Friday, 1 June, 2012
The design of the paper clip, an item considered to be a stationery essential by – probably – all of us, has proved so effective that it has not required modification or enhancement since it first came into being in 1899.
The paper clip we think of most readily is an elegant loop within a loop of springy steel wire. In 1899, a patent was issued to William Middlebrook for the design, not of the clip, but of the machinery that made it. He sold the patent to the American office-supply manufacturer Cushman & Denison, who trademarked it as the Gem clip, in 1904. Middlebrook’s rather beautiful patent drawing shows the clip not as an invention but as the outcome of an invention: the best solution to an old problem, using a new material and new manufacturing processes. Coiled in this form, the steel wire was pliant enough to open, allowing papers to nestle between its loops, but springy enough to press those papers back together. When the loops part too far from each other and the steel reaches its elastic limit, the clip breaks. This property, however, also belonged to the many other clip shapes developed around the same time.
(Image via Wikipedia)
Friday, 14 January, 2011
Devices that could prove somewhat useful… a bar fridge, with an attached catapult arm, that lobs canned drinks – in this case beer – across the room… reminds me of Doc Brown’s breakfast making machine from “Back to the Future”.
Tuesday, 19 October, 2010
The “adjacent possible” – a term devised by theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman to describe prebiotic chemical interactions that did, or more importantly could, take place before life formed on Earth – has been borrowed by science writer Steven Johnson, in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, as a way of accounting for the proliferation of ideas and innovations.
As evidence that innovations enact the adjacent possible, Johnson points to the many cases in which revolutionary inventions such as the telephone and photography have independently occurred to two or more people almost simultaneously. Equally pertinently, he accounts for the failure of inventions such as Charles Babbage’s programmable computer, which was too complex for the mechanical means of the Victorian era.
Friday, 11 December, 2009
Space travel technology has brought about all sorts of innovations and improvements right here on Earth.
Many people do not realize that everything from toys to sunglasses and even horseshoes have benefitted from technologies originally intended for astronauts, shuttle flights, and other elements of space exploration. While some inventions stem directly from NASA and its collaborations, others simply involve vast improvements to existing designs.
Thursday, 15 October, 2009
Imagine you were transported back in time a couple of thousand years… with your (supposedly) superior 21st century level of knowledge what technological advances might you be able to bring about in your new environment?
There is a Twilight Zone episode where a businessman makes a pact with the Devil, which allows him to go back in time so that he can capitalize off of his knowledge about the future. It turns out though that the businessman’s knowledge about the future is all superficial and thus he is unable to jump start any technological advancements by traveling back in time. This would likely be the plight of most contemporary humans if they were sent back in time. While we rely greatly on technology, most of us don’t know much about how it actually works and where the materials to make it come from.
Friday, 9 October, 2009
A photo collection of inventions that possibly were not as successful as their creators had envisaged, taken from the Life magazine photo archive.
Tuesday, 15 September, 2009
Fascinating captain, a time line of science fiction inventions dating from the time of Johannes Kepler in 1634, right on through to this year.
Friday, 31 July, 2009
The best thing about making predictions for the far future, say 100 plus years, is that you won’t be around to face the scorn should your projections be way off the mark.
The moving house was almost spot on though, just in this (relatively) environmentally conscious age it wouldn’t be hauled along by a coal-fired steam engine.