The Isolator

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Irritated with distractions in his editorial work, Hugo Gernsback designed a helmet “to do away with all possible interferences that prey on the mind”:

The first helmet constructed as per illustration was made of wood, lined with cork inside and out, and finally covered with felt. There were three pieces of glass inserted for the eyes. In front of the mouth there is a baffle, which allows breathing but keeps out the sound. The first construction was fairly successful, and while it did not shut out all the noises, it reached an efficiency of about 75 per cent. The reason was that solid wood was used.

In a later version he omitted the wood and added an air space between layers of cotton and felt, achieving an efficiency of 90 to 95 percent. Even the eyepieces are black except for a single slit, to prevent the eyes from wandering. “With this arrangement it is found that an important task can be completed in short order and the construction of the Isolator will be found to be a great investment.”

(He even designed an ideal office, with a soundproof door, triple-paned windows, and felt-filled walls, in which to wear this — see the illustration at the link below.)

(Hugo Gernsback, “The Isolator,” Science and Invention 13:3 [July 1925], 214ff.)

Memorial

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Anthem Veterans Memorial, in Anthem, Arizona, consists of five white pillars representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Each pillar contains a slanted elliptical opening, and the five are arranged so that at 11:11 a.m. on Veterans Day, November 11, the sun’s light passes through all five and illuminates the Great Seal of the United States, which is inlaid among 750 red paving stones engraved with the names of veterans.

Bending the Rules

New York zoning rules limit the height of skyscrapers, so Oiio Studio has proposed an innovative solution: Bend the building into a horseshoe. Designer Ioannis Oikonomou’s “Big Bend” building would be the “longest” building in the world, at 4,000 feet, but it would stand only 200 feet taller than One World Trade Center, currently the city’s tallest building.

“If we manage to bend our structure instead of bending the zoning rules of New York we would be able to create one of the most prestigious buildings in Manhattan,” the firm says in its building proposal. “The Big Bend can become a modest architectural solution to the height limitations of Manhattan.”

Whether that can be done remains to be seen. The project remains in the proposal stage.

Podcast Episode 306: The Inventor Who Disappeared

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In 1890, French inventor Louis Le Prince vanished just as he was preparing to debut his early motion pictures. He was never seen again. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the possible causes of Le Prince’s disappearance and his place in the history of cinema.

We’ll also reflect on a murderous lawyer and puzzle over the vagaries of snake milking.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 292: Fordlandia

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1927, Henry Ford decided to build a plantation in the Amazon to supply rubber for his auto company. The result was Fordlandia, an incongruous Midwestern-style town in the tropical rainforest. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the checkered history of Ford’s curious project — and what it revealed about his vision of society.

We’ll also consider some lifesaving seagulls and puzzle over a false alarm.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 291: Half-Safe

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In 1946, Australian engineer Ben Carlin decided to circle the world in an amphibious jeep. He would spend 10 years in the attempt, which he called an “exercise in technology, masochism, and chance.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Carlin’s unlikely odyssey and the determination that drove him.

We’ll also salute the Kentucky navy and puzzle over some surprising winners.

See full show notes …

In a Word

viator
n. a wayfarer; traveler

nocuous
adj. likely to cause harm or damage

fulminant
adj. exploding or detonating

aggerose
adj. in heaps

British director Cecil Hepworth made “How It Feels To Be Run Over” in 1900. The car is on the wrong side of the road. (The intertitle at the end, “Oh! Mother will be pleased,” may have been scratched directly into the celluloid.)

Hepworth followed it up with “Explosion of a Motor Car,” below, later the same year.

Unquote

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“The only way to keep ahead of the procession is to experiment. If you don’t, the other fellow will. When there’s no experimenting there’s no progress. Stop experimenting and you go backward. If anything goes wrong, experiment until you get to the very bottom of the trouble.” — Thomas Edison

The Paternoster Vents

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

At the end of a narrow pedestrian alleyway off Paternoster Square near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London are a pair of stainless-steel “angel’s wings” 11 meters high. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, the sculpture actually serves a practical purpose: It provides ventilation for an electrical substation below ground. Cool air is sucked in through grids on the ground, and hot air is conducted through the sculpture and released high overhead.

“The commissioner had been exploring options that involved creating a single structure that housed both inlet vents and outlet vents,” Heatherwick wrote. “It made a large bulky object that dominated the public square around it, reducing it to little more than a corridor. As this was a sensitive location near St. Paul’s, we decided to make it our priority to shrink the visible mass of the vent structure to a minimum.”

(From Mary Acton, Learning to Look at Sculpture, 2014.)

Stop

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“The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future, in spite of many rumors to that effect.” — Harper’s Weekly, Aug. 2, 1902

“That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical character have been introduced.” — Scientific American, Jan. 2, 1909