What really is the next best thing to sliced bread?

On the Ball column by Craig Lindsay, Nov. 4 Grand Forks Gazette.

There have been many great inventions in the last 100 years or so from the washing machine (1908) to the television (1924) to the pacemaker (1926) to the ballpoint pen (1938) to the jet airliner (1958).

In fact, sliced bread was invented in 1928. What did they say everything was the greatest thing since sliced bread before that? I have no idea.

The nuclear reactor was invented in 1951 and the laser came nine years later.

Medical inventions could be the most beneficial as who can imagine life before X-rays (1895), penicillin (1928) or blood transfusions (1907). Actually the writers of the HBO series The Knick do a pretty good job on a show about a hospital in New York near the turn of the 19th century. Basically anything regarding medical treatment beyond a bandage ends up being a casualty. They use a foot pump to vacuum blood out. It’s kind of gory.

The first X-ray image was produced by German physicist Wilhelm Rontgen, who did it by accident. Rontgen was trying to see if cathode rays could penetrate glass. He forgot to put a screen in front of one of the glowing tubes and it left an impression on a piece of cardboard. When I mess up at work all I ever get is an earful.

Rontgen named the rays that caused the glow X-rays because of their unknown nature. He took a radiograph (the first X-ray) of his wife’s left hand on Dec. 22, 1895.

The discovery transformed medicine almost over night. Of course, back then it was a little different than now. It apparently took 90 minutes to get the image whereas now it takes 90 milliseconds using modern X-ray machines. Who could keep still for that long, especially if you had a broken bone?

The machine also produced a radiation dose more than 1,500 times great than today’s dosage. Back then the effects of radiation weren’t very well known.

Other famous inventors of the time Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison both did their own tests of X-rays and radiation. In fact, Edison’s assistant Clarence Dally liked to test the X-ray tubes on his own hands causing him to first lose his arms (by amputation) and then his life to skin cancer.

Many other scientists, physicians and inventors also told stories of burns, hair loss and worse in technical journals of the time.

Thankfully, nowadays the exposure time and amount of radiation is much less.

As for other life-altering inventions, beer traces back to ancient Mesopotamia. It took a little while for mankind to invent television and hockey so people had something to do while drinking said beer.

Electronics has probably had the most impressive progression in history. The first computers were invented in the 1940s and would fill a room.

The first electronic programmable computer, called ENIAC, came out in 1943. Programs had to be written into it and mechanically set into the machine with manual resetting of plugs and switches. The high speed memory was limited to 20 words (about 80 bytes). ENIAC cost $500,000 and weighed 30 tons. It wasn’t until a couple of decades later that humanity saw real progress to today’s age where we can check Facebook on our cell phones anywhere and at anytime.

The first computer game (Spacewar) came out in 1962; the ubiquitous mouse was invented in 1964; the original Internet, called ARPAnet (no relation to Skynet) came out in 1969; the first mobile phone came out in 1977; the first home computer, the IBM PC, was released in 1981; the actual World Wide Web started in 1990; and Wi-Fi, which allowed cell phone users to access the Internet from most places, 1997.

The cell phone is probably my pick for top invention of the last 50 years. To basically have a computer in your pocket that is able to access the Internet from almost anywhere using either Wi-Fi or phone networks. Texting has also come a long way and made communication much easier for people whether friends or family. I remember the old days of the rotary dial phone and no answering machine wondering if that special someone called back or if your friends are going out but you haven’t seen them. Now if you don’t hear from someone in five minutes you wonder if they’re mad at you, or if they’re just busy, or maybe they’re charging their phone. I guess that’s progress.

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