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.
September 03
1941—Auschwitz Begins Gassing Prisoners
Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of Nazi Germany's concentration camps, becomes an extermination camp when it begins using poison gas to kill prisoners en masse. The camp commandant, Rudolf Höss, later testifies at the Nuremberg Trials that he believes perhaps 3 million people died at Auschwitz, but the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum revises the figure to about 1 million.
September 02
1967—Nation of Sealand Established
The Principality of Sealand, located on a platform in the North Sea, is established under the rule of Prince Paddy Roy Bates. Proving that paradise is a pipe dream as long as humans are involved, Sealand has already endured a coup, a war, and a hostage crisis since its formation.
1973—J.R.R. Tolkien Dies
British fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, dies at the age of 82.
September 01
1902—French Go to Moon
Georges Méliès' Le voyage dans la lune, aka A Trip to the Moon, is released in France. It is the first science-fiction film ever made.
1939—Germany Starts World War II
Nazi Germany, along with the Soviet Union and Slovakia, attack Poland, beginning the chain reaction that leads to war across Europe.
1972—Fischer Beats Spassky
In Reykjavík, Iceland, American Bobby Fischer beats Russian Boris Spassky and becomes the world chess champion. The match had been portrayed as a Cold War battle, and thus was a major propaganda victory for the United States.

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