Posts Tagged ‘inventions’
“Humans were still not only the cheapest robots around, but also, for many tasks, the only robots that could do the job”*…
Researchers at Oxford University and Deloitte suggest that about 35% of current jobs in the UK are at high risk of computerization over the following 20 years (as, one imagines, are similar jobs in other developed nations).
The BBC has developed a handy tool one can use to learn just how much peril one is in: “Will a Robot Take Your Job?”
* Kim Stanley Robinson,
As we revisit Asimov’s Three Laws, we might recall that it was on this date in 1909 that Thomas M. Flaherty filed for the first U.S. patent for a “Signal for Crossings”– a traffic signal. His signal used a large horizontal arrow pivoted on a post, which turned to indicate the right of way direction, and was activated by an electric solenoid operated by a policeman beside the road.
Flaherty’s was the first U.S. application for a traffic signal design, later issued as No. 991,964 on May 9, 1911. But though it was filed first, it was not the first patent actually issued for a traffic signal: Ernest E. Sirrine filed a different design seven months after Flaherty; but his patent was issued earlier, and thus he held the first U.S. patent for a “Street Traffic System.”
Q: I’ve heard people use UI and UX interchangeably. I thought I knew the difference, but now I’m confused. Can you please clarify this once and for all?
Of course I can. And I can do it using the Presto Hot Dogger. Obviously.
When I was a kid, my brothers and I talked my mom into buying us a hot dog cooking machine. Don’t laugh. This was the 70s, when instant coffee was considered a miracle. The way the Hot Dogger worked was simple. There was a tray with two rows of spikes on either side that slid into a heating element. You impaled the hot dog into the corresponding spike on each side, completing the electrical circuit, and this “cooked” the hot dog. Cooking is a strong word here, as the hot dogs were actually being electrocuted. (Hot dogs contain an insane amount of metal, by the way.) We were thrilled to make our hot dogs this way.
So, what I just described — the spikes, the heating element, the electrocuting — that’s the user interface. Or UI, for short. And I’m sure that the good folks at Presto tested that user interface many times over until they had it just right. I’m sure they tested the proper width of the tray to fit the majority of hot dogs and wieners being made in the USA at the time. I’m sure they tested the force needed to close the tray, maybe even with a robot arm! They probably even tested the visibility of the smoky transparent plastic that allowed you to see your hot dogs being electrocuted, and how much of it you’d want to see.
Now here’s the thing. When you give three boys an appliance that electrocutes meat in an era before their boredom could be diffused with video games and cable, it immediately becomes the most interesting thing in the house. And they start wanting to have experiences. The hunger to electrocute things far outlasted the hunger for hot dogs. And it wasn’t long before we started looking for other things that fit in the Hot Dogger™.
Here’s an incomplete list of items we tried:
- bananas (not enough metal)
- chicken drumsticks (worked, albeit slowly)
- Steak-umm (turned to liquid)
- forks (sparks, small fire)
- a condom we found on the street (the smell lasted for weeks)
- aluminum foil (yep. Aluminum bridges solved our Steak-umm problem. )
We were having user experiences…
Learn more (including why trash bins are exactly 25 feet from hot dog stands at Disneyland) from Mike Monteiro, Design Director at Mule Design, in “How 70s appliances can explain the difference between UX and UI.”
As we put our appliances through their paces, we might spare a thought for an inventor and designer of an earlier period, Garrett Morgan; he died on this date in 1963. He patented a traffic signal (which he sold to GE for commercial exploitation). He also developed (among many other inventions) the gas mask, which he used to rescue miners who were trapped underground in a noxious mine in 1914– though soon after, he was asked to produce gas masks for the US Army. It was based in part on his 1912 creation, a safety hood and smoke protector for firefighters.
“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking but now, Heaven knows, anything goes”*…
The quest to replace natural silk led to the very first fully-synthetic fiber– and revolutionized an extraordinary range of products on which we now depend: “How 75 Years Ago Nylon Stockings Changed the World.”
* Cole Porter
As we adjust our seams, we might spare a thought for Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent; he died on this date in 2008. Caroline Rennolds Milbank wrote, “The most consistently celebrated and influential designer of the past twenty-five years, Yves Saint Laurent can be credited with both spurring the couture’s rise from its sixties ashes and with finally rendering ready-to-wear reputable.” From early in his career, he was known for his use of non-European cultural references and non-white models. In 1983, Saint Laurent became the first living fashion designer to be honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a solo exhibition.
“Crying won’t help you, praying won’t do you no good…When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move”*…
Your correspondent is headed off to his daughter’s graduation– a process rather lengthier and more complex than in the distant past, when he “walked.” Posts will resume on or around June 1. In the meantime, Gaudeamus Igitur, y’all…
The levees of the 1920s were about six times as high as their earlier predecessors, but really no more effective. In a sense, they had been an empirical experiment — in aggregate, fifteen hundred miles of trial and error.
— John McPhee, The Control of Nature
Last month, the United States issued Patent No. 9,000,000 (for a rainwater-harvesting windshield washer). Every patent tells a story, and a virtual tour through the archive offers a remarkable view of American society, policy, industry, and environment. Here we find technologies that shape a nation but many more machines that fail and ideas that never catch on. Yet to regard the patent office merely as a protectionist legal institution or a hall of curiosities is a mistake, for if every lost invention represents an alternate history, it also contains the seeds of a possible future.
This is especially true for patents granted under the Department of Interior in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the infrastructures that supported national expansion were being developed, tested, and improved. Consider the history of attempts to control and modify American rivers, culminating in the vast levee systems that transformed the Mississippi River Basin and Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, opening vital transportation corridors and buildable lands while devastating riparian and coastal ecosystems. Behind every mainstream levee technology — every dragline excavator and clamshell dredge — there is a host of forgotten and highly speculative inventions that would have produced a very different landscape: the levees that might have been…
* Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin
As we watch the water rise, we might send wonderfully worded birthday greetings to William Whewell; he was born on this date in 1794. One of the 19th Century’s most remarkable polymaths, Whewell, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, was a scientist (crystallographer, meteorologist), philosopher, theologian, and historian of science, But he is best remembered for his wordsmithing: He created the words scientist and physicist by analogy with the word artist; they soon replaced the older term natural philosopher. He coined other useful words to help his friends: biometry for John Lubbock; Eocine, Miocene and Pliocene for Charles Lyell; and for Michael Faraday, anode, cathode, diamagnetic, paramagnetic, and ion (whence the sundry other particle names ending -ion).
Ingrid Kosar always dreamed about running her own business. She didn’t know what kind of company it would be, but she liked to picture herself carrying a little briefcase. As it turns out, a very different kind of bag would define her career. It’s a bag that appears on doorsteps millions of times a week for Friday family movie nights and college study sessions.
It’s the insulated pizza delivery bag, and Ingrid Kosar invented it…
Read Kosar’s captivating tale at “Life of Pie.”
* Kevin James
As we agree with the King of Queens, we might spare a thought for William Prout; he died on this date in 1850. A physician and chemist, Prout is probably best remembered for Prout’s hypothesis (an early attempt to explain the existence of elements via the structure of the atom; memorialized by Ernest Rutherford, who named the newly discovered “proton”” in Prout’s honor). But Prout was also noteworthily the first scientist to classify (in 1827) the components of food into their three main divisions: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Everything has a limit – or does it?…
Some maximums will never be surpassed, but as the author Arthur C Clarke once said, “the only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”
See a larger version of the graphic above at “Ultimate limits of nature and humanity.”
* Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
As we bump up against boundaries, we might send compressed birthday greetings to Aaron “Bunny” Lapin; he was born on this date in 1914. In 1948, Lapin invented Reddi-Wip, the pioneering whipped cream dessert topping dispensed from a spray can. First sold by milkmen in St. Louis, the product rode the post-World War Two convenience craze to national success; in 1998, it was named by Time one of the century’s “100 great consumer items”– along with the pop-top can and Spam. Lapin became known as the Whipped Cream King; but his legacy is broader: in 1955, he patented a special valve to control the flow of Reddi-Wip from the can, and formed The Clayton Corporation to manufacture it. Reddi-Wip is now a Con-Agra brand; but Clayton goes strong, now making industrial valves, closures, caulk, adhesives and foamed plastic products (like insulation and cushioning materials).
Forty years ago, self-starter Bruno (as he’s known to all, first-name friendly) opened a fledgling restaurant, or osteria, in the wooded region near Treviso, Italy. The way he tells it, the decision was improvisatory: After buying several pounds of sausage links and a few jugs of wine, he set up a grill in the shade of a tree and awaited his first customers. “I wanted to see if we would sell something or if people would come”…
Come they did– Bruno now presides over a 500-seat outdoor eatery… to which the now 76-year-old inventor has added the Ai Pioppi camping ground and amusement park: a collection of whimsical amusement park rides, all hand-built by Bruno, that are Ai Pioppi’s main draw.
Read more about Bruno and Ai Pioppi in “An Amusement Park, Entirely Handmade In The Woods Of Italy.”
As we brace for the thrill, we might recall that it was on this date in 1888 that Marvin C. Stone was awarded a patent for the first wax-coated drinking straw (paraffin-coated manila paper) and the spiral winding tube-making process used to make it. Stone, already a success with his paper cigarette holders, decided to try for a replacement for the rye grass shoots that, until his invention, were the drinking straws of choice– while they worked, they imparted an undesirably grassy flavor to beverages. Stone’s invention so succeeded that within two years his straws were outselling his cigarette holders; in 1906, he patented a winding machine to automate the process and keep up with demand.