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Jeff Steck
Chicago, Illinois
Jeff Steck is the creator of GazetteCetera. He studied physics at the University of Chicago and law at the University of California at Berkeley. Jeff grew up in a family of inventors in Ohio. He now lives in Chicago.
Recent Activity
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Donna Ford from Malibu, California and her son Jack have received a new patent (8,146,614) on a cup holder for crutches. The invention was inspired by Ms. Ford's own difficulty carrying around her coffee after an injury. The Inventor was on crutches for approximately 4 months and needed to carry coffee to the office and around the home while on crutches without the use of hands, without relying on others to carry items for her, and with minimal spillage. With assistance from her 8 year old son Jack, who wants to be an inventor when he grows up, the Inventor... Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2012 at GazEtc
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As athletes reach ever higher levels of performance, aided by new technologies in sporting equipment, the performance of spectators has not kept pace. When it comes to spectator participation, the most effective performance-enhancing technology is probably the vuvuzela, a plastic trumpet so reviled it has been banned from many sporting venues. Two inventors from Maryland have developed a more sporting alternative: applause-enhancing gloves. In their new patent (8,225,425), the inventors describe a phenomenon that may be unfamiliar to dedicated vuvuzeleros. [I]t is not uncommon for spectators to express their pleasure by clapping hands or applauding. Even those who are already... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2012 at GazEtc
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Nike received a patent this week on a new new baseball glove with the "air" technology made famous by its shoes. The patent (8,220,071) describes a glove with an L-shaped insert (170), which Nike calls the "palmar force attentuation system." The insert can be filled with air, foam, or even sulfur hexafluoride, a gas so dense that you can float a boat on it (also, it tends not to leak). The insert is specially shaped to "enhance flexibility and tactile sensation" while it protects against the "discomfort associated with impacts with balls." Designed for pitchers, catchers, etc. Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2012 at GazEtc
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Two inventors hope to put an end to cheating in Taiwan's great annual pigeon races. As described in their patent (8,128,470), which issued last week, the races offer a strong incentive for foul play. Pigeon racing competition is an annual great event in Taiwan and is famed for its huge purses offered to owners of the winner pigeons. This makes more than thirty-thousand pigeon owners participate in the contest every year . . . . It is thus not hard to expect how tough the competition would be. The patent is most notable for explaining what is already done to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2012 at GazEtc
IBM, the most prolific earner of U.S. patents, received a patent last week on a new method of paying avatars for work in a virtual world. The method is designed to crack down on avatars who collect "virtual unit dollars" without doing their jobs. According to the patent (8,128,487), avatars can get jobs drumming up interest in events like "a party of a virtual nightclub" or "a virtual fashion show." [A]ttention and popularity has value because it can increase the visibility of a theme or branding of a particular region. Advertisers need viewers, and one way to increase viewers in... Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2012 at GazEtc
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A patent issued this week for modifications to an American football that would give it better stability when thrown in a spiral. The patent (8,128,523) is owned by Russell Asset Management, which is related to the Spalding brand of footballs. On the outside, the new football is indistinguishable from an ordinary football. But on the inside, it has a series of weighted strips (400) that extend around the middle. Together, the strips form a generally ring-shaped weight around the middle, stabilizing the football in flight by acting somewhat like a gyroscope. The concentration of weight in the middle increases the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2012 at GazEtc
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Entrepreneur Sara Blakely, the inventor of Spanx undergarments, has earned a place in the Forbes list of billionaires. Her body-smoothing panty inventions are the subject of three U.S. patents and the foundation of a billion-dollar company. As described in the Forbes cover story, Ms. Blakely worked tirelessly to get her company got off the ground, even researching and writing her own patent application. She spent seven nights straight at the Georgia Tech library researching every hosiery patent ever filed. . . . To save $3,000 in legal fees she wrote her own patent from a Barnes & Noble textbook. Her... Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2012 at GazEtc
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Two inventors from California received a patent yesterday on a sandwich bag with a built-in glove, so you can safely eat lunch with unwashed hands. In case you weren't familiar with lunch, the concept is explained in the patent (8,128,287), presumably by a very thorough patent attorney. One typical use of storage bags is for a packed meal, such as lunch. A packed meal is a meal typically prepared at home and carried to be eaten somewhere else, such as school, a workplace or at an outing, such as a picnic. When the packed meal is to be eaten, the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2012 at GazEtc
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A patent issued today to a team of French inventors for a Champagne gift box that expands into an ice bucket. The patent (8,127,927) explains that the combined box and bucket is folded from a single sheet of cardboard and lined with plastic. After the box top (10,11) is pulled off, the sides (5) of the box fold outward to form a bucket shape, and ice can be added to chill of the bottle. Sharing the likely fate of the patented champagne box, the patent itself has been re-gifted several times within the same family. It belonged first to Veuve... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2012 at GazEtc
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Nikola Tesla became famous for his ability to generate enormous sparks of electricity. But his early successes, the inventions that would later finance the awe-inspiring scintillations of giant Tesla coils, were actually efforts to prevent sparks. An electric motor turns because it is trying to keep up with magnetic fields that keep changing direction. And to change the direction of those fields, you need an electric current that keeps changing direction. Direct current (DC), the kind that comes from batteries, doesn't change direction by itself, so to keep a motor running on DC, the current has to be switched back... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2012 at GazEtc
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A Florida neurosurgeon, Dr. Rohit Khanna, received a patent last week on a system for chilling the human brain. As it turns out, keeping the brain cool is a good way to limit brain damage in cases of severe trauma or stroke. For now, the most common methods for keeping the brain cool work only indirectly, by chilling the entire body. Generally, cooling of the brain has been accomplished through whole body cooling with use of a cooling blanket, immersing the patient in ice, or cooling the blood through a cardiopulmonary bypass machine. But chilling the entire body ("systemic hypothermia"),... Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2012 at GazEtc
Richard Clement, veterinarian and owner of a Maryland animal hospital, was posthumously granted a patent (8,104,433) on an invention designed to save injured dogs from the indignity of the cone of shame. The application was filed on Dr. Clement's behalf by his daughter. The cone of shame is commonly used to keep dogs from nibbling at a bandaged or injured area. One way this problem has been addressed in the past is by the use of head cones, also known as Elizabethan collars, to prevent the animal's access to the area with its mouth. However, head cones have many disadvantages... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2012 at GazEtc
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Boeing received a patent this week on a system for generating electricity from the kinetic energy of landing aircraft. The patent (8,123,163) describes a system in which the landing gear drives an electrical generator, and the generated electricity is transferred by induction to wires in the runway. A generator is included in each wheel of the aircraft. When the wheels spin during landing, generated electricity is run through coils of wire (52) in an "induction shoe" (12). This generates a magnetic field that is picked up by a conductive grid in the runway. In addition to generating electric currents in... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2012 at GazEtc
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The Delta T Corporation, which somewhat brazenly advertises the size of its fans, received a patent this week on a self-programming system that helps avoid ceiling fan oscillations. As described in the patent (8,123,479), an installed ceiling fan has a "natural resonant frequency." When the fan blades rotate at that resonant frequency, the whole assembly starts to shake. The problem is that the resonant frequency can't be predicted in advance, since it depends on the length of the supporting post that holds up the fan. Because the length of the post or tube may not be determined until the time... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2012 at GazEtc
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A window can show a video image on one side but remain transparent from the other side using technology patented this week by San Francisco-based Emiscape. One use of the technology is to project advertisements onto the side of buildings without disturbing the occupants. As described in the patent (8,123,365) and the company's Web site, a full-color image is displayed on a transparent screen using only particular wavelengths of red, green and blue light. The image can be projected onto the screen, or the screen itself can include transparent light-emitting diodes. The color image is visible from only one side... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2012 at GazEtc
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A patent was granted yesterday for a sort of squeaky toy that fits under a car's accelerator pedal. The patent (8,122,843), issued to a team of inventors from Ohio, describes a device that wedges under the pedal and squeaks whenever the pedal is pressed down too quickly, encouraging a more mellow, fuel-efficient driving style. The hollow, rubbery device is shaped to fit under pedals of different height in different cars. A whistle (28) squeals if the driver really stomps on the gas, but the device still flexes under foot if rapid acceleration is really needed. Remarkably, the idea of a... Continue reading
Posted Feb 29, 2012 at GazEtc
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Nikola Tesla was not fond of airplanes. In 1908, he predicted that airplanes would "never fly as fast as a dirigible balloon." The Zeppelin, he noted, travels at "a speed far in excess of those obtained with aeroplanes." Tesla calculated (somehow) that airplanes would never be much faster than boats. In short, airplanes are too slow. Later, Tesla criticized airplanes for being too fast. To take off and land, they require an "indispensable high velocity, imperilling life and property." And while the "helicopter" had been proposed in theory, Tesla calculated (again) that a helicopter would prove "incapable of proceeding horizontally... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2012 at GazEtc
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The US Navy has just patented a new twist on a two-thousand-year-old technology. The first steam engine, the aeolipile, was developed in the First Century by Hero of Alexandria. It was driven around a circle by rotating jets of steam. The aeolipile was never put to any practical use, and the power of steam was not harnessed until the development of piston engines and, more recently, the steam-driven turbines that generate most of our electricity. But the aeolipile is recognized as the spiritual forerunner of them all, and it is even featured on the US Navy's Boiler Technician rating badge.... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2012 at GazEtc
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A patent issued this week for an origami urinal designed to address the plight, lovingly illustrated, of the boy who is too short for a standard urinal. "Damn." The patent (8,117,681) describes a folding cardboard urinal that can be hooked onto the edge of an existing urinal to provide a lower target. After use, it is tilted backward to empty its contents. The urinal is cleverly constructed out of a single sheet of cardboard. Until it is needed, it folds flat for convenient storage. The hooks (30) can also attach the urinal to the edge of a toilet. Or, come... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2012 at GazEtc
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Lockheed Martin received a patent this week on a new system of using the heat of ocean water to generate electricity. The system described in the patent (8,117,843) uses the temperature difference between warm surface water and cold deep water to drive a turbine. But instead piping in cold water all the way from the deep, the system lowers an enormous cold pack (212) to the frigid depths and raises it again when it has been sufficiently chilled. That way, Lockheed can make its own cold water (204) right at the surface. The system is designed to overcome several of... Continue reading
Posted Feb 23, 2012 at GazEtc
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A new patent has issued in time for Mardi Gras: a drink tray that automatically makes "bomb shots." As explained in the patent (8,104,629): A popular form of drinking is know[n] as "bomb shots". A bomb shot typically comprises a shot glass filled with some form of liquor, and a larger glass filled with another beverage. The shot glass is dropped into the larger glass and the combined beverages are then consumed. In one such drink called a "boilermaker", a shot glass full of whiskey is dropped into a partially filled glass of beer. The patent describes a tray with... Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2012 at GazEtc
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Around 1750, Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod, a sort of pointed metal decoy designed to be struck by a lightning bolt that might otherwise strike a more fragile part of a building. Nikola Tesla thought this was a terrible idea. The pointed end of Franklin's lightning rod, he argued, actually attracts bolts of lightning. [T]he pointed lightning-rod is quite ineffective in the one respect noted, it has the property of attracting lightning to a high degree . . . . and in this feature lies the chief disadvantage of the Franklin type of apparatus. Tesla set out to replace... Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2012 at GazEtc
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General Motors has received a patent (8,104,793) on a counter-intuitive technique of improving crash safety: lining the frame of the car with pyrotechnics. The patent, issued last month, describes the use of pyrotechnics in conjunction with shape-memory materials, such as nitinol. Such materials change shape instantly when exposed to heat. Parts of a car's frame can be made of a shape-memory alloy (14) and lined with a pyrotechnic material (16). In case of a crash, the pyrotechnics are triggered, and the heat instantly bends the frame into a shape that will better protect the occupants of the car. Perhaps overreaching... Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2012 at GazEtc
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By the 1960s, before he founded the Patagonia sportswear company, Yvon Chouinard had already become an influential rock climber. Back then, the ropes used in rock climbing were often held up by pitons, metal spikes that were hammered into cracks. As described in a 1976 patent (3,948,485), Chouinard and his climbing partner, Tom Frost, realized that these spikes were damaging the natural features of the rock. Although pitons are possibly the most well-known and widely used mechanical aid, the use of chocks has increased and the use of pitons has decreased during recent years, due to the interest in free... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2012 at GazEtc
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Goodyear has invented a remarkably simple way for a tire to pump itself up as it rolls. The system, described in a patent (8,113,254) issued this week, uses a circular flexible tube (14) that fits between the rim and the rubber of the tire. At the lower half of the tire, where the vehicle weight is bearing down, the rubber bulges out and pinches the tube closed, trapping air inside. When the wheel rolls, the pinched-off area moves around the circular tube, forcing the trapped air through the outlet into the tire. Fresh air enters through a filtered inlet port.... Continue reading
Posted Feb 17, 2012 at GazEtc