Aardvark DailyNew Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 18th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.
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There's a thin line, they say, between genius and insanity.
Back in 1856, one of the brightest minds on the planet was born. A man who left a legacy of science that still forms the basis of some significant pieces of technology and who furthered our understanding of the world around us to a significant degree.
This man was Nikola Tesla, who would have turned 156 yesterday.
Although few can doubt his vision and brilliance, some of his contemporary followers have taken "the cult of Tesla" to an almost religious level and fail to understand that even the brightest of minds sometimes get stuff wrong.
I have no doubt that many of those reading this column will have marveled at many of Tesla's cool inventions.
If you have never seen a Tesla coil in real life then do yourself a favour and seek one out -- especially a very big one. They are an astonishing experience.
I know that I, and many others, have experimented with Tesla's unique turbine design for countless hours -- marveling at the simplicity and the levels of efficiency it delivered in the days before computer-optimised vaned turbines.
Even today, some of Tesla's plans are bearing fruit -- perhaps most recently in the form of plans for wireless recharging systems suitable for everything from your mobile phone to electric vehicles.
Even the power that flows from your 230V wall-socket owes a great deal to Tesla.
Back at the late 1800s, when the concept of reticulated electricity was just being taken seriously, Tesla promoted the concept of using alternating current rather than direct current.
Tesla's AC allowed the voltage to be easily boosted for transmission over longer distances but he faced fierce competition from Edison. It's well worth searching and reading up on the elephant demonstration -- a sorry moment in the history of technology.
These days however, you'll find armies of ill-educated, ill-informed idiots who revere Tesla as some kind of god. They believe his most important inventions were suppressed by successive governments. Here's a great example of the way scammers and hucksters seek to leverage Tesla's good work to promote their dubious pitches. (watch out -- this page is laced with nasty pop-ups and trapware).
Another reason for mentioning Tesla's birthday is the probable discovery of the Higgs Boson.
Back in 1937, Tesla proudly told the world that he had a theory which explained gravity. Even by the time he died in 1943, he had not released that theory and little supporting material was ever found.
Perhaps this marked his transition from genius to delusional but it became apparent that later in life, he came up with many ideas that were never likely to be turned into the practical reality that his AC generators and motors had been.
To this day, his "death ray" remains a work of fantasy and his ion-propelled aircraft has remained a "proof of concept" device, capable of working only with the lightest of frameworks tethered to a source of high-voltage electricity.
Perhaps many years of overwork, often with just two hours sleep per night, took their toll on Tesla's mind -- we just don't know.
It is undeniable that Tesla was a brilliant man. I find it sad to see how many deluded people prefer to use his brilliance as a way of scamming others out of their hard-earned money -- rather than simply acknowledging his fantastic gift to mankind.
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