Ted Taylor, a nuclear physicist, used the reflected thermal pulse of a nuclear blast to light a cigarette at one of the atomic bomb tests.
On-duty firefighters often use the fire engine to perform routine inspections or even just buy lunch (there are a variety of legitimate reasons to do this, most obvious being the fact that the truck is with them if they need to drop what they are doing and put out a fire, but it's still impressive). And they're also usually wearing at least part of their turnout gear: watching the reaction of people in a supermarket at the sight of a bunch of firefighters coming in the door is priceless, especially when they see them start shopping.
The same thing happens with off duty bus drivers, to buy lunch.
Firefighters, police and ambulance drivers (especially the latter for obvious reasons) will often unabashedly clear gridlocks with their sirens. People are not half as amused.
A few Russian soldiers recently used a tank to make a Vodka run. Perhaps just to punctuate exactly how drunk they were, they also proceeded to run over and crush a few cars and the very store they bought the Vodka from in the process.
In World War One, water cooled machine guns were occasionally fired just so that the resulting hot water in their cooling jackets could be used to make cups of tea.
A more recent example is soldiers doing their washing over a long offroad trip by putting dirty fatigues, water and soap flakes in a sealed container and stashing the whole thing in the back of their jeep. It was even used to advertise the vehicle at one point.
An anecdote about the first Gulf War was that American tankers used to put their Meals-Ready-to-Eat packs on the exhausts of their Abram tanks and run the huge engine just to heat their food. British tankers didn't have that problem though, as their tanks have an electrically-powered BoilingVessel to heat rations and brew a Spot of Tea.
A similar example; during the Second World War, British tank crews in north Africa fried eggs on their tanks.
Soviet aviators used one of the first mass produced rockets with time fuses to this end. Vasiliy Stalin (yes, Uncle Joe's son) was demoted after an incident when he and deputy commander were wounded and their weapons engineer killed while rocket-fishing (not all timers are equally precise).
The Swedish navy occasionally used depth charges for this purpose.
During World War II, pilots would put kegs of beer in the payload when they were flying planes for noncombat purposes. The frigid jetstream air made great refrigeration.
Also, British bomber crews would chain a cask of icecream mix to the tail of their plane...Turbulant, chilly air meant it was frozen perfectly at the end of a mission.
Bored airplane mechanics would sometimes MacGyver up a wind-powered mixer, latched it with a tank of ice cream mix underneath a fighter plane, and have it fly around for a few minutes. Sometimes, though, if the mechanics were too lazy to install the mixer, the pilot compensated by performing several aerial maneuvers.
The Soviets used to tie cans with home brew to APC wheels. The rotation and heat really accelerated the fermentation.
Using a laser to play music or point at things is pretty overkill from a perspective of not too long ago. As formerly complicated things become ridiculously easy, Rube Goldberg rules. (Which is, after all, the point of this trope)
My personal favourite, a guy who brought food to class every day and warmed his lunch by opening his computer's case and putting his tinfoil parcel onto the CPU's heatsink. Amazingly it didn't cause damage until the stew he brought on the next to last day leaked out and shorted not just his machine but the entire floor of the building. What frightened me most is that he was genuinely shocked that we were shouting at him about it.
A friend worked for a company that made IC's. Every few months, their yields would go down to about zero. Analysis of the failures showed all sorts of organic material was introduced in the process, but they couldn't figure out where. One evening, someone was working late and came into the lab. There he found the maintenance crew cooking pizza in the chip curing ovens!
This is why most fabs run 24/7 and have only trained personnel access the machines. There was an incident before they were up to 24/7 where a facilities tech used a diffusion oven (basically a box containing large heating elements) to cook hotdogs.
<evilAdmin> Got back from meeting with a friend, who wanted to show me some $35K Server systems in a datacenter basically underground downtown that he is a part of. <evilAdmin> During the tour, I'm like "Dude- is that a pizzabox inbetween those 4U servers?", and he's like "Yup. Want some lunch?". Pulls the box out, grabs a slice. I already ate, so I passed. <evilAdmin> He says that the $20K 8x Opteron boxes generate lots of heat, and thus keep the Pizza warm. <evilAdmin> I'm like "Don't Oppies have PowerNow or some AMD cooler shit?", and he's like "Yeah, but we run SETI/Prime95 to keep the pizza hot".
It doesn't always work: here, the heated pies are dripping fat into the server.
In 1907, the Stanley Cup was stolen from a house where it was to be photographed. When the thief wasn't able to pawn the trophy, he eventually just left it at the same house. The photographer's wife used it as a flower pot (it was much smaller then) until the team thought to check back there.
The Stanley Cup, being one of the oldest trophies in sports, has some history of this, especially because team members get to take the Cup home for a while and as a result the venerable trophy gets up to some very un-venerable shenanigans. However, one of the strangest stories is this: When Kris Draper of the Detroit Red Wings put his infant daughter in the top bowl in 2008, she went on to...avert Nobody Poops. Notable because tons of players used to pour drinks in the same bowl—by his own account, Draper cleaned the bowl very thoroughly so he could do that the same evening.
American soldiers in World War II and Vietnam sometimes heated their meals over campfires fueled by plastic explosive.
In case you're wondering, you can burn plastic explosive just fine without fear of explosions - that requires far greater heat than an ordinary campfire can provide. Expensive, but if you need heat to sterilize tools or drinking water in a Hungry Jungle where the best kindling available is slightly wetter than your tongue, it's a life saver. It's also quite tricky: although it won't explode, burning PE-4 flames are hot enough to melt aluminum mess tins with any kind of prolonged contact, and have a tendency to throw off sparks in all directions. And when it's time to leave, you have to drown it to put it out; if there's any of the PE-4 still burning it's liable to melt clean through the sole of your boot, and if you stamp on it when it's burning that will detonate it, blowing your foot clean off.
Somewhat related, people who handload ammunition will use smokeless powder they don't need anymore, or that came from disassembled cartridges whose cases they will reuse, as fertilizer. Makes some sense if you know that synthetic fertilizer and many high explosives are both products of nearly the same production process.
Cooling beer with blasts from a fire extinguisher: a costly but effective frat-house short cut, confirmed by MythBusters.
Many people are surprised to find out that in a nuclear power plant, the radioactive material which can level cities and cause cancer in minutes is being used to boil water.
Specifically this is how it produces power. The radioactive material boils the water into steam which runs steam turbines that produce electricity.
It's also interesting to note that Natural gas and coal fired plants operate much in the same way, by burning the fuel to produce the steam.
Water has a very high specific heat. Sometimes the laws of physics dictate the best solution to a problem.
So, in a way, steampunk is real?
The US government had been considering an unorthodox method for making electricity in the 60's and 70's. It involved setting off a large number of nuclear explosives in an underground cave and using the latent heat from the explosions to produce power. Russians used underground nuclear explosions for excavations and rock fracturing in oil and gas fields until The Nineties.
Not to mention converting nuclear weapons into fuel rods to make electricity is a much more rational idea than the aforementioned Project Plowshare. In case you were wondering, 10% of American electricity is made from old nuclear weapons.
Forty-five percent of the nuclear material used in the 104 nuclear power plants in the US comes from old Russian Nuclear weapons. The electricity produced from repurposed Russian nuclear missiles accounts for about five percent of the electricity generated in the US.
Same goes for Geothermic power. When people hear this word, they tend to think of harnessing the powers of a volcano! When you really get down to it, it's more or less sticking a giant cooking pot low enough into the earth so that it produces steam. For all it's uses, electricity is pretty mundane.
What do you get when you take a captured Iraqi tank and stick a pair of jet engines on it? The world's most awesomefire extinguisher.
The "Big Wind" fire extinguisher literally blew out a lit oil well. The design? Two jet engines from a MiG-21 fighter jet sitting atop the body of a T-34 tank. And a few streams of water for good measure. Kill it with water!
Similarly, the Russians got the idea of bolting surplus jet engines onto trucks to clear snow off airport runways. This practice has started catching on in several areas outside of Russia as well.
A few years back in Albuquerque, NM, a few police officers once used a Police Helicopter to make a run down to the just-opened Krispy Kreme. They were seriously reprimanded, but soon after, it made for overwhelmingly good publicity for both the donut shop and the APD.
Considering many of the recent advances of the last few decades have been made with computers, and just how much technology has come about through computers, not to mention just how much of society is automated and made easier by computers, why are you using yours just to read TV Tropes?
Or YouTube. The entirety of YouTube. In fact, 90% of what 90% of internet users use their internet for could probably be filed under either "entertainment" or "convenience".
It's also worth noting that Flash itself went full circle. Originally a means of producing animated content using vector graphics an other functions, thus saving bandwidth, it now serves up video streams of those same animations. Also interactive flash ads.
The Israeli Defence Force had a problem with soldiers using the magazine lip of their weapons as a bottle opener, which damaged them. In response to this, the Galil ARM light machine gun incorporated a bottle opener in its design.
Same for armies using AKM-derivatives. Old AKM magazines for 7.62 mm ammo have solid steel lips that are perfect for bottle opening and resistant to damage. Modern composite mags for 5.45 an 5.56 mm...not so much.
There was one application of this called the NIA. What was it? It made it so you could use a video game controller with your mind.
And there's another device that reads your brain waves so it can manipulate animal ears. Like a cat.
One of the most popular iPhone applications, among things like GPS navigation systems and full-3D online FPS games, is one that makes the screen bright white so it can be used as a makeshift flashlight.
Pretty much everyone has done this with every gadget that makes a bright light - cell phones, mp3 players, handheld games...
Several ROMs available for Android phones have built-in apps to turn the camera flash LED into a flashlight. Stand-alone apps also exist for this purpose.
Many of the technological marvels and modern conveniences we make use of today stem from military research, the space program, or years of painstaking, backbreaking, scientific research. The best example may very well be food products like freezed dried food, and cheese (and other food products) in a tube, made to be used as food...IN SPACE!!! so that astronauts would be able to eat and digest without the zero G environment making them ill, are now available in the local supermarket.
One Science Documentary actually went into detail with some modern consumer products that originated in the NASA space program. Among them? Scratchproof Sunglasses (based on the visor of a Space Suit - protection from direct sunlight, and shouldn't easily be damaged by flying space debris). Here is a list.
There is more than one cryo researcher who was using liquid nitrogen from the lab to make ice cream. Or in this case (with liquid oxygen), to light a grill.
There's now a company that uses this as a business model.
Helium was originally discovered during the light-wavelength experiments that enabled physicists and astronomers of the time to figure out what the chemical composition of the Sun was. They later discovered how to manufacture their own helium through the breakdown of radioactive materials. What do most people think of in the context of helium? Balloons.
During the 1950s, the US Postal Service actually considered using cruise missiles as a mail delivery system. There was one live fire test where they used a rocket to deliver 3,000 letters and they considered it a success.
Amazon and other courier services have considered using aerial drones to deliver parcels.
There have been recorded instances of riot police using their specially crafted riot shields as snow sleds.
American sailors used to make booze out of torpedo fuel. Russians did the same with truck fuel — so much so that the Genre Savvy Russian command insists on using a fuel with lots of alcohol so that their soldiers will get drunk instead of poisoned.
The da Vinci surgical system is a $2 million remotely-operated surgical robot. Johns Hopkins comp-sci student Carol Reiley used it to play Operation.
In the Philippines' army, standard issue American KA-BAR fighting knives are demoted from utility knife to a mere eating utensil/extra knife. The reason? KA-BAR knives are too small for jungle use and Filipinos throughout centuries have been used to the idea that a knife ought to be the length of one's forearm and can cut (with a single blow) through bamboo, tree branches, spinal columns...
Inverted with the Bolo Knife for the same reasons above - a large machette-like knife originally intended for bushwacking and slicing coconuts, which in the Philippines later became a weapon during the revolts against the Spanish colonists in the 19th century, and to this day is a legitimate weapon in Filipino Martial Arts.
The main reason that Mythbusters exists. JATO rocket powered cars, cooking with high explosives, using explosives to tenderize meat, using explosives to de-scale cement from a cement truck, using a minigun to cut down a tree, using the sawdust cannon to make kettle corn, using a power lathe to shake up a bottle of soda, and so on. They usually lampshade the impracticality of such things, then go back to talking about how awesome it is.
Pilots of the SR-71 Blackbird used to use the fact that the windows were extremely hot to heat the tubes of food paste they were issued.
Whenever an aircraft carrier is transferring to another port, the crew will use the flight deck as a glorified parking lot to carry their cars to their new port. This is justified, since this method of vehicle transportation is far cheaper than looking for smaller ships to do the job. As for the aircraft that normally take up all that space, those are just flown directly to their new base.
The PR-2 from Willow Garage—one of the first commercial robots built for the sake of building a robot (all that Google money has to go somewhere, right?) Design specifications? Fetches a beer and makes a sandwich. Other known uses include: making cookies, folding laundry. All for the low, low price of ... $400,000.00.
Electricity. We kind of take it for granted these days, what with how absolutely ubiquitous it is, but someone from a prescientific era would be shocked that we not only have harnessed the very powers of heaven itself, but that we use them to do such trivial things as cook our food and light our homes.
Mind you, that's quite an advance in itself. For a long time after electricity was discovered, nobody thought it was really good for anything, so itwas basically used only for parlour tricks.
The BLU-82, also known as the "daisy cutter", was an 15,000 pound conventional explosive dropped from a C-130 or MC-130. It's one of the largest explosives ever created, with an estimated blast radius of about 300 to 900 feet. It's intended purpose was to clear large areas of forest, such as the jungles of Vietnam for helicopter landing zones and artillery positions faster than could be done by hand or with heavy clearing equipment like bulldozers. Though, to be fair, it did not take people very long to realize how good of a conventional bomb it made.
The Antonov An-225 is the biggest, heaviest plane in the world. It was created to transport the Soviet Buran space shuttle. Now days, it's used as a commercial cargo plane. One famous flight involved the An-225 delivering over 200,000 prepared meals to an American military base in Oman. One wonders what the tip was...
Turns out, when you fire a gun for long enough, parts of it get pretty hot. Especially true with suppressors/silencers. So, some guys decided to use that excess heat - to light a cigarette and to cook bacon. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snI0SU_irxY
Knives in general count as this. You take very expensive high carbide stainless tool steel, treat it with liquid nitrogen, and grind it to a razor sharp edge. Then you use that to cut tomatoes.
So much of military defense research ends up being used primarily for this INSTEAD of for violence and destruction. During the middle twentieth century considerable research was done into not only Lasers (Light Amplification through Stimulated Emission of Radiation), but also Masers (Microwave Amplication through Stimulated Emission of Radiation). Both weapons turned out to be impractical owing to the power consumption requirements. But lasers have found their way into almost every industry, while masers can be found in almost every home in the first world. You probably used one in the last week when you put something into the shielded box before setting the timer and waiting to reheat your leftovers.
Here's another example: Richard James was a naval engineer working for a shipyard in 1943 when he was asked to create springs to stabilize sensitive instruments on the high seas. When he dropped a prototype, he watched as it fell from a bookshelf and started "stepping" in a series of archs across the room. Several years later and with a little bit of fine tuning, he presented it as a toy to the kids in his neighborhood. His wife Betty eventually gave the modified spring the name the rest of the world would come to know it by: Slinky.
You know what's faster, but more costly when it comes to ammunition than cutting down a tree with an ax? Cutting down a tree with a machine gun!