Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood beauty and… inventor of secret military technology?

Hedy Lamarr was one of the great leading ladies of Hollywood in the 1930’s and 40’s. Some regard her as the most beautiful woman who ever graced the silver screen. Her heyday began almost 80 years ago, but her name is still well-known, certainly to movie buffs.

Even with a passing acquaintance from film studies, I, with an interest in both classic cinema and novel technologies, missed the fact that Hedy Lamarr was also an inventor.

She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

Together with a friend, she patented technology in 1941 to prevent interception of military radio signals by the enemy. Their innovation used spread spectrum and frequency hopping to obscure information. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because your wifi relies upon Lamarr’s idea, as do cell phones.

Who knew?

But, then again, why are we surprised?

Perhaps Lamarr, herself, provides a clue with this quote:

“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”

She certainly was glamorous. Equally obvious: she wasn’t stupid.

Young women should not avoid STEM careers for fear of appearing unfeminine. Here’s a great example of a beautiful lady whose brain was as impressive as her countenance.

Another Lamarr quote provides a hint to the secret of her many successes:

“I win because I learned years ago that scared money always loses. I never care, so I win.”

Worry less about what others think, and more about what you can do. This is particularly compelling advice for women, who are likely to be judged less capable before they even begin.

You can’t win if you’re afraid to enter the race.

Smart women know what they have to offer. They should also feel free to remain attractive while they’re proving it. If that’s a distraction to the men in the room, use the advantage to move on past them while they’re addled. They can’t help it; they were born with this biological disadvantage.*

The reverse is equally true, of course. You don’t have to look like Hedy Lamarr to be a kick ass engineer, but I don’t think the internet needs an essay from me to assume a technological wunderkind looks more like Velma than Daphne.**

Apologies to Hedy Lamarr, Velma, Daphne, and the field of art in general for the quality of my sketches. No actual character, living or dead, real or fictional, is indicated by the drawings above. I was looking to illustrate stereotypes in 60 seconds with a Sharpie.

 

*I’m tired of hearing bad science spouted about biological differences. I think it’s stupid to shut down discussion of the topic. All reasonable debate of possibilities is valid and can lead to gains in knowledge. However, is an area in which theories are constantly conflated with facts. Nonsense cuts both ways.

**Scooby Doo reference; original 1969 animated series, naturally

Windows, culture & great comforts: how do we learn to share what we take for granted?

The world has gotten so much more interconnected. My tiny blog has been viewed by readers from all over the world. Yet, still, we miss opportunities to share our best ideas about life’s most basic conveniences.

My thoughts today are prompted by windows. Specifically, what I’ve thought of as “German windows” since my first visit to that country in the late 1990’s. A recent internet search tells me they are referred to as “Tilt and Turn” or simply “Tilt Turn” windows in English-speaking markets.

Do Germans even have a special name for this type of window, or is it just “a window” because the technology is expected?

The details of why I love these windows are a little off topic for this post, but they are uniquely functional fenestrations. I was reminded of that fact during a recent stay in a “passive house” (i.e., energy saving construction built using European “green” concepts.) Tilt & Turn windows might solve a challenge in my home, so I went looking for sources in the USA.

My specific home improvement aside, I was left with a renewed frustration about the difficulty of implementing well-tested, obviously useful technology that’s ubiquitous in another country here in my home.

Having traveled, I have some idea of the scope of great ideas for making comfortable homes that have developed around the globe. I’d love to bring some of these innovations back with me. Talk about the ultimate souvenir! But, to do so is almost impossible on a middle class budget.

I learned that this problem exists years ago as a first time homeowner with old steam radiators. An 80 year old unit needed to be replaced, ideally with something much narrower and taller. The existing unit stuck out ten inches past an adjacent doorjamb and into the hall! The plumber swore no such radiator existed for sale in the USA. I wasn’t knowledgeable enough then to realize how limited the repertoire of a standard contractor was (and is.)

I now have a plumber who enjoys learning about cutting edge technologies in his field. He’s taught me a lot about what can be had, domestically, and at what (high!) price. Thanks to him, at least I have options to evaluate for myself.

Scottish castle - 1

Scottish castle that had some fine modern radiators

Way back in 2002, I could have purchased the tall, slim, wall-mounted radiator I’d seen in Scotland, contrary to the old plumber’s thoughts. I couldn’t have afforded the system upgrades necessary to use it in my old house, however.

Our tradespeople frequently learn through mentoring relationships and apprenticeships—a tried and true method, undoubtedly—but it appears that the process precludes much exposure to innovation.

Couldn’t a better job be done in sharing building products and processes, at least between regions with similar climates?

Conservative behavior does make sense when we are talking about a home. For so many, it represents the bulk of his financial resources; the ultimate “investment.” No one wants to spend foolishly when it comes to her nest egg.

The flip side to this, however, is a failure to adopt even simple improvements that save resources over the mid- to long-term. The eventual costs end up staggeringly large. Also, right now, we enjoy less comfort at home.

Until you’ve traveled away from home and experienced life as another culture lives it, it is hard to even identify your own most mundane expectations and prejudices as such. Wearing shoes indoors or not? Various household appliances as luxuries vs. necessities? Local swimming pool, recreation center, or library as nice perk, or indispensable locus of community life?

Because I’ve traveled—and indulged a personal hobby of reading and occasionally obsessing about foreign cultures—I enjoy my daily life more.

I use a Japanese deep soaking tub for arthritis relief. I can’t imagine life anymore without an electric kettle (a habit I picked up in the UK) for preparing my tea. My husband and I share sleep more soundly with bed linens arranged in the German tradition—two separate twin duvets of wildly different warmth/weight on our king sized bed.

Most of these are inexpensive objects easily blended into a typical American home. My tub, for example, is a portable model that fits in my shower stall, something like an overgrown version of child’s wading pool, but it provides more comfort than any Western bath I’ve tried. I’d love to remodel my outdated bathroom someday and include a beautiful, high quality, built-in tub of this type, but that may never be economically feasible.

Also, the most intriguing aspect of the Japanese tub—an integrated heater that keeps a bath at a ready temperature—is not allowed in the USA. I think it is the cultural disconnect between people who wash before they get in to soak (Japanese) vs. the idea that the tub is the bath in which you soap and scrub. Only chemically disinfected hot tubs can be kept hot in America.

All of the previous paragraph is assuming I’ve got a handle on the actual code issues with these heaters, which I may well be misunderstanding. I have no background in the building trades, nor am I a particularly handy homeowner. Here’s more about using an ofuro in the Japanese tradition.

There are real technical reasons these are the hard innovations to incorporate. Building codes are different. Electrical requirements are different. Standards are different.

But, if we don’t know the technology exists to improve our lives, how can we ask for it?Boy Harnessed the Wind book cover photo

Another influence on these thoughts. A book I’m reading about how a boy growing up in Malawi experienced, and learned to work with, technology.

How do we, as interconnected citizens of the world, in constant contact with each other, share the best, most comforting aspects of our lives?

Can we do a better job of getting the word out?

Can we share our greatest comforts?