Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Thanks For The Alienation

Thomas Edison - Wikipedia

It's possible that I owe almost all of my ability to drown myself in the pre-recorded media of other eras to some smelly geek from New Jersey (I suppose I can also thank him for the ability to stay up much later than a human being naturally should, but I'll do that later). In the back of my mind I've always been impressed that the same man could have been responsible for both recorded music and the motion picture; doesn't that make him like "the Godfather of Pop Culture" or something? Too bad he had almost no interest in art whatsoever. Reading his bio, it seems that his biggest legacy is one of really putting the "pop" in popular culture. Sure, anybody can make a piece of metal glow in a lab somewhere, but how many people can build a contraption that sits on a shelf somewhere until someone tries to plug it in at a time of their own convenience? Still, I'd always pictured him to be sort of an Orson Welles when he's really more of a Walt Disney.


So was he deaf or something? How could he have invented the phonograph if he was deaf? And why hadn't I ever heard about this before? Maybe he was only partially deaf:

"The cause of Edison's deafness has been attributed to a bout of scarlet fever during childhood and recurring untreated middle ear infections. Edison around the middle of his career attributed the hearing loss to being struck on the ears by a train conductor when his chemical lab in a boxcar caught fire. In his later years he modified the story to say the injury occurred when the conductor, in helping him onto a moving train, lifted him by the ears.[3][4]"

Can that really make you deaf? Or maybe medicine was really that bad back then. Maybe it was all for the best:

"Edison's deafness allegedly aided him because it blocked out noises and prevented Edison from hearing the telegrapher sitting next to him."

Have deaf people been used in this way throughout history? Like do airlines hire deaf people to work near loud jets and stuff? Think of the potential.

"Edison said he wanted the lab to have "a stock of almost every conceivable material." A newspaper article printed in 1887 reveals the seriousness of his claim, stating the lab contained "eight thousand kinds of chemicals, every kind of screw made, every size of needle, every kind of cord or wire, hair of humans, horses, hogs, cows, rabbits, goats, minx, camels...silk in every texture, cocoons, various kinds of hoofs, shark's teeth, deer horns, tortoise shell...cork, resin, varnish and oil, ostrich feathers, a peacock's tail, jet, amber, rubber, all ores..." and the list goes on.[14]"

First Witch

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.

So how about the "War of the Currents"? Doesn't quite have the same oomph of "War of the Worlds," or "War of the Roses" even. But we shouldn't assume that just because the name was dull that the war was dull:

"Despite Edison's contempt for capital punishment, the war against AC led Edison to become involved in the development and promotion of the electric chair as a demonstration of AC's greater lethal potential versus the "safer" DC. Edison went on to carry out a brief but intense campaign to ban the use of AC or to limit the allowable voltage for safety purposes. As part of this campaign, Edison's employees publicly electrocuted dogs, cats, and in one case, an elephant[18] to demonstrate the dangers of AC."

Talk about shock tactics! (da dum dum)

"Another of Edison's assistants was Nikola Tesla, who claimed that Edison promised him $50,000 if he succeeded in making improvements to his DC generation plants. Several months later, when he had finished the work and asked to be paid, Tesla claimed that Edison said, "When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke."[19]


But apparently not evenyone could take a joke:

"Although Tesla accepted an Edison Medal later in life and professed a high opinion of Edison as an inventor and engineer, he remained bitter. The day after Edison died, the New York Times contained extensive coverage of Edison's life, with the only negative opinion coming from Tesla who was quoted as saying, "He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene" and that, "His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense."

My my, somebody's jealous! Tesla sounds more like a jilted lover than a frustrated collaborator. I detect a hidden sub-plot.

Thank goodness Edison was an inventor instead of a doctor:

"Influenced by a fad diet that was popular in the day, in his last few years "the only liquid he consumed was a pint of milk every three hours."[24] He believed this diet would restore his health."

Well? Well? Did it work?

Let's also be glad that Edison won out over Alexander Graham Bell on the phone greeting question:

"While working with Alexander Graham Bell to discover words of greeting, Edison is credited as creating the word "Hello" as a telephone greeting in 1877.[26][27][28] Bell, however, preferred "Ahoy-hoy" as a greeting.[29]"

I mean, "Ahoy-hoy" definitely has some potential. I think I might start using that actually. Don't be surprised if you give me a call and hear "Ahoy-hoy" from now on.

"Edison was so fascinated by Morse Code that he taught it to his girlfriend Mary Stilwell, proposed marriage to her in the code, and nicknamed their first two children "Dot" and "Dash"."

How romantic.

"Edison's company was considerably late in the business of releasing music on phonographs. Reportedly, Edison considered his invention to be limited to a business dictation machine, and the concept of pre-recorded music never crossed his mind."

Hello! Come on buddy! Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.


yoggoth said...

I always thought I would have liked to be friends with Tesla, not sure why. I don't even know much about him.

It figures that you would be an Edison man.

Little Earl said...

Yup. It's like Beatles vs. Velvet Underground.