Saturday, February 16, 2008


Back to the future

by Larry Geller

I'm having all too much fun reading the Modern Mechanix blog. Many of the articles posted, from ancient magazines, discussed devices or predictions that never came about. Mixed up with those are some that are prophetic. Maybe there are some lessons for us as well.

This article, from an issue of Popular Mechanics published in 1953, discusses both greenhouse gasses and global warming! If only we had paid attention back then.

Popular Mechanics 1953 08

Get this: A prototype wind power Wind Power 1934 11 generator was in use in Russia for a year when this article was published in 1934.

There's also an article the same year on harnessing solar power, again in the Soviet Union.Solar 1934 10

To complete the alternative energy picture, our ancestors correctly anticipated how important this would be. In a 1931 (!) article on wave power generation we find:

Upward of 40,000 inventions a year are granted patents by Uncle Sam, but not one of these offers a practical solution of the problem which scientists agree is the most pressing of them all— that is, how to harness natural sources of energy for power.

A 1934 article proposes building power generators 'way off in the sea and sending the power back via transmission cables.

Mufi could do worse than select this design for MagLev Train 1931 10Honolulu's train. The 1931 article describes a system of magnetic levitation for a high-speed rapid transit system. Or if that seems too far-fetched, here's a 1946 article describing a monorail system we could use between Kapolei and Honolulu. Notably, it would take less time than the 40 minutes now discussed for that trip:

IMAGINE boarding a sleek, gleaming car and speeding to your office or home at 200 miles an hour—noiselessly and without a jar! Imagine living out in the wide open spaces where you’ve always wanted to live, away from the crowds and smoke and noise of cities—even a hundred miles distant from your work, yet only a half-hour commuting-time away.

No, that's not what they have in mind for us. The 1946 thinking is closer to what we need. Interestingly, the picture shows the German monorail traveling over water. That's also what they did with the Tokyo/Haneda airport monorail. Building it along the edge of Tokyo Bay kept the noisy, ugly thing away from anyone it could annoy.

There's more!High School Robotics 1955 12

1956: An article predicting ring tones for telephones

1955: Article anticipating Gov. Lingle's "innovation" of bringing robotics into the schools. This one worked as well as hers probably will.

1958: Make your own answering machine. Answer Machine 1958 06

1956: Global Positioning System.

Also in 1956: Pushbutton, hand-held phones with video! How outrageous an idea that must have seemed then.

The website has a large number of articles on cars.  I haven't looked through it yet to see if there might be a solution to Honolulu's highway gridlock. When I was a kid, Popular Mechanics, I think it was, anticipated that before long cars would surely drive themselves. The idea was quite popular. So many years later, though, this has not yet come to pass. They were right on about the self-propelling lawn mowers, though.

What happened to the innovative ideas of yesteryear? Today, in the Hawaii of 2008, we are still not doing a thing about wind or wave energy, and hardly anything about solar. We're wasting all the water cascading off of rooftops in Manoa. We don't have flextime or other plans to reduce traffic, nor can we even figure out how to recycle our rubbish. And don't get me started on Mufi's train thing.

Oh, for a return to the innovative days of yore, when we actually solved problems occasionally. We were smart in those days, weren't we. Or so it seems, clicking through this great website.


Very cool stuff. Thanks for sharing. Now why do you suppose nobody ever followed up on that natural energy stuff 50 and 70 years ago?

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