Day By Day

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This Day In History

Today is "Middle Name Pride Day", a day on which we can celebrate those seldom mentioned appellations with which our parents saddled us. In my family names were recycled from generation to generation -- I was named after my father who was named after his great aunts [Grandma had a weird sense of humor]. My brother was named after his grandfathers. That sort of thing. The only acceptable alternative was "Biblical" names. Today, parents are far more imaginative. David Harsanyi notes that only a small minority of children today have "common" names [here]. In case you are interested, here is a site that allows you to find the history and etymology of names. Check it out, it's fun.

On this day in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell said to his assistant, "Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you." What was significant about this was that Bell spoke his words into a device and Thomas Watson plainly heard them through a receiver in another room. This has gone into the history books as the first successful demonstration of a new and important technology -- the telephone -- and Bell has been widely recognized as its inventor. There is no question that Bell and Watson were working on the concept of the telephone for many years, and had contributed significantly to its development. But, they were by no means the only people working on the idea. One in particular was Elisha Gray who filed for a patent on a telephonic device on the very same day as Bell did.

What Bell had patented was the concept of transmitting sound by having vibrations produce fluctuations in electric charges that would then produce similar vibrations in a receiving mechanism. At the time Bell was considering using reeds as the vibrating mechanisms. These didn't work very well. Gray's patent specified liquid vibrators. The famous message Bell sent Watson utilized liquids similar to Gray's device. For this reason many people consider Gray, rather than Bell to be the true inventor of the telephone. There was considerable discussion at the time with allegations of bribes, corrupt officials, and perjury thrown back and forth, but ultimately Bell's patent was recognized and a device utilizing vibrating carbon grains was successfully marketed. The rest, as they say, was history.

Happy Birthday to Chuck Norris. He is seventy (70!!!!) years old today.

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