The Snail Telegraph

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/752569

In the early 19th century, French occultist Jacques Toussaint Benoit became convinced that when two snails touch they form a “sympathetic bond” so that, ever afterward, when one is touched the other will respond.

He got financing to build a “snail telegraph,” a dish in which 24 lettered snails were glued in place. Messages could be sent by touching snails in sequence; their partners, glued to an identical dish elsewhere, would then wriggle, conveying the message.

After a demonstration in October 1851, La Presse hailed the invention as a revolution. Benoit’s backers, however, demanded a stricter test — and found that the inventor had disappeared.

Clarke’s Law

Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Benford’s Corollary: Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.

Raymond’s Second Law: Any sufficiently advanced system of magic would be indistinguishable from a technology.

Sterling’s Corollary: Any sufficiently advanced garbage is indistinguishable from magic.

Langford’s application to science fiction: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a completely ad-hoc plot device.

Slow News Day

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Orville Wright over Huffman Prairie, Ohio, October 1905.

The media didn’t make much of the Wright brothers’ early flights, in part because of their secretiveness. Scientific American turned down a story, and the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune ran a 1906 feature called FLYERS OR LIARS?

The Tehachapi Loop

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Tehachapi_Loop_USGS_closeup.jpg

Engineers despaired of getting trains over the Tehachapi Mountains in Southern California. The climb was just too steep.

The solution, reportedly suggested by a 9-year-old boy, is both simple and beautiful: Send the trains through an ascending loop.

A train with 85 boxcars will actually pass over itself on the way up.

“Manufacturing Feat”

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In 1811 a gentleman made a bet of one thousand guineas that he would have a coat made in a single day, from the first process of shearing the sheep till its completion by the tailor. The wager was decided at Newbury, England, on the 25th of June in that year, by Mr. John Coxeter, of Greenham mills, near that town. At five o’clock that morning Sir John Throckmorton presented two Southdown sheep to Mr. Coxeter, and the sheep were shorn, the wool spun, the yarn spooled, warped, loomed and wove, the cloth burred, milled, rowed, dried, sheared and pressed, and put into the hands of the tailors by four o’clock that afternoon. At twenty minutes past six the coat, entirely finished, was handed by Mr. Coxeter to Sir John Throckmorton, who appeared with it before more than five thousand spectators, who rent the air with acclamations at this remarkable instance of despatch.

— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882

Unquote

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/190520

“Good enough for our transatlantic friends … but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.” — British Parliamentary Committee, on Edison’s light bulb, 1878

The Great Crush Collision

Apparently bored in 1896, Texas railroad agent William G. Crush decided to make his own fun. He got two 35-ton train engines, painted one green and one red, and set them at opposite ends of a four-mile track. Then he sent them toward each other at 45 mph:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:CrushTxBefore.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:CrashCrushTx.jpg

Viewed strictly as a publicity stunt, it was a great success: Crush’s advertising had attracted more than 40,000 spectators. Unfortunately, falling debris killed two of them. Moral: Stick to pinochle.