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Posts Tagged ‘history of technology

“Earth laughs in flowers”*…

 

The promise of gold, oil and king crab has lured fortune seekers to Alaska for decades. But Alaska’s newest profit-making industry stems from a most unusual source: flowers. Specifically, peonies — the kind that people will delay weddings over.

To date, over 100,000 roots have been planted in the state, and because peonies take years to mature, the industry is poised for steep growth. The projected harvest in 2017 is over 1 million stems, which could bring in somewhere between $4 to $5 million in sales. Still, this is a drop in the bucket compared to worldwide peony sales — Holland alone can sell over 30 million stems in a single month. But the northernmost state in the U.S. has one advantage over all other markets.

Alaska, it turns out, is one of the few places on Earth where peonies bloom in July…

A blooming bonanza, or another Tulip Mania in the making?  Find out at “From Fish to Flowers– Is Peony Farming Alaska’s Next Gold Rush?

* Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Hamatreya

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As we take our pick, we might send pleasantly-cool birthday greetings to John Gorrie; he was born on this date in 1803.  As a young physician, Gorrie found himself in Apalachicola, Florida, where he cared for folks suffering from malaria.  Noting that people in colder climes rarely got the disease, he (illogically, but correctly) concluded that ice– more generally, cold– would help treat his patients’ fever.  He first suspended ice in basins above his patients to cool the air around them.  Later, he built a small steam engine to drive a piston in a cylinder immersed in brine.  The piston first compressed the air, and then on the second stroke, when the air expanded, it drew heat from the brine.  The chilled brine was used to cool air or make ice.  He was granted the first U.S. Patent for mechanical refrigeration (No. 8080) on  May 1851.  Dr. Gorrie’s statue stands in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.

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Written by LW

October 3, 2014 at 1:01 am

“If it weren’t for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we’d still be eating frozen radio dinners”*…

 

Edward R. Murrow

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There’s no denying that newspapers are in jeopardy; emerging electronic media have eaten away at both their audiences and their advertising revenue.  But lest we count them altogether out, we might remind ourselves that folks have been predicting their demise for decades.

From the March 1922 issue of Radio News magazine:

Seated comfortably in the club car of the Twenty-first Century Flyer — fast airplane service between London and New York — the president of the Ultra National Bank removes a small rubber disk from his vest pocket and places it over his ear. A moment hence, he will receive by radiophone the financial news of the world. Simultaneously, millions of other people all over the globe will receive the message. At designated hours, news of a general character will also be received.

The broadcasting of news by radiophone had long displaced the daily newspaper, and…

Don’t scoff! The day may be nearer than you suspect. In Hungary, a wire “telephone newspaper” has been successfully conducted for more than 25 years. For nearly a year, financial news direct from the Amsterdam Bourse has been broadcasted by radiophone to 200 banks and brokerage firms in Holland. And within a few months the German Government has installed near Berlin a wireless telephone station for the broadcasting of general news on a regular daily schedule throughout the entire country.

More on the premature reports of the death of the newspaper at “1922: Radio Will Kill the Newspaper Star.” (See also “The Newspaper of Tomorrow: 11 Predictions from Yesteryear.”

* Johnny Carson

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As we strap on our jet-packs, we might recall that it was on this date two years earlier, in 1920, that Scientific American got a forecast powerfully right; in an issue cover-dated the following day, it made then-bold prediction that radio would be come an important medium for delivering music.

It has been well known for some years that by placing a form of telephone transmitter in a concert hall or at any point where music is being played the sound may be carried over telephone wires to an ordinary telephone receiver at a distant point, thus enabling those several miles away to listen to the music. Such systems have been in use in London between a number of the theaters and hotels for many years, but it is only recently that a method of transmitting music by radio has been found possible.

It has now been discovered that music can be transmitted by wireless in the same manner as speech or code signals and as a result of research work on radio telephony at the Bureau of Standards it has been proven that music sent by this means does not lose its quality. It is, therefore, obvious that music can be performed at any place, radiated into the air through an ordinary radio transmitting set and received at any other place, even though hundreds of miles away. The music received can be made as loud as desired by suitable operation of the receiving apparatus. The result is perhaps not so very different from that secured by means of the ordinary telephone apparatus above mentioned, but the system is far simpler and does not require the use of any intermediate circuit. The entire feasibility of centralized concerts has been demonstrated and in fact such concerts are now being sent out by a number of persons and institutions. Experimental concerts are at present being conducted every Friday evening from 8:30 to 11:00 by the Radio Laboratory of the Bureau of Standards. The wave length used is 500 meters. This music can be heard by any one in the territory near the District of Columbia having a simple amateur receiving outfit. The possibilities of such centralized radio concerts are great and extremely interesting. One simple means of producing music for radio transmission is to play a phonograph into the radio transmitter. An interesting improvement upon this method is being utilized in the experiments at the Bureau. The carbon microphone, which is the mouthpiece of an ordinary telephone, is mounted on the phonograph in place of the usual vibrating diaphragm. As a result the phonograph record produces direct variations of electric current in the telephone apparatus instead of producing sound; thus while the music is not audible at the place where the phonograph record is being played, it is distinctly heard at the different receiving stations.

 

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Written by LW

October 1, 2014 at 1:01 am

“I am my own secretary; I dictate, I compose, I copy all myself”*…

 

In this age of the email attachment and of the “duplicate” and “save as” commands, we’ve come to take copies for granted.  But the quest for a way easily to make/keep duplicates of correspondence and records without transcribing them has a long history: most readers will be old enough to remember the days when Xerox machines– introduced in 1959**– were the duplicators of choice; and some, the era of the carbon copy.  But while xerography ruled for around 50 years, carbon paper held sway for over 100.

The first version of carbon paper was patented by Ralph Wedgwood—an estranged member of the famous Wedgwood pottery family—in 1806. The paper was the central component of Wedgwood’s  “Manifold Stylographic Writer,” which was originally meant to aid the blind in writing (through the addition of thin metal wires to guide in forming words along lines), but was soon used primarily as a copying device. Wedgwood wasn’t the only manufacturer of manifold writers; the portable (approx. 8.5 x 10 in) leather wallet above includes a label naming “inventor and patentee” F. Folsch.

Early adopters were mixed in their reviews.

Poet Robert Southey called it a “very excellent contrivance”; on the other hand, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Charles Willson Peale in 1807, noting with disapproval the olfactory effect of the oil used to create the carbonated paper: “The fetid smell of the copying paper would render a room pestiferous, if filled with presses of such papers.”

In the end, wide adoption of carbon paper came in the 1870s with the introduction of typewriting (and the development of better-smelling ink).

Read more at Slate in Nora Wilkinson’s “The Nifty, Portable Copying Technology Used by Early-19th-Century Letter-Writers,” and even more in her longer post on the subject on the Bodleian Library’s Conveyor blog.

* the Venerable Bede

** The Xerox machine was the much sharper competitor of- and, with it’s technological copycats, ultimately replacement for– the first office copiers, introduced in 195o (main among them, 3M’s Therma-Fax machine).

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As we savor sharing, we might send nostalgic birthday greetings to that most exquisite of (self-)copiers, Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust; he was born on this date in 1871.  Proust spent the last three years of his life confined to his cork-lined bedroom, working to complete what Somerset Maugham called the “greatest fiction to date,” the seven-volume novel A la Recherche de Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past, or as more recently translated, In Search of Lost Time).

All the greatest things we know have come to us from neurotics. It is they and they only who have founded religions and created great works of art. Never will the world be conscious of how much it owes to them, nor above all of what they have suffered in order to bestow their gifts on it.

Remembrance of Things Past: The Guermantes Way

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Hello?… Hello?…

Quoth the always-amusing Tyler Hellard: “ConferenceCall.biz is a spectacular display of existential despair and the modern condition.”

And indeed it is.

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As we remember that we can press “8” to mute at any time, we might email elegantly and creatively designed birthday greetings to Douglas Carl Engelbart; he was born on this date in 1925.  An engineer and inventor who was a computing and internet pioneer, Doug (who passed away last year) is best remembered for his seminal work on human-computer interface issues, and for “the Mother of All Demos” in 1968, at which he demonstrated for the first time the computer mouse, hypertext, networked computers, and the earliest versions of graphical user interfaces… that’s to say, computing as we know it.

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Written by LW

January 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

Connections…

 

Everyone knows the old saw that “no technology exists in a vacuum.”  Less clear to our linear-narrative-obsessed culture is the fact that no technology was invented in one, either.  The strands that connect the dots of a technology’s path from invention to deployment to adoption criss and cross much more than we give them credit for, even in TED Talks.  History Mesh is an interactive timeline tracing the interconnected history of four technology megatrends over the past four millennia, using the London Tube Map as graphic inspiration.  Think the history of computation started in the 1950s and has nothing to do with “water puppet theater” in the third century B.C.E.?  Think again…

Read the whole story here, then explore History Mesh.

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As we appreciate the shoulders of those on whom we stand, we might send paradigm-shaping birthday greetings to Rosalind Franklin; she was born on this date in 1920.  A biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer, Franklin captured the X-ray diffraction images of DNA that were, in the words of Francis Crick, “the data we actually used” when he and James Watson developed their “double helix” hypothesis for the structure of DNA. Indeed, it was Franklin who argued to Crick and Watson that the backbones of the molecule had to be on the outside (something that neither they nor their competitor in the race to understand DNA, Linus Pauling, had understood).  Franklin never received the recognition she deserved for her independent work– her paper was published in Nature after Crick and Watson’s, which barely mentioned her– and she died of cancer four years before Crick, Watson, and their lab director Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize for the discovery.

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Written by LW

July 25, 2013 at 1:01 am

And in conclusion…

The final image in Russ Meyer’s epic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Monte Patterson has done us the terrific service of creating The Final Image, a Tumblr that collects– yes!– the final images of films.  And by way of context, he’s included an illustrative introduction…

… Let’s examine the mise-en-scène of Big (1988, dir. Penny Marshall). After experiencing the age of 30 for a week, Josh, back a boy again, walks up a road with his best friend, Billy, much like the beginning, except this time new meaning is attached. The road seems wide and endless as it inclines out of the top-right quadrant of the frame, symbolizing the big road ahead for the boy. After a Josh reverts to his child form and is reunited with his best friend Billy. From these details, we can compile a list of the formal elements that comprise the mise-en-scène of this final image.

Formal elements of the Big final image:

  • composition: wide shot
  • subject framing: lower center
  • sets: residential street
  • props: bicycle, baseball bat, skateboard
  • actors: adolescent boys, one who has lived as a 30 y.o.
  • performance: the boys sing and leisurely walk up the street
  • costumes: kids clothing, shirts untucked
  • lighting: daytime, sunny
  • camera movement: fixed
  • sound: diegetic ambient, non-expository dialogue, film score

This list is the formula for a satisfactory emotional outcome of this film. As Josh ascends the road, we are happy he has returned home, and are aware of the wisdom he’s gained from what he experienced as an adult.

More of the essay, and many more final images at The Final Image.

***

As we compose ourselves,we might recall that it was on this date in 1880 that Alexander Graham Bell transmitted the first wireless telephone message on his newly invented photophone from the top of the Franklin School in Washington, D.C.  Bell believed that the photophone, a device allowed the transmission of sound on a beam of light, was his most important invention.

Bell’s photophone worked by projecting the voice through an instrument toward a mirror. Vibrations in the voice caused similar vibrations in the mirror. Bell directed sunlight into the mirror, which captured and projected the mirror’s vibrations. The vibrations were transformed back into sound at the receiving end of the projection…  which is to say that the photophone functioned similarly to the telephone, except that the photophone used light as a means of projecting the information and the telephone relied on electricity.

It was many years before the significance of Bell’s work was fully recognized, as the original photophone failed to protect transmissions from outside interferences (such as clouds) that disrupted transport.  Its practical application awaited the development of technology for the secure transport of light… which is to say that Bell’s photophone was the progenitor of modern fiber optics, the technology that is, with wireless, displacing Bell’s much more famous creation.

 One of Bell’s drawing for the photophone (source)

The Death of Distance…

With electricity we were wired into a new world, for electricity brought the radio, a “crystal set” and with enough ingenuity, one could tickle the crystal with a cat’s whisker and pick up anything.

T.H. White

I love sports. Whenever I can, I always watch the Detroit Tigers on the radio.

- Gerald R. Ford

It’s not true I had nothing on, I had the radio on.

- Marilyn Monroe

 click image above, of here, to see full infographic, from the folks at Sonos

As we settle into our Love Shacks for Valentine’s Day, we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that the B-52’s played their first gig (in their hometown, Athens, GA).  After their independently-produced “Rock Lobster” became a demi-hit, the band signed with Warner Bros., where their official bio read:

As a group we enjoy science facts, thrift shopping, tick jokes, fat fad diets, geometric exercising, and discovering the ‘essence from within.'” When taken together with the assertion that the band was “found in the Amazon River basin 40 years ago by Professor Agnes Potter and subsequently abandoned at Athens, Georgia.

Still together (though without Ricky Wilson, who died of AIDS in 1985), the B-52’s are widely credited with paving the way for what became “The Athens Scene”:  a collection of local bands that, over the next several years, broke big (e.g., Love Tractor) and bigger (REM).

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Written by LW

February 14, 2012 at 1:01 am

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