19.09.2014 - 22.09.2014 26 °C
When I was so much younger than I am today, I had an interest in electronics and radio. I made crystal set radios (that work without any power source),oddly shaped aerials, amplifiers, a malfunctioning power supply and the like. I read most of the magazines and several books devoted to these hobbies and in the course of doing so formed a vague admiration for a couple of 19th century inventors (but, oddly enough, when I had to do a school project about someone I admired, I wrote about that well-known Victorian inventor, Gandhi). I was more than a little surprised to find that both of the guys I admired when I was young have a pretty strong connection with Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia.
Alexander Graham Bell run aground (literally) on Cape Breton, and was so taken with the place that he established his estate, Beinn Bhreagh, just south of Baddeck and lived there for the last 30 years of his life. Here, he participated in the first manned flight of an aircraft in the British Commonwealth and developed some very fast hovercrafts, setting a watercraft speed record of 71 miles an hour (Lake Bras d'Or, being so big, would have helped). I was not able to look around Beinn Bhreagh, as it is closed to the public, but Parks Canada have built a shiny museum in Bell's honour in Baddeck.
There is a Bell Aliant telephone company - even if there is no connection with Bell, the least they could have done was put a Bell telephone outside the Bell Museum. Going in, there is a long time line setting out his various achievements, put into the context of world developments. One of the quotes was rather prophetic, albeit a bit early - he wrote a letter moaning to his wife that "the days of handwriting are gone forever; they belong to the 19th century". Yesterday, I went into two big stationery/office product shops - neither had any sort of writing pad, the type you use to write letters!
Something I didn't know about Bell (among the many things) was that he was very keen on phonetics, following in his dad's footsteps and given practical importance to him because Mabel, his wife, was deaf. She was actually his student, Using his method, visible speech, deaf people could communicate. I tried, but I coudn't work out how it works.
Naturally, there was a fair amount of telephone related stuff - including the photophone, a very early version of a cell-phone, in that it transmitted speech without wires (using lightwaves) - they had it working but couldn't see it having practical significance. Another, his Liquid Transmitter, used water - for those who understand such things, here's a description I found of how it works:
The operating principle of a liquid transmitter is quite simple. A wire attached to the bottom of a parchment diaphragm is adjusted so that it just barely makes contact with the water, which is made electrically conductive with a small amount of acid. Words spoken above the diaphragm cause it to flex up and down, making the attached wire have more or less contact with the acidulated water, thereby changing the circuit resistance. The resulting current variations in the listening device reproduce the original sounds. Properly set up, a liquid transmitter can transmit remarkably clear conversations.
The main event, however, looks to his association with the early days of flight. He must have been an annoying sort of husband - he had an idea that required objects of a particular shape - Mrs Bell came home one day to find all of the washbasins had been removed, welded together and were out on the lake. He was also a bit of a night owl - but apparently was not amused when Mrs Bell told him that she'd had a painting made of him, although he obviously got over it, because the painting took pride of place in his office.
He started with a kite so big that it would carry two men, Cygnet, which he flew on 6 December, 1907. I've seen photos of this as being in the museum, but didn't see it - maybe it was out flying? There was a group of kids outside the museum having fun with their kites. Bell made another kite, with an engine - Cygnet II - which would not lift off but was a stepping stone to making the Silver Dart, which he flew off the ice of the frozen lake at Baddeck on 23 February, 1909.
He had already moved on - a year earlier, he met a young American engineer called Baldwin, who became the son the Bells never had, and they started work on hydrofoil speedboats, which they called hydrodomes. This was their way to get powered flight - the hydrofoils would lift the hull, give it enough speed to allow it to fly. The first version was launched in 1911, but the HD-4 seems to have been the go. I don't know why, but he never actually rode in it, but Mabel did and enjoyed it "immensely". I don't think it actually flew, but it did set speed records. Unfortunately for the project (but a good thing for the rest of the world), World War 1 came to an end, and his funders were no longer interested. It seems criminal, but the hull just sat outside his house for decades - it is now in the museum, together with a replica of HD-4.
As for my second hero, I was warned by the ranger at the Bell Museum not to expect much. After doing the Cabot trail, I headed east to Sydney and then to a town on the coast called Glace Bay, where I followed a large number of signs, before I finally found my destination. It is here that the very first transatlantic radio signal was sent from west to east (a year earlier, one had been received at St John's, New Brunswick. The man in charge of both sites was this fellow:
To say there was not much going on would be to overstate the activity. At the best of times, little seems to happen here, but when I was there, the site had closed for the season. Oh well, seeing the coastline was worth it.
Not really - because all of my buggering about meant I missed something quite spectacular. In Halifax, there are a couple of forts built to defend against the French, who had their own fort, just down the coast a bit from Sydney, at Louisbourg. I knew I would not be able to get in because it was so late but I thought I'd at least be able to get a look at the outside. The first two photos are found on the internet, the third is mine, taken from as close as I could get:
There was not much going on in Louisbourg, but it was a long way to anywhere else, so I thought I had better eat - the only place that seemed to have people in it also looked kind of interesting and, being on the coast, I thought the fish would be good. Problem is, I ordered cod, which is not at all like the delicious blue cod we get back home. This was not entirely the restaurant's doing: I have been all scientific and tried it somewhere else - not much better. By the time I'd eaten it was well after dark - so I have no idea as to whether what looks like a great drive down the east coast of Lake Bras d'Or has any nice views. Apart from a quick Horton's stop, I just kept driving until I hit Antigonish, back on the mainland, where I stayed. After a very nice visit (in heavy rain) to the Tall and Small cafe, it was back to Halifax for me.