    Nicknamed the “Mosquito,” this device emits an unpleasant high-pitched noise that supposedly cannot be heard by anyone over 30 and cannot be tolerated by smoking, foul-mouthed, loitering teenagers.

    We find that blaring a little “smooth jazz” through some loudspeakers also does the trick.
  • Finally, American Express this week announced plans for two new co-branded credit cards, one for couples planning their wedding and one for that high-consumption period immediately afterward.

    The cutesily named cards — The Knot for pre-wedding expenses and The Nest for newlyweds — are being issued in conjunction with The Knot, a Web site for couples planning to marry.

    "Given that engaged and newlywed couples are spending over $70 billion a year in this life stage, it's about time there's a credit card with core benefits that cater to their needs and specific interests for this time in their lives," American Express executive Beth Lacey said in a news release.

    Considering that financial issues are the No. 1 cause of divorce, the card company might consider another line of affinity cards: The Split. Make that separate accounts, please.

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