The following appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette as a “Viewpoint” piece.
Some Strange, But Available, Inventions, Mothered by Feds
The kids are getting to the age of jokes. Bad ones, to be sure. At dinner the 10-year-old asks innocently if the Old Man knows what a loser is. Not much more subtle than the standard knock-knock lead-in, but a distinctly novel avenue after four years of “Ma-DAM foot’s caught in the door.”
“Do tell,” the straight man says politely, clearly understanding his role.
“A loser is…,” the boy says, hardly able to contain himself, “a pilot who presses the ejector seat button in a helicopter!” Unrestrained guffaws from his brothers. A polite smile from Mom. The dog wags her tail. Shadow’s her name, table scraps her game.
“Better,” the Old Man rules. “You know what an ejector seat is?”
Silence around the table. Uh oh! (it’s a joke dad,we don’t need a lecture.)
Dad presses on. “Do you understand why the joke is funny?
Attention shifts to a bowl of spinach drowing in vinegar. Bad sign.
“An ejector seat is actualy called an ejection seat and it was invented by the government so that pilots could parachute away from their planes if their engines quit.”
“Why would the engines quit?”
“Never mind,” the Old Man snaps. An ejector seat in a helicopter? No inventor could be that obtuse.
Not so, dear reader, not so. To wit: the FEDERAL REGISTER of Wednesday, April 20. Subject: “Government-Owned Inventions — Availability for Licensing.” The title was an eye-catcher. Who could resist peeking at Uncle Sam’s white elephant inventory?
Patent 3,992,995. “Speed Controlled Second Event Launcher.” Double take, a fertile mind runs amok. What, pray tell could this be? A junkie hockey player who insists on being third man into a fistic encounter?
The list lengthens with gewgaws galore. “Torodal Tail Structure for Tethered Aeroform Balloon.” Now we are getting to something we can understand. This is er…ah… some sort of fancy tail section for a blimp. But if it’s tethered, why the need for a tail? Perhaps there’s something more here….
Read on. “A Device for Cleaning and Coating a Guy Cable.” (Patent #731,973). If not a sponge or a rag, this has to be fancy talk for the human hand. And maybe it’s related to what the government calls a “Permanent Attachment for Suction Cups.” My kids frequently stick rubber-tipped darts to the refrigerator. Could this be the permanent attachment?
The abbreviation “RUWS” catches the eye. “Remote Unmanned Work System.” My boss once accused me of being just such a thing, and I never came up with anything to compare with this collection of esoteric claptrap. For example, if your’e so inclined,you can negotiate with Uncle Sam for a “Falling Film Evaporator.” For a journalist, the line of questioning here seems apparent: Why is the film falling? And if it does happen to a fall (as only beer bottles are wont to ), why evaporate it? Seems more logical, and far more acceptable in these times of conservation to simply catch it and put it back on the shelf. The evaporation of a roll of celuloid simply obeying one of Newton’s Laws clearly appears to be an antisocial act.
For those who like to get a bang from their work, there’s a “General Purpose Rocket Furnace” available along with a “Detonating Device” and even a “High Explosive Compound To Which Plunger Can Be Attached.” If your homemade nuke goes sour, you can alway whip out our “Fire Extinguishant for Fissionable Material” and save the day. Our government seems to take great pride in thinking it covers every contingency.
Strange, but the more you read of these various technological marvels, the clearer it all becomes. Consider the entry, “In-Place Bearing Saking Device.” Take heart, scouts of both genders, this has to be a new kind of ballpeen hammer for erstwhile tent stakers.
There’s something for underwater buffs too.”A Device For Measuring the Velocity of a Body In An Undersea Environment.” For the kind of swimming I do, I’m more concerned about the ferocity and intentions of undersea things. If it’s fast and friendly, we’ve got no problem.
If you plan to get into this auction, I suggest you bring plenty of cash — and a kid who likes to jump rope. Otherwise how can you evaluate the utility of a “Tetherline System for Orbiting Satellites?” It occurred to me in pondering this one that it might be describing a bola (not a bolo).
Somehow practicality and common sense seem to have been exiled from this peculiar catalog. Otherwise, how do you account for a “Cook-off Liner Component?” Undoubtedly this is the product of some Hughesian fetish for cleanliness. It would appear to this layman, at least superficially, that it would be both easier and safer to simply remove the liner before cooking the ingredients. Seriously.
Hands-down winner in the strangest invention category has to be the “Helium Speech Unscrambler with Pitch Synchronization.” Maybe this was created for a nearsighted balloon vendor with a propensity for grabbing the wrong cannister of gas when his asthma flares up?
For domestic interests there is Patent # 3,9812,561 — the famous “Multi-Position Solid State Touch Switch.” My kids have these just inside their bedroom doors. All three of them have the faces of clowns, with bulbous red noses that light up. In our real world we refer to them rather undramatically as “light switches.” Why frighten the neigbors?
This speculation could go on forever, but my “Multi-LayeredAntic Shock Device” has numbed because of a lack of padding in my “Portable Seating Apparatus” (Patent #729,049).
In any event, this review hasn’t been a wasted effort. The National Technical Information Center claims to have an “Angle Detector” for sale or lease. The Patent application # is 740,457. I suggest they turn it on their own engineers. Mark Twain once said of Wagner’s music, “It’s not as bad as it sounds.” It would be comforting if the eminent author’s words would be applied in this case.
(Joe T. Heywood claims to be humanoid, taking special pride in prehensile thumbs and the lumbar curvature of his spine. He resides at 1603 Edington in Portage with his wife, three sons, a dog, a cat, a slug in an old peanut juar on the sun porch, 200 hockey pucks, and a lawn filled with healthy dandelions.)
EDITOR’S NOTE: The above description of the author is his own. We would not presume to tamper with it except to note that his dandelions are not exactly championship class. Heywood is a member of Upjohn Co. public relations staff.