The 8-Fold Path Wrap-Up


The 8-Fold Path for Living Daily in the Silence was designed to promote silence in one’s life, based on the understanding that silence is a benefit to us.

Over the past 14 weeks we’ve looked at the benefits of silence and by using the 8-Fold Path how to achieve silence in our lives every single day.

There are many benefits to silence. We live in a noisy world. Noise pollution is real. Noise pollution damages us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Silence repairs that damage. Silence helps us to return to wholeness.

The natural world, the world in which we as a distinct species arose and in which we lived for many hundreds of thousands of years, does not have the sound of cars and trucks in it, or that of bulldozers, or of aircraft.

The natural world is essentially quiet. The sounds in it are for the most part soft sounds. Thunder boomers are about as loud as the natural world gets, at least for most of us. Those soft sounds are what are natural to our bodies.

A look through history and the reaction to new inventions, especially the noisy ones of the industrial era, is interesting. The steam engine was condemned because it was noisy. The same for the internal combustion engine.  Improved technology made them quieter, especially the steam engine.

However, all one has to do is live next to a busy highway to know that cars and trucks are still very noisy affairs and dirty as well. Even inside our cars the noise level is loud enough to blot out the soft parts of a symphony. Toss in a piston aircraft engine from the local airport or a jet taking off and we’ve moved to a whole new level of noise. And let’s not even mention TV commercials, or such travesties of music as Death Metal.

Instinctively we value peace and quiet. And in our noisy world it is an all too rare phenomenon.

However, by following the 8-Fold Path we can reintroduce at least a modicum of silence into our lives.

I hope the series has been of benefit to you. Comments are always welcome and may you live daily in the silence.

Share This!

The Wonderful Machine Age: Batteries

Batteries not included. That’s okay. It’s a minor inconvenience but easily remedied. Batteries are cheap and plentiful.

However, that was not always the case. Prior to the invention of the dry cell, all we had was the wet cell and a messy affair it was. Jars of acid with metal plates suspended in them. Not something useful to power your flashlight, smoke alarm, or radio. Let alone your computer, iPod, or hearing aid. Yet the wet cell made the telegraph possible and the automobile.

The term “battery” was coined by Benjamin Franklin to describe the linked Leyden jars he used for his electrical experiments. The first true battery was invented in 1800 by Alessandro Volta and was called the voltaic pile. It was a stack of paired copper and zinc discs, each pair separated from the others by cloth or cardboard soaked in brine. The brine functioned as the electrolyte.

While crude, the voltaic pile provided a fairly steady and reliable current and proved valuable for conducting experiments, such as the electrolysis of water.

The first practical wet cell for commercial and industrial application was invented by John Frederic Daniell in 1836. It was used to power the first telegraph systems. Daniell’s battery provided a steadier current for longer periods of time than the voltaic pile.

Over the years many improvements were made to the wet cell. Perhaps the most significant was in 1859 when Gaston Planté invented the lead-acid battery. The significance of his invention is that the battery was rechargeable by simply reversing the current. Previous wet cells were not capable of being recharged. The lead-acid battery is the type of battery used in the first automobiles to provide current to the spark plugs.

However, the battery we all know and love, the dry cell, came into being in 1886 with Carl Gassner’s zinc-carbon battery and in 1896 the National Carbon Company began producing an improved version on a commercial scale. The convenient and portable power source sparked a wave of portable electric devices, one of the first being the flashlight (or electric torch).

The battery is something about which we don’t think twice. We almost always have spares on hand to power the host of gadgets we also mostly take for granted. In my study I have the following battery-powered devices: smoke detector, two clocks, laptop computer, lamp, flashlight, iPad, iPod, digital recorder, cassette recorder, speakers, cellphone, iPod dock, and radio.

Additionally in the house there are more smoke detectors, more clocks, remote control devices, carbon monoxide detectors, camera, more flashlights, watches, calculator, car, GPS. And I’m probably overlooking something. For those who have kids, about a zillion toys can be added to the list. And let us not forget such things as pacemakers and hearing aids.

Let’s face it, modern life would not be possible without the battery, specifically the dry cell — which was invented in The Wonderful Machine Age.

So we retro-futurists should quit winding up our clockwork mechanisms and start using batteries. They’re the future, man.

Share This!

The Wonderful Machine Age – His Master’s Voice

Who isn’t familiar with the picture of the dog focused on the phonograph horn listening to the voice of his deceased master? Such is the power of sound, especially familiar sounds.

While typing this post, I was listening to the incredibly beautiful work of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, entitled “The Solent”. Prior to 1877 such would not have been possible. For in that year, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and within decades home entertainment was revolutionized. The piano in the parlor began to collect dust and piano lessons began to become a thing of the past.

Edison’s machine used a needle to record little hills and valleys in a wax cylinder, which when played back produced sound. In 1887, Emile Berliner patented the gramophone which used a flat disc. The needle followed a track with moved side to side instead of up and down.

Below is Edison’s phonograph from 1899.


Eventually Berliner’s gramophone won the commercial battle because the process of producing records instead of cylinders was cheaper. A record cost 20¢, whereas a cylinder cost 50¢. For the cost of 2 cylinders, I could buy 5 records. Pretty simple math and the cylinder became a footnote in history. Ironically enough, Edison had already contemplated the disc but favored the cylinder because it was scientifically more perfect. I guess even geniuses make mistakes. And that’s why many of us grew up collecting records instead of cylinders.

Below is picture of a wind-up gramophone.


Edison’s phonograph was the first machine to both record and playback sound. However, an earlier machine, the phonautograph, invented in 1857, made a visual image of the voice for study by doctors and scientists. The image could not be played back. At least not until 2008 when, with the help of optical scanning and computers, the pictures were turned into digital audio files and listened to for the first time. The oldest recordings of the human voice.

Just as Bell had competition for the telephone, so did Edison with the phonograph. That competition came in the form of Charles Cros’ paleophone. Cros, who was a poet and amateur inventor, came up with the idea to use photoengraving to transfer the phonautograph image to a disc or cylinder for playback. He wrote a letter describing his idea and deposited it with the French Academy of Science on 30 April 1877. Cros’ idea became public on 10 October 1877, however by then he had improved upon his original concept by inventing a way to capture and record sound using an acid-etch method.

Learning of Edison’s machine, Cros had his April letter opened and claimed scientific priority over Edison.

Cros’ method became standard procedure to produce the metal masters from which the flat records could be pressed. Unfortunately, he died in 1888 and could not enjoy his triumph over Edison. Today, no one’s even acquainted with the name of Charles Cros.

The phonograph, or gramophone, is perhaps one of the most iconic inventions of The Machine Age. Rivaled only by the telephone and the automobile. It appeared at the age’s beginning and was going strong when the age faded away. Today, the phonograph has morphed into the ubiquitous iPod.

There was a gramophone on board the Graf Zeppelin on its round the world flight in August 1929. Brought on board by millionaire Bill Leeds, Commander Hugo Eckener had it promptly removed. Leeds retrieved the machine and told Eckener if weight was the problem he’d leave behind his luggage.

Bram Stoker, in his novel Dracula, had Doctor Seward record his diary on a phonograph. Seward, however, was worried the count might be able to melt the wax cylinders with his mysterious powers and destroy Seward’s recordings of the vampire’s machinations. That is perhaps the first literary example of the dictaphone, which has also gone digital.

Of equal lineage with the phonograph is the tape recorder. We don’t really use them anymore but we do use digital versions to record our voices.

The tape recorder was invented in 1886 by Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory. The machine used a strip of paper coated with beeswax. Magnetic recording was first conceived of in 1877 and demonstrated in 1898, first using wire and later tape.

Below is an early magnetic wire recorder from 1898.

Magnetic Wire Recorder 1898
Magnetic Wire Recorder 1898

The record player and tape recorder were everywhere in the 20th century — even more widespread than the TV. I think retro-futurist writers with a little imagination can easily come up with something true to form and yet truly fantastic. Bram Stoker did so simply by including a phonograph in his novel. Now what if that record player or tape recorder could fit inside a small brown box about the size of a deck of cards?

Share This!