Prizes: surprise and reprise

I was most pleasantly surprised a few months ago to learn that the Eduard Rhein Foundation of Germany wanted to give me its 2014 Cultural Award. Accepting the honor meant flying to Munich to attend the October 18 prize ceremony in the Hall of Fame at the Deutsches Museum, a grand old wonder cabinet of science and technology exhibits. The eponymous Eduard Rhein (1900 - 1993) patented important inventions in the 1940s pertaining to radio, television, and LP vinyl records. He was also a prolific popular writer and children's author. The Foundation's prizes reflect his various interests, and include youth awards to promising students in the sciences. 

This year the Foundation conferred its Technology Award on the affable Kees Schouhamer Immink of the Netherlands, whose contributions to digital recording underlie the CD, DVD and Blu-ray disc. In the brief time I had to chat with him, I thought we might commiserate about the declining memory capacity of the human brain, but Immink was having none of that. He told me he's currently learning Mandarin, successfully retaining myriad new sounds and symbols. 

A few days after returning from Munich, at another prize ceremony in the Boston Museum of Science, I watched Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web (and winner of the 1998 Eduard Rhein Technology Award), receive a 2014 Bradford Washburn Award. What a month for glitter. And, because 2014 marks the fiftieth year of the Washburn prize, named for the Museum's beloved founding director, two additional winners were also fêted at the October 23 event: three-term New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now the U. N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and Richard Saul Wurman, creator of the TED conference.

As one of several past Washburn laureates invited back to join the happy fuss over the new ones, I sat in the audience with Paula Apsell (1994), senior executive director of NOVA. When Bloomberg remarked that he still prefers a slide rule to a calculator, she Tweeted the comment. After the ceremony, she urged the ex-mayor to run for president. He kissed her on the cheek.