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COUNTYWIDE : Convention Is Necessity of Inventors

August 31, 1990|JON NALICK

It doesn't bother engineer Charles Stevens that some people scoff at inventors as eccentrics. So far, his little invention has grossed more than $250,000.

Stevens, 67, of Yorba Linda created "Mini-Flush," a device that saves up to five gallons of water per toilet flush, he says.

He is one of several Orange County inventors who are taking their wares to an international "Invention Convention" in Pasadena this weekend. With creations ranging from the wacky to the practical, the inventors aim to conserve water and energy, protect human life, and improve leisure time.

So far, Stevens' company has sold thousands of his gadgets that retail for about $16 each. The device consists of a blue plastic ball and a few attachments that can be installed on a toilet's overflow pipe in 15 seconds without tools.

"We're quite proud of it," he said. He's also proud to be an inventor.

"People can laugh if they want, but every idea from modern life came from somebody. Even a simple wheel took a lot of thought, and if that guy hadn't thought it up, maybe we still wouldn't have the wheel."

Another Orange County inventor who will be in Pasadena this weekend is Gus Searcy of Yorba Linda, creator of the butler "Godfrey."

Godfrey speaks several languages and guards the house, and at the order, "Let's party," simultaneously and without moving turns off the television, dims the lights and turns up the stereo.

Godfrey is a small computer, officially named Butler in a Box, which originally was conceived as the result of a joke.

Searcy, 38, was a professional magician when his friends kidded him that a magician shouldn't have to get up to turn the lights on.

"And I went, 'Hmm, they're right," he recalled. So Searcy became an inventor.

Godfrey controls the lights, heating, sprinklers and the alarm system in Searcy's home. It knows not to water the lawn if it has rained, and at night it only air-conditions rooms that are occupied. "And if you're out on a date and get lucky, you can call home and it will warm up the Jacuzzi for you," Searcy said.

One buyer named his computer "God," and programmed it to respond in a booming voice, "Yes, my son."

Searcy has sold 7,000 computerized butlers internationally, at $4,000 each.

"In 10 years, 40% of American homes will have some home-automation system. It might as well be mine," he said.

For another inventor, Rick Rezac of Huntington Beach, the motivation for his creation was the proverbial necessity. After his son was born six years ago, Rezac said, "I pushed a stroller for a zillion years." But he couldn't run or bike with it, and figured "there's got to be a better way."

So Rezac, a 38-year-old technician at Shell Oil Co., invented "Zeta," a baby stroller that can be pushed, pulled by a jogger, or carried on a bike. He said the invention also stemmed from his desire, as a single parent, to spend more time with his son. And his son helped field-test the stroller until he was 5 years old.

Terry McKinney, a 59-year-old Garden Grove entrepreneur, said that thinking up ideas for inventions is only the beginning.

"A lot of time people get an idea, but they don't follow it," he said.

McKinney's idea came from his wife, who works with balloons in a gift shop. The invention is a machine the size of a shoe box that fits latex gloves onto hands put in the box and then takes the gloves off.

The invention, aimed at medical workers and cosmetologists, costs $350.

The convention will be Saturday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Pasadena Convention Center.

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