Posted in History & Literature

The Oldest Trick

Magic has been a great source of entertainment for the masses for thousands of years. Across the globe, under many guises, magicians have amazed audiences with seemingly impossible “miracles” using misdirection and clever trickery. The oldest recorded trick – that is to say one performed purely for entertainment and not under the guise of religion or supernatural power – dates back to ancient Egypt.

According to the Westcar Papyrus, a magician by the name of Dedi was famous for his miraculous feats. The Papyrus tells the story of how Dedi was called to put a show on for King Khufu. He proceeded to decapitate a goose, then reattach the head, bringing the bird back to life. He repeats the magic with a duck, then with a bull, wrenching its head off then bringing it back to life by reattaching the head. For his amazing performance, he is rewarded by being allowed to live in the palace. This trick is still practised by magicians to this day, thus making it the longest performed trick in history.

Posted in Science & Nature

Clarke’s Three Laws Of Prediction

The following are three laws conjectured by acclaimed science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, regarding predicting the future.

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Posted in History & Literature

War Of The Currents

In the late 1880s, a war raged on in the United States – one that is not commonly known by the public. It was a war between two wizards: Nikola The Wizard of the WestTesla and Thomas The Wizard of Menlo ParkEdison.
This war involved no guns or explosives, but centred on something so commonplace that people take it for granted nowadays – electricity. The two scientists/wizards fought to determine whose form of electricity transmission was better.

There are two types of electric currents used for transmission.
Direct current (DC) was used by Thomas Edison, a pioneer of electricity distribution. Before him, electricity was more of a scientific curiosity and was not widely available to the public. DC is a unidirectional flow of electric charge.
Alternating current (AC) was later developed by Nikola Tesla, also a pioneer in the field of electricity. AC is the alternating movement of electric charge as it periodically reverses direction from + to -.

When electricity first became public, the industry standard was DC, as Edison started his company, General Electric. This was incredibly profitable for Edison, whose inventions relied on the usage of DC. For example, his incandescent light bulb was the principal electrical device during the time. Edison further advanced DC technology and heavily advocated it.
Tesla claimed that AC was a much more efficient mode of electricity transmission and tried to convince Edison while working for him. However, Edison ignored him and stated that it was an insane, useless idea. Edison was more an inventor than a mathematician, so he did not understand the theoretical benefits of AC over DC.

AC has the advantage of being able to use a transformer to gain much higher voltage than DC, while losing less power when transmitted. It also allowed easy conversion from low-voltage use, such as lamps, to high-voltage use, such as motors.
Despite this, Edison refused to accept the system and continued to lobby against it. The most famous case is his drastic attempt to defame AC by showing the public how “dangerous” it is.

In 1890, Edison and his company developed the electric chair, which used AC to demonstrate the safety hazards of Tesla’s invention. He did this by arranging the first capital punishment by electrocution. Unfortunately, due to calculation errors, the first shock was insufficient to kill the convict, William Kemmler. The procedure was repeated for 8 minutes, during which the convict was screaming in agony, seizing due to electrocution, and at one point, caught fire. This horrible image is portrayed quite accurately in the film The Green Mile.

Despite this unpleasant event, AC became the standard over time and DC is now only used in labs on certain special applications. Also, the electric chair was adopted as an official method of execution.