Startup: The Inventor of Sci-Fi

Hugo Gernsback (pictured here wearing television glasses in 1963) was an inventor and prolific writer. While his stories are largely regarded as pathetic as far as literature goes, the visionary settings they took place in earned him a place as the creator of the sci-fi genre. Today, the Hugo awards are given each year […]

AT Book Club

Science Fiction is the Mother of Invention

Science fiction has long been a medium through which the boundaries of the world’s technology can be pushed. Have you ever wondered just what sort of things have been predicted, and wen? Or seen a certain idea pop up in a few differing stories, and wondered just when it first made a fictional appearance? The website (a play on technology and novel [both novel like a book and novel like a new idea. Witty, no?], with the tag ‘where science meets fiction’™)¹ has just the Timeline for you! Starting with Johannes Kepler discussing weightlessness in Somnium (The Dream) in 1634, and running all the way through a causality-violation device (or weapon)² from Singularity Sky by Charles Stross in 2003. You can see when the first use of terms like grok and crysknife occurred, or when someone first proposed a ray gun or reaction engine, complete with a excerpt from the book or story, in addition to links to other inventions from that particular tale, as well as links to other ideas from the same author. To give you an idea of quality of the timeline, I pulled out a few examples of sci fi innovators.

In 1867, Jules Verne proposed the concept of retro rockets, a  booster that would retard or stop the progress of a spacecraft in From the Earth to the Moon:

This answer brought Barbicane back to his preparations, and he occupied himself with placing the contrivances intended to break their descent. We may remember the scene of the meeting held at Tampa Town, in Florida, when Captain Nicholl came forward as Barbicane’s enemy and Michel Ardan’s adversary. To Captain Nicholl’s maintaining that the projectile would smash like glass, Michel replied that he would break their fall by means of rockets properly placed.

Thus, powerful fireworks, taking their starting-point from the base and bursting outside, could, by producing a recoil, check to a certain degree the projectile’s speed. These rockets were to burn in space, it is true; but oxygen would not fail them, for they could supply themselves with it, like the lunar volcanoes, the burning of which has never yet been stopped by the want of atmosphere round the moon.

Barbicane had accordingly supplied himself with these fireworks, enclosed in little steel guns, which could be screwed on to the base of the projectile. Inside, these guns were flush with the bottom; outside, they protruded about eighteen inches. There were twenty of them. An opening left in the disc allowed them to light the match with which each was provided. All the effect was felt outside. The burning mixture had already been rammed into each gun. They had, then, nothing to do but raise the metallic buffers fixed in the base, and replace them by the guns, which fitted closely in their places.

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Startup: Not As Obvious As You Would Think

You would think that as soon as dry cell batteries became commercially available in 1896 and with electric lanterns already being sold, a handheld flashlight would practically invent itself. But no, instead, Conrad Hubert (né Akiba Horowitz) first invented the electric flower pot. It contained a small low voltage light and a […]


Startup: This Came From Candy

This is the world’s first microwave oven, the Radarange. It’s huge, so small wonder it didn’t catch on right away. The important thing is how it came to be.

A small engineering firm (so small you’ve probably never heard of them) called Raytheon (what do you mean defense contractor?) made radar systems to spot […]


Startup: Coaxing The Air Into Submission

No, it’s not My First Stargate™ for Kids, but that would be cool. This is a bladeless tabletop fan, from Dyson – the same guys that gave us the bagless vacuum cleaner and the self-righteous advertising campaign. It’s not truly bladeless, the fan is in the base, sucking air into the unit where it gets blown back out from the inner rim of the hoop. The magical part is when that air moves over the inner surface of the hoop, which is shaped similar to a airplane’s wing (or aerofoil, if you want to get technical). Similar to how the wings create lift on an airplane, a combination of Bernoulli Principle and the Coandă Effect cause a lower pressure region to form in the middle of the ring, sucking air in from behind and blowing it out the front. Apparently, these things move 15 times more air through the hoop than goes through those intake vents on the bottom. Sounds amazing – I would love to hear from anyone who’s got one or at least seen on in action, because it sounds a bit too good to be true. For all I know, standing in front of one of these things is like getting sneezed on by a gerbil. For now, I have to make do with this silly video. I’m sure it was fun to make, but at a starting price of $300 a pop, it was also crazy expensive.

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User Input

User Input: The Handyman’s Secret Weapon

There have been a number of inventions and discoveries that are responsible for launching man from the age of the neanderthal to the glorious creature that he is today. Fire. The Wheel. Sliced Bread. Pizza Bagels. This list would be far from complete, however, without including that staple of all households: Duct Tape.

The most common form of Duct Tape was originally created by Johnson & Johnson during WWII for military applications, initially to seal ammunition cases. From there the uses exploded. One such famous use was on NASA’s Apollo 13 mission to adapt the CO2 scrubbers from the command module to work in the lunar module. They used it again on Apollo 17 to repair the lunar rover’s fender. Duct tape is even included in the supply list in the spaceflight operations manual for the ISS. If an astronaut goes mental on board, official procedure is to restrain him with duct tape.

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User Input

User Input: InVennting A New Tomorrow

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