Monday, February 4th, 2013
Andre Cassagnes, the French electrician who invented the famous Etch A Sketch toy more than 50 years ago, has died at age 86. His obituary from CNN.com:
Cassagnes created what would become the Etch A Sketch in his garage in 1950. The drawing toy was made up of a joystick, glass and aluminum powder.
Initially dubbed the Telecran, the toy was renamed L’Ecran Magique, or ‘The Magic Screen,’ and made its debut at a toy fair in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1959.
Fascinated by the invention, American Henry Winzeler, founder and president of The Ohio Art Company, licensed L’Ecran Magique for $25,000 and introduced it as Etch A Sketch in the United States in 1960.
Winzeler connected Cassagnes with Jerry Burger, an engineer at the company, so they could collaborate to improve the toy’s drawing capability.
Among the changes made to the Etch A Sketch in 1960 was replacing the joystick with two white knobs in the left and right corners of the screen. The idea was to make the toy look like the hot new adult toy of the time: a television.
It quickly became the most popular selling toy during the Christmas season that year, according to the manufacturer. Since then, the company has sold more than 150 million of them.
Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
Dr. John Rosen, whose efforts to identify, treat, and prevent lead poisoning in New York City resulted in a nationwide awareness of the condition, has died of colon cancer, The New York Times reports. From Rosen’s obituary:
When he arrived at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx in 1969, Dr. Rosen was mainly interested in how children’s bodies absorb calcium. But within a few years, concerned about the levels of lead he was seeing in his young patients and knowing that lead poisoning diminished mental capacities irreversibly, he embarked on a mission. Dr. Rosen helped establish one of the nation’s first and largest clinics for the treatment of lead poisoning; he personally supervised the treatment of 30,000 children. In one advance, he developed X-ray techniques for measuring lead in children’s bodies.
He went on to push New York City to adopt stricter standards for removing lead paint from tens of thousands of older buildings. (The use of lead paint had been outlawed in 1978.) In 1991 he led a committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta that lowered the threshold at which children are considered to be poisoned by lead, to 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood from 60 micrograms.
But even that threshold was too high, Dr. Rosen believed, and he immediately began lobbying to reduce it further. This year, the C.D.C. halved it to 5 micrograms. The change could not help those who had lead in their bodies, but it sounded an alarm that even infinitesimal quantities of lead could be dangerous.
“It’s about time,” Dr. Rosen said.
He cited his own and others’ studies showing that lead poisoning harms a person’s ability to think and plan, as well as physical coordination. For a child with an I.Q. of 85, he said, lead exposure “could mean the difference between a menial job in a fast-food restaurant or a meaningful career.”
Dr. Rosen’s ambition was to eventually eradicate lead poisoning by eliminating exposure to lead altogether, in the manner that vaccines reduced the incidence of polio to almost none. He served on committees of the National Academy of Sciences and urged spending tens of billions of dollars to remove old lead paint from tens of millions of homes, calculating that lead exposure harmed far more children than asbestos.
Landlords and some government officials disputed the need for such a large-scale effort, arguing that lead poisoning had dropped sharply in recent decades as lead was removed from gasoline and that the use of lead paint had abated.
Dr. Rosen often testified in suits against property owners, leading some to suggest that his crusade was motivated by the prospect of personal financial gain from payments by plaintiffs’ lawyers.
He also had critics in the news media. In 2003 Andrew Wolf, then a columnist for The New York Sun, argued that the war against lead poisoning had been won and accused Dr. Rosen of practicing political, not medical, science. In 1992, Newsday questioned whether he was a “well-meaning prophet or merely an alarmist.”
Dr. Rosen replied: “I am not an alarmist. I cannot keep quiet when kids’ futures are at stake.”
Image: Peeling, lead-based paint, via Shutterstock
Tuesday, November 20th, 2012
Dr. Daniel Stern, the psychiatrist who coined the term “motherese” to describe the unique way mothers communicate with babies, has died. The New York Times has more on his life and work:
“Dr. Stern was noted for his often poetic language in describing how children respond to their world — how they feel, think and see. He wrote one of his half-dozen books in the form of a diary by a baby. In another book, he told how mothers differ psychologically from women who do not have children. He coined the term “motherese” to describe a form of communication in which mothers are able to read even the slightest of babies’ emotional signals.
Dr. Stern, who did much of his research at what is now Weill Cornell Medical College and at the University of Geneva, drew inspiration from Jay S. Rosenblatt’s work with kittens at the American Museum of Natural History in the 1950s. Dr. Rosenblatt discovered that when he removed kittens from their cage, they made their way to a specific nipple of their mother’s even when they were as young as one day old. That finding demonstrated that learning occurs naturally at an exceptionally early age in a way staged experiments had not.
Dr. Stern videotaped babies from birth through their early years, and then studied the tapes second by second to analyze interactions between mother and child. He challenged the Freudian idea that babies go through defined critical phases, like oral and anal. Rather, he said, their development is continuous, with each phase layered on top of the previous one. The interactions are punctuated by intervals, sometimes only a few seconds long, of rest, solitude and reflection. As this process goes on, they develop a sense that other people can and will share in their feelings, and in that way develop a sense of self.
These interactions can underpin emotional episodes that occur years in the future. Citing one example in a 1990 interview with The Boston Globe, Dr. Stern told of a 13-month-old who grabbed for an electric plug. His alarmed mother, who moments before had been silent and loving, suddenly turned angry and sour. Two years later, the child heard a fairy tale about a wicked witch.
“He’s been prepared for that witch for years,” Dr. Stern said. “He’s already seen someone he loves turn into something evil. It’s perfectly believable for him. He maps right into it.”
Dr. Stern described such phenomena in 1985 in “The Interpersonal World of the Infant,” which the noted psychologist Stanley Spiegel, in an interview in The New York Times, called ‘the book of the decade in its influence on psychoanalytic theory.’”
Image: Mother and baby, via Shutterstock
Tuesday, May 8th, 2012
Maurice Sendak, the author of the beloved 1964 children’s classic “Where the Wild Things Are,” has died, the Associated Press is reporting:
Maurice Sendak didn’t think of himself as a children’s author, but as an author who told the truth about childhood.
“I like interesting people and kids are really interesting people,” he explained to The Associated Press last fall. “And if you didn’t paint them in little blue, pink and yellow, it’s even more interesting.”
Sendak, who died early Tuesday in Danbury, Conn., at age 83, four days after suffering a stroke, revolutionized children’s books and how we think about childhood simply by leaving in what so many writers before had excluded. Dick and Jane were no match for his naughty Max. His kids misbehaved and didn’t regret it, and in their dreams and nightmares fled to the most unimaginable places. Monstrous creatures were devised from his studio, but none more frightening than the grownups in his stories or the cloud of the Holocaust that darkened his every page.
“From their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions — fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can,” he said upon receiving the Caldecott Medal in 1964 for “Where the Wild Things Are,” his signature book. “And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming wild things.”
Image: Maurice Sendak (left) at the premiere of the “Where the Wild Things Are” movie, via Dylan Armajani / Shutterstock.com