by Rick Bretz
Let’s face it. People love stuff that makes their lives simpler, easier and efficient. These gadgets and other products have gotten the mistaken reputation of making all of us lazier. It’s time to champion these universal monuments make the world safe again for inventions that keep us bolted to our lounge chair.
Back in the day of cheap gas, people controlled their televisions in two ways–leg power, or children power as in “Ricky, please change the channel from 7 to 4 for Daddy and Mommy.” The other way was a tethered remote control that traveled from your seat in the corner of the living room to the television, creating a booby trap for anyone entering the room, . The tethered remote was invented in 1950, which is a surprise to the baby boomer generation because our parents could have saved us several low crawls across the living room to change channels. Managers in the Zenith organization thought there was a better way. Time for Eugene Polly, an electronics engineer, to bring his awesomeness.
Eugene Polly-Zenith Electronics-1955-He used light beams transmitted from the remote to receptors on the TV to change channels or mute the sound. This worked most of the time but it had its drawbacks due to the receptors misreading other light sources like the sunset or sunrise. However, Mr. Polly, because he got the whole thing started, deserves a big five from every sports fan on earth.
The remote was perfected by Robert Adler-Zenith Electronics Physicist-1956-Adler’s remote used hammers striking metal rods that produced ultrasonic waves to change channels and control the TV. This was the standard until infrared technology became the new way to control a TV more than 25 years later.
Global Positioning System (GPS)
Back in the day of cheap gas, drivers had to multitask in the worst way. Forget about texting and driving, try reading a map while driving. It was doing that, or pulling over to the side of the road, getting the map out of the glove compartment where no gloves were kept and try to determine your current location and how to get your destination. Now, it was easier if you had a passenger, like a spouse, to look at the map and navigate while driving but often this just created arguments and shouts of, “You’ve got the map, can’t you read a map!” if you were driving alone and had enough forethought, you could list your highway and road numbers and the exits and turns you had to take so you didn’t have to look at the map. Later on, drivers could print it out on MapQuest or some other navigation site but that didn’t come along until the 1990s.
Roger Easton-Naval Research Laboratory-1964– Easton called it the Timation for Time Navigation-He developed the technology to track satellites orbiting the earth, specifically ones the Soviet Union Launched during the space race. He was granted a patent 10 years later and in the 1970s the Department of Defense took certain features and developed and renamed it the Global Positioning System. That steered the technology (See what I did there) to what we use today in automobiles. We can all thank Mr. Easton for getting us back home and preventing millions of arguments among friends and spouses.
Automobile and All Things Travel Oriented
Back in the day when there were no gas stations anywhere let alone cheap gas, people traveled by horseback, carriage, ships crossing the ocean and moving down the rivers. Then trains and locomotives entered the culture, followed by the motor carriage or automobile and then passenger airplanes crossing continents and the oceans. We can all thanks several people for saving us time and creating a mobile society where we can see people thousands of miles away in a matter of hours. It also enables us to receive food products and other consumables in our stores and restaurants faster by truck, train, and air freight. When we want our pizza, we want our pizza.
The Light Bulb
Back in the day there were only candles and the light by the fire place or, later, using oil burning lamps that you had to carry around. Then electricity was harnessed and then Thomas Edison and his team perfected the light bulb and got his patent in 1979. Inventors and scientists first experimented with electricity properties producing light as far back as 1800. The issues they faced included finding an inexpensive filament and making it burn for several hours.
Thomas Edison-Inventor-1879-As with any important development that is life changing, it takes someone who takes what is already been tried and perfecting it from there. This is what Edison did. He also hire intelligent and hard working people to work in his laboratory. One of these was a scientist named Francis Upton from Princeton University. We can all thank Thomas Edison and his staff for bumping into the furniture at night and being able to read a book anywhere in the house.
Benjamin Franklin-You know, the Kite flying thing-You can argue about Benjamin Franklin’s experiment just establishing a connection between lightning and static electricity. You could also point out that many inventors developed electricity to the point when it could be managed and used for greater purposes. Benjamin Franklin must be given his recognition though. Nicolas Tesla’s experiments with Alternating Current was a game changer despite Thomas Edison’s propaganda against AC in favor of his Direct Current technology. The game changer for society was the ability to send electric current through wires to homes and businesses in a fashion that used electricity only when a person needs it-Turning lights on and off in a room when you need it.
Isaiah Rogers-Architect-1829-The first modern case of indoor plumbing occurred in 1829 when Isaiah Rogers planned indoor plumbing for 8 water closets at the Tremont Hotel in Boston, Mass. Before that, historical records proved the existence of several plumbing systems going back several hundred if not thousands of years. The flush toilet appeared in 1851 but was first invented in 1596. The whole human race thanks everyone involved for this one.
Johannes Gutenberg-1439-Before Gutenberg’s movable type printing press, books and documents were hand written or printed using wood block letters with ink covering the raised letters. This was pressed against paper to create a word, a tedious process at best for both techniques. It would be nice to think that Gutenberg invented the movable machine type printing press for the betterment of mankind but, as with most inventions, he was interested in producing mass amounts of a product in a short period of time to make the most money. Now in the digital age with downloading books to your laptop or mobile device, it’s all done with binary computer instructions and data centers that send pages and pages over the internet.
All Things IT related–The First Microchip
Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce- Texas Instruments-1959- The invention and the development of the Microchip began the revolution. The Microchip let computers do what they do like logic gates and controlling instruction sets. This ushered in the future of smaller chips and faster computer memory for today’s computers. Everything from garage door openers, mobile phones, software for fixing pictures you take on your smart phone, digital music playback devices that keep your entire music collection in a shirt pocket, gaming devices, streaming devices for television, credit card hardware at the store for purchases to all of the information technology that makes your car run, these are all due to many engineers and inventors constantly thinking of ways to change the way we live all due to the original microchip.
Martin Cooper Motorola-1973-Everyone carries around a small computer to be accessed when we need it, it’s the mobile or smart phone. We carry around the ability to ping data centers placed around the world in strategic places for answers to any question. You don’t even have to type it anymore, just ask Siri. Using satellite technology and the power of the microprocessor and application development, we use the power of our search terms to buy, read, navigate and find a good restaurant. We can thank Mr. Cooper for making that first mobile phone call.
Sometimes the simple developments are the most satisfying. Cutting a bagel can be hazardous. While researching, the term BRI came up. It’s a Bagel Related Incident. One wrong move with a knife, or a distraction in any way, you could hurt yourself all in the name of preparing the perfect bagel Several designs are on the market but one of the best is the Bagel Guillotine. The name gives you the picture of what it looks like. Some one hit a home run on this one.
Chocolate and Peanut Butter Combination
Harry Burnett Reese-1928-Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups-If a choice had to be made between one of these on the list and peanut butter cups, most people would probably remove something else and keep the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. People have to have their priorities. In fact, anything that combines peanut butter and chocolate makes the whole world a better place. If more people ate Peanut Butter Cups there would be less arguments and the two parties in US Congress would be able to get along and get more done.
NASA-July 20th, 1968-This moon landing was significant because it forced the space agency and its subcontractors to step up their game. One of which was the way computer language was processed. The Apollo Guidance Computer had to process instructions differently. MIT hardware and software developers developed restart protection and priority task scheduling where the most important systems like attitude control and landing guidance get the highest priority compared to other instructions that are not life threatening. The computer core systems told the AGC that this task is more important that that task so ignore the one that is not as important right now. This was different than previous computers where computers were batch scheduled where each instruction was given the same priority in a round robin fashion. This became important in the development in home computers in the 70s. The world of computer hardware and software development was pushed forward because NASA had a goal of reaching the moon before the end of decade.