In through the outfield blog

20 posts from June 2008

26 June 2008

American patriotism patents in World War I

Every war provokes patriotic inventions, as I noted in my posting on the Boer War.

World War I was certainly no exception. When I researched my last book, Inventing the American Dream (published in the USA as American Inventions), I spent many happy hours scanning the Design Patents in the American official gazette during the American involvement in both world wars. This is really the only way to research them, as patriotic playing cards, for example, are indexed simply as playing cards by the classification. King

The image shown here has been captured from the valuable Google Patents website. The only way of finding it was to insert as search terms its Design number, 51574, together with the word design. It shows Uncle Sam as the King in a pack of cards,

I didn't note the numbers at the time, but noticed similarly patriotic designs for combs, finger rings, pins (a big favourite), car radiators, easels, lampshades and photograph holders, another popular topic.

Uncle Sam turns up again as a proud eagle statue, by Mary Harris of San Francisco. This is Design Patent 51415. Unclesam

Then there was Design 52871, which shows a child wrapped in the flag while stamping on the Kaiser, with "Kaiser's Finish" at the bottom of the statue. 

There were also the usual board games, such as the Game Apparatus which was called "Kop the Kaiser", which involved a race to Berlin.

There is also a toy, called Target, which is unfortunately missing from the Espacenet database. It is patent 1305653 and shows an KaisersfinishAmerican corporal striking a bemused Kaiser on the head.

All these can be searched for on the Google database... as the numbers are known.


24 June 2008

Twittering away at SLA in Seattle

Sla_twitter_cloud Thanks to the Yankee In Canada (otherwise known as Daniel Lee) for producing an SLA twitter cloud for the recent conference. The cool image below was produced using Wordle, and is based on analysis of the 1,194 tweets produced during the conference.

I even managed to contribute a few to the total myself, which was fun while it lasted.

23 June 2008

The Hawk-Eye® system at Wimbledon tennis

It's the first day of the Wimbledon tennis open, and it's a lovely day for strawberries and cream. In a few hours television viewers will be watching the Video Processor Systems for Ball Tracking in Ball Games technology, Hawk-Eye®, on their televisions.

This is the system that enables animated replays of points, so that the viewer sees if the ball was truly in or out. It works by using 12 cameras situated around the court which feed into a system that determines where the ball was at any one time, and extrapolates its flight. Here is its main drawing.

Hawk Eye system

The technology was devised by Roke Manor Research Limited of Romsey, Hampshire, and can be used for other sports, such as cricket (as shown in the drawing). The technology has been spun off into a new company, Hawk-Eye Innovations Limited.

More cool librarians - Part 1

My search for the coolest librarian continued during the annual SLA conference in Seattle.

My previous winner of this (grossly under-recognised) award Louise Guy from Cirque du Soleil was not at the  conference this year, although I did bump into Chad Eng, drummer in the death metal band From the Wreckage, looking suitably cool with his shoulder length blond hair and goatee beard.

This year I didn’t come away with a clear winner, but instead a trio of cool librarians.

Mary Ellen Bates

The first, and most surprising discovery for me, was Mary Ellen Bates. She is a big name in the information profession with more than 25 years of experience in business research. She has written hundreds of articles and white papers, conducted hundreds of speaking engagements, and is an acknowledged expert on variousPatty_hearst aspects of online and Internet research. Instead of her usual topic relating to what’s new in internet research and tools, her much more ambitious title was, The Next Information Revolution, and our Role as Revolutionaries. She caught my attention with her second slide which flashed up for just an instant with this photo of Patty Hearst, best known for her attachment to an SLA organisation with truly revolutionary intentions.

Her presentation (which I will cover in a later blog) was primarily about our new clients and customers known as millennials or digital natives. And how we must re-educate ourselves to provide services they want in the way they want. These are customers who will be telling us what they want rather than vice versa at present. Her blunt but effective scenarios contained scenes of librarians explaining the limitations of their databases or catalogues only to be met with, ‘I see your lips moving, but I’m not listening’. Or even worse, a response consisting of one of the two favourite three letter responses of this new generation, OMG (Oh My God) - meaning I’m not impressed, and WTF (What The ‘Heck’) - meaning I really don’t care at all about what you are saying to me.

Mebbusinessphoto As you can see by her photo Mary Ellen does not immediately strike one as of the revolutionary mould. In fact you could say she looks something close to the stereotype of the female librarian (although sans hair in a bun and wearing a pearl necklace). But with her casual (joking) references to giving up on her crack pipe, and other amusing but unexpected comments I didn’t have time to note, she effectively destroys that negative image of information professionals.

Needless to say, as a cutting edge librarian she has a blog (since 2006) called Librarian of Fortune (Mary Ellen Bates contributes white noise to the blogosphere) at

I can’t wait to hear her next presentation.

22 June 2008

The Future of the information profession part 2: Report from SLA2008

Space_needle Not surprisingly this topic came up many times and in many different ways during the recent annual SLA conference in Seattle.

The new generation of information professionals

As I mentioned previously I see the new information professionals as absolutely key to our future, especially given the demographic of the profession which will result in 58 percent of the members of SLA reaching 65 by 2019.

If the three young people (Christina de Castell, Stacey Greenwell, Daniel Lee) on the panel session titled Perspectives of New Information Professionals are representative of their generation then our future is in very capable hands.

SLA Alignment Project

SLA is funding a project with Fleishman-Hillard, the international consulting firm which is leading a team made up of Outsell and Social Technologies. The Alignment Project will be consulting widely both inside and outside the information profession to help SLA anticipate the future and create a strong and relevant brand.

Breaking down stereotypes of librarians

Librarians often suffer from stereotypes in the media, but in my experience many information professionals do somewhat lack in confidence. So it was fascinating to hear Stephen Abram the current President of SLA refer to his early years, when he could never imagine becoming a leader both in his career and of a global association. Having known Stephen for quite a few years now, it came as a big surprise to find out how far he has had to come to reach this point.

Another commonly occurring trait in librarians (which is almost never covered by the media) is their inner strength. I think of it as the opposite of the description of Israelis as Sabras. (Sabra (Hebrew: צבר‎) is a term used to describe a native-born Israeli Jew. The word is derived from the Hebrew name for the prickly pear cactus, i.e. “tzabar”. The allusion is to a tenacious, thorny desert plant with a thick hide that conceals a sweet, softer interior, i.e., rough and masculine on the outside, but delicate and sensitive on the inside. Wikipedia)

Instead, the librarian has a soft outer shell, but inside is a core of steel. An excellent example of this is Ann Sparanese, a librarian at Englewood Library in New Jersey. She is credited (and gets a foreword mention to prove it) with saving Michael Moore’s first book Stupid White Men. To quote Moore, “Librarians see themselves as the guardians of the First Amendment. You got a thousand Mother Joneses at the barricades! I love the librarians, and I am grateful for them!” Salon website.

Adding value to our services

According to research done by Barbara Quint, Google answers as many questions in 30 minutes as all librarians in the world answer at reference desks in 15 years. So the only way to keep ahead of this type of competition is to constantly add value to our service. We need to understand our customers needs better and work more closely with them. That way we can become more of a consultancy service than just providing quick and simple reference answers. This is a topic I have written about in Moving from readers to customers to clients in the Business & IP Centre at the British Library, Business Information Review, Vol. 25, No. 2, 125-126 2008

The Future of the information profession part 1: Report from SLA2008

Sla_0221_2 I have just from the annual SLA conference which this year was in Seattle. It was strange returning to the city of my very first SLA event ten years ago. Then I was very green information professional and spent most of the four days trying to get my head around the complexities SLA, the conference and cultural differences between the UK and the USA.

This time I was there to fulfil my commitments as co-convener of the Fellows annual meeting, the First Timers Event and to Chair the Public Policy Advisory Council. Since being made a fellow of the SLA in Baltimore in 2006 I was expecting to be required to continue to contribute to the association.

I was more than happy to be involved with the First Timers Event which is held at the beginning of the five days of conference. I passionately believe in encouraging and supporting new entrants into the information profession. So helping to explain how to get the best out of the conference and to enable networking, as well as the opportunity to find mentors is a job I was happy to do.

The loud buzz in the room from the 300 or so who turned up to the meeting indicated they were more than ready to network with their fellow information professionals.

Chairing the Public Policy Advisory Council gave me great opportunity to be involved with SLA’s effective efforts during 2007 and 2008 to campaign against library closures in the US Government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as a host of other activities. In the case of the EPA libraries, SLA in the form of Doug Newcomb (Chief Policy Officer) and Janice Lachance (SLA CEO) had been in the vanguard of the move to prevent the closures without due consideration and discussion.

20 June 2008

The LZR Racer® swimsuit by Speedo

Speedo, the British swimsuit company, issued a press release in February to mark the launch of their new LZR Racer® swimsuit. What I believe are the patent applications for the new drag-saving technology were only published last Wednesday.

These are GB2444803 and GB2444804, both titled "Sports garment". The first is for a double layer of stretchable elasticated fabric which improve the swimmer's posture when tired so that the body does not sag, and stays streamlined. The second is for laminated panels placed on the outer surface of the base layer of the same fabric, which apparently also reduces drag. Here is the main drawing from GB2444804.

Speedo swimsuit

The results, say experts, is an improvement of 2% in performance with the new swimsuits -- a lot in competitive swimming. It was recently pointed out that 41 world records in swimming had been broken since February -- with 37 by swimmers wearing the new swimsuit. Many of the record breakers had not previously been highly rated. Normally only half a dozen records or so would have been broken in the same time period.

The new swimsuit is approved for use at the Beijing Olympics, where no doubt many more records will fall.

Flying saucer inventions

I opened this morning's Metro free newspaper on the train to find an article on page 17 called "Building a better UFO". According to it, Subrata Roy, a professor at the University of Florida, has "patented" a flying saucer invention.

As so often in the media this is not quite right. In February Professor Roy had a patent application published (it awaits grant).  His Wingless Hovering of Micro Air Vehicle has no moving parts and depends on the generation of plasma, which has an electric current put in it, to keep it aloft. The article says that a light and powerful energy source to do this is needed. Apparently both the US Air Force and NASA are interested. Here is its main drawing.

First page clipping image

The article also mentions that British Rail applied for a flying saucer patent in 1970. This interesting attempt to move into other modes of transport is well known, perhaps notorious, in the patent world. This is the main drawing from their Space Vehicle patent. 

 First page clipping image

The article also mentions Paul Moller, whose recent Improved Vertical Take-off and Landing Vehicles have actually flown, but not more than a few metres up if I remember (to avoid violating FAA regulations on what is an aircraft), and also Avro Aircraft's Vertical Take-Off Aircraft from 1954.  Here are its main drawings.

First page clipping image

I wish I could say that I've ever been commissioned to search for similar inventions, but sadly no.