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Posts Tagged ‘inventor’

Photo: Shane Young
The late Frances Gabe in 2002 demonstrating how her self-cleaning house worked. You needed an umbrella.

Like the idea of a self-cleaning house? Once you’ve read about the discomfort of living in one, you will have a much more positive attitude about cleaning your house the old-fashioned way.

I got a big kick out of Margalit Fox’s obit at the NY Times for the late Frances Gabe, an inventor who hated housework. Everything in Gabe’s house was waterproof so that an indoor “rain” could wash over it all without damaging furniture. The rain was followed by “wind.”

“Her remarkable abode — a singular amalgam of ‘Walden,’ Rube Goldberg and ‘The Jetsons’ — remained the only one of its kind ever built,” wrote Fox. “The reasons, recent interviews with her associates suggest, include the difficulties of maintaining the patent, the compromises required of the homeowner and, just possibly, Ms. Gabe’s contrary, proudly iconoclastic temperament.

“ ‘She was very difficult to get along with,” [Allyn Brown, Ms. Gabe’s former lawyer and a longtime friend], said, warmly. ‘She had an adversarial relationship with all her neighbors and she didn’t do anything to discourage it.’  …

“The [house], the newspaper The Weekend Australian wrote in 2004, was ‘basically a gigantic dishwasher.’

“In each room, Ms. Gabe, tucked safely under an umbrella, could press a button that activated a sprinkler in the ceiling. The first spray sent a mist of sudsy water over walls and floor. A second spray rinsed everything. Jets of warm air blew it all dry. The full cycle took less than an hour.

“Runoff escaped through drains in Ms. Gabe’s almost imperceptibly sloping floors. It was channeled outside and straight through her doghouse, where the dog was washed in the bargain.”

Read Fox’s delightful obit about Gabe here.

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Who wouldn’t love Harvard Square? Although too many sights there are troubling, the square also offers a nonstop showcase of wonders. It’s kind of a mirror of human experience.

The last time I was in Harvard Square, I was meeting Minnesota friends for dinner. I ended up arriving at Harvest restaurant a few minutes after them because I simply had to stop and listen to this musician-inventor play his bellowphone.

From Len Solomon’s About page: “Classically trained musician, inventor, and one-man-orchestra Len Solomon performs a unique recital of music and comedy.

“The one-hour show features your favorite symphonic compositions, arranged for Dog Whistles and Bicycle Horn, plus a chromatic pipe organ devised from plumbing parts and coat-hanger wire, and of course, the ingenious Majestic Bellowphone: a musical masterpiece of Medieval technology! …

“Len majored in guitar and early music at Antioch College, and followed that with two years of playing guitar in a country-rock band in Idaho. He finally gave up the glory of playing for drunkards in bars five nights a week, and went to work for 10 years as a professional cabinetmaker in the Boston area. In 1983, in his Cambridge basement, Len built the Majestic Bellowphone, and he took it to the streets along with his 5-ball juggling routine, taking his place among the ranks of classic Harvard Square street acts.”

Click to hear the callioforte and bellowphone.

081816-inventor-plays-music-Harvard-Square

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Here’s a new idea. A couple of young entrepreneurs have found a way to convert sign language into audible speech with their prize-winning electronic gloves.

National Public Radio has the story.

“For years, inventors have been trying to convert some sign language words and letters into text and speech. Now a pair of University of Washington undergraduates have created gloves called SignAloud. Sensors attached to the gloves measure hand position and movement, and data is sent to a computer via Bluetooth and is then converted into spoken word and text.

“Theirs is one of seven inventions recently awarded a Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, with awards ranging from $10,000 to $15,000.

“Inventors Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor, both college sophomores, say the gloves will help create a communication bridge between deaf and hearing communities. The gloves, they say, will help deaf people better communicate with the rest of the world without changing the way they already interact with each other.

“However, the invention has been met with criticism that the bridge they want to create goes only one way — and it’s not necessarily one the deaf community has been clamoring for. …

“Azodi says he and Pryor are moving beyond their prototype and are working closer with those who use American Sign Language to develop new versions. They’re also working on better understanding ASL, which is more than just hand movements; it also uses facial expressions and body language to convey meaning.” Read more.

I don’t know much about the culture of the deaf community, but I do remember reading about resistance to cochlear implants a few years ago. It’s hard for people who can hear to understand that some people really don’t mind deafness and prefer their own ways of dealing with the world. But kudos to all inventors anyway, especially young ones open to continuous revision!

Photo: Conrado Tapado/Univ of Washington, CoMotion
SignAloud gloves translate sign language into text and speech.

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Not everyone can be an inventor, but inventors can be found everywhere.

“Richard Turere, 13, doesn’t like lions. In fact, he hates them. Yet this bright Maasai boy has devised an innovative solution that’s helping the survival of these magnificent beasts — by keeping them away from humans.

“Living on the edge of Nairobi National Park, in Kenya, Turere first became responsible for herding and safeguarding his family’s cattle when he was just nine. But often, his valuable livestock would be raided by the lions roaming the park’s sweet savannah grasses, leaving him to count the losses. …

“So, at the age of 11, Turere decided it was time to find a way of protecting his family’s cows, goats and sheep from falling prey to hungry lions …

” ‘One day, when I was walking around,’ he says, ‘I discovered that the lions were scared of the moving light.’

“Turere realized that lions were afraid of venturing near the farm’s stockade when someone was walking around with a flashlight. He put his young mind to work and a few weeks later he’d come up with an innovative, simple and low-cost system to scare the predators away.

“He fitted a series of flashing LED bulbs onto poles around the livestock enclosure, facing outward. The lights were wired to a box with switches and to an old car battery powered by a solar panel.

“They were designed to flicker on and off intermittently, thus tricking the lions into believing that someone was moving around carrying a flashlight.

“And it worked. Since Turere rigged up his ‘Lion Lights,’ his family has not lost any livestock to the wild beasts, to the great delight of his father and astonishment of his neighbors.

“What’s even more impressive is that Turere devised and installed the whole system by himself, without ever receiving any training in electronics or engineering. …

Paula Kahumbu, executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust …  helped him get a scholarship at Brookhouse International School, one of Kenya’s top educational institutions, where he started last April. …

” ‘One thing that’s unique about Richard is that if you give him a problem, he’ll keep working at it until he can fix it. [He] doesn’t give up; he doesn’t find things too difficult; he’s not afraid of being unable to do something and I think this is why he is such a good innovator — because he’s not worried that it might not work, he’s going to try and do it anyway.’ ”

More here. And you can catch Richard’s TED Talk here. (Yes, he got on TED Talk!)

Photo: CNN

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Here’s an inventor who doesn’t know the meaning of giving up. After 19 years of keeping the faith, she finally got the attention she needs for her culinary invention — a marinating stick.

Jack Hitt has the story at the NY Times.

“Mary Hunter has always been happy to cook for her congregation at the Yes Lord Church in Gary, Ind. Her recipes, she told me, come directly from God.  … Prayer is ‘where I get 99 percent of my recipes.’

“Mrs. Hunter, who is 73, likes to cook big roasts for her church, ‘and if I had a difficult piece of meat I might marinate it in some beer and celery’ with a blend of her secret seasonings. When she learned that she had diabetes and high blood pressure, though, she had to cut out her salty marinades and cook the meat more blandly.

“Then, one day, God had an idea. ‘I was writing down some recipes and God said to me that I should take that ink pen and stick holes all through it and put a clip on one side so that you can open it’ — lengthwise — ‘and then put your onions and your garlic and your aromatics down the middle and put it inside your meat — then, you won’t have to eat bland foods.’ And so was born her invention, a long stainless steel device that, according to tests in restaurants and elsewhere, far outperforms those herbal injectors and other disappointing methods for introducing flavors into the interior of a big piece of meat.

“Later this month, Mary’s Marinating Sticks are scheduled to go on sale in Target stores.”

It was a long road, and it started back  in 1994. Read how stick-to-it-iveness and determination finally won the day, here.

Photo: Sally Ryan for The New York Times
It was 1994 that Mary Hunter got her idea for an innovative marinating stick. Today her persistence has paid off.

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Meet Matthew Slipper, “just 18, a founding member of the Paly Entrepreneurs Club, an extracurricular group at [a Palo Alto] high school that sprang into existence last September — the brainchild of about a dozen students committed to inventing the future. …

“While budding moguls in high school clubs like the Future Business Leaders of America invest make-believe money in the stock market or study the principles of accounting, the Entrepreneurs Club members have a distinctly Silicon Valley flavor: they want to create start-ups,” writes Quentin Hardy in the NY Times.

“They have met weekly during the school year to discuss their ventures and ideas, explore matters like money-raising strategies and new markets, and host guest speakers. Once, they held a Skype chat with a software engineer in Sweden who described the intricacies of running an online music business.” More here.

The kids sound incredibly intense, glad to have more time for business when they get their gym requirement out of the way.

I envision this generation’s counterculture emerging — probably in California, probably soon. With three entrepreneurs in my family, I know starting a business takes a lot of time and energy. Can’t help wondering if high school is too early. Focus is not bad, but by definition it means shutting other things out.

Photograph of Paly Entrepreneurs Club: Peter DaSilva for the NY Times

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Connecticut seems to be doing quite a lot for entrepreneurs — even rather young ones. So thanks to an annual competition for young inventors in the state, Mallory Kievman is getting her hiccup-suppressing lollipop patented and marketed by experts.

Writing for the NY Times, Jessica Bruder quotes one of Mallory’s benefactors.

“ ‘It’s very rare, when you’re evaluating businesses, that you can envision a company or product being around 100 years from now,’ said Danny Briere, a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Startup Connecticut, which nurtures new companies, including Hiccupops, and is a regional affiliate of the Startup America Partnership. ‘Hiccupops is one of those things. It solves a very simple, basic need.’

“Mallory met Mr. Briere last spring at the Connecticut Invention Convention, an annual competition for kids. ‘I went there, and I knew it would either be a hit or a miss project,’ she said. ‘People would either like it, or they would think I was crazy.’ ” Read more.

I love reading about simple but valuable solutions to everyday challenges. Think paper clip. Think Post-it note. It takes a special kind of imagination. Nowadays, given the valuation of apps, you would think solving everyday challenges was too uncool for the inventive mind. But Hiccupops will likely bring Mallory checks in the mail long after Instagram is forgotten.

Photograph: Andrew Sullivan for the NY Times

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