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Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

8 Facts About John Logie Baird, Who Invented the Mechanical Television 90 Years Ago

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Last night’s episode of The X-Files was brought to you by John Logie Baird. The same goes for Sunday night’s episode, the NFL Championship games that preceded it, and every other television series, movie, documentary, mockumentary, home shopping network, late-night infomercial, or anything else you’ve ever watched on a television set. Because it’s John Logie Baird who invented the mechanical television set in the first place, which he unveiled to the world 90 years ago today. Here are eight facts about the man behind the moving images.

1. HE WAS A BORN INVENTOR.

Even as a child, Baird—who was born in Helensburgh, Scotland—showed great aptitude for innovation. As a youngster, he facilitated easier communication with a few of his best friends by setting up a rudimentary telephone exchange from his bedroom that would allow him to quickly connect with his buddies. 

2. HE NEVER GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE.

After graduating from Larchfield Academy, Baird attended the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College, followed by the University of Glasgow. It was during his college years that World War I broke out, forcing Baird to suspend his studies. Because he was plagued by health problems throughout his life, he was deemed unfit for active duty. So he took a job as a superintendent engineer at Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company, and never looked back.

3. HIS TELEVISION PROTOTYPE CONTAINED A NUMBER OF HOUSEHOLD ITEMS.

Building upon the work of the many scientists who had developed different versions and components of the television set before him—including Alexander Bain, Arthur Korn, and Paul Gottlieb Nipkow—Baird used whatever items he could find to begin building a prototype for his mechanical television, including an old hatbox, some bicycle lights, a pair of scissors, darning needles, glue, and sealing wax.

Google Doodle

4. SELFRIDGES CUSTOMERS GOT AN EARLY PEEK AT WHAT WAS TO COME.

Fans of Mr. Selfridge know that London’s famed department store loved to put on a show. In 1925, Gordon Selfridge, Jr. heard about Baird’s experiments and persuaded him to spend three weeks giving personal demonstrations of the technology to the store’s customers. Baird was paid £25.00 (about $35) per week for the gig.

The store sent out a circular, which stated:

Selfridge’s
Present the First Public
Demonstration of Television
In the Electrical Section (First Floor)
Television is to light what telephony is to sound-
it means the INSTANTANEOUS transmission of
a picture, so the observer at the “receiving”
end can see, to all intents and purposes, what is a
cinematograph view of what is happening at the
“sending” end.

Though the store was packed with curious onlookers throughout the three-week period, the response was mostly disappointment.

5. SOME PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS INSANE.

On October 2, 1925, Baird managed to successfully transmit the first television picture with a greyscale image. Eager to share his news with the world, Baird visited the offices of the Daily Express newspaper and asked to speak to the news editor. The editor's reply? “For God's sake, go down to reception and get rid of a lunatic who's down there. He says he's got a machine for seeing by wireless! Watch him—he may have a razor on him.”

6. A REPORTER FROM THE TIMES DIDN’T THINK MUCH OF HIS INVENTION.

After tinkering with the technology a bit more, Baird presented his television—known as a “televisor”—to members of the Royal Institution on January 26, 1926. A reporter from The Times was also present, and wasn’t super impressed, stating: “The image as transmitted was faint and often blurred.” Fortunately, he did concur that Baird’s invention “substantiated a claim” that broadcasting pictures over a distance was possible.

7. HE’S RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FIRST TRANSATLANTIC TELEVISION BROADCAST.

Over the next several years, Baird continued to make improvements to his televisor, and kept increasing the distance that it could transmit content. In 1927, he managed to transmit an image a total of 438 miles between London and Glasgow. On February 9, 1928, his Baird Television Development Company produced the first transatlantic television broadcast, from London to New York. In 2015, a rare recording of this broadcast was going to be made available for sale to the public; an anonymous donor stepped in to stop that from happening.

8. HE INVENTED THE 3D TELEVISION, TOO.

Even with all those firsts, Baird kept pushing for more. On August 10, 1928, he demonstrated the first 3D television, which he called “stereovision.” “By applying the stereoscope principle to television, it has now become possible to transmit television images with all the appearance of depth and solidity; and, by a further combination of colored television with stereoscopic television, the complete illusion of images in natural colors, and with depth and solidity becomes possible,” wrote the Radio Times in November of 1928. “All this has been recently demonstrated in the Baird Laboratories.”

Baird passed away on June 14, 1946, at the age of 57.

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geography
Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
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Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

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The Body
11 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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