Posts Tagged ‘Technology’
Alan Jacobs has written seventy-nine theses on technology for disputation. A disputation is an old technology, a formal technique of debate and argument that took shape in medieval universities in Paris, Bologna, and Oxford in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In its most general form, a disputation consisted of a thesis, a counter-thesis, and a string of arguments, usually buttressed by citations of Aristotle, Augustine, or the Bible.
But disputations were not just formal arguments. They were public performances that trained university students in how to seek and argue for the truth. They made demands on students and masters alike. Truth was hard won; it was to be found in multiple, sometimes conflicting traditions; it required one to give and recognize arguments; and, perhaps above all, it demanded an epistemic humility, an acknowledgment that truth was something sought, not something produced.
It is, then, in this spirit that Jacobs offers, tongue firmly in cheek, his seventy-nine theses on technology and what it means to inhabit a world formed by it. They are pithy, witty, ponderous, and full of life…
[TotH to @]
C.f. also: “We Put A Chip In It!” (“It was just a dumb thing. Then we put a chip in it. Now it’s a smart thing.”)
* Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
As we celebrate Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday, we might add a candle for Conrad Hubert; he was also born on this date, in 1856. An inventor who first created electric novelties (like battery-powered lighted flower pots and scarf pins), he is best remembered for developing the tubular “Flash Light” (an extension of his work on battery-powered bicycle lights) in the late 1890s. In 1902, Hubert joined with W.H. Lawrence, who had manufactured the first consumer battery to power home telephones, to create the Ever Ready battery company.
If New York, as E.B. White said, is a city that “never quite catches up with itself,” no one may be more aware of it than [Paul] Schweitzer. He is believed to be among the nation’s last typewriter repairmen, and he largely rejects computers, iPhones, laptops, and even credit cards in his workplace. Like a speaker of a vanishing language, he laments the loss of his tribe.
“There are fewer and fewer of us that do this,” he said. “Years ago, if you looked at the yellow pages, there were six pages of typewriter companies in Manhattan. Now, there’s us.”…
The poignant– and powerful– story of “The Last of the Typewriter Men.”
* Ernest Hemingway
As we tap away, we might send darkly humorous birthday greetings to Samuel Barclay Beckett; he was born on this date in 1906. A novelist, poet, and theatrical director, Beckett is best remembered as the playwright who created (with Eugéne Ionesco) what Martin Esslin dubbed “The Theater of the Absurd.” His Modernist masterpieces– Krapp’s Last Tape and Waiting for Godot, for instance— had a profound influence on writers like Václav Havel, John Banville, Tom Stoppard, and Harold Pinter. Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.
No mean typist, Beckett turned out typescript for James Joyce (to whom he was an assistant in the 1920s), for the French Resistance during World War II, and of course, for himself.
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.
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
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.)
Johnny Gamber cares about pencils– so much so that he’s into his tenth year of blogging about them. Fellow lovers of lead (and of superior sharpeners, stationery, erasers, and the like) will want to head over to his site: Pencil Revolution.
(Readers might also want to luxuriate in Henry Petroski’s glorious paean, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance.)
* Xi Chuan, Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems
As we crank the sharpener, we might recall that it was on this date in 1811, in Arnold, Nottinghamshire, that the angry textile artisans attacked a textile factory– the first of the Luddite Riots.
The Luddite movement emerged during the harsh economic climate of the Napoleonic Wars, when stocking frames, spinning frames, and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace the artisans with less-skilled, low-wage laborers. Although the origin of the name “Luddite” is uncertain, a popular theory is that the movement was named after Ned Ludd, who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779, and whose name had become emblematic of those who fight against technology that eliminates traditional jobs (or culture).
“What do we do to things we don’t need/want/like?” Amy Erickson asks on her blog, Oh, Bite It!. “We fry it … that’s what!” In this case, the creator of deep-fried Pumpkin Spice Lattes and, for rougher days, deep-fried tequila shots has put Brach’s famous candy corn inside Pillsbury dough rounds and subjected the whole package to a bath of hot oil. The finished product is dusted with powered sugar, zeppole-style, and allegedly yields “doughy pillows” that are “just a shadow of that seasonal, sad, tooth-buster of a treat.”
In a world in which somebody has already fried every bagged item that comes in a snack size — M&Ms, Tootsie Rolls, Twizzlers — no one can really blame Erickson for daring to dream, but the ultimate end-of-October Frankenfood made Rusty Foster’s Today in Tabs (“Two words: DEEP FRIED CORN CANDY”), and now that’s basically what the internet is doing, pretty unanimously and in repulsion:
— Kyla Gardner (@gardnerkyla) October 20, 2014
— F. Thot Fitzgerald (@DaniFantastic) October 21, 2014
Fried. candy corn. LISTEN, MAYNE. pic.twitter.com/djDdrdQW7B
— Laraine Lujack (@therainebeaux) October 21, 2014
Why did the phrase “deep fried candy corn” just crawl across my timeline? Why is that a thing? What is the matter with people?
— H. G. WellActually (@andthenlynsaid) October 20, 2014
Deep fried? Fine. Candy? Okay. Corn? We’ll allow it. But those four words in THAT order? NAW.
— H. G. WellActually (@andthenlynsaid) October 20, 2014
Well, almost. Some blame is getting spread onto others known to fry a thing or two
— Styx (@RenRennyy) October 20, 2014
via Grub Street
* proverbial saying of unknown origin
As we heat up the oil, we might send fertile birthday greetings to Luther George Simjian; he was born on this date in 1905. The son of Armenian parents in Turkey, Simjian escaped the genocide and made his way to the U.S., where he worked initially as a lab photographer at Yale Medical School– and began his career as a inventor, creating a projector for microscope images among many other devices.
In 1934 Simjian moved to New York City, where he invented a self-posing portrait camera, with which the photographed person could see and optimize their own image in a mirror before the photo was actually taken. In order to manufacture and distribute the camera, which became a success for use in department stores, he founded the company Photoreflex. Years later, after selling the invention and the trade name, the company was renamed Reflectone, after another of Simjian’s inventions, a kind of cosmetic chair with movable mirrors, via which one could see one’s own body from all perspectives.
In 1939 Simjian had the idea to build the Bankmatic Automated Teller Machine, probably his most famous invention. Despite skepticism from banks, he registered 20 patents for it and developed a number of features and principles that can still be found in today’s ATMs– including their name. He finally persuaded the City Bank of New York (today Citibank) to run a 6-month trial. The trial was discontinued — surprisingly not due to technical inefficiencies, but to lack of demand. “It seems the only people using the machines were a small number of prostitutes and gamblers who didn’t want to deal with tellers face to face,” Simjian wrote. Hence Simjian missed out on not only the commercial success, but also the fame associated with inventing the ATM. (This credit is often attributed to John Shepherd-Barron, who invented the first true electronic ATM, and Donald Wetzel, who directed a 5 million US-$ project to build upon Shepherd-Barron’s invention in the late 1960s.)
Simjian achieved real commercial success during World War II with another invention, his Optical Range Estimation Trainer, a kind of simple flight simulator, made from mirrors, light sources and miniature airplanes, used to train US military pilots in estimating the speed and distance of airplanes; Simjian sold over 2000 of these devices. Today’s successor of Reflectone (after a number of mergers and acquisitions), CAE, is still selling flight simulation and control technology.
Simjian founded several other companies in the following years and invented a number of very different devices and technologies,including a teleprompter, medical ultrasound devices, a remote-controlled postage meter, a golf simulator, and a meat tenderizer. He never stopped inventing in his laboratories in Fort Lauderdale. At the age of 92, he got his last patent on a process for improving the sound of wood for musical instruments– seven months before his death in 1997.
The image above is from High Frequency Electric Currents in Medicine and Dentistry (1910) by champion of electro-therapeutics Samuel Howard Monell, a physician who the American X-Ray Journal cite, rather wonderfully, as having “done more for static electricity than any other living man.”
Although the use of electricity to treat physical ailments could be seen to stretch back to the when the ancient Greeks first used live electric fish to numb the body in pain, it wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries – through the work of Luigi Galvani and Guillaume Duchenne – that the idea really took hold. Monell claims that his high frequency currents of electricity could treat a variety of ailments, including acne, lesions, insomnia, abnormal blood pressure, depression, and hysteria. Although not explicitly delved into in this volume, the treatment of this latter condition in women was frequently achieved at this time through the use of an early form of the vibrator (to save the physician from the manual effort), through bringing the patient to “hysterical paroxysm” (in other words, an orgasm)…
Today, electrotherapy is widely accepted in the field of physical rehabilitation– e.g. in the knitting of broken bones-– and also made the news recently as a method of keeping soldiers awake (an application–the treatment of fatigue– that Monell also touted).
Read and see more at Public Domain Review‘s “High Frequency Electric Currents in Medicine and Dentistry (1910)”
[TotH to EWW]
* George Carlin
As we sing the body electric, we might send precisely-programmed birthday greetings to Joseph F. Engelberger; he was born on this date in 1925. An engineer and entrepreneur who is widely considered “the father of robotics,” he worked from a patented technology created by George Devol to create the first industrial robot; then, with a partner, created Unimation, the first industrial robotics company. The Robotics Industries Association presents the Joseph F. Engelberger Awards annually to “persons who have contributed outstandingly to the furtherance of the science and practice of robotics.”
It’s straight out of the pages of science fiction: a “wearable” book, which uses temperature controls and lighting to mimic the experiences of a story’s protagonist, has been dreamed up by academics at MIT.
The book, explain the researchers, senses the page a reader is on, and changes ambient lighting and vibrations to “match the mood”. A series of straps form a vest which contains a “heartbeat and shiver simulator”, a body compression system, temperature controls and sound.
“Changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state trigger discrete feedback in the wearable [vest], whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localised temperature fluctuations,” say the academics…
* C.S. Lewis
As we feel the protagonist’s pain, we might spare a thought for Hunter S. Thompson; he died, by his own hand, on this date in 2005. Father of the “Gonzo” school of reportage, in which reporters so involve themselves in the action they’re covering that they become central figures in the stories, HST was a pillar of the New Journalism movement (though he’d surely be horrified to hear it put that way).
The true voice of Thompson is revealed to be that of American moralist … one who often makes himself ugly to expose the ugliness he sees around him
– Hari Kunzru