Is This The Car of Our Future?

15 1-21 Totota Mirai left

Here’s my Huffington Post column on what I thought was the coolest thing I saw at CES and most important technology I’ve seen in years – Toyota’s Mirai, whose electric engine runs on non-polluting hydrogen. Talk about energy independence…

Is This The Car of Our Future?

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Happy Birthday, Thomas Edison!

A couple of years ago, I wrote a birthday tribute to Thomas Edison for the late and semi-lamented Tech Goes Strong. Since that site is kaput, I present that Edison tribute here, along with some photos of my 2004 visit to Edison’s birthplace in Milan, Ohio (click on each photo for a larger version).

We nationally celebrate the birthdays of presidents, we venerate veterans and workers, we celebrate the nation’s birthday, we have assigned days acknowledging the earth, trees, the flag, pagan worship of love and of the dead, of mothers and of fathers, varying ethnic groups, and a day for pure thankfulness.

But considering our technologically-filled lives and society, it’s surprising that few people even know we have a day set aside to say thank-you to the scientists, inventors and engineers responsible for our modern world. But we do. In 1983, President Reagan proclaimed February 11 as National Inventors’ Day. Why February 11? It’s the birthday of Thomas Edison.

“That old guy?” you’re saying to yourself. “What does Thomas Edison have to do with modern stuff like computers and cell phones and social networking?”

Everything.

Edison lighting

Look around the room you’re in. I’ll bet your eyes have alighted on at least a half dozen items that wouldn’t be if not for Edison.

Yes, incandescent light bulbs, duh. But, you say, you’ve replaced all those hot incandescents with more energy efficient compact fluorescent or LED lights. But the metal threaded bottom and the sockets you screw them into? They’re still called Edison Bases. The light technology may have changed, but Edison invented the way we continue to screw the bulbs in.

Then there are the electrical outlets. Edison knew his bulbs wouldn’t work unless you had power, so he invented the first electrical power generating and distribution station at Pearl Street in Manhattan.

Then he needed to manufacturer the bulbs and lamps and sockets and power stations, so Edison founded General Electric – yes, that General Electric, and I’m willing to bet you own stock in, do business with or have something in your house made by GE.

So, when you flip on the lights, say “Thank-you, Mr. Edison.”

Edison sound & vision

Now you want to listen to music. Sure, we mostly plug in an iPod. But when Edison invented the phonograph, he also invented the entire idea of sound recording, a concept few thought was even possible – on par with the idea of recording our dreams – much less worth attempting. And without audio recording, there would be no video recording.

Want to watch a movie? Yup, Edison again, taking George Eastman’s rolling film and, with W.K.L. Dickson, invented motion pictures.

Using the phone? Yes, Alexander Graham Bell (or Elisha Gray) invented the telephone. But to use it, you had to shout into the transmitter, an annoyance that limited the telephone’s early commercialization. So Edison invented a new carbon transmitter and – no more shouting. Edison’s carbon transmitter was used for nearly a century.

Edison also didn’t invent the radio, television or the computer – just the basic technology behind each. When mucking with the incandescent light, Edison noticed a strange electron flow within his experimental bulbs. Since Edison was more a gifted tinkerer than an educated scientist he didn’t know what that electron flow indicated, so he simply made a note of it. Two decades later, engineers including as John A. Fleming and, later, Lee De Forest turned the Edison Effect into the electron or vacuum tube, the foundation upon which radio, television, the computer and all modern electronics was based.

So, when you listen to music or watch TV or turn on your PC, say “Thank-you, Mr. Edison.”

Edison miscellanea

Yes, the Tesla electric car is named for Nikola Tesla, the “inventor” of alternating current, (and there’s no reason to be either a Tesla fan or an Edison fan – it’s okay to admire both) but it was Edison who provided the first practical batteries for the electric car a century ago, which became the basis for all modern batteries.

Ever attend a game at the old Yankee Stadium? It was built using cement developed by Edison.

Do you sport body ink? Edison’s responsible for your tattoo as well – he invented an electronic stenciling pen that was slightly modified to become the modern tattooing tool.

Finally, and most importantly of all, with his Menlo Park, N.J., labs and, later, his labs a few miles away at West Orange (around the block from where I lived for a time in the early 1980s and to which I was a regular visitor) Edison invented the research lab, a place where engineers could work on nothing but creating new technologies and gadgets, a precursor to Bell Labs and the hundreds of other private, corporate and university research facilities currently churning out iPads, flat screen HDTVs, cell phones and all our modern digital wonders.

Is it any wonder the symbol for a great idea is still a light bulb?

Yes, every day I say, “Thank-you Mr. Edison,” and today I add, “Happy birthday!”

 

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Edison’s birthplace.

 

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A close up of the road sign.

 

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His birth bed.

 

Edison boy statue

And a statue of Edison the boy in a park along Main Street in Milan.

 

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My TWICE CES Coverage

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As per usual, I assisted TWICE magazine, the leading consumer electronics trade publication, in its CES 2015 coverage. I was assigned to cover the emerging DIY smart home market as well as tablets, but strayed afield some to OLED TVs and other topics. Here are some of my contributions to TWICE from the show.

Apple To Bring Order To Home-Control Chaos: Panel

Tablets Beg To Differentiate

Will LG Set Industry Tempo With 4K OLED?

Evolution Of The Smart Home: It’s Security, Stupid

SeeQVault SD Card Promises Media Portability From UHD Blu-ray

DIY Smart-Home Outlook: What’s In Store

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Beyond LCD: Which New 4K UHD TV Technology Is Best?

15 1-6 UHD displaysAt CES last month, Samsung and LG both unveiled new “quantum dot” 4K UHDs. What’s “quantum dot” and how does this sort-of new technology affect what TV you might think of buying? Here’s my analysis of the new 4K UHD technologies unveiled at CES that I wrote for Techlicious.

Beyond LCD: Which New 4K UHD TV Technology Is Best?

 

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My Review of the iPhone 6 Plus

14 9-22 iPhone 6 Plus 5s landscape

My review of the new iPhone 6 Plus appears on Techlicious, and you can read it here.

Preview: It’s a HUGE phone.

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4.7- or 5.5-inch — Which iPhone 6 Should You Buy?

14 8-22 which iPhone 6

An answer to an upcoming dilemma, on Huffington Post.

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Smartphone Camera Features Versus Digital Camera Technology in 2014

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What, exactly, are smartphone makers putting in their devices that let us leave our actual cameras at home? Here’s a piece I did exploring smartphone camera technologies for Digital Imaging Reporter, a photo trade magazine.

Smartphone Camera Features Versus Digital Camera Technology in 2014

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Here Comes (Finally!) the Goddamn Tesla Museum

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Last week, to commemorate Nikola Tesla’s 158th birthday, the media made much of the million dollar contribution by Elon Musk (he who appropriated Tesla’s name for his electronic car company) to help transform the Serbian-born scientist’s Wardenclyffe Labs, located in Shoreham on the north shore of Long Island, into the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe.

But few in the media actually explored exactly what Wardenclyffe was and what, nearly a century after its famous tower was dismantled, it would be turned into to. Until now. Here’s my exploration on the Huffington Post of the present and future of Wardenclyffe.

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Meet the Man Who Invented the Modern Age

Nikola Tesla

Each time you plug an electrical anything into a wall outlet, each time you turn on your radio or even TV, you should thank the Serbian-born American engineer named Nikola Tesla.

I present him to you because last Thursday, July 10, was Tesla’s birthday, his 158th. It’s not necessarily an auspicious birthday – other than Elon Musk using the occasion to make a million dollar donation to transform Tesla’s Wardenclyffe labs in to the Tesla Science Center, which you can read more about here – but I’ll use any excuse to write about Tesla.

If the name sounds familiar, it may be because of a hard rock band who borrowed his name, or perhaps because of the electric car company that uses his name as an homage. Or, maybe, it’s because of his fictional portrayal by David Bowie in the 2006 film, The Prestige.

The real Tesla invented the AC (alternating current) motor and the technologies necessary to make AC power available to households across the country. He invented radio (not Marconi), which of course led to television. He invented radio control (RC), which your kids likely know all about. He demonstrated wireless power transfer, which can now be found in the wireless charger systems such as Qi (pronounced “chee”) and Duracell’s PowerMat. He (accidentally) also was responsible for the electric chair.

Why isn’t the real Tesla more familiar to you? Tesla lacked Thomas Edison’s promotional genius and didn’t invent actual consumer products – merely the power systems on which all electronics operate.

But while Edison was merely a really talented mechanic, Tesla (who once actually worked for Edison) was a university-trained electrical engineer. Edison knew what he wanted gadgets to do; Tesla understood how they worked, which led him to more profound foundational inventions, and why several engineering technologies are named for him and why he is considered the godfather of our modern society.

Tesla also was wildly eccentric – he loved pigeons and the number three – and some of his later ideas were seen as more crackpot than eureka or simply too far ahead of their time.

AC/DC

Tesla’s technical training allowed him, as the story goes, to envision precisely how an AC motor would work, including all its parts, in a literally blinding flash of insight while walking through a park in his native Serbia. It would take him more than a decade, however, to see this mind-picture turned into reality.

It wasn’t until this first boss, Edison, invented the light bulb, that AC became necessary. Edison, not being an engineer, relied on DC, or direct current. DC is low power (today it’s used in batteries) and flows in only one direction. This means it can’t travel far through wires without amplification.

AC, alternating current, is high-power so can travel far without amplification, and can flow in two directions, so is more flexible. But generating and AC is far more complicated – and dangerous – than DC.

Edison promoted easier and safer DC. To demonstrate AC’s lethal aspects, he called in reporters to witness the electrocution of animals via AC, including an elephant. Edison’s development of the electric chair was designed to demonstrate just how deadly AC power could be.

But DC required noisy and smelly generating stations inside of city limits. Tesla and his AC equipment maker George Westinghouse demonstrated to municipalities wishing to wire their towns with electricity safe generating stations that could be located miles away how safe.

One of the first Tesla/Westinghouse AC power stations was built at Niagara Falls in 1893 to supply power to Buffalo, NY, 20 miles away. There’s a statue of Tesla outside the still standing original generator house on the Canadian side of the Falls.

You can read a more about Tesla in the excellent new biography by W. Bernard Carlson, Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age.

In the meantime, happy (belated) birthday, Mr. Tesla.

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20 Years Ago, Apple and Kodak Launched the Digital Camera Revolution

Sasson camera 1 copy 2This is Steve Sasson. In 1975, he was a 23-year-old Kodak junior engineer and he invented the digital camera. After 19 years of development – 20 years ago this week – Apple started selling the Kodak-designed QuickTake 100, the first consumer digital camera, launching the digital imaging revolution.  You can read the story on Mashable.com here. (I took this picture in December 2006; in addition to being a smart man, he’s a nice man.)

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