Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Wizard of Menlo Park


I have had a few superhero kind of people in my life all through, like gods or knights, ravana and miles davis kind of stuff, and if I look at my real early years, maybe 7 to 12, one of the people whose life and work I dreamt of being half able to emulate was Edison.

Thomas Alva Edison is the man who invented the stock ticker, the electronic voting machine, the car battery, electricity and the use of electrical power, recorded music and the motion pictures among a host (2000ish) of other things.  

Almost all of his life reads like a story, but his getting his first job and going on to understand and bring about a revolution in telecommunications is a classic one.  Google it.

After his first landmark creation, the phonograph or methods of accurately and completely recording and reproducing sound or music, he went on to walk on down the hall.

He “invented” the electric light bulb, building on the work of many others who were trying to do the same thing, but outsmarting them in the three challenge areas of material, vacuum creation, and delivery of power (this was before you could plug into the wall to turn something on) the last of which he solved by using a higher resistance making it easier to draw power from source, something all others had not thought of, since their focus was on the product itself.

These were exciting times, everybody was doing something, be it something as herculean as crossing the seas from Europe to America, or giving birth to dots and dashes.  Jazz hung like thick smoke at the ports and at railroad construction sites.  The alpha male from the heartlands of the savannah was tasting french food cooked in Louisiana moonshine.  The spirits, benign and vampirish, of New Orleans danced with those of native Indians and sad slavegirls, and created multicultural ghosts that Anne Rice would make a living off many years later.

Along with the pathbreaking work of closer bodhisattvas like Satyen Bose (an example only, I am much closer to other spirits from other fields than I am to stats and maths) who opened the doors of particle physics and particle statistics along with Einstein, the life and work of Edison set an example of what can be accomlished by application of the mind to solve and rise above problems and limitations.  Happy Birthday, Menlowiz!

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