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Posts Tagged ‘Technology

“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

“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.

Read more at “Working toward a warp drive: In his garage lab, Omahan aims to bend fabric of space.”  See also: “No, NASA Did Not Accidentally Invent Warp Drive.”

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

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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).

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Written by LW

May 9, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet”…

 

SmartyPans: frying an egg has never been more needlessly complicated!

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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

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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.

Hammerstein (on left, with cigar) and conductor Cleofonte Campagnini

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Written by LW

May 8, 2015 at 1:01 am

“You must always believe that life is as extraordinary as music says it is”*…

 

Left: Advertisement showing Regency amplifier, ca. 1954. Right: Living room stereo, ca. mid 20th century.

 

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

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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.

Wood, R. W. (1900) “The photography of sound waves and the demonstration of the evolutions of reflected wave fronts with the cinematograph.” Nature, 62: 342-349

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Written by LW

May 2, 2015 at 1:01 am

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works”*…

 

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…

Give them the consideration they deserve at “79 Theses on Technology. For Disputation.”  Then participate in the discussion at Hedgehog Review‘s Infernal Machine.

[TotH to @alexismadrigal]

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

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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.

1899 Electrical Age Magazine ad for Ever Ready Electric Flashlight

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Conrad Hubert

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Written by LW

April 15, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”*…

 

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

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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.

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Written by LW

April 13, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I want the entire smartphone, the entire Internet, on my wrist”*…

 

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.

Boucher’s Calculator – circular slide rule

 

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

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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.)

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Written by LW

March 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

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