If you ever stood in a corner fiddling for hours with the rabbit ears on the TV, you can thank—or curse—Marvin P. Middlemark, born today in 1919. His invention of a set-based, dipole antenna made television reception stronger, and opened the door to our modern TV culture. Before those distinctive rabbit ears, the picture you received on your screen was it, and there was no changing it unless you moved to a house closer to the transmitter. Once the TV-hungry masses had antennas, though, the world was their grainy oyster, especially if they discovered standing on one foot and holding the tip of the rabbit ears in aluminum foil while stretching toward the window.
Middlemark also helped NASA develop communication technology for the Apollo missions, but some of his inventions, like the water-powered potato peeler, didn’t find a market. No worries, though, because the eccentric inventor made his millions and shared the wealth often with those less fortunate. When he died in 1989, his estate distributed 15,000 pairs of gloves to homeless shelters per his last request. At least they received something useful; his estate also consisted of a stained glass collection, including colorful tributes to Einstein and Marilyn Monroe, several Chinese tractors, lots of statues of Greek deities, plus miniature horses, donkeys and reportedly a chimp who had a drinking problem. No word on if the chimp could tune a TV or use the potato peeler.
Today 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.Tweet
The truthiness is out there! Your future quasi-benevolent dictator/warrior overlord, Stephen Colbert, was born on this day in 1964. Bears and people without a sense of satire, beware.
From numerous references to Dungeons & Dragons to his lightsaber Green Screen Challenge, Colbert has turned his geek history into nightly pop art on his show The Colbert Report. While his persona for the show rejects geekdom, some of the actor’s own passion still seeps through on occasion. When guest James Franco claimed he was the biggest Lord of the Rings fan, the butt cheeks of Colbert’s minions puckered in delight. They knew some Frodo fanboy thumpage was coming, especially since Colbert has repeatedly quoted long, obscure passages and recited mythology from Tolkien’s work as easily as a child saying the Lord’s Prayer. As a man of faith and family, he can probably do that too, but in Elvish.
Yes, yes, today is Earth Day, so Hack the Planet, er, Save the Planet and all that. (Sorry, had a bit of a Angelina Jolie-Jonny Lee Miller flashback there.) Today is also the birthday of Immanuel Kant, born in 1724. Kant became one of the most influential philosophers of his time. He championed both experience and reason together for a new approach to philosophy, and his work in idealist thought still affects modern philosophers today. He also worked in mathematics, anthropology and astronomy, and was even an early influence in the life of a young Albert Einstein.
Celebrate today by hugging a tree and buying a beer for a philosophy major; chances are, that former student is now also your bartender. We’ve also thrown in the excellent ode to thinking above by the professors known as Monty Python. (Language warning, just in case you’re NOT familiar with their work.) Tweet
J.Lo? Please. Harriet Quimby was the original Fly Girl.
Today in 1912, Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly over the English Channel. This was her second record-setting accomplishment; the year before, she was the first woman in the U.S. to receive a pilot’s license.
Quimby’s life was like three movies squashed into one. She started out as a farm girl, then headed to California to become an actress and screenwriter. When she realized she was more suited to covering news than covering the classics, she became an award-winning photo-journalist for a magazine in New York. Her life was a fascinating and independent one; she supported herself, never married and drove her own car, three major quirks for the time period in question.
Airplanes were simply one more challenge Harriet Quimby couldn’t resist, and after she received her license, her fame grew even stronger. She continued her career as a writer and aviatrix until the end of her life, three short months after today’s flight. At the age of 37, she died in a stunt plane accident when she and her passenger fell from the monoplane. Her accomplishments set the stage for Amelia Earhart and other strong, capable women across the country and around the world.
Celebrate today by reading some of Harriet Quimby’s articles, including one describing her English Channel flight, and go out to do something remarkable of your own today.Tweet
“I don’t even like to fly. I take trains.” – Zefram Cochrane
Today in 2063 in the Star Trek universe, Zefram Cochrane pilots the first warp-drive craft into space and attracts the attention of the Vulcans, resulting in Earth’s official first contact with an alien species. The future is all conveniently documented for us in the 1996 movie “Star Trek: First Contact” so we have something to look forward to after the zombies attack.
There’s a certain poetry to Cochrane hosting the uptight Vulcans at a bar while Roy Orbison blasts away, don’t you think? We can only hope if aliens do find us interesting enough to talk to without probing, the human race will do it with similar style. Reality suggests, however, that first contact will be tweeted by someone before the aliens set foot (or tentacle) on our soil.
Celebrate today by defeating the Borg wherever you find them and cranking the song “Magic Carpet Ride” until the windows shake. The video clip below is one of our faves for two reasons. You can’t go into space without loud music, and some of the switches inside the Phoenix were Trekkie in-jokes: two of them were marked TOS 3 and TOS 8 for the original Star Trek series, referencing the first time Cochrane appeared in the series’ 38th episode.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Nimoy! Since yesterday was Tolkien Reading Day, it feels right to celebrate the two days together with one clip. You know the one. Leonard Nimoy singing “Bilbo Baggins!” Because William Shatner shouldn’t have all the fun, right?
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.
He was an honorary Python, wrote for Doctor Who, and gave us Zaphod Beeblebrox, Arthur Dent and Dirk Gently; Douglas Adams, born on this day in 1952, was a giant of a man in many ways, especially his contributions to science fiction and comedy. He left us far too soon, but his impact on geekdom and science fiction is still powerful today. Who else could inspire a massive inside joke with a simple “42?” He also loved technology and would have been awesome on Twitter, better than Steve Martin and Nathan Fillion combined. Yeah, we said it.
Celebrate today by carrying your towel or donating a little cash to save endangered animals, one of his favorite causes. If you don’t know who Adams is and you think BabelFish is just a translation website, get yourself to a bookstore immediately for a copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Also, check out the lovely Google Doodle in his memory today, or watch his last interview filmed shortly before his untimely death in 2001 on the now defunct TechTV show, Big Thinkers.Tweet