(what follows is the reading I did at Richard Hull’s High Energy Amateur Science (HEAS) gathering in Richmond, VA on October 7, 2023. If you don’t care to read the whole thing, here’s an audio recording I made with my iPhone (no promises re: the quality). Photo above by David Rosignoli.
Tonight’s reading is in two parts.
Part 1 is the Foreword to the 2023 Edition of The Boy Who Invented Television:
“It’s an odd mission… but this seems to be my destiny in this life.”
I tossed that line off to a friend in March 2023.
At the time I was nearing the release of my second book, The Man Who Mastered Gravity– the biography of a mercurial figure named Thomas Townsend Brown.That book is now available from booksellers worldwide.
Some guys fly to the moon. Some guys start a company and make a billion bucks. Some guys become doctors or lawyers – that’s what my parents always expected of me.Some guys become auto mechanics, bakers, candlestick makers or Indian chiefs.
Some guys become writers and publish dozens of books.
And some guys… well, so far I’ve written/published two books.
It has only taken me fifty years.
Nobody is ever going to accuse me of being prolific.
How’s your summer going? Have you jumped on the BarbieHeimer cultural zeitgeist yet?
I’ve jumped on half of it.
I went to see Oppenheimer last week, and have already written a couple of things about it. Rather than duplicate those efforts, here’s the links:
First, I started a discussion at fusor.net – the site I create (in 1998!) to explore the one form of nuclear energy (controlled fusion) that we do not have at our disposal (the one Einstein said was “the good part of my theories”!).
What I really wanted to write about is what I have always considered the missing piece in this puzzle.
Now for today’s science lesson:
There are four ways to release nuclear energy. Two of them involve fission – splitting atoms, and two of them involve fusion – squeezing atoms together. In either case – fission or fusion – the reaction can be explosive: ‘Atomic’ bombs are explosive fission and ‘hydrogen’ bombs are explosive fusion. Or the reaction can be controlled: The kind of nuclear reactor that pumps electricity into the grid is controlled fission.
All of this discussion of atoms and energy started when Einstein whipped up his little equation E=mc2 way back in 1905. There were many steps and many physicists who embellished on Einstein’s theories in the ensuing four decades leading up to the Trinity Test in New Mexico, but Einstein’s equation was (pardon the expression) ‘ground zero’ for the whole undertaking.
So I was intrigued when I kept seeing a scene in the trailer for Oppenheimer that showed an encounter between the title character (Cillian Murphy) and Einstein (Tom Conti) at the edge of a pond. That scene turned out to supply a critical thematic underpinning for the entire three hour film.
Once I’d seen the movie and understood how that scene fit in (never mind that it never actually happened), I knew what I wanted to write about those two characters and the one I’ve been obsessed with. Behold….
I hope y’all have time to click over there and take a gander.
Now then, About Buster…
Those of you who subscribe to my ‘Buster Sez’ occasional weekly newsletter will notice that Buster is dressed a little oddly in this week’s masthead photo.
Oh please. You want me to wear this???
How shall I say? Buster’s been feeling poorly the past couple of weeks. Something must have bit her on her back, just below the neckline, and she’s licked on it to the point that there’s a big hole in her fur, and I guess that caused some kind of infection. She spent a whole weekend hiding under the covers before I could get her to the vet, who gave her a couple of injections.
She’s mostly recovered since then and is much more like her usual rambunctious self, but that damn sore on her back has been slow to heal, hence the collar. That collar really didn’t work though, so I’m waiting for Amazon to deliver a “kitty onesie” that I hope will cover the bald spot so I an apply the ointment the vet prescribed and keep her from licking it off.
She’s back to spending a lot of time under the covers but I think she’ll be OK. I’m sure she’ll be crawling over me tonight as usual.
So that’s how my summer has been going. How’s yours?
If you have any idea what a piston is supposed to look like, then you’ve got a pretty good idea “what’s wrong with this picture?”
Oh. And. One other thing:
I got a new car. The original Mustang – the one I got back in 2019 just after the divorce – was cursed. Long story short: it was in the shop like ten times this year, ending with the two words you don’t ever want to hear in the same sentence: “engine” and “replacement.”
So fuck it.
I just replaced the whole damn car. And this time –instead of replacing the engine – I got one with twice as many cylinders.
This thing is awesome!
It’s a 2020 Mustang GT Convertible. I got it with 16K miles!
But this time the Greg Carlwood went a little deeper into ‘The Caroline Group’ and some of the, umm… more… ah… conspiratorial? … aspects of the Townsend Brown story.
And I got to expound a little further on the place where the Philo Farnsworth and Townsend Brown stories dovetail together…
Listen on Apple Podcasts:
Today’s Guest: Paul Schatzkin is a biographer of obscure 20th century scientists. He has written “The Boy Who Invented Television” about Philo T. Farnsworth and “The Man Who Mastered Gravity” about T. Townsend Brown. Together, the two stories hint at – as science fiction pioneer Eden Philpotts predicted – a “Universe of magical things, patiently waiting for your wits to grow sharper.”
After Apple canned me in January ’22 and I had nothing but time on my hands, I started to wonder two things: 1) what to do with the time and 2) how to restore that little bit of income, which for five years had made the difference between living on ‘portfolio income’ and running out of capital before I run out of breath.
Necessity being the mother of invention stories, that was enough to get me wondering: if I dusted off the manuscript, could that trickle be turnedinto an actual stream?
By then I’d had Mike Williams’ rewrite for several years.I tried to do something with it when Mike first presented it to me in 2018, but I didn’t have the patience then for the very granular work of restoring my ‘voice’ to the expedited narrative Mike had distilled.
It’s not like I’d ever stoped thinking about what-the-hell had happened back in 2009 – when my collaboration with Brown’s daugther went off the rails, when the only interested agent rejected the proposal, saying “there’s no meat on the bones” – when I closed the book and put it away. I did expect I might return to it some day. I just didn’t think it would be another twelve years.
Still, over the ensuing years I found myself returning to certain themes I could dwell on and some story points I could focus on.
The Room Where It Happened.
With nothing but time on my hands (and, more importantly, no co-habitant telling me not to) I re-visited the files in the spring of 2022.
I opened three windows on my 27″ display: my 2009 manuscript, Mike’s 2018 rewrite, and a new window where I cobbled the pieces back together.It took about six months to reconcile my original manuscript with the Mike’s scaled down version.
Fast forward to this recent spring.With the help of designers in Pakistan and Bangladesh I found through Fiverr.com, I had a book ready to upload to Amazon’s Kindle Direct platform.
I didn’t stop there.
Not only had I thought a lot about the themes running through the Townsend Brown story, I also thought a lot about what that story had in common with the Philo Farnsworth story that was published back in 2002.1 And it occurred to me that so much has happened since that book was first published that it was time for an update – and a new introduction to explore what ties the two books together.
These two stories – Farnsworth and Brown – are like swamp creatures crawling out of the priordial soup of 20th century cosmology – that bubbling cauldron of novel thinking from the likes of Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Schroedinger and all the others that gave us Relativty and Quantum Mechanics.
For example: You might be surprised to learn that Albert Einstein did not win his Nobel Prize in 1921 for either his Theories of Relativey or E=mc2.No, Einstein won his Nobel for the first paper he published in 1905 on the Photoelectric Effect.
You’ll be hearing a lot about the bomb and E=mc2 in a few weeks when the big feature film Oppenheimer is released.In the meantime, think about this:
E=mc2 gave us the atomic bomb, but the Photoelectric Effect gave us television and every video screen on the planet (including the one you are looking at now).
Now I have two books in circulation.They both draw from that well.
And now, this: Last month Amazon put more money in my bank account than I have ever earned from something I created and put into the world.2
At the ripe age of 72, I am actually earning a living (well, subsidizing my retirement) as an author.I’m not certain yet that the model is sustainable, but I’ve been learning how to run ads on Amazon and the results are quite encouraging.
In addition to the targeted advertising I’ve been doing on Amazon (thanks again, Holly Butler), I have also been interviewed for a couple of podcasts in the past few weeks, and each conversation has given me an opportunity to articulate some of the not-yet-fully-formed things I’ve been thinking about since I went back down the rabbit hole last year.
I contacted the host/producers of Mysterious Universe, and we spent more than two hours talking about the Townsend Brown biography and my earlier (recently re-released) bio of Philo T. Farnsworth, The Boy Who Invented Television. This was really the first opportunity I’ve had to talk about how the two stories dovetail to suggest a single story of forbidden science (fusion and gravity control) and the veil of mysteries surrounding both men.
Here are links if you listen via Apple Podcasts:
Paul Schatzkin joins us in this episode to explore his remarkable research on the obscure historical figures of Philo T. Farnsworth and Thomas Townsend Brown. We delve deeply into the narratives of these men, who pioneered technologies that revolutionized the world, while also contemplating some of the unrevealed technological advancements. Did Farnsworth unlock the enigma of fusion energy? Was Brown connected to a clandestine, highly advanced group?
..or here if you listen to podcasts on Spotify:
I am rather surprised and delighted that both books are starting to sell. It’s not huge numbers by any stretch, but I’ve been learning how to run ads on Amazon and get them to show up when users are searching related titles. I’m also working on tying my books into the release of the expected-to-be-a-blockbuster feature Oppenheimer when it comes out this summer:
I have been thinking a lot about what ties all these stories together: that all the science involved begins with Einstein in 1905.
Townsend Brown was born in 1905, Philo Farnsworth in 1906. So both men were “relativity natives.” Like kids today who grew up with computers and smartphones and are considered ‘digital natives’ – these men who were born in the first decade of the 20th century never knew a world where relativity and its related discoveries didn’t exist.
At the very least, the breakthrough theories that led to the atomic bomb also led to electronic video – yes, the the screen you’re looking at now. Even though video is by far the more common and useful technology (lemme check… nope, no a-bomb in my pocket), that connection is largely lost to history. That is mostly because corporate greed and public relations swept Philo Farnsworth under the rug of history after the 1940s.
And Townsend Brown? Who the hell knows what happened there. I’ve been on that story for twenty years now and still have more questions than answers.
You can get a better idea what I’m driving at here:
Discussion of the Townsend Brown story begins about 38:20 in – after some discussion of something called “The Ghost Moose.’ I guess that’s one thing I can cross off the bucket list: playing second-fiddle to a ‘ghost moose.’
Mysterious Universe is a very popular and long-standing podcast, ranking #5 in Apple’s listings of social science podcasts. From the listing:
Always interesting and often hilarious, join hosts Aaron Wright and Benjamin Grundy as they investigate the latest in futurology, weird science, consciousness research, alternative history, cryptozoology, UFOs, and new-age absurdity.
Just a quick scroll through the Mysterious Universehome page displays the depth and breadth of this podcast and its affiliated enterprises. These guys cover a lot of territory, some of it within the wheelhouse of my work (i.e. ‘lost science’ outside the realm of orthodoxy) and some of it, let’s be charitable and just say, ummm…. not so much.
Most of the discussion that is freely available is a recap of the early chapters of the book. There is a further discussion that gets into The Caroline Group and the rest of the story, but that’s behind a prescription paywall.
I have reached out to the producers of Mysterious Universe to see if I can get access to the subscriber-only edition. And (perish the thought!) offering myself up for an interview.
As I said, I don’t know how this came about, or how the book fell into their hands. I’m just glad that it did.
Yesterday, I listened to the episode in my – and had something of a moment. I listen to dozens of podcasts. I rarely listen to radio any more, just podcasts. And too often I’m listening with a twinge of envy, like “hey, I’ve written books… I’m interesting… why doesn’t anybody want to talk to me?”
So yesterday… finally! Hearing my own name and work mentioned in a credible manner was the most ‘external validation’ I’ve had for about twenty years. I know, we’re not supposed to rely on ‘external validation,’ we’re always just supposed to believe in our own work and purpose and just forge on in obscurity.
Well, fuck that. It’s nice to know that somebody else finds merit in the work.
I used to think Kara Swisher is a bit of a blowhard. I’d listen to some of her interview/podcasts and think “shut up, Kara, and let your guest talk.” It seemed she always had more to say than whoever she was interviewing.
That is still often the case, but I’ve warmed up to her, particularly since I started listening to the Pivot podcast with Scott Galloway. I listen to Pivot mostly to hear from Galloway. Don’t anybody tell him, but he’s a Staunch McLuhanist, too.