Ben Harrison

TECH 5 for Feb. 26, 2014

Older technology vs modern inventions

Good afternoon and welcome to another Tech 5 program and a five minute trip into the amazing world of technology. This is Ben Harrison.

We think of technology and the production of smart phones, I-Pads, Tablets, military drones, 3D television and movies just to name a few as products on today and the future. To some degree that is true: Marshall MacLuhan, one of the great futurists and communication ghurus of the last century stated that once a product had left the inventor’s laboratory and development stage, it was obsolete and something newer and better was being developed to replace it.

Today I’d like to share with you several technologies that we think of as modern but that are much older than you think.

With modern science developing inventions so quickly that even our phones are obsolete 48 hours after we buy them, we assume that most new products are recent innovations, however many of the technologies we think of as modern are actually not so new.

Did you know for example that The Fax Machine was invented Before the Civil War

Most 20-30 something office workers probably know the fax machine as that piece of equipment gathering dust at the corner of their office. But at one time these machines seemed prevented us from having to wait a week for documents to get delivered (or lost) by the postal service. It wasn’t that many years ago — that is, before email was a thing — that the fax was the cutting-edge king of the information superhighway.

The fax machine was actually Invented In 1843. Fax machines used to transmit data, actually predate the the first phone patent in 1876. Can you imagine if during the award winning movie Lincoln one of the characters had gotten up to send a fax.

The US Civil War was still decades away when the fax machine was built by Scottish inventor Alexander Bain. He had just patented the first electric clock, and enjoyed dabbling in communication technology:

The electrical telegraph was an extremely new technology and before anyone could explain to him that his ideas wouldn’t work, he had already converted parts of his electrical clocks into an image scanner and rigged it to the telegraph system. It worked!

Various inventors tinkered with the design, and by 1899, newspaper offices were actually using them.

Did you know that The Digital Calculator was Invented in 1640

Back in the middle of the 17th century, at the age of 16, French wunderkind Blaise Pascal decided to give his father (a tax accountant a present. He had watched his father writing  scores and scores of figures, when hel finally got his gift idea: He would break all known boundaries of technology and build his dad a mathematics machine.

After some initial hit-and-miss research, Pascal indeed managed to build the world’s first mechanical calculator, which became known as Pascaline.

This machine ingeniously crunched numbers: The figures were set on the lid’s dials, which twisted and turned the machinery inside in precisely the right way so that the correct results popped up in the little windows on the lid. Technically, the machine could only do sums, but it was totally possible to subtract (by doing the process in reverse), multiply (with repeated addition), and divide (with repeated subtraction). It was calibrated specifically for calculations involving money, and its settings could even be adjusted between French and English currencies.

Pascal built about 50 Pascaline calculators and attempting to sell them commercially but they never really took off. Could it be that he was 200 years too early. A few of these devices still survive today, in museums

Today, mechanical calculators are all but extinct, but it’s a humbling thought that the basic functions of all of those machines could be performed with a clunky brass box put together by a kid from the 17th century.

Did you know that Contact Lenses existed in the 19th Century by German inventor Adolf Fick. His prototype lenses are to modern contacts what the Model-T Ford is to a modern car: bulky and clumsy. They were essentially eyeglass lenses, made of heavy blown glass that covered the entire eye, and they could only be worn for a few hours.

Fick tested his invention on rabbits, then molds cast from the eyes of cadavers, and finally on himself. before six volunteers became the first contact lens wearers.

While Fick’s lenses absolutely did work, their cumbersome nature and the extreme discomfort made them impractical. He discontinued his research in 1902, and nobody picked it up until the 1930s. At that point, the technology was sufficiently advanced for further development. By 1937, there were already around 4,000 contact lens users in America alone.

We’ve talked about Fax machines, Calculators and Contact lenses and run out of time. There are many more outstanding ideas and inventions that predate what we so take for granted today, but in the interest of time, we will leave those for another day.

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This is Ben Harrison from EEZEE Radio 91.1 AND 102.7 on your FM DIAL in St. Vincent and the Grenadines