This week's post is pretty simple: it is a tribute to three inventions that aren't really similar except that each is so damn handy! These are the kinds of items that you don't miss until they aren't around, and then boy are you in trouble. I'm talking of course about WD-40, duct tape, and light bulbs. I recently moved from Murray Hill to the West Village and found myself thankful for one of these items and in great need of the other two. Duct tape was invaluable in keeping my stuff boxed up for the move, but a dearth of light bulbs kept me literally in the dark for the first week at my new place. And no WD-40 continues to plague my roommate and me, as a stubborn, sticky, and just plain nasty gate has become both a running joke and the cause of a few bruised hands. This will be a relatively short one, so I encourage you to post in the comments section your favorite handy items. What are the incredible devices or inventions that get you through the day but that you often take for granted?
I feel obligated to start with WD-40, because to me the iconic blue can and its powers have always been a mystery. The story is great: this guy named Norm discovers a blend of chemicals preventing corrosion on rockets that oh-by-the-way solves just about any other lube-based problem you might have (get your head out of the gutter, folks, this is a family blog). The name itself also invokes an element of magic - so simple (five characters), yet so complex (what the hell do they mean?!). It is actually not so mysterious - WD stands for water displacement, and 40 represents good old Norm's 40th attempt to produce the perfect blend. How appropriate. Norm's perseverance paid off, as the consumer product has for decades been an international success. Another fun fact is that there is no patent for WD-40. Why? Getting a patent would require the company to reveal it's secret formula, which by the way is the stuff of urban legend... apparently a Chinese bus driver used it to remove a stubborn python that wouldn't untangle itself from the bottom of his bus! An email list went viral in 2007 with all of the wonderful things WD-40 does; my favorites include: keeping flies off cows, protecting the Statue of Liberty from the elements, and removing all traces of duct tape. Which brings me to my next point...
Duct tape is just awesome. My research lead me to an episode of Discovery Channel's "Myth Busters" in which the producers determine that it is possible to lift a 5,000 pound car using nothing but duct tape, as well as create a working sailboat (which they used to sail around the San Francisco Bay). They were also able to create a cannon that fired a real cannonball... You guessed it, out of noting but duct tape. Duct tape is also used as a fashion statement - each year one manufacturer hosts a duct tape prom dress competition. The "Duct Tape Guys", who have written books about duct tape and have listed thousands of uses for it, had this appropriate quote: "Two rules get you through life: If it's stuck and it's not supposed to be, WD-40 it. If it's not stuck and it's supposed to be, duct tape it." Noted, Duct Tape Guys.
And last but certainly not least, the now ubiquitous light bulb! There are two primary reasons for the light bulb's inclusion on my "dream team", oft taken for granted invention list: my utter inability to get anything done the week I lived without one, and my surprise that you can buy a four-pack of light bulbs in Manhattan for $1.50! That is less than a pack of gum; put another way that will cover 1/4 the cost of a pint at any bar (tip not included). It is amazing to me that something so valuable has become so cheap. I don't have much to add here, except a note to all aspiring entrepreneurs. Apparently there were over 20 inventors who simultaneously (and in some cases previously) came up with a very similar incandescent light to the one invented by Thomas Edison. Edison's won out in large part due to his ability to develop a delivery system that helped his invention's actual implementation. There were powerful incentives in place to keep the gas-light model and its infrastructure in place. Simply having a new idea wasn't enough... This is in many ways similar to Apple's current success in not only developing devices that can play new music, games and books, but also creating the iTunes and iBooks delivery platforms. The iTunes platform helped destroy the large CD companies, and iBooks is already doing the same for large, brick and mortar book retailers.
No sweeping conclusions this week - leave a comment with your favorite devices/items/inventions...
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Week 38: Small Inventions, Big Impact
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Post-It Notes. I wouldn't survive without them. Thank you, 3M.ReplyDelete
Gotta love the post its... Keep em comingReplyDelete
Hmm.. I really love hand sanitizer. And I think Dad's would be Metamucil.ReplyDelete
Accckkkkk! Icksnay on the WD 40!ReplyDelete
WD 40 is a wonderful product with thousands of productive applications, none of which spring to mind now or ever.
Amongst technicians, it is generally a product to avoid.
Composed of a volatile hydrocarbon which evaporates quickly so after a short time all surfaces remain coated with a sticky residue which literally gums up the works of anything with moving parts.
Never spray a lock keyway, for example, with WD 40. It will freeze up the action.
You peer review types might wish to experiment in your own laboratories.
Buy or salvage an old or new lock and key and subject it to a coat of WD 40 and see the performance of the keyway degrade.
So…”favorite devices/items/inventions…” Almost impossible to give a full answer. I guess fire shouldn’t count, since it’s a DISCOVERY more than a DEVICE, but we are reminded through episode-after-episode of “Survivor” -- where no one from any generation ever seems able to start a fire -- that matches should qualify as a “favorite INVENTION.” What about discoveries like aspirin (or Aspirin, depending on whether you prefer the brand-name or a generic version)…ReplyDelete
Even if we skip over the wheel or a knife or fire there is so much that comes to mind, ranging from a 16-hole Hohner chromatic harmonica to today’s amazing new contestant, that elegant, compact, incredibly versatile and useful and fun tool & toy – the iPad ! Have to agree with Steve Jobs – “it’s magical.” Even I can now listen live to any of more than 30,000 radio stations around the world (free !), read any of more than 40,000 books through Project Gutenberg (selecting from at least 50 languages? Also free !), choose from hundreds of daily newspapers around the globe (free !)…I started with “even I” because I’ve barely started to scratch the surface with either the more than 150,000 iPhone or the 1,000 uniquely iPad applications available ! Beautifully designed, intuitive to use, in my opinion the iPad is one of the greatest devices ever invented.
Had you asked three months ago -- or just before a trip to Amazonas or Angola -- probably I would have picked the Swiss Army knife (first produced in 1897) or Band-Aids (introduced in 1920). To earn my choice and vote, the multi-tool, multi-function pocket knife must have at least a cork-screw, a sharp blade, and a flat-head screwdriver; if I must I can do without the can opener, the scissors and the saw; I definitely don’t need a toothpick, tweezer, nail file, or fish scaler…
My final choice (probably would have been my hands-down first choice until the iPad’s arrival) is the Band-Aid. I prefer the classic one-by-three-inch Johnson & Johnson “Tough Strips,” – the durable, heavy-duty, water-proof and super-stick adhesive version.
You need to watch Survivorman. Each episode includes a new,inventive way to start a fire with little more than the clothes on your back!
Other Survivorman Links for those who walk away from an airplane crash on a deserted isle.ReplyDelete