(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘innovation

“There are two kinds of pedestrians- the quick and the dead”*…

The story of one of the greatest public opinion campaign “victories” in American history…

In the 1920s, the auto industry chased people off the streets of America — by waging a brilliant psychological campaign. They convinced the public that if you got run over by a car, it was your fault. Pedestrians were to blame. People didn’t belong in the streets; cars did.

It’s one of the most remarkable (and successful) projects to shift public opinion I’ve ever read about. Indeed, the car companies managed to effect a 180-degree turnaround. That’s because before the car came along, the public held precisely the opposite view: People belonged in the streets, and automobiles were interlopers…

In the 1920s, the public hated cars. So the auto industry fought back — with language: “The Invention of ‘Jaywalking,” from Clive Thompson (@pomeranian99).

Bill Vaughn

###

As we watch our steps, we might recall that it was on this date in 1923, at the outset of the campaign to push pedestrians off of streets, that the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company (supplier of tires for Ford’s Model T, and the largest tires company in the U.S.) introduced the first production “balloon tire.” Unlike earlier solid rubber or simple pneumatic tires, the balloon tire fitted an inflatable inner tube inside a rugged outer tire, providing both better handling and a smoother ride. Firestone also bragged of greater longevity and more economical driving, though those benefits never clearly emerged. But what, of course, Firestone’s innovation did usher in was the era of the flat tire.

source

“No pressure, no diamonds”*…

And sometimes no pressure means no deep clean. David Buck, on the remarkable story of pressure washers…

Some say that necessity is the mother of invention. But more often, it seems that happy accidents play more of a role than they’re given credit for. Such is the case with the pressure washer. Born of an accident in one man’s garage, the pressure washer would go on to become a staple of industrial and household work.

Our story begins in the small town of Moon Township, PA. A small town situated along the Ohio River, Moon Township is actually part of the Pittsburgh Metro area. Settled in the 18th century, the area was named “one of the best, affordable places to live” in the northeast by BusinessWeek back in 2007. But that isn’t the town’s only claim to fame: one of their residents was responsible for creating the precursor to the pressure washer as we know it!

It all started when Frank W. Ofeldt II was working on his whiskey stills at home. In 1926—seven years before prohibition officially ended—Ofeldt noticed something unusual: the steam from his whiskey stills was removing grease stains from his garage floor. Ofeldt knew his way around steam engineering and immediately saw potential in using the steam-cleaning technique in an invention…

From Prohibition to art projects, how the pressure washer revolutionized the way we clean outdoor surfaces—and occasionally, lends itself to creative solutions: “Under Pressure,” from @saltyasparagus1 in the ever-illuminating @readtedium.

* Thomas Carlyle

###

As we spray it down, we might recall that it was on this date in 1925 that Secretary of Agriculture Howard Gore empaneled 21 state highway officials and three federal Bureau of Public Roads officials as the “Joint Board on Interstate Highways,” charging them to come up with a unified approach to marking and numbering “interstate routes” in the United States. They briskly came up with the numbering system (East/West highways are even numbered; North/South, odd-numbered) and the distinctive “shield” design for U.S. route markers. Their work in identifying the routes themselves– intensely political, as towns and cities fought to be on the main highways– took many years.

1926 version of the U.S. Route shield

“Technology makes everyone feel old”*…

Cassette tapes, the fax machine, overhead projectors… Adrian Willings catalogues some transitional technologies that, he suggests, are headed for the dust bin of history…

… we’re… looking at some of the biggest, best and most memorable gadgets from the last century that have been outdated, outmoded or just forced into irrelevance by better, modern technologies.

You might remember many of these, but there are plenty of the younger generation that don’t…

… and won’t? “39 obsolete technologies that will baffle modern generations,” from @Age_Dub in @Pocketlint.

* Jennifer Egan

###

As we mosey down memory lane, we might send electronic birthday greetings to David Sarnoff; he was born on this date in 1891. An early employee of Marconi Wireless Telegraph, he befriended its owner, and began a a long career in broadcasting.

Unlike many who were involved with early radio communications, who often viewed radio as a point-to-point medium, Sarnoff saw the potential of radio as point-to-mass. One person (the broadcaster) could speak to– inform, entertain, sell to– many. When Owen D. Young of General Electric arranged the purchase of American Marconi and turned it into the Radio Corporation of America, a radio patent monopoly, Sarnoff got his chance.

His colleagues were wary, but in 1921, Sarnoff arranged a broadcast of a heavyweight boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. An estimated 300,000 people heard the fight, and demand for home radio equipment bloomed that winter. As head of radio broadcasting for RCA, Sarnoff was instrumental in building and establishing the AM broadcasting radio business that became the preeminent public radio standard for the majority of the 20th century.

In that late 1920s and early 30s Sarnoff (who had become RCA’s President) drove the company’s push to develop television. In April, 1939, regularly scheduled television in America was initiated by RCA under the name of their broadcasting division at the time, The National Broadcasting Company (NBC). The first television broadcast aired was the dedication of the RCA pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fairgrounds and was introduced by Sarnoff himself.

Along the way, Sarnoff led the formation of RKO (in which the “R” stood for RCA) and bought Victor Talking Machine Company, the nation’s largest manufacturer of records and phonographs, assuring RCA a piece of the content business.

Sarnoff in 1922

source

“I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes, and six months later, you have to start all over again.”*…

“The Kitchen Practical” at the Women’s Exposition, 1929

The remarkable Lillian Gilbreth…

Lillian Moller Gilbreth (1878-1972) was famous for being two seemingly mutually exclusive things at once. She was one of the most celebrated mothers and one of the most celebrated engineers in the 20th-century United States. That one self-effacing woman could conquer the cut-and-thrust world of industry while bringing up a dozen children made her the subject of endless public fascination. Her career didn’t suffer either. It spanned six decades, four after the death of her husband and partner, Frank Bunker Gilbreth.

Unlike many professional women of her era, Gilbreth has never been forgotten. Her impact on human environments and design, however, is not much discussed. An exception was Sigfried Giedion who, in Mechanization Takes Command (1948), cited Gilbreth as a founder of industrial psychology and a key figure in modernising kitchens. Yet when Giedion was writing, the work she was most proud of – designing rehabilitation facilities for the disabled – had only just begun.

Although Gilbreth regularly headlined at national conferences, served on presidential commissions and featured in the media, she was modest to a fault. Her lifelong pursuit was to memorialise Frank, posthumously keeping the spotlight firmly fixed on him. And then there was the Hollywood effect. Two Gilbreth children would chronicle their experiences of growing up efficiently in bestselling memoirs, Cheaper by the Dozen (1948) and Belles on their Toes (1950), both made and remade into popular films.

In 1924, Frank died, leaving Gilbreth with 11 surviving children to put through college. She tried to continue Gilbreth Inc on her own, but as contracts dried up, she shifted focus. Capitalising on media interest in her family life – a female engineer with a plethora of children was ‘good copy’ – she reinvented herself as a domestic authority, publishing The Home-Maker and Her Job in 1927.

We might think the home terrain was well covered, particularly by Christine Frederick, whose The New Housekeeping (1913) influentially applied scientific management principles to domestic life. But as a co‑inventor of motion study, Gilbreth’s interventions were regarded as more credible and rigorous, and she did more to secure acceptance for home engineering among North American university researchers, philanthropic funders and government officials.

The difference is evident in Gilbreth’s ‘Kitchen Practical’ designed for the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company in 1929. Whereas Frederick sought to save steps by routing workflow linearly and eliminating cross traffic, Gilbreth explored ‘circular routing’, compressing the plan and using a wheeled table to bring key equipment and work surfaces as close to the homemakeras possible. In her diagram, the homemaker can easily reach most of the equipment needed for simplified coffee cake making, minimising motions by half and steps by five-sixths.

Gilbreth’s re-envisioning of women’s household labour went beyond kitchen planning. She had no patience with women wearing themselves out to meet impossible standards of cleanliness and maintained that if tasks that could be ‘handed over’ to outside help or businesses, they should be. Useless chores like ironing sheets should be eliminated altogether; any remaining should be simplified and done cooperatively by all family members including the husband according to aptitude. The time and energy saved would allow the homemaker time for self-cultivation or even a career.

Gilbreth’s consistent belief in the human need to work meant she was increasingly concerned by what happened when people were unable to do so due to age or infirmity. During the war, she worked on rehabilitation projects for the US Navy, and collaborated on a 1944 book Normal Lives for the Disabled. After the war, she turned to disabled homemakers, who had been ignored in vocational rehabilitation. Gilbreth believed this was a mistake: paid or not, homemaking was productive work without which the well-being of the household, community and nation would suffer…

Reimagining both women’s household labor and the home environment, Lillian Gilbreth sought an efficient and body-centred kitchen, from Barbara Penner in @ArchReview.

* Joan Rivers

###

As we put the heart in home, we might spare a thought for John Landis Mason; he died on this date in 1902. A tinsmith, he patented the metal screw-on lids for fruit jars that have come to be known as Mason jars (many of which were printed with the line “Mason’s Patent Nov 30th 1858”).

That same year he invented the screw top salt shaker.

Source

“I resemble that remark”*…

Swiss linguist and philosopher Ferdinand de Saussure articulated the modern version of a belief that dates from Plato, and extended through Locke to modern linguistic scholarship…

… that the letters and words in many writing and language systems have no relationship to what they refer to. The word “cat” doesn’t have anything particularly cat-like about it. The reason that “cat” means cat is because English speakers have decided so—it’s a social convention, not anything ingrained in the letters c-a-t. (According to Saussure, a language like Chinese, where each written character stands for a whole word, was a separate writing system, and his ideas were directed towards writing systems made up of letters or syllables.) 

But new research calls this foundational assumption into question. “The Color Game,” created by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History to study the evolution of language, suggests that there may be a representational relationship after all…

…the idea that words, or other signs, do actually relate to what they’re describing has been gaining ground. This is called iconicity: when a spoken or written word, or a gestured sign, is iconic in some way to what it’s referring to…

… research now suggests that our languages are riddled with iconicity, and that it may play a role in language evolution, and how we learn and process language. Along with this evidence from The Color Game, in the last decade and a half, an increase in cross-cultural studies has re-upped the attention on iconicity, and pushed back against the doctrine of arbitrariness. 

“It is now generally accepted that natural languages feature plenty of non-arbitrary ways to link form and meaning, and that some forms of iconicity are pretty pervasive,” said Mark Dingemanse, a linguist at Radboud University, who said that he too learned in Linguistics 101 that “the sign is arbitrary.” “Iconicity has become impossible to ignore.”…

Iconicity has always been around. One familiar example is onomatopoeias, like “ding-dong,” “chirp,” or “swish”—words that sound like what they’re referring to. Those words aren’t random, they have a direct relationship to what they represent. Yet, onomatopoeias were thought to be the exception to a wholly arbitrary set of signifiers, said Marcus Perlman, a lecturer in English language and linguistics at the University of Birmingham. This belief persisted despite hints that other words might have some connection to what they signified…

There could also be iconicity in what the letters themselves look like, and not just the sounds or gestures of words. In 2017, linguists Nora Turoman and Suzy Styles showed people who spoke unfamiliar languages different letters and asked them to guess which made the /i/ sound (“ee” in feet), and which was /u/ (“oo” sound in shoe). The participants were able to do so better than chance just by looking at the shape of the letters…

Language is most likely a mix of arbitrariness and iconicity, Perlman said, along with something called systematicity, when relationships form between words and meaning that aren’t necessarily iconic. (An example is words that start with gl- in English often are related to light, like glisten, glitter, gleam, and glow. There’s nothing necessarily light-like about the sound gl-, but the relationship is still there.)

Morin thinks of iconicity as the “icing on the cake” of language. It makes words more intuitive, more easy to guess. Iconicity might make languages easier to learn; Kim said there’s a saying about Hangul, that: “A wise man can learn it in a morning, and a fool can learn it in the space of ten days.”…  

Rethinking our most fundamental tool, as new research reveals a connection between what words look and sound like, and what they mean: “Why Are Letters Shaped the Way They Are?,” from @shayla__love in @motherboard.

* Curly, in The Three Stooges’ “Idle Roomers

###

As we reflect on resemblance, we might spare a thought for a champion of a different sort of mimesis: James Morrison Steele (“Steele”) MacKaye; he died on this date in 1894.  A well-known theatrical actor, dramatist, producer, and scenic innovator in his time, he is best remembered for his revolutionary contributions to theatrical design.  MacKaye opened the Madison Square Theatre in 1879, where he created a huge elevator with two stages stacked one on top of the other so that elaborate furnishings could be changed quickly between scenes.  MacKaye was the first to light a New York theatre– the Lyceum, which he founded in 1884– entirely by electricity.  And he invented and installed overhead and indirect stage lighting, movable stage wagons, artificial ventilation, the disappearing orchestra pit, and folding seats.  In all, MacKaye patented over a hundred inventions, mostly for the improvement of theatrical production and its experience.

 source

%d bloggers like this: