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Posts Tagged ‘invention

“Any kid will run any errand for you, if you ask at bedtime”*…

 

Truly, bedtimes are one of the great injustices of American childhood. Turns out, they’re also a pretty good example of how sleep — a biological need that we can’t live without — is intertwined with the much more subjective vagaries of culture. It’s culture, after all, that convinced my parents that I needed to be in bed by 7:30 p.m. in July. And my still slightly simmering resentment of that fact, while anecdotally pretty normal among my late Gen X/early millennial American peers, might not be universal…

Hit the hay on your own time at: “Don’t Tell The Kids, But Bedtime Is A Social Construct.”

* Red Skelton

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As we move into the arms of Morpheus, we might celebrate one of the greatest contributions to a good night’s sleep: on this date in 1902, Willis Carrier completed drawings for what became recognized as the world’s first modern air conditioning system.  He kept improving his design…  and in the process created the air conditioning industry.

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Written by LW

July 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Behold the child, by Nature’s kindly law pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw”*…

 

The plastic straw is a simple invention with relatively modest value: For a few moments, the device helps make beverages easier to drink. And then, due to reasons of sanitation and ease of use, the straws are thrown away, never to be seen again.

Except, of course, the straw you use in your iced coffee doesn’t biodegrade, and stays around basically forever, often as ocean junk. That, understandably, is leading to chatter around banning plastic straws—notably in Berkeley, California, often the first place to ban anything potentially damaging to the environment.

And while the rest of the world won’t be banning straws anytime soon, maybe they should start thinking about it, because the problem with straws is one of scale. According to National Geographic, Americans use 500 million straws every single day—more than one per person daily…

Whence this waste? “A Brief History of the Modern-Day Straw, the World’s Most Wasteful Commodity.”

[Your correspondent highly recommends Tedium, the original source of this piece.]

* Alexander Pope

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As we suck it up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that  Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès patented margarine, the creation with which he won the contest held by Emperor Napoleon III to find a substitute for the butter used by the French Navy.

A rough contemporary of Jules Verne, Mège-Mouriès was surely one of the reasons for Verne’s scientific and technical optimism:  Mège-Mouriès began his career at age 16 as a chemist’s assistant. By the 1840’s he had improved the syphilis drug, Copahin, after which he patented a variety of creations including tanning, effervescent tablets, paper paste, and sugar extraction.  By the 1850s he had turned to food research and developed a health chocolate (featuring a proprietary calcium phosphate protein) and developed a method that yielded 14% more white bread from a given quantity of wheat.  After 1862, he concentrated his research on fats– the primary product of which was his invention of margarine (though he also scored yet another another patent, for canned meat).

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Written by LW

July 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“What was the best thing before sliced bread?”*…

 

Rohwedder’s bread slicer in use by the Papendick Bakery Company in St. Louis

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Some products are so ubiquitous that it can feel as if they were never invented at all.

Take sliced bread. Around 130 years ago,  the idea of buying a pre-sliced loaf would have been met with confusion, writes Jesse Rhodes for Smithsonian Magazine. “In 1890, about 90 percent of bread was baked at home, but by 1930, factories usurped the home baker,” Rhodes writes. But the two breads weren’t the same thing–”factory breads were also incredibly soft,” she writes, making them difficult to slice properly at home with a bread knife.

Since breadmaking had moved to factories, why not bread slicing as well? On this day in 1928, in Chillicothe, Missouri, the Chillicothe Baking Company became, in the words of its plaque, “The Home of Sliced Bread.” It was the place where the bread-slicing machine was first installed, wrote J. J. Thompson for Tulsa World in 1989. Thompson was speaking with the son of the bread-slicing machine’s inventor, Richard O. Rohwedder. His father, Otto F. Rohwedder, was a jeweler who started work on the bread-slicing project years before…

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It took a surprising amount of technological know-how to make the bread that birthed the expression: “Take a Look at the Patents Behind Sliced Bread.”

* George Carlin

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As we reach for the PB and J, we might recall that it was on this date in 1868 that Alvin J. Fellows patented his Improvement in Tape Measures– the first spring-click (retractable) tape measure.

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Written by LW

July 14, 2017 at 1:01 am

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”*…

 

Newton’s reflecting telescope of 1671

On 11 January 1672, the Fellows of the British Royal Society were treated to a demonstration of Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope, which formed images with mirrors rather than with the lenses that had been used since the time of Galileo. Afterward, the fellows hailed Newton as the inventor of this marvellous new instrument, an attribution that sticks to the present. However, this linear historical account obscures a far more interesting, convoluted story. Newton’s claim was immediately challenged on behalf of two other contenders, James Gregory and Laurent Cassegrain. More confounding, the earliest known concept of using a curved mirror to focus light predated Newton by more than 1,500 years; the final realisation of a practical reflecting telescope post-dated him by more than a half century…

For almost any device, claiming one individual as the inventor is problematic to say the least. Conception, demonstration and implementation can be very different things, and the path connecting them is typically not a line but a long, challenging and tortuous route…

A cautionary tale illustrating the danger of crediting technologies to single inventors: “How many great minds does it take to invent a telescope?

Pair with this explanation of why men so often get credit for women’s inventions– a phenomenon so common that it has a name, “the Matilda effect.”

* Issac Newton

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As we share the credit, we might send scientific birthday greetings to Vincenzo Viviani; he was born on this date in 1622.  A mathematician and engineer, Viviani is probably best remembered as a discipline of Galileo: he served as the (then-blind) scientist’s secretary until Galileo’s death; he edited the first edition of Galileo’s collected works; and he worked tirelessly to have his master’s memory rehabilitated.  But Viviani was an accomplished scientist in his own right: he published a number of books on mathematical and scientific subjects, and was a founding member of the Accademia del Cimento, one of the first important scientific societies, predating England’s Royal Society.

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Written by LW

April 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Time is a game played beautifully by children”*…

 

A 15-year-old spends the day differently than an adult who works full-time (obviously). You’re not going to see much of the latter spending their time on education in the middle of the day. It’s the leading activity for the former. Similarly, as you get older and pass retirement age, it’s much more likely your working hours decrease, which leaves a lot more time to get your leisure on…

See how you compare to those in your age and gender cohort at Flowing Data‘s wonderful interactive visualization of the “Most Common Use of Time, By Age and Sex.”

* Heraclitus

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As we listen to the ticking of the clock, we might recall that it was on this date in 1871 that Samuel L. Clemens received U.S. patent #121,992 for an “Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments,” an affordance primarily designed to tighten shirts at the waist, but also used for men’s underpants and women’s corsets.

Clemens– better known, of course, as Mark Twain– was an enthusiastic inventor who received a total of three patents: his second was for a self-pasting scrapbook (1873) which sold over 25,000 copies; his third, for a history trivia game (1885).

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Written by LW

December 19, 2015 at 1:01 am

“It is wonderful to be here in the great state of Chicago”*…

 

The first of 11 questions designed to test “How well do you really know your country?

Choose any one of 33 countries, then take the quiz.

* Dan C. Quayle (campaigning for the Vice Presidency in 1988)

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As we prune our preconceptions, we might spare a thought for Rube Goldberg; he died on this date in 1970. A cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor, he is best remembered as a satirist of the American obsession with technology; his series of “Invention” cartoons used a string of outlandish tools, people, plants, and steps to accomplish simple, everyday tasks in the most complicated possible way. (His work has inspired a number of “Rube Goldberg competitions,” the best-known of which, readers may recall, has been profiled here.)

Goldberg was a founder and the first president of the National Cartoonists Society, and he is the namesake of the Reuben Award, which the organization awards to the Cartoonist of the Year.

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Written by LW

December 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords”*…

 

Under the general heading “the robots are after my job,” Kevin Roose, the News Director of Fusion, on how he “wrote 7 blog posts in less than 3 seconds.” (Spoiler alert- it’s all about robojournalism…)

[image above from here]

* frequently-heard riff on Joan Collin’s immortal line (“I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords”) in the 1977 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Empire of the Ants. For more on ants, see yesterday’s (R)D

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As we polish our people skills, we might recall that it was on this date in 1876 that Seth Thomas was granted a patent on something that we may no longer need– an alarm clock.  U.S. patent No. 183,725 was issued for the metal case of a one-day back-winding alarm clock, the first American patent for an alarm clock of this familiar type.

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Written by LW

October 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

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