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“Mr. Watson — Come here — I want to see you”*…

 

 click here (and again on the image there) for a much larger, scrollable version

There were 5.8 million telephones in the Bell/AT&T network in 1910, when this map was published. It shows the uneven development of early telephone service in the United States, and gives us a sense of which places could speak to each other over Bell’s long-distance lines in the first decade of the 20th century.

The Bell Telephone Company, which was founded in 1877, faced some competition early on from Western Union, but then enjoyed a virtual monopoly on telephone service until 1894, when some of Bell’s patents expired. Sociologist Claude Fischer writes of the years after that expiration: “Within a decade literally thousands of new telephone ventures emerged across the United States.” Some of those independents went into rural areas that Bell had not covered, because the company had focused on developing service in the business centers of the East Coast.By the time this map was printed, Bell had tried several different strategies, clean and dirty, to fight back against its competition, including (Fischer writes) “leveraging its monopoly on long-distance service,” pursing patent suits, controlling vendors of telephone equipment, and simply using its deep pockets to outlast smaller companies that tried to enter the market.

Theodore N. Vail, who took over in 1907, changed strategies, accepting limited government regulation while buying competitors or bringing them into the Bell system. The map shows Bell’s market penetration in 1910, three years after Vail took over. Some rural areas—Oklahoma, Iowa, northern and eastern Texas—are surprisingly well-covered, while others in the Southeast remain empty.

The discrepancy between coverage in the East and the West is perhaps the most striking aspect of the map. California remains sparsely served, and no long-distance lines reach all the way from coast to coast. AT&T constructed the first transcontinental line in 1914.

– Rebecca Onion, “A Telephone Map of the United States Shows Where You Could Call Using Ma Bell in 1910.”

* Alexander Graham Bell (the first intelligible words spoken over the telephone, March 10, 1876)

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As we listen for the dial tone, we might recall that it was on this date in 1857 that Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville received a patent for his “phonautograph,” the earliest known device for recording sound.  Intended as a laboratory instrument for the study of acoustics, it transcribed sound waves as undulations (or other deviations) in a line traced on smoke-blackened paper or glass.

Hear a sample– an excerpt of “Au Clair de la Lune” recorded by Scott himself in 1860, and believed to be the earliest recording of the human voice– here.

An early phonautograph (1859). The barrel on this version is made of plaster of paris.

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Written by LW

March 25, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I want the entire smartphone, the entire Internet, on my wrist”*…

 

As the world watches the clock for the release of the Apple Watch, the Computer History Museum reminds us that watches-that-compute have a very long history…

Ubiquitous, wearable computers have been a dream since at least the 1930s. Chester Gould’s comic strip Dick Tracy introduced the 2-Way Radio Watch worn by members of The City police force. At first merely a combination radio and wristwatch, eventually Tracy’s watch added television and other technical capabilities.

This comic strip, in turn, influenced Gene Roddenberry’s communicators on the television series Star Trek, and other images of watch-like communication/computation devices can be found throughout science fiction. The recent announcement of the Apple Watch has renewed interest in computerized wristwatches and revived the idea of a wrist-worn computer that is cool. Of course, the idea is hardly new but it took a long time for the wristwatch computer to reach levels that Dick Tracy achieved.

The earliest combination of the watch form factor with a computational device dates from late 19th century. English company Boucher’s received a patent for a circular slide rule in a pocket watch shape in 1876.

Boucher’s Calculator – circular slide rule

 

French company Meyrat & Perdrizet made a slide rule chronograph in 1890. The central portion of the device was a standard pocket watch face, with a circular slide rule with an independent hand surrounded it. Two dials at the top of the watch allowed it to perform calculations…

Follow the story– the introduction of wrist instruments in the early 20th century, the advent of electronics– at “It’s About Time: The Computer on Your Wrist.”

* Steve Wozniak

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As we strap it on, we might send timely birthday greetings to John Harrison; he was born on this date in 1693.  A self-educated English carpenter and clockmaker, Harrison invented the marine chronometer,  In the absence of a way for ships at sea accurately to ascertain their longitude, sailing was dangerous; cumulative errors in dead reckoning over long voyages led to ship wrecks and loss of life.  Indeed, the perceived threat– thus, the desire of a defense– was so great that Parliament offered a Longitude prize of £20,000 (£2.75 million) for a solution.  Harrison’s approach, which won that prize, was to create a clock so accurate that it could eliminate those errors. His “chronometers” were accurate to within seconds over long periods; his winning clock was off only 39.2 seconds over a voyage of 47 days… and helped create the conditions in which the Age of Sail flourished.  (More detail on the longitude problem and Harrison’s answer here.)

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Written by LW

March 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

“TWO AND TWO MAKES FIVE”*…

 

George Orwell and Aldous Huxley

In October of 1949, a few months after the release of George Orwell‘s dystopian masterpiece, 1984, he received a letter from fellow author (and Orwell’s French tutor at Eton) Aldous Huxley — who had, 17 years earlier, published his own grim vision of society’s future, Brave New World.  What begins as a letter of praise becomes a comparison of the two novels– and an explanation of why Huxley believes his own, earlier work to be the more realistic prediction…

Wrightwood. Cal.
21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley

Source: Letters of Aldous Huxley, (via Letters of Note); image: George Orwell (via) & Aldous Huxley (via).

* George Orwell, 1984

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As we reach for the Soma, we might recall that it was on this date in 1919 that Benito Mussolini reformed the Milan fascio (literally, “bundle” or Sheaf”; here, a small political party) as the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Party).  Its 200 members, answering Mussolini’s call for men “ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep,” were the seed from which the Italian Fascist Movement grew.

The platform of Fasci italiani di combattimento, as published in Il Popolo d’Italia in 1919

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Mussolini a few years later, in his self-proclaimed role as Il Duce (The Leader).

 source

 

Written by LW

March 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”*…

 

Photographer Ryan Deboodt and his team hiked (for days)…

… then flew a drone even further into the belly of Vietnam’s Hang Son Doong, the world’s largest known cave.

email readers click here for video

See more extraordinary photos (and larger versions of those above) on Ryan’s site.

* Joesph Campbell

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As we go spelunking, we might send crusty birthday greetings to Adam Sedgwick; he was born on this date in 1785.  One of the founders of modern geology, he proposed both the the Devonian and the Cambrian periods of the geological timescale.  Sedgwick was a fierce critic of the theory of evolution when it appeared, calling it “”utterly false… from first to last it is a dish of rank materialism cleverly cooked and served up”; nonetheless, he and Charles Darwin (one of Sedgwick’s students at Cambridge) were friends until Sedgwick’s death in 1873.

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Written by LW

March 22, 2015 at 1:01 am

“The camera is first a means of self-discovery and a means of self-growth. The artist has one thing to say—himself”*…

 

In this Age of the Selfie, it’s good to remind oneself that the impulse to photographic self-portraiture has a long history… and that, sometimes, that heritage is shrouded in mystery…

He likely hailed from the Midwest, sometimes sported a fedora and smoked a pipe. He dressed in casual plaids or in a suit. His demeanor ranged from jovial to pensive. His hair evolved from thick black to a thinning white widow’s peak. And sometimes, a “Seasons Greetings” sign hung over his head.

We might know a lot about how this man aged, but what we don’t know is his identity or why he took – and saved – more than 450 images of himself in a photobooth over the course of several decades.

This mystery has come to light with “445 Portraits of a Man,” a collection being shown for the first time as part of “Striking Resemblance: The Changing Art of Portraiture,” an exhibition [that was] on display through [last] July at Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick.

The 445 images – silver gelatin prints owned by photography historian Donald Lokuta – were taken over the three decades from the Great Depression through the swinging ’60s, when the booths were most popular. “There’s quite an age difference in the photos: You see him as younger man and then with a white, receding hairline and wrinkles,” says Lokuta, who came across a few of these images at a New York City antiques show in 2012.

Upon learning that the antiques dealer had hundreds of these portraits of the same man, Lokuta knew he had to keep them together and purchased them all. “As a historian, I knew this was very rare, but on a deeper level, I wondered, ‘Why would somebody want to take almost 500 photos of himself in a photobooth?’ In appearance, they are unremarkable. They look like mugshots, but that’s what makes them special: The sameness, the repetition.”…

Read more about the “Mystery Photobooth Portraits.”

* Minor White

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As we say “cheese,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1928 that the first issue of VU was published.  France’s first weekly French pictorial magazine, VU pioneered the “photographic essay” form and provided a home to contributors that included Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, and André Kertész.

The cover of the first issue of VU

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Written by LW

March 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it”*…

 

Dan Wieden explains how the infamous Gary Gilmore inspired him to create what is probably the most famous ad tagline ever:  “Nike’s “Just do it” slogan is based on a murderer’s last words.”

* Bob Dylan

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As we go for it, we might send cinematic birthday greetings to Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee; he was born on this date in 1957.  The creator of 35 films (and counting), he is an acute observer of race relations and the role(s) of the media in contemporary American life.  One of his best-known films is Do the Right Thing.

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Written by LW

March 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

“What a museum chooses to exhibit is sometimes less important than how such decisions are made and what values inform them”*…

 

 

This cartridge for holding tartar sauce is made of white cardboard; the words “McDonald’s ® Tartar Sauce” are shown in green lettering along with the McDonald’s double arches logo. This canister holds 25 fluid ounces of tartar sauce, and is made to be used with a ratchet gun condiment dispenser. The tartar sauce is used on McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, a menu item developed by a franchisee in 1962 as an option for his customers who did not eat meat on Fridays for religious reasons. The Filet-O-Fish became a nationwide menu item by 1965 beating out another meatless option, the Hula burger, made with grilled pineapple…

From the collection “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000,” in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of America History.

* Martin Filler

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As we lick our lips, we might recall that it was on this date in 2001 that Taco Bell announced that the chain would give a free taco to everyone in the U.S. if the Mir Space Station, which was scheduled to re-enter the atmosphere and fall to Earth later that week, landed on a 40 foot by 40 foot target that the company had floated in the Pacific Ocean.  In the event, the Mir missed.

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Written by LW

March 19, 2015 at 1:01 am

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