The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

May 18, 2017

May 18, 1850

Oliver Heaviside (May 18, 1850 to February 3, 1925) ) was a mathematician and physicist whose work was important for modern civilization though at the time his amateur status impeded the recognition of his discoveries. Certain of his advances were summarized this way:

Heaviside discovered James Clerk Maxwell’s seminal Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism in 1873, and was so enthralled by the work that he quit his job the following year to devote himself to studying it full-time, moving back into his parents’ home in London. Despite his lack of knowledge beyond algebra and trigonometry, he soon grasped the essential points. Then “I set Maxwell aside and followed my own course, and I progressed much more quickly,” Heaviside later recalled. In the end, he reduced Maxwell’s equations from 20 equations in 20 variables, down to four vector equations in two variables. Those four equations, as every physicist now learns, describe the nature of static and moving electric charges and magnetic dipoles, as well as electromagnetic induction.

Regarding a related topic Heaviside wrote, and though I hate to quote things I do not understand, there is enough here to glimpse Heaviside's joke:

Prior to 1853 it is said to have been the current belief of those best qualified to judge, that to send two messages in opposite directions at the same time on a single line was an impossibility; for it was argued that the two messages meeting would get mixed up and neutralize each other more or less, leaving only a few stray dots and dashes as survivors, after the manner of Kilkenny cats...who devoured one another and left only their tails behind.

If that link stops working, I am quoting Heaviside, from Paul Nahin's Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age (2002).  Below, we rejoin
the sketch of his life in an APS article:

A product of Camden Town–the London slum that also produced Charles Dickens–the red-haired, diminutive Heaviside was one of four sons of a wood engraver and water color artist named Thomas Heaviside. Young Oliver fell ill with scarlet fever as a child, which left him partially deaf. His social skills seem to have suffered as a result: he did not get along with the other children ...[H]e dropped out at 16 to continue his schooling at home....

The article summarizes his life nicely. We include this incident to give a sense of the man.

[I]n 1887, he proposed that the use of induction coils placed at regular intervals along telephone lines could produce that uniform inductance and thus greatly decrease the amount of distortion of signals transmitted along the lines. But Heaviside never patented his idea after his paper appeared in The Electrician. Years later, Michael Pupin of Columbia University and AT&T’s George Campbell built upon Heaviside’s earlier work. Pupin was awarded the patent in 1904. He offered to share the proceeds with Heaviside, but the latter man refused unless AT&T also gave him full recognition for the innovative idea–even though he was nearly destitute by this point.

Click the link. His life is interesting.

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