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Inventor David Levy.

Inventor and ex-magician David Levy. His inventions include a tiny keypad - the size of a credit card, a tattoo whose design can be changed at will, and a devise that seals severed arteries in one minute. In 1996, at MIT, he won the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, which acknowledged him as one of the nation's premier young inventors.

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Other segments from the episode on December 15, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 15, 1999: Interview with Paul Sereno; Interview with David Levy; Commentary on Captain Beefhart and His Magic Band.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 15, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121501np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Dinosaurs to Rival T. Rex
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, this is FRESH
AIR.

I'm Barbara Bogaev, filling in for Terry Gross.

On today's FRESH AIR, we meet paleontologist Paul Sereno who
discovered the two most recent editions to the dinosaur order. He and
his team unearthed the 20-ton, 60-foot-long Jobaria and the predatory
crocodile-like Suchomimus in West Africa.

Also, looking for problems to solve. We talk with inventor David
Levy about what inspires him. His inventions include a credit-card-
sized keyboard and a tattoo that changes like an electronic sign. And
rock historian Ed Ward tells us about the group that was alternative
30 years ago, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First the news.

(NEWS BREAK)

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry
Gross.

Every dinosaur fan knows that tyrannosaurus Rex wasn't the only
huge dinosaur to walk the earth in prehistoric times, but in the last
decade, paleontologist Paul Sereno's discoveries have almost pushed T
Rex off the charts. In 1997, on an expedition to the West African
Sahara, Sereno and his team unearthed the remains of a monstrous
crocodile-like meat-eater the size of a semi rig which they called
Suchomimus, also a 60-foot plant-eater, Jobaria. The expedition
findings are featured in an exhibit in Chicago which opens January
15th.

Sereno is a professor of paleontology at the University of
Chicago. Since 1988, he's led fossil-hunting expeditions in
Argentina, Patagonia and Africa. Some of his most important finds
were made in the Sahara, in Morocco and Niger, where he's led repeated
trips. He and his wife and collaborator, Gabrielle Lyons (ph), also
head Project Exploration, a non-profit educational outreach
organization.

I asked Paul Sereno what drew him back to the Sahara in 1997.
PAUL SERENO, PALEONTOLOGIST: We led an expedition with two goals
in mind. We were going to look at two levels. One was 135 million
years ago, the second younger at 110 million years ago. Both these
areas were in different parts of the desert. In the first area, we
found bones of a huge animal, a sauropod, a four-legged dinosaur. In
the second area, we found bones of a predatory dinosaur, a very
strange predatory dinosaur that had this crocodile-like skull.

In the first site, we called that animal Jobaria. It was new to
science. It is a very interesting 70 -- grew to 70 feet long. The
second site, we called this strange predator Suchomimus, or the
"crocodile mimic." And it grew to about 35 to 40 feet in length. It
was the size of a tyrannosaur. It was a very strange predator indeed.

BOGAEV: This was a huge expedition. You had 18 people. You
were setting out for a couple months. What does that entail? How
much gear do you bring with you? And how many...

(CROSSTALK)

SERENO: Yeah. Well, for an expedition to the Sahara, you really
have to plan all the details and then plan that you're going to miss
some details somewhere along the line. There's no way to -- to recoup
in some cases. You have to innovate. But after having been to the
Sahara three times, this being the third, we've gotten many of those
details down.

First you have to think about dehydrated food because you have an
enormous crew -- in this case, 18 field members -- that are going to
be out in the desert for months on end. You can't bring canned food.
It weighs too much. You have to bring dehydrated food. So we brought
two tons of dehydrated food. And my wife, Gabrielle, ran the kitchen,
and she ran a very good kitchen with all sorts of spices and
dehydrated food for us to work with.

But you have to think of virtually everything, every tool you
could possibly want, spare parts. And so you really end up bringing
tons of things. One of the most important things that we had to bring
was our collecting plaster. We needed plaster that would, in fact,
react. Plaster is a fairly -- a luxury commodity in many parts of the
world, so we carried with us five tons -- that's 10,000 pounds -- of
plaster.

BOGAEV: It was your colleague who on this expedition found the
specimen that turned out to be Suchomimus. How did he come across it?

SERENO: Well, we have a young paleontologist, David Riccio (ph),
on the crew, who's one of the most mild-mannered paleontologists. He
can walk an enormous distance, but he'll -- and he can find something
stunning, and deep in his heart, his heart is probably pounding. Then
he comes back and he says, "Well, you know, I found something
interesting. But you know, I don't know if it's so important."

Well, what he stumbled on was a foot-long thumb claw laying on
the surface of the desert. And about a foot or two away from that
thumb claw was a fibula. It's a narrow limb bone that was about a
meter in length, about three feet in length, that belongs to the calf
portion of the leg of a dinosaur.

Now, he and I and several others on the expedition are adept
enough in our anatomy to be able to identify the kind of dinosaur that
that fibula and that claw belonged to. It was definitely the fibula
and claw of a predatory dinosaur.

Because they were so close and there were bits and other pieces
laying on the surface, we thought there might be more. But the way it
was preserved, like, anybody could just walk up and stumble on it,
anybody walking by would have been really curious at this sight, at
this giant curved claw laying on the surface of the desert, exposed by
the wind and sand over centuries and doubtless millennia. That truly
was an amazing sight.

BOGAEV: Is that how it usually happens, that you -- it's just
lying there? You kind of stumble over these things?

SERENO: Yeah, we walked up to it, and we -- we just were -- you
know, were overjoyed. We're looking at it that, you know, "Is this
worth" -- of course it's worth returning to. It was an incredible
discovery, and he was just smiling, beaming as he sat over this claw.

But the real question was what more may lie just inches beneath
the ground, and we did find that. Sometimes the discoveries are --
are far less obvious than that. In fact, where we spent the first two
months collecting 20 tons -- we all had our guesses at the start.
Walk up on the site. I could see one backbone arching across the
surface, exposed, and fragments and hints that there might be more
there.

But it really would take quite a bit of almost looking into the
ground with very few traces to understand that there could be multiple
skeletons there, that it was, in fact, a site that had buried 20 tons
of this same species of animal. And so sometimes it's not so obvious,
and you have to train your eye to be able to find where the bone is
sticking out of the ground, and then the hard part, interpreting what
that bone might be.

BOGAEV: How did you excavate Suchomimus, which was a very large
specimen, without destroying it? Does it involve a kind of artistic
sensibility, or is it an engineering skill?

SERENO: It's a -- to excavate a dinosaur really is an exercise
in rock materials. You really have to be a sculptor. And you're
working under time stress and strain and, in this case, blowing sand.
We actually had to wear goggles and bags over our heads part of the
time to prevent -- and make wind blocks to prevent the sand from
blowing up into our eyes.

And at the same time, you want to move efficiently. You can't
dilly-dally. You really have to move efficiently. You cannot use
pneumatic tools or anything that heavy. It would just completely
fragment the rock and the fossils inside. But you have to move and
carve around rock, run into a fossil blindly, but not damage it, and
then carve around it and take it out. You have to know when and where
to break those jackets, where to cover it with plaster, what will
actually hold as one piece.

So all these materials decisions that you get really good at when
you spend some time working that way in the desert. But it amounts to
actually a sculptor's job. You have to be able to go blindly through
rock, encounter with a pick or with an awl a bone, and stop
immediately in your tracks to pick up that fragment, put it back in
place and then discover what actually was completely hidden in the
rock.

BOGAEV: Do you have to restrain yourselves as you're doing this?
I imagine the excitement maybe wears off after the -- the 200th hour
of picking at this -- at these bones.

SERENO: You -- well, you know, for me, actually, the excitement
never wore off. But it's certainly -- you need to take breaks so that
you're -- you maintain your stamina over a dig that's involving that
much heavy work, that much material. But really, it is and does
amount to a lot of patience, a lot of perseverance because you are in
a very unusual position. You've encountered a being, an animal that
no one has ever seen before. This is all the evidence we have of it.
If you lose some part of that story, we may never see it again.

And when you -- when you, as a scientist or even as an interested
teacher or doctor, like some of the crew members that we had, you get
this sense, when you're digging up something, that there's a real
responsibility to bring back as much of that story as we can.

BOGAEV: What would count as a major excavation screw-up, in your
experience?

SERENO: Well, there's all sorts of mishaps that happen, of
course. You're really dealing with something that's incredibly
fragile. It, like the rock that surrounds it, has undergone myriad
numbers of earthquakes and pushing and pulling and compression and so
on. And so there's all these little fractures that run through the
rock and run through the fossil.

Particularly as it gets close to the ground surface, these cracks
will manifest themselves. And if you try to pick up a bone, it'll
just crumble into a hundred pieces, most frequently. So as you're
going around something blindly, you can easily undercut it too much or
be too aggressive and not leave enough rock around it or support it in
a way that will actually maintain its integrity until you can get the
plaster jacket around it.

It's very much of a trick. And so if you go too far, something
can crumble. It can result in hours, even days, of placing something
back together or, in fact, wrapping it up individually to be placed
back together later in a lab.

BOGAEV: How had you originally found this site in Niger?

SERENO: Well, I went on an expedition -- I joined an expedition
that was crossing the Sahara, half on adventure, half because I knew
that we would cross dinosaur beds and I would be able to extract from
this expedition about 10 days of time to look for something, look for
a reason, perhaps, to come back.

There wasn't too much written about the area, but there was a
paper written around World War II from an expedition prior to that
time that talked about dinosaur bones outside an oasis in the desert
in Niger. And so I found myself with this crew, picking up little
pieces of fossils in the middle of nowhere.

And in the middle of nowhere is where people appear in the
desert. And so out of nowhere, this small group of nomads appeared.
And we had a guide with us, and that guide spoke some of the language
of the Tuareg nomads of the desert, a language that is very strange,
and basically could translate into French, and some of us knew enough
French to make sense of what he was saying.

And he was curious about what we were doing, but when he found
out that we were interested in these little fossilized pieces of bone
that we were searching for, he said he knew of a place where a very
large camel was weathering out of the ground. That's how it got
translated through several languages. And I said, "Hmm. A very large
camel? Let's go and take a look at this."

And so we would go on the most exciting two and a half hours, and
frustrating two and a half hours, swirling around in the desert, until
we were completely lost. And we had no GPS at this point. It wasn't
up. And at about the breaking point, the frame (ph) point of our
patience, the Tuareg in the lead vehicle -- the first time he'd been
in a vehicle -- found the site he was looking for. And it changed my
life.

I walked up on the site. You could see one backbone of this huge
dinosaur at the surface, and the way it was preserved, bone to bone,
in proper articulation, I knew that his had to have been buried
suddenly.

And then kneeling down in the sediment and picking up some of the
sediment that encased the bones, I found a very fine sediment, a
sediment that could not have been buried -- could not have been
originating in the middle of a river, but rather something that was
out on the plains. It spoke of a flash flood, a flood that might have
covered up this enormous animal suddenly.

And as I walked around the site, I could see bone appearing here
and there, 20 and 30 feet from this animal. And I got the idea that
it was a graveyard. It was a graveyard swept in suddenly by a flash
flood some 135 million years ago. And really, the story of this
animal was there for the taking, there for the discovery. And that
really did change my life, and I would lead several expeditions back
to the Sahara after that trip.

BOGAEV: Paul Sereno is a paleontologist at the University of
Chicago. His expeditions to Argentina and Africa have added several
new species to the dinosaur family. We'll talk more after this break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)
BOGAEV: Back with paleontologist Paul Sereno.

How pervasive are poachers in your work? Have they usually
beaten you to a site?

SERENO: Well, poachers haven't beaten us to a site, but they
have actually crossed some of the sites in Niger, which is about as
remote as you can get these days. Poachers are much more of a problem
in other parts of the Sahara that have easier access.

When we've worked in Morocco, for example, it was quite clear
that buyers of fossils would come down and encourage local nomads to
go out and collect with primitive means any kinds of fossils that they
might find. And this kind of marketing of fossils, many of which are
sold in the United States in places like Tucson and Denver, is very
pervasive.

And it's something I'm very concerned about, because as we make
famous these areas and these sites in the Sahara, they will fall more
and more open to predation. And so this is a very big concern of
mine.

BOGAEV: How do you stop them?

SERENO: I think that you stop them first by -- it's a race.
It's a race to first let people know about the treasures that exist in
the desert, about their scientific importance, about their public
value in terms of museums and what they can attract.

And then to try to get a World Heritage site, perhaps,
established, the first one in the Southern Hemisphere for fossils.
There's only one other one. There's plenty in the Northern
Hemisphere, but there's none in the Southern Hemisphere. Why not
establish one in Niger, where these fantastic remains are to be found,
where nomads could escort people out there and really show them the
fossils, but at the same time protect the fossils?

That's one way in which we're -- one avenue we're going to try to
move to, to protecting this area. But first we have to really
understand what treasures exist there, and then quickly move to try to
establish protection for those treasures.

BOGAEV: What can you find on the fossil black market? Dinosaur
teeth?

SERENO: We can find far more than dinosaur teeth on the black
market and the open market for dinosaur fossils. You can find whole
skeletons of dinosaurs. In fact, many of them are not publicized.
Some of them are publicized, and you can find them in Tucson and
Denver and fossil shows around the world. But others are sold
privately, and never to be seen by the public or scientists.

Much of the remains that have come from the Sahara in the last
years have been sold on the private market. The most valuable ones
are sold individually to collectors, and sometimes to museums that
will pay a high price. But the fossil remains themselves are
frequently not known to the public or to the scientists.

BOGAEV: Have you personally crossed paths with poachers, and
poachers who really know their -- know the science?

SERENO: Well, there's really a mix. You have in the United
States private collectors, which would not be described as poachers,
but private collectors who are working on private land, some of whom
actually feel a great responsibility and collect things properly and
also, if there's something -- they try to assess the scientific value
of this fossil, or the public value of this fossil, we're going to try
to see that those go to museums.

And a wider group of private collectors that are trying to
survive and really don't care about that. And they sell them to
whomever.

You have nomads in countries around the Sahara that are poor and
will work for any means, you know, to survive, essentially. And
collecting fossils is now a way of life for them, because they will be
paid pennies or a few dollars for a big pile of fossils, and that's
more than they could make, you know, doing something else.

So you really have a mix of poachers and private collectors,
aside from the professionals that we have, you know, out collecting.

Now, in Niger, one of the things that we want to try and do is
raise consciousness, establish a researcher there. We have a
researcher that is just getting his Ph.D. that will go back to -- lead
the effort in Niger to protect and properly care for the fossils that
are there.

BOGAEV: As a kid, were you a dinosaur fanatic?

SERENO: No, surprisingly not. I was a mischievous kid, and part
of that is why I do the kind of outreach I do today, because I looked
at schools as one of the most painful experiences of my life, when I
didn't think I would survive. I wasn't reading that much. I wasn't
particularly interested in dinosaurs. I didn't have anything against
dinosaurs, but I was definitely not a fanatic of dinosaurs.

I did go fossil collecting once, and I found that very
interesting as a kid.

But dinosaurs would come much, much, much later in life.
Actually, as a graduate student in paleontology, definitely hooked on
fossils, but looking for a project that would take me around the
world, that would open some doors. And that's how I came to
dinosaurs.

BOGAEV: So you got bad grades in school?

SERENO: Oh, yes. I was not reading properly in second grade,
couldn't tell time in third grade, almost flunked a couple of times.
It was really art that turned things around for me in high school. I
found all of a sudden I had this talent at painting, and I went off to
college -- improved my grades enough to get into college, and went off
to college with a clean slate, thinking, I'm going to be a studio
artist, but I'm going to take some other courses as well.

And I worked up a big portfolio, but I also got more and more
interested in comparative anatomy and fossils. And it all came to a
very clear trajectory when I went behind the doors at the American
Museum of Natural History in New York. I got a tour, a behind-the-
scenes tour.

And this really changed my life, because I knew that this was
really what I wanted to do. I wanted to travel. I wanted to study
science. And here we had biology and geology all mixed together. I
wanted to draw, and it was -- art was a very visual kind of field. It
involved potentially even sculpting, if you wanted to put these things
together.

And it was really a magical field. And I knew at that point that
I wanted not only to study paleontology but to go to New York and find
my way in that museum at Columbia University.

BOGAEV: What trip are you planning next?

SERENO: We're going back to the Sahara next year to look further
into those beds that produced Jobaria, the 70-foot sauropod that we
just announced, and also back to that layer above that, 110 million
years of age, where we found the dinosaur Suchomimus.

We're going to take lightweight aircraft to make ourselves more
mobile, these little parafoils that can sail 15, 20 feet above the
ground. We're going to take a little lighter-weight crew. And
doubtless we're going to find some new things.

BOGAEV: Paul Sereno is a paleontologist at the University of
Chicago. An exhibition featuring his fossil discoveries from Niger
opens January 15th in Chicago at the Navy Piers (ph) Crystal Gardens
and will travel to other venues around the country.

Here's Captain Beefheart's "Smithsonian Institute Blues"
(inaudible). We'll hear more about Captain Beefheart and His Magic
Band in the second half of our show.

I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

(CLIP -- Excerpt from Captain Beefheart's "Smithsonian Institute
Blues")

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Paul Sereno
High: Paleontologist Paul Sereno, of the University of Chicago,
recently unearthed Jobaria and Suchomimus, two new rivals to
Tyrannasaurus Rex in West Africa.
Spec: Science; Paul Sereno; Africa

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights
reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc.
Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes
from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without
attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in
whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Dinosaurs to Rival T. Rex

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: DECEMBER 15, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121502NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: David Levy, Inventor
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry
Gross.

How many inventors do you know? It's a profession that seems to
have gone out of style with Thomas Edison. My guest, inventor David
Levy, says he's a little hesitant to answer those "So what do you do?"
questions at parties because of the reaction he gets.

But since he left his job seven years ago at Apple, where he
worked on the design for the Powerbook, Levy has supported himself
coming up with ideas for new products, including a miniature
electronic keypad, a television remote in the shape of a football, a
changeable tattoo, and a theft-proof bike seat.

He holds more than a dozen patents on these and other even less
easily described projects. In 1996, he won the prestigious Lemeson
(ph) Award for inventiveness from his alma mater, MIT. The history of
independent inventors is rife with misery, tragedy, betrayal and
insanity.

I asked David Levy if he has to censor his ideas just to survive.

DAVID LEVY, INVENTOR: Self-censoring is the exact opposite of
what you need to do as an inventor. Invention is the process of
taking down all those barriers of what -- your preconceptions of what
shouldn't be, or what isn't.

And when you take all those away, and you throw in some common
sense and some knowledge of engineering and the way things could be,
that's when invention happens.

BOGAEV: So about what is your ratio of good ideas to really dumb
ones?

LEVY: I'd say there's 100 really dumb ideas for every good one,
and for every -- it takes 100 good ideas to make something that
actually will generate some -- some money. So I'd say 1,000 to one,
something like that.

BOGAEV: So -- and do you have recurring ideas, the same idea
that you think of every day?

LEVY: Oh, embarrassingly! Yes.

BOGAEV: Like what?

LEVY: Oh, because you -- you'll go down, and you'll see a
problem, and you'll think, "Oh, my God! If only gravity wasn't there,
this would be so simple." And -- and that's your job, is to take away
those barriers. And so you really -- I really do find myself thinking
about antigravity machines and time travel and -- and things that'll
take a while to develop.

I usually work with for real horizons of two years, meaning
technologies that are here now, that can be put together in new ways
and make something fairly quickly.

BOGAEV: Let's talk about some of your patents that have made it
onto store shelves. Your first invention was a thing called
Peelables.

LEVY: Peelables.

BOGAEV: Peelables.

LEVY: Yes.

BOGAEV: Where'd you get the idea for Peelables?

LEVY: Peelables was a late-'80s idea. This is when floppy disks
were becoming very prevalent, and people were changing was stored on
their floppy disk constantly. Videocassettes were large, people were
changing their labels, or wanting to change the labels. And the
result, because it was so hard to do, was that people were leaving
labels blank.

And it was just screaming for a solution. And Peelables was a
pretty simple idea of just having multiple layers so that when you
finish with the top layer, you can peel it off and have a fresh blank
slate underneath.

BOGAEV: So you got an immediate positive response to this?

LEVY: I got immediate positive response from people who wanted
to use the product. Interestingly, the largest opposition was
ultimately from the manufacturers, who thought, Well, if we don't have
labels, people often throw the things away. If we have an easy way
for them to change it, we're going to sell fewer disks. And so it was
an idea that appealed to people but not the companies. And that's one
of the things I've learned, lessons learned, of an idea needs to
appeal to selfish corporate interests, not just be a good idea from --
as seen from the people on the street.

BOGAEV: I suppose the other thing is that times have changed,
and people, I think, rent so many more videos than they ever...

LEVY: Oh, no, that's another important lesson I've learned, is
-- You're right, you're absolutely right. The lesson that I learned
is that all inventions have windows. This was a very powerful idea
back when people changed magnetic media constantly. It's no longer a
good idea. And I think every invention falls in that category.
Everything has a time, and if you miss that window, it's too late.
And for Peelables, it's too late.

BOGAEV: You hold the patent on a tiny keyboard that I suppose
could be used for a number of things, but also on these new e-mail-
sending telephones. What's the innovation? How did you get a patent
for it? What's new?

LEVY: Actually I have two patents so far, and there's a third
one on the way for the basic -- It's -- unfortunately, it's not
something that can be done over radio, it's very visual, it's very
three-dimensional. It's also very simple. The core of the idea is
that real estate of the keyboard is reused multiple times in different
ways, so that you can press with your finger on the item that you want
-- an A, a B, an ampersand, a number -- you just push on it and you
get it.

So ultimately it's very, very simple. But there's a topography
to the keyboard which allows you to have a very ergonomic device in a
very, very small space. It has an entire keyboard, computer keyboard,
every key that you could want, everything that's on your desktop, it
fits into about 60 percent the size of a credit card.

BOGAEV: Now, the problem with these little keyboards is that
it's so hard -- they're so hard to use, and your fingers are so big
compared to the buttons you push, and you end up pushing buttons you
don't intend to. How did you research how small to make your finger
pads, how to create something that fingers could manipulate?

LEVY: Well, back from my Apple days, Apple -- the core of Apple
is to design for human need. And I started with the human finger, and
I went to Harvard Square, the T there, and just got 50 people to press
their thumb -- all males -- to press their thumb onto a piece of paper
and give me their fingerprints. And that gave me a nice range on
size. And then I stepped backwards from the thumb size, I figured out
what the 95 percent thumb is, so I could design for the 95th
percentile.

And this keyboard works very comfortably with a large man's
thumbs.

BOGAEV: Was everybody willing to do it?

LEVY: Surprisingly, yes. Only one person said no. Everyone is
-- not even questioning. We live in a very open place, I think.

BOGAEV: So you didn't even tell them what it was for?

LEVY: No, no, I just walked up -- ah, I abbreviated by saying,
"I'm an MIT student." And I think that washes away many sins.

BOGAEV: Well, they're probably used to much crazier behavior
from MIT students in Harvard Square.

So you got the idea, you did this research, you came up with a
proposal. How did you go about getting the patent? And how
relentless are patent examiners? Is it like taking your orals as a
grad student?
LEVY: Getting a patent can either be a great pleasure or a
tremendous agony. I've had both, and the range between examiners can
be very helpful. Some of them are tremendous, and you go through, and
they say, Well, you have a great idea here, you goofed on the
legalities here, here, and here. And they straighten it out for you,
and away you go.

And with the keyboard, I had a mixed bag. There was some people
who lost drawings, and it was a nightmare for a while. But this --
the first one was a problem. The second one sailed through fairly
easily.

BOGAEV: How long did it take? Can you sit for years in kind of
patent office limbo?

LEVY: Everyone stays in patent office limbo. It takes about
three years. And I kept working on the engineering and the marketing
and all the other aspects of invention while the patent was being
issued.

BOGAEV: At what point in the process does your invention
actually have to work correctly, without bugs?

LEVY: Correctly without bugs? It depends how much of the
company who licenses it is willing to take on. With the keyboard, you
really just have -- you have to prove that this is viable. And with a
visionary, the visionary will pick it up and know that it can be made
to work, and other people need to see it lock, stock, and barrel,
drop-kick. And since you don't know who you'll be meeting, the
farther you bring the process, the higher the chances are for your
success.

BOGAEV: What invention has made you money, decent money?

LEVY: I'm still very much on the curve. I mean, Peelables
brought in a good amount of money, Pass-It (ph) brought in a good
amount of money. But they're not -- I'm sorry, Pass-It is the Nerf
football with a TV remote control inside. And it's had corporate
sales, but it's been really hard to get it into stores. Ironically,
again, the people really seem to like it, but it's hard to get
retailers to put it on the shelves. It's very frustrating.

But both of those things have brought in money for me to keep
alive. And the bike seat, I'm hoping for it to come online soon, and
then the tent, which I just finished recently, should hit the stores
in fall of 2000.

BOGAEV: My guest is David Levy. He's an inventor. As an
employee of Apple in the '80s, he helped design the PowerBook. He's
now independent. He holds a number of patents on products including a
palm-sized keypad for use on mobile phones and pagers, and a
changeable tattoo, a theft-proof bike seat.

David, let's take a break now, and then we're going to talk some
more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

BOGAEV: My guest is inventor David Levy. Some of his patents
include a patent for a palm-sized keypad for use on electronic
devices, also a football-shaped TV remote control, a changeable
tattoo, a theft-proof bike seat.

Before you went out on your own, you worked at Apple, and this
was back in the '80s, kind of a golden period in Apple. What was the
climate for engineers? Did you all have free rein?

LEVY: Oh, it couldn't have been better. The company had lots of
money and was very encouraging for people to explore ideas. One of
the most memorable events of being at Apple was having -- I was in the
research group. And my boss's boss came in and told us that we were
screwing up. And this was a little bit perplexing to us, because we
thought we were doing a pretty good job.

And he said, "You people are screwing up big-time. I want to see
more failures out of you people." And we were totally confused. And
the point is that we were a research group, we were supposed to push
the envelope. And if we're succeeding, clearly we're not pushing. He
wanted to see us fail 80 percent of the time.

And if we weren't failing, we weren't setting out -- we weren't
doing what we were setting out to do. And I loved that idea. That's
largely how I live my life now, I set out to fail. And if I'm not
failing a lot of the time, I'm not doing the right stuff.

BOGAEV: One of the designs you worked on was the PowerBook.
What was your contribution?

LEVY: Back in '89 or so, there was a Skunkworks project called
Companion. And that was a code name. And it was a vision for what
the notebook computer could be. And ironically, it still doesn't
exist. It was a very advanced concept. And originally we thought we
could have it on the market in a year and a half. And I started
working on how people would touch such a thing. No one really knew
what a PowerBook would be.

And I was working on input devices, and an inventor came into the
company with an idea for a touchpad, named George Grifidi (ph), and it
was clearly far better than anything that had happened before. And I
worked on incorporating that into what I saw the ergonomics of the
PowerBooks to be.

And in '89 or so, I made the first usable version of what
ultimately became the PowerBooks.

BOGAEV: So did you spend a lot of time watching people hold
keyboards on their knees in crowded trains, or...

LEVY: You only need to see that once. I saw the problem and
then spent many, many hours in the lab trying to define what the right
sizes were of every aspect of the PowerBooks, how far apart the keys
would be from each other top to bottom, left to right, how far apart
the pixels should be, where the buttons should be, how they're shaped,
the key -- the palm rest at the front, its dimensions, et cetera, all
the ergonomic aspects of making the concept work.

BOGAEV: Why did you leave Apple?

LEVY: Partly because I'm easily bored, and after doing the
PowerBooks from concept to completion, you can only do that once or
twice in a career, I suppose, and at Apple they had done that. And
they didn't want that level of innovation again in the near future.
And I wanted to continue to innovate at that level again and again and
again.

And so I left.

BOGAEV: Is...

LEVY: And I went back to MIT, got a Ph.D. while working on
getting patents to come to life.

BOGAEV: Is your own house, your own personal life, filled with
inventions that you use?

LEVY: Yes, yes.

BOGAEV: Like what?

LEVY: Well, my bed.

BOGAEV: What's with your bed?

LEVY: My bed -- my bed is designed so that two people can hold
each other while they're sleeping and your arm doesn't fall asleep.
Very useful invention.

BOGAEV: Oh, that's brilliant. So it works?

LEVY: Yes, yes, very simple.

BOGAEV: What do you have, a tunnel in there to rest on?

LEVY: Yes, it -- basically, it's a crack, actually. And the
crack -- if you're not using it, you're not aware that it's there.
But if you want to access this thing, you find the crack, which is,
like, at a 30-degree angle, so it's comfor -- it's ergonomic, there's
that word again. And you just slide your arm in there, and it doesn't
get smushed.

BOGAEV: Do you also have piles of discarded prototypes lying
around?

LEVY: I have boxes, rolling boxes in my office that are full of
discarded things that...

BOGAEV: Like what?
LEVY: I have a device that I made while I was a graduate
student. I couldn't write any more. My RSI had flared up while I was
studying, and I couldn't a pen to do the math that I needed to do for
quals (ph). And I made something that holds my pen for me so that I
can write without holding a pen.

All the prototypes for the football, the O-ring, which was a
device so a condom feels that it's not there, a hand truck so that you
can roll a refrigerator down the stairs without straining your back,
the -- something that collects feces from a dog so that the owner
doesn't have to reach down and pick it up each time the dog goes to
the bathroom...

BOGAEV: It gets worse and worse. (laughs)

LEVY: ... soap-metering devices, so that when you're doing
laundry you can just turn the thing over, and it dispenses one cup
without your needing to pick up the other hand and do that messy
gyration. An ergonomic thumb wheel, so it tells you how loud the
volume is in a Walkman. I could go on.

BOGAEV: Did you do this when you were a kid, come up with stuff
for your mom or your dad or your...

LEVY: My mom remembers something that I had forgotten, which is
when I was 5 or 6, I forget, she was smashing macadamia nuts. I don't
know if you've ever done a macadamia nut. They're incredibly hard.
And she had hurt her thumb hitting it with a hammer. And I suggested
that she put the nut inside of the doormat, this little old rubber
slatted doormats, and pushing the macadamia nut inside so it holds it,
and then you could hit it with the hammer without injuring your hand.

That was the first thing that she remembers.

BOGAEV: What's your latest project, if you can talk about it?

LEVY: My latest project is a posture device. It's a chair,
actually, that tells you when you're slouching. Carpal tunnel
problems are often associated with poor posture, and back problems are
associated with poor posture, and so many people have back problems
would love to know when they're not sitting correctly. And this chair
is transparent to the user, it just -- it sits underneath you like any
other chair. You don't know you're in it. But when you start to
slouch more than you want to allow yourself to slouch, it reminds you.
It's ultimately a simple thing that I think will help a lot of people.

BOGAEV: So will it beep, or are you going to get the airline
stewardess voice to say, "You are sitting poorly now"?

LEVY: I think a gentle -- maybe the crashing of ocean waves
would be nice.

BOGAEV: (laughs) Well, I wish you luck with your posture drill
sergeant. I want to thank you very much for talking with me today on
FRESH AIR.

LEVY: Thank you very much.

BOGAEV: David Levy is an independent inventor based in
Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Coming up, Ed Ward on Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: David Levy
High: Inventor and ex-magician David Levy, creator of a tiny keypad
the size of a credit card, a tattoo whose design can be changed at
will, and a device that seals severed arteries in one minute.
Spec: Technology; David Levy; Entertainment

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights
reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc.
Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes
from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without
attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in
whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: David Levy, Inventor
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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