by wjw on October 10, 2012

Wow, we have only a single winner for the Boolean Gate quiz.  Congratulations, Steve Halter!  Email me your address, and a signed copy of the uncorrected proofs will soon be winging their way to you.

Here are the questions and answers:

1.  Who are the three historical figures depicted on the cover?

Mark Twain, JP Morgan, and Nikola Tesla.

2.  What the hell is a Boolean Gate, anyway?

I’ll defer to Ralf’s technical explanation for how it all works, but what I was aiming at was that logic gates in computers are Boolean in nature.

3.  And what does a Boolean Gate have to do with one/some/all of the figures from Question #1?

Nikola Tesla patented the first Boolean logic gate in 1898, which proved something of a disappointment to the computer pioneers of the 1940s, who filed for patents on what they thought was original work.  Digital computers are, basically, a Tesla invention, for all that he was 50 or 60 years ahead of the curve, and never was able to profit from his discovery.

Tesla used his logic gates to power his “teleautomatons,” radio-guided torpedoes that he tried to sell to the world’s navies.  For this invention he used Mark Twain as his agent and salesman— which, since neither of them had any business sense, naturally went nowhere.

Ahead of the curve again, Mr. Tesla!  (If only the guy had hired himself a business manager.)

The Boolean Gate is not an alternate history, but a secret history,  the story of why history turned out the way it did.  Which is something I always find more interesting than just, y’know, making it all up.

I did a rather amazing amount of research on this one, including checking out the many web pages by Tesla enthusiasts.  They seem to fall into several broad categories:

1.  The Ascended Master.   These are convinced that Tesla was a spiritual teacher, like the Comte de St. Germain.  I suspect Tesla would have found these people pretty amusing.

2.  The Greatest Genius of All Time, Bar None.  These people are convinced that Tesla never made a mistake, or a faulty prediction.  Everything Tesla said was absolutely true, for all time!  These folks are pretty tedious, on the whole, as they try to explain stuff like  HAARP magic with respect to poorly-understood Tesla Science.

3.  Victim of the Conspiracy!  Tesla wanted us to have all the benefits of science for free and live in peace and freedom forever!(Except for those pesky death rays he was always inventing.)  Evil capitalists suppressed his inventions so they could rake in the money!  This one is almost sort of true, though if Tesla had actually managed his business and his time better, no one could have stopped him (unless his theories proved faulty).

4.  Electrical Experimenters!  These guys just build cool Tesla stuff and, like, play symphonies with Tesla coils and whatever.  Sometimes the results are pretty awesome.

And as for his theories?  Particularly about broadcasting electric power without a grid?  He was the only person to ever really test them, and he said it would work.  Nobody’s done any follow-up, which would be hard to do unless you started building coils the size that Tesla built, which no one but Tesla has ever done.  In the 1930s, he claimed to have pulled electricity from the earth in Quebec from a coil he’d assembled in the wilderness 50 miles away.

So it’s unproven, but then nobody’s gone out of their way to disprove it, either.

Carry on, mad scientists!  The world’s your oyster.



Lawrence Hardin October 10, 2012 at 7:45 am

Great description of Tesla enthusiasts! I have learned to nod at whatever they say and I try not to mention Thomas A. Edison.

Ken Houghton October 10, 2012 at 11:14 am

Not evil capitalists in general; just a venal New Jerseyan (but I repeat myself ).

And still David Bowie’s best role.

Ralf The Dog. October 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm
Steve Halter October 10, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Neat! This sounds really cool and I await its arrival. Thanks.

d brown October 11, 2012 at 6:47 am

 Tesla fans go too way far. But I read at the time that President Carter had the DOE take a new look at his papers. They said that once they figured out what the terms he made up meant, he was far ahead of his times. That in fact some had been rediscovered not that long ago at that time. Its worse to be too far ahead of your times that to late. Too far and they just say you are a nut. He wanted to find a way to throw lightning at a target. He was trying to lower the resistant of air along a path with light. If he had lasers I wonder what would have happened. He seemed to lose his mind power. Gorge Westinghouse was giving him money after he gave Westinghouse his AC patents without paperwork. After Westinghouse died the people who took over stopped sending him the money. This stopped his work. After he died they found many empty cans of crackers that it seems he was living on. Maybe that dropped his IQ and his ability to think.

wjw October 14, 2012 at 1:09 am

Tesla suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which grew a lot worse as time went on. Toward the end he was living exclusively on milk, which he thought would provide complete nutrition. He also became something of a mountebank, making wild predictions for Gernsback publications.

Tesla’s papers were returned to his birthplace of Yugoslavia after the Second World War, so if President Carter sent anyone to look at them, he sent them to the Tesla Museum in Belgrade.

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