A.M.Low: the professor who wasn’t a professor

a-m-lowDiscovered in a July 1930 issue of Armchair Science, an article by the magazine’s ‘technical advisor’ A. M. Low entitled ‘Little Things and Big Minds’. In it Professor Low argues that we shouldn’t be impressed by large things—whether they are exaggerated claims for some patent medicine, or some mechanical apparatus, such as a typewriter. Machines are made from small parts, just as matter is composed of atoms and molecules; and big phenomena, such as broadcasting is powered by electricity, which is a flow of electrons. Small is beautiful, in other words.

This homily is a preface to the contents of the rest of the magazine, which is mainly devoted to broadcasting, the electron and diatoms. In addition, however, there are fascinating features on the newly invented saccharine, the proto-helicopter known as the autogyro, and tinned food. There is also a double-page spread entitled ‘On My Travels’ by Low, who looks about thirty (he was 42). Continue reading

Gramophone inventor Emile Berliner on ‘Immortality’

Found- a copy of Conclusions by Emile Berliner published in Philadelphia, img_2160by the Levytype Co., in 1899. Berliner was the inventor of the gramophone and the gramophone record and exceedingly wealthy. This book presents his philosophy and may have been a vanity project, this copy is marked complimentary and limited to 500. He appears to have been something of an agnostic and his views, especially his faith in science,
are somewhat ahead of his time:

On the Doctrine of Immortality

The confident belief of mankind in a personal immortality is a positive drawback to human progress.

The possibilities of earthly happiness are so vast, the dread of early death so natural and pronounced, that if mankind would but rationally divorce itself from its over-confidence in a life hereafter, it would work out its earthly Salvation in a very short time.

The time will undoubtedly come when most people will live to a hale old age, when they will be free from the hypocrisy, the intolerance, and the morbidness of our so-called civilisation, when food will be pure, when sound sanitary science by universally recognised, when life will be simple and free from sham, when love, in all its phases, will be less restrained, and when all parents will know that their children are and will be the incarnation of their combined thoughts and impressions.

Then, having tasted life from an overflowing cup, and having drunk the last drop at a ripe old age, man will gradually have become wearied and tired, and will be glad to lie down, expecting nothing, and leaving the future in serene resignation to take care of itself.

Prayer

The futility of prayer was never better emphasised than at the time of Garfield’s sickness and death, when some hundred millions of people earnestly and sincerely prayed for his recovery. What an absence of mercy!

But had Garfield been shot twenty years later Science would probably have saved him, prayers or no prayers.emile_berliner

Mullard sees into the Future

Lilliput looks into future pic 001Discovered in an April 1946 copy of Lilliput magazine is this full page advert for Mullard, the big name in ‘Radio Valves and other Electron Tubes’. In a peep into its future Mullard envisages a time when Mr Futura and his son Johnny will be able to see the news via an  ELECTRONIC TELEPRINTER NEWS RECEIVER attached like a watch to Mr Futura’s wrist.

This is a prescient advert. Six months after the end of WW2 Mullard, as Britain’s chief manufacturer of electronic valves, was doubtless looking forward to cashing in on the forthcoming restoration of TV broadcasting following a hiatus of over 7 years. By suggesting that such a ‘far-fetched’ idea as a watch-sized teleprinter might be feasible in the future Mullard put itself forward as the electronics company most likely to develop high quality valves for TV receivers when the broadcasting service was resumed.

The truth is, of course, that the only possible way in which Johnny Futura and his Dad might receive news through a watch-sized device would be if the unwieldy Mullard valves were replaced by transistors and some sort of miniature ariel was incorporated into the device. However, until Dr William Shockley and two colleagues at Bell Labs invented the transistor in 1947, and then went on to perfect it for general use, there was no chance of this happening for a decade or so.

However, the advert is equally interesting inasmuch as it anticipates the IT technology that produced the smart phone and the Apple Smart Watch. Is it possible that as early as 1946 the boffins at Mullard were somehow aware of what Dr Turing and other pioneers of IT were helping to develop and that a future dominated by miniaturised computers might not be too ‘far fetched ‘ ? [R.M.Healey]

 

Harry Grindell Matthews—inventor extraordinaire

Matthews operating the Death Ray

If ever a man was the epitome of the ‘mad inventor‘ it was Harry Grindell Matthews, though his many supporters would perhaps bridle at the word ‘ mad’. But if he wasn’t dotty, he was certainly controversial and decidedly eccentric. For it was the habit of this electrical engineer, born in Winterbourne, now a northern suburb of Bristol, in 1881, to claim a startlingly interesting innovation while refusing to cooperate with interested parties, including government agencies. In 1911 he claimed to have invented a radio-telephone, which if developed might have been a prototype of our modern mobile; he also boasted that he had created the world’s first talking movie in 1921, but this too was never financed. He is best known today ( if he is known at all) for inventing an invisible Death Ray which he claimed would stop electrical machinery at a distance, thus immobilising enemy threats, such as aircraft and bombs. However, when an eager government stipulated that to convince the scientists he would be required to stop a petrol-driven motorcycle engine remotely, Matthews refused the challenge. In this press photo dated 1930 from the London based Sports and General agency, which found its way into the marvellous El Mundo archive, Matthews is shown on the right, cigarette in hand, while a group of engineers eagerly examine what appears to be the motorcycle engine which he was asked to stop. In another photo we see Matthews operating the Death Ray itself. Needless to say, the inventor’s refusal to cooperate in a controlled experiment spelt the end of this promising piece of technology.

Grindell matthews inventor082

Undeterred, Matthews continued to offer new inventions. The most exciting was a Sky Projector, which he demonstrated with some success. Had this got off the ground we may have had laser-type shows in the 1930s. When at last he did manage to tempt serious investors to part with their money, he used much of it to build a state of the art laboratory and a private airfield overlooking the Swansea Valley at Clydach. His financial state received another boost in 1938 when he married an opera singer called Ganna Walska whose five former husbands had left her with a fortune of around $125m. Unfortunately, he did not live long to enjoy his good fortune. Matthews died in Swansea in 1941 at just 60.

Gloucestershire has produced at least another brilliant electrical engineer. Joe Meek, the equally eccentric electronic music pioneer who produced the cult favourite ‘Telstar’ in 1962, worked on radios as a teenage prodigy. His shed can still be seen at the rear of his father’s old shop (blue plaque) off the Market Place in Newent. [R.M.Healey]

Magnetoradvertpic675

The Magnetor

The Magnetor, according to this advert placed in the Winter 1958 issue of Tomorrow, the quarterly review of psychical research, is a 'stunning device' and an 'admirable conversation piece' which 'demonstrates dramatically reality of the non-material.' Apart from having an aversion to the definite article, the person who placed this advert from the office of a distinctly dodgy outfit in Woodstock, New York, called ‘the Far-A-Field  Co’, also seems a trifle unforthcoming about the actual powers of the Magnetor.

The phrase ‘conversation piece ‘is usually a warning sign that what you are urged to buy is a load of old tat disguised as something extraordinarily fascinating. In the case of this particular device, the word Caution inscribed on a label tagged to the base of what seems to be some sort of electrical apparatus, is a direct invitation to the adventurous among the Tomorrow readership to do something dangerous.

It’s all appears rather fraudulent, like that bomb detector made from a golf ball retriever and a car aerial that a few years ago some anti-terrorist boneheads here and abroad were glad to paid thousands of pounds for and which earned the wily fraudster a large Georgian house in Bath’s Royal Crescent, luxury foreign holidays and a six year jail sentence. The advert mentions no price, but doubtless this is revealed in the brochure, which the reader is invited to acquire. Possibly intended as a gift for the psychic who has everything.

Nothing can be discovered online about The Far-A-Field Company or its Magnetor, but the small town of Woodstock, New York, has long had a reputation for tolerating the alternative lifestyles of musicians and painters. In 1903 the Byrdcliffe art colony, which produced ceramics, metalwork and weaving, was established here and 13 years later came the summer Maverick Music Festival, which is still going.  The town gave its name to the famous Woodstock Festival of August 1969, which was due to be held here, but actually took place at a dairy farm near Bethel, some sixty miles away. Of more relevance, however, is the fact that in 1976 the Kharma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist monastery was built here. Far Out or Far-a-Field? You decide. [RR]