Mundane Utility: Real Life

  • Using tesla coils to play music
  • 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 2008, a few Russian soldiers used a tank to make a vodka run. Perhaps just to punctuate exactly how drunk they were, they also proceeded to run into a village cottage.
  • Military equipment is often used for Not the Intended Use, as soldiers in the field need to maximize their equipment's abilities while minimizing the amount of equipment they carry. The Spetsnaz learn how to use their shovels as daggers, throwing hatchets, and frying pans. Compiled in the article The 6 Most Ingenious Misuses of Military Hardware.
    • 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. Practical in that it gives you a way to disinfect water and cook boil-in-the-bag rations without leaving your tank or starting a fire, awesome because it means you always have access to a Spot of Tea. You don't get any more British than that. Oh, and you want proof of how useful this little addition is? Pretty much every British tank since World War II, up to the present day Challenger 2, has had one of these water boilers.
      • American soldiers in World War II and Vietnam sometimes heated their meals over campfires fueled by plastic explosive. Plastic explosives can be burned safely— they require greater heat than an ordinary campfire can provide to detonate. Expensive, but useful for firemaking where dry kindling in unavailable.
    • 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 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.
    • 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.
    • Fishing with a rocket launcher.
      • 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.
      • 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.
  • 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.
    • Rinkworks gives a few examples:
    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.
    • From QDB chat records.
    <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.
  • Operation Plowshare, research into the use of atom bombs for landscaping.
  • 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.
  • 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"
  • An explosive ordinance disposal crew in Camp Victory would take their bomb disposal robot with them on fishing trips, leaving the robot to hold the rod while they remained in the shade. The crew treated the robot like part of their family, so they reasoned he earned vacations, too.
  • 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.
    • 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. Beause 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 
  • 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".
    • This xkcd says it all.
    • And the only way it could be "improved" is...
    • 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.
  • How to undress a woman with an excavator. The name says it all.
  • We have the technology to interpret brain waves. What does some enterprising company use it for? Living out Star Wars fantasies: Star Wars Force Trainer
    • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Drew, creator of webcomic Toothpaste For Dinner, owns a lab scale thermal depolymerization machine, which he uses to turn leftover food into hot dogs.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • American sailors used to make booze out of torpedo fuel.
    • It's not a case of "make" but outright "was". Torpedo fuel was ethanol. Booze. They started using all kinds of nasty additives in it, 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.
  • 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...
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • The flash game at the end of this Prequel update involves solving a puzzle where you jump pegs over other pegs to eliminate them until you are left with only one. It's harder than it looks. So after 5 or 10 minutes of staring and two failed attempts, YellowAfterlife decided to just write a program that would find a solution and output a step-by-step recipe. He spent half an hour writing a program to solve a peg-jumping flash puzzle because he found that easier to do.
    Another reader: That is some serious linear thinking man. You solved the puzzle so hard you literally conquered it.
  • 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.
  • Russian 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.
  • Project Orion turns nuclear weapons into what is essentially gas for spaceships. You take a ship, put a big plate of metal armor below it, and then start hurling nukes behind it and blowing them up to generate thrust. Rinse and repeat every second until you're in Earth orbit. An Orion spaceship would have been able to put on a man on Titan by 1970. Unfortunately, all the natter about "environmental collapse" and "interplanetary nuclear wars" put a kibosh on the project.
  • 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.