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Posts Tagged ‘inventions

“Nothing can better cure the anthropocentrism that is the author of all our ills than to cast ourselves into the physics of the infinitely large (or the infinitely small)”*…

 

From illustrator John Hendrix, a series of graphics (based on an essay by Gregory Laughlin)–  see them all (and in larger sizes) at “How Big Can Life Get?

* Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

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As we step on the scales, we might send fiendishly ingenious birthday greetings to Rube Goldberg; he was born on this date in 1883.  A cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor, he is best remembered as a satirist of the American obsession with technology for his series of “Invention” cartoons which 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 profilled 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

July 4, 2016 at 1:01 am

“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise… we would have found the safest way to health”*…

 

From Richard Florida and his team at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a mapping of the American Fitness Index™ (AFI) (which rates metros on individual health indicators like vegetable consumption and daily physical activity, as well as community or environmental indicators like walkability or proximity to a local park): cities with a low fitness score are shown in blue, while cities with a high fitness score are shown in dark purple.

The group then analyzed the data against the key socioeconomic characteristics of these metros.  Fitness, it emerges, is highly correlated with a city’s wealth/affluence, education level, and proximity to tech industry centers…

For all the talk of fitness that permeates the American zeitgeist—from reality shows like The Biggest Loser to the First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to combat childhood obesity—we don’t often explore the more subtle factors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle. As beneficial as exercise and mindful eating may be, the overall health of our lifestyles is not just the product of a series of good decisions. It is also the result of how our culture and society is structured. At the end of the day, fitness is consistently tied up with our affluence, jobs, education, and class position—all of which are partially contingent on where we live. With the success of fit cities comes the unfortunate reality that these cities reflect yet another gripping image of our country’s great divide along economic and class lines.

More data and analysis at “America’s Great Fitness Divide.”

And on a related front, see also: “These Victorian-Era Diseases Are Making a Comeback in a City Near You.” Gout, scurvy, and rickets– who’d have thunk it.

* Hippocrates

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As we drop and do 50, we might recall that it was on this date in 1889 that U.S. Patent #396,089 was issues to Daniel Johnson for a “Rotary Dining Table.”  Johnson’s innovation was to combine a “rotary table and adjustable chair adapted for saloons of sea-going vessels and of other descriptions, in which the occupants of the chairs may be served in rotation from one stationary base of supply without the danger and inconvenience incident to the person making the circuit of the table when the vessel is upon the seas, and also enabling the persons seated at the table to be served with dispatch.”  The entire table with its attached chairs was supported on one central rotating shaft – making the seated persons part of a human “Lazy Susan.”

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Written by LW

January 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

“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, 2312

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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.”

 source (and larger version)

 

Written by LW

September 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

“You cannot NOT have a user experience”*…

 

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.”

* Lou Carbone

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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.

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Written by LW

August 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking but now, Heaven knows, anything goes”*…

 

The first pair of experimental nylon stockings made by Union Hosiery Company for Du Pont in 1937. (National Museum of American History)

 

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

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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.

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Written by LW

June 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

“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…

Alternative history at “Levees That Might Have Been- A history of forgotten inventions that would have produced a very different landscape along American rivers.”

* Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin

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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).

 source

Written by LW

May 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There’s no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap”*…

 

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

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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.

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Written by LW

April 9, 2015 at 1:01 am

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