’Mad Science’

RIDGEWRITERS ON BOOKS: By Donna McCrohan Rosenthal

’Mad Science’Last week on Jan. 20, the United States not only inaugurated Barack Obama for his second term as president but also marked the anniversary of the first presidential inauguration on national TV (President Truman, 1949), the first to which a president rode by automobile (President Harding, 1921), the first photographed (President Buchanan, 1857) and more than a dozen other firsts.

We could learn this from any number of sources, or the scientifically and technologically inclined could find their “this day in history” events in one handy reference, “Mad Science: Einstein’s Fridge, Dewar’s Flask, Mach’s Speed, and 362 Other Inventions and Discov-eries That Made Our World.”

Subjects range from John Glenn orbiting the Earth, insulin’s first use to treat diabetes in humans, and birth of the airplane black box to the first morning of the cornflake, first documented use of “@” outside a monastery, opening of the first drive-in movie theater, first ATM, first emoticon post, first demonstration of a computer virus, and patents for the catcher’s mask, parking meter and instant coffee.

Essays detail the quirky (ice clogs the Niagara River and the Niagara Falls dry up; people scamper down to grab exposed souvenirs, March 30, 1848) side-by-side with the monumental (William Harvey definitively proves that blood circulates, June 3, 1657).

For the record, the title shortchanges a format that includes not only a concise yet thorough article for each of 365 breakthroughs, but also a few advances, disasters and the like that fell on the same day or in the same year: On Jan. 15, Wikipedia first went online (2001) and the Molasses Flood in Boston killed 21 (1919); on November 18, U.S. and Canadian railways adopted five standard time zones for the continent (1883) and our nation’s first pushbutton phones went into service (1963); on January 25, Karol Capek’s play “R.U.R.” introduced the word “robot” to describe an artificial person (1921) and exactly 58 years later, in an industrial accident, Capek’s fiction proved prophetic with the first human death caused by a robot.

Thanks to “Mad Science,” we see that today, Jan. 30, in 1975, Erno Rubik filed for a patent on his famous cube and went on to become the first self-made millionaire from the Communist bloc.

Thanks, Randy Alfred and the staff of “Wired,” for a book that runs the gamut from genius to gee whiz.

Members of the Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club, write this weekly column. Meetings are held the first Wednesday evening of each month at the Ridgecrest Presbyter-ian Church, and free programs are offered throughout the year.

Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions From a World Apart” is available at the Carriage Inn, Jawbone Station, the Historic USO Building, the Maturango Museum, Red Rock Books and online from the official website www.planetmojave.com

Story First Published: 2013-01-30