Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Window Willie: Life continues to imitate fiction.

F&SF Door into Summer Cover
F&SF November 1956

Here's a snippet from Robert A. Heinlein's 1956 novel The Door into Summer:

Yes, I invented Hired Girl and all her kinfolk-Window Willie and the rest-even though you won't find my name on them. While I was in the service I had thought hard about what one engineer can do. Go to work for Standard, or du Pont, or General Motors? Thirty years later they give you a testimonial dinner and a pension. You haven't missed any meals, you've had a lot of rides in company airplanes. But you are never your own boss. The other big market for engineers is civil service-good starting pay, good pensions, no worries, thirty days annual leave, liberal benefits. But I had just had a long government vacation and wanted to be my own boss...

I got to thinking about dirty windows and that ring around the bathtub that is so hard to scrub, as you have to bend double to get at it. It turned Out that an electrostatic device could make dirt go spung! off any polished silica surface, window glass, bathtubs, toilet bowls-anything of that sort. That was Window Willie and it's a wonder that somebody hadn't thought of him sooner. I held him back until I had him down to a price that people could not refuse. Do you know what window washing used to cost by the hour?

And here's a bit from Physorg.com's "Self-cleaning technology from Mars can keep terrestrial solar panels dust free" the day before yesterday:

The self-cleaning technology involves deposition of a transparent, electrically sensitive material deposited on glass or a transparent plastic sheet covering the panels. Sensors monitor dust levels on the surface of the panel and energize the material when dust concentration reaches a critical level. The electric charge sends a dust-repelling wave cascading over the surface of the material, lifting away the dust and transporting it off of the screen's edges.

A note on the illustration: The question may be asked, what does the illustration that F&SF selected have to do with Heinlein's novel? Not much, actually. The woman in the painting is a redhead. Heinlein liked redheads, his wife was a redhead and the romantic interest in the novel was a redhead. But Door into Summer is a time-travel romance and the girl in the story spends most of the book as a twelve-year-old. Still, I am sure Heinlein liked the painting, for obvious reasons, and he was easily mercenary enough to appreciate the extra readers that it would attract.

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