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Hedy Lamarr

Arpita tells the story of one of the most glamorous movie stars of the early 20th century whose invention changed the way we communicate and laid the foundation for Wi-Fi.  

Episode Transcript Aarati: 0:10 Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Smart Tea Podcast, where we talk about the lives of scientists and innovators who shape the world. I'm Aarati. Arpita: 0:18 And I'm Arpita. Aarati: 0:20 How are you doing, Arpita? Arpita: 0:22 Really good. I have a very exciting life update, and that is that my little sister just moved to San Francisco, and she moved in just down the street from me, which is so fun, and I get to see her all the time. Ha ha ha. Aarati: 0:36 That is so cute! I love that. Where is she moving from? Arpita: 0:40 She was living in Southern California, so I only got to see her like every few months or so, and now she is on my block. Aarati: 0:49 Oh my gosh, that's amazing. So a lot of sister hangouts, you can show her the sights of the city. Arpita: 0:55 Yeah, I know, it's been, it's been super fun. Um, where she parks her car to go to work is, she has to walk past my apartment to get to her car. So in the mornings, while I'm making my coffee, I like wave to her out my window as she walks past. Aarati: 1:09 Oh my god, that's amazing. I love that. That's so cute. Arpita: 1:13 It's really great. Aarati: 1:14 That's amazing. Arpita: 1:15 Most of you guys know that I, I live with my partner in San Francisco, but I feel like we are slowly morphing into a three adult household where she's been doing, she's like, I'm getting groceries, what do you need? And, or she's like, I'm going to Costco, what do you need? And then we go back and forth, but that's so nice because I feel like it's half the effort for me, and we just get to.... Aarati: 1:37 That's so useful. Arpita: 1:38 ...pool resources. It's so nice. Aarati: 1:40 And if you ever need anyone to take care of the cats, you know, if you go, if you go somewhere, she's right there. Arpita: 1:46 Built in babysitter. Aarati: 1:48 Exactly. Arpita: 1:48 She's right there. Yeah, if she needs someone to water her plants. I'm right there. Um, I'm like, I feel like this is a great plug for community living or commune living... Aarati: 1:58 Yes. Arpita: 1:58 Or I'm like, this is, I get it. I get it. I get it now. Aarati: 2:01 Yeah, I've, I've often seen that, like, I don't think two adults in any household is enough, I think you need at least one more to pick up all the slack, it needs to be,, two people in a committed relationship, and then that random single friend, who's me, by the way, I'm the random single friend with my dog, who's like, yeah, I'll come, I'll come by and drop off groceries, I'll come by and babysit your, dog, or your kid or whoever. Arpita: 2:27 Oh that's so nice. Aarati: 2:28 There's plenty of us out there. Arpita: 2:30 Great. You are, you are a cornerstone of our society. Aarati: 2:33 Yes, exactly. Arpita: 2:36 What about you? What's going on with you? Aarati: 2:38 Um, well, I'm back in my old bedroom, which is great. The construction and everything's finally done. My dog is really happy to be back here. So that's wonderful. Um... Arpita: 2:49 No more night time cuddles? Aarati: 2:52 No. Unfortunately not for him, but I don't think he minds too much after that that initial foray into trying to sleep on the same bed as me. He's like it's not happening. It's... yeah.... so Arpita: 3:05 He's like, I don't like kicked in the head while I sleep. Aarati: 3:08 Yeah. So strange, so strange. But I do actually have a quick correction to make from our last episode, which I kind of... that's inevitable. You know, I'm not a physicist. I was trying to talk about physics and of course people were like, you're wrong. Arpita: 3:24 Is this from your brother? Aarati: 3:26 Oh yes, of course. I feel like, I feel like, you know, all, all of my friends, like all my physics friends and people were like, you did great. That was such a good job of explaining Emmy Noether's theorem. Like, we're so proud of you for taking that on. And then my brother's like, B+.... Like, you did, you did alright. Like... Arpita: 3:46 I think B+ is a great score. Aarati: 3:48 Yeah, I think so. Arpita: 3:49 A B+ is great. Aarati: 3:51 He's like, there's some things that I would have said differently, but okay. Arpita: 3:55 Yeah, course. Of course he would say it differently. Aarati: 3:57 Yeah. Arpita: 3:58 It's not a fair bar. Aarati: 4:00 I know it's not at all, um, but there was something that he said that I was like, that was actually a mistake on my part. Even though it's kind of a small one. When I was talking about Einstein's theory of general relativity, overcoming some of the limitations of Newton's gravitational equations, I had said something like, Newton's equations didn't apply for things that had no mass or moved faster than the speed of light. And he pointed out to me that nothing moves faster than the speed of light. And what I should have said was something like"things that are approaching the speed of light or moving at the speed of light." But I said"moves faster" and I was wrong. So. Thank you to my brother for pointing that out, and I will try to do better in the future. Arpita: 4:49 We love and appreciate scientific accuracy. Aarati: 4:53 Yes. Arpita: 4:54 I would have never caught that. Aarati: 4:56 I know. Arpita: 4:56 And I had to probably read and listen to this at least four different times while I was editing it. Aarati: 5:03 I know, right? Arpita: 5:04 Yeah. Aarati: 5:04 It... I know, like, I, I wrote it, I researched it, I wrote it. I said it, still completely nothing. So yeah, but that's why I have a little brother who is way smarter than me and will hold me to the highest standard of scientific accuracy. So... Arpita: 5:24 Call you out. Haha. Aarati: 5:29 Um, anyway, hopefully this episode will be a lot easier, who are we talking about today? Arpita: 5:37 I think, this episode is gonna be easier for everyone to understand, but I think it'll still be really cool. I'm very excited to talk to you about this person. Today's episode is about Hedy Lamarr. So Hedy Lamarr is really a renaissance woman. So she was known as Hollywood's loveliest, legendary lady. She was an actress, and she movie star. Aarati: 5:59 Um, wrong podcast. We're a science podcast. Arpita: 6:04 Yeah, actress, movie star, but she was also the inventor of a device that laid the groundwork for Wi-fi. So she is also an inventor. Aarati: 6:16 Wait, what?! Oh my god, a Hollywood actress created Wi-Fi? Oh my, oh my god. Okay, I'm really excited to hear this. Arpita: 6:25 Um, so, let's dive into it. So, Hedy Lamarr was actually born Hedwig Eva Maria Keisler on November 9th, 1914. She was born in Vienna, Austria. Her father was a bank director, and her mom was Hungarian and a concert pianist. She was an only child, didn't have any siblings, so she got a lot of attention from her dad, and her dad was a really curious person, and he inspired her to look at the world with open eyes, and would also take her for these really long walks, um, and they would talk a lot about the inner workings of different machines, like the printing press or the streetcars or whatever they saw around them. And these conversations really sort of shaped her at a young age, and at about five years she started taking apart and putting together small machines like music box or like small electronics around her house and trying to understand how machines worked. But on the other side, her mom was a pianist, and so she introduced her to the arts, so she learned about ballet and piano lessons, and so she did all of that at a young age also. So she got a little bit of both. Aarati: 7:33 Very well rounded. Arpita: 7:35 She was definitely really smart and this was like evident just like from a super young age. But, um, mostly people ignored this, also like the very early 20th century, and she was also really pretty, so that really took center stage. Um, she was discovered by a director named Max Reinhardt when she was 16, and she started taking acting lessons with him in Berlin. And she was in her first movie role in 1930, it was a German film called Money on the Street. She is in this movie and she gets attention from being in this first movie and she's in a few more German films, but it's her fifth film in 1932 called Ecstasy that made her a household name. It is the story of a young girl who married, who's married to a gentleman who's much older than she is. And she winds up falling in love with a really young soldier. And the interesting bit about this movie is that it featured a nude scene that she did. Aarati: 8:42 Oh... scandalous. Arpita: 8:44 Very scandalous. And this created a sensation all over the world. And by today's standards- I looked at this a little bit more- it's, like, the most tame thing. It's not... Aarati: 8:55 Like you see her back or something? Arpita: 8:58 It's like nothing. Aarati: 8:59 Yeah, yeah, it's like oh my god, her ankle. Like, her bare ankle. Arpita: 9:05 It's honestly probably like something similar to that, but at the time it was like so scandalous and the U. S. government actually even banned the film and they wouldn't allow it to be shown. Aarati: 9:17 Wow! Arpita: 9:17 Because it was so scandalous. But this really, gave her this, notoriety. Like, she was really catapulted into fame because, you know, it's, like, so scandalous and, like, she was the forefront of it. She was the main character. Aarati: 9:29 Yeah. Arpita: 9:30 Um, so then after this movie in 1933, there was an Austrian ammunition dealer. His name is Friedrich Mandl, he goes by Fritz, and he saw Hedy perform in a play. This is after the movie, in Vienna, and he was like totally smitten for her. So they got married. Hedy was only 18, and things sort of devolved in that marriage really, really quickly. So, Hedy was originally attracted to Fritz's intelligence, but she soon learned that he's kind of a control freak. He, really wanted to control everything about his life, that included her. Aarati: 10:09 Yeah. Arpita: 10:09 And he even tried to buy all of the prints that were available of Ecstasy so that no one else could see them. Aarati: 10:16 Whoa... okay. Just like the posters of the movie Yeah that's super controlling. Arpita: 10:21 Super controlling. Aarati: 10:22 Like, huge red flag. Arpita: 10:23 Yeah, this guy is a huge red flag. Um, apparently, I don't know if this is true, but there was a rumor that Italy's dictator Mussolini had a copy of the poster but refused to give it up and refused to give to Fritz. I don't know if that's true. Aarati: 10:38 He tried? He tried to get it from... Arpita: 10:41 Mussolini. Aarati: 10:41 That's, yeah, that's crazy. Arpita: 10:44 I don't actually know if that's true, but I did find that in one of my sources and Aarati: 10:47 Oh, I would believe it. I would absolutely, people like that are insane. Like, if they think that they can control you to that level, I think that they would think that they could control everyone to that level, so why not go after Italy's dictator, who's in charge of the country? Arpita: 11:02 Um, and so Hedy realized that her independence, her sense of self worth, were really slipping away. And she was also becoming really wary of his right wing politics. She said, quote, I knew very soon that I could never be an actress while I was his wife. He was the absolute monarch in his marriage. I was like a doll. I was like a thing, some object of art, which had to be guarded and imprisoned, having no mind, no life of its own. Unquote. So she was incredibly unhappy, and she was forced to, you know, smile and look pretty while he entertained all of these people who would keep coming through the house. And a lot of them ended up being leaders in the Nazi party, because remember, this is like really early 20th century, he's an ammunition dealer, and she was around all these people, and she was like, I'm done, I'm over it. And she escaped, and she ran away to London in 1937. Aarati: 12:02 Nice. Good for her, like, not taking that trophy wife crap. She's just, I'm out. Bye. Arpita: 12:10 Yeah, exactly. So her marriage ended and even like it had been a few years, but she was still really riding the notoriety from Ecstasy. And she got Hollywood's attention. So she was at a dinner party and she met Louis B. Mayer who is actually the second M in MGM like the big studio in Hollywood. Aarati: 12:33 Really? Oh cool! Arpita: 12:34 Yeah, um, and Mayer was really known for being kind of a prude like really conservative. Um, but he knew that having, like, such a big name, like, Hedy, someone who everyone knew her name would bring a lot of money to the studio. So even though he didn't really want to, it was against his, better judgment, it felt like it went against his morals because he was, so conservative. He signed her and gave her a contract, but he insisted that she change her name and make really good, wholesome films. Aarati: 13:06 Ah, okay. But I mean, I was just gonna say that, that is a testament to her star power. Like, if you get, someone like that to sign you when they're like, I hate what you do, but if we could change you, you could bring a lot of money to, yeah, let's do this. That's pretty amazing. Arpita: 13:24 She definitely had, like, an"it" factor. She definitely had a star power quality to her. It does seem like she was just kind of magnetic like people were very drawn to her not just by her appearance, but just like her whole aura um... and yeah, it is kind of interesting because like all the things that I was reading about Mayer was that he was just like made really conservative business decisions He was just like a very kind of buttoned up guy in general and so like the that he was even talking to this woman who had made this nude film that was so scandalous and like banned by the government seems kind of crazy. Aarati: 13:58 Yeah, amazing. Arpita: 14:00 Um, so then after she signed with him, she starred in a whole bunch of movies. A bunch of early movies in the 30s and 40s. One of them is Algiers, which was co- starring with Charles Boyer and that was an instant box office sensation. She started being referred to as one of the most gorgeous and exotic Hollywood's leading ladies because she's from Austria. So she has this like exotic accent that Americans really loved. And people were very drawn to that. Um, she was in a bunch of other movies like with people like Clark Gable. And her performance also had mixed reviews, but you know people just really liked her. They thought she was really pretty she was really talented and she was had like a really magnetic power to her. Aarati: 14:46 Wow. So she's really like working with, I feel like all these stars, I feel like people who are cinephiles and are really interested in movies are just gonna be like screaming at us like You know if she's working with like Clark Gable and things like I've heard of him, but you know, oh my gosh I can't believe I've never heard of her. Arpita: 15:05 Huge movie star so this uh, you know, like the early 30s And just as her career was taking off she married a writer and producer. His name was Gene Markey And the two of them adopted a son named James in 1939. This marriage was also short lived, They divorced about two years later, but, she was married to him and she got a son. So she's this big movie star, but, you know, she's still a tinkerer, she like, had all these experiences with her dad, and she was really interested in using her brain. And she famously quipped, quote, Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid. End quote. Aarati: 15:44 Oh my god. That is amazing Oh my god, I feel like today that would offend so many people all the people would just be like you can't you can't say that, you know, or whatever. Arpita: 15:58 Yeah, our like, fourth wave feminism would not stand for that, but I thought it was pretty funny. Aarati: 16:03 Yeah, and I'm, I'm like On the other hand, I find it so funny that she's like, oh, being glamorous is easy. I'm like, no, it's not. If I was glamorous, like, oh my God, I feel like my life would be so much easier, or maybe it wouldn't I don't know. Arpita: 16:20 It definitely gone in a different direction, yeah. Aarati: 16:23 I don't know. But I have never been glamorous. Cannot even fathom how to crack that code of being, like, you know. That's, that's so amazing though that... I love it. Arpita: 16:35 I thought it was really funny. Aarati: 16:36 Yeah. Arpita: 16:37 Um, so she liked to solve problems and she had a really curious mind. And so this sort of like offbeat personality, like she really didn't fall into this mold of what you would think a Hollywood starlet would be like. She was attracted to a lot of people who were not necessarily odd characters, but not people you would think stereotypically would hang out with the Hollywood starlet. So one of these people is this businessman and a pilot, his name is Howard Hughes. Hedy started dating Hughes, but she was really more interested in the fact that he was also a tinkerer and liked inventions. And he also had a scientific mind. And so as a gift, Howard gave her this tiny little toolkit and a small set of equipment that she could use in her trailer on set. And so she had a little inventing table in her house. But this like mini set that he gave her, let her work on her inventions and stuff while she was on set. So like, while she was, filming a movie and stuff, and she like, couldn't go home, she could at least go and tinker in her trailer. And Howard took her to his airplane factories and showed her how planes were built and introduced her to some of the scientists who helped develop planes. Aarati: 17:57 I bet she loved that. Arpita: 17:59 She loved that. Um, and Hedy was really inspired to innovate after this. And Howard really wanted to create faster planes that could be then sold to the military. And so Hedy bought a book of fish and a book of birds and looked at the fastest species of each kind. And then she combined the shapes of the fins of the fastest fish and the wings of the fastest bird to sketch this new design for Howard's planes. And then she showed this design to him, and he said to Hedy, quote, You're a genius. Aarati: 18:33 That is that is so smart because so many inventions and so many things that you know, we're finding out about are things that evolution has spent thousands and millions of years perfecting already and so even with like new technologies today. Like the one that comes to mind right now is You know with um, climate change and everything happening people are trying to look at things like well, how can we increase photosynthesis this like very natural process that already happens, that already takes carbon dioxide out of the air, like, how do we increase that, how do we make that better, and it's not necessarily planting trees, it's making a machine that does that, but you're building that off of a natural process, so for her to, you know, have that idea of, you know, taking a structure that nature has already spent thousands of years perfecting and saying let's just copy nature. That's so brilliant. Arpita: 19:29 I totally agree. I thought that was really cool. And it also kind of just is a peek into the way she thinks. Like, she's able to just so think outside of the box, which I think will show up a little bit later in the story, too. Aarati: 19:41 Mm hmm. Arpita: 19:42 Um, and so she is hanging out with all these different people, and during a small dinner party in 1940 at a colleague's home, Hedy met another inventive person, George Antheil, who was a composer and pianist. So she started spending time with George, and again, she was really kind of going against, like, the public's expectations of hanging out with people who just, like, don't seem like stereotypically the kind of person that an actress would hang out with because George was a little bit of an oddball. He was kind of a recluse and she was she was loving it. She was loving spending time with him and she and George would talk and think about music and engineering and technology. And this was right when World War II was just getting started. And so she was really motivated to help the war effort and she also really wanted to do something that mattered. Um, and another zinger little quote from her was, Standing around and looking stupid was never an option for me. Aarati: 20:47 Oh my god. And so you can replace the word stupid with glamorous. Arpita: 20:51 Yeah. Aarati: 20:51 Just like, oh wow, she, she's a spitfire for sure. Arpita: 20:55 Yeah. Aarati: 20:56 Yeah. Arpita: 20:56 I just thought all these quotes were so funny I had to put them in. Aarati: 21:00 Yeah. Arpita: 21:01 Um, so George was really well known for, you know, writing, um, writing film scores and kind of offbeat music compositions, not just what you would think of as like kind of standard piano or orchestra compositions, because just like Hedy, he was also an inventor. So before he even met Hedy in 1924, he invented and patented an electrical apparatus that made contact with a piano keyboard and recorded the notes on a moving roll of paper. And it's kind of, reminiscent of 19th century telegraph registers and player pianos. So I had to look this up. It's basically like imagine like the inside of a music box. There are a bunch of pegs that are different sizes, and some sort of perpendicular, I guess almost like hand, That as it turns and hits all these notches, it corresponds to hitting a different piece of metal that creates a different tone and then if you put all these together, it creates some kind of song. Um, and you might have seen these in like old timey cartoons and stuff, but it's basically like a little scroll that turns, that has all these notches in it, and is being read by, um, Almost like a little key. And then corresponds to, uh, the keys on a piano. So as this thing is turning, it's getting read, and it's like playing a piano. Almost like ghosts playing a piano. So it's a little bit hard to picture what that device actually looks like, but I will post a picture on the website so you can go and check it out to see what it actually looks like. Aarati: 22:41 Okay. Yeah, so it's it's like those pianos that you see in like I don't know. I've seen him in Costco and stuff actually... Arpita: 22:51 Yeah, yeah! Aarati: 22:52 The self playing pianos and you see the keys going down but nobody's actually playing it. Arpita: 22:57 Yeah. So Aarati: 22:59 So he created that? Arpita: 22:59 Right. So probably the ones that you're seeing in Costco are electronic, but the ones that, but this is like a precursor to that basically where it's just mechanical. There's just like a series of pulleys that are pulling the keys down, but all the little notches are corresponding to a specific piano key. And so as this thing turns, there's something that's reading it, and it's just playing a song that's pre written. But this machinery of the notches corresponding to this series of pulleys is what he invented. Aarati: 23:29 And did he have like a specific use for that or was that just kind of a fun thing that he was doing? He just thought it was funny or like, what was the point of creating this? Arpita: 23:40 Totally. Um, I think, yes, to your question. I think was just kind of a tinker and thought this would be fun. But also, and we're gonna get to this shortly, he did have a use for it. He wanted to implement it in some of his music. Aarati: 23:54 Okay. Arpita: 23:54 Hedy and George became friends and then according to George, quote,"We began talking about the war. Which in the late summer of 1940 was looking most extremely bleak. And Hedy said that she did not feel very comfortable sitting there in Hollywood and making lots of money when things were in such a bad state. That she said that she knew a good deal about ammunition and various secret weapons, and that she was thinking seriously of quitting MGM and going to Washington, D. C. to offer her services to the newly established Inventors Council." End quote. So, Hedy does know a lot about ammunition from her first husband, Fritz, and the Inventors Council was this newly minted, I don't think it's still around, council that started World War II to basically crowdsource technology and innovation from civilians. So, if people had ideas for inventions, and again, this is like pre-internet, right? So, like. People aren't just, like, posting their ideas on places. There's no, like, central forum for anyone to be able to share ideas. And so this Inventors Council had the idea to, like, if people had, you know, ideas for anything that could help the war effort, basically, they... it like, an open forum to get ideas from civilians. Like, you didn't have to be part of military. So this was their way of... Aarati: 25:19 ...bringing together expertise, basically, from all over. Arpita: 25:23 Exactly, exactly. And so she was saying that she was going to maybe go to DC and join this council. Um, she didn't end up leaving Hollywood, but instead she and George began to work on one of Hedy's invention ideas. And so she was inspired by a really early wireless radio remote and also by George's piano rolls. And she invented this frequency hopping system for remotely controlling torpedoes during World War II. Aarati: 25:51 Whoa. Arpita: 25:52 So frequency hopping, which we'll talk about in much more detail, um, had been around since Tesla, Nikola Tesla discussed it in 1903. And this is basically the idea that if you're on a radio, there's a specific frequency or channel that you're going to be on, like a certain wavelength. And other person you're talking to or trying to communicate with is on the exact same wavelength and radio and radio technology had been around for some time now and had certainly been used in the military. And there was a lot of things around code breaking and knowing what frequency to be on and switching frequencies at certain times so that the enemy could not intercept your messages. Um, and so there was a lot of things about you know, from this time to this time, we're going to be on this frequency. And then this time to this time, another frequency. And so that the enemy would not have access to that. And then you to keep things private. So frequency hopping as like a general concept like that had already been around. But she had kind of a different take on it. So the reason this came into play with the torpedoes is at the time, the Allied and Axis torpedoes were unguided. So what that means is when they launch a torpedo from a submarine. They can choose before they launch it, how fast it's going to go, the depth, the direction, but once they launch it, it's gone. Like they don't have any way of controlling it. Aarati: 27:17 Yeah. Arpita: 27:17 All these torpedoes, torpedoes were called fire and forget. Aarati: 27:21 And so kind of like moves in a straight line or whatever in, in the direction you shot it. And then if the enemy moves out of the way or if something interferes with the torpedo, it's like, well, can't really do anything about that. Arpita: 27:35 Exactly. That's exactly right. Um, what it also meant is that the enemy could also jam them. Aarati: 27:42 Oh. Arpita: 27:43 And so the torpedoes are being controlled by radio signal, but like they can't make any changes. They can't correct direction or anything like that. But the enemy, if they detect on a radar that there is a torpedo coming, they can jam the radio signal, which can make them ineffective. So that's intentional transmission of radio signals on the same frequency with the goal of disrupting or interfering with that connection. So that you can imagine is. Like, imagine you're on a walkie talkie with someone and you're holding down the talk button. The other person isn't also going to be able to talk because you are occupying that channel. Aarati: 28:23 Okay. Arpita: 28:23 Does that make sense? Aarati: 28:24 Yeah. Arpita: 28:26 You just want to make sure that the enemy does not end up on the same frequency that you are launching on. So that you can continue to talk to your torpedo. Aarati: 28:33 Got it. Arpita: 28:34 I have to be honest that I had to look up what a torpedo was also because I was like, in my head it was like a grenade where you just like, pull and throw it. And then I was just like, what is a torpedo? So it does make sense that it needs to have some contact in order to make target. Aarati: 28:50 Yeah. Yeah. Arpita: 28:52 Um, okay. So Hedy figured out that if the frequency used to control the torpedo was constantly changing, it would be much more difficult for the enemy to jam the signal and then prevent the torpedo from reaching its target. The problem is that you need to make sure that if it's changing frequency, both the torpedo and the ship are able to keep the changing frequency at the same pace or cadence. Aarati: 29:18 Oh, yeah, I see. Okay, so, originally they would, like, launch at a frequency that they hoped that the enemy would not know that they were launching the torpedo at. And they would just, be like, okay, we launched it at this frequency, we hope that everything's fine, and we hope that the enemy doesn't know that we launched at this frequency. Arpita: 29:38 Yup. Aarati: 29:38 But she was like, it would be even more powerful if you launched it at a certain frequency and then while it's on its way towards the enemy, you change the frequency so that even if they knew what frequency you launched it at, you could still guide the torpedo in the way you wanted, because you could change it and they wouldn't know what you had changed it to. That's really smart. Arpita: 30:00 That's exactly right. So that was a, that was her idea. But like I just mentioned, there was not really a good way for, like the torpedo is not being, manned in quite the same way. So you can't have someone like manually changing the frequency the way you could if you had, you know, two walkie talkies or something like that. Aarati: 30:18 Mm hmm. Arpita: 30:19 So George knew a bit about machinery and back to his piano rolls. He had originally designed these piano rolls because he wanted to write this ballet, this big piece that was scored for 16 synchronized piano rolls, which was accompanied by two grand pianos played by musicians, three xylophones, four bass drums, a gong, three airplane propellers, seven electric bells and a siren. Aarati: 30:47 Wait, did you say airplane propellers in there? Arpita: 30:50 Yup. Aarati: 30:50 Is that a musical instrument? Arpita: 30:54 No, I think he liked the th th th th Aarati: 30:57 Oh my God, really?! Arpita: 30:59 Yeah! Aarati: 31:00 Oh my gosh. Okay, sure. I, I would be very interested. Like, did he ever make this piece? Because now I want to listen to it. Arpita: 31:08 No. So this ballet was not successful, because keeping 16 piano rolls in sync is really challenging. Um, you basically have 16 of them that are attached to 16 different pianos, plus 2 pianos that are played by humans, like the whole thing was like too much. But he was really ambitious, and he's also just kind of a kooky guy, so... Aarati: 31:27 Mm-hmm. Arpita: 31:27 It was, um, You could You kind a little bit of insight into what he was like. Aarati: 31:31 Yeah. These musicians, man. Arpita: 31:36 Yeah, exactly. Um, but the idea of the piano rolls gave Hedy and George the idea of how to keep two antennas in sync as the frequencies were changing. So what they did was the ship and the torpedo would each have an identical piano roll, or basically like the same kind of machinery, but instead of each of the notches corresponding to a musical note that would then go to a piano or some sort of musical instrument. It would actually be setting the antenna to a different frequency. So each notch that moving into would change the antenna to a different frequency. So it's constantly changing, but there's two piano rolls and they're synced. And so as they're both changing, they're both changing to the same frequency at the same cadence. Aarati: 32:21 And one piano roll would be on the ship, and one piano roll would be on the torpedo. That's so smart. Arpita: 32:26 Yeah, that's exactly what it was. And so basically, both the ship and the torpedo are reading the rolls at the same speed, so they could keep jumping frequencies, and they're reading the same rolls, so they're jumping frequencies from like frequency 1 to frequency 15 to frequency 3 to frequency 100 or whatever, but they're going at the same cadence, and they still have their antennas synced. Aarati: 32:47 Wow. That's brilliant. Such a good idea. Arpita: 32:49 So, switching gears just a tiny bit to modern day: Wi- Fi uses a technique called Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum, FHSS... Aarati: 33:01 Okay. Arpita: 33:02 ...where the signal is transmitted on different frequency channels in a pseudo random sequence. So the signal hops between channels hundreds of times a second, and each hop lasts only a fraction of a second. So this helps reduce interference from other devices that might be using the same frequency channel, and then it also helps improve your reliability of a wireless communication through Wi-Fi. So this is how you get different Wi- Fi networks between Like, I live in an apartment building, so, my neighbor also has a Wi- Fi network, and so, their Wi-Fi range is extending into my apartment. Aarati: 33:41 Right. Arpita: 33:42 But I can't access theirs, and they can't access mine, and it's because the pseudo random frequency hopping is individual to each network, which is how it keeps it safe and encrypted. And also, only stay on your network. And that's how that works. Aarati: 33:58 Wow. I never knew that. Arpita: 34:00 So the basis for the technology is the same. This idea that you are rapidly cycling through different frequencies in order to either promote security or just, like, decrease interference. Like, those are the two main goals. That principle remains the same. It's just done at a much higher volume for something like Wi Fi. Aarati: 34:20 Yeah. Yeah. Arpita: 34:22 And the same thing actually happens in Bluetooth because, for example, like my AirPods are connected to my Mac. And if you were sitting next to me, your AirPods would be connected to your Mac or your computer. And our AirPods are not talking to each other's Macs on purpose. And that's because they are on different frequency cycles and they're talking to only the device that they've been paired with. So even though your device can recognize that there's other, you know, AirPods around, it's basically limited to that specific channel because they have decided that these two are going to be in the same frequency hopping spectrum. Aarati: 34:58 Oh, wow. Okay. Oh, that's so cool. This reminds me of like You know, I think I saw a comedian I don't remember who it was, but he was saying like if he ever traveled into the past um he couldn't convince people that he was from the future because he wouldn't be able to explain how anything worked and be And he would say like,"oh, yeah, we have this thing called Wi-Fi" and they're like,"oh really? How does it work?" And he's like,"I have no clue." And"You know, we also have this thing called Bluetooth.""Oh, yeah, how does that work?""I have no clue." And now I feel like I could maybe explain it I could maybe convince someone that I was from the future I and I I didn't know any of this. I was like, Wi Fi and internet and Bluetooth, it's all just magic. Arpita: 35:46 Yeah. I think the thing that clicked for me the most was like, it's so simple. Like it's so simply brilliant is how a public and encrypted network works. Like, for some like, didn't really think about that. But like, if you go to the airport, it's a public network. So that means that everybody is on the same frequency hopping spectrum. Aarati: 36:05 Mm-hmm. Arpita: 36:05 So you I mean, it's like, unless you're doing anything crazy, but like, you can more easily be interfered there. But if you connect to your hotspot or you have your own wireless network, then it's just you and your device that are on that frequency hopping spectrum. Aarati: 36:20 And this is why I don't know if you like when you sometimes when you join companies or something and they give you Like an encrypted laptop for you to use or they're like you have to go through this like You know, um, what is it called? Those, uh, cyber security trainings where, you know, like those cyber security trainings where they pounded into your head that you cannot access any work related stuff or whatever on a public wifi network, because people, I guess are on the same frequency and can slide right in and access all your work files or access like secure information. And so they tell you that you need to. You know, encrypt your laptop and only access your work stuff from a safe network and stuff. This is why. Arpita: 37:08 Exactly. Aarati: 37:09 Cool. Arpita: 37:10 That's exactly why, and that's also why VPNs exist. So a virtual private network, and that's really what exactly what that is. You're basically bouncing your signal off of a bunch of different servers in a pseudo random order so that it's very hard to trace where your actual signal is coming from. So if you're doing something that requires high security or encryption or like most kind of like pretty standard for security for most companies is a VPN because it, Helps prevent that, so that, that random, pseudo random bouncing, basically. Aarati: 37:39 Yeah. Oh, wow I'm learning so much like I I feel like I kind of knew this Some of this in theory like I kind of vaguely knew what a VPN was but I didn't know exactly how it works. So i'm i'm like my mind is blown at like the simplicity of it, but then also at the same time... Arpita: 37:58 It's so simple. yeah, Aarati: 37:58 Yeah, it's so brilliant. Arpita: 38:00 Mm hmm. Aarati: 38:00 It's such a good idea. Arpita: 38:01 I know, and the fact that they use, mechanical piano rolls and they're basically in, like, the early 40s at this point is, so crazy. Aarati: 38:07 Did people recognize, like, how brilliant of an idea this was? Not just for torpedoes, but, like, the number of applications it could have? Did people recognize it at the time? Arpita: 38:18 Mm hmm. So, segue, Aarati. So, great segue. So they developed this originally to help the allied powers and help defeat the Nazis. And like we said, it was a really big step in maintaining security of all these different communication platforms. So they sent their ideas to the Inventors Council and the council gave them actually really good feedback. And so they continued to develop their invention. And they got it to where both the transmitter and the receiver, so the ship and the torpedo, hopped simultaneously at short, random intervals. And any attempts that an enemy had to jam their signal wouldn't really work because they were only on that frequency for such a short time, so their connection would never be interrupted. And they specified 88 frequency changes, which was George's nod to 88 piano keys. Aarati: 39:14 Oh nice. Arpita: 39:15 So they got their patent awarded, and it allowed, these torpedoes to work the way that we have just described. But when they showed the invention to the Navy, the Navy, like, wasn't really that interested in it. Aarati: 39:28 Really? Arpita: 39:29 Yeah. Aarati: 39:30 That's surprising. Arpita: 39:31 And what George said in response to this was that he thought that the people in Washington saw that this was based on a player piano and a piano roll and they were just like,"Yeah, no, this is not serious." and like,"we can't put something that a composer made..." or whatever. They were just like, dismissive of their backgrounds and the fact that they were inspired by a piano roll. Aarati: 39:55 That's the whole point of the Inventor's Council though, right? Like, that's the whole point. Arpita: 40:01 So the Inventors Council did like it, and the Inventors Council gave them a thumbs up. But when they got it patented and they showed it to the Navy... Aarati: 40:09 Yeah, but if you are saying that like this is, this has gotten the thumbs up from the Inventors Council... Arpita: 40:15 Then why would the Navy say"no"? Aarati: 40:16 Yeah, like that's the whole point of the Inventors Council to like bring together these skills and expertise for the war effort and the Inventors Council is like this is brilliant and then people who are at the forefront of the war effort are like, no, we don't, we don't think so. Arpita: 40:34 Yeah. Definitely what happened. I don't know. Can't explain it. Aarati: 40:38 Okay. Arpita: 40:39 So this got rejected. So they had a patent, but they, it didn't actually get implemented by the military. And so George and Hedy sort of went back to their lives. He went to composing music and she started using her fame to sell war bonds because she still really wanted to help the war effort. And their patent was owned by the U. S. government and it never got used by the Navy and it expired in 1959, which was the same year that George died. And later that year, it was developed for controlling drones that would then eventually be used in Vietnam. And then frequency hopping became a standard used by the military in 1960. But because the patent expired and Hedy didn't really understand or know that the patent had expired or that there was a claim process for how she could get the patent back in her name, it was only used once the patent was expired so she never got any money for it. Aarati: 41:36 That's so upsetting. Arpita: 41:39 I know. I know. So, around this time, um, in the late 50s, Hedy film career starts to decline, it's like post World War II, and MGM decides not to renew her contract. Um, she did her last movie in 1958, but it does seem like in her later years, she seemed a little bit lost. Um, she wrote a autobiography in 1966, but it didn't really do that well, and she had a lot of issues with a ghostwriter who wrote this book with her. Um, she was arrested twice for shoplifting, but neither arrent resulted.... Aarati: 42:17 Hedy was? Arpita: 42:18 Yeah. Aarati: 42:18 Oh, Arpita: 42:21 I know it does kind of seem like she was just like a little bit lost. Aarati: 42:24 Yeah. Arpita: 42:25 But yeah, like I said, her invention is used so much today, and I read something that said that the current estimate for the value of her invention was approximately 30 billion dollars, as far 2022 data. But, because Hedy didn't know any of this, I mean, that's based on 2022, in her final year she was getting by on her SAG and social security checks, which were really only around 300 a month. So, she kind of ended In kind of a sad way just because she didn't really see the fruits of her labor with her invention and also her film career kind of took a nosedive and it does like... Aarati: 43:04 Yeah. Arpita: 43:04 ....she was just a little bit lost in her personal life. Aarati: 43:07 Oh, that's such a downer. That's so sad. Arpita: 43:10 I know um in 1997 Hedy and George were both honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the EFF Pioneer Award. And that was the same year that Hedy became the first female to receive the Bowlby Spirit of Achievement Award, which is considered the Oscars of inventing. And so she did get recognized for her work eventually, but it wasn't until much, much later in her life. Aarati: 43:36 Oh, So, she, she did at least live to see, or live to accept those awards, though. Arpita: 43:42 Yeah, yeah, yeah. She lived to accept those awards and she also lived to see her invention pay off, but I don't think realized how much the new technology was based on her invention because she never got any credit for her patent because it had expired and then she also didn't claim any money from it because her name was no longer on it and it was now property of the US government. Aarati: 44:04 Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's kind of a blessing in disguise, like, it sounds like at least she couldn't really be bitter about it because she didn't know. about it, but that's still like the very faintest of silver linings, I feel like. It's, that's... Yeah. Arpita: 44:24 I know, it's super tough, I, yeah, this really sucks. Um, and yeah, kind of going back to her personal life, we mentioned two of her husbands, but Hedy was actually married a total of six times. Aarati: 44:33 Oh, wow! Arpita: 44:33 So, I know, most of her marriages only lasted less than four years, with the exception of one of her husbands, Howard Lee, who was married to her for seven years. Um, and in addition to her adopted son, James, she had two biological children with her third husband, who was an actor, John Loader, who also adopted James. Um, it does seem like she was a little bit all over the place in her personal life. She had all these different relationships, and, you know, she was like..., I'm just kind of speculating here, but it does seem like she was really looking for meaning in some way like she was really very directed and kind of pushed to being a pretty face on a screen, which she was clearly very good at it does seem like she was really seeking some sort of deeper connection. Which makes me think that's kind of why she was looking for that in so many different places with all her relationships with some of the like the the petty theft, like her trying to look for meaning with this invention. She was like really just looking for a deeper connection and like didn't really know where to find her or how to to get it. Aarati: 45:39 Yeah, and I can really clearly see that disconnect that you know from probably a lot of her husband's sides they probably especially at the time because this 50 years ago or whatever. It was like, oh this beautiful actress and gonna marry this beautiful actress like wait you have a brain too. I didn't, you know, think about that. And, you know, they would say, maybe they would say something like, Oh yeah, I, I enjoy how smart you are. But then once you really like, realize how smart she actually is. It's a little bit threatening, maybe, you know? Like, Arpita: 46:16 Yeah Aarati: 46:17 I can see that, totally. Arpita: 46:19 And it does seem like a lot of her partners were, like, in the movie film industry, also, like, writers, producers, actors. And she really struggled with being put into, or like, fitting a mold of what a starlet looked like. And, you know, she's hanging out with these, like, sort of, she's kind of quirky, like, she has all of these different ideas, and she needed a place to put them, but it also seems like she was really driven by wanting to find meaning, so. Aarati: 46:44 Yeah. Just like, whoa, we didn't expect something that smart to come out your mouth. Like, you know? Arpita: 46:50 Exactly. Yeah. So in her later years, Hedy lived kind of a reclusive life in a community just north of Orlando, Florida, called Castleberry, and she died there in January of the year 2000, and she was 85. Um, after her death, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame as the Mother of Wi- Fi, and just in case we don't forget that her legacy in Hollywood as an icon also persisted, um, she was the inspiration for the DC Comics character Catwoman and still remains, yeah, still remains one of the, biggest stars in Hollywood, um, of all time. Aarati: 47:33 Wow, that's amazing. Okay. So now I want to have like a movie night movie movie marathon so that I can fill this gap in my cultural knowledge. Arpita: 47:46 To be fair, this was like, I don't know, 60 years before we were born at least, but yeah. yeah. little off the hook. Aarati: 47:54 Yeah, I know. But still, like, that's, that's amazing that I had never heard of her and Wi-Fi is just so ubiquitous today and I never even thought about where it came from or who invented it or anyanything. That's amazing. Great story. Arpita: 48:09 Yeah that's the story of Hedy Lamar Aarati: 48:11 I loved it. I learned so much. Thank you. Arpita: 48:15 I'm so glad. I really liked doing this one. I thought it was really fun. I thought her life was just so interesting. Aarati: 48:21 Yeah, that's That's fascinating. I loved it. Thanks for listening, everyone. If you have a suggestion for a story we should cover or thoughts you want to share about an episode, reach out to us at smartteapodcast. com. You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter at smartteapodcast and listen to us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. And leave us a rating and comment. It really helps us grow. New episodes are released every Wednesday. See you next time.

Sources for this Epsiode

1. "The Hollywood Star Who Helped Invent Wi-Fi". Google Arts & Culture.

2.  Coleen Cheslak. "Hedy Lamarr". National Women's History Museum. 2018.

3. "Hedy Lamarr". IMDb. 

4. Bedi, Joyce. "A Movie Star, Some Player Pianos, and Torpedoes". Smithsonian Institution. November 12, 2015. 

5. Camhi, Leslie. "Hedy Lamarr's Forgotten, Frustrated Career as a Wartime Inventor." The New Yorker. December 3, 2017.


6. Dean, Alexandra. "'Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story': Film Review Tribeca 2016." The Hollywood Reporter. April 25, 2017.

7. "NPR: 'Most Beautiful Woman' By Day, Inventor By Night." Nitrateville. November 27, 2011. 

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