Posts Tagged ‘Technology’
There was a time when “Sour Cream and Onion” was an exotic variety of potato chip…
* William Cowper
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…
“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.”
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.
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
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.)
“In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking but now, Heaven knows, anything goes”*…
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
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.
“If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance”*…
Some guys spend their spare time restoring automobiles, devoting garage space to chocked-up Corvettes and Camaros. Dave Pares, an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska- Omaha, is making his own warp drive.
In theory, a warp drive contracts space in front of a space vessel and expands it at the back. The ship itself speeds along inside what is called a “warp bubble.” As theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre explained in 1994, if such an artificial warping of space — essentially picking up a piece of fabric of space=time at two points and bringing them together — could be accomplished, it would allow a space ship to travel incredible distances incredibly quickly, while avoiding the speed-of-light problem.
NASA has explored the prospect, but been put off by the technical and financial challenges of developing the power source that it believes would be necessary. But Pares believes he can accomplish warping with low power– indeed, with the voltage available in his garage.
So far, Pares seems primarily to have attracted the attention of UFO enthusiasts; NASA and academic journals have (more and less politely) turned him away. But retired UN-O physics professor Jack Kasher is cautiously optimistic:
It is so far out there, he’s not going to get funding to do it. If it’s going to be done, it’s going to be done in his garage… A lot of people are going to flat-out dismiss it off the top, but I think he’s crossed some kind of bridge here, just showing this is possible with reasonable energy. It wouldn’t surprise me if NASA latches on to this.
In any case, as Kasher notes, at a time when the scientific and technical mainstream had written off manned flight, the Wright Brothers took their first critical steps in their Ohio bike shop.
C.F. also the warp drive’s bizarro twin: the EM Drive (which seems to work in practice… though it doesn’t work in theory).
* Orville Wright
As we put on our helmets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1949 that Britain’s first “launderette”– self-service, coin-operated laundry– opened on Queensway in London. The very first coin-op laundry had opened in 1936 in Ft. Worth, Texas (where it was known for a time as a “washateria”).
While these self-service laundries are still known as launderettes in the U.K., they are now widely called “laundromats” in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand (a genericization of the trademark of the coin-op washers and dryers developed and sold by Westinghouse).
SmartyPans: frying an egg has never been more needlessly complicated!
From the wonderful Tumblr, 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
As we call the electrician to add more outlets, we might send inventive birthday greetings to Oscar Hammerstein; he was born on this date in 1847. In 1883, Oscar Hammerstein patented the cigar-rolling machine… and began to amass a fortune that he promptly reinvested in theaters and concert halls, becoming one of Americas first great impressarios… a fact worth honoring, as history tends to overlook Oscar the First in favor of his grandson, Oscar Hammerstein II, the librettist/lyricist and partner of Richard Rodgers.
In 1954 House & Home reported that “half a million new hobbyists joined ranks of Hi-Fi enthusiasts last year”; by 1955, one authority noted that “High Fidelity at low cost is available to everyone.” (The rise of specialized publications catering to the new audiophiles is another indicator of the trend.) In fact, although stereo technology had been developed in the 1930s, it was not until February 1954 that RCA made the first commercial recording (a performance of The Damnation of Faust, by Berlioz, at Symphony Hall in Boston). Toward the end of the decade one observer would declare that “1958 will be remembered in America as the year when Stereo arrived.”…
Radios and phonographs had been around since the 30s, but with the rise of stereo…
Listening to music on hi-fi systems was not only central to music culture but also an accepted part of domestic culture — a complementary activity to almost anything else that could be done at home, from housework to recreation to eating to sex. As the cultural critic George Steiner wrote, in 1961, “The new middle class in the affluent society reads little, but listens to music with knowing delight. Where the library shelves once stood, there are proud, esoteric rows of record albums and high-fidelity components.” Listening to music was fast becoming one of the most important shared experiences in the American home…
More on the huge impact of the hi-fi at “A Tiny Orchestra in the Living Room.”
* Rebecca West
As we load the changer, we might send sonorous birthday greetings to Robert Williams Wood; he was born on this date in 1868. A physicist and inventor, Wood made substantial contributions to optics and to the development of infrared and ultraviolet photography. He is probably best remembered as the first to photograph the reflection of sound waves in air, and for his investigated the physiological effects of high-frequency sound waves.