Nitroglycerine — otherwise known as the explosive ingredient in dynamite and often a component of many other explosives and propellants — has a wide range of medical uses and is useful for treating some heart conditions.
If you have a prescription for medical nitro tablets, you need to get a new bottle every six months even if you haven't taken any (the stuff works better if it's fresh). Any tablets left in the old bottle make great fertilizer for your houseplants.
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, since they must stay near the vehicle at all times as they may be sent on a call. They also usually wear part of their turnout gear, eliciting surprised reactions from the public.
Police officers do the same thing, although their less imposing cruisers are less extrusive than fire trucks. Here's a picture◊ from The Other Wiki of some Russian OMON officers perusing the aisles.
In 2001, the crew of a police helicopter in Alberqurque, NM used their aircraft 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.
In World War I, 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.
During World War II, British tank crews in north Africa fried eggs on their tanks. British tanks were equipped with on-board water boiling vessels, which could be accessed from inside the crew compartment; these were explicitly intended formaking tea, but easy access to hot water turned out to have many other uses in wartime: first aid, disinfecting the water supply, cooking rations, and so on, all without having to light fires. Almost every British tank since the Centurion, down to the present-day Challenger 2, carries a Boiling Vessel, and other nations are starting to catch up to the advantages of having a BV inside a vehicle.
American soldiers in World War II and Vietnam sometimes heated their meals over campfires fueled by plastic explosive. This is probably a good way to give yourself cancer, but plastic explosives can be burned without any risk of detonation, and they need little encouragement to burn vigorously. It's a pretty expensive trick, but it's a good way to light a fire in the rain.
Soldiers in WWII and Vietnam were also able to use their helmet shells (which could be split from the liner) as pots or entrenching tools. Bill Mauldin had a digression on this in Up Front, talking about how US soldiers were almost always seen with their helmets, while many German soldiers abandoned theirs — since the US helmet could double as a shovel and a cooking pot.
Back in the Franco-Prussian War, the steam locomotives of French troop trains were fitted with special valves and piping to brew huge amounts of coffee.
Soldiers may do their washing over a long off-road trip by putting dirty fatigues, water and soap flakes in a sealed container and stashing the whole thing in the back of their jeep. ("Laundry brose"?) It was even used to advertise the vehicle at one point.
In the first Gulf War, American tankers put their Meals-Ready-to-Eat packs on the exhausts of their Abram tanks and run the huge engine just to heat their food.
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 a 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 ice cream mix to the tail of their plane. Turbulent, 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.
Ask a soldier, any soldier, from any army, about the various ways their equipment—from tanks to nuclear missiles—can be used to open beer bottles. You might be surprised by the answer. For example, there were supposedly sixty-three places to open a beer bottle on an M60A3 tank, though that story is likely apocryphal.note There are actually only sixty-two; one of the items on the list serves as a shibboleth to root out spies and posers.
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.
An American-Civil-War-vintage list of uses for a bayonet ranges from candle-holder to can opener. Stabbing the enemy is not on the list. (And casualty figures bore this out: no more than 2% of all wounds and deaths in the Civil War came from edged weapons.)
American battleships (especially Dreadnaught types) often used their barbettesnote The long armored tube the main batter turrets sit on top of as libraries. Since the barbette contain the ship's magazines, they are temperature and humidity controlled. This is to keep the explosives fresh and nonvolatile but also makes ideal book storage conditions.
Precision Laser Cutter. Possible use? High-tech pizza cutter.
Using a laser to play music or point at things is pretty overkill from a perspective of not too long ago.
Even when people got used to using lasers to point at things, using them to entertain cats probably still seems like this trope.
Computer processors generate high amounts of heat, which can be used to warm or cook food. Early mainframe/supercomputers produced so much heat that their cooling systems often doubled as a heating plant for the rest of the building.
One Russian computer journal in 80486 era reported an overclocking attempt being successful only after the reporter set at the radiator a cup of coffee he wanted to keep warm. This is still often used in modern data-centers.
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!
There was an incident before fabs ran 24/7 where a facility's tech used a diffusion oven 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.
People who hand load ammunition will use smokeless powder they don't need anymore, or that came from disassembled cartridges whose cases they will reuse, as fertilizer. Makes 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.
A proposal to mandate a fire extinguisher in every public school class room in the United States is making it's rounds on the internet. Not as a fire deterrent, they have built in sprinkler systems. This is a method to prevent school shootings. The idea is that the kids huddle and the teacher takes the door. If the gun man comes in, he is greeted with a point-blank blast-until-empty of fire extinguisher to the face. This super-chilled chemicals will cause the shooter's throat to close up and are in enough concentration at that range that shooter should pass out on the spot. If he's enough to still be standing, he's in no shape to fire the weapon reliably at a target. And if he's still insisting on standing up, the teacher now has the canister, which is light enough to now wield as a bludgeon to finish the job.
Nuclear power is produced by using the radioactive material to boil water into steam which turn generators. 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.
COBs on older nuclear submarines would use the water heated by the reactor to make coffee.
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 '90s.
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.
In Iceland, geothermic power mostly means "putting the naturally occurring hot water into pipes and warming our houses with it"
What do you get when you take a captured Iraqi tank and stick a pair of jet engines on it? The world's most awesome fire 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. Such as drying the track after it rains at a NASCAR race.
Unfortunately, it isn't always a bed of roses, as the Irkutsk disaster of 1984 has shown — an overworked Air Traffic Controller messed up and directed an incoming liner to land on the runway that was being cleaned. Because the snowblowers mounted large tanks of jet fuel, the resulting explosion and fire got much larger than it would've otherwise been, killing everyone aground and most aboard. Because the cockpit got torn from the body of the plane and thrown away from explosion, the pilots survived, and the Captain reportedly had to be restrained from shooting the ATC on the spot.note The Soviet Union suffered the surge in plane hijackings at the time, so the pilots were armed to protect themselves.
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".
Flash itself went full circle. Originally a means of producing animated content using vector graphics and other functions, thus saving bandwidth, it now serves up video streams of those same animations. Also, interactive Flash ads.
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.
Specifically sold as part for a catgirl costume.
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.
Using the cellphone LED as a flashlight predates smartphones. Many old featurephones had that option programmed in by default.
Technology Comes Full Circle... What was once the realm of apps like iTorch is a standard function on both Android and iOS devices, even with CyanogenMod or Jailbreak, and is likely the same for phones running Windows 10.
...and speaking of, the entire concept of the smartphone! A portable computer in everyone's pocket, and 75% of the times it gets taken out of a pocket it's to look at the time.
Smartwatches never took off because they're redundant, because the phone on it's own is cheaper and does so much more. The wristwatch is obsolete because it just tells time. The pocketwatch became obsolete because it had to be taken out of your pocket. So then why take out your phone? Because you take out a pocketwatch and it tells you the time. You take out a smartphone and the world is within reach.
The compass? Smartphone. The map? Smartphone. GPS? Take a guess.
Microphone, check. Digital camera, check. Video camera, check. Expensive but useful video-editing apps, check. You essentially have a news van in your pocket.
All of known human history. Books. Photos. Radio. Music. Television. Mobile Games. Web Browser. Images. Social Media. Encyclopedias on every topic, regardless of relevance to the world at large. Podcasts. Blogs. Homemade Videos, by the world for the world, via Streaming. Virtual Reality. Augmented Reality. Full PC Games! Give it another 5 years and the face of personal computing will be unrecognizable thanks to high-performance mobile hardware components.
Even the double-edged sword of a portable phone is this. 1984 said we'd be required by law to have TVs with a two-way camera in our homes, so such laws were fought against. The 20th century dictatorships realized eliminating dissent through oppression was a logistical impossibility upon losing control, or closed all borders to exist in a cultural vaccuum untouched by any other influences. The fear of Y2K encouraged those who didn't need computers to have a total disconnect from a world that was increasingly dependent on then-unreliable tech. Yet the moment they offer cheap communication from anywhere to everywhere, the change was immediate; no intrusive laws, no widespread agents, no manual patches, just an inconspicuous tracker in everyone's pockets. Now we have them and they're too useful to give up. There's a couplereasons that laws against Net Neutrality and Privacy are put forward year after year, only to be blocked by public outcry and online protests, along with the IT Industry lobbying against the proposed laws because it's bad for business in general at worst and genuinely concerned at best... but let's be honest, we're balancing on a knife edge and it's too late to put the Smartgenie back in its bottle. The only way forward is vigilance in the issue. All because of how much easier it is to use a portable computer as a cheap surveillance bug, a case of Mundane Utility among Intelligence organizations if there ever was one.
Modern services providing Cloud Gaming; no, not simple game-streaming like OnLive. The new generation of cloud gaming sets up an entire virtual machine in a datacenter which you access with a login/streamer program or app, enabling you to play games the computer you're actually on can't. Of course, it does mean that you'll be using loads of bandwidth and it needs to be high speed. Just to play AAA titles where you're not supposed to be able to. Hope you've got a fiber connection!
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 freeze-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.
NASA is currently funding research into finding a way to use 3D printers to make pizza (And other foods that are not safe to prepare in zero G).
Superglue was originally conceived as a clear plastic lens used for high-precision Sniper Rifles. The chemist working on it could never get it to properly work, as the compound would always fog up when they tried to mold it into the shape of a lens. Frustrated, he threw the sample in the trash only to realize it ended up sticking everything it touched together, regardless of material. It always will suck if you tried to use it as a lens, but no other compound can merge two objects better than Superglue.
Using liquid nitrogen to rapidly make ice cream is both a popular activity in cryo labs, and a popular demonstration in science classes. Or, in this case liquid oxygen is used 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.
The Germans were playing around with that idea in the 1930's.
There have been recorded instances of riot police using their riot shields as snow sleds and tea trays.
Being made out of ethanol, American sailors used to make booze out of torpedo fuel, calling it 'jungle juice.' The military then started using all kinds of nasty additives in it specifically because it became an actual issue.
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.
To be fair, Operation is a game that relies on very fine motor control - the name isn't just hyperbole. While surgery is much more deadly than a game if danger occurs, if a surgical machine lets you play  from thousands of miles away with similarly good results to being there in person, then your robotics research is probably on the right track; if said research has already panned out and is regularly used, the game makes a handy minimum benchmark took for maintenance; if it can't play a motor skills-based game remotely, then the machine or connection are likely in no condition to be doing real surgery until professional repairs are undertaken.
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.
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... in other words, a Machette to us is a fighting knife to them, and a fighting knife to us is an expensive table knife that has the added bonus of being fairly dangerous to a foe.
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?!
...but falling! Seriously, they're now thinking that robot arm butlers and maids will be a standard thing in less than 20 years.
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.
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
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 developed world. Ever hear the history of the microwave oven? The key part is the magnetron which is used in radar. Percy Spencer discovered radar could melt the chocolate bars in his pocket and then started to use it for all his cooking needs.
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.
Believe it or not, you can cook food with a flamethrower or blowtorch. Just note, "can" doesn't mean "should''.
Foods like crème brûlée, are often is cooked with a blowtorch. In some cases, certain types of pastry chefs use blowtorches to caramelize sugar sprinkled across some varieties of dessert.
According to The Other Wiki, Old Faithful was frequently used by soldiers in the late 1800s to do their laundry.
Adrenaline: the body's fight-or-flight overclock mechanic is far more likely to be triggered intentionally by some form of thrill-seeking than it in a life-or-death situation, mostly because of the rush it gives.
Skateboards. While known for fancy tricks that the talented can perform, they're also an efficient means of getting around, on top of being small and light enough to carry around and stow away when not in use.
Parkour. Mostly the non-free running variety. It's quick and resourceful, yet graceful and awesome. Its a skill that could prove very useful in any number of situations, both realistic, and not. its also a great way to keep in shape while being fun at the same time. The best part? It's a real, learn-able skill devised with efficiency and practicality in mind. The fact that it looks awesome is merely a bonus.
Swimming. It's both a recreational activity and a form of exercise, not to mention it's great for cooling off on hot days.
Many military vehicles often are equipped with a mixed fuel engine, a type of engine that can burn fuel in a wide range of octane levels. They are intended to simplify the logistics of supplying an army but can also drastically cut your gas bill, which is saying something for a tank.
How did Karel Drbal, a 1940s Czechoslovakian, decide to apply the (alleged) Pyramid Power in daily life? By making a patent for a way to keep razor-blades sharp.
3D printers were first invented to fabricate small mechanical components on demand without the need for a dedicated production line. Then someone, somewhere, realised they could be used to decorate cakes...
Curse tablets were a form of Greco-Roman curse in which the writer would ask a god, goddess, or spirit to perform some action on their behalf. The action could be a rather ordinary thing, such as asking for revenge on thieves who stole bathers' clothes or making sure the opposition in a court case would screw up.
UNIX and its descendants form the backbone of nearly every computer operating system running on every conceivable form factor today, aside from the desktop PC market. Its raison d'etre back in 1969? To allow Ken Thompson of Bell Labs to continue developing "shoot 'em upgames" on his own personal system after the Multics platform went under.
Similar to the Roman Curse tablets above, this trope is pretty much behind virtually every Grimoire of the European esoteric tradition, particularly those typically used in folk magic. For example, the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses purport to have instructions to summon celestial spirits using secrets passed down from God to Moses on Mount Sinai... to win games, screw up the opposition in court cases, etc.
Modern super cruise ships are some of the most expensive and well fitted out ships that set sail today within the civilian sector. You can also use them as a floating hotel in a pinch. This is actually quite popular for port cities during big events. Sure you could subsidize hotels so you have enough for that one spike in demand once a year, or you could just allocate dock space for a bunch of cruise ships for a week or so.