Celebrating Edwin Armstrong, the man who gave us FM radio

It’s the birthday today of American engineer and inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong (18 Dec 1890 – 1 Feb 1954). In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, he is the guy who laid the foundation for much of modern day radio and broadcasting electronics.

Among other things, Armstrong invented the continuous wave transmitter, the regenerative circuit and the superheterodyne receiver. He also invented frequency modulation (FM) radio transmission. Basically, radio electronics as we know it would not have existed if it wasn’t for his fundamental contributions to the field. Some commentators have gone so far as to call him “the most prolific and influential inventor in radio history”.

Modern electronics owe much to the genius of Edwin Armstrong.(© All Rights Reserved)
Modern electronics owe much to the genius of Edwin Armstrong.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Armstrong fought a long and frustrating battle with his former employer RCA over the invention of FM radio. RCA also claimed the invention, and won the patent battle for the technology. RCA’s ownership of the key FM patents meant that Armstrong could not claim any benefits from the widespread adoption of FM radio in the USA. This sad development left him emotionally broken and financially ruined and contributed to his suicide in 1954. What makes the story even more depressing is that Armstrong posthumously won most of his patent lawsuits against RCA, making him a very rich, dead man. His wife, Marion McInnis, used the money from the patents to establish the Armstrong Memorial Research Foundation, with which she was involved until her death in 1979.

It remains one of life’s cruel misfortunes that, as a result of corporate legal wrangles, a brilliant individual like Edwin Armstrong was never able during his lifetime to get the recognition he so richly deserved.

World Mental Health Day and the global crisis of depression

Today, 10 October, is World Mental Health Day. This day, sanctioned by the World Health Organisation, raises public awareness about mental health issues. The aim is to stimulate open discussion of mental disorders and to promote investment into treatment and prevention services.

The theme for 2012 is “Depression: A Global Crisis”. In support of this, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) has compiled a highly informative PDF document on World Mental Health Day and on depression in particular – well worth a read.

Depression – a mental disorder that involves depressed mood, loss of interest, decreased energy, feelings of guilt and reduced self-esteem, disturbed sleep, suppressed appetite, reduced concentration and heightened anxiety – is indeed a crisis of global proportions, with a reported number of 350 million people worldwide suffering from some form of depression. That’s almost 1 in 20 people worldwide.

While various forms of treatment exist – including basic psychosocial support combined with antidepressant medication or psychotherapy such as cognitive behaviour therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy or problem-solving treatment – depression is often not correctly diagnosed and access to treatment remains a problem, especially in the developing world. It is estimated that in some areas less than 10% of depression sufferers receive treatment.

Bipolar affective disorder, a severe form of depression, involves disruptive mood swings between frenzied manic states and episodes of deep depression.
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In a way we are faced with polar opposite problems in the developed and developing world when it comes to treating depression. In the developing world, the disease is often not correctly diagnosed, and the necessary medication is not available, or there aren’t suitably trained caregivers to assist with the required therapy.  In the developed world, on the other hand, I personally think we tend to ‘grab the pills’ way to quickly. While antidepressant medication is a key component in the treatment of severe depression, what is worrying is the extent to which it is willy-nilly dished out to anyone and everyone who feels a bit down. Almost like the injudicious prescription of antibiotics for anything from a mild flu, when all that’s needed is some rest and recovery time, we are becoming a population popping ‘happy pills’ when the problem could be solved successfully, and with less side-effects, through therapy and even self-help approaches including regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, relaxation techniques, a regular sleeping routine, creating a stable daily routine, etc. As reported by the WFMH, “Innovative approaches involving self-help books or internet-based self-help programs have been shown to help reduce or treat depression in numerous studies in Western countries.”

While antidepressant medication is an important component in the treatment of moderate to severe depression, milder forms of the disease can be effectively treated through self-help treatments including regular exercise and healthy eating.
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On this day, spare a thought for the millions of people suffering from depression, and do what you can to be there and to support those needing our help.  If you feel you may be suffering from the disease, don’t hesitate to seek help – it can be treated. And make sure to get an informed opinion before necessarily opting for medication – there are many potentially less harmful alternative treatments out there.

To quote the WFMH, “On an individual, community, and national level, it is time to educate ourselves about depression and support those who are suffering from this mental disorder.”