Archive for inventions

Laser Day

maimanToday they’re on everything from our pens to the heads of villainous frickin’ sharks, but before 1960, lasers were just a dream. In that year, Theodore Harold Maiman invented the laser using a pink ruby, proving that diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but they won’t remove that regrettable tattoo. Maiman was born today in 1927, and to say his work at Hughes Research Laboratories changed the world is an understatement. Lasers have revolutionized medicine, electronics, communications and, of course, pop culture. Without lasers, could you have the idea of a lightsaber? Or a phaser?

Maiman created his own company around his invention in 1962, and continued to be a major part of the high technology world until his death in 2007. Celebrate his creation today by digging out the laser pointer and entertaining the cat.

Pi, Einstein and Chips Day

Has math ever looked so delicious?

Has math ever looked so delicious?

Today celebrates three things geeks love: Pi, Albert Einstein and potato chips. The numerical shorthand for today is 3/14, which corresponds to 3.14, the beginning of pi. Diehard fans will likely celebrate at 1:59 and 26 seconds, so have a slice of apple pie nearby. While no one knows the exact hour and minute Albert Einstein was born (although it would be awesome if it was 1:59:26) he’s still a rock star in the physics world, and his name has even become shorthand for genius in the mundane, everyday world. As for potato chips, do we need to elaborate? Any day is a great day to celebrate them, but this is, in fact, National Potato Chip Day.

Celebrate all three by taking a physicist out to lunch (with pie for dessert, of course) today, and if you find a potato chip on your plate that looks like Albert Einstein, head straight to eBay. Ka-ching, baby.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Flickr/djwtwo

 

Charles Babbage Day

Mathlete, genius and all-around eccentric Charles Babbage was born on this day in 1791. Best known for inventing “engines” that were the early forerunners of computers, Babbage also designed several other inventions for the day’s cutting-edge travel: the railroad. He thought up the concept of a “black box” to explain what went wrong in a crash, and invented a cow-catcher to clear  obstacles (both inert and mooing) from the front of a passing train.

A fan of lock picking, Babbage also made advances in cryptography, and his cipher-breaking ideas were used to the benefit of the British military for years.

But it was the difference and analytical engines that defined him; the first was essentially a calculator way too big for any pocket. The analytical engine was truly the great-great granddad of that iPad or laptop you’re holding. It could be programmed with punch cards, used programming functions like looping and parallel processing, and could even spit out a hard copy print out.

Celebrate Babbage’s accomplishments by doing something worthy like learning a new programming language or helping scientists unlock DNA. Or you could do what you’ve planned, and play Skyrim until the Christmas leftovers call your name.

Alan Hazeltine Day

Without today’s birthday boy, we would have never experienced great radio shows like The Shadow, or made out in the moonlight serenaded by Duran Duran. Alan Hazeltine was born today in 1886. He was an engineer, inventor, physicist and professor, but his greatest claim to fame was the neutrodyne circuit, which squelched noise while boosting good signal. This circuit made commercial radio a viable business model in the early 1920s.

While progress would push past his circuit to better technology, he still scored a cool $3 million for his patents by the end of the decade, and did what any of us would do: go to Europe for a nice long vacation to study art, and, since he was a geek, study math too.

After his sweet vacay, Hazeltine came back to the U.S. and once again picked up his teaching job at the Stevens Institute of Technology. He consulted and also had a hand in the development of television.

He passed away in 1964, but we still want to thank him for all those great tunes and radio plays that came along because of his invention, from the country-wide freakout during the War of the Worlds broadcast to the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Then again, he also paved the way for A.M. talk radio and not-so-wacky morning DJs.