[LINK] Einstein's fridge an example for NICTA?

Stewart Fist stewart_fist at optusnet.com.au
Tue Dec 12 11:35:19 AEDT 2006

Richard wrote

> The problem is that economics cannot forecast the unknown. What you
> can't predict, you don't fund. I can think of two really good examples
> of this, some decades apart: alternating current; and lasers.
> In the case of a.c., the economic analysis of the day said it was
> pointless. Electricity was for industry; a.c. was therefore economically
> unnecessary. The economic predictions were wrong.

I totally agree with Richard's point, but delight in some nitpicking:

AC was well predicted by Telsla and his primary funder Westinghouse -- and
by a few dozen other groups working on power generation and transmission.
The main idea at the time was to use the A/c through transformers, to jump
the voltage up to where it could be transported over useful distances --
then, transform it down and rectify it to conform to the existing DC
standards devised by Edison.

DC had to be generated within a dozen or so kilometers of the point of
consumption, so it depended on costly steam generators in the middle of
cities.  AC allowed them to use hydraulic generation (Niagra falls) and run
the power lines into Buffalo, making it a commercial centre in a very few

This was a battle of entrepreneurs who used every dirty PR trick in the book
to push their own barrow.  And at that time the name 'Edison' was equivalent
to 'God' while Tesla, by comparison, was a foreigner, psychologically
disturbed, and an erratic genius (in some areas only) who worked more by
intuition than by scientific understanding. So who would you trust with the
family fortune.

I think the famous phrase (first) said about lasers and masers was that they
were "A solution looking for a problem to solve."

And that's exactly how real non-corporate scientific research should be
conducted.  It's the perfect example of the 'leading edge' which can give a
nation an enormous economic boost, if the nation is in a position to take
advantage of it.

Stewart Fist, writer, journalist, film-maker
70 Middle Harbour Road, LINDFIELD, 2070, NSW, Australia
Ph +61 (2) 9416 7458

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