Man of many patents

The way I see it, the automotive industry owes a huge debt to Josef Hofmann. After all, he invented the pneumatic shock absorber. He also designed the first windshield wipers, according to Wikipedia.

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Hofmann. Yet during his lifetime (1876-1957), he was quite the star. Search the New York Times archives and you’ll find dozens of articles on him.

But here’s the thing. Of those articles, I’ve seen only one that talks about him as an inventor, even though he held over 70 patents. The remaining articles focus on his other talent: music.

You see, Hofmann was a wizard of the piano. He could play virtually any piece, no matter how complex, after hearing it only once. I have some recordings he made from 1901 to 1918, and the perfection of his playing is unbelievable — especially when you consider he didn’t practice.

Hofmann’s talent might have been exceptional, but he was hardly the first to combine the roles of artist and technical innovator. Some other examples:
  • Brian May, the lead guitarist for Queen, recently earned a PhD in astrophysics.
  • Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood actress of the 1940s, co-invented an early form of spread spectrum encoding, an essential technology for cellphones and WiFi networks.
  • Ada Lovelace played the piano and wrote the first computer program.
  • Samuel Morse painted portraits and co-invented the Morse code.
  • Leonardo DaVinci painted the Last Supper and moonlighted as a military engineer.
But really, I don’t have to dig so far back. Off the top of my head, I can think of several software developers here at QNX who either sing, play in bands, or spend their personal time behind a camera lens. Closer to home, my son studies chemistry and excels on the Euphonium. My wife, who holds a Master’s of Science degree, has a real knack for painting.

The fact is, talent doesn’t fit in a little box labeled “engineer” or “artist” or “musician.” It often crosses boundaries, in all kinds of surprising ways.

What about you? Do you write code during day and play blues riffs at night? Or perhaps you manage a development team and moonlight as a wedding photographer? Tell us about it and reveal your inner artist!

BTW, to view one of Hofmann's patents, click here.

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