Posts Tagged ‘Technology’
* The Wizard of Oz
As we strive for order in all things, we might recall that it was on this date in 1714 that English inventor Henry Mill was granted a patent (UK #395) for an apparatus “for impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another, so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print, very useful in settlements and public records”– generally agreed to be the first description of a typewriter, the device that revolutionized the ability of creative minds worldwide to put their thoughts into print. Mill never actually manufactured a typewriter for sale; in fact, it took many years to develop a truly functional prototype– the first of which was probably built by the Italian Pellegrino Turri in 1808 for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzono. Indeed, most early typewriters were aimed at giving the blind a means of communicating in print. It wasn’t until the late 19th century (and the introduction of a QWERTY keyboard design as a standard) that typewriting became a wide-spread practice.
… least of all when it comes to amusing Twitter feeds:
To improve your experience on Twitter next year, try following fewer humans and more bots. Automated accounts add whimsy, serendipity, and occasional inspiration to an otherwise drab timeline of tweets.
Bots get a bad rap, in part because they are often confused with spam and aren’t particularly attractive to advertisers seeking human customers. Twitter, perhaps sensing those mixed feelings, also hasn’t done much to encourage or highlight bots on its platform. That’s a shame because bot makers, particularly the #botALLY community, are responsible for some of the most creative work on Twitter right now…
Check ’em out for yourself at “The best Twitter bots of 2015.”
* Isaac Asimov,
As we unrestrainedly retweet, we might spare a thought for Stephen Day; he died on this date in 1668. An indebted locksmith in London, Day was brought to America 1939 by a John Glover, a clergyman who had purchased Day’s indenture. On the same crossing, Glover imported the New World’s first printing press, which Day was to operate. Glover died on the voyage, but his widow and Day established the Cambridge Press on Holyoke Street and produced the first book printed in America, the Bay Psalm Book (1640).
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
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.
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…
“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…”
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…
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.”
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.”)
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.