Some Thoughts On Inventing
I enjoyed "Do You Possess The Necessary Elements To Successfully Invent?" \[Jan. 8, p. 148\] and have a few comments.
- When we computer-model a device, it's tempting to use the same approach: model, revise, try again, revise, and so on. There's little reward from duplicating in metal the thing already built in the computer. It's more fun to forge ahead. But the model isn't reality. There are differences. Each error is multiplied in each subsequent model until often there's no resemblance between the model and the real world.
- I feel sorry for the inventors who get someone else to do the prior-art search. Immense satisfaction comes from doing your own search. You can't help but be exposed to wild stuff that you never dreamed about yet might contain the seeds of an idea. We should encourage all would-be inventors to do their own paper searches. CD-ROMs or Internet databases are efficient in one way, but if the overall goal is to continue to produce more innovations, I'm not sure they're worth it.
- There's much to be learned by just looking at the quantities of patents. I was once working on heat-powered refrigeration, like the old Servel gas refrigerators. Plotting the number of patents issued per year, it was clear when the rural U.S. was electrified. This information can be handy if one is considering third-world situations or other nonpower-grid applications. By crossing several of these searches, all sorts of concepts begin to emerge. Computers would be great at this task!
- I don't think money is the major motivator for true invention. For one thing, the sorting and matching process you described happens in the subconscious and probably mostly when you're asleep. Money isn't important in that sphere. Also, I've known a number of inventors who suffered a bad experience when they brushed up against capitalism. They will never expose themselves to that hurt again, yet they continue inventing because they can't help it.
When inventors keep inventions to themselves, society loses. Of course, a lot of inventions are worthless except in the eye of the inventor. But many others fail to make the transition into the marketplace because the inventor has the disposition of an inventor, not a capitalist.
- We need a word in our language for the people who create a product, or concept, or company by their blood, sweat, and tears. Inventor isn't the word—frequently, no invention is involved. Entrepreneur isn't the word either. It conveys an intent to convert the concept into money ASAP. Money is a powerful force in our world, but by no means is it the only reason to grow an idea. Sometimes the idea is reason enough, and sometimes the idea must also provide a living. Some technically creative people don't value money above all else, and our language fails to provide for them.
Test For Success
Would you please share Jacob Rabinow's test for determining invention aptitude, mentioned in "Do You Possess The Necessary Elements To Successfully Invent?"
I'm sorry, but I hug the test to myself so that I can use it again! You can devise your own test, though. It must be a simple problem with many possible solutions that require only general knowledge.—Lawrence J. Kamm
Linux Makes One Job Easier
Exhibiting argumentation supported by the residue of modern liberal arts education, Michael Jeffrey disparages the GPL while venting inevitable frustration attendant upon offering Inferno to a market dominated by a formidable alternative called Linux \["The Conflict That Is Open Source: Is It A Philosophy Or A Dogma?" Jan. 22, p. 48\]. Without Linux, we may never have heard about the GPL. Certainly without the GPL, we would never have heard of Linux. The crux of the matter is that without Linux, Michael's job would be easier. Thanks to Richard Stallman's GPL, however, we have Linux. Therefore, my job is easier.
By the way, the word "niggle" means to pay too much attention to petty detail. The GPL definition of the word "free" is far from a petty detail, being the focus of the entire work.
Proposal For Waste Disposal
Along with the election, your article detailing practical reactor waste disposal \["Energy Independence—Without Pollution—Lies At Our Fingertips," Nov. 6, 2000, p. 165\] inspired a proposal for the new administration. Presidents have been served by scientific advisory groups. Often including pseudoscientists, they have provided little useful guidance.
Another area of wasted resources is our environmental protection efforts. Decisions are often binary, knee-jerky, or just politically correct. There has been little cost-benefit analysis or value engineering in "impact studies," antitrust, or other actions causing enormous effects.
We should do much better. I propose a technical advisory committee primarily composed of practicing engineers based in their own offices, not in Washington, with interaction via the net. Issues would be introduced for solutions by its members. A first topic would be nuclear waste disposal, with your solution at hand.