Back in 1890, when Darthula Buckner was pregnant with her son Mayo, she saw a blind piano player named Blind Boone perform. She found it frightening the way Blind Boone rolled his eyes, and she grew to believe that somehow Blind Boone had imprinted his influence on the child inside her. Because as Mayo was growing up, sometimes he too rolled his eyes. Mayo was also a bit shy, and he ate his food fast. This was too much for his mother, who decided he needed "special management" and took him, at the age of 8, to the Iowa Home for Feeble-Minded Children.
An official at the institute (but not a doctor) took one look at Mayo and declared he was a "medium-grade imbecile." And so began Mayo's new life as an inmate in a mental institute.
When he reached adulthood, Mayo frequently told the doctors that he felt he was perfectly sane and would like to leave. But this request was always denied. And since he was so often told he was feeble-minded, he eventually came to believe it.
Until a new superintendent arrived at the school, tested Mayo, and told him that not only was he perfectly sane, but he also had a higher-than-average IQ of 120. So he was free to leave.
But by that time it was 1957 and Mayo was 67 years old. He had nowhere to go, so he decided to stay. He died there in 1965.
Build a better mousetrap, it is said, and the world will beat a path to your door. The implication being that there are some problems which are just crying out for a solution. And then there are the solutions crying out for a problem - those inventions that, while inspired, are just a tad “out there”. It is this later category I shall be celebrating today.
First up, how clean is your cow? This age old problem has nagged at the minds of farmers down the ages, are their cows clean enough? And why isn’t there an easier way to clean cows? Well these merchants of the soil need worry no more thanks to a Swedish company that has developed the fully automated “cow wash”. Supposedly improving the health and yield of cows that use it, the cow wash uses a free swinging revolving brush to groom the cows while simultaneously stimulating their circulation. Apparently the cows enjoy using it and the makers DeLaval have sold over 30,000 in Sweden alone (Daily Mail).
Bigwigs in the US military will also soon be able to sleep sounder in the knowledge that the men under their command are safely in their underpants. We’re not just talking about any undies though, these have been specially designed by University of California professor Joseph Wang. Not only will his techno-trunks monitor the vitals of the personnel wearing them, they can even administer painkillers or antibiotics as the situation demands (Post Chronicle).
And if your pants don’t save you, at least your modesty will be preserved when you are taken to hospital, all thanks to the University of Montreal. For it is from that fine establishment’s School of Industrial Design that our next invention hails, a hospital gown that isn’t quite so revealing. The DUO gown is the brainchild of Noemie Marquis and Denyse Roy and consists of two overlapping panels, front and back, that is easy to put on and requires no fasteners making life simpler for both patients and staff (Medical News Today).
Meanwhile British scientists have been working on an altogether sterner cover. Nicknamed “bullet-proof custard” by its inventors, Bristol based BAE systems have developed a liquid armour consisting of layers of Kevlar combined with a secret “shear-thickening” liquid that hardens as force is applied. The company’s eventual aim is to produce lighter, more-flexible body armour for the military (BBC News).
Each year the BBC broadcasts the Richard Dimbleby Lecture, a 50 minute speech by a well-known figure on a topical subject they feel strongly about. Previous speakers include Richard Dawkins, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bill Clinton and the Prince of Wales; this year the lecture was by author Sir Terry Pratchett, and read for him by actor Tony Robinson. Read for him because Pratchett has a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease called PCA, and is facing a future where his mental faculties will desert him piece by piece until all language, memory and reason are gone. Ranged against that ending is Pratchett’s own wish, to die in a chair in his garden, with a brandy in one hand and Thomas Tallis playing on his iPod. Hence his lecture is a frank, powerful and impassioned call that he and others in similar situations be allowed to die their way, and that those who assist them to do so not be prosecuted for their cooperation.
For those not able to sit through all 6 parts, an edited transcript is available here.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.