10 Electrifying Facts About Nikola Tesla

By Napoleon Sarony - postcard (radiographics.rsna.org), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Nikola Tesla, who was born on this day in 1856, has long been a fascinating and enigmatic figure. While his contributions to science went underappreciated for years, his work is finally being recognized, and the compelling details of his personal life keep interest in him alive. Here are a few highlights from his intriguing life.

1. HE HAD A TREMENDOUS TALENT FOR VISUALIZING INVENTIONS—BUT WAS ALSO PRONE TO OTHER STRANGE VISIONS.

Tesla was able to visualize objects, including inventions he was building, in his head, down to the minutest detail. His method of working was pretty unorthodox compared to other inventors, as he rarely created sketches or drawings, relying instead on the power of his own imagination to work out details. Beginning in early childhood, Tesla experienced flashes of light, which were sometimes followed by inspiration or solutions to problems. These visions could sometimes take on the character of a spiritual experience, but Tesla, a man of science, discounted any such interpretation, valuing them only for their scientific benefit. 

2. HE PIONEERED MANY SIGNIFICANT MODERN INVENTIONS BEYOND ALTERNATING CURRENT.

For many, Tesla is associated with the “War of the Currents”—waged with onetime employer and later rival Thomas Edison—over the form of electricity that would become standard. Edison championed direct current, or DC, while Tesla and ally George Westinghouse fought for alternating current, or AC. AC, of course, eventually won out over DC, despite Edison’s attempts to malign Tesla’s invention by pushing the electric chair as a method of execution to show how dangerous AC was. However, Tesla also conducted pioneering work in electric light, electric motors, radio, x-ray, remote control, radar, wireless communications, and robotics, and created his famous transformer, the Tesla coil. Tesla was in many cases not properly recognized for his contributions, with other inventors receiving credit for improving on what he began. He obtained around 300 patents in his lifetime.

3. HE HAD EXTREMELY REGULAR, EVEN OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE, HABITS, AND WAS A GERMAPHOBE.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Throughout his life, Tesla displayed a formidable work ethic, keeping a regimented schedule. Some claim he slept only two hours a night. He often took his dinner at the same table at Delmonico’s in New York, and later at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. He had an all-consuming fear of germs and required a stack of 18 napkins. He was obsessed with the number three, and was prone to carrying out compulsive rituals related to three. When he was young, he would develop a fit at the sight of pearls, and couldn’t bear to touch hair.

4. HE CLAIMED TO HAVE NEARLY CREATED AN EARTHQUAKE IN MANHATTAN.

Tesla’s electro-mechanical oscillator, a steam-powered electrical generator, was developed as a possible replacement for inefficient steam engines used to turn generators, but couldn't compete with steam turbines. Tesla reportedly regaled friends with a tale in which his experiments with the oscillator at his lab at 46 East Houston Street in Manhattan set off vibrations that generated a resonance in several neighboring buildings, shaking the ground and prompting calls to police. When the machine began oscillating at the resonance frequency of his own building, Tesla surmised that he was in danger of creating an earthquake, and allegedly smashed the device with a sledgehammer. The claims—which earned the machine the nickname “Tesla’s Earthquake Machine”—were later debunked by Mythbusters (the team felt vibrations from hundreds of feet away using a re-creation of Tesla's machine, but didn't create any earthquakes).

5. HE ELECTRIFIED BUTTERFLIES AND BLEW OUT POWER STATIONS IN COLORADO.

Tesla moved his operations near Colorado Springs in 1899 in order to take advantage of the great amount of space available for experimentation and the free supply of AC power he had been offered there by the El Paso Power Company—and because he believed the thin atmosphere might be conducive to his goal of wireless power transmission. Experiments in a lab with an 80-foot tower, 142-foot metal mast, and enormous Tesla coil formed massive bolts of artificial lightning that supposedly created thunder and errant sparks 15 miles away, surprising people and frightening horses, and surrounding butterflies with halos of St. Elmo’s fire. The bolts also blew out dynamos at a local power company and caused a blackout. It’s not clear if Tesla succeeded in the wireless transmission of power, however.

6. HE WAS A SNAPPY DRESSER AND ATTRACTED THE LADIES.

By all accounts, Tesla was a striking individual. At 6 foot 2 and just over 140 pounds, he was very tall and slender, with dark, deep-set eyes. He was also a fashionable and fastidious dresser, and while he could be reclusive while deeply engaged in work, he was fascinating company when he felt like being social. Not only did he attract the friendship of famous people like Mark Twain, but he also drew the attentions of women, some of whom confessed to being “madly in love” with him. Much of Tesla’s personal life remains a mystery, however, and he never married.

7. HE DIDN’T REALLY SIT IN A ROOM SURROUNDED BY LIGHTNING BOLTS.

That famous photo of Tesla sitting on a chair in his laboratory and calmly examining his notes while tremendous bolts of lightning flash around him was likely the result of a double exposure. Yet the image, taken at his Colorado lab and used as publicity to generate capital for new projects, captures the public’s fascination with a scientist whose prowess made him seem a magician to many. 

8. HE WANTED TO ILLUMINATE THE ENTIRE EARTH, LITERALLY.

Tesla believed that his work had the potential to light the Earth’s atmosphere, banishing darkness and bringing in a new era of light. He theorized that gases in Earth’s upper atmosphere were capable of carrying high-frequency electrical currents, and successful transmission of such currents there could create a “terrestrial night light” that would make shipping lanes and airports safer and illuminate whole cities. But like most of Tesla’s loftier aims, this goal was never realized, and its possibility remains unproven. 

9. THE SECRET PURPOSE OF HIS GIANT TOWER ON LONG ISLAND WAS THE WIRELESS TRANSMISSION OF POWER.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

As the 20th century arrived, Tesla was locked in a race with Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi to be the first to transmit messages across the Atlantic Ocean. Tesla began securing funding, much of it coming from financier J.P. Morgan, to build a wireless transmission station on Long Island with a massive, 186-foot tower. The station would be called Wardenclyffe. Tesla, however, had his own agenda. He wanted to use Wardenclyffe to fulfill his long-held dream of transmitting electricity wirelessly. When Marconi beat Tesla to the punch in 1901, transmitting the letter s across the Atlantic with much more modest equipment, Tesla was forced to reveal his ulterior motives to Morgan and to beg for additional funding to complete his tower. Morgan, however, indicated that he was no longer interested in the project and pulled his support. This move, along with other factors, would ultimately spell the project’s doom. 

10. WARDENCLYFFE IS BEING TURNED INTO A MUSEUM.

Wardenclyffe fell into disrepair after the collapse of Tesla’s ambitions there and destruction of its tower in 1917. The main building, designed by architect Stanford White, remained and was alternately left abandoned or used for industrial purposes. Nonprofit group The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe began a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2012 with the goal of buying the property, and closed the deal in 2013. A plan is underway to convert the site into a Tesla museum and science education center, with work ongoing. The site is not yet open to the public, but visitors are allowed for special events, like Tesla’s birthday celebration in July. 

12 Back-to-School Products to Add to Your Shopping List

Kritchanut/iStock via Getty Images
Kritchanut/iStock via Getty Images

Before you know it, your long days (and often longer nights) will be booked with group projects, research papers, and probably some social events, too. It can be difficult to adjust to the sudden onslaught of new responsibilities that come during back-to-school season, but it can help if you feel prepared. Take a look at our 2019 must-have school supplies list to ensure that you’re well-equipped for whatever the fall semester throws at you.

1. Rocketbook Everlast Fusion; $35-$37

Rocketbook everlast fusion
Amazon

Do yourself and the environment a favor and check out the Rocketbook Everlast Fusion, a notebook with 42 reusable pages that will prevent you from ever having to buy another sheet of paper. With seven different page templates for planning, listing, goal-setting, note-taking, sketching, scheduling, and sharing big ideas, the Rocketbook is perfect for students of all ages and disciplines. It comes with one erasable Pilot FriXion pen, and you can also use any other Pilot FriXion utensils on it, markers and highlighters included. What happens when you’ve written on all 42 pages and you’d like to save your work? Simply scan your pages with the free Rocketbook app and upload them to the cloud service of your choice—Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, Slack, iCloud, and more. You can get the executive-sized, 6-inch-by-8.8-inch Rocketbook for $35, or the regular letter-sized, 8.5-inch-by-11-inch version for $37.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Bob Ross Agenda; $16

Bob Ross agenda
Amazon

Because Bob Ross understands the importance of going with the flow, this calendar agenda lists only the days of the week, but no dates. Don’t feel like writing anything down in October? Skip it completely without the guilt of seeing blank pages in your planner. Each two-page spread pairs the days of the week on one side with a picturesque, tranquil Bob Ross painting on the other. You can also personalize your calendar entries with Bob Ross-themed stickers included in the back of the agenda, featuring catchphrases like “Be a gentle whisper,” “Just relax and watch it happen,” and “Let’s get crazy!”

Buy it: Amazon

3. Wild Rose Large Planner; $37

papersource wild rose large planner
Paper Source

For those happy to adhere to a date-specific planner, here’s a lovely gold-accented floral option from Paper Source. The 7-inch-by-8.5-inch agenda includes both monthly and weekly calendar pages, so you can see the big-picture overview of your month as well as your day-by-day tasks. There are pages for notes, important dates, and contacts, plus a pocket folder, ruler, and quotes to inspire you. And, because we all love a bit of decoration, there are sticker sheets in the back that feature dainty doodles of flowers, champagne glasses, and more.

Buy it: Paper Source

4. Bluetooth Portable Keyboard; $45-$55

Bluetooth plugable portable foldable keyboard
Amazon

Unburden yourself (and your possibly overstuffed tote bag) from the need to carry around both your tablet and laptop by investing in this portable Bluetooth keyboard that folds into a package smaller than a paperback book and has separate compatibility modes for Android, iOS, and Windows. You only have to charge it once every few weeks, but don’t worry about forgetting—you can always plug it right into your device with the included USB cord. The handy gadget also comes with a case, which doubles as a stand for your electronic device. Though the 11.5-inch-long standard-sized keyboard might be the first choice for those with standard-sized fingers, there’s also a 10-inch compact option for fans of especially miniature things.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Park Foundation Water Bottle; $40

National Parks Foundation water bottle
DICK'S Sporting Goods

These hip Hydro Flask water bottles are each decorated with a design of one of America’s most cherished national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Joshua Tree, and Olympic National Parks. The 21-ounce, stainless-steel bottles feature double-walled vacuum insulation that will not only keep your beverage hot for up to 12 hours or cold for 24, but will also prevent condensation from forming on the bottle and soaking whatever park pamphlets you’ve got tucked inside your backpack.

Buy it: DICK’S Sporting Goods

6. Herschel Backpack; $56-$80

herschel navy backpack
Amazon

Herschel backpacks have become a standard for students, professionals, and practically all other people, in part because there’s a color or pattern to match every unique personality. In addition to representing your individuality, they’ll also last you many years, keep your shoulders comfortable with padded straps, and provide you with the perfect amount of space to store your laptop, schoolbooks, case files, overnight toiletries, and snacks. Peruse Amazon’s extensive collection to find out which one best fits you.

Buy it: Amazon

7. PacSafe Anti-Theft Backpack; $130

pacsafe anti-theft backpack
Luggage Designers

If you’ve ever decided to crank out an essay or project in a café, you’re probably familiar with the quandary of needing a bathroom break but not wanting to lose your seat or leave your belongings unattended. Instead of asking a potentially untrustworthy stranger if they can watch your stuff, try PacSafe’s anti-theft backpack, which boasts lockable zippers and straps, so you can fasten your backpack right to your table; the fabric and straps contain wire mesh, so nobody will be able to cut them (without some serious tools, that is). The Nylon backpack can fit a 15-inch laptop and includes several inside pockets to help you stay organized; you can also detach the straps and carry it like a small briefcase using the handle on the side.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Syver Wireless Speaker and Earbuds; $100

wicked audio syver bluetooth speaker and earbuds
Wicked Audio

Music-streaming services like Spotify make it possible for you to create an epic soundtrack for your life virtually everywhere you go, whether it’s a simple walk between classes or a backyard barbecue with your roommates and 50 of your closest friends. Check out Wicked Audio’s Syver, a two-in-one device that includes a Bluetooth speaker and wireless earbuds so you can toggle seamlessly between personal listening and party listening. Enhanced bass and noise isolation ensure you’re hearing the music exactly as the artists intended it, and the devices are also waterproof, so they’re safe from spilled drinks, pools, inclement weather, and the toilet.

Buy it: Wicked Audio

9. Fineliner Pens; $9

taotree fineliner pens
Amazon

Taotree’s Fineliner pens are a bullet journaler’s best friend, but you don’t have to be a master of organization to take advantage of these 24 brightly colored, versatile utensils. You could use them to color-code your class notes, pair them with a coloring book for the ultimate de-stressing session, or design your own fine-ink drawings. They dry quickly, won’t bleed through your paper, and have a soft-edged triangular shape for easy gripping. With an average 4.5-star review on Amazon, these pens will add color and character to all of your written projects.

Buy it: Amazon

10. PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag; $20

packit freezable lunch bag
Amazon

With PackIt’s freezable lunch bag, you’ll never again have to jam ice packs around your meal-prepped containers—as long as you remember to pop the bag in the freezer the night before you’re planning to use it. The walls are insulated with a freezing gel that will refrigerate your food until you’re ready for lunch. It zips closed to keep the cold in, collapses for easy storage, and includes a plastic buckle on the top so you can easily clip it to your backpack or bag. It also comes in a lively assortment of designs like cartoon cats, unicorns, mermaids, and cherries (and, of course, many more traditional patterns like polka dots, stripes, and camouflage).

Buy it: Amazon

11. Magnetic Dry-Erase Board; $15-$54

magnetic dry-erase board
Amazon

Whether you need to leave chore-related messages on the fridge for your roommates or homework-related messages for yourself in your locker, Yuc has a magnetic dry-erase board in every size for every situation. The smallest is 12 inches by 8 inches, the largest is 29 inches by 21 inches, and there are even weekly and monthly options so you can see your schedule at eye level. The boards are stain- and wrinkle-resistant, and each comes with a rectangular magnetic eraser, plus five different-colored fine-tipped markers whose caps also double as magnetic erasers.

Buy it: Amazon

12. SnackSack Subscription Box; $25/month

SnackSack Subscription
Amazon

Since getting back into the swing of school is always busy and exhausting, it’s easy to forgo a commitment to healthy eating and instead reach for the nearest bag of Doritos to keep you going. The SnackSack subscription box will help you make sure that doesn’t happen (too often). Each month, you’ll receive a package with 11 to 14 carefully curated, deliciously satisfying healthy snacks like bars, cookies, chips, nuts, seeds, sweets, and popcorn to support you through every all-nighter and last-minute group project—and there are vegan and gluten-free options, too.

Buy it: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

12 Facts About Netflix, Recommended For You

kasinv/iStock Editorial via Getty Images Plus
kasinv/iStock Editorial via Getty Images Plus

Netflix has become the world’s intravenous line for filmed entertainment. And like any media empire, it has a few stories of its own to tell. Take a look at some lesser-known, non-buffering facts about the streaming giant.

1. Early Netflix subscribers got a lot of Chinese pornography.

Addict man at computer laptop watching porn internet addiction concept
OcusFocus/iStock via Getty Images

In 1998, Netflix was still in the business of selling as well as renting DVDs. To try and offer consumers something new, co-founder Marc Randolph decided to offer footage of President Bill Clinton’s Grand Jury testimony about his involvement with Monica Lewinsky. But according to the book Netflixed, the duplicating house had a mix-up: out of the 1000 customers who ordered Clinton's interview, a few hundred received discs full of hardcore Chinese pornography.

2. Netflix was originally called Kibble.

Choosing a name for the company was a drawn-out process. Directpix.com, Replay.com, and other names were considered; so was Luna.com, which was the name of Randolph’s dog. When the company was being incorporated, he named it Kibble.com until they could decide on something permanent.

3. Netflix executives used to make house calls.

From the beginning, Netflix has been preoccupied with seeing how users interact with its software in order to select titles. In the late 1990s, subscribers near the company’s location in Los Gatos, California were reached via telephone and asked a series of questions. Then staffers would ask if they could stop by to watch them use the site. Surprisingly, most agreed. Netflix brought them coffee, a small investment for gaining valuable information about their usage.

4. Netflix got Dennis Quaid to sing.

For a 2006-2007 publicity tour, Netflix decided to screen films in thematically-correct locations: For example, Field of Dreams was shown in the “real” Iowa cornfield-slash-baseball diamond featured in the movie. But the company also wanted actors to make appearances. Their approach: offer to let those with bands perform for the crowds. Kevin Costner, Bruce Willis, Dennis Quaid, and Kevin Bacon all agreed to the barter deal. Quaid and his band, The Sharks, played in New Orleans before a screening of his film The Big Easy.

5. Netflix has made a science out of spoilers.

Because so much of Netflix’s high-profile content can be “binged” in a single weekend, the company commissioned cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken to examine how spoilers affect a person’s viewing habits. McCracken identified classifications of spoiler-prone people by whether they ruin a plot twist intentionally or hold it over others. (Some people are “Coded Spoilers,” too self-aware to let anything slip. These people are your friends.) His verdict? Some people enjoy the power they get from having knowledge of spoilers. But if a show is good enough, knowing about key scenes won't dissuade viewers from watching.

6. Netflix staffers think you decide on a movie in two minutes.

Apple iPad displaying Netflix app, Black with Reflection
bmcent1/iStock Editorial via Getty Images

Netflix spends more than $150 million on improving their recommendation system every year, trying to arrange selections based on what they think you might like. That kind of personalized menu is necessary: The company estimates that users spend only two minutes browsing for a title before choosing one or opting for another diversion entirely.

7. Netflix staffers also think you might be kind of a liar. 

You can stop trying to impress Netflix with the streaming version of keeping Ulysses on your coffee table. In a 2013 WIRED interview, Carlos Gomez-Uribe—the company's vice president of product innovation from 2010 to 2016—noted that viewers often report viewing documentaries or esoteric foreign movies. “But in practice,” he said, “that doesn’t happen very much.”

8. the first "netflix original" was an abstract test footage short.

In order to test frame rates and how their streaming service handles different kinds of content, Netflix produced 11 minutes of test footage in 2011 that can be viewed by typing “example show” in their search engine. Cut together (as seen above), the shorts become a very strange, very abstract art film, with an unidentified man juggling and reciting Shakespeare. (But not, sadly, juggling while reciting Shakespeare.)

9. Netflix binge-watching might correlate with depression. 

A 2015 study by the University of Texas found that respondents who claimed to binge Netflix shows were more likely to suffer from depression, lack of self-control, or loneliness. The good news? The sample group was small—only 316 people—and the university’s definition of “binge-watching” was as low as two episodes. Amateurs. 

10. There’s a secret Netflix menu.

Netflix website showing on screen laptop with macbook pro at cafe
wutwhanfoto/iStock Editorial via Getty Images Plus

No, not that kind of secret menu. Pressing Shift + Alt + a left mouse click brings up a troubleshooting menu that allows you to adjust the bit rate of a stream so it doesn’t buffer. (On a Mac, it's Shift + Option + click.) The picture quality won’t be as good, but it’s better than a pixelated Demogorgon.

11. There was once a glitch in the Netflix matrix. 

In 2014, Netflix’s content descriptions became odd amalgamations of two different titles to create one completely nonsensical listing. The summaries were quickly fixed, but not before someone took several screen shots of the mishaps.

12. You'll soon be able to stream Netflix in a Tesla.


Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

In July 2019, Tesla founder Elon Musk informed Tesla owners they would soon be able to stream both Netflix and YouTube in their cars, an attractive option for anyone looking to keep passengers occupied. But there's a catch: The services only work when the cars are parked. The feature will be available in newer-model cars at a date to be determined.

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