Edison Lights up Wall Street

About this time of the year, all the way back in 1882, Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station started the first electric power utility which was on Wall Street in New York City.  Not only did Edison invent the light bulb, but his Edison Illuminating Company also designed the Pearl Street Station: the first-ever U.S. commercial central power station. The station was located at 255-257 Pearl Street in Manhattan and it was powered by coal.

Remember that … the natural gas industry viewed him as a competitor to them on street lighting.  They did not see power generation as a business as of that time, after all, it hadn’t existed as a business yet!

This original Pearl Street Station operated for eight years before it burned down in 1890. The only original dynamo that survived the fire is now kept at the Greenfield Village Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

In addition to electricity, Edison also made use of the steam byproduct the plant generated, providing steam to local manufacturers and heat to nearby buildings.  His first start ultimately became Consolidated Edison who still operates a steam system based upon this early implementation.  This Pearl Street Station began providing electricity to 508 customers in New York and a total of 10,164 street lamps and the first inside lamps as well.  Among those electric lamps were 106 lamps at the offices of J.P. Morgan’s investment bank Drexel, Morgan & Co. Morgan had been one of Edison’s largest financial backers.

One of my prior blogs pointed out that some key investors were from the natural gas industry because they viewed Edison’s electric lamp as a competitor to their lighting business.  The more things change the more they remain the same.

Keep it Simple Stupid

This is such good advice in so many situations.  After all, you can so easily see examples where the temptation to solve complex problems  “the pursuit of the perfect becomes the enemy of the good.”  We have so many smart people who will expound on the theoretical constructs for the solution.  As I have pointed out in the past, our space agency spent millions of dollars trying to design a ballpoint pen that would write reliably in zero gravity.  The Russians simply chose to use a pencil.  I rest my case.

However, you can also offer solutions to complex problems that are too simple.  Albert Einstein is known for the advice that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.  For the record, we are all living with advice on COVID that is too simple: keep six feet apart.

The medical community knows this is only a simple guideline.  Choral singers have been proven to throw droplets for 20 feet.  Singers in church pews are almost as powerful.  So, just forcing people to sit in alternate rows and thereby distance six feet apart in the church is doing nothing to avoid infection if you allow people to sing in the pews.

The fact is that six feet is just not adequate at all if people are not wearing masks.  If you need proof of what I am saying please watch this research: Watch the video on Facebook here. 

We seek simple answers to complex problems.  We need to rethink our answers to include more than simple guidelines.  I am personally angered by the businesses we think we can open with masks and 6-foot distancing.  I am just waiting for people to wake up and realize that it is not just about six feet and a mask.  There is also a time element for the exposure.

We should not encourage any gatherings we have not proven are safe. If you need proof of what I am suggesting, take a closer look at Israel.  They had COVID under control.  They then opened the schools and the results have been disastrous.

Einstein was right again.

Cut to the Chase

I grew up just as silent movies were going out of vogue.  TV had not been invented yet for the masses, and I would go to the movie theatre in part to get out of the heat (they advertised “ice-cold air” inside because they did that with air handlers that were loaded with actual blocks of ice.  And, for those of you who love trivia, that is where we get the expression tons of AC load since this was the number of tons of ice that the air handler would melt in a 24 hour period of operation.

The title of this blog comes from the period of silent movies when the admonition for good film making was to be careful not to bore the audiences with long plot lines and forcing everyone to read so many subtitles.  Wikipedia reports that this originated with inexperienced screenwriters or directors who would pad the film with unnecessary dialogue (lots of subtitles).  This bored the audience and prolonged the time before the exciting chase scene. Cut to the chase was a phrase used by movie studio executives to mean that the film should get to the interesting scenes without unnecessary delays. The phrase is now widely used, and means “get to the point.”

I recently received a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States through the mail.  My initial thought was this must be in 5 point type but no, it is entirely legible.  My thought behind that was “well this must be some kind of synopsis of these documents” … after all … with all the talk about the Constitution, this can’t possibly include all of it including the amendments!  Wrong again … it was all in there.

So, I started to read it again after all these years since elementary school civics classes.  Wow.  This was “succinct” writing for sure.  I thought I wrote in a densely packed format.  These documents exemplify cutting to the chase.  Yes, this style can leave some wiggle room for interpretation, but in general, it was very clearly written.  The spirit of the law seems eminently clear, especially when these documents are taken together and presented sequentially.

For the record, the Constitution has about 7,600 words which can be read by most people in 30 minutes and could be printed on 15 pages including all the amendments.  If someone was to read it to you it would take less than one hour.  Contrast that with what our elected officials write (or more correctly what the lobbyists behind the legislation write) which amasses typically to more than 1,000 pages for bills to cover issues such as health care, climate, etc.  How can anyone be expected to read such large documents to know for sure what is buried within each in the fine print?

Since I write a lot, I am constantly reminded of the admonition from Mark Twain:  “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one!”  Perhaps it is that level of care when cutting to the chase that shows you truly value to reader’s perspective.


Beam me up Scotty there is no intelligent sign of life!

Oh, how I miss Star Trek.  Even though it portrayed a future period of space travel, it presented many critical questions about race and culture that we face today.  I remember the one episode titled “Let that be your last battlefield” that had two people from Cheron and Ariannus, both with half white and half black faces, but on opposite sides.  “When the ship arrives at Cheron, Spock can find no sign of intelligent life. Lokai and Bele realize they are each the only ones left of their peoples, who have completely annihilated themselves in the civil war. Enraged, they attack each other, their force fields threatening to damage the ship. Lokai breaks away, Bele pursues him, and the two eventually beam down to the planet. The bridge crew remark sadly on their unwillingness to give up their hate.”

Do I need to say more? As many of you know, I occasionally teach an adult Sunday School class and rely heavily on storytelling.  One of my favorites is that of a Native American child asking the Chief about what he was feeling inside himself.  He was perplexed by his emotions.

As the story goes, the Chief tells him there are two arguing wolves inside each of us.  One sees the good in people and life, is loving and caring.  The other hates people and harbors envy and strife.

The child then asks, which one wins the argument?  The Chief says it is the one you feed.

I rest my case.

Seeing is No Longer Believing

We all grew up with the phrase seeing is believing as kind of an obvious statement.  Few, if any of us learned that the phrase originated, at least as far as the written records show, from a 17th-century English clergyman, Thomas Fuller.  It was recorded as “Seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth.”  I am amazed at how many things we have taken for granted for decades are now thrown into doubt.

However, when taken as a continuum of bad behaviors in our frail human species they should not be a surprise at all.  After all, why would drugs be planted to apprehend someone you didn’t like?  Or, why are we surprised when some write scathing untrue things so that others can quote them as if they were facts, and frankly believe they are true.

Today’s fact-checkers point out that internet sites like www.bustatroll.org are almost pure satire and should be considered that.  However, things posted on that site are then quoted and used to support broader statements about what we should believe about them or an issue.  Perhaps worse yet, we now have “university” in the names of some sites that are not universities and of course “research institute” can be added to almost any online source even though they are far from certified academics.

Couple this with our technological capabilities to produce deep fakes and you have the formula for some truly manipulative media. Lately, I have seen some tricks performed on America’s Got Talent TV series that defy anything I can believe can actually be done.

Never the less, I know I am watching magic … I know I am being deceived.  My head throbs trying to explain it to my engineering mind.  But, I still know it is not true. Maybe we all should realize that the news cycle is prone to the same tricks.  Why are we so prone to believing what we are seeing?

That is where we are today:  Seeing is no longer believing … or at least it shouldn’t be.

Perhaps it is because that is what we want to believe.