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Posts Tagged ‘history of technology

“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

 source

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.

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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

Finding a higher use for those left-over Easter eggs…

From the always-inspirational Instructables, and user bbstudio (among whose passions is carving that natural geometric marvel, the egg shell, as above):

This was done simply to discover if I could do it. I went though a stage where my goal was to remove as much material from an egg shell as possible while still retaining the shape and image of the egg.

More views of this minimalist marvel here; links to more views of the scrimshaw egg shell, and to other contra-seasonal sensations here.

As we gratefully put away the Rit dye, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that Robert Noyce was awarded the patent for the integrated circuit that changed electronics.  Readers may recall that Jack Kilby had (separately and independently) patented the integrated earlier than Noyce– and won a Nobel Prize for it.  But Noyce’s design (rooted in silicon, as opposed to the germanium that Kilby used) was more practical… and paved the way for an altogether new kind of “Easter egg.”

Noyce made his breakthrough at Fairchild Semiconductor, of which he was a founding member.  He went on to co-found Intel, then to serve as the unofficial “Mayor of Silicon Valley,” a mentor to scores to tech entrepreneurs– including Steve Jobs.

Noyce with a print of his integrated circuit (source: BBC)

I for one welcome our new computer overlords…

source

In the aftermath of Watson’s triumph over humanity’s best, your correspondent thought it wise to remind readers (and himself) that this is not the first time that we mortals have faced the onslaught of astounding new technology.

The good folks at Dark Roasted Blend have compiled a nifty through-the-ages recap of attempts to create “life” in new-fangled ways; from Leonardo’s “robot” and John Dee’s “flying beetle” to an “steam-powered hiker” and an “electric milk man” from Victorian England, there’s quite a selection in “Amazing Automatons: Ancient Robots & Victorian Androids.”

It’s all fascinating; but the sweet spot is surely the selection of creations from the 18th (and early 19th) centuries, when the then-highly-developed crafts of metal working and watchmaking were turned to automata.  Consider, for example…

Jacques Vaucason created numerous working figures, including a flute player, which actually played the instrument, in 1738, plus this duck from 1739. The gilded copper bird could sit, stand, splash around in water, quack and even give the impression of eating food and digesting it.

Pierre Jaquet-Doz created three automata, The Writer, The Draughtsman and The Musician, which are still considered scientific marvels today. The Draughtsman is capable of producing four distinct pictures, while the Writer dips his pen in the ink and can write as many as forty letters. The Musician’s fingers actually play the organ and the figure ends her performance with a bow.

More, at Dark Roasted Blend.

As we remind ourselves to re-read Kevin Kelly’s excellent What Technology Wants and then to retake the Turing Test, we might stage a dramatic memorial dramatist and scenic innovator James Morrison Steele (“Steele”) MacKaye; he died on this date in 1894.  He opened the Madison Square Theatre in 1879, where he created a huge elevator with two stages stacked one on top of the other so that elaborate furnishings could be changed quickly between scenes. MacKaye was the first to light a New York theatre– the Lyceum, which he founded in 1884– entirely by electricity. And he invented and installed overhead and indirect stage lighting, movable stage wagons, artificial ventilation, the disappearing orchestra pit, and folding seats. In all, MacKaye patented over a hundred inventions, mostly for the improvement of theatrical production and its experience.

Steele MacKaye

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