Pipe Dream: The Wacky Plan to Pump Antarctic Ice into Australia

iStock/atese
iStock/atese

Arthur Paul Pedrick hated his job at the British patent office. He spent each day doing the same boring task: reading dense applications and determining whether the inventions therein were truly original. “[It’s] the most soul-destroying professional occupation in science or technology,” he once moaned. So when Pedrick finally left his job in 1961, he found a way to liven things up at his old workplace—by becoming one of the most prolific, and unusual, inventors of all time.

Over the next 15 years, Pedrick applied for approximately 160 patents, each one wackier than the last. He dreamed up a golf ball that could steer itself onto the fairway after a bad hook or slice. He sketched a device resembling a hovercraft. In response to the 1973 oil crisis, he patented a horse-powered car that literally put the cart before the horse. To prevent nuclear war, he designed a radiation detector that worked simultaneously as a “peace-keeping” bomb and, oddly, as a cat flap that admits only orange-colored felines.

(The patent was titled “Photon Push-Pull Radiation Detector for Use in Chromatically Selective Cat Flap Control and 1000 Megaton, Earth-Orbital, Peace-Keeping Bomb.” The application includes commentary from Pedrick’s cat, Ginger: “Purr-purr … That’s quite clever.”)

But Patent GB1203136 (A) takes the cake. In it, Pedrick planned a pipeline for carrying “ice balls” from Antarctica to central Australia. The pipes would harness Earth’s rotation to whisk dense snowballs at a speed of 1000 mph into a mountainous reservoir in the “dead heart” of Australia. The surplus of fresh water, Pedrick argued, would help create an agricultural wonderland that could be used to halt famine all over the world. (Fittingly, the patent was titled “Improvements in the Irrigation of ‘Deserts’ by Snow Piped from Polar Regions for the Purpose of Minimizing the Impending World Famine.”)

Nobody is certain whether Pedrick was serious about his inventions or if he was just trolling the system he loved to hate. The most likely explanation is that he pitied the poor, bored patent examiners and wanted to give them something to smile about. (After all, many of his applications spiraled into amusing diatribes and included poetry.)

Regardless, one thing stood in the way of his dream to turn the sandy landscape of central Australia into a watery paradise. “My ginger cat has just come in and I shall have to go and open another tin of cat food, which continues to rise in price,” he wrote in the application, “so how can I afford to get my ‘Ice Balls’ rolling into the ‘Deserts?’”

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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Remembering Sara Little Turnbull, Whose Bra Cup Design Became the N95 Mask

Design innovator Sara Little Turnbull.
Design innovator Sara Little Turnbull.
Photo Credit: © Center for Design Institute

The coronavirus pandemic has made something of a celebrity out of the N95 mask, a particle-filtering face covering that’s long been used to protect wearers from inhaling or exhaling pathogens. (The “95” refers to the fact it can block 95 percent of airborne particles.)

Like most nondescript and pervasive products, not many people stop to think about where it came from. Now, owing to the attention placed on it as a key tool in the health care professional’s fight against coronavirus, the woman behind the mask has come to the forefront. Her name is Sara Little Turnbull, and she designed what would become the N95 based on the shape of a bra cup.

A design consultant, Turnbull was working with the 3M company in 1958 in their gift wrap and fabric division when she was exposed to Shapeen, a non-woven material made of polymers and used for decorative ribbons. Turnbull was fascinated by the molded version of Shapeen and devised the first-ever pre-made bows for gift wrap.

Turnbull didn’t stop there. She saw endless possibilities in Shapeen and assembled an audience of 3M executives to present a number of ideas she had for products—more than 100 in all—using the material. At the presentation, which she titled “Why,” she impressed 3M with the scope of Shapeen's potential. The company quickly enlisted her to work on a design for a molded bra cup.

But Turnbull had another, arguably more important notion. At the time, she was taking care of three ailing family members who were under the care of doctors. Turnbull was often in a medical setting and noticed health care workers were constantly adjusting thin masks that tied in the back. She returned to 3M with the idea of using that same molded material to make a mask that would fit more comfortably on the face.

Again, 3M saw potential in Turnbull’s idea. By 1961, they introduced a non-woven lightweight medical mask based on her concept, with elastic bands instead of strings, an aluminum nose clip, and a form-fitting "bubble" shape. (The bra patent was approved in 1962.) Though innovative, the mask couldn't block pathogens for medical use and was marketed for dust filtration instead. An improved respirator hit the market in 1972 that was suitable for other industrial purposes. As the mask’s filtration evolved, so did its usefulness. In 1995, the N95 respirator was introduced in the health care field, fulfilling Turnbull's original ambition.

Though Turnbull had been relegated to a nondescript part of 3M, she had an extensive background in design, graduating from the Parsons School of Design in 1939 and later becoming the decorating editor of House Beautiful magazine. After Turnbull wrote an article taking companies to task for not designing products suitable for the end user, she was hired by 3M. As a consultant, she also collaborated with Corning, Revlon, General Mills, and Ford, among others.

After Turnbull died in 2015, the Sara Little Turnbull Center for Design Institute was formed, which offers information to the public on the value of design and supports the efforts of disadvantaged women's design education. Turnbull's vast archive of material is available to view by appointment. A foundation in her name also provides educational grants. The “Little,” incidentally, was in acknowledgment of her height. At 4 feet, 11 inches tall, Turnbull wasn’t terribly physically imposing. But her contributions were gigantic.

[h/t NPR]