Celebrating simplicity and practicality on International Safety Pin Day

After getting rather esoteric yesterday on Internet of Things Day, we get right back to practical reality today – 10 April is International Safety Pin Day.

Apparently the inventor of the Safety Pin, Walter Hunt, was never short on clever ideas – he invented a flax spinning machine, a fire engine gong, a forest saw and a coal-burning stove, among others. But as good as he was with coming up with clever new inventions, finances probably wasn’t his strong suit.

Consider the safety pin, for example…

The safety pin - strong, durable and practical, yet safe enough to fasten a baby's nappy.(© All Rights Reserved)
The safety pin – strong, durable and practical, yet safe enough to fasten a baby’s nappy.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Legend has it that, faced with a $15 debt to a friend, Hunt figured the best way to get the money was to invent something new. So, armed with a piece of sharpened brass wire which he coiled in the middle and equipped with a clasp at the end to hold and shield the sharp edge, he created the first safety pin. He patented the concept on 10 April 1849, sold it to W. R. Grace and Company for $400, paid his friend the $15 he owed, and was left with the rather attractive sum of $385 for his efforts. Not too shabby! Sadly for Hunt the story didn’t end there. The new owners of the safety pin patent ran with the concept and is said to have made millions from the invention. I can imagine this must have left Hunt with a rather sour taste in the mouth, but then again, he may not have noticed, most likely being kept busy working on some other new inventions already.

To this day, Walter Hunt’s safety pins remains one of those super-useful things to have around in the house, the car and anywhere you may ever have a need for a fastener or a pin. The safety clasp means you won’t hurt yourself feeling around for it in a cupboard or the car’s cubbyhole, and beyond its function as a ‘normal’ pin, it’s great for holding together torn or damaged clothing, or any variety of other things that need holding together.

And of course, if you’re that way inclined, you can even use it as a piece of emergency jewellery!

The electrific Thomas Alva Edison, and you

11 February is, amusingly, known as Be Electrific Day. It’s the celebration of the birth of Thomas Alva Edison (11 Feb 1847 – Oct 1931), so today is obviously all about electricity. But electricity wasn’t the only domain Edison dabbled it – in fact he held the world patenting record, being granted a mindblowing 1093 patents in his lifetime. So today is also about being terrific, standing out, being the best you can be. This is the day to be ‘electrific’, a term first coined by inspirational speaker Carolyn Finch in 1998 – she defined being electrific is “an abbreviation for an electrification project – which means to put light where light has not been before.”

Be Electrific Day - the perfect time to allow all facets of your unique brilliance to shine brightly. (© All Rights Reserved)
Be Electrific Day – the perfect time to allow all facets of your unique brilliance to shine brightly.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Talking about Edison – among his dazzling array of patents are the first commercially practical incandescent lightbulb; an electric vote-recording machine, a phonograph, storage batteries, a dictaphone and a mimeograph.

1879 was, literally, Edison’s light bulb year – he built his first high-resistance, incandescent bulb in his laboratory in January 1879, and from that success worked tirelessly on thousands of filament substances before settling on the carbon filament presented for public demonstration on 31 December of the same year.

Beyond that, however, I suppose at a symbolic level Edison’s whole life can be considered a light bulb life. With the light bulb often being associated with creativity and invention, I guess it’s fair to sat that Thomas Edison had more light bulb moments than most.

I cannot help but wonder what it is in the wiring of some people’s brains that result in such seemingly unlimited inventiveness. Are they smarter than everyone else, or is it just a specific way of looking at the world?

But let me not get started on the topics of creativity and innovation, otherwise this post may never end. So for now, let’s just take Edison as a role model for the day, and strive to ‘electrificate’ as best we can!

Copyright Law and the rights of the creator

Today is Copyright Law Day. Not the most exciting of topics to start the New Year off with (except for copyright lawyers, I guess…), but still a pretty critical topic to ensure that everyone gets his or her dues, that fair remains fair and that order prevails in the world of intellectual property.

As I’ve often mentioned, many great inventors lost out on great amounts of money simply because they lacked the necessary patenting and copyright savvy to ensure that they kept ownership of their innovations. And similarly other inventors, those who did manage to patent and copyright their work, gained wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

Copyright law - an important subject to keep in mind when creating art for commercial purposes.(© All Rights Reserved)
Copyright law – an important subject to keep in mind when creating art for commercial purposes.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Of course in my line of work, being a photographer, photographic copyright law is particularly important.

When looking at New Zealand Copyright Law as it applies to photography, the situation is reasonably simple. In terms of ownership, the default scenario is that the person who takes the photo is the first owner of copyright of the material. However, there are two important exceptions:

  1. Employees – if a photograph is taken by a photographer in the course of his/her employment, the employer is the first owner of copyright, unless there is agreement to the contrary.
  2. Commissioned material – if a client commissions and pays for a photograph to be taken, s/he become the first owner of copyright unless there is agreement to the contrary.

Point (2) above, known as the ‘commissioning rule’, has long been a matter of debate in copyright law worldwide, and is currently under review in New Zealand (see “The Commissioning Rule, Contracts and the Copyright Act 1994: A Discussion Paper”, at http://www.med.govt.nz).

In a number of other countries, including the UK and Ireland, the commisioning rule has been removed from copyright law as it pertains to creative artifacts. Australia and Canada are also moving towards the situation where copyright is retained by the photographer, independent of commissioning.

Importantly, Copyright Law can be overridden by an additional contract/agreement between the photographer and client. As stated in the law, the employee rule and commissioning rule apply ‘unless there is agreement to the contrary’. So if you’re commissioned for a job, but it’s going to take sufficient intellectual and creative input from you as a photographer, that you would want to keep copyright of the image(s), you can set up an agreement with the commissioning party granting you copyright.

Whether there is a specific agreement in place regarding copyright and the allowed use of a photograph or not, an additional factor that comes into play in creative works is the ‘moral right’ of the creator. Artists are, by law, granted certain moral rights pertaining to their creations. Specifically, the artist has the right to be identified as the author of a work when it is published/displayed, and has the right to object to derogatory treatment of a work. In the photographer/client agreement, moral rights may also be defined in more detail, and penalties specified for cases where the moral rights of the photographer are not upheld.

Whichever option one goes for, it is important to remember that copyright and ownership of a photograph is an important matter, that needs to be addressed when contracting a photographer. Whether the photographer or the client retains ownership of the photo, some agreement should be in place to (1) give both parties sufficient rights to the image, and (2) protect both parties from misuse of the image by the other party.

So here’s to a great 2013 – may your creativity be plentiful, and may you reap the just rewards for everything you do! 🙂

Monopoly – the classic board game entertaining generations.

On this day in 1935, the very last day of the year, the Parker Brothers was granted a patent for the game of Monopoly.

Houses & hotels established on the right addressed. And the odd chance to spend some time in jail! (© All Rights Reserved)
Houses & hotels established at the right addresses. And the odd chance to spend some time in jail!
(© All Rights Reserved)

The patent described Monopoly as “intended primarily to provide a game of barter, thus involving trading and bargaining”, further stating “much of the interest in the game lies in trading and in striking shrewd bargains.”

The game of Monopoly deals with real estate – players can buy properties on different streets with different values, where they can charge rent etc. An element of chance (the roll of two dice) is incorporated to add excitement and unpredictability.

The original patent for Monopoly was quite comprehensive, including illustrations showing not only the playing board and pieces, but also 22 “Title cards of the respective Real Estate holdings”, Utilities, Chance and Community Chest cards, and the scrip money.

The Parker Brothers’ Monopoly became one of the all-time best selling board games, entertaining generations of adults and children. Intricate and complex enough to stimulate adult players, yet simple enough to still entertain (slightly older) children, it proved a winning recipe, and a true classic of the board game genre.

Asa Candler and Coca-Cola’s rise to world dominance

If I say ‘carbonated soft drink’, what is the first beverage that comes to mind?  If you answered ‘Coca-Cola’ (and the chances are very good that will be the case), you have our birthday star, Asa Griggs Candler (30 Dec 1851 -12 Mar 1929) to thank.

Candler was an American marketer and manufacturer, who took the Coca-Cola soft drink invented in 1886 by pharmacist John “Doc” Pemberton, and turned it into the biggest carbonated beverage in the world. When Pemberton died, Candler bought his secret formula, and proceeded to invest obscene amounts of money ($50k per year – a crazy investment at the time) into the advertising of his product. His goal was to move Coca-Cola from a local beverage, sold from a soda fountain, to a bottled, national drink.

Coca-Cola - after more than a century still untouched as the most recognised carbonated soft-drink in the world.(© All Rights Reserved)
Coca-Cola – after more than a century still untouched as the most recognised carbonated soft-drink in the world.
(© All Rights Reserved)

His efforts were hugely successful, and his beverage became a national hit, but the success brought with it numerous copy-cats – producers who sold similar looking beverages, with similar names (only different enough to avoid patent infringement cases). His solution to this was another stroke of marketing genius – patenting a uniquely shaped bottle. The shape of the Coke bottle became an integral part of its marketing campaigns, successfully differentiating it from other, similar cola beverages.

Candler was president of the Coca-Cola company for almost 30 years (1887-1916) and under his leadership Coke cemented it’s cult status among carbonated soft drinks. Relentless and intense marketing and advertising remained the backbone of Coca-Cola’s success, even after Candler’s death, and to this day no other soft drink has been able to come close to Coca-Cola’s level of market dominance.

Sweets for my sweet, saccharin for my honey

Our birthday star for today is Constantin Fahlberg (22 Dec 1850 – 15 Aug 1910), the Russian chemist who, in 1878, discovered the surprisingly sweet taste of anhydroorthosulphaminebenzoic acid (better known to those of us without PhD’s in chemistry as saccharin), while working on coal tar compounds at the John Hopkins University.

What made him decide to taste the compound he created is not clear to me – he seems to have been quite a daring chemist to taste the stuff he concocted in the lab – but the bottom line is it must have been a thrilling taste-sensation, given that saccharin is said to be 220 times sweeter than cane sugar. Fahlberg dubbed the compound ‘saccharin’ after the Latin name for sugar.

Saccharin - one of the 'big three' most widely used artificial sweeteners around the world (together with aspartame and sucralose).(© All Rights Reserved
Saccharin – one of the ‘big three’ most widely used artificial sweeteners around the world (together with aspartame and sucralose).
(© All Rights Reserved

Realising the potential of his discovery, he took out all the necessary patents and set up a saccharin factory in 1896 with his uncle, Dr Adoplh List. Churning out saccharin by the ton-load, Fahlberg soon became a very wealthy man – unlike some other inventors, he was lucky enough to reap the sweet rewards (pardon the pun) of his invention.

Over the years, saccharin became the subject of various controversies – from being considered an illegal substitute for sugar in certain foods, to being accused of being carcinogenic in the 1960s and 70s. No conclusive proof has however been found linking saccharine to cancer in humans, and today it is still one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners, together with sucralose and aspartame.

Gordon Gould, laser shows and space battles

If you were young in the late 70s/early 80s, you may have a special appreciation for today’s subject. Remember those high-tech night club laser shows that were so popular at the time? Well, today we celebrate the invention of the laser.

On this day back in 1957, the American physicist Gordon Gould, noted down the principles of ‘Light Amplified by Stimulated Emission of Radiation’, or ‘LASER’ in a dated notebook entry. His notes also included various applications for laser light, and he was the first to coin the term ‘LASER’ at a conference in 1959.

(© All Rights Reserved)

Sadly Gould’s patenting savvy at the time didn’t match his physics skills, and his 1959 patent application was denied by the US Patent Office. The USPO subsequently went on to grant a patent in 1960 to Bell Laboratories, whose scientists, Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow, were independently and in parallel to Gould, also working on the concept of lasers.

This effectively ‘robbed’ Gould of his share of the benefits – money, prestige, science acumen – derived from the invention. Not willing to accept this fate, Gould took the matter to court, an action that set in motion 28 years of lawsuits. He won a minor patent in 1977, but it was only in 1987 that he succeeded in achieving a major victory, claiming patents for a number of laser devices.

To this day, science historians are not in agreement about who to give primary credit for the invention of the laser, but there is no doubt that Gould deserves a large portion of the credit.

Since its discovery, many different types of lasers have been developed, producing emissions in ways too intricate to try and discuss in a blog post. However, the key feature of a laser beam is its high degree of spatial and temporal coherence. ‘Spatial coherence’ means there is very little diffraction in a laser beam, so it can be focused on a tiny spot over a significant distance. ‘Temporal coherence’ means the wave phase of the light beam is correlated over a large distance, producing a polarised wave at a single frequency.

Lasers are not just important scientific tools – they’re also a great subject for science photography.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Of course lasers are far more useful than simply creating special effects light shows. They have become a ubiquitous part of modern society, being used in electronics, information technology, medicine, industry and military applications. In any single day you may encounter lasers in barcode scanners, CD players, computer hard disks, laser printers and more.

Thanks to their precise focusing ability, lasers are used in a range of medical applications, including surgery, treatment of kidney stones, eye treatments etc. They are also used in cosmetic skin treatments. Their accurate cutting ability makes them extremely useful in many modern industrial cutting and part-making applications. They are also an integral part of many military systems, including guidance and electro-optical defence systems.

And perhaps most importantly, judging by countless science fiction movies over the years, lasers will be absolutely indispensable as the weapon of choice to defend our planet and obliterate enemy space ships!