National / International News

The happy accident that changed squirt guns forever

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:10

In 1982 Lonnie Johnson made a discovery that would change his life and the future of toys.

“I was working on a new type of heat pump for refrigerators and air conditioners and I wanted to use water as a working fluid instead of Freon because I wanted working fluid that was environmentally friendly,” Johnson says. “So I was machining some nozzles and experimenting at home and shot some streams of water into the sink and then I turned and shot across the bathroom where I was doing these experiments and I thought to myself geez, this would make a neat water gun. So I decided to put the hard science stuff behind and start working on some really fun stuff.”

When Johnson says “hard science stuff” he means it. He’s a nuclear engineer by training who was working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Galileo Mission at the time of his discovery. He always dreamed of being an independent inventor, but knew he had to keep his day job to pay the bills. He loved his job, but he hoped his idea for a powerful squirt gun would be his ticket to freedom.

“I decided I could develop a toy and get some revenue from that and then use that revenue to really become an inventor and work on some of the more challenging projects I had in mind,” Johnson says.

Johnson built a prototype out of Plexiglas, PVC piping and a two-liter soda bottle and inquired about producing the gun on his own. “I got some quotes on what exactly it was going to take to set up a manufacturing line and I was told it was going to cost a couple hundred thousand dollars to get the first thousand guns off of the product line,” Johnson remembers. “I was a captain in the Air Force and didn’t have $200,000, so I said, ‘okay, there are some things I need to learn.’”

The Super Soaker prototype.

Johnson instead tried to peddle his high-powered squirt guns to toy companies. He wowed bigwigs over and over by accurately shooting paper cups off of conference tables from across meeting rooms, but no one wanted to take the risk on this guy with no business experience. It took seven years of near misses and failed deals before an up-and-coming company called Larami Corporation bought the license to manufacture what it called the “Power Drencher.”

The gun was released in 1990, but it didn’t make much of an impact at first. That’s when the ad wizards got involved. They changed the name to “Super Soaker” and shot a now iconic TV commercial.

The commercial helped rocket sales up, and in 1991 alone more than 2 million of the guns were sold. The brand, now owned by Hasbro, has now brought in more than $1 billion in total sales.

Johnson has been working on a myriad of other inventions since the “Super Soaker” made him famous. He’s gotten back to his original idea of an environmentally friendly refrigeration system, he’s developed a battery he believes can make electric cars more practical and is researching a new way to generate energy from the sun. But he certainly doesn’t mind that despite the more than 100 patents he holds, his name will forever be tied to a toy. In fact, he says without the “Super Soaker” he never would have learned the most valuable lesson of his career.

“The only way I was going to learn what I needed to learn to be successful was to take the risk,” Johnson says. “Put it out there and if things go wrong, as long as I learn from the experience I get to go again.”

HPV Vaccine Doesn't Raise Risk Of Blood Clots, Study Finds

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:10

Earlier safety studies of the vaccine for human papillomavirus found a higher risk of dangerous blood clots. But a study of 500,000 women and girls finds that the vaccine doesn't raise risk.

» E-Mail This

'No Alps link' in ex-husband death

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 12:09
The ex-husband of a woman shot dead in the French Alps two years ago died from a heart attack on the day of her death, French prosecutors reveal.

Expelled US diplomat condemns Bahrain

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 11:57
A US diplomat ordered to leave Bahrain on Monday after meeting members of a leading Shia opposition group speaks out against the move on Twitter.

1 Out Of 4 Memphis, Tenn., Cops Calls In Sick

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 11:43

More than 550 police officers stayed home on Tuesday, apparently angered by big increases in health insurance costs. The number of "blue flu" cases has been increasing daily.

» E-Mail This

Will This Tech Tool Help Manage Older People's Health? Ask Dad

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 11:43

There's a growing market in technology to address health problems in older people. But young techies don't always know what their clients really need and want. Enter the focus group of Dad.

» E-Mail This

VIDEO: 'Gay cake' row could end up in court

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 11:28
A Christian-run bakery that refused a customer's request to make a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage could face a discrimination case in court.

Somali militants attack palace

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 11:27
Islamist al-Shabab militants attack the presidential palace in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and enter the heavily fortified compound.

'Forgotten' US smallpox found in box

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 11:20
Long forgotten vials of smallpox left in a cardboard box are discovered by a government scientist at a research centre near Washington, officials say.

Miami Stores Enjoy Thriving Business From Cuban Shoppers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 11:09

The city has become a shopping destination for Cubans who come looking for goods unavailable or too expensive to buy at home, now that Cuba has lifted travel restrictions.

» E-Mail This

Airport PCSO 'stole from travellers'

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 10:51
A woman denies stealing £15,000 from seven travellers while working as a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) at Gatwick Airport.

What It Takes To Make A Decent Cup Of Coffee In Space

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 10:42

Italian engineers say they've finally come up with a way to brew espresso on the ISS so astronauts can ditch the instant coffee. We asked: What's so hard about making coffee in space? Answer: A lot.

» E-Mail This

VIDEO: What might aircraft of the future do?

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 10:29
The BBC's Mark Edwardson talks to BAE Systems about technology of the future which could be used in aircraft within a generation.

Case Against Benghazi Suspect Is Complex, Justice Department Says

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 10:27

The assistant U.S. attorney says the government has begun sharing sensitive documents with defense attorneys. It's a bid to stop the clock on Ahmed Abu Khattala's request for a speedy trial.

» E-Mail This

Going, Going, Almost Gone: A Worm Verges On Extinction

NPR News - Tue, 2014-07-08 10:24

The world is tantalizingly close to wiping out Guinea worm, a 3-foot-long parasite that emerges from a blister in the skin. Only 17 cases have occurred so far this year. Next year there could be zero.

» E-Mail This

Harman: I was 'sidelined' by Brown

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 10:23
Harriet Harman suggests Gordon Brown did not make her deputy prime minister by Gordon Brown because she is a woman.

Iraqi MPs to meet after criticism

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 10:13
Iraq's new parliament says it will hold its next session on 13 July, nearly a month earlier than previously agreed, in bid to elect new leadership.

Minister in 'sack Cameron' photo op

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 10:12
Tory minister Matthew Hancock falls foul of "sack Cameron" graffiti - proving once again that politicians should always look behind them when posing for pictures.

Nike ends Manchester United kit deal

BBC - Tue, 2014-07-08 10:11
Nike is ending a 13-year deal to manufacture Manchester United's football kit, saying the terms "did not represent good value".

Economy is booming... for now

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-07-08 10:11

There's something stirring in the global market.

Around the world, assets are trading at prices that are unusually high by historical standards. When prices are high, return rates for investments are low.

That's left investors with two choices: Settle with lower returns or seek out obscure, and even risky, investments that might yield more, says Neil Irwin, senior economic correspondent at The New York Times' Upshot.

In his recent article, Irwin writes investors are treading both paths worldwide. In Spain, investors bought government bonds at the lowest interest rates since 1789. In France, a cable-television company was given $11 billion in the largest junk bond deal on record.

"It's an everything boom for now," Irwin tells Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal.

The "boom" is the flurry of investments despite economic crises and those low return rates. And, it's happening for two reasons, Irwin says. Businesses put more money in savings than in investments while world banks are printing money like nobody's business.

But, "it wouldn't take much to get into bubble territory," he says. "So, we want to keep an eye on things and make sure things don't really get out of control like they did in the past."

Why should you care?

"This affects all assets on Earth -- increasingly real estate, farm land, office buildings. The question is: Does it matter if you're not one of these Wall Street deal makers? The answer is absolutely."

Think savings, putting space on the market for rent or "if you're a person saving for retirement it means that you can't count on getting outsized returns, the huge returns you might have gotten in generations passed," Irwin says.

ON THE AIR
Echoes
Next Up: @ 02:00 am
BBC World Service

KBBI is Powered by Active Listeners like You

As we celebrate 35 years of broadcasting, we look ahead to technology improvements and the changing landscape of public radio.

Support the voices, music, information, and ideas that add so much to your life.Thank you for supporting your local public radio station.

FOLLOW US

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com ver.1.4