Category Archives: History

The Anti-GeekDad, Circa 1914


[from my GeekDad post]

Lest we take the modern GeekDad for granted, I submit for your attention this comic strip from 95 years ago regarding the exploits of a ‘lectric-obsessed child and his less-than-supportive father. (Click through for the rest of the comic.)

This was before the first personal computer, before the Nerds took their Revenge, before Superman first flew. There was no Bill Gates to emulate, no William Yuan to envy, no Starfleet Academy to aspire to. Words like internet, blog, and cosplay had yet to be coined, and there were no words spoken in Klingon, Elvish, or Huttese at all. There was no Xbox. There was no Wii.

So in this context, perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on young Henery’s father. The white-fringed, mustachioed man doesn’t realize he’s trying to hold back the tsunami of geek inevitability with a wooden paddle. He might have lived to see his son’s “fool inventions” land ships on the Moon and recanted, apologizing for putting a pack of cigars and a good night’s before his son’s passion for creating.

Even if he didn’t, he can serve as an example to us, and we can feel good to be GeekDads.

(image from Modern Mechanix, a source of much old-timey awesomeness)

when a blast of medicament is just the thing

I’ve been getting such a kick out of the Modern Mechanix blog lately. Anything with the tag line “Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today” sounds like it would be right up my alley, of course, but something about the presentation and choices make me laugh daily.

The format is pretty simple: a segment from an old science or engineering magazine is scanned in as a large image, and then transcribed into the blog post. Snarky comments are withheld (except on rare occasion), so the article (or ad, or snippet of inexplicable something-or-other) is left to make its own case. The magazines sampled range from old-and-hilarious (like the ad at the right), or recent (as the 70s) and kinda creepy.

Explorer beat Sputnik?

A model of Explorer 1, held by JPL

It’s the fiftieth anniversary, give or take, of Sputnik and Explorer I. While the Russians might have beaten the U.S. into space, the U.S. apparently came in first place for science. Or at least according to this op-ed from the L.A. Times:

Fifty years ago tomorrow, the United States launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit. Its success may seem to be a footnote in space history, a second-place finish to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik. After all, wasn’t it Sputnik, launched four months earlier, that represented the real scientific breakthrough and sent Americans cowering in fear at the shiny Russian ball orbiting overhead?

Not exactly. Sputnik, a “hey look at me” feat of engineering, did not throw the nation’s scientists into a panic or prompt a mad scramble to match the Soviet demonstration of power. Instead, President Eisenhower, while prodding his team for results, kept an established national space program focused on the deliberate pursuit of scientific progress, and as a result, it was the runner-up that scored a more important breakthrough for pure research.

Conceived by James Van Allen of the University of Iowa and built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, Explorer 1 carried with it instruments to detect radiation in near space and to send data back to Earth. This mission was an extension of a vast global project — called the International Geophysical Year — that involved thousands of scientists and technicians from almost every country.

Sputnik merely orbited Earth; Explorer made the first physical discovery in space, identifying the regions of high and low radioactivity now known as the Van Allen belts. These radioactive realms offered clues for understanding atmospheric phenomena such as the aurora borealis and the way radio waves behave over long distances. The belts also suggested that space might contain unusual and unimagined hazards.

Most interesting is the point made at the end of the article about how the U.S. space program is accomplishing more for science by supporting projects such as Hubble and leaving the peopled-mission fun to the private sector.