Intl. Notebook Jan 24 2013
Let me fire that up that for you. Come here often? Can I buy you a lubrica— I mean, can I buy you a drink?

Above is a fun photo of General Electric’s Mechanical Hands, which were on display at the 1948 Golden Jubilee Exposition at Grand Central Palace in New York City. A press release describes how a technician used the hands to successfully light a model’s cigarette. To make the hands appear to be completely automated, the techie was sitting behind a wall watching what he was doing in a mirror. The mirror wasn’t visible to onlookers, so the spectacle must have drawn quite a few oohs and aahs. Nothing in the press release about how many earlier models were fishhooked before the techie got his shit together.

GE’s hands were actually designed to help scientists handle radioactive materials, not impress random observers, but the Golden Jubilee Exposition was all about showing off the wonders of modernization. For example an AAP news item claims that, to welcome the first night's visitors, the doors to Grand Central Palace were opened by an “atomic ray.” Another item describes the same moment, telling readers a miniature “atomic pile” was set off using the light of the star Alioth. The details:

The light was picked up simultaneously by telescopes on top of the Empire State Building and in a plane flying at 20,000 feet 180 miles east of New York. In turn, the light energy was transmitted by radio and telegraph to the atomic pile. The energy from the resulting chain reaction in the pile was sent to a piece of magnesium on a ribbon in front of the doors of the exhibition. The ribbon split as the magnesium ignited and the Jubilee was opened.

Do we believe this is what actually happened? After all, the mechanical hands were operated by a hidden technician, so why not have the atomic pile secretly lit by a janitor with a Zippo? For that matter why not have the GE techie do it? After all the models he scarred he was probably eager to prove himself. But we weren’t there, so we’ll give Jubilee organizers the benefit of the doubt. Whatever their methods, it sounds like it was a damn good show. If anyone wants to weigh in on the actual science of this focused starlight thing feel free. You know how to reach us.


History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 22
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals of the Cold War.
March 21
1963—Alcatraz Closes
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
March 20
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
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