Let’s Keep Trying

(left column top to bottom) Remember hay fever season? If you can’t get relief from a box of Zyrtec you could at least have a lot of tissue on hand … or on head;  Do you live alone? This pillow buddy is for you;  New shoes? This cool device will save them;  This is how to clean small messes without bending over; The eco minded can collect rain water on the way to work;  Eye drop glasses. Brilliant!;  An extender for your umbrella will keep your nice clothes nice and dry;  Solve this Rubics cube in one turn;  Never be late for work with this anti-snooze feature for your alarm; (right column top to bottom)  Now be stylish and prepared for rain;  Ahh, the solar flashlight;  Hey, kids are cute and now they can help keep the floors dusted;  Pets can help with the dusting, too;  This device will keep your lipstick off your face;  This device will keep your hair out of your noodles;  And this device will cool your noodles;  The shoe brush;  The commuter’s nap hat;  And the head prop for office naps. All wonderfully stupid devices.

 

Running a 24-7 business, focused on solving our client’s PIA (pain in the @%$) Jobs!™ is a blast.  All of my teams understand the importance of thinking, problem solving, testing and retesting, and just trying different approaches until we get it just right.  I encourage everyone to “free their mind” and challenge the status quo. Although, Jackie often tells me that I should focus more! Sometimes we “nail it” early on, or end up with extra solutions that don’t quite have an application. Sometimes, the solutions are so close we think we’re there, only to get a curve ball when not expected.  I was wondering what we could do with those “extras” and found a group out of Japan, that not only encourages inventive thinking, but actually developed a whole movement for those inventions that make sense on paper, but most likely will never see the light of day.  It’s called Chindōgu (www.chindogu.com) – (translated means “unusual tool”) and the definition fits it perfectly … ideas that lie in that gray area – “not exactly useful, but somehow not altogether useless”.  So remember for that someone who has everything!  Just some of my favorites…

  • A combined household duster and cocktail-shaker, for the housewife who wants to reward herself as she is working along.
  • The all-day tissue dispenser (basically a toilet roll fixed on top of a hat) for hay fever sufferers.
  • Duster slippers for dogs and cats, so they can help out with the housework too.
  • The all-over plastic bathing costume, to enable people who suffer from aquaphobia to swim without coming into contact with water.
  • The baby mop outfit worn by babies, so that as they crawl around, the floor is cleaned.
  • And my “laugh out loud favorite” – a solar powered flashlight (stop and think about this for a second).

Chindōgu it turns out, is a prank originating from Japan, which is done by a person seemingly inventing ingenious everyday gadgets that seem like an ideal solution to a particular problem but are in fact nothing more than a useless gag.  And there are thousands of them.  So, for this week, I pulled together a little history, and some meaningless examples – ENJOY, and thank chindogu.com and Wikipedia for the info.

  • The movement was started by Kenji Kawakami, Japanese gadget guru extraordinaire and anarchic progenitor of chindogu, inventions that are almost completely useless, or to borrow Kawakami’s word, “unuseless.”
  • He has created more than 600 examples of chindogu — a made-up word literally meaning strange tools’ in Japanese — and has built an international cult following of thousands through his books about them and appearances on TV, the Internet, in magazine columns and museum exhibits.
  • But what exactly is a chindogu? They’re more easily defined by what they’re not: neither useful, political, patented, or for sale. But they are seemingly serviceable, certainly silly and always analog. Like Zen koans of invention, chindogu are designed to be both profound contradictions and simple tools to awaken the heart and mind.
  • Kawakami began dreaming up doodads in the 1980s while editing popular home shopping magazine Tsuhan Seikatsu and has since produced such unuseless wonders as the Solar-Powered Flashlight, the Rotating Spaghetti Fork and the Velcro Jogger. Yet he doesn’t own any patents and has never made a single yen by selling his creations.
  • Said Kawakami, “In the modern, digital world, everything is so quick,” he says, picking up paper and electronic dictionaries to illustrate. “With the electronic one, it only takes two seconds to find a word, but it gives us no mental or spiritual satisfaction. Yet if you use your own hands to find it, you can enjoy the process. It’s a spiritual act.”
  • There are roughly 8,000 chindogu practitioners in Japan and 1,000 overseas, their ages ranging from 10 to 70, according to Kawakami.
  • Good chindogu happens when – You don’t need to have it explained to you. It’s just in you. It shakes you in a funny way that you can’t help but get in touch with the basic human quality of being alive. “Cause when you’re laughing and smiling, you’re alive,” he says.
  • People outside Japan have had mixed reactions to chindogu. In North America, they’re viewed as amusing Japanese party gags, in Europe as a new art form, and in Hong Kong and Taiwan as potential moneymakers. But because of their universal appeal, Kawakami doesn’t see chindogu as ‘Japanese’ at all. “Being free is the most important thing in life. Chindogu is the symbol of freedom, a free soul is needed to think of chindogu, to think of stupid, crazy things. You can never do it with common sense alone.”

 


 

“Steve, stop bothering your sister and finish your lima beans”

(top black & white photos) Thanks to the genius of Clarence Birdseye (my new hero) we can have fresh vegetables all year round.  (the rest of the images) Lima Beans: putting the suck in succotash since, well, I’d say the beginning of time.

 

Lima beans.  A tough vegetable. Growing up, I had my share of questionable veggies that I’d eat. But, in my family of 17 brothers and sisters, I have come to realize that we were foodies before it became fashionable. Dad and Mom were always “creating” eclectic dishes. So I ate, and learned to pretty much eat everything.  For all of you who know me, I love food with a few exceptions. Lima beans (they should be used as filler in bean bags only), maple frosting and sweet potatoes. Now other than that I am pretty much good to go with all kinds of food.  Now you see why my posts reference running!  This past weekend I was doing some shopping, I love shopping on Saturday mornings for the samples and wandered into the frozen food aisle.  I was amazed at all the things that are frozen – breakfast sandwiches, chicken, desserts, and Mexican foods.  And there it was – Birdseye brand. I grabbed my frozen corn, and headed home. My curious brain had me on the internet when I got home, and sure enough, I got reading about Clarence Frank Birdseye II, born Dec 1886, considered the founder of the frozen food industry.  Being a man crazed with temperatures, thermal processing, and PIA Jobs, I met a new hero (minus the lima beans).  Here’s some fun facts from Wikipedia – enjoy.

  1. Clarence Frank Birdseye II(December 9, 1886 – October 7, 1956) was an American inventor, entrepreneur, and naturalist, and is considered to be the founder of the modern frozen food
  2. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, the sixth of nine children of Clarence Frank Birdseye I and Ada Jane Underwood – (nine kids – he gets it – eat or go hungry).
  3. Birdseye attended Montclair High Schoolin New Jersey, and due to financial difficulties completed only two years at Amherst College, where his father and elder brother had earned degrees.  He subsequently moved west working for the United States Agriculture Department.
  4. Birdseye began his career as a taxidermist. He also worked in New Mexico and Arizona as an “assistant naturalist”, a job that involved killing off coyotes.  While in Montana, he captured several hundred small mammals, removing several thousand ticks for research, and isolated them as the cause of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
  5. Birdseye’s next field assignment, was in Labradorin the Dominion of Newfoundland (now part of Canada), where he became further interested in food preservation.  He was taught by the Inuithow to ice fish under very thick ice. In -40 °C weather, he discovered that the fish he caught froze almost instantly, and, when thawed, tasted fresh. He recognized immediately that the frozen seafood sold in New York was of lower quality than the frozen fish of Labrador, and saw that applying this knowledge would be lucrative. (His journals from this period, which record these observations, are held in the Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College).
  6. Conventional freezing methods of the time were commonly done at higher temperatures, and thus the freezing occurred much more slowly, giving ice crystals more time to grow. It is now known that fast freezing produces smaller ice crystals, which cause less damage to the tissue structure. When ‘slow’ frozen foods thaw, cellular fluids leak from the ice crystal-damaged tissue, giving the resulting food a mushy or dry consistency upon preparation. Birdseye solved this problem.
  7. In 1922, Birdseye conducted fish-freezing experiments at the Clothel Refrigerating Company, and then established his own company, Birdseye Seafoods Inc., to freeze fish fillets with chilled air at -43 °C (-45 °F). In 1924, his company went bankrupt for lack of consumer interest in the product. That same year he developed an entirely new process for commercially viable quick-freezing: packing fish in cartons, then freezing the contents between two refrigerated surfaces under pressure. Birdseye created a new company, General Seafood Corporation, to promote this method.
  8. In 1925, his General Seafood Corporation moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts, where it employed Birdseye’s newest invention, the double belt freezer, in which cold brine chilled a pair of stainless steel belts carrying packaged fish, freezing the fish quickly. His invention was subsequently issued as US Patent #1,773,079, marking the beginning of today’s frozen foods industry. Birdseye took out patents on other machinery, which cooled even more quickly, so that only small ice crystals could form and cell membranes were not damaged. In 1927, he began to extend the process beyond fish to quick-freezing of meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables.
  9. In 1929, Birdseye sold his company and patentsfor $22 million to Goldman Sachs and the Postum Company, which eventually became General Foods Corporation, and which founded the Birds Eye Frozen Food Company. Birdseye continued to work with the company, further developing frozen food technology.
  10. In 1930, the company began sales experiments in 18 retail stores around Springfield, Massachusetts, to test consumer acceptance of quick-frozen foods. The initial product line featured 26 items, including 18 cuts of frozen meat, spinach and peas, a variety of fruits and berries, blue point oysters, and fish fillets. Consumers liked the new products and today this is considered the birth of retail frozen foods. The “Birds Eye” name remains a leading frozen-food brand.
  11. On Nov 3, 1952, Birdseye officially sells its first official bag of frozen peas (likely much to the delight of my young mother – too bad they learned how to freeze lima beans.)
  12. In 2005, Birdseye was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
  13. Today, Birds Eyeis an American international brand of frozen foods owned by Pinnacle Foods in North America and by Nomad Foods in Europe.  Moms across America continue to give their kids lima beans – thanks Clarence!

 

 


 

I have a solution…

(row one) rough drawing of the drinking tube, Joseph B. Friedman and his more refined patent drawing; (row two) The Flex-Straw was first marketed to hospitals; In the early 1950’s, Roy Rogers endorsed the Flex-Straw in an ad aimed at kids; (row three) The Flex-Straw infused with strawberry, chocolate and coffee (for mom?); 1940s – 1950s packaging. (other images) These straws were totally made for sharing a beverage with your BFF…or not.

 

Problem solving and ideas – the “backbone and spirit” of Kowalski Heat Treating – it’s what keeps us on “our game” every single day and what our customers expect from us – solving your pesky PIA (Pain In The @#$) Jobs.  As the guy at the top, like most leaders, I get such a charge when my folks come in and say “Steve, we’ve worked on a bunch of different solutions, and we’re pretty sure we got it.”  BAM.  Just like that, problem solved.  And the best part for me is when I get to pick up the phone and call my customers and say – “yep, we figured it out”.

Recently I was reading an article about an inventor who was born in Cleveland back in 1900, and invented, to this day, one of my all-time favorites – the bendy straw.  Like so many inventors, he saw a problem (this one happened to be with his daughter and sitting at a soda shop), experimented, came up with a solution, and then went on to prototyping, a patent and manufacturing.  So, to fully enjoy this post, make yourself a yummy root beer and ice cream float, (oh yea, one of my favorites), put in a flexible straw, sit back and enjoy the read.  I’m not sure about you all, but one of my favorite things is to blow bubbles in the glass – certainly takes me back and Jackie will just shake her head, again!  Special thanks to Smithsonian, Wikipedia and the Atlantic Magazine for confirming the facts for me.  And thanks Joe for your problem-solving solution – KHT salutes you!

  1. Historians don’t know what civilization first came up with the idea of sticking tubes into cups and slurping, but the earliest evidence of straws comes from a seal found in a Sumerian tomb dated 3,000 B.C. It shows two men using what appear to be straws taking beer from a jar. (BRILLIANT!) In the same tomb, archeologists also found history’s first known straw – a tube made from gold and the precious blue stone lapis lazuli.
  2. In the 1880’s, gentlemen sipped their whiskey through long tubes made of natural rye that lent a grassy flavor to whatever drink they plopped in. For many centuries, it was not uncommon to order a gin and tonic and wind up drinking it infused with natural grass flavors. Marvin Chester Stone didn’t have much patience when it came to non-mint plants floating around in his mint julep, and did something. He reinvented the straw.
  3. In his first try, he wound paper around a pencil to make a thin tube, slid out the pencil from one end, and applied glue between the strips. Voila: paper straw! Also: glue? Stone refined it by building a machine to wind paper into a tube and coat the outside with a paraffin wax to keep it from melting in bourbon. He patented the product in 1888. Today, Marvin Chester Stone is considered the godfather of the paper straw.
  4. Joseph B. Friedman, born October 9, 1900 in Cleveland, Ohio, was a first generation American and the fifth of eight children. An independent American inventor with a broad range of interests and ideas, Friedman is credited with inventing the flexible straw.
  5. By the age of fourteen, Friedman conceptualized his first invention, the lighted pencil, which he deemed the “pencilite,” and was attempting to market his idea. Over the course of his inventing career, he would experiment with ideas ranging from writingimplements to engine improvements, and household products to sound and optic
  6. In the 1920s, Friedman began his education in real estateand optometry. He would use both of these careers at different points in his life to supplement his income while improving his invention concepts. Although he was working as a realtor in San Francisco, California, ]the 1930s proved to be his most prolific patenting period, with six of his nine U.S. patents being issued then.
  7. While sitting in his younger brother Albert’s fountain parlor, the Varsity Sweet Shop in San Francisco, Friedman observed his young daughter Judith at the counter, struggling to drink out of a straight straw. Sitting on the stool, the cool beverage was too high on the counter to reach. Afterwards back home, he took a paper straight straw, inserted a screw and using dental floss, he wrapped the paper into the screw threads, creating corrugations in the straw barrel. After removing the screw, the altered paper straw could now bend conveniently over the edge of the glass, allowing small children to better reach their beverages.
  8. After fine tuning his approach, U.S. patent #2,094,268 was issued for this new invention under the title Drinking Tube. Friedman would later file and be issued two additional U.S. patents and three foreign patents in the 1950s relating to its formation and construction. In his application, he wrote:

“Applicant has met a problem long existing in the art. A view of any soda fountain on a hot day, with the glasses showing innumerable limp and broken straws drooping over the edges thereof, will immediately show that this problem has long existed.  Where we have the conditions where certainly the straw is old, where corrugated tubing is old, and where no inventor, during those years, has seen fit or has been able to solve this problem, whereas applicant did, that situation alone is prima facie evidence of invention.”

–courtesy of the Joseph B. Friedman Papers, 1915 – 2000, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

  1. Friedman attempted to sell his straw patent to several existing straw manufacturers beginning in 1937 without success, so after completing his straw machine, he began to produce the straw himself. Friedman’s younger English relative, Michael Fabricant, would later write that his great uncle’s invention was “arguably the most significant technological achievement of the twentieth century”
  2. On April 24, 1939, The Flexible Straw Corporationwas incorporated. However, World War II interrupted Friedman’s efforts to construct his straw manufacturing machine. During the war, he managed the optometry practice of Arthur Euler, O.D., in Capwells’ Department Store in Oakland, California, and continued to sell real estate and insurance to support his growing family.
  3. Friedman obtained financial backing for his flexible straw machine from two of his brothers-in-law, Harry Zavin and David Light, as well as from Bert Klein, a family associate. With their financial help, and the business advice of his sister Betty, Friedman completed the first flexible straw manufacturing machine in the late 1940s. Although his original concept had come from the observation of his daughter, the flexible straw was initially marketed to hospitals, with the first sale made in 1947.
  4. Betty Friedman played a crucial role in the development of the Flexible Straw Corporation. While still living in Cleveland and working at the Tarbonis Company, she corresponded regularly with her brother and directed all of the sales and distribution of the straw. In 1950 Friedman moved his family and company to Santa Monica, California. Now doing business as the Flex-Straw Co., sales continued to increase and the marketing direction expanded to focus more strongly on the home and child markets. Betty Friedman moved west in 1954 to assume her formal leadership role in the corporation.
  5. On June 20, 1969, the Flexible Straw Corporation sold its United States and foreign patents, United States and Canadiantrademarks, and licensing agreements to the Maryland Cup Corporation, and the Flexible Straw Corporation dissolved in August 1969.