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Posts Tagged ‘Technology

“We face neither East nor West; we face forward”*…

 

To the Western mind, “African Electronics,” the theme of this year’s annual Chale Wote street art festival in Ghana’s capital, might conjure up images of social media revolutions, telecommunications giants, farmers using smartphones, or other “tech solutions” to development. Not for artist Serge Attukwei Clottey.

Serge, like most artists participating at Chale Wote, views African Electronics as a call for African empowerment, and celebration of the innovation and energy which has been flowing through the continent for centuries. This was ever present throughout a festival that saw examples of both traditional and contemporary art forms: from colorful wall murals to performance art, interactive installations to stand alone sculptures, traditional drummers to electronic music DJs…

More at “‘African Electronics’ Takes a Spiritual Approach to Individual Power.” (Serge Attukwei Clottey will exhibit his performance installation, The Displaced, at Feuer Mesler gallery in Manhattan in October 2015.)

* Kwame Nkrumah

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As we agree with Jaron Lanier that “You Are Not A Gadget,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1888 that Granville Tailer Woods– the first African-American electrical engineer working n the U.S. after the Civil War, whose many inventions (and 50 patents) earned him the moniker “the Black Edison”– patented the Multiplex Telegraph, a device that sent messages between train stations and moving trains, thus assuring a safer, better public transportation system.

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Written by LW

August 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Every technology, every science that tells us more about ourselves, is scary at the time”*…

 

Further to last weekend’s visit with Silicon Valley’s security robots...

Researchers led by the University of Cambridge have built a mother robot that can independently build its own children and test which one does best; and then use the results to inform the design of the next generation, so that preferential traits are passed down from one generation to the next.

Without any human intervention or computer simulation beyond the initial command to build a robot capable of movement, the mother created children constructed of between one and five plastic cubes with a small motor inside.

In each of five separate experiments, the mother designed, built and tested generations of ten children, using the information gathered from one generation to inform the design of the next. The results, reported in the open access journal PLOS One, found that preferential traits were passed down through generations, so that the ‘fittest’ individuals in the last generation performed a set task twice as quickly as the fittest individuals in the first generation…

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“Natural selection is basically reproduction, assessment, reproduction, assessment and so on,” said lead researcher Dr Fumiya Iida of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who worked in collaboration with researchers at ETH Zurich. “That’s essentially what this robot is doing – we can actually watch the improvement and diversification of the species… We want to see robots that are capable of innovation and creativity…”

See and read more here (and here).

* Rodney Brooks

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As we select naturally, we might spare a thought for Blaise Pascal; he died on this date in 1662.  A French mathematician, physicist, theologian, and inventor (e.g.,the first digital calculator, the barometer, the hydraulic press, and the syringe), his commitment to empiricism (“experiments are the true teachers which one must follow in physics”) pitted him against his contemporary René “cogito, ergo sum” Descartes…

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Written by LW

August 19, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans”*…

 

It patrols your grounds continuously, no need for sitting down or going outside to smoke. It’s a “physically commanding presence,” warding off intruders and no-gooders. And, most importantly, it’s relatively cheap. At $6.25 an hour, it costs about one quarter of what mall-owners might normally pay for a human patrol.

That, at least, is the pitch from Stacy Stephens, VP of marketing for Knightscope, the California startup behind the machine. He says there are now two dozen K5s in operation in the Silicon Valley area, including on corporate campuses, shopping malls, and data centers. He also, apparently, doesn’t think human workers are very good at their jobs. “We’re the opposite of the mall cop,” he says. “They sit around for 45 minutes to an hour, then they get up and walk around five minutes. The robot is going to patrol for 45 minutes to an hour, then it’s going to seek out its charge-pad for five minutes.”…

Capable of object- and pattern-recognition, pathogen-detection, and “audio event detection,” it is not (yet) armed.

Readers– who will be forgiven for observing an eerie similarity to the Daleks— can learn more at “Meet The Scary Little Security Robot That’s Patrolling Silicon Valley.”

Claude Shannon (the “Father of Information Theory”)

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As we hope that resistance is not, in fact, futile, we might send fantastically far-sighted birthday greetings to Hugo Gernsback, a Luxemborgian-American inventor, broadcast pioneer, writer, and publisher; he was born on this date in 1884.

Gernsback held 80 patents at the time of his death; he founded radio station WRNY, was involved in the first television broadcasts, and is considered a pioneer in amateur radio.  But it was as a writer and publisher that he probably left his most lasting mark:  In 1926, as owner/publisher of the magazine Modern Electrics, he filled a blank spot in his publication by dashing off the first chapter of a series called “Ralph 124C 41+.” The twelve installments of “Ralph” were filled with inventions unknown in 1926, including “television” (Gernsback is credited with introducing the word), fluorescent lighting, juke boxes, solar energy, television, microfilm, vending machines, and the device we now call radar.

The “Ralph” series was an astounding success with readers; and later that year Gernsback founded the first magazine devoted to science fiction, Amazing Stories.  Believing that the perfect sci-fi story is “75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science,” he coined the term “science fiction.”

Gernsback was a “careful” businessman, who was tight with the fees that he paid his writers– so tight that H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith referred to him as “Hugo the Rat.”

Still, his contributions to the genre as publisher were so significant that, along with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, he is sometimes called “The Father of Science Fiction”; in his honor, the annual Science Fiction Achievement awards are called the “Hugos.”

(Coincidentally, today is also the birthday– in 1906– of Philo T. Farnsworth, the man who actually did invent television… and was thus the inspiration for the name “Philco.”)

Gernsback, wearing one of his inventions, TV Glasses

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Written by LW

August 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor”*…

 

There was a time when “Sour Cream and Onion” was an exotic variety of potato chip…

No longer!

25 Unique Potato Chip Flavors From Around The World You Probably Never Heard Of

* William Cowper

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As we reach for the dip, we might recall that it was on this date in 1880 that African-American inventor A.P. Abourne was awarded a patent for refining coconut oil– the oil of choice for today’s gourmet potato chips (and of course, for theater popcorn).

It is a sad comment on the conventions of the day that there are no photos of Mr. Abourne available– at least that your correspondent can find. So a generic coconut oil illustration will have to do…

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Written by LW

July 27, 2015 at 1:01 am

“In any field, it is easy to see who the pioneers are — they are the ones lying face down with arrows in their backs”*…

 

The story of Vector Graphic, a personal computer company that outran Apple in their early days: “How Two Bored 1970s Housewives Helped Create the PC Industry.”

* Anonymous

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As we try to remember what “CP/M” stood for, we might recall that it was on this date in 1991 (on the anniversary of the issuing of IBM’s first patent in 1911) that  Microsoft Corp. for the first time reported revenues of more than $1 billion for its fiscal year (1990), the first software company ever to achieve that scale.  While in this age of ‘unicorns,” a billion dollars in revenue seems a quaint marker, that was real money at the time.

As readers who followed the link above will know, Microsoft, founded in 1975, was an early purveyor of the CP/M operating system on which the Vector ran; but (unlike Vector) Gates and Allen embraced IBM’s new architecture, creating DOS (for younger readers: the forerunner of Windows)… and laying the foundation for Microsoft’s extraordinary growth.

Bill Gates in 1990

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Written by LW

July 25, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Today’s greatest labor-saving device is tomorrow”*…

 

Kitchen work was time-consuming labor in the home of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, in the late 15th century.  Anxious to cut costs, Sforza allowed Leonardo da Vinci to employ some of his new inventions.  The results were a culinary catastrophe of epic proportion…

Master Leonardo da Vinci’s kitchen is a bedlam. Lord Ludovico Sforza has told me that the effort of the last months had been to economize upon human labor, but now, instead of the twenty cooks the kitchens did once employ, there are closer to two hundred persons milling in the area, and none that I could see cooking but all attending to the great devices that crowded up the floors and walls—and none of which seemed behaving in any manner useful or for which it was created.

At one end of the premise, a great waterwheel, driven by a raging waterfall over it, spewed and spattered forth its waters over all who passed beneath and made the floor a lake. Giant bellows, each twelve feet long, were suspended from the ceilings, hissing and roaring with intent to clear the fire smoke, but all they did accomplish was to fan the flames to the detriment of all who needed to negotiate by the fires—so fierce the wandering flames that a constant stream of men with buckets was employed in trying to quell them, even though other waters spouted forth on all from every corner of the ceilings.

And throughout this stricken area wandered horses and oxen, the function of which seemed to be no more than to go around and round, the others dragging Master Leonardo’s floor-cleaning devices—performing their tasks valiantly, but also followed by another great army of men to clean the horses’ messes. Elsewhere I saw the great cow grinder broken down with half a cow still stuck out of it, and men with levers essaying to move it out.

– Sabba da Castiglione [Via Lapham’s Quarterly]

* Woodrow Wilson

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As we turn on the coffee maker, we might wish a fresh-and-clean-smelling Happy Birthday to Frederick Louis Maytag; he was born on this date in 1857.  In 1893, Maytag, his two brothers-in-law, and George W. Parsons founded Parsons Band-Cutter & Self Feeder Company, a farm implements manufacturer that produced threshing machines, band-cutters, and self-feeder attachments invented by Parsons.  But in 1909, Maytag took control, renamed the company (eponymously), and concentrated on washing machines (which were not as seasonal as farm equipment).  By 1927, Maytag was selling more than twice as many washers as its nearest competitor.

“F..L,” as he was known, was devoted to his employees; he often greeted employees with a question that has entered the vernacular: “is everybody happy?” And his employees returned the affection– an estimated 10,000 factory workers and salesmen attended his 1937 funeral.

Lest we doubt the social importance of Maytag’s accomplishments, readers might consult global health guru (and stat maven) Han Rosling‘s TED Talk, “The Magic Washing Machine.” (Spoiler alert:  the washer– and thus Maytag– have done more for reading than Oprah has.)

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Written by LW

July 14, 2015 at 1:01 am

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking but now, Heaven knows, anything goes”*…

 

The first pair of experimental nylon stockings made by Union Hosiery Company for Du Pont in 1937. (National Museum of American History)

 

The quest to replace natural silk led to the very first fully-synthetic fiber– and revolutionized an extraordinary range of products on which we now depend: “How 75 Years Ago Nylon Stockings Changed the World.”

* Cole Porter

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As we adjust our seams, we might spare a thought for Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent; he died on this date in 2008.  Caroline Rennolds Milbank wrote, “The most consistently celebrated and influential designer of the past twenty-five years, Yves Saint Laurent can be credited with both spurring the couture’s rise from its sixties ashes and with finally rendering ready-to-wear reputable.”  From early in his career, he was known for his use of non-European cultural references and non-white models.  In 1983, Saint Laurent became the first living fashion designer to be honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a solo exhibition.

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Written by LW

June 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

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