Intl. Notebook Jan 24 2013
AUTOMATIC LIGHT
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.
 

 
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 23
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
August 22
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
August 21
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.

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