If It’s Tuesday – Whose Stuff is This, Anyway?

In the continuing saga relating my three-year long working life in Brussels (based on the movie, If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium), just getting there was a chore. I’ve mentioned the bureaucratic process I had to go through before they would let me move, but when the actual move got closer I realized that all my townhouse stuff was in no way going to fit into whatever apartment I might find in Brussels. This revelation led me to wonder:

Whose stuff is this anyway?

Stuff

I blame all of my stuff on my parents (which is some sort of Freudian thing I’m sure).  My mother was one of 9 children, and my dad was one of 12 children. They were both born during hard times into blue collar families (assuming that a 2-acre subsistence farm serving 14 people even rises to the level of blue collar). Growing up in families the size of small Midwestern towns led to the tendency to hoard everything passing their way. And in positive proof that clutter is hereditary, I followed suit…or at least it seems that way at this moment as my eyes scan the mountain of stuff on which I have to make “keep” or “go” decisions.

Keeping in mind that I have a decent sized 3 bedroom townhouse full of “American male” furniture (i.e., big) that likely won’t fit into the tiny European-sized apartments, it seems that my first step is to separate stuff into several categories:

1)     Stuff that I should have thrown out ages ago (old magazines, holey clothes, and anything left behind by old girlfriends)

2)     Stuff that can be donated to charity or given away to friends (perfectly good clothes from the back of the closet that “I know I will fit into again some day”)

3)     Stuff that can be freecycled or sold on eBay or Craigslist (books, records, chachkas)

4)     Stuff that I want to keep but can’t take with me due to lack of room and so will likely have to put into storage (king size bed set with dressers and side tables, couches, my Abraham Lincoln book collection)

5)     Stuff that my company will ship to Europe for me (some furniture, some books, PhD stuff, and of course all my work stuff)

The hard part is deciding what fits into the first category – stuff to be thrown out.  It’s hard for me to throw out things because I see it as wasteful…surely someone can find a good use for each (seemingly) precious item.

So how do I let go of all my “valuable” stuff?  I addressed this problem in a recent post called “The Minimalist” on my writing blog, Hot White Snow. I’ll have more on how to deal with stuff in later posts.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (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. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Abraham Lincoln at City Point

On March 20, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln telegraphed Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, who had invited Lincoln to visit him for a “day or two” at City Point, Virginia. Lincoln told Grant that he “had already thought of going immediately after the next rain.” I discuss this visit in a section of my forthcoming book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America.

City Point - The Peacemakers - George Healy

Lincoln at City Point and Richmond

Hearing from Washington that Lincoln looked even more worn out than usual, in March General Grant invited Lincoln to City Point (near Petersburg). Lincoln immediately accepted. He was not alone; Mary insisted on joining him, so a party including Tad Lincoln, a maid, a bodyguard, and a military aide boarded the River Queen on March 23 for the trip. Son Robert, now an adjunct to Grant’s army, met them on their arrival the next evening. Lincoln took time to visit the troops and confer with Generals Grant and Sherman and Admiral David Porter. Overall it was a restful but productive visit. That changed when Mary Lincoln flew into a jealous rage at seeing General Ord’s wife riding “too close” to her husband, after which Lincoln sent Mary back to Washington. Soon after her departure, however, the Union captured Richmond, which the Confederate leadership had abandoned. She insisted on returning, this time bringing a large entourage that included her ex-slave dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, who had been born in nearby Petersburg.

During Mary’s absence, Lincoln took Tad into Richmond. After landing at the docks, Lincoln and Tad walked the mile or so to the Confederate White House that had served until a few days earlier as Jefferson Davis’s office. Surrounding him along the way were hundreds of ex-slaves who wanted to see the “Great Emancipator,” while anxious white southerners stared suspiciously from their windows.

On April 8, Lincoln visited the Depot Field Hospital at City Point. Over the course of a full day he shook the hands of more than 6,000 patients, including a few sick and wounded Confederate soldiers. Feeling the pressure of business, Lincoln left City Point to return to Washington that evening. The next day, Lee surrendered his army to General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the war.

The mood in Washington was euphoric. After four long years the war was essentially over.

That mood would dramatically change only a few days later as Lincoln was struck down by an assassin’s bullet. The making of Lincoln’s legacy, both myth and reality, would begin immediately.

[The above is adapted from Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due in Barnes and Noble stores in summer 2017]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (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. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Tesla and Edison: The War is Lost

We’ve previously looked at Tesla and Edison fighting the War of the Currents (Part I and Part II). Now we come to the final round in the battle.

Tesla vs Edison cartoon

Two events were major factors in deciding the war of the currents. In 1893 there was a competition to determine who would get the contract to light up the World’s Columbian Exposition. Also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, the six-month-long exposition was to showcase new technology from all over the world. Both the General Electric Company and the Westinghouse Electric Company (powered by Tesla’s alternating current technology) were among the competitors. Edison’s direct current was pitted against Westinghouse’s alternating current. Bidding was brutal as Edison and Westinghouse viciously undercut each other in an attempt to land the plum contract. Other competitors were quickly eliminated, and Westinghouse ultimately won. Tesla’s polyphase alternating current system lit up the fair.

The result was spectacular. Nicknamed the “White City” because of the white stucco buildings surrounding the central pool, the name also could have referred to the brilliant aura created by 92,000 outdoor incandescent lamps that lit the grounds for six months. Including all the interior lamps, the fair required 250,000 modified Sawyer-Mann “stopper lamps,” a competing bulb Westinghouse raced to produce because Edison refused to allow use of his patented long-life bulbs. Edison was not shut out completely, however, as he was able to display several of his own inventions in the showcase electrical building, including the dominating “Edison Tower of Light.”

Because of the success of alternating current at the Chicago World’s Fair, the team of Westinghouse and Tesla also beat out Edison for the next major contract at Niagara Falls. The Niagara River flows north from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, dropping up to 188 feet over some of the most spectacular falls in North America. Engineers had made only limited use of the power of the falling water until the newly formed Cataract Construction Company (led by former Edison Electric Board member Edward Dean Adams) chose to base its new electrical power plant on a dozen Tesla patents. Tesla’s polyphase generator system beat out Edison’s direct current, but Edison won the contract to string electrical wires from Niagara to Buffalo, nearly twenty miles away.

These setbacks effectively removed Edison from the electric power generation business, a process that had already begun back in 1892, when competition and J. P. Morgan’s maneuverings forced Edison to merge his Edison General Electric Company with the Thomson-Houston Company to form the new General Electric. While somewhat bitter at how he had been treated, Edison turned to other pursuits, including iron ore milling and the development of motion picture projectors. Edison was about to become a movie mogul, albeit a reluctant one. Tesla also turned to other pursuits, including Wardenclyffe.

[This is part II of a three part series on Tesla vs Edison in the War of the Currents, all adapted from my book Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World. Also check out my earlier book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. Both are available in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide. See links below. Part I of the series can be read here. And here is Part II.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (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. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity Now Available in Spanish!

My book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity, is now available in Spanish!

Tesla Wizard Spanish edition

The book has been a fantastic success in the United States and worldwide. Dutch and German editions (below) have been available since 2015, and now as of January 1, 2017, you can pick up a Spanish edition.

Translations into other languages, including Turkish, are currently in negotiations.

After you read Tesla, check out my Edison book, where Tesla finally gets the recognition he deserves in an Edison biography. Also, don’t forget to check out my two Tesla e-books below.

And watch for Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due in Barnes and Noble stores July 2017.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (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. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Tesla and Edison: The War of the Currents Continues

As described previously, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla fought what has come to be known as the “war of the currents.” Tesla had developed his complete alternating current induction motor and all the associated transformers, then hooked up with George Westinghouse to compete against Edison’s already established direct current system.

Tesla vs Edison

Edison did not give in easily. He began a public relations campaign to discredit alternating current as too dangerous for public use. He had a point. Alternating current could be raised to incredibly high voltages, whereas direct current was held at relatively low voltages. Edison published pamphlets ominously titled A Warning from the Edison Electric Light Company suggesting alternating current was not safe. He also (falsely) suggested to suppliers and utilities that Westinghouse was in violation of Edison’s patents, and thus it would be unwise to rely on the soon-to-be-departed technology. Engineering societies debated the merits, although sometimes the charges and countercharges seemed more personal than professional, with combatants “fighting tooth and nail” for the future.

The battle between AC and DC also got bloody. While relatively rare, accidents sometimes occurred on the network of naked electrical wires strung on poles set alongside city streets. One particularly gruesome scene occurred when John Feeks, an electrical repairman sent up to remove dead wires, accidentally found a live one and fell into a nest of wires, where he “dangled for more than forty-five minutes.” Streaks of light flashed from his body as spectators gasped in horror below. Reporters raced from the scene to get quotes from Edison on the dangers of alternating current, which he duly provided without knowing whether the wires were AC or his own DC.

Edison also actively lobbied for use of the electric chair to replace the usual means of execution, an overdose of morphine or hanging. He felt the chair would be more humane because it would provide a quicker, cleaner kill. More important, it would use alternating current, further bolstering Edison’s claim that alternating current was too dangerous for humanity. Some members of the committee set up to evaluate the methods were skeptical until Edison sent a letter of support. “I certainly had no doubt after hearing his statement,” one committee member said, and the recommendation was implemented. Unfortunately for Edison, and for the poor axe murderer William Kemmler on which it was first used, the execution did not go smoothly. After supposedly being electrocuted to death, Kemmler suddenly let out a loud cry of pain, to which the attendants responded by turning the power up to full for two minutes, long enough for “the stench of burning flesh” to fill the room.

Edison also allowed electrical engineer Harold Pitney Brown to use his laboratory for a series of experiments. Brown paid neighborhood boys to collect stray dogs, which he then electrocuted in Edison’s lab using Westinghouse’s alternating current. He then wrote letters to the press exclaiming the dangers of that “damnable” alternating current. To denigrate his main competitor completely, Edison called the electrocutions “getting Westinghoused.”

Two huge events were major factors in deciding the war of the currents. More on that in the next installment.

[This is part II of a three part series on Tesla vs Edison in the War of the Currents, all adapted from my book Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World. Also check out my earlier book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. Both are available in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide. See links below. Part I of the series can be read here. Here is Part III.]

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

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (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.

Follow me by subscribing by email on the home page.  And feel free to “Like” my Facebook author’s page and connect on LinkedIn.  Share with your friends using the buttons below.

 

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