MySci Round-Up August 16: The Father of…

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August 16 is the birthday of numerous creative visionaries, including poet Charles Bukowski, film director James Cameron, pop singer Madonna, and—last but not least—the author of this blog post. But perhaps the most fascinating member of the day’s pantheon is one Hugo Gernsback, who was born in 1884 in Luxembourg. As a young boy, Hugo became fascinated with batteries and electrical circuits, and rigged doorbells for all the houses in his neighborhood. He also happened to read a book on the planet Mars by American astronomer Percival Lowell, which got him so excited that he went into a two-day-long delirium, during which he fantasized about an intelligent race of Martians and the amazing technology they undoubtedly had developed. At the age of 21, Gernsback emigrated to the U.S. and settled in New York City, where he set up a company to import electrical supplies and marketed the first inexpensive home radio receiver/transmitter, the $8.50 Telimco Wireless Telegraph. It was a big success. Gernsback became a pioneer in both radio and television, and actually launched the first experimental TV station to broadcast images to the public, WRNY, in 1928. Some of his other brainstorms—such as a giant magnet that guided airplanes to land on rooftops and a battery powered hearing aid that a user bit down on with his teeth, in order to use them as a conducting medium for sound—never quite clicked.

But Gernsback’s biggest impact was as a publisher. To promote his catalog of electrical gadgets, he started a 10-cent science magazine, Modern Electrics, which became a big success. Then, one day in 1911, Gernsback decided to fill some empty space in an upcoming issue by writing a fiction piece about the technology of the year 2660. Readers ate it up, and so Hugo began publishing more stories filled with his predictions, most of which were fairly bizarre. He envisioned a device that would awaken a person from a nightmare, super-narrow two-wheeled automobiles, and the elimination of cemeteries by launching dead bodies into outer space. Eventually, in 1923, he launched a new magazine, Amazing Stories, that was totally devoted to stories about fantastic future inventions and the adventures that people would have with them. He dubbed this nascent literary genre “scientifiction.” Gernsback’s magazine also contained a letters page in which he published the full addresses of all his correspondents, enabling the first generation of fanboys to start writing to each other and creating a community. Gernsback’s contribution to the development of sci-fi was so significant that when the World Science Fiction Society created an award to honor top writers, it dubbed them the Hugos, in Gernsback’s honor. And with that, here are the MySci stories of the day.

NFL considers putting tracking chip in footballs to make referees’ calls more precise. 
It’s already been tried in international soccer, but it might make more sense in the American game, in which the outcome of a season can come down to whether the tip of the ball breaks the plane of the end zone.

A change in ocean color could have big effect on hurricane formation. 
If the water becomes less green because of a decline in phytoplankton, the giant storms may become less intense as a result.

African elephants more afraid of humans than dynamite explosions. 
In Gabon, the oil industry workers who move through the forest to set up the explosives freak out the beasts more than the blasts themselves, scientists have discovered.

Affordable Plug-and-Play panels make solar power accessible to homeowners. 
The equipment is designed for DIY installation, too.

Space aliens probably will love human music more than science or technology, SETI researchers speculate. 
Some think they’ll find Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which is based upon mathematics, to be particularly fascinating to extraterrestrials. But they may surprise us by digging “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” instead.

Extended solar minimum linked to changes in Sun’s internal plasma conveyor belt. 
Researchers think the belt has become longer, which in turn altered the Sun’s magnetic field and influenced solar weather.