Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Fascinated By Nikola Tesla
I often find myself reading about and researching historical figures that I find fascinating. No reason to do so. No quiz to study for. It's just that I firmly feel that continued self education is hugely important. Something that isn't important to many. You graduate from college and that's it. I know people who were better students than me that are dunces. They were able to cram the data the night before an exam, but didn't retain any of the valuable information.
(I wasn't a great student. Often bored. Disinterested. In fact, by my junior year of college I had figured out that if I went to class and kind of paid attention, then went to the study groups, I'd get a B on the exam. I didn't buy a textbook my last two years in college. That infuriated some of my classmates. There was no need to buy the book. More money to spend on basketball shoes. However, I regret this practice.)
Anyhoo, I obsess over continuing to learn as much as I can every day. There is no such thing as useless knowledge. Maybe it isn't integral that I know the address of Bob Dylan's first New York City apartment, but it isn't useless. (Bob lived in a studio flat at 161 West 4th Street.) So when there are historical figures that pop into my periphery, I research them. Sometimes it is those that influence me directly such as Mark Twain, Dashiell Hammett or Hunter Thompson. Sometimes it is those that are just plain fascinating like Billy the Kid, John Lennon, Sir Edmund Hillary, Jackie Robinson, Harry Houdini, Edgar Alan Poe or Jack the Ripper.
Lately, my reading has been directed towards the great inventor Nikola Tesla.
Tesla was a real life mad scientist. One of history's greatest minds, but his eccentricities often overshadowed his accomplishments. Nearly everyone walking down Amsterdam Avenue right now would recognize the name of Thomas Edison. A far smaller percentage would know Tesla's. Without Tesla's foresight and inventions we wouldn't have alternating current, wireless technology, radio, television, x-rays, lasers, particle beams and so on.
Here's a few juicy nuggets about Tesla.
* He had a photographic memory and spoke seven languages.
* One of his closest friends was Mark Twain. Twain would come to the laboratory to follow Tesla's experiments.
* As part of his showmanship, occasionally Tesla boasted about his inventions and stretched the truth a bit. His boasts led to the New York Times reporting in 1940 that Tesla was developing a "death ray" for airplanes. The article said the death ray could annihilate anything in the air for 250 miles. The death ray claim also led to a Superman short with a mad scientist named ... Tesla. People didn't sue as much in the 40's.
* He never cared about money and though he should have been rich, lack of attention to detail or paperwork left him broke quite often. He died destitute.
* Tesla most likely suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He was a germaphobe. Wouldn't touch other people's hair. Disliked touching round objects. Was revolted by jewelry, especially pearl earrings. He also did things in threes. Tesla was obsessed with the number three. He insisted on staying in hotel rooms that were divisible by three. In fact, the last ten years of his life he lived here in Manhattan at the New Yorker Hotel. He lived on, and I swear I am not making this up, on the 33rd floor in suite #3327. It was there that he died on January 7th 1943.
* Another eccentric genius obsessed with the number three, Jack White, is a huge Nikola Tesla fan. In fact, the design for the never completed Wardenclyffe Tower currently adorns the White Stripes' website.
Jack even built a Tesla Coil. Well, in a movie he did.
I just felt like writing about Tesla because it makes me feel better.
Goodnight and good luck.