Third Year Reflections of a Science Traveler

DominicaThis month marks the third year anniversary on the best decision ever made. In 2013 I made the decision to leave my long-time scientific career to become a science traveler. I didn’t leave the science, merely the part that paid well. I took up traveling and writing and in other ways bringing science and history to life. Last year I reflected again on reaching a second anniversary. And suddenly it’s been three years. As they say, time flies.

It’s been an amazing experience. I’ve seen places I had never thought I would see, met people I never knew existed, and written books I never thought I would write. Along the way I’ve grown as a writer, a traveler, and a person. At least I hope the latter is true.

One of the major uncertainties of a writing life is whether anyone will ever read what you write. I’ve been lucky. That first book on Nikola Tesla published just as I was embarking on this adventure is now into its 7th printing, has been translated into several foreign languages, and is a continuing success (figuratively) flying off the shelves at Barnes and Noble. Because of its success I now have a follow up book on Thomas Edison, which now sits side-by-side in Barnes and Noble with Tesla and has had strong initial sales. And now I’m working on a third book in the same style on my other major interest – Abraham Lincoln. That book should come out in 2017.

When I’m not writing (or reading), I’m traveling. This year saw two epic trips in the sense of adding to my “countries visited” list. Early in the year I took a sailing cruise to the Caribbean. Not one of those huge floating hotel ships, this was a smaller sailing cruise liner with only about 250 passengers. The second was to the Balkan countries of Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia. While there I got to meet with the Prince and Princess of Serbia (technically they are King and Queen but go by the lower titles due to the politics of their former exile). There were other trips as well, including San Antonio/Carlsbad Caverns and a research visit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. I’m going back out to Illinois next week to see other Lincoln sites in New Salem, Lincoln (the city), and Bloomington.

There were some glitches this year as well. After decades of generally good health I found myself in and out of hospitals and doctors offices for a variety of mostly unrelated issues. The biggest was eye surgery to remove a tumor (benign!) in my right orbit that had my eye bulging out like Marty Feldman’s Igor from Young Frankenstein. Because of I’m still officially in recovery (surgery was less than a month ago) it led to postponement of a planned October trip to China. No worries, I’ll do it next year.

Speaking of next year, the tentative travel plans include not only the aforementioned China (and South Korea), but hopefully Machu Picchu and one or two of a dozen other possibilities on my list. The Lincoln book I’m writing now should be in the stores next year. As soon as that manuscript is submitted I’ll return to my original Lincoln and science book project, which should put it on a schedule to come out in 2018. I already have the next book topic lined up; more on that when it gets closer.

So on to the fourth year of a Science Traveler life!

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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The Book Stack Photo

Recently I took a photo of a stack of my published books. The idea came from seeing a similar stack from my friend Chris DeRose, a multiple Abraham Lincoln author and currently running for City Council in Phoenix, Arizona. Now that I have multiple books myself (and another on the way), it seemed a good time to create this:

cropped-Book-stack-1.jpg

The books are shown in order of publication, with the newest on the top. Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) are both published by Fall River Press, an imprint of Sterling Publishing in New York. You can find them in Barnes and Noble stores and online now. Edison just came out and Tesla is now into its 7th printing, not to mention several foreign language editions.

In between there are two e-books published by Amazon for Kindle. Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate (2015) came about because as I researched both of these great mean I noticed some amazing connections between them in science, art, the environment, and more. Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time (2014) takes a deeper look into a topic I only touched on in Tesla, his desire to harness the forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.

The idea of writing books actually started with a photo book I published in 2010. Adventures in Europe documents some of my travels while I was living in Brussels, Belgium for three years. Of course, there has been much more travel since 2010, some of which I’ve talked about on this page. I’ll have many more Science Traveler stories so keep checking back for new ones.

The book stack photo joins my revolving cast of photos that serve as headers on this page. You can read more about the photos here.

Finally, the stack will get bigger next summer as my newest book for Fall River Press, Abraham Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is due to be released in 2017.

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Thomas Edison and the Talking Doll

Edison talking dollThomas Edison is well known as the inventor of the phonograph. But did you know he also marketed a talking doll? As I note in my book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World:

In bit of fancy, Edison and Batchelor made a reproducing mechanism small enough to fit into the torso of a child’s doll. Pulling a string would engage “a small phonograph…with an automatic return motion so that you simply turn always in one direction and it always says the same thing over and over again.”

What a great idea? Think of all the fun young children could have with a talking doll in their playroom in 1890. What a thrill! What an experience!

What a bomb!

Unfortunately, the mini-phonographs were easily damaged in transit and rarely remained in working order. This was perhaps for the best, as the high-pitched, tinny voice, when it worked, shrieked out creepy versions of child’s nursery rhymes.

Okay. Not such a thrill.

The talking dolls were one of many “failures” of Thomas Edison. Even his phonograph was left behind as competitors such as the Victor Talking Machine Company (producer of the Victrola) out-designed and out-competed Edison. The iconic Edison wax cylinders (which I heard in last year’s visit to Menlo Park) were replaced by flat disks featuring Enrico Caruso and other famed singers. Ironically, the nearly deaf Edison insisted on picking out all the music for his phonographs, then refused to put the names of the singers on the disks. In the end, people wanted to listen to famous artists, not famous arias.

What they did not want to listen to was the screechy sounds coming out of the dolls. Kids were more scared than entertained. Luckily, the dolls rarely worked at all, so Edison closed down production after only a few weeks. In addition to what I say in the book, you can read more on the dolls here and see one in person at a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Tesla and Edison in Barnes and Noble

I’ve been offline a lot lately due to a major eye surgery and ensuing inflammation. But while I’ve been a bit down and out, my Tesla and Edison books have been in Barnes and Noble bookstores.

Tesla and Edison in BN August 28 2016

Tesla bottom middle; Edison top right

For a while they weren’t being displayed because B&N wanted to promote their ridiculously overwhelming selection of “adult coloring books.” Yes, we’ve reached the point where adults actually have regressed to the point where any words are too many words. Luckily the coloring book phase seems to be winding down and they’ve put out both of my books. So run down to your local store and check them out.

Meanwhile, I’m busy working on my next book in the same style – on Abraham Lincoln!

I’ll write more shortly. The swelling of my eye has gone down enough for me to make short forays onto my laptop, but I should be up and writing full time again in the next few days.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Thomas Edison the Movie Mogul

Along with his many other inventions, Thomas Edison invented (or at least marketed) motion picture cameras and films. I cover the history of the inventions in my book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, but one fascinating aspect that most people may not be aware of is that Edison was the first movie mogul.

Black Maria

The first experimental films were shot in the West Orange laboratory, but as motion pictures gradually became more professional, Edison needed a professional studio in which to film. In December 1892, construction began behind Building 4 on a studio that Edison later remembered as “a ghastly proposition for a stranger daring enough to brave its mysteries.” Covered in black tar paper inside and out, it was dubbed the Black Maria after the slang term for the police paddy wagons of the day it resembled. Not coincidentally, it looked like Marey’s “barnlike studio” Edison had seen during his 1889 visit:

“It obeys no architectural rules, embraces no conventional materials, and follows no accepted schemes of color,” boasted the sometimes flamboyant Dickson of the Black Maria. He did admit it had “a weird and semi-nautical appearance.”

The Black Maria was a “fifty-by-eighteen-foot wood building with a twenty-one-foot-high pitched roof.” It also had two rather unique features. The first was the roof: “Half of the roof could be raised or lowered like a drawbridge by means of ropes, pulleys and weights, so that the sunlight could strike squarely on the space before the machine [i.e., the motion picture camera].” The studio had to allow in sunlight, even though it was outfitted with electricity; Edison’s incandescent bulbs were not bright enough for filmmaking, and arc lighting was too harsh. This need for light led to the second odd feature: The whole building was mounted “on a graphite pivot that allowed the staff to turn the studio on a wood track.” As the sun arced across the sky during the day, they simply turned the building to keep pace. Edison wistfully noted in later years how the building could “turn like a ship in a gale.”

Life of Abraham Lincoln still

Using this odd studio, Edison’s team – led by William K. L. Dickson, a natural showman – created thousands of films. Most were short; Fred Ott’s Sneeze was all of 5 seconds long. But eventually they grew to longer, though “longer” meant 10 minutes for The Great Train Robbery and 15 minutes for The Life of Abraham Lincoln.

Motion pictures quickly became a huge money maker for Edison, but just as quickly dropped off in value as competitors focused on longer movies while Edison was distracted by his many other endeavors.

]The above is adapted from Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, in Barnes and Noble stores and online now. Read more about Thomas Edison and the book by clicking here.]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Tesla to Edison to Lincoln Redux

Early in the history of Science Traveler I wrote a post called “Tesla to Edison to Lincoln – Connecting the Dots.” It turns out that post was more prophetic than I ever could have imagined.

At the time I was still writing my book on Nikola Tesla, which was released in the summer of 2013. Three years later Tesla is into its 7th printing, is still selling well in Barnes and Noble stores, and has been translated into several foreign languages.

The success of Tesla led the publication of my book on Thomas Edison, which hit Barnes and Noble stores a couple of weeks ago (late July 2016). Future books in the series a possibility.

The popularity of my science series books has inspired the publisher to expand into a series on key historical figures. Among the first to be tackled is Abraham Lincoln. Since I’ve long been a history buff, in particular Abraham Lincoln (I have over 1200 Lincoln books on my shelf), it looks like I’ll be writing the first in the series.

Tesla to Edison to Lincoln!

Tesla Edison Lincoln

I’ll have more details once they get ironed out. The anticipated release date is sometime in 2017, but keep checking back here for updates. And look for my Tesla and Edison books in stores now!

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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LINCOLN’S 1860 ELECTION – A Special Event sponsored by the Lincoln Group of DC

lincoln-1860-ribbonSeven score and sixteen years ago the United States experienced a contentious election. The populace was terribly divided, one campaign openly pandered to the fears of white Americans, and the survival of the Union was in question. The winner of that election in 1860 was Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President.

What does the election of Lincoln have in common with the election of 2016? Are there lessons we can learn? Are we doomed to a forever divided nation, and divisive politics?

Come join us this Saturday, August 13th to find out.

The Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia sponsors Open Discussions of events in the life of Abraham Lincoln. The events are open to the public at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

On Saturday, August 13, 2016, the group will discuss Lincoln’s 1860 Election, including his road to the Republican presidential nomination and his victory in the November election. Parallels to this year’s party nominations and the impending campaign will be explored by experienced LGDC Open Discussion leaders John O’Brien, chair of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church History Committee, and LGDC president John T. Elliff.

NY Avenue Church window

For those who don’t already know it, the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is “Lincoln’s Church.” The family maintained a pew and Reverend Phineas Gurley was spiritual adviser to Abraham Lincoln during his time in Washington. A beautiful stained glass window depicting Lincoln overlooks the main meeting room. Since the church’s History Committee is co-hosting the event, the sanctuary (Lincoln pew, stained glass window), Lincoln Parlor (Emancipation document, Rev. Gurley portrait, desk and settee), and John Quincy Adams Room (Mary Lincoln letters, Lincoln desk set, etc.) will be available for viewing.

So come join us. The event is open to the public.

The discussion will be held from 10:00-12:00 at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. Nearest Metro stations are McPherson Square and Metro Center; and Saturday discount parking is available nearby.

For further information and to sign up, visit the Lincoln Group website here.

David J. Kent is a Vice President of the Lincoln Group of DC. Learn more about us.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Tesla vs Edison – The Battle Begins

Tesla vs Edison cartoonNikola Tesla was a sometimes eccentric genius who changed the world. Thomas Edison was a sometimes eccentric genius who changed the world. Wait, can both of those be true? Yes, and here’s why.

As I’ve written before, Tesla and Edison were two very different men of invention. Tesla liked to work alone and think big, while Edison commanded an “invention factory” and tinkered improvements incrementally. Tesla dressed impeccably and received formal college education, while Edison dressed frumpily and had almost no formal education. Tesla focused on inventing and let others try to commercialize his work; Edison focused on commercializing his work quickly, often before it was even ready.

On the other hand, both were hard workers and both helped bring new technologies into existence. And while we often think we know all about the two men, each gives us a few surprises, as these two prior posts show:

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Nikola Tesla

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Thomas Edison

It’s common for fans of Tesla to dismiss Edison, and vice versa. In reality their lives overlapped only briefly along one type of technology – AC vs DC power. Tesla (with George Westinghouse) won that battle. But outside of that issue their lives went in different directions. Tesla made significant advances in radio, wireless and renewable energy, neon lighting, rotary engines, bladeless turbines, and robotics, among others. Edison got into phonographs, film making and projection, iron ore milling, Portland cement, and a domestic source of rubber.

Tesla alwaysInterestingly, both had a connection to science fiction. Tesla’s friend Hugo Gernsback (after whom the science fiction Hugo Awards are named) adapted many of Tesla’s ideas and inventions in his Amazing Stories and other series. And Thomas Edison? Well, Edison began writing a science fiction novel himself, though he never quite got around to finishing it.

In 2013 I was honored to write a book about Nikola Tesla. Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity is now into its 7th printing and still selling well in Barnes and Noble stores, as well as translations around the world. This year, 2016, my new book on Thomas Edison is in the stores. Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World hit shelves in late July.

And now the battle is on. Can Edison beat out Tesla in the marketplace? Or will Tesla win the battle of the books? Frankly, I think both men – and both books – have a place in the world. Both made huge contributions to society along largely different paths. Both men are worth learning more about. I hope you’ll read both books.

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

Nikola Tesla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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A Quick Look at Montenegro

One of the stops on my recent trip to the Balkans was Montenegro. Sitting on the coast of the magnificent Adriatic Sea, Montenegro was once part of the former Yugoslavia, along with Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and others. Independent since 2006, Montenegro’s name comes from its mountainous geography, most notably the black shadow cast over its beautiful coastal waters by the looming mountains.

Przno, Montenegro

Our base for three days was the resort area of Pržno, near the town of Budva. Nestled into a cove surrounded by rocky ledges and pebbly beaches, the views were gorgeous. A short walk through the pine woods along the shore brings to you Sveti Stefan, a narrow islet now connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. A home for the rich and famous, guests shell out considerable Euros to stay in one of the 50 rooms, cottages, or suites on the exclusive resort.

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

A short drive away is the old city of Kotor with its ancient walls and narrow lanes. I’ll have more on Kotor in the future.

Kotor, Montenegro

Leaving Kotor we wiggled and waggled up the narrow switchbacks of the aptly named Lovcenske serpentine, seen below in a photo from our tour organizer, Sherry Kumar. This is only a small segment; you can see more of it in this photo.

Serpentine road Montenegro_Sherry Kumar

The trek up was harrowing, especially when we turned a corner and narrowly missed getting rammed by a car coming down. Worse, at one point near the top we were forced to back down the winding road to find a spot wide enough (barely) for a large hay-filled truck to assertively get past us. But once we got to the top (or nearly the top), the view was worth it.

Kotor, Montenegro

And there was much more – a drive through a National Park, a long climb on foot up to a famous mausoleum, and visit to the old capital of Cetinje were wrapped around a delightful lunch at a renowned restaurant in the middle of nowhere. More on all of this later.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Now Available! Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern WorldMy newest book, Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, is now available.

You can purchase it on the Barnes and Noble website as either the hard cover book or a Nook e-book.

It will also be displayed prominently in the front of Barnes and Noble stores across the country. If you don’t see it yet, be sure to ask for it.

As with Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity, the books are expected to sell out fast so get your first edition while they last. [For Tesla fans, you can get the book for half price this month in honor of his 160th birthday]

Check out this preview of Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget you have only a week left to enter to win free copies of both Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World on Goodreads.

Nikola Tesla

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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