Nikola Tesla, the Obscure Genius


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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“When I saw this wonderful man [Thomas Alva Edison], who had had no training at all, no advantages, and who did it all himself, and saw the great results by virtue of his industry and application – you see, I had studied a dozen languages … and had spent the best years of my life ruminating through libraries. I thought to myself what a terrible thing it was to have wasted my life on those useless things, and if I had only come to America right then and there and devoted all of my brain power and inventiveness to my work, what could I not have done?” (Nikola Tesla, in My inventions: My early life. Electrical Experimenter; February 1919)

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla, a Serbian-American, was born in what is now Croatia on July 10, 1856. He was a physicist, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, an inventor, and futurist. He is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.

During his lifetime, Tesla obtained about 300 patents for his inventions. Today, we take many of his inventions for granted today. For example, we owe Tesla for the flip switch when we turn on the light.

Tesla was one of the few inventors who contributed to advances in science and engineering in the early 20th century. As one of the fathers of Electricity, Nikola Tesla did pioneering work on alternating current (AC) power system, electromagnetism, hydroelectric power, radio, radar etc.

Tesla gained experience in telephony and electrical engineering before he immigrated to the United States in 1884.

In 1882, Nikola Tesla started working for two years at the Continental Edison Company in France designing and making improvements to electrical equipment. In June 1884, Tesla relocated to New York City. During his trip across the Atlantic, his ticket, money, and some of his luggage were stolen. Then, mutiny broke out on the ship and he was nearly thrown overboard. When he landed in the United States he had only four cents in his pocket, a letter of recommendation from Charles Batchelor, the English engineer who managed the Continental Edison Company in Europe.

Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison

Tesla met Edison. Knowing the famous American inventor had a hearing problem spoke up and introduced himself. He produced the brief message from Batchelor.

Edison snorted after glancing at the brief message. “I know two great men and you are one of them,” Batchelor had written. “The other is this young man!

A rumpled, weary, and deeply skeptical Edison asked Tesla what he could do.

Tesla humbly described the engineering work he had done in France, and spoke of his designs for induction motors that could run smoothly and powerfully on alternating current. Edison, however, knew very little about alternating current and believed it to be the work of the devil. Edison was a man with bigot, who in the past had waged a propaganda war against the gas companies stating the use of gas as a source of power would endanger humans due to possible explosions.

Eventually, Edison hired Tesla to work at the Edison Machine Works in New York.

One year later after a disagreement over emoluments, Tesla struck out on his own. With financial backers, he set up laboratories and companies to develop a range of electrical devices that sparked the long-running, and bitter “War of the Currents.”

Laboratory where TEsla and Westinghouse engineers developed apparatus for AC systems.

Laboratory where Tesla and Westinghouse engineers developed apparatus for AC systems.

George Westinghouse used Tesla’s patented AC induction motor and transformer under license and hired him as a consultant to help develop a power system using alternating current.

Tesla is also known for his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs. His patented devices and theoretical work were used in the invention of radio communication, and in his X-ray experiments.

At that time, James S. Warden, a western lawyer and banker had purchased land in Shoreham, Long Island, about 60 miles from Manhattan. Here, he built a resort community known as Wardenclyffe-On-Sound. Warden believed that with the implementation of Nikola Tesla’s “world system” a “Radio City” would arise in the area. He offered Tesla 200 acres (81 ha) of land close to a railway line on which to build his wireless telecommunications tower and laboratory facility. In 1901, Tesla designed the Wardenclyffe Tower also known as the Tesla Tower, an early wireless transmission tower intended for commercial trans-Atlantic wireless telephony, broadcasting, and proof-of-concept demonstrations of wireless power transmission. It never became fully operational and the tower was demolished in 1917.

Tesla with his achievements and his seemingly miraculous inventions and his abilities as a showman became world-famous. Though he reaped much money from his patents, he also spent a lot on numerous experiments. For most of his life he lived in New York hotels. Finally, the end of his patent income and eventual bankruptcy led him to live in diminished circumstances. Even then, Tesla continued to invite the press to parties he held on his birthday to announce new inventions he was working on. Due to his pronouncements and the nature of his work over the years, Tesla gained a reputation as the archetypal “mad scientist”.

Though Nikola Tesla was one of the world’s greatest inventors, as fate would have it, he died penniless and in obscurity on January 7, 1943 in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel.

Monument for f Nikola Tesla at the entrance to the “Cave of the Winds” at Niagara Falls.

This monument to honour Nikola Tesla near the entrance to the “Cave of the Winds” on Goat Island (Niagara Falls State Park), New York, USA, the work of famous Croatian sculptor Krsinic was the gift of Yugoslavia to the United States, 1976. (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj – August 3, 2012)

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An Indian-American Teenage Girl’s Invention Could Charge Cell-phones in 20 Seconds


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Eesha Khare

An Indian-American Teenage Girl’s Invention Could Charge Cell-phones in 20 Seconds

Thanks to an 18-year-old high-school student, Eesha Khare of Saratoga, California, USA, our wait for hours for a cellphone to charge may become a thing of the past. This Indian-American girl, specialising in nanochemistry, has invented a super-capacitor device that can potentially charge a cellphone in less than 20 seconds.

The Intel Foundation presented Esha Khare the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award and $50,000 during the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held in Phoenix, Arizona this week for inventing the tiny super-capacitor device that can pack lot more energy into a smaller space than traditional phone batteries. The gizmo fits inside mobile phone batteries, and can hold the charge for a longer period.

Eesha says that her invention could be employed not only to charge cellphone batteries, but also to power anything that uses rechargeable batteries. Right now, the “super-capacitor” charges a light-emitting diode (LED). However, she is now being besieged by offers from the electronic industry. Reports say that Google is now having preliminary exploratory talks with Eesha Khare.

Let us wish this teenager all success with her invention.

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What Do You See?


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Wake up, wake up … Your privacy is compromised.

What Do You See?

A mosquito?

NO! You are absolutely wrong.

On close scrutiny you will notice that this is something else – an “INSECT SPY DRONE”.

This tiny drone can be controlled from a great distance. It is equipped with a camera and microphone. It can land on you, and if needed, use it’s needle to take a DNA sample of you. The priclk, and the subsequent pain will be akin to that of a mosquito bite. Also, it is possible to inject into you, under your skin, a micro RFID tracking device.

It can enter your home by landing on you, attach on to your clothing until you take it inside your home; or it can fly into your home through a window.

This is already in production, funded by the US Government. Now, who is the real enemy?

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The Kodak “Brownie” Camera


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Now that we have entered the 21st century, please allow me to  reminisce on a device that helped our grandparents and parents to usher in the previous century - The Kodak “Brownie” Camera.

George Eastman (July 12, 1854 – March 14, 1932) was born in Waterville, New York. His father, George W. Eastman, ran a business college in Rochester, New York. His mother, Maria Kilbourn, took care of young George and his two older sisters. Two years after the family moved to Rochester, when he was seven, his father died. To add to the family’s small income, his mother had to take in boarders.

George educated in Rochester public schools dropped out at age thirteen to work and help his mother. By 1877, he advanced from messenger to bookkeeper in the Rochester Savings Bank.

George Eastman and Photography

In the 1870s American photography was still time-consuming, difficult, and expensive. Equipment included a huge camera, strong tripod (a three-legged stand), heavy glass plates, large plate holder, dark tent, chemicals, and water container.

George Eastman was always careful with his money but spent on his hobby, amateur photography.

On a trip to Mackinac Island, photographic chemicals among his cameras and supplies ruined his packed clothes. He became disgusted with the wet-plate process of producing photographs.

Eastman experimented using dry plates. He was the first American who contributed to the improvement of photographic methods. He coated glass plates with gelatin, and silver bromide. In 1879, he patented his coating machine in England, and in 1880 he received an American patent for it. He sold his English patent and opened a shop in Rochester to manufacture photographic plates.

Next, Eastman did away with glass plates. He coated paper with gelatin and photographic chemicals. The developed film was stripped from the paper to make a negative. This film was rolled on spools. Eastman and William Walker created a lightweight roll holder that would fit any camera.

In1884, Eastman substituted transparent film for the paper. Flexible film was created by Hannibal Goodwin of New York and a young Eastman chemist, Henry Reichenback. There was a long patent battle between Goodwin and Eastman. It was the most important legal dispute in photographic history. In August 1913, a federal court decision favored Goodwin and in 1914 Eastman paid five million dollars to Goodwin’s family and Ansco Company, owners of his patent.

Eastman’s next move was to create a trademark to dramatize his innovative camera.

Trademark – KODAK

There is a misconception that the name KODAK was chosen as a trademark because of it resembles the sound produced by the shutter of the camera.

It has also been told by some historians that the name KODAK was originally suggested by David Houston, a fellow photographic inventor who held the patents to several roll film camera concepts that he later sold to Eastman. Houston, who started receiving patents from 1881, was said to have chosen “Nodak” as a nickname for his home state, North Dakota.  However, this is contested by other historians, who cite that KODAK was registered as a trademark even before Eastman bought Houston’s patents.

A trademark should be short,” said George Eastman. “It should be ‘vigorous.’ It should be incapable of being misspelled to an extent that will destroy its identity”; and “it must mean nothing.

Having established the specifications for a trademark for the camera he invented, Eastman proceeded to create the word to fit them.

Why KODAK?

Eastman had an affinity towards the letter “K”. It might have been due to his mother’s maiden name being Kilbourn.

“Because,” Eastman explained later, “the letter ‘K’ had been a favorite with me – it seemed a strong, incisive sort of letter. Therefore, the word I wanted had to start with ‘K.’ Then it became a question of trying out a great number of combinations of letters that made words starting and ending with ‘K.’ The word ‘KODAK’ was the result … It became the distinctive word for our products.”

George Eastman registered the trademark KODAK on September 4, 1888.

In the same year, Eastman designed a simple camera, the Kodak which he patented on September 4, 1888.  It was easy to carry and handheld during its operation. There was no need to focus the lens, and there was no need to adjust the aperture for the available light.

Pre-loaded with enough film for 100 exposures, it sold for twenty-five dollars. After taking the pictures the whole camera was returned along with ten dollars to the Kodak Rochester factory in New York where the film was developed, prints were made, new photographic film was reloaded, and then the camera and prints were returned to the customer.

Eastman’s advertising slogan “You press the button, we do the rest,” for his Kodak camera became very popular.

In 1889, George Eastman founded the Eastman Kodak Company, commonly known as Kodak with headquarters in Rochester, New York. He followed the razor and blades strategy of selling inexpensive cameras and making large margins from consumables such as films, chemicals and papers.

Daylight-loading film and cameras soon made it unnecessary to return the cameras to the factory. Eastman’s old slogan changed to “You press the button, we do the rest, or you can do it yourself.

The Kodak “Brownie” Camera

The KODAK “Brownie” camera made its debut at the turn of the twentieth century. The company, Eastman Kodak, introduced the Brownie box camera in 1900 and priced it at one dollar. The camera was launched with a major advertising campaign. During the first year alone, one hundred thousand Kodak “Brownie” cameras were sold. There were two reasons behind the choice of the name “Brownie” for the camera. At the time of the launch, a children’s book of cartoons by the name “Brownie” was very popular. Secondly, the camera was initially manufactured for Eastman by Frank Brownell of Rochester, New York.

The KODAK “Brownie” camera brought photography into the hands of amateurs and it made it possible for the middle class to take their own “snaps” as well.

KODAK Brownie

KODAK Brownie Box Camera

In 1952, my father gave me a Kodak Brownie 620 Box Camera. I was able to take 8 (eight) black and white photos with one loading.

Here are some photographs that I took during that period in India with my good old Brownie.

It’s me – the Hunter (1952)

My Mother (1953)

My paternal grandmother (1953)

My paternal grandmother and her daughter-in-laws (1953)

My maternal grandfather (1953)

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