How a man losing his hearing was the first to capture sound

Before the light bulb, Thomas Alva Edison was famous for inventing the phonograph, a simple device that was able to record sounds and then play them back. The phonograph had come to existence while Edison worked to develop a commercially viable telephone.

Edison noticed that when a paper tape was ran through a telegraph transmitter at high speeds, it would produce sounds that resemble spoken words. Instead of using paper, Edison would use a tinfoil cylinder that would be hand-cranked. This cylinder could be written onto or read by a metallic stylus.  Finally in 1877 Edison completed this idea and recorded himself reciting the nursery rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb”.

Edison with his second Phonograph
Edison with his second Phonograph in 1878

Though Edison became famous for his work on sound, Edison was almost deaf. He had lost his hearing at age 15 when he was working as a train boy to raise money for his chemistry experiments. Rather then dwelling on the loss, Edison saw how the loss of hearing would in the end give him a wealth of advantages.

In telegraphy being hearing impaired meant that he could only hear the machine in front of him unlike his fellow telegraphers who would have to focus to tune out the noises of the machines around them. Edison’s love for telegraphy would translate into a career of invention as his first patents were ways of improving the telegraph. His handicap also forced him to focus on reading and became more contemplative. Since Edison couldn’t hear the outside world, he spent more time thinking about how different ideas could be combined into a new product. In the case of the phonograph, Edison had invented a telegraph machine that could record telegraph messages years earlier, would it be possible to create a machine to record phone calls? Ultimately his deafness allowed him to invent.

Edison's Improvement on the stock ticker included a device that would allow for quick printing of stock prices
Edison’s Improvement on the stock ticker included a device that would allow for quick printing of stock prices. This machine would take telegraph messages of stock prices and then print the name and price of a stock on a long tape of paper. This device was invented by Edison in 1867.

Though handicapped Edison didn’t see deafness as a disadvantage. He instead focused on what he knew and what he could do with his ideas. Thus through great focus and ingenuity Edison would spearhead the creation of the Electric industry, founding what is today General Electric. He would create film industry and gave great strides to the music industry with his invention of the phonograph.

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Pi Day Countdown #14 – in search of Pi

It is unclear when the first approximations of \pi were made, approximations can be found as early as the Ancient Babylonians.  As old as \pi may be, attempts at approximating \pi is still relevant today.

The Greeks and Chinese had approximated \pi using Geometric techniques. Yet as ingenious as these techniques are, they were only able to approximate \pi with around 7 digits.

With the advent of more powerful mathematics, functions known as infinite series were created that could give the exact value of \pi, if the steps of the function were done infinitely. However, it isn’t until the invention of computing machines that the number of digits of \pi known exploded.

As of 2014, \pi has been approximated to 13 trillion digits.

Happy Pi Day

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Pi Day Countdown #13 – Pi and the Periphery

\pi is among the oldest and most famous constant of mathematics, however as a number it wasn’t called \pi until the early 18th century.

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William Jones (1675 – 1749) is a Welsh Mathematician who named Pi

Before \pi was known as the number defined as the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter. However, in 1706 self taught mathematics teach William Jones labeled the constant \pi in his book “Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos” (a new introduction to mathematics). Perhaps he named it this because \pi was Greek for p which would be first letter of the word periphery.

This notation was then popularized by the famous Swiss mathematician, Leonhard Euler in 1738, two decades after \pi‘s official naming.

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Pi day Countdown #12 – Pi and the Transcendental Number

Leonhard Euler, considered to be one of the best mathematicians of all time, had the honor of having a few Transcendental numbers named after him. The Euler’s number or 2.718281828459… is not only a beautiful and a powerful number, it also has a very interesting connection with \pi.

The Euler’s number e can be expressed in the Euler’s Identity as:

e^{ix} = \sin(x) + i \cos(x)

and with x = \pi the identity becomes

e^{i \pi} = \sin(\pi) + i \cos(\pi) = 1 or e^{i \pi} -1 = 0

Swiss Mathematician, Leonhard Euler (15 April 1707 – 18 September 1783), was famous for many discoveries in mathematics such as the Euler's number and graph theory
Swiss Mathematician, Leonhard Euler (15 April 1707 – 18 September 1783), was famous for many discoveries in mathematics such as the Euler’s number and graph theory

Which unites some of the most famous mathematical constants, not only just \pi. There is also i the number that was so controversial that it was named imaginary as a joke. The number 0 which represented the concept of nothingness, a concept that wasn’t accepted as a number for millennia. The number 1 that started it all, and not to forget \pi one of the most famous numbers in mathematics.

PS: For more Pi Day countdown articles, visit the fun corner

Pi Day Countdown #11 – Pi and Irrationality

There is a bit of misconception that the Greeks believe that Pi was a rational number (a number that can be expressed as a fraction of two whole numbers). Many believe that it was because the Greeks did not believe in the existence of irrational numbers, yet it was the Greeks themselves who discovered and accepted the existence of Irrational numbers.

JHLambert
Johann Heinrich Lambert, 26 August 1728 – 25 September 1777, was one of the first to prove that Pi is irrational

The truth is, the Greeks approximated \pi between two fractions because that is what they knew how to do. Proof that \pi is an irrational number did not exist until the 17th century where it was proven irrational by the Swiss mathematician Johann Heinrich Lambert.

He did this by first showing that his continued fractal expansion of tan(x) holds, then he shows that if tan(x) is rational then tan(x) will have to be irrational. Since tan(\pi /4) = 1 and 1 is obviously rational, \pi/4 must but irrational and ultimately so is \pi.

PS: For more Pi Day countdown articles, visit the fun corner

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