alexandtheweb / blog

You are here: "Reading"

Frequency hopping and the most beautiful woman in the world

If you’ve not yet heard the strange tale of Hedy Lamarr, I’ll sum it up briefly here.

Hedy Lamarr

In the 1930’s a beautiful Viennese actress escapes Europe and an oppressive marriage to a munitions magnate. She finds glory in Hollywood, but also discovers that her true passion is for invention. She meets a Dadaist composer (who is also an endocrynology hobbyist) and together they invent and patent a frequency hopping mechanism with the aim of preventing the radio jamming of guided torpedos. The system goes on to become the foundation of spread-spectrum signal technologies which in turn help develop secure military communications, mobile phone networks, the space programme and more.

Hedy, partly driven by a fury against the forces which annexed her Austrian homeland and then waged war across Europe, didn’t stop there. Her other weapon ideas included a proximity fuse for anti-aircraft bombs.

Truth stranger than fiction and all that.

As a female, as a geek, this is where I make some blithe comment about how you should never discount a woman’s ability – particularly the ability to innovate and invent. Remember this notorious Google auto-correct?

But the lessons of Hedy’s approach to invention are, I think, more general. One: don’t feel constrained by lack of formal qualifications. Two: observe, listen, soak up information, tinker, extrapolate, be audacious, have a cause.

Thanks, beautiful.

Page 1 of 1