A Visit to the Bergen Aquarium

On the far west coast of Norway is the city of Bergen, home of the Akvariet i Bergen, the Bergen Aquarium. The aquarium is surprisingly good, and definitely worth the visit.

Most people arrive in Bergen at the end of a long train line extending through the mountains and fjords from Oslo, but you can also arrive by ship or its well-traveled airport. After arrival you’ll want to take the funicular up Mount Floyen for a bird’s eye view.

Bergen, Norway

Though seemingly small, Bergen actually is a fair sized city of over 275,000 people, so you might want to take a taxi or bike out to the end of the Nordnes peninsula, though it is walkable on a nice day. Your first site upon entering the aquarium is an open air seal show and some of the nicest Gentoo penguins you’re ever going to meet.

The aquarium has the usual array of tropical fish and seaside habitats. What makes it unique is its displays of North Sea and coldwater species. I was particularly drawn to the wolffish, whose huge teeth and massive jaws are perfect for its normal diet of hardshell molluscs (whelks,  cockles), sea clams, crustaceans, and echinoderms (like starfish and sea urchins). Wolffish also carry a natural antifreeze to keep their flood flowing in their frigid environment.

Bergen, Norway Aqarium

At less than 30-feet long, Bergen has the shortest underwater tunnel I’ve ever seen in a public aquarium. A quick glimpse at the handful of sharks, rays, and tropicals and you’re done. They make up for it by having an extensive collection of Nile crocodiles, caiman, and iguanas.

While I admit my expectations were low, I found the Bergen Aquarium to far exceed what I had anticipated. The aquarium was considered the largest and most modern aquarium in northern Europe when it opened in 1960. That may or may not still be true depending on what you count as northern Europe, but this is certainly the most northern aquarium I’ve visited (followed closely behind by the Stockholm Aquarium, which I saw on the same trip).

Either way, the Bergen Aquarium is worth seeing. I recommend doing what I did and take the scenic train/boat/train from Oslo through the mountains and fjords.

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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Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and the Gatlinburg Fires

As I post this the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee is temporarily closed but the animals and workers are all safe. The aquarium will reopen as soon as the downtown area of Gatlinburg is ready, which may take a while; 13 people have died and more than 100 injured as wildfires have destroyed hundreds of surrounding acres.

I visited the aquarium a few years ago as part of my worldwide aquarium tour. It is one of the best aquariums I’ve seen, especially surprising given it is nestled into the Smoky Mountains at least 500 miles from the nearest ocean. Its well-stocked exhibits include a coral reef, various ocean realms, a shark lagoon, stingray bay, and penguin playhouse. A discovery center and “Touch a Ray Bay” entice the kids. They also have a great set of jellyfish displays.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

There are no sea lion, dolphin, or whale shows – which are losing popularity anyway – but they do have divers (and mermaids) periodically swim around the bigger tanks.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

Video of the fire flaming the hills behind the aquarium brought back visions of the fire that engulfed the National Marine Fisheries lab where I worked many years ago (see “My Life in a Brick”). Our fish were literally boiled in their aquariums as the fire destroyed the main building (now rebuilt).

Luckily, the Aquarium of the Smokies was spared, though not unaffected – at least 29 employees have lost their homes in the fire. Meanwhile, staff are helping to rescue pets and wild animals, giving whatever immediate care they can. This history-making fire continues to be fought by dozens of first responders, to whom the aquarium staff are providing hot meals. Fire season continues as the region has experienced severe drought, in part a consequence of climate change.

So help however you can. The aquarium is not seeking donations, but welcomes holiday cards that they will put on display once they reopen. Once the situation is stabilized and the downtown area can be back in business, I highly recommend a visit. The aquarium is top notch and the quaint downtown is a wonder to behold (Believe it or Not!), especially in this holiday season.

And while you’re there, check out the jellyfish:

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. His next book is on Abraham Lincoln, due out in 2017.

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Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach – Through the Glidepath

Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle BeachRipley’s has become synonymous with oddities-based attractions, and you’ll find a bunch of them in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (including Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, Haunted Adventure, Moving Theater, and Marvelous Mirror Maze). But Ripley’s has also gotten into the aquarium business. Enter the glidepath at Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach.

The glidepath is Ripley’s name for their 340-foot long acrylic underwater tunnel, where you walk safely among the swimming sharks, sea turtles, sting rays, and sawfish. This aquarium is one of the rare ones with sawfish.

Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach

Sawfish would seem to fit in well with the Ripley’s oddities theme. They look a lot like sharks that have partially swallowed a chain saw, but they are technically a family of rays (like the sting rays that are numerous around them). To confuse things further, sawfish are commonly called carpenter sharks, though that name seems to suit them well. Unfortunately, sawfish are rather rare; they are considered Endangered or Critically Endangered species. Mostly they use the “saw” (technically, a rostrum) to poke around in the bottom sand for food, but they can also slash their way through schooling fish and pick up the pieces.

Sawfish, Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach

The aquarium is relatively small but does have a nice selection of the typical tropical fish common to aquariums – tangs of various colors; angelfish; triggerfish, clown fish; cichlids; damsel fish; a really cool 3-foot Arawana; barracudas; groupers; sandbar, blacktip, leopard, bonnethead, and nurse sharks; and a variety of rays. In the Amazon section they have iguanas, poison dart frogs, and piranha. Of course there are also the octopuses, horseshoe crabs, and jellyfish that are ubiquitous to aquariums. They also had a very large catfish.

Catfish, Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach

The aquarium sits at one end of a salt water pond surrounded by a variety of restaurants and other attractions. Unlike the large catfish in the aquarium, apparently the pond’s resident catfish have turned into beggars, eagerly gulping for anything edible tossed in by the touristing hordes.

More catfish, outside Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach

Overall the aquarium and area are a nice day’s visit. Easy to reach just south of the North/South Carolina border, and with plentiful parking, the aquarium is worth a visit if you’re in the area. My visit was part of a longer road trip that took us down through the center of Virginia and North Carolina, then back up through North Carolina’s Outer Banks and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Along the way was the North Carolina Aquarium, a quaint little place on historic Roanoke Island. More on that in a future post.

See my Aquariums visited list!

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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Beijing Aquarium – Home of the Rare Chinese Sturgeon

After visiting Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Mao’s Mausoleum in Beijing, head on over to the Beijing Aquarium. Located within the Beijing Zoo, the aquarium is the largest inland aquarium in the world. One of its specialties is the Rare Chinese Sturgeon Hall.

Beijing Aquarium

The building itself is shaped like a huge conch shell. It relies on over 18,000 tons of artificial seawater to highlight seven main sections: Rainforests, Coral Reefs, Sharks, Whales, a Touch Pool, a Marine Theater, and the aforementioned Sturgeon Hall. Over 1000 marine and freshwater species are bred on site.

Beijing Aquarium sturgeon

Of the 41 aquariums around the world I’ve visited, this one is unique in that it has a large area devoted to sturgeon. These ancient fish in the family Acipenseridae are an oddity of nature. Their skeletons are almost entirely cartilaginous, like sharks, despite being classified as bony fishes since their ancestors actually had bony skeletons. Sturgeons also are at least partially covered with bony plates called scutes instead of scales. Like catfish, they have four barbels, sensory organs near their wide, toothless mouths, that they drag along the bottom substrate as an aid in navigation and food gathering. They are an odd fish indeed.

Most aquariums toss one or a few sturgeon into the big tanks with sharks and other common fish. In Beijing there are dozens of representatives of the 27 known species of the world. The highlight is the Chinese sturgeon (Acipenser sinensis), a critically endangered species considered, like the giant panda, a national treasure in China. Sadly, like many species of sturgeon, the Chinese sturgeon is nearly extinct in the wild due to overfishing and habitat loss.

The aquarium doesn’t stop there. There are also large tanks with beautiful white beluga whales…

Beijing Aquarium beluga

…many species of moray eels…

Beijing Aquarium moray eels

…and quite a few sea turtles.

Beijing Aquarium sea turtles

Given my previous work with jellyfish I’m always drawn to that section of aquariums and the Beijing Aquarium has one of the best displays I’ve seen. Quite a few tanks exhibit different species, with a variety of light effects to highlight their beauty.

Beijing Aquarium jellyfish

Overall I was greatly surprised – and impressed – by the size and quality of the aquarium. During my visit it seemed clear that the zoo and aquarium cater more to local Chinese rather than tourists, most of whom never get beyond the major tourist attractions mentioned in the first sentence above. This focus is emphasized by the signage, most of which is only in Chinese.

Beijing Aquarium sturgeon

So if you’re in Beijing, take a side trip to the Beijing Aquarium. It’s about 3 miles or so northwest of Tian’anmen Square in the Beijing Zoo, reachable by taxi, bus, or even easier, via subway line 4. You won’t be disappointed. More information here.

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 (now in its 5th printing) 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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Being Inside the Fish Bowl of St. Barts (aka, We All Live in a Yellow Submarine)

As an aquarium nut I’ve visited over 40 aquariums around the world. Last week it was me inside the fish bowl with the fish outside looking in at me. Welcome to St. Barts and the Yellow Submarine.

Saint Barthélemy, commonly called St. Barths (or by Americans, St. Barts) was the last stop on my recent sailing cruise in the Caribbean. It was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus, who named it after his brother Bartolomeo. With a complicated history that includes slavery up until 1847, this tiny island (< 9 square miles; ~9000 people) is a haven for the unnaturally wealthy. The number of yachts bigger than my house was astounding to see.

Its long volcanic history heightens its mountainous charms and led to the rise of its encircling coral reefs. It was to these reefs I headed with the Beatles song humming in my mind…aboard a yellow submarine.

Yellow submarine

Technically it was a semi-submersible (or semi-submersed) and not a submarine, but the gimmick was an effective way to introduce people to the reef corals and fishes. Once out of the marina you move from the stylishly yellow surface deck to a long tube-like below deck. Essentially, you’re now inside the aquarium looking out at the inhabitants in their natural world.

Yellow submarine inside

As the submarine moves out of the harbor you start to see tons of fish. A handy fish guide helps you with identification, though the numbers of yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus for you nomenclature nuts) and Sergeant major (Abudefduf saxatilis). I’m sure you can figure out which is which in this photo.

Yellow Submarine fish

There were also several species of Caranx, various grunts, the occasional pompano, angel fish, surgeon fish, parrot fish, and even a barracuda. We even saw a shipwreck. One highlight was a quick view of a hawksbill turtle:

We saw another sea turtle swimming on the surface as we took the tender back to the ship. There were also pelicans and frigate birds in numbers I usually see only for seagulls.

Somehow being inside the aquarium seemed appropriate. The trip took us to seven different islands, each of which offered its own unique character and excursions. I’ll have more on other facets of this science traveling in future posts. For now, it’s back to dry land to plan the next adventure.

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.

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Jellyfish at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas – New Orleans

Audubon Aquarium of the AmericasMany years ago, in my marine biologist days, I studied jellyfish at the National Marine Fisheries Service laboratory in Oxford, Maryland. I’ve been fascinated with them ever since. I recall the first time seeing them in a large aquarium – in Monterey, California – and have watched as more and more aquariums have installed jellyfish setups themselves.

Jellyfish (yes, I know technically they should be called Sea Jellies since they are not fish, but old habits die hard) are not easy to keep in aquariums. They have very little control over where they go other than to backstroke up or down or side to side. Mainly they just go where the current goes. In aquariums that usually means straight into the filter. Nothing like a mushy, globular, nematocyst-laden carbon filter to gum up your tank.

So it took some engineering, some of which I developed myself in those good old days, to figure out how to keep jellyfish happy. And that makes me happy.

The aquarium also had the usual complement of sharks, skates, rays, and fish of all kinds. Not a bad aquarium at all, and one I’ll talk more about in the future. Check out the other aquariums I’ve visited all over the world.

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. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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[Daily Post]

Science Traveling the World – One Aquarium at a Time

Lisbon Aquarium

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m an aquarium nut. I was a marine biologist early in my scientific career, including a semester in Bermuda during college and several years working at National Marine Fisheries Service laboratories in Maryland and New Jersey.

Over the years I’ve visited 40 aquariums in the United States, Canada, Asia, Europe, and Bermuda. I have an Aquariums page on this website where I’ve logged in the places visited. As I’ve written articles about them I provide a link, and my plan is to cover all of the remaining aquariums over the next several months.

I’ve rearranged the Aquariums page to make the stories and photos easier to find. It will also serve as a handy guide to finding aquariums in your area, or an area where you plan to travel. North America is now split into regions covering New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, the West, and Miscellaneous (for those that don’t quite fit the others). Asia and Europe remain as single entities because there are fewer aquariums to list, but I’ll expand in the future as necessary. I also hope to add aquariums from South America and Africa if and when I go to any.

Check out the Aquarium page and come back to see new additions.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) 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 spring 2016.

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Science Traveling Lisbon’s Oceanarium

If you’re an aquarium nut like me, one of the places on your “must-see” list is the Oceanarium in Lisbon, Portugal. Officially the Oceanário de Lisboa, it ranks as the largest indoor aquarium in Europe.

Lisbon Oceanarium

Like most big aquariums it has a huge central tank of roughly 1.3 million gallons filled with the usual blend of marine fish, sharks, and rays. It is also one of the few aquariums that includes an ocean sunfish (Mola mola), a notoriously difficult species to maintain out of its natural oceanic habitat.

Lisbon Oceanarium

What I liked about the main tank – and I’ve seen dozens of them – is that as you walk around the perimeter you have many large floor to ceiling windows to gaze through.

Lisbon Oceanarium

There are large areas where you can often see divers feeding the fish and maintaining the tank.

Lisbon Oceanarium

But also many alcoves where a diverse community of fish, anemones, and corals can get some “privacy,” i.e., some sense of normality in a life literally in a very large fish bowl.

Lisbon Oceanarium

Of course, there are many smaller tanks and exhibits for up-close-and-personal views of worldwide marine flora and fauna. As always I was drawn to the tropical frog exhibit.

Lisbon Oceanarium

With only a month to go before finishing my three-year sojourn in Brussels, I had made a special trip to Lisbon specifically to see this world-famous aquarium. I was not disappointed.

See more about my aquarium visits on the aquarium page.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.

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[Daily Post]

Tesla, Lincoln, and Beyond

Signing books 1-11-14It’s been a busy weekend/week/month/year. On this site I write about Nikola Tesla, Abraham Lincoln, Travel, and Aquariums, but I also write on other sites and I’ll be adding more sites shortly.  At the same time I’ll be consolidating. Make sense? Keep watching this space for more information.

I’ll be writing more in-depth about these in future posts, but to give you a flavor of what is coming, check out these highlights:

  • Nikola Tesla: A new book, the reissue of the previous book, and some talks. I mentioned these in a previous post here. I’ll be holding a vote for the final title shortly, and another for the final cover. Sign up for my Facebook author’s page for details on how to get the ebook for free when it comes out.
  • Abraham Lincoln: This weekend was the first face-to-face meeting of the new officers for the Lincoln Group of DC (LGDC). As part of my new outreach and education duties we’ve set up LGDC pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I’ll have a post on these shortly. We also have a gazillion (more or less) events scheduled for the near future. Check out the LGDC website for more information.
  • Travel: I’m way behind on planning the trip to Scandinavia, but the goal is to go to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Trips to Mt. Rushmore and Chicago/Springfield are also in the works (and also way behind schedule in planning). Before that I’ll be up in New England to visit the family and give a talk about Tesla at the Ipswich Museum.
  • Aquariums: So many more aquariums to write about. I have two more on my list to visit while in the Scandinavian countries noted above.
  • Writing: I’ve recently started free writing, that is, writing in response to prompts, contests, and for future use in memoir/fiction books. I recently submitted short pieces to two contests – one a science fiction article and the other a short memoir. To accommodate the free writing, as well as the diverse writing on Lincoln, Tesla, science, and other topics, I’ll be setting up separate blogs that will then be cross-posted back here.

There is much more going on as well. I’m being considered for a major award related to my work with the regional chapter of SETAC. A possible on-air segment on the History Channel is in discussions, as is a profile in a book about Tesla’s People (people building a curriculum about Nikola Tesla). Works in progress include the Abraham Lincoln book I’ve discussed previously plus a travel photo book and, of course, the soon to be released Tesla and Renewable energy ebook.

Add in a few major life events, some introspection, and the vagaries of nature, and there will be tons to talk about. One thing I have planned is a revamping of this website to highlight my multiple books and other writing; more informational articles on Tesla, Lincoln, science, and travel; and a new newsletter for my updated mailing list.

Stay tuned!

David J. Kent is currently working on a book about Abraham Lincoln’s interest in science and technology. He is also the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and a soon-to-be-released ebook on Tesla and Renewable Energy.

 

Oh What a Year (aka, Tesla Rules!)

David J. Kent, Science TravelerIt seems like January 2013 was a blink away, but somehow an entire year has passed and that blink away is now January 2014. But oh what a year it was. A year of transitions, a year of excitement, and even a year with some major anxieties. But it is a year I will always remember – the year of Tesla.

Tesla – The Wizard of 2013!

The obvious hallmark was the release of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. Nine months after it had been accepted by the publisher the book finally hit the stores in July 2013. Prominently displayed on shelves at Barnes and Noble entrances, many stores quickly sold out and reordered. Even after the warehouse was empty the books continued to sell, limited only by people’s ability to locate them. By the end of the year we had sold out almost the entire (large) first printing. Even better, a second printing of double the initial run is due out July 2014.

[Off-] Broadway Bound!

The success of Tesla has had another benefit – all the great people I’ve met. Besides Nikola, Sherry, Sam and many others with the Tesla Science Foundation, there are the great folks at Tesla Ambassadors and other Facebook groups. I even got to meet Mr. William H. Terbo, the only living relative of Nikola Tesla. Mr. Terbo is the grand-nephew and actually met Tesla himself when he was ten years old. Another highlight of the year was being invited to speak to the cast of the off-Broadway play, TESLA, then attending opening night of the wildly successful show. Sanja Bestic as director and Sheri Graubert as writer worked so well as a team that they have another show coming out this spring – Jackie and Marilyn. I can’t wait.

Even the bad things worked out!

Of course, there were some downer parts of the year too. Most notably my father’s aneurysm surgery in February turned out to be more dramatic than expected. I’m happy to say that after having several aorta re-plumbed, a series of strokes and seizures, four days of coma, no movement on one side for a few more days, and months of rehab, Dad is doing very well. Meanwhile, the toxicity of my own work environment finally led to the decision to leave my long-standing scientific career and become a full-time writer. Notwithstanding the sudden lack of income, it was a great decision. It’s even been good for my health – after putting on weight in the spring I’ve dropped 10 pounds and live a much healthier lifestyle.

Science Traveler alert!

Along the way I managed to squeeze in a little bit of travel, including several trips to my home town for family events, four times to New York City for writing/Tesla events, a road trip to Tennessee, and even a quick weekend in Jamaica. Travel will get more emphasis in 2014, starting with a trip to NYC in January and to Argentina in February. Summer may bring me to the west coast and/or Moscow and/or Iceland and/or a country to be named later. I’ll be posting much more on travel (and aquariums) this coming year as Science Traveler starts catching up to its moniker.

150 Years of Abraham Lincoln!

Not to be forgotten is Abraham Lincoln. As a member of the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia I’ve had the privilege of joining monthly dinners with some of the most knowledgeable Lincolnophiles in the area. And since each dinner has a guest speaker, I’ve met Lincoln scholars such Douglas L. Wilson, Walter Stahr, and many others. [Eric Foner will receive the Lincoln Award from us in January 2014] One of my most cherished activities of this past year has been the monthly Lincoln Group book club. We’ve been reading the version of Herndon’s Lincoln edited by the aforementioned Doug Wilson and his colleague Rodney O. Davis. Having the combined expertise and insights of the dozen or so group members – all Lincoln scholars – is priceless.

My Presidency Ends!

With all this going on I somehow managed to perform my duties as President of the Chesapeake-Potomac Regional Chapter of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. This was my second go-around as President (the first was in 2001), and I’ve loved every minute of my involvement. As I hand over the Presidency to this year’s VP, Brad Pratt, I’ll remain as a Contributing Editor to the CPRC newsletter and an active Past-President.

Reading is Fundamental!

And then there were the books. As has been my norm in recent years I’ve finished reading about 60 books this year. Because of research for my next book, at least a dozen were Abraham Lincoln-related. But there were also many on Nikola Tesla, some great memoirs, and the trade of writing/publishing. I even read a half dozen fiction books (a rarity for me). Better yet, I was able to read some great books by authors I know personally, most notably Thomas Waite, R.C. (Chuck) Larlham, and Sam Hawksworth. Check them out.

All in all, 2013 was a very good year. I’m looking forward to an even better 2014, where I’ll meet more great people, do more great travel, and write more great books (and yes, I’ll shortly have more info on my Tesla book due out in the spring).

See you all again soon…and Happy New Year!!

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. You can order a signed copy directly from me, download the ebook at barnesandnoble.com, and find hard copies exclusively at Barnes and Noble bookstores.

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