Stories indexed with the term ‘invention’

In It For The Money: E Pluribus Progress

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Readers will recognize the subtle thematic connection of this month’s column to Maker Faire Detroit, which takes place July 28-29 this year. That fair is about tinkering with stuff, and Nelson’s column is also about tinkering with stuff, but more importantly, ideas.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Last month I basically argued that it’s petty – and possibly tragically stupid – to demand schools “prepare our kids to participate in the 21st Century economy,” or whatever stump-speech claptrap rhetoric the blue-suit-red-tie men are using this cycle. [1]

That said, I know I’ll never get what I want, because plenty of good hearted folks – very rationally – want our schools to focus implicitly (if not explicitly) on prepping our brood to participate efficiently in economic exchange. Money, after all, makes the world go round. [2]

Fortunately, economic competence need not exclude compassionate mutual usefulness. But moving toward either goal, let alone both, demands that we change how we’re doing things. Simply put, the public education system we have is largely designed to create employees, folks who can obediently and accurately execute on another person’s directions in an orderly fashion for a predetermined block of time.

Unfortunately, we’re sorta shy on employers, so producing more employees just gluts the market and devalues that resource. In case it isn’t suitably obvious, being trained to follow directions doesn’t necessarily prepare you to be the person determining what should be done. What we need are folks capable of making up new things to do, and content to see those best-laid plans torn asunder in the productive chaos of Getting Things Done. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Forgotten Phones

Editor’s note: Owners of new phones nowadays are as likely to think about the first photograph they’ll take with it as they are to contemplate the first words they’ll say into it. But Laura Bien’s local history column this week serves as a reminder that sometimes first words spoken into a phone get remembered in the historical archives. Given what she’s unearthed from the archives this time, it’s not clear why Chicago is known as the “city of broad shoulders” instead of the “city of big-footed girls.”

Webster Gillett invented a telephone with four needles tuned to the speaking diaphragm.

Quiz a friend or two about who popularized the type of electricity we use today – go ahead, get your geek on – and a few would correctly name Nikola Tesla. Then ask who invented long-distance telephony.

Probably no one would answer correctly.

It wasn’t Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, or any other celebrated name from the late 19th century’s feverish and fertile age of invention.

Like his renowned contemporary, Tesla, the inventor of long-distance telephony was an electrical engineer. Unlike Tesla’s numerous, sophisticated, and lasting inventions, his were few, crude, and transient.

But they worked – and brought him temporary fame.

Just as Tesla’s brilliance and legacy weren’t fully appreciated until long after his death, so too should be remembered the legacy of his humbler brother inventor whose name once graced the New York Times: Ypsilanti engineer Webster Gillett. [Full Story]