The Most Inventive Decade in History

“Women have no government.”

—Victoria Woodhull, American activist, born September 23, 1838

The Most Inventive Decade in History

GE H series Gas TurbineReading the superb second volume of Vaclav Smil’s masterful account of the invention and development of the key technologies of the 20th century. Transforming the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations and Their Consequences. It’s an amazing story. All were invented before 1900 (most of them in the incredible decade of the 1880s): internal combustion, electric light and power, radio, telephony, cinema, sound recording, etc, .

The 20th century perfected and vastly extended the scope and scale of the technical revolution, leaving little in material culture and everyday life untouched. The key comparison is between how alien 1900 would seem to a person from 1800 versus how recognizable much of the world of the year 2000 would be to someone from 1900. We continue to depend on 19th century inventions, and are likely to do so for many years to come.


Today’s Last Word belongs to German industrialist Robert Bosch, 1861–1942, a key figure in the development of the automobile industry (Bosch Spark Plugs). He joins my roll of honor of industrialists who took their responsibility to the community seriously. Bosch not only took care of his own workers (he was one of the first industrialists in Germany to introduce the eight-hour work day), he also supported social security for all German workers. He did not want to profit from armaments contracts awarded to his company during World War I, and donated millions to charities.


Please join us for the first Fall 2013 21st Century Business Roundtable in Northampton tomorrow 6:00–8:00PM in the Community Room at the Hampton Court Apartments, 10 Hampton Avenue. Bring your business and technical questions and crowdsource solutions with our talented, knowledgeable community. Refreshments provided. 21st Century Business Roundtable


Grandville Autre Monde ZooHumans with Multiple Genomes are Pretty Common
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is the transfer of genes between organisms in a manner other than traditional reproduction. It is common among single-celled organisms, and may be the dominant form of genetic transfer between species. It is the primary reason for bacterial antibiotic resistance, for instance. It also ruins the simple picture of the descent of species as a tree, because it is difficult to trace phylogeny once the prevalence of HGT is recognized.

Now scientists have discovered that human beings with multiple genomes are a lot more common than anyone thought. The typical mechanisms of genome transfer between individuals appears to be between twins in the womb, or between mothers and their babies, who interchange blood and genetic material.

Horizontal gene transfer makes the notion of a species kind of unstable; human chimeras show that we’re not quite as individual, in a genetic sense, as we seem. (See the story of the woman who bore three children, but was, genetically speaking, the mother of only only one of them.)
DNA Double Take

The Last Word

“I don’t pay good wages because I have a lot of money; I have a lot of money because I pay good wages.”
—Robert Bosch, German businessman, born September 23, 1861

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