Sunday, March 16, 2008

Got Lucky?

We don’t always recognize making gut-level decisions. So when they result in good fortune, they feel more random than they actually are. Luck is happening all around us, but are we attentive enough to spot it? Here’s a quick look at luck that’s changed loads of things in history. In most cases, it was far from random.

  1. 1895 – As German physicist Wilhelm Rontgen experiments with electron beams, he happens to put his hand in front of the source of radiation. The image of his bones is projected across the room. Rontgen has just invented the x-ray machine.
  2. 1945 – Percy LeBaron Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, is surprised to discover that radar waves have melted the candy bar in his pocket. Soon after, Raytheon unveils the Radarrange, the world’s first microwave oven.
  3. 1948 – Swiss mountaineer George de Mestral notices how burrs stick to his pants after a walk in the woods. As he examines one of the burrs, an idea strikes. He calls it velours crochet; we know it as velcro.
  4. 1958 – A 12 foot-long, 7,600 pound thermonuclear bomb, 100 times more powerful than what was dropped on Hiroshima, lands off the Georgia coast – just 20 miles from Savannah – after the collision of two military jets. It never detonates.
  5. 1984 – With the second overall draft pick of the NBA draft, the Portland TrailBlazers select Sam Brownie. The Chicago Bulls win six world championships in 8 years with the next pick: Michael Jordan.
  6. 1989 – During a Canadian Football League game, a fan’s image is projected onto the big screen. The crowd cheers so loudly, the young woman, who’s wearing a Labatt’s T-shirt, is escorted to the 50-yard line at halftime. Her name: Pamela Anderson.
  7. 1998 – Pfizer researchers studying gene receptors as a way to ease high blood pressure notice that their male volunteers are becoming, well, excited. Pfizer ends up marketing the pill as Viagra.
  8. 1999 – A customs agent on the US-Canadian border stops a man on gut instinct. Turns out the man is an al-Qaeda terrorist planning to attack Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve.
  9. 2004 – A cellphone set to trigger an explosion on a busy road in Karachi fails. Pakistani police link the phone to the residence of a top al-Qaeda operative. There, they uncover a plot to blow up US financial institutions.
  10. 2005 – NASA scientists track a 320-meter-wide asteroid flying toward Earth. They give it a 1-in-50 chance of hitting our planet in 2029. Will we get lucky again?

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