Thursday, February 15, 2007
Lookie - I'm Nicola Tesla
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.
A minister's son from Simljan in Austria-Hungary, you were precocious from an early age. At three you could multiply three-digit numbers in your head and calculate how many seconds visitors to your home had lived. In awe of your older brother Dane, you shot a pea-shooter at his horse, causing it to throw him and inflict injuries from which he later died. This tragedy haunted you ever after. You frequently suffered bouts of illness with hallucinations throughout your life. During one affliction of cholera, you encountered the writing of Mark Twain, with whom you were later to be close friends. Later, another, this time mystery, illness inexplicably heightened your senses to a painful extent, only relenting when you hit upon the idea of the alternating current motor.
You developed an aversion to human contact, particularly involving hair, and a fear of pearls; when one would-be lover kissed you, you ran away in agony. Later, you insisted that any repeated actions in your day-to-day life had to be divisible by three, or, better yet, twenty-seven. You would, for example, continue walking until you had executed the required number of footsteps. You refused to eat anything until you had calculated its exact volume. Saltine crackers were a favourite for their uniformity in this respect. In the midst of important work, you forgot trivial details such as eating, sleeping or, on one memorable occasion, who you were.
Your inventions, always eccentric, began on a suitably bizarre note. The first was a frog-catching device that was so successful, and hence so emulated by your fellow children, that local frogs were almost eradicated. You also created a turbine powered by gluing sixteen May bugs to a tiny windmill. The insects panicked and flapped their wings furiously, powering the contraption for hours on end. This worked admirably until a small child came along and ate all the creatures alive, after which you never again touched another insect.
Prompted by dreams of attaining the then-ridiculed goal of achieving an alternating-current motor, you went to America in the hope of teaming up with Thomas Edison. Edison snubbed you, but promised fifty thousand dollars if you could improve his own direct-current motor by 20% efficiency. You succeeded. Edison did not pay up. It was not long until you created an AC motor by yourself.
Now successful, you set up a small laboratory, with a few assistants and almost no written records whatsoever. Despite it being destroyed by fire, you invented the Tesla Coil, impressing even the least astute observer with man-made lightning and lights lit seemingly by magic. Moving to Colorado Springs, you created a machine capable of sending ten million volts into the Earth's surface, which even while being started up caused lightning to shoot from fire hydrants and sparks to singe feet through shoes all over the town. When calibrated to be in tune with the planet's resonance, it created what is still the largest man-made electrical surge ever, an arc over 130 feet long. Unfortunately, it set the local power plant aflame.
You returned to New York, incidentally toying with the nascent idea of something eerily like today's internet. Although the wealthiest man in America withdrew funding for a larger, more powerful resonator in short order, it did not stop you announcing the ability to split the world in two. You grew ever more diverse in your inventions: remote-controlled boats and submarines, bladeless turbines, and, finally, a death ray.
While whether the ray ever existed is still doubtful, it is said that you notified the Peary polar expedition to report anything strange in the tundra, and turned on the ray. First, nothing happened; then it disintegrated an owl; finally, reports reached you of the mysterious Tunguska explosion, upon which news you dismantled the apparatus immediately.
An offer during WWII to recreate it was, thankfully, never acted upon by then-President Wilson. Turning to other matters, you investigated the forerunner of radar, to widespread derision.
Your inventions grew stranger. One oscillator caused earthquakes in Manhattan. You adapted this for medical purposes, claiming various health benefits for your devices. You found they let you work for days without sleep; Mark Twain enjoyed the experience until the sudden onset of diarrhoea. You claimed to receive signals in quasi-Morse Code from Mars, explored the initial stages of quantum physics; proposed a "wall of light", using carefully-calibrated electromagnetic radiation, that would allegedly enable teleportation, anti-gravity airships and time travel; and proposed a basic design for a machine for photographing thoughts.
You died aged 87 in New York, sharing an apartment with the flock of pigeons who were by then your only friends.
Ridiculed throughout your life (Superman fought the evil Dr. Tesla in 1940s comics), you were posthumously declared the father of the fluorescent bulb, the vacuum tube amplifier and the X-ray machine, and the Supreme Court named you as the legal inventor of the radio in place of Marconi. Wardenclyffe, the tower once housing your death ray, was dynamited several times to stop it falling into the hands of spies. It was strangely hard to topple, and even then could not be broken up.