Engines of Our Ingenuity

Engines of Our Ingenuity

uh.edu/engines
The story of technological progress is one of drama and intrigue, sudden insight and plain hard work. Let’s explore technology’s spectacular failures and many magnificent success stories.


1720: The Silk Sea Lane
Jul 19 • 3 min
Episode: 1720 The two Silk Roads: One by land, the other by sea. Today, the Silk Road goes to sea.
2936: Parker Brothers
Jul 18 • 3 min
Episode: 2936 George S. Parker and the Parker Brothers. Today, for the love of games.
1719: Poe’s Cosmology
Jul 17 • 3 min
Episode: 1719 Edgar Allen Poe’s amazing cosmology. Today, gothic cosmology.
2933: Math and the Dreyfus Affair
Jul 16 • 3 min
Episode: 2933 Math and The Dreyfus Affair. Today, courtroom drama.
1718: Lardner’s Steam Engines
Jul 15 • 3 min
Episode: 1718 The Rev. Dionysius Lardner: keeping up with a world in flux. Today, old books with a message for the present.
2931: G.H. Hardy
Jul 11 • 3 min
Episode: 2931 G. H. Hardy, mentor and apologist. Today, a friendship and an apology.
1715: Flying Around the World
Jul 10 • 3 min
Episode: 1715 The first flight around the world — in 175 days. Today, we circle the earth.
3210: Scourge of the Sea
Jul 9 • 3 min
Episode: 3210 Scourge of the Sea, the long search for a cure for scurvy. Today, a medical cure, lost and found.
1714: “Infinite Reservoire” of Space
Jul 8 • 3 min
Episode: 1714 The mischief, in space, of the “infinite reservoir” thought model. Today, let us fill infinity.
1713: Seldon’s Automobile
Jul 5 • 3 min
Episode: 1713 George Seldon, Henry Ford, and Clyde Champion Barrow. Today, patents and public relations.
2930: Overhanging Books
Jul 4 • 3 min
Episode: 2930 Overhanging Books. Today, we stick out.
1712: Nightingale’s Graph
Jul 3 • 3 min
Episode: 1712 Florence Nightingale’s graph: Learning what really happened. Today, Florence Nightingale draws a graph.
2928: 1 = 1/2 = 0
Jul 2 • 3 min
Episode: 2928 When 1 = 1/2 = 0. Today, that can’t be, can it?
1711: Melting Glaciers
Jul 1 • 3 min
Episode: 1711 In which melting glaciers open up the archaeological record. Today, we follow melting glaciers.
1710: Encyclopaedia Britannica
Jun 28 • 3 min
Episode: 1710 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Today, a new look at an old encyclopaedia.
2926: The Etymology of “Nerd”
Jun 27 • 3 min
Episode: 2926 Nerd Nite and the etymology of the word Nerd. Today, bazinga!
1709: Cap Wigington
Jun 26 • 3 min
Episode: 1709 Cap Wigington. Today, a remarkable architect.
3209: Net of Life
Jun 25 • 3 min
Episode: 3209 Net of Life: Can Technology Protect Us from Ourselves? Today, a net of life.
1707: Virtual Temples
Jun 24 • 3 min
Episode: 1707 In which virtual reality is more real than we’d expected. Today, information, too dense to be objective.
1706: Eiffel’s Towers
Jun 21 • 3 min
Episode: 1706 The Two Eiffel Towers. Today, Eiffel builds two towers.
2924: Not In This Universe
Jun 20 • 3 min
Episode: 2924 Not In This Universe: When the possible really isn’t. Today, we do a lot of typing.
1705: A 3000-Year-Old Toe
Jun 19 • 3 min
Episode: 1705 A 3000-year-old woman with an artificial toe. Today, a big toe made of wood.
2923: Nature’s Sanitation Engineer
Jun 18 • 3 min
Episode: 2923 The opossum: nature’s little sanitary engineer. Today, nature’s sanitation engineer.
1704: Restorative Justice
Jun 17 • 3 min
Episode: 1704 Restorative Justice: a rare inventive response to necessity. Today, invention and crime.
1703: IBM 360 Computer
Jun 14 • 3 min
Episode: 1703 The IBM 360 computer: an imprint upon the Palouse wheat fields. Today, a new computer.
2922: Gearing Up
Jun 13 • 3 min
Episode: 2922 Gearing up: the continuously variable transmission. Today, we change gears.
1701: Sewing Machine
Jun 12 • 3 min
Episode: 1701 The sewing machine in American life. Today, the sewing machine.
2919: Roomba
Jun 11 • 3 min
Episode: 2919 The Roomba. Today, we clean up.
1699: Plaster in Çatalhöyük
Jun 10 • 3 min
Episode: 1699 Çatalhöyük: An ancient city, held together by plaster. Today, the surprising cement that held an ancient city together.
1698: The Holland Tunnel
Jun 7 • 3 min
Episode: 1698 The Holland Tunnel — a story you’ve heard before. Today, an oddly familiar story.
3208: Computers and Reading Comprehension
Jun 6 • 3 min
Episode: 3208 How Computers are Chipping Away at Reading Comprehension. Today, computer comprehension.
1697: Delphic Oracle
Jun 5 • 3 min
Episode: 1697 Where did Delphic prophecies come from? And where did they go? Today, the oracle speaks.
2918: Norman Brinker and Restaurant Chains
Jun 4 • 3 min
Episode: 2918 Norman Brinker and the History of Restaurant Chains. Today, one link at a time.
1696: Harriet Quimby
Jun 3 • 3 min
Episode: 1696 Harriet Quimby, first American woman licensed to fly. Today, Harriet Quimby.
1695: Crystal Set
May 31 • 3 min
Episode: 1695 On wanting to build my own crystal set. Today, we try to make a radio.
2917: The NBC Opera Theatre
May 30 • 3 min
Episode: 2917 The NBC Opera Theatre. Today, it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.
1694: Technology and Communication
May 29 • 3 min
Episode: 1694 In which we learn that technology is communication. Today, technology has something to tell us.
2916: Charles K. McNeil
May 28 • 3 min
Episode: 2916 Charles K. McNeil and the Point Spread. Today, we make book.
1693: Curtiss’ Motorcycles
May 27 • 3 min
Episode: 1693 Glenn Curtiss’ motorcycles: before airplanes. Today, the other life of an airplane-maker.
1692: Reaching North
May 24 • 3 min
Episode: 1692 Charles Hall’s star-crossed attempt to reach the North Pole. Today, Arctic ice.
2914: Charles Loring Brace
May 23 • 3 min
Episode: 2914 Charles Loring Brace and the Orphan Trains Movement. Today, for the love of children.
1690: Library of Work and Play
May 22 • 3 min
Episode: 1690 The Arts and Crafts Movement reflected in a book for young people. Today, we make things.
2910: Something Big
May 21 • 3 min
Episode: 2910 Something big: The world’s largest manmade enclosure. Today, something really big.
1689: Numismatics
May 20 • 3 min
Episode: 1689 Numismatics — coins as a historical record. Today, let’s read what’s written on coins.
1686: Mysterious Heat
May 17 • 3 min
Episode: 1686 In which steam engines struggle to teach us thermodynamics. Today, a story about theory and practice.
2908: Kurt Vonnegut
May 16 • 3 min
Episode: 2908 Kurt Vonnegut, engineers, and scientists. Today, so it goes.
1685: Lord Byron and Steam
May 15 • 3 min
Episode: 1685 Lord Mad Jack Byron, James Watt, & George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron. Today, a strange connection between Lord Byron and steam power.
2907: Quantum Computing
May 14 • 3 min
Episode: 2907 Quantum Computing. Today, it’s magic.
1684: An Old Machinist’s Handbook
May 13 • 3 min
Episode: 1684 In which we study an old machinist’s handbook. Today, a revolutionary’s handbook.
1682: Zeppelin in Minnesota
May 10 • 3 min
Episode: 1682 Count von Zeppelin learns about flying in St. Paul, Minnesota. Today, see if you can guess our mystery inventor.
2906: Octopus
May 9 • 3 min
Episode: 2906 The Octopus Mind. Today, alien intelligence.
1681: Science in 1904
May 8 • 3 min
Episode: 1681 The Literary Digest tells us about science in 1904. Today, a bright new century.
2904: Chatterbots
May 7 • 3 min
Episode: 2904 Chatterbots and the Turing Test. Today, we chat.
1679: Last Days of Pompeii
May 6 • 3 min
Episode: 1679 The last days of Pompeii, rather like our own lives. Today, we visit Pompeii.
1678: Weave a Circle
May 3 • 3 min
Episode: 1678 Weave a circle and change history. Today, we close a circle.
2903: Hummingbirds
May 2 • 3 min
Episode: 2903: Delicately Engineered Hummingbirds. Today, life as a blur.
1677: Tricking the Eye
May 1 • 3 min
Episode: 1677 In which I encounter the 16th Century in a Fort Worth Museum. Today, we trick the eye.
2902: ELIZA
Apr 30 • 3 min
Episode: 2902 ELIZA: Artificial Psychotherapist. Today, mindless conversation.
1676: Ancient Chinese Bells
Apr 29 • 3 min
Episode: 1676 Some 2500 year old Chinese bells harbor a secret. Today, some very-old bells with a surprising secret.
1674: Fulton’s Battery-Catamaran
Apr 26 • 3 min
Episode: 1674 Fulton’s last boat: the steam-powered Battery-Catamaran. Today, Fulton’s last boat.
3207: New Zealand’s Ecosystem
Apr 25 • 3 min
Episode: 3207 Repairing New Zealand’s Damaged Ecosystem. Today, what once was.
1673: Marie Lavoisier
Apr 24 • 3 min
Episode: 1673 Who was Marie Lavoisier, amanuensis or collaborator? Today, meet Marie Lavoisier.
2900: Hayek and the Mind
Apr 23 • 3 min
Episode: 2900 Hayek: the economist’s contributions in neuroscience and philosophy. Today, a man who crossed over.
1670: Tyndall and Sound
Apr 22 • 3 min
Episode: 1670 John Tyndall: measuring sound without electronics. Today, how did people measure sound in the nineteenth century?
1669: Linus Torvalds and Linux
Apr 19 • 3 min
Episode: 1669 Linus Torvalds, and giving away Linux. Today, a parable about giving versus selling.
2898: Keynes and Hayek
Apr 18 • 3 min
Episode: 2898 Keynes and Hayek: The nuances of their economic perspectives. Today, how different were they?
1668: A Vocabulary of Science
Apr 17 • 3 min
Episode: 1668 Scientific instruments creating a new rhetoric. Today, new sciences, new languages.
2895: Measuring Up
Apr 16 • 3 min
Episode: 2895 Measuring up: How we measure, and perceive, inclines. Today, measuring “up.”
1667: On Trying to See
Apr 15 • 3 min
Episode: 1667 In which we look at the problem of seeing what we expect to see. Today, we try to see what we’re looking at.
1666: The Aging of Books
Apr 12 • 3 min
Episode: 1666 In which we watch books growing old. Today, we watch books grow old.
2894: Wastewater Treatment
Apr 11 • 3 min
Episode: 2894 Wastewater Treatment. Today, the unmentionable.
1665: Artificial Hearts, Minds and Voices
Apr 10 • 3 min
Episode: 1665 Making Artificial hearts and minds in the sixteenth century. Today, artificial hearts, minds, and voices.
2891: Specifics and Generalities
Apr 9 • 3 min
Episode: 2891 Specifics and Generalities: teaching and the problem of universals. Today, what exactly is that?
1664: Nomogram
Apr 8 • 3 min
Episode: 1664 Nomogram: the analog computer in one of its early incarnations. Today, nomograms, analogs, and a forgotten world.
1662: Between Two Worlds
Apr 5 • 3 min
Episode: 1662 A book on water: between two worlds in an old library. Today, we’re between two worlds in an old library.
2889: Twin Primes Conjecture
Apr 4 • 3 min
Episode: 2889 An important step toward solving the twin primes conjecture. Today, almost twins.
1661: Looking for the Engineers
Apr 3 • 3 min
Episode: 1661 Where are all the Engineers? Appearing to be something else, it would seem. Today, where did all the engineers go?
2887: Apple’s Newton
Apr 2 • 3 min
Episode: 2887 Apple’s most famous flop: The Newton. Today, before there was “i.”
1659: Wright and Lilienthal
Apr 1 • 3 min
Episode: 1659 Otto Lilienthal and Orville Wright — one died and the other lived. Today, one pioneer of flight dies while another lives.
1658: Drafting
Mar 29 • 3 min
Episode: 1658 A skill eliminates itself: from drafting to computers. Today, a skill eliminates itself.
3206: Australia Wins The America’s Cup
Mar 28 • 3 min
Episode: 3206 Australia Wins The America’s Cup. Today, they came from the land down under.
1657: Of Nature and Multiplication
Mar 27 • 3 min
Episode: 1657 In which nature multiplies outcomes. Today, nature and multiplication.
2886: Not Just Gadgets
Mar 26 • 3 min
Episode: 2886 Not Just Gadgets: The Science of Engineering Systems. Today, beyond gadgets.
1656: Power in Colorado
Mar 25 • 3 min
Episode: 1656 Electric power comes to Telluride, Colorado. Today, we install a dynamo on a mountaintop.
1655: Après le Déluge
Mar 22 • 3 min
Episode: 1655 After the flood: Freeze-drying the history of desegragation. Today, we Freeze-dry our past.
2883: Dead Salmon and Good Statistics
Mar 21 • 3 min
Episode: 2883 A dead salmon points the way to better brain imaging. Today, outrageous research.
1654: Tidal Power, 1921
Mar 20 • 3 min
Episode: 1654 The forgotten renewable energy source, tidal (or lunar) power. Today, solar power and lunar power.
2879: Empty Shipping Containers
Mar 19 • 3 min
Episode: 2879 The Economics of Empty Shipping Containers. Today, empty boxes.
1653: Aeolian Vibration
Mar 18 • 3 min
Episode: 1653 Aeolian harps, transmission wires, and vortex wakes. Today, the Aeolian harp.
1652: Justus von Liebig
Mar 15 • 3 min
Episode: 1652 Justus von Liebig and the first R&D laboratory. Today, we create the first research laboratory.
2878: U-Boats in WW-I
Mar 14 • 3 min
Episode: U-boats in the First World War. Today, full speed ahead.
1650: Inherent Stability in 1916
Mar 13 • 3 min
Episode: 1650 Learning about the stability of aeroplanes in 1916. Today, we worry about airplane stability in 1916.
2875: Pierre Fauchard
Mar 12 • 3 min
Episode: 2875 Pierre Fauchard, Father of Modern Dentistry. Today, a profession comes of age.
1649: Fessenden and Radio Sound
Mar 11 • 3 min
Episode: 1649 Reginald Fessenden endows radio with sound. Today, we add sound to radio.
1648: An American Dirigible
Mar 8 • 3 min
Episode: 1648 Building a dirigible to get to the California gold rush. Today, some thoughts on success, failure, and flying to California.
2872: The Stimpmeter
Mar 7 • 3 min
Episode: 2872 The Stimpmeter: Golf’s Supremely Simple Maintenance Tool. Today, low tech in a high tech game.
1646: Who Did What By When?
Mar 6 • 3 min
Episode: 1646 Thinking about who had done what by what age. Today, who did what by when?
2870: The Canal Du Midi
Mar 5 • 3 min
Episode: 2870 The Canal du Midi. Today, coast to coast.
1645: Pi
Mar 4 • 3 min
Episode: 1645 Figuring out the value of Pi. Today, let’s talk about — and not the kind you eat.
1644: Hufeland on Infants
Mar 1 • 3 min
Episode: 1644 An 18th-century doctor helps great-grandmother raise grandpa. Today, we raise a nineteenth-century child.