History Historical Badasses

We have scientist and actress Hedy Lamarr to thank for Wi-FI and GPS

Hedy Lamarr once stated, “Confidence is something you’re born with. I know I had loads of it even at the age of 15.”

It is clear from this quote alone that Hedy Lamarr was a persistent woman. She is kind of who I want to be when I grow up. I for sure need this much confidence in everything that I do. In all seriousness, Hedy Lamarr definitely seemed like a complete badass. Not only was she a successful and gorgeous actress, but she also had an incredible mind and is responsible for an invention that greatly contributed to how we are able to communicate securely today. Her story is super cool, ready?

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Kiesler in 1914 in Vienna, Austria. Both her parents were Jewish. By the age of 17, she starred in her first film in Germany called Gelf Auf der Strasse. By 1933, she began receiving attention due to her performance and gorgeous looks when she starred in the film, Ecstasy. Though, the film sparked controversy and was pulled from theatersEcstasy is known as one of the first films to portray sexual intercourse and nudity without being strictly a pornographic film and Lamarr was the first woman to imitate an orgasm on-screen. So, at the time of its release, it was deemed quite scandalous. I wonder what people during the time would have thought of Fifty Shades of Grey then?

Despite the initial controversy, the film gained attraction, and Lamarr received international attention from the project. Before World War II, she signed a contract in Hollywood with Metro Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios after leaving her husband of four years, a wealthy military arms merchant named Friedrich Mandl. He was said to be controlling and was a supporter of fascism. I see why this did not work out. She attended many of her husband’s business meetings and companied him to his laboratory dedicated to working on building arms but Lamarr did not support her husband’s fascist political views. Understandably, she went to the United States to flee from him and continue her career.

In Hollywood, she officially changed her name to Hedy Lamarr to pay homage to silent film star Barbara La Marr. In 1938, she starred in her first Hollywood film, Algiers, a box-office success. Lamarr’s performance and beauty were both highly praised. The film was an inspiration for the film Casablanca, whose screenwriters originally had Hedy Lamarr in mind when writing the script for the film. She continued her 28 year-long acting career with films like Lady of the Tropics(1939), Tortilla Flat (1942), The Strange Woman (1946), and A Lady Without Passport (1950). She definitely seemed like a busy woman, if you ask me!

[Image Description: Hedy with Spencer Tracy in “I Take This Woman”.] via Hackaday
During the midst of a successful and growing acting career, Lamarr also pursued her interests in science and technology. Lamarr had been interested in technology and inventing from an early age. At the mere age of five, she disassembled her radio and put it back together. I do not know about you, but I think I was working on mastering tying my shoes at the age of five. Despite not pursuing an education in science and technology, she never let go of her interest in those fields. She did not let her packed acting career stop her from doing something that she loved. I think that this is something that should be admired because we all know how hobbies and other things that we love to do can easily take a back seat when life gets busy.

In the early years of World War II, Lamarr designed the “Secret Communication System,” and George Antheil created the practical model. The “Secret Communication System” was designed to have signals change radio frequencies in order to keep enemies from decoding and blocking messages. That sounds pretty impressive to me! Their invention was intended to prevent Allied torpedoes from being detected by the Nazis during the war. This communication system design today is known as “frequency hopping” because the signals hop frequencies to avoid third-party interference. In 1942, she and George Antheil received a patent for their signaling device.

[Image Description: A still from the documentary, Bombshell, by Alexandra Dean.] via the New Yorker
The two showed the design to U.S. Navy engineers, but it was initially rejected. However, the Navy engineers later shared the concept with a contractor that was meant to design and create a sonobuoy, which is a small buoy with sonar that is ejected into the water from an aircraft. Lamarr’s design was ultimately used as an important springboard and starting point for other ideas. It became an important steppingstone in maintaining secure communications for the military and everyday communications technologies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. So, the next time you ask for a Wi-Fi password or plug in an address into your GPS, you should say a quick thank you to Hedy Lamarr. I know that I will!

Despite having a patent, she never received compensation for her design because the patent on “frequency hopping” ended before her initial designs were expanded on a widespread scale. She got to see her work be expanded on throughout her life but, it was not until 1997 that Lamarr’s work received recognition and she was honored with the Pioneer Award of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. To me, it remains important to share her legacy and talk about the work she did as her designs truly helped shape how we are able to securely communicate today.

Many biographies have been written about her. Also, a miniseries starring Gal Gadot as Hedy Lamarr is in the works at AppleTV, which I, for one, am excited to see! Her “double life” as an actress and scientist made her the inspiration for many fictional characters in the past century, most recently her life served as the blueprint for the genius villain Agnes Cully/Whitney Frost in Marvel’s Agent Carter.

Although she only continued her acting career only for 28 years, she never stopped inventing until she died in 2000 at the age of 85. She worked on building things like a fluorescent dog collar and a new design for the stoplight.

Hedy Lamarr’s work and life truly speak for themselves. She should be remembered for her work as an actress, her legacy as an inventor, and her confidence as a woman.

Want to learn more? We’ve compiled a list of biographies on Hedy Lamarr, you can find it here.


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Celebrities Fashion Lookbook

Marilyn Monroe and fashion as a shield

“‘Do you want to see me become her?’ I didn’t know what she meant but I just said ‘Yes’ — and then I saw it. I don’t know how to explain what she did because it was so very subtle, but she turned something on within herself that was almost like magic. And suddenly cars were slowing, and people were turning their heads and stopping to stare. They were recognizing that this was Marilyn Monroe as if she pulled off a mask or something, even though a second ago nobody noticed her. I had never seen anything like it before.” – Amy Greene, wife of Marilyn’s personal photographer Milton Greene.

The name Marilyn Monroe immediately conjures a certain image – diamonds (a girl’s best friend!), white dress billowing over a subway grate, Andy Warhol’s pop art. All visuals that have become synonymous with the blonde bombshell, actress, singer, sex symbol, and the many other roles Marilyn has come to occupy in popular culture.

Confidence is a quality often associated with icons and tastemakers. To make an impact you must be unapologetic – Rihanna, Cher, Josephine Baker, Audrey Hepburn, and even Marilyn Monroe herself join these ranks. Despite the fact that her life was cut short, the fashion statements she made – immortalised in countless photos – are memorable, timeless, and recreated often, making her one of the most recognizable fashion icons ever.   

The archives of Marilyn’s own writing, however, paint a drastically different picture of the person she was underneath the bombshell. Plagued by crippling insecurity, the fear that the mental illness that had claimed her mother would come for her next, an absent father, a childhood spent between foster homes, betrayals from those closest to her, and a teenage marriage to escape the orphanage, she was a young woman trailed by her many demons. Her writing reveals someone who was terrified of disappointing the people around her – worlds away from the breezy, disarming confidence she projected on-camera.

She writes about a dream she had where her teacher, Lee Strasberg, cuts her open ‘and there is absolutely nothing there…. devoid of every human living feeling thing — the only thing that came out was so finely cut sawdust—like out of a raggedy ann doll.’

Monroe’s debilitating insecurity and complete lack of confidence left her entirely at the mercy of external opinions from husbands and co-stars. A member of the latter group, Don Murray, highlighted this paradox when he said, “For somebody who the camera loved, she was still terrified of going before the camera and broke out in a rash all over her body.”. 

He was right about the camera loving her, there’s absolutely no trace of insecurity in Marilyn Monroe, the persona that Norma Jean referred to in the third person, and could turn into at the drop of a hat. Marilyn Monroe was a vessel for Norma Jean’s own talent, a vessel she would often critique in the third person – “She wouldn’t do this. Marilyn would say that.”.

Marilyn Monroe was as much a part of Norma Jean, as Norma Jean was a part of Marilyn. Amy Greene’s anecdote about Marilyn “becoming” the larger than life force that persists to this day attributed the Marilyn effect to an inner force from within the woman herself. It wasn’t just about the clothes she wore but how she projected herself in them that would transform her into a timeless icon.

The image of Marilyn Monroe that persists today should be more than the one-dimensional figure of tragic fame. Her magnetism on-screen is a testament to the talent and skill that she never could recognize in herself, and the work she was able to produce despite her personal troubles leaves room to imagine how much she was capable of achieving if she had more faith in herself. 

Marilyn is a reminder of the transformative effects of confidence, and how much this one quality can alter our perceptions. Norma Jean felt she needed to become Marilyn Monroe to have the impact that she did, but would she still be the icon she is today if she hadn’t projected that particular persona, or that particular shield? 

Whether you think of Marilyn Monroe dripping in diamonds, performing the opening number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in red sequins, photographed on the beach in her final days, or as a writer who revealed her true self on the page, she wasn’t just a bundle of insecurities in beautiful clothes – she possessed all of the skill, talent, and depth she never thought herself capable of. 

Monroe is a fashion icon whose influence has inexplicably grown to make her a historical figure characterised by glamour and confidence. By sticking to this narrative, we reduce her legacy by only sharing the fragments of her story that were seen on camera. Her reality is a harsh indicator of how blinding insecurity can be, and her lasting legacy is a mark of the achievements she barely acknowledged.  

It is difficult enough to simply exist, let alone occupy the status of an icon, when you are your own worst enemy – and yet, the narrative that persists of Marilyn Monroe’s time in the spotlight might be her best performance of all.


Actress Zoe Lau on the benefits of being trilingual and what New York can learn from the Hong Kong theatre scene

Zoe Lau is originally from Hong Kong, and after studying in Singapore and the US, she’s working and making a name for herself in New York City. This year, she toured in Maine with the Theater at Monmouth, playing the lead Kaguya in “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”. In June, she read an original play, “White Pearl” and acted in the off-Broadway Musical, “Comfort Women” that premiered in 2015 and centered around the forced prostitution of Korean women by Japanese forces during World War 2, a subject rarely covered in this genre in the United States. Zoe has also been featured in independent films and advertisements in recent years.

The Tempest: How did you discover your love of theatre? Was there a moment when you realized this was it for you?

Zoe Lau: My very first performance opportunity definitely played a huge part in my journey into theatre. I played Sleeping Beauty in my kindergarten graduation and loved being on stage. Later on, I was able to explore the different realms of theatre during middle-high school Drama class. That was when I realized that I may have fallen in love with theatre and this is what I want to do for life.

You’re trilingual, what has it been like to engage with plays in multiple languages, has your multilingual identity/experience informed how you relate to particular works?

Being trilingual rocks! (And having different accents rocks!) I really wish I paid more attention in learning other languages when I was a kid. A lot of new and emerging theatre pieces now have multiple languages in their text and of course, my language skills came in handy. I have done readings and performances in other languages and being fluent in them helped make certain lines sound more authentic.

I played a Chinese-Singaporean in “White Pearl” which was written by Anchuli Felicia King. We had a reading of this at the Roundabout Black Box Theatre in June this year. This play was set in Singapore and having lived there for about 6 years and still being able to pull an authentic Singaporean accent, I instantly related to this piece of writing.

How and why did you choose to come to the United States to work?

As a person with a diverse background, I know I have to come to the United States to work. I have lived in a number of countries and I want to work in the place where the most theatre and films come from in this era – hence the United States. Yes, the market here is challenging and that’s exactly why I know I will fit in with my international profile. There is always a demand for more diverse talents in the states, that’s why I chose to come here.

Is there anything you miss from theatre communities in other countries where you have lived that you’d want to see in New York?

Yes! I would love to have annual carnivals and parades of art and culture around New York. I performed with Arts in the Park with Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation and we performed on the stage in the annual carnival and paraded around Hong Kong, which attracted and entertained huge amount of people every year. Inspiring people of all ages with free art and culture! That is what we should do in New York too.

Tell me a little about the Broadway 101, what do you hope viewers get from your episode? What is your vision of what this series can achieve?

Broadway 101 is a video series that will be published on different video platforms such as YouTube, Chinese equivalent platforms: YouKu, iQiyi and Tencent. This series introduces everything about Broadway (mainly to Chinese audiences), ranging from the basics of what Broadway is to interviews with artists, actors, designers, directors, managers etc. who work in the scene to talk about their experiences in New York City and the theatre world.

I have an exclusive episode in Broadway 101 where the episode follows me around New York City going to rehearsal and explaining different procedures from getting around auditions to loading in for a show. I hope viewers could see the hard work actors, directors, stage managers and crew put together in order to run a show. By watching my episode, they can see behind the scenes and hopefully understand more about the nature of working as an actor, especially in New York City.

I believe this series will be eye-opening for the Chinese audiences as they learn more about Broadway theatre and how things run on this end. In return, I personally hope it will influence and inspire theatre lovers to pursue and expand theatre in Asian countries as well.

You can follow Zoe on Instagram and  Twitter.

USA World News The World

New York, the Emmys, and Snowden: The Week in Review

We get it, Wednesdays can be tough to get through. In an effort to keep up with the world’s ever-changing news landscape, we’ve put together the top 10 headlines from the week so you can stay on top of things.

1. Multiple bombings leave New York and New Jersey shaken

Less than a week after the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, New York City suffered yet another terrorist attack. This past Saturday, after a 9:30am explosion in Seaside Park, New Jersey, another explosion occurred at 8:30pm in Chelsea, Manhattan. The New York bombing injured 29 people, but police were able to detect and lock down a second bomb before any more were harmed.

Though the FBI originally stated that they had no reason to believe the two explosions were connected, they later found video footage and a fingerprint that suggested otherwise. The footage led police to issue an alert for Ahmad Rahami, a naturalized American citizen born in Afghanistan. Police brought Rahami into custody Monday morning after a violent gun fight, and he’s now been charged with use of a weapon of mass destruction. 

2. Trump drops the Birther Theory


Concerns about President Obama’s citizenship have finally ended, or so we hope. This Friday, presidential candidate Donald Trump announced that he no longer believes President Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen. Trump’s announcement comes 8 years after President Obama released his birth certificate.

Having dropped the “birther theory,” Trump has taken up a new conspiracy theory: that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was the one who really started the debate about President Obama’s citizenship. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” said Trump, “I finished it.” Many view Trump’s new theory as an attempt to smear Clinton’s campaign and gain the support of African-American communities.

3. The 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards take place


In case you missed it, here are the highlights from the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards: Jimmy Kimmel hosted. Leslie Jones asked accountants from Ernst & Young to hide her Twitter account. Game of Thrones won Outstanding Drama Series. Maggie Smith won Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series for “Downton Abbey” (which Kimmel accepted for her since Smith has yet to attend the Emmy’s despite being nominated 9 times).

The stunning Laverne Cox called for the entertainment industry to give “trans talent” a chance. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Master of None won Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. Caleb McLaughlin, Millie Bobby Brown, and Gaten Matarazzo of Stranger Things performed “Uptown Funk.” Kate McKinnon (actually) cried onstage when she won Oustanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for SNL. Tatiana Maslany (finally!) won an Emmy for her work in Orphan Black, as did Rami Malek for his lead role in Mr. Robot. 

4. NCAA pulls its championship events from North Carolina

Familiar North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill” from this past spring? It’s coming back to bite the state in the butt.

The NCAA announced Monday night that it will be relocating all of its championship games from North Carolina because of the state’s discriminatory laws. As the NCAA’s board of governors stated, “N.C.A.A. championships and events must promote an inclusive atmosphere for all college athletes, coaches, administrators and fans. Current North Carolina state laws make it challenging to guarantee that host communities can help deliver on that commitment.” The NCAA’s decision marks just one of many protests against the North Carolina bill that bans transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. When the bill was originally passed, Bruce Springsteen canceled all of his North Carolina concerts, and now the ACC is joining the NCAA in relocating games from the state until more inclusive legislation is passed.

5. Nigeria opens up about Boko Haram negotiations

The Nigerian government opened up this week about the details surrounding negotiations with the terrorist organization Boko Haram. In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 200 girls from a school in Chibok, drawing international attention to Nigeria’s ongoing guerrilla war. On Friday, Nigerian government officials described negotiations with Boko Haram to free the kidnapped girls and end terrorist activity in northern Nigeria. The officials explained that Nigeria has been in talks with Boko Haram since July 2015, just after President Muhammadu Buhari’s election.

Parents of the missing girls were grateful for the announcement from their government about the status of negotiations since they have received little information in the past. “We welcome the communication, specifically factual communication, and hope this signals a period of continuous feedback,” said Aisha Yesufu, chairwoman of the strategy committee of the Nigerian advocacy group Bring Back Our Girls in an interview with The New York Times. “Every day we expect that is the day our Chibok girls will come back. And if they are not back, we expect the government to come out and tell us what they are doing.”

6. The United Nations General Assembly opens

The General Assembly opened for the 71st time. At the UNGA, the five major bodies of the UN convene to debate and discuss the most pressing international issues. At the forefront this year is the Syrian refugee crisis, along with microbial resistance & the zika virus, the Islamic State, and breaches of international law & human rights. Additionally, this convention was the last one that President Obama spoke at as President of the United States. His final remarks revolved around the Syrian refugee crisis, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and (against) the theme of isolationism in the upcoming US presidential election.

At the specially-dedicated Summit for Refugees and Migrants, 193 nations signed onto a UN action (also dubbed the New York declaration) that calls on countries capable of taking in higher numbers of refugees for resettlement to do so, and for wealthier nations to increase their humanitarian aid figures. The action does, however, face strong criticism, on account of the fact that it is non-binding and does not give a strategic solution to the issue at hand. People like Malala Yousafzai, champion for universal education, are incredibly dissatisfied, saying that “the world’s refugee children were hoping for more”.

7. Edward Albee, author of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” passes away

Instinct Magazine
Instinct Magazine

Albee, 88 years old at the time of his death, was a landmark playwright of the 20th century. His first play, “The Zoo Story”, was introduced to the public in 1959 in Berlin. It was so wildly successful that it made “Off Broadway” mean what it does today. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was Albee’s Broadway debut in 1963 which, appropriately, won a Tony Award for Best Play. In 1966, it was developed into a film that only deepened the public’s love for the story.

Since his burst-out success, Albee wrote over 30 more plays, most of which aimed to show the ugly sides of pretty coins, exposing deep, dark secrets of well-off folks. Even before his death, Albee’s dramatic skill proved to be incomparable and irreplaceable.

8. Sandra Bland’s family settles in wrongful death lawsuit

LA Times
LA Times

14 months after Sandra Bland died in police custody after nothing more than a routine traffic stop, Bland’s family won a settlement against Waller County, Texas and the Texas DPS (Department of Public Safety) for $1.9 million. An attorney speaking for the Bland family stated that in addition to the monetary settlement, the family had stipulated in the proceedings that they wanted a de-escalation training to be mandated in the DPS curriculum. Waller County representatives have denied this claim. The family also made it a condition that the county jail have a nurse on-site at all times – a measure that they believe will prevent deaths like Bland’s in the future.

Bland’s death was officially ruled a suicide, but that was starkly disputed by her family and activists. In January, the police officer who originally pulled Bland over and took her into custody, pled not guilty to perjury charges related to the story he initially gave surrounding the arrest of Sandra Bland.

9. Ten people are stabbed at a Minnesota mall

Star Tribune
Star Tribune

Investigations are still piecing together the identity and motivations behind the mass stabbing at Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota this past Monday. The stabber was fatally shot on-scene and has been identified as Dahir Adan, a 22-year-old man with tight community ties. Although there has been no expressed motive, police are flocking to the possibility that the stabbing was an act of terrorism, and some unverified claims of linkage to ISIS have been made.

CAIR representatives made public statements addressing fears that the local Muslim community at large would be held accountable in the eyes of some, especially since there is a history of aggression against some mosques (such as in St. Cloud in 2014). Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community outside of Somalia itself, the majority of which is Muslim.

10. Edward Snowden talks security

Financial Times
Financial Times

Famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) info-leaker Edward Snowden appeared via video feed at the Athens Democracy Forum. One of his key points while speaking was that, although people criticized him for leaking sensitive information and potentially putting people’s privacy at risk, the end result of his actions are the exact opposite. Now, after the NSA’s tactics have been exposed and, at times, dubbed illegal and replaced, the average American internet-user has more privacy in the post-Snowden era. This definitely is not the end-all to the privacy push, nor does Snowden think that. This statement comes in the same week that FBI director James Comey urges people to protect themselves against low-level hackers by taping over their webcams (which you can read about here).

Until next week: