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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Is rainwater the solution?

May 18. 2014 3:34PM

I HAVE written about the impending water shortage in America over the past three weeks. In fact the crisis has already arrived in the large parts of the continent except the Northeast.

On an NPR radio interview about the town of Montague, Calif., a town official in charge of public water supply simply said to the reporter that residents are leaving the town. This man said with little emotion “What can you do if no rain falls?” The river is dry now.”

All living things on the Earth need water to live, and this rule gives no exceptions. Some can live with a small quantity of water like cacti and some with relatively large volume of water like all mammals including us. But none with no water. We Americans seem to have arrived at the stage when we do have to face that absolute rule given by Mother Earth.

I remember the gas shortage of 1974 when long lines formed to buy gasoline at the service stations. My wife and I took turns to stay in the queue. Some areas had a rule of selling gas to even and odd number plates in the alternate days. Now, my question is “Is this picture in our near future”? (See Page C3.)

Lance Hellman of Portsmouth emailed me to recommend we all try to use rainwater for flushing toilets and possibly shower. Using rainwater therefore is recycling in the purest and most basic form. Using rainwater is an age-old solution for nomads and naturalists, but applying the concept to regular modern household requires somewhat heavy-duty engineering in changing plumbing. You 99 percent inventors, let’s think long and hard to come up with efficient system to use rainwater for household purpose.

Aircraft positions

One morning last week, I was both shocked and elated to hear over the radio that the United Nations recommended that locations of all commercial passenger aircrafts be constantly monitored through the use of network of the orbiting satellites.

Hurray! I said to myself. Finally someone is coming to their senses. This is not to self-agrandize myself for suggesting it a few weeks ago in this column in relations to the missing Malaysian flight 370 (Boeing 777) with 239 passengers. That suggestion was something even a 10-year-old kid could have done. What I am happy about is the fact that finally the world authority has admitted it is necessary to constantly keep track of all the passenger aircrafts in flight.

The satellite network is up there, and a minor modification to the aircrafts as well as to the network would suffice to get the system running.That monitoring system is not yet running, and it might take a few more years to get it operational.

My question is: How come it would take a mysterious disappearance of a large aircraft with 239 people aboard to come to this conclusion? This fact alone tells you that there are so many problems that are looking for solutions. Yet, for reasons of stagnant thinking, laziness or hide-bound culture, gigantic stupidity often is allowed to exist and even prevail.

Dams and other ‘progress’

Engineers do not consciously make wrong or stupid decisions. Yet one of their traits is not to look at the long-term consequences of the short-term decision they make. If you look at the recent history of so-called achievements, there are some huge errors we have made. What we thought was “progress” turned into a nightmare.

Building dams all over the country did significant damage to the nature’s ecology. Dams supplied water needed for power generation, irrigation and recreation, yet in the long term it changed and degraded the nature.

Agent Orange is an effective defoligiant. Soldiers who were sent in the treated area have returned with serious ailments.

Fracking is an expedient way (in fact the only way) to extract natural gas from the deep underground. However, the high-pressure water mixed with active chemicals injected into the ground permanently damages the ground for good.

Our country is practically out of water. In fact some regions now have no water to speak of.

What I would like to call upon you 99 percent inventors is for you to speak up loud and clear about the danger this nation faces. Write in to newspapers, radios, TV stations and Internet.

Trying to invent something by yourself is one thing, helping to create the atmosphere in which inventing and developing solutions is strongly and warmly encouraged is another.

When I wrote about the water famine, many people wrote in saying they were surprised to hear it. They never thought America would run out of water. Shame on me. I too didn’t know it was happening. Us 99 percent inventors, let us communicate to the world.

Regulating drones

The drones sold in toy stores and online are getting bigger, more capable and cheaper by the day. A capable drone a few years ago cost $10,000, and now is around $2,500 fully equipped. The price will further erode. Flying drones in public could be safety issues as well as privacy violation. I have been a proponent of establishing some legal guideline for the use of drones. Finally, however, the government is moving toward restricting the drone uses in the form of a law. I am quite happy about it.

Shintaro “Sam” Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today’s portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at

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