Thursday, December 31, 2009

HitchHiker's IGuide to the Galaxy

Today I had a "deja vu all over again" moment when I read some technology blog posts speculating about the arrival of the new Apple IPad tablet. A lot of technology prognosticators were putting forth their positions on the been-there-done-that experience with tablet PCs. I was having a deja vu moment because while the IPad exhibited all of the amazing human factors and industrial engineering that is all things Apple, I was taking a stroll down IGuide memory lane.

Enter the technology time machine and return to 1988 when WANG Laboratories as developing its Freestyle product. Freestyle was a product ahead of its time. You could write with a stylus to sign documents on the screen, use your mouse to move documents around, add voice annotations to your documents to convey important ideas along with the contents.

Freestyle was to be followed by a handheld PDA like device that incorporated lots of the features of Freestyle into something you could cart around with you. The IGuide would let you store all of your important information in portable wireless form.

Stephen Levine, technologist and inventor extraordinaire, created a cult following within the R&D world at WANG. To inspire the troops Dr. Levine, who had a fishphone on his desk, invited Douglas Addams, the author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, to come in and give a talk about his books and about the "guide" that the characters had with them. The future arrived in 1988.

The video is vintage Steve Levine demonstrating Freestyle. (Prior art alert...) Enjoy.

(The video takes about 20 seconds to get started.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Diet Season and the Exercise Escalator

Last week the CEO of NutriSystem, Joe Redling, was on CNBC squawking about the improving financial results of his company and the upcoming Diet Season. NutriSystem, just closed a deal to sell their products at Sam's Club and Walgreens. This and their existing deal with Costco and Wal-Mart means that NutriSystem's stuff will be in about 10,000 retail locations. A direct challenge to Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice. The Diet Season is the busy season for NutriSystem. Mr. Redling was excited.

Anyone who goes to a gym on a regular basis is familiar with Diet Season. On January 2, probably January 4th this year due to the extended New Year's Eve holiday weekend, the Diet Season begins. Right after the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Years Eve holiday feasts, office parties, and endless trays of cookies and the resulting over consumption of goodies come to an end, we feel compelled to make the annual New Year's Resolution to go on a diet, exercise more and become healthier. Hence the emergence of the Diet Season. The current healthcare debate only adds to the pressure to get moving and be part of the Diet Season. The gym fills up with people who haven't exercised since last January. They immediately start hogging up the cardio equipment, lifting weights that are too heavy for them, and straining every muscle in their bodies. The Diet Season is then followed by the Orthopaedic and Chiropractor season but I digress. Let is be said that cardio is big during the Diet Season.

All this brings me to Walter Harrison and Samuel Talbot, the inventors of the Exercise Escalator. The Exercise Escalator which appears to be the predecessor to the Stair Master, is an "in place" exerciser which resembles a reverse action escalator. Mr. Harrison and Mr Talbot's invention is covered by patent 3,497,215. It was filed in 1967, after the Diet Season that year.

The invention claims, "An escalator type apparatus for exercising a subject "in situ" in a simulated stair climbing activity, comprising a structure including a flight of steps movable in a closed loop, each step having a closed riser affixed thereto, and means operatively connected to said apparatus for measuring the effort of a subject in the act of simulated climbing of said movable steps." They invented the stair case to nowhere.

The Exercise Escalator is especially suited for multi-lead electrocardiography during the exercise of patients with coronary heart disease...presenting minimal danger to the weak and unsteady; one which exercises the muscles habitually used by nonathletic people..." I think the January crowd qualifies here.

So as you mount the stair master or what every stair climbing cardio device you find in your over crowded gym in January, think of Mr. Harrison and Mr. Talbot's invention and the their contribution to the annual ritual of the Diet Season.