Monday, April 23, 2012

The A to Z of Fiction to Reality: Ultraphone Ear-Disc

Here is something I didn't know: Buck Rogers first appeared as the character Anthony Rogers in the 1928 novella Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan. Anthony Rogers is a veteran soldier of The Great War (World War I) who ends up in a state of suspended animation for nearly 500 years. And suspended animation is probably a topic I could have covered; it has been around in fiction for a while (there's Rip Van Winkle, and I mentioned HG Wells Sleeper, and, oh, well, so many more), but we don't really have that worked out in a way where we can do it on purpose, yet, so I left it out. I say on purpose, because there have been a few times where people have ended up in accidental cases of suspended animation (like falling into a freezing lake) where we've been able to bring them back, but it's not something anyone can depend on.


The topic for the day is the ultraphone ear-disc. You may know it better as
Yeah, your bluetooth started out as military technology so that soldiers could have their hands free for weapons instead of needing to use a handheld radio. And that started out in Nowlan's story about a war 500 years in the future. So we have a guy writing just after World War I who already was seeing the need for soldiers to have "hands free" phones. heh Just to make this clear, wireless devices, specifically, the radio, had only just been invented. And radios were HUGE (I mean physically huge. There was an old radio down at the farm when I was a kid, and it was bigger than me). When Nowlan was writing his story, there was no idea, yet, of using radio for personal communication.

Some of the other things that Armageddon 2419 introduced (there are more):
1. remotely piloted drones (more radio)
2. telecommuting
3. e-purchasing
4. paratroopers

Armageddon was adapted into the Buck Rogers comic strip just a year later, and it mostly delves into space exploration after that, but that initial novella was quite visionary.

Bonus U (breaking news)


One of the shows I loved growing up, and, when I say loved, I mean loved, as in it was not negotiable as to whether or not I was going to get to watch it or not, and my family knew it, was Doctor Who. Other than the TARDIS, the Doctor had two things that were really cool: K-9 and his sonic screwdriver. The sonic screwdriver is kind of what it sounds like. Okay, well, it's not a screwdriver at all, at least, not in appearance, but it does use sound as a sort of a screwdriver, and, other than a lightsaber, it's one of the things I grew up wanting to have.
the latest Doctor with his screwdriver

There has been ongoing research into sound over the years, specifically ultrasound. That is, after all, how we got the ultrasound machine. There are even ultrasound techniques for non-invasive surgery. Yes, they don't have to cut you open, just use a beam of sound to take care of what ails you. The new development, though, is that some physicists at the University of Dundee got together and developed a way to lift and manipulate objects with sound alone. It's a pretty amazing achievement that could lead all sorts of places. One problem: I don't think it's something anyone's going to be carrying around in their pocket anytime soon.


  1. Always liked Buck Rogers. I need to pick up Armageddon 2419 and check out the origins.

  2. I never got into any of that old stuff like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, or Tom Swift. About the closest I got was they would show some old serials like "Commander Cody" on episodes of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" back in the day.

  3. That's so cool. Novelists don't get nearly as much credit for inventing the world as we know it. :)

  4. Lift and manipulate? Wow. I know you just said that it's unlikely anyone would be carrying around one of those devices in the near future, but imagine being able to move things around invisibly with that kind of control.

    The Golden Eagle
    The Eagle's Aerial Perspective

  5. writers have insights into what others refuse to imagine -- nice post

  6. Cool facts on Buck Rogers. I guess no Twiggy in the original? :)

    I want one of those screwdrivers the Doctor has. How handy.

  7. Yeah, the Doctor's sonic screwdriver was way cooler looking than the modern one.

  8. I loved Buck Rogers as a kid, but had no idea of its origins.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  9. I've gotta say, I like Wells's Sleeper better than Armageddon 2419 AD. But the ear-bud thing is cool. I used to wear earphones around as a kid and pretend I was in the secret service, or a spy. Too many Bond movies I guess.

  10. Alex: I liked the '70s TV show. I never followed the comic strip.

    Grumpy: I loved The Copperhead. That was my favorite of the old serials.

    L.G.: No, they don't. And they should. It's too bad you can't patent the idea and sell it.

    Golden Eagle: Yeah, I know. Especially, if you were an exo-suit with cybernetic connections with lasers!

    judysnwnotes: Thanks! And thanks for stopping in.

    M Pax: Nope, no Twiggy. And, yeah, I would love a sonic screwdriver! Thanks for coming by!

    Rusty: Well, you can't really drop the modern one in your pocket.

    Shannon: It's okay; I didn't either.

    S.L.: I've never read Armageddon, and it's been so long since I read Sleeper that I don't remember it very well. I do remember liking it, though.
    What kid doesn't want to be a spy?