Meet the rocket scientist who invented the Super Soaker

Lonnie Johnson, age 70, was always a maker. As a child, his experiments with rocket fuel nearly burned down his house. While in high school, Johnson was the only black student to enter the Alabama science fair; his entry, a pneumatic robot named Linex, took first prize. Johnson went on to earn engineering degrees from Tuskegee University, worked on the stealth bomber for the US Air Force, developed nuclear power systems for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has since founded two tech companies -- one that develops solid state batteries and the other focused on thermo-electrochemical converters with green energy applications.

Oh yeah, he also invented the Super Soaker.

From William Broad's 2001 New York Times profile of Johnson :

On his day job in 1982, Lonnie G. Johnson, a 32-year-old aerospace engineer, was preparing an interplanetary spacecraft for its atomic battery. But he dreamed of inventing something that would change life on earth.

He often worked at home as his wife and children slept. One weekend, while tinkering in his bathroom, Mr. Johnson hooked up to the sink a prototype cooling device.

Meant to run on water, it bore at one end a length of vinyl tubing and a homemade metal nozzle. The rest, as they say, is history.

''I turned and shot into the bathtub,'' he recalled. The blast was so powerful that the whoosh of accompanying air set the bathroom curtains flying. ''I said to myself, 'Jeez, this would make a great water gun.' ''

(via The Kid Should See This) Read the rest

Women engineers refute sexism with #iLookLikeAnEngineer campaign

After Engineer Isis Wenger at OneLogin appeared in a recruiting ad, sexist comments about her appearance (e.g., "you don't look like an engineer") inspired the hashtag #iLookLikeAnEngineer. Read the rest

A midcentury Happy Mutant's dining guide to New York City

This is a page from Gustavademecum for the Island of Manhattan: A Check-List of the Best-Recommended or Most Interesting Eating-Places, Arranged in Approximate Order of Increasing Latitude and Longitude — Prepared for the convenience of mathematicians, experimental scientists, engineers, and explorers. Which is possibly the best name for a dining guide ever.

Physical chemist Robert Browning Sosman passed this pocket-sized guidebook out at conferences and updated it regularly between 1941 and 1962.

The key feature: Sosman's ... somewhat unique ... observations about the restaurants he visited. And the fact that much of that information was encoded in a sort of proprietary shorthand, cribbed from scientific symbols. The result looks something like a cross between restaurant listings and an alchemist's workbook.

In each of the guide's at least 15 editions, Sosman reviewed 300 restaurants, relaying facts like cuisine and cost, as well as esoteric observations like tableside lighting (measured in lumens) and waiters' estimated IQs. All of it was written in a mashup of mathematical figures, glyphs, Greek, and astrological symbols. A sigma meant there was samba dancing. A lowercase "m" suggested that Madison Avenue types frequented the restaurant

Sadly, the story that this comes from doesn't include a cheat sheet guide to deciphering Sosman's shorthand. A major disappointment. Perhaps one of you can add to the information here?

See more photos of Sosman's dining guide at Saveur Read the rest