Friday, May 02, 2014

Invention

Cape Fear River, North Carolina
33 58.778 N 077 56.863 W
 
We have been doing pretty good with tides and currents until now. We left Myrtle Beach this morning, and we really want to get to Carolina Beach State Park tonight. We arrived at Southport at 1500, just in time to meet the peak ebb current in the Cape Fear River. Currents in this river are serious! Our best speed at full throttle was only 1.9 knots! But, we stuck with it. Now, 2 hours later, we are up to 3.5 knots and we will reach the destination before sunset.
 
My topic today is invention. I was reminded of that by the following headline and picture.
 

How refreshing to see something old and familiar so thoroughly re-thought. That is the essense of invention.
 
How about nautical things? What great sailing inventions have come along since Libby and I started sailing in the 1970s. GPS comes to mind. That was revolutionary. How about carbon fiber cloth and the high tech yachts of the 2013 America's Cup. Nah, those are all incemental improvements. I think my favorite since 2005 has been LED lighting. But none of those things are the fruit of a single person's inventiveness.
 
I've had some minor brushes with invention myself. I have two patents, but those aren't the things I'm most proud of. My best inventions (software related stuff) all suffered from the same problem -- timeliness. Too late or too early and an invention has no value.
 
My grandfather Mills suffered similar frustrations. He invented the 3-way light bulb, and sold the patent to G.E. for only $25. He invented the mechanical push-button combination door lock. I'm reminded of that all the time because I find those locks on places like gates and bathroom doors of marinas. But grandpa's patent was in 1936 (I think) and the first such locks weren't actually made until the late 1950s after the patent had expired. His invention wasn't timely.
 
My personal best invention was the web browser complete with links. I did it 5 years before Netscape, and 4 years before the web itself. Marc Andreesen and Sir Tim Berners-Lee did their browser and web inventions in a timely way and became famous. My version found zero acceptance. As I promoted it, people kept asking "Browse what?" "Unless you name the kind of information browsed (legal, engineering, finance, literature, ...), we can't understand what your invention is for." I took it to venture capitalist Ben Rosen, soon after Rosen's success with Compaq computers. Rosen hired a consultant from IBM to evaluate my invention. She killed it in her report with the sentence, "Corporate Americe does not want their employees to have access fo unstructured information." Sigh.
 
Even today, you might ask me, "What good was a web browser without a web?" Sigh.

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