Exploring Argentina

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argentinamapMy explorations of Argentina began with how the Spanish-speaking South American country came to be called Argentina in the first place. Based on my limited Latin, the name didn’t make any sense.

To be certain, the naming of Argentina is an enigma. It’s derived from the Latin word for silver and first came to be used by Italian explorers, most likely from Venice or Genoa. After a complicated linguistic battle the now Spanish rulers settled on the Italianized version of Argentina. Strangely enough, the country has no particular silver lodes. In fact, the whole concept of Argentina and the La Plata region (plata is the Spanish word for silver) is based on a myth. Way back in the early 1500s, Spanish (or perhaps Portuguese, his origins appear to be a little fuzzy) explorer Juan Diaz de Solis embarked on an expedition to survey South America. He got as far as what is now the Rio de la Plata before being attacked and killed, and possibly eaten, by the local indigenous Indians. The sun had set on de Solis.

Some of the survivors of the expedition opted to stay on as castaways while de Solis’s brother-in-law took the remaining ships and crew back to Spain. It was these castaways that supposedly first heard about a mountain of silver ruled over by a local indigenous king. Led by Aleixo Garcia, a follow up expedition searched for this apparently well concealed silver mountain, making his way across South America as far as the Andean high plains in northern Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. Unfortunately for Garcia, he died in yet another run-in with indigenous peoples as he made his way back through present day Paraguay. Survivors did manage to cart out enough precious metals, though not necessarily all silver, to convince well-healed profiteers back home that what is now Argentina was the mother lode of silver. None was ever found, but after toying with the name in various official documents, the formal name become the “Argentine Republic” by presidential decree in 1860, which remains its official name today. Of course, in common practice the shortened feminine form of Argentina was more popular and the name is how most of the world, including Argentinians, refer to the nation.

And then there was Evita.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Microfiction Madness

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MicroNo, microfiction madness is not telling lies about who won the March Madness tournament, though it could be. Microfiction is about telling a story in 100 words or less. Just as short stories can be harder to write than novels (“I’m sorry my letter was so long; I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”), microfiction stories are even more difficult. Writers must create an entire story in the length of a short paragraph.

“But stories often have dialogue,” you say?

“Indeed, they do. And microfiction does too,” I reply.

The above is 91 words (now 98).

Examples (Click)

 

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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The Invisible Men That Made Thomas Edison Famous

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invisible-manThomas Edison is well known to all as the inventor of the phonograph and other electrical devices (as well as for his famous rivalry with Nikola Tesla). But behind him was the invisible man; two invisible men, actually.

Those men were Edward Johnson, with a little help from Charles Batchelor. “Batch,” as Edison called him, was the man in Paris who convinced Nikola Tesla to move to New York and work directly for Edison. Batch himself moved back to the states to help Edison develop many of his most famous inventions. One of those inventions was the tin foil phonograph.

Edison, Batch, and a dozen other men were working late one night when Edison suddenly had an epiphany. Within hours the group had developed a rudimentary phonograph. It wasn’t ready for prime time yet, but that didn’t stop Edison associate Edward Johnson, with a wink and a nod, slipping a note to the Philadelphia Record to let them know Edison had invented a device “by which a speech can be recorded while it is being delivered on prepared paper.” Johnson also wrote a letter under Edison’s name to Scientific American touting his success.

Scientific American was extremely excited about the phonograph and begged for a demonstration. On December 7, Edison and Batchelor carefully transported their tinfoil phonograph into New York City. The unveiling must have gone well, because Scientific American noted:

Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine inquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was very well, and bid us a cordial good night.

While the earlier story in the Philadelphia Record got little attention, the press fell over themselves to get the scoop after the Scientific American presentation. Batchelor helped the cause by writing to friends at the English Mechanic that “Mr. Thos. A. Edison of New York, the well-known electrician has just developed a method of recording and reproducing the human voice.”

Despite Batchelor’s assertion, Edison was not particularly well known at the time. He and his men toiled within the narrow corporate confines of telegraph executives and manufacturers, and he was essentially invisible to the general public. This was about to change.

As though a switch had been flipped, Edison’s name was splashed across all the major newspapers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. Edison had opened up the Menlo Park laboratory to any journalist that wanted to visit, and now that accessibility was starting to pay off. In April 1878, Edison’s longtime friend William Croffut wrote a glowing profile of Edison for the New York Sun in which he coined the nickname “the Wizard of Menlo Park.” Others picked up the mantra and began referring to Edison as the world’s most famous inventor. So many people flocked to the Menlo Park laboratory to see the wizard that “the Pennsylvania railroad ran special trains.”

All of this happened because two invisible men – Edward Johnson and Charles Batchelor – used their contacts to make Edison famous over night.

[Adapted from Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World]

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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Lincoln Grasping Science

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NAS foundersJoseph Henry was not initially impressed with Abraham Lincoln upon making his obligatory visit to the new president soon after Lincoln had settled into “that big white house.” Henry’s conversation with Lincoln was uncomfortable and brief. Was Lincoln the uneducated, uncultured boor rumors made him out to be, one who could never understand the high intellectual ambitions of the Smithsonian Institution? Was the open dislike of Henry’s family for the man who General McClellan would later call an uncouth “gorilla,” justified?

As the war rolled on Henry became the first, albeit informal, presidential science adviser. Despite his first impression, Henry discovered that Lincoln showed “a comprehensive grasp of every subject on which he has conversed.” He was impressed with the many books that Lincoln had read, and even more impressed that he “remembers their contents better than I do.” What’s more, Henry could see that Lincoln was self-deprecating about his level of knowledge. One time, Henry recalled, “I desired to induce him to understand, and look favorably upon, a change which I wish to make in the policy of the Light-House Board in a matter requiring some scientific knowledge. He professed his ignorance, or rather, he ridiculed his knowledge of it, and yet he discussed it as intelligently” as any knowledgeable scientist.

[Adapted from my forthcoming book]

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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Branches for Breaks

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branch crutchOne of the joys of hiking is experiencing the forest and the trees and the mountains and the lakes and the streams. Often on rough terrain we must scamper over fallen branches. But this hike the branches came in handy in another way.

Snap.

That wasn’t a branch. That was Pablo’s ankle. And that was not good.

The hike had been long and adventurous up to the mountain lakes outside El Chalten in Patagonia. The views were tremendous, the hike tiring but exhilarating, the glaciers immense. We were almost back to where we had left the car nine or ten hours ago. The path at this point was smooth and relatively flat. But one slip and the ankle was snapped like an old branch.

As the night fell and the temperatures plummeted we knew we needed to get him out of there. Hopping with us supporting him went nowhere fast as the uneven ground quickly made that idea unrealistic. The next option was to gather suitable branches to make a splint, which worked well to immobilize the ankle. Branches for makeshift crutches didn’t work so well and in the end one of us ran (carefully) the remaining few kilometers to a hostel near the car.

Three hours later Pablo was being stretchered out of the woods to a waiting ambulance. The branches had done their job keeping the leg from getting worse; now it would take a series of surgeons to put it back together again.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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Writing Restart. Again.

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writeI’ll just put my writing aside for a day to give my mind a chance to see it in a fresher light. Okay, two days. I’ll definitely restart it today.

The months passed.

I’ve faced this several times in my writing life. There was that book critical to my research that I started, then put down, then restarted, then re-put down, then abandoned for two years. I finally got going on it again and read more than half before putting down “just long enough to finish this other book.” That was two weeks ago. Time to restart.

Then there is the book chapter I’ve been writing for months, or is it years? Started, restarted, restarted again. Finally finished a draft, then set it down for a day/week/month(s). Working back on it again but adding more than I’m editing.

Then there is the book itself. The never-ending book. The book I’ve been writing for so long that I’ve put it aside three times to write and finish three other books.

Time to restart. Again.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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