Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Toys Hardware Hacking Hardware Build Your Rights Online

Thomas Edison's Kindle 98

Posted by kdawson
from the mister-bezos-come-here-i-want-you dept.
harrymcc writes "In 1911, Thomas Edison bragged that he could make a 40,000-page book by printing the pages on thin pieces of metal. In the mid-1930s, newspapers experimented with transmitting special editions into homes via early fax machines. In 1956, Chrysler tried to sell Americans on buying 7-inch records that could only be played on a tiny turntable built into its cars' dashboards. Over at Technologizer, I rounded up these and a dozen other fascinating, forgotten gadget ideas that didn't work out — but which foreshadowed products and technologies that eventually became a big deal."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Thomas Edison's Kindle

Comments Filter:
  • hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:40PM (#30898610) Homepage
    Pages 1/20,000th of an inch thick? What exactly keeps you from lopping off your fingers?
    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

      by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:41PM (#30898622)

      Exactly what I was thinking. I have a feeling such a book would provide a much better shave than a read.

    • Re:hmmm (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:53PM (#30898760)

      Pages 1/20,000th of an inch thick? What exactly keeps you from lopping off your fingers?

      And if you dropped it in your lap....

      • by Bluesman (104513)

        Edison was more ahead of his time than we thought...he invented the McDonalds hot coffee lawsuit.

    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Trogre (513942) on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:58PM (#30898806) Homepage

      Do you lop off your fingers when handling Christmas tinsel? How about aluminium ("tin") foil?

    • Re:hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TBoon (1381891) on Monday January 25, 2010 @09:26PM (#30899020)
      I'd imagine it to be so thin it would be quite soft. In fact so soft that it would either tear, or get crumbled up and unsuable.
      • by canajin56 (660655)
        Right, but Edison claimed it would be stronger and yet more flexible than paper. So, while real nickle sheets 10 times thinner than tinfoil would tear and crumple easily, Edison's fictional nickle sheets would be incredibly dangerous ;)
      • That's the DRM part of the idea!
    • You have it all wrong. COPY PROTECTION. That is it.

    • This takes "paper cut" to a whole new level.
    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Angst Badger (8636) on Monday January 25, 2010 @11:37PM (#30899908)

      That's not the real problem. Nickel pages 1.27 microns thick simply don't have enough stiffness for you to be able to pick up a page without crinkling it, never mind any risk to the skin on your fingers, which is quite resilient by comparison. What Mr. Edison wasn't thinking about -- I assume he was speaking off the cuff to the interviewer, as he certainly had the technical knowledge -- was the tensile strength of nickel. If you think it's hard to handle a sheet of aluminum foil without getting it crinkled, good luck with nickel leaf.

      The other problem is that layers of printing ink have thickness. It doesn't matter a whole lot with paper (for most inks, anyway) because paper is so thick relative to the ink, but relative to 1.27 micron metal leaf, it's another matter altogether. Bear in mind that most of the ink sits on or near the surface of the paper -- if it soaked in too much it would cause the outlines of the letters to blur. And with paper, there is actually lots of empty space in the fibers for the pigment particles (mostly carbon) and the binder to settle in. Nickel leaf, on the other hand, is not fibrous, and while I suppose it might eventually be possible to cheaply mass produce sheets of nanoscale nickel fibers, it's not possible now and sure as heck wasn't in Edison's day.

      The idea of using nickel isn't an entirely bad one, though printing isn't the way to go. The Long Now Foundation [longnow.org] -- the current project of Stewart Brand, the guy who gave us the classic hippie Whole Earth Catalog -- is working on using an excimer laser to etch 350,000 pages onto 2.8-inch nickel discs. This will be actual, unencoded, human-readable text -- if the human in question has a student-grade microscope capable of 650x magnification. The required technology already exists; the main problem, aside from the sheer expense of the equipment, is that it takes a day and a half to etch a single disc this way. I can't help but think that Brand would be better off using a chip fab to crank out more or less the same thing using the same technology we use for making tiny circuits.

      • by sjdude (470014)

        That's not the real problem. Nickel pages 1.27 microns thick simply don't have enough stiffness for you to be able to pick up a page without crinkling it, never mind any risk to the skin on your fingers, which is quite resilient by comparison.

        Finally, the book publishers could get a crack at what the media scrooges have gotten away with through DRM: Read once books! You can bet if they could sell you a book that could only be read one time, they'd do it in heartbeat.

      • by vlm (69642)

        The other problem is that layers of printing ink have thickness. It doesn't matter a whole lot with paper (for most inks, anyway) because paper is so thick relative to the ink, but relative to 1.27 micron metal leaf, it's another matter altogether.

        Electroplated gold? Gold leaf seems to run about a tenth of a gram per square inch... Compared to the cost of making the nickel "paper", the gold "ink" will be pretty cheap.

    • by Potor (658520)

      Just a naive question: no matter how thin each deadly blade is, would not you essentially have something two inches thick made of steel or nickle? How could this much metal be lighter than paper?

      From what I can find out [reade.com], Normal paper weighs 75 lb / cubic foot; steel 490 lb/cf, and nickel 541 lb/cf.

      What am I missing here?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:41PM (#30898620)

    Success is timing as much as great ideas. Your customers have to be ready for it. It happens on the macro level, with mass produced products, and on the micro: I learned long ago that if my clients aren't ready to adapt a new technology, it is a waste of time to push it on them. Usually they come around to it a few years later. :)

    'Ready' usually means that it is a small mental step forward and they see a pressing need for it.

    • I completely agree. I once told my friends about an idea I had called "a home server - a server for your home." It could be used for controlling what time the AC or heating kicked in, turns lights on and off, and even opened windows blinds! Of course, the latest technology offered video playing, but it wasn't an easy feat nor practically affordable for anyone who was a professional.

      Of course I was laughed at and told "if it was such a good idea, someone would have thought of it and made it by now." So a few years pass by and technology made some awesome advancements. So now we have linux boxes that run your pool at optimum points in time to help you save money, HTPC's and gaming PC's. And that's just what a little reading will get you. The true beauty comes with taking the time to learn the systems more in depth so you can create whatever you please.

      I still await amassing enough of a fortune to start my manufacturing plant to create, patent and produce my own designs. But in the mean time I have to fight off those who say "if it was such a great idea, someone would have made it by now..."
      • I've had a few "million dollar ideas" in my time:
        1. They have drive through windows at fast food restaurants, why not have them at doughnut/coffee shops? I saw my first drive through coffee shop about four months later.
        2. Build a universal remote control circuit inside the body of a Star Trek phaser or tricorder. I got this idea the year after TNG ended. Of course, it already exists [noveltytelephone.com].
        3. Same thing with my idea of a TV remote control finder. Press a button on the TV and the remote beeps.

        Sigh! Why can't I have m

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Bluesman (104513)

          I thought of a device that will send video output to my TV via an ATSC 8VSB signal. That exists too.

        • by socz (1057222)
          I actually have an idea for a remote control that doesn't exist yet. While there is something similar, it has of course been sloppily implemented.

          So that'll get made once I make my small fortune... stay tuned. :P


          -Socz
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Elektroschock (659467)

      In Fritz Lang's movie Metropolis Feder talks with the worker over a video telephone [switched.com]. The technology was operational in the thirties and presented, it just didn't happen. When cable TV was introduced the concept of a return channel was discussed, e.g. for home shopping.

  • by dangitman (862676) on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:42PM (#30898628)
    Sounds kind of like Ayn Rand's slashdot.org. Oh wait, we already have that.
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:43PM (#30898646)

    In France, by a guy named Caselli, called a Pantelegraph:
    http://www.telephonecollecting.org/caselli.htm [telephonecollecting.org]

  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:45PM (#30898670) Journal

    The author of TFA seems to have misunderstood what he has posted:

    Even the pages of books may be made of steel, though Edison regards nickel as a better substitute for paper”Why not?” asks Edison. “Nickel will absorb printer’s ink. A sheet of nickel one twenty-thousandth of an inch thick is cheaper, tougher, and more flexible than an ordinary sheet of book-paper. A nickel book, two inches thick, would contain 40,000 pages. Such a book would weigh only a pound. I can make a pound of nickel sheets for a dollar and a quarter.”

            Hereis a prospect of real culture for the masses Forty thousand pages in a volume! A single volume the equivalent in printing space of two hundred paper-leaved books of two hundred pages each! What a library might be placed between two steel covers and sold for, perhaps, two dollars!

    He wasn't talking about having a small device that could 'download' content remotely. He was just talking about using nickel as a substitute for paper, but the book would still essentially be a printed one and the content would be 'hard coded' in ink, albeit you'd still get a lot more pages in there.

    Either that or I'm missing something.

    • by ChinggisK (1133009) on Monday January 25, 2010 @09:01PM (#30898832)
      The author is saying that Edison's idea could give you a lot of books in one object, like a Kindle does; the relation he is drawing has nothing to do with downloadable content.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The author is saying that Edison's idea could give you a lot of books in one object

        reader's digest invented that, except they used a lossy compression format over a new storage medium.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dlenmn (145080)

      He wasn't talking about having a small device that could 'download' content remotely.

      Where did the author say that he was? I think the author's comparison to the kindle is just because they can store a lot of words in a little space. Whether that is a valid comparison is another issue.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by m.ducharme (1082683)

      Either that or I'm missing something.

      Just an ear for metaphor and simile.

    • by elronxenu (117773)

      The problem is that selling two hundred books for $2 does not provide an adequate income for the publisher. Even if the manufacturing cost was only $1, and the publisher is nominally making 100% profit, they're making a lot less revenue than if they could sell, say, 200 books individually for $2 per book.

      So I expect that was one reason the idea was never developed. If it had been, the publishers would never have supported it. They might have tried to make it illegal. The product would have become popular

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Monday January 25, 2010 @08:50PM (#30898726) Homepage

    ...was breaking up your article into four arbitrary pages on the web.

    Or at least, I *hope* that's what people will think in the future.

  • by icebike (68054) on Monday January 25, 2010 @09:02PM (#30898846)

    Using Slashdot to hype your own damn blog!

    • by isomer1 (749303) on Monday January 25, 2010 @09:51PM (#30899208)
      Unfortunately the Slashdot story submission process almost requires you to post the stories on your own site. The problem is that the main url for the story must be unique among all story submissions, but the writeup must also be decent (yes that second point is debatable). So if any of the bagillion other slashdot readers submits the story before you, you're out of luck. And if they write a crappy one sentence description the story gets rejected and that original url is permablocked but the submission process. The process naturally selects the autobloggers that provide a unique url (typically to their own site) and provide a good (read inflammatory) description.
      • by dangitman (862676)

        Really? Why would it be designed like that? (I know, this is slashdot, technology and information design is not a strong point)

        Do you have a citation for this that can confirm this is how it works?

        • Search Engine Optimization. URLs containing keywords will cause the page to be ranked much higher.

        • by isomer1 (749303)
          I would guess the reason is simply to reduce the huge number of story submissions that the editors must wade through.

          The reason I happen to know about it is that I attempted to submit a story a few days ago and ran in to this exact problem. The main url I wanted to link to was: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8476381.stm [bbc.co.uk]. Another slashdotter had already submitted the link, but included only a tiny one sentence blurb. The result was that the story was killed and the url can not be used for new submis
          • by dangitman (862676)

            I would guess the reason is simply to reduce the huge number of story submissions that the editors must wade through.

            How would this reduce the number of story submissions?

            The reason I happen to know about it is that I attempted to submit a story a few days ago and ran in to this exact problem. The main url I wanted to link to was: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8476381.stm [bbc.co.uk] [bbc.co.uk]. Another slashdotter had already submitted the link, but included only a tiny one sentence blurb. The result was that the story was killed and the url can not be used for new submissions.

            What proof do you have that the previous submission was the reason your story was "killed"?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Nah, just leave the main URL blank and it will go through, even if someone has sent in a crappy submission before you. Or find another source to use as your main link (pretty much everything gets reported on several different sites these days). But do NOT try to rewrite AP or Reuters stories. I think their EULA thingy is BS, but Slashdot seems to feel otherwise, so don't even bother and don't link directly to them, either. You can almost always find a better source than them, anyhow, if you Google the s

    • by CompMD (522020)

      In Soviet Russia, blog hypes yo...wait a second...

  • Hellschreiber (Score:5, Informative)

    by leighklotz (192300) on Monday January 25, 2010 @09:08PM (#30898890) Homepage

    Hellscrhreiber was used in the 1930's. It uses a font to send text over a wire (or radio) link, as off-on pulses for pixels.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellschreiber [wikipedia.org]

    Some hams still use it, for kicks. It's got good performance in noise (weak signal mode).

    • Re:Hellschreiber (Score:4, Informative)

      by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Monday January 25, 2010 @11:11PM (#30899706) Journal

      Some hams still use [Hellschreiber}, for kicks. It's got good performance in noise (weak signal mode).

      Easy on your transmitter too (low duty rate) and a pretty narrow bandwidth (75Hz), but slow (35WPM) compared to PSK31. Hell does have a couple of big advantages, though, one being that the operator is in the translation process and can interpret when the reception gets dodgy. Another is that, being a facsimile process, the sender can use any font he/she chooses. And it sounds cool [wb8nut.com], too--sort of like crickets.

      KJ6BSO

  • by Brett Johnson (649584) on Monday January 25, 2010 @10:08PM (#30899310)

    Side note: Popular Science used the article to introduce a service in which readers could get access to mainframe programs by filling out forms with input data and mailing them to PopSci, which would then run [the] program and send the results back in a S.A.S.E. the reader had supplied. It may have been the least real-time approach to computing in the history of the universe.

    Edward waits impatiently for the letter carrier to arrive. "Where is he?", Edward musses, checking his watch.

    Every day this week, Edward had rifled through the mail as soon as it had arrived, hoping to see that special envelope. And every day this week, the postman brought only bills and grocery store circulars.

    But today - certainly today - would be the day he would receive the results of his climate modeling simulation. It just had to come today!

    Edward sees the postman coming down the street. His mailbag seems a bit heavier today ... Could it be? Why doesn't he walk faster!?

    Finally, the mailman reaches Edward's house and pulls out a bundle of letters. Edward anxiously grabs the lot from the hands of the postman. One of the envelopes is notably thick; Edward pulls it out and checks the return address. "YES!", he exclaims, seeing it was from Popular Science. He hands back the rest of the pile and dashes up the stairs with his precious packet.

    Edward gives himself a paper cut opening the envelope, but is oblivious to the pain. His mind is focused on one thing - the test results: "Is global warming real?" Surely these results will show it beyond any reasonable doubt!

    Examining the first page, Edward's heart sinks...

    climate.c: In function 'main':
    climate.c:75: error: syntax error before '}' token

    "FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU...."

    • by Bluesman (104513) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:48AM (#30900342) Homepage

      So Edward fixes the bugs in his program, and a month later, receives a similar letter. More cautious now, he opens it to find that the letter contains real output this time:

      "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine."

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      eventually, politically motivated hackers break into his mailbox and start publishing his letters to his friends talking smack about some other guy's climate modeling program....

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We offered that at my university in the late 1980s. Students from some jungle overseas could post in forms with mainframe code on them (COBOL rather than C of course), they would be typed in, run, and the listings posted back to them. This was a painstaking way to get a correspondance degree in Computer Science. Some time later, having a personal computer was made a requirement of the course.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by niks42 (768188)
      Not so different from so-called cafeteria systems of the 60s and 70s, when we poor students used to submit our deck of punch cards at the Ops counter in the machine room, and pick the deck up and associated printout from our pigeon hole the following morning. Even after terminals arrived, we still picked up printout from Ops well into the 80s. When IBM started cost reducing in the UK, more remote locations didn't have a laser printer, so anything printed nicely was delivered in the mail.

      Compilers for cafe

    • Well, that is still better than 42... I guess.
  • In 1911, Thomas Edison bragged that he could make a 40,000-page book by printing the pages on thin pieces of metal

    Man, how many blades? That Gillette guy is gonna shit himself.

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/33930 [theonion.com]

  • by feesa (1729776)
    He seems to be still coming into the picture every day
  • "Hey, is this metal? I've got a bet with Joe."

  • First thought that popped into my mind when I read about the Edison book was the Orange Catholic Bible.

    Which brings up a related question for me. A bible the size of the OC Bible couldn't be physically thumped, so you can't call Orange Catholics "bible thumpers." "Bible plinkers" maybe?
  • "Fiche" technology (Score:2, Informative)

    by Tablizer (95088)

    Article: When did the basic idea become practical? In the late 1960s and early 1970s, libraries got excited about PCMI and similar technologies-collectively known as "ultrafiche"-and began using them to cram massive amounts of information into small spaces. But the trend lasted only a few years. By then, I assume, it became clear that the future was digitization, not miniaturization.

    That's not entirely accurate. Variations of "fiche" technology were quite common in university libraries. When doing reports w

  • In dash records (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I listened to a lot of tunes in a friend's car way back when, that had an in dash record player. It was in a 64 (IIRC) Buick "deuce and a quarter" or 225. Worked OK, did skip on really nasty bumps, but less then what you might think.

  • How old is the author of this article?
    They seem to think that all of these things only finally got workable in the 90s, yet in many of the cases there was a perfectly working substitute in place in the 80s, 70s, or even earlier.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by hrimhari (1241292)

      That or there was a little lack of Google skills after all. The article completely neglects portable CRT TVs over LCD ones. Took me 5 minutes to find a more verbose list. [guenthoer.de]

  • Anyone else notice that they give 2 examples of 1965 prices and their 2010 equivalents? From TFA:

    The portable TV is $200 ($1400 in 2010 dollars). The VCR is $400 ($2700 in 2010 dollars).

    Um, anyone else think it's funny that the average car cost $2,650 in 1965 and $26,500 in 2010, a median home cost $21,000 in 1965 and $210,000 in 2010 and yet the government figures claim prices rose 7 times?

    How'd they do that? That's because in 1965 you bought a car. But in 2010 you bought a car, an airbag (which is counted as extra because it wasn't on the 1965 version), and anti-lock brakes, and long la

  • Cold weld? (Score:3, Funny)

    by proverbialcow (177020) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:05AM (#30903522) Journal

    "Um..yeah, I'd like to return this book. I was making a cake, and the recipe spreads over opposite sides of a page, and as you can clearly see, the pages stick together from 'Mix dry ingredients together in large bowl' all the way through to the Book of Revelations. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until after I'd already added the brimstone and the lake of burning sulphur, and it was the worst birthday my five-year-old ever had."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The FAX machine was invented in 1843. How a 1930's FAX machine could be considered "early" escapes me.

Receiving a million dollars tax free will make you feel better than being flat broke and having a stomach ache. -- Dolph Sharp, "I'm O.K., You're Not So Hot"

Working...