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Bell’s Underdog: Elisha Gray and the Telephone

A lesson in entrepreneurship from history’s little-known scandals.

By common knowledge, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. It’s in the history books. There’s a medal in his name honoring outstanding contributions in telecommunications. The man even has a museum.

It may be, however, that Bell’s claim to the invention could come down to a great performance at a fair, a very pushy lawyer, and some good ol’ bureaucracy.

Elisha GrayYou see, another inventor, Elisha Gray, had been working on a similar device at the same time. Gray, who had partnered with Western Union and Thomas Edison, developed his own telephone and filed for patent on a very fateful day indeed: February 14, 1876. Fateful not because it was Valentine’s Day, but because it was the exact same day Bell filed his own patent for the telephone. That morning, Gray arrived at the Patent Office a few hours before Bell’s lawyer. So his application (a.k.a. “patent caveat”) was filed first. However, upon getting to the Patent Office, Bell’s lawyer — being a, well, lawyer — demanded Bell’s filing fee be entered immediately. Gray’s fee, however, was entered with the usual pace of governmental bureaucracy and was not taken to the examiner until the following morning.

So began the greatest controversy in telecommunications. (Malcolm Gladwell calls it “simultaneous invention,” but we think there’s no room for gray in the black-and-white world of history.)

Simultaneous Invention

The how’s and the why’s of this race are subject to a number of conspiracy theories. But what complicated things further was that Bell was first to claim the spotlight. In June of the same year, both Bell and Gray took their inventions to the World’s Fair in Philadelphia. Gray, once again, was first to present. But Bell, a true entertainer and showman, staged a presentation for some of the era’s greatest A-listers, including the emperor of Brazil.

The rest is, literally, history.

But we mostly like the story because it’s such a great allegory for today’s entrepreneurship and startup culture. Coming up with the big idea first has little to do with making it big. Everything comes down to impressing the right people, paying the right lawyers, and giving a hell of a presentation.


Furniture Design Spotlight: HUG Chair

Why your girlfriend is interchangeable with your MacBook Pro.

Spotted at the Bulgarian Design Biennial: The HUG armchair by furniture and industrial designer Ilian Milinov. (Thanks, camera battery, for dying and forcing us to resort to the crappy cell phone camera.)

The designer’s inspiration comes from the simple gestures in human relationships, like hugging your loved one, and even accounts for the intimacy deprivation of a long-distance relationship: The organic HUG silhouette makes room for a laptop when your loved one is away, for those late-night videochats that keep the relationship alive.


Gotta love the simple brilliance of its form/function hybrid — the intimacy of a loveseat sans the girlfriend-induced leg umbness, plus the comfort of a laptop lounge setup, sans the overheated quads. We want one.


The Other Electorate

What the presidential election has to do with aliens and coffee cups.

VoteThe presidential election is almost upon us, and next leader of the free world is only a few million ballots away. And as important as voting is in shaping the future of the nation, its impact goes far beyond the domestic sphere. Because, after all, electing the so-called “leader of the free world” impacts the “free world” in its non-American entirety. Which is why it’s interesting to see what said “free world” would do if it had a say in the American election.

Enter If The World Could Vote, a politically independent site that lets people from all over the world cast an imaginary Obama/McCain vote in the presidential election. Originally a modest curiosity-inspired initiative by three guys from Iceland, the project has reached critical mass with close to 250,000 international votes to date, a number getting interestingly close to the U.S. population. We won’t gloat and tell you whom the overwhelming majority voted for, but you can see for yourself.

So go ahead, cast your vote (in the great words of a certain someone, yes you can, even if you’re in the U.S.) and join the Facebook group.

Aliens VoteMeanwhile, let’s not forget the voiceless group most powerfully impacted by the presidential election — the  nation’s 29.1 million (that’s 10% of the population, for the mathematically-challenged) home-owning, tax-paying aliens who don’t have the right to vote. (Taxation without representation, anyone?) That’s where Aliens Vote comes in — a site that gives people living in the U.S. who are not American citizens (both permanent residents and visa holders) a chance to cast a “what-if” vote for Obama, McCain, or neither.

CupsThe project comes from Cuban Council, a small American digital design shop including a number of non-America employees. Results will be revealed after the election, but if you’re anxious for an unofficial prediction, there’s always the fallback option of the infamous 7-11 predictive cups poll.

(And, of course, if you’re not content with just guessing outcomes, make sure you influence them, too: Vote.)

>>> via GOOD, Sun Sentinel


Mad Men Illustrated

What Madison Avenue and Upright Citizens Brigade have in common.

We love Mad Men. We also love illustration. And we’re obsessed with Flickr.

So, naturally, we’re all over the Mad Men Illustrated series by NYC-based freelance illustrator, designer and comedian Dyna Moe.

Mad Men Illustrated

Mad Men Illustrated

If her style seems familiar, it’s because Dyna Moe’s credentials include posters and other work for cult comedy outfit Upright Citizens Brigade, for whom she’s been the “unofficial official house designer” since 1999, plus a ton of album artwork for various indie labels.

Mad Men IllustratedThe illustration look and style are inspired by the work of commercial artwork legends from the Mad Men era, including Aurelius Battaglia, Alice & Martin Provensen, and J. P. Miller. The collection started with a holiday card capturing the Mad Men Christmas party from last season, after which Dyna Moe, um, didn’t stop. Right now, all of the images are available as desktop wallpaper downloads, with the most popular up for sale as custom prints at

We, for one, are all the more inspired by the far-reaching resonance of this show, which has revolutionized the scripted drama television genre, rekindled some of history’s most taboo controversies, spurred intense debates on consumer culture, been credited with skewing retail fashion, and now inspired an art following.

We bet it can even do our laundry.


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