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Posts Tagged ‘history

“The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution”*…

 

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Crossword Puzzle with Lady in Black Coat, Paulina Olowska, 2014

 

When I began to research the history of crosswords for my recent book on the subject, I was sort of shocked to discover that they weren’t invented until 1913. The puzzle seemed so deeply ingrained in our lives that I figured it must have been around for centuries—I envisioned the empress Livia in the famous garden room in her villa, serenely filling in her cruciverborum each morning­­. But in reality, the crossword is a recent invention, born out of desperation. Editor Arthur Wynne at the New York World needed something to fill space in the Christmas edition of his paper’s FUN supplement, so he took advantage of new technology that could print blank grids cheaply and created a diamond-shaped set of boxes, with clues to fill in the blanks, smack in the center of FUN. Nearly overnight, the “Word-Cross Puzzle” went from a space-filling ploy to the most popular feature of the page.

Still, the crossword didn’t arise from nowhere. Ever since we’ve had language, we’ve played games with words. Crosswords are the Punnett square of two long-standing strands of word puzzles: word squares, which demand visual logic to understand the puzzle but aren’t necessarily using deliberate deception; and riddles, which use wordplay to misdirect the solver but don’t necessarily have any kind of graphic component to work through…

Adrienne Raphel (@AdrienneRaphel) offers “A Brief History of Word Games.”

[TotH to MK]

* Stephen Sondheim

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As we fill in the blanks, we might send epigrammatic birthday greetings to Alfred Edward (A.E.) Housman; he was born on this date in 1859.  A classicist and poet, he is probably best remembered for his lyrical poetry, perhaps most notably for his  cycle A Shropshire Lad.

Alfred_Edward_Housman.jpeg source

It is also the birthday (1874) of another poet, the combative Robert Frost.

 

Written by LW

March 26, 2020 at 7:02 am

“All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty damn complicated in the first place”*…

 

UniverseShape_LedeFullWidth

 

When you gaze out at the night sky, space seems to extend forever in all directions. That’s our mental model for the universe, but it’s not necessarily correct. There was a time, after all, when everyone thought the Earth was flat, because our planet’s curvature was too subtle to detect and a spherical Earth was unfathomable.

Today, we know the Earth is shaped like a sphere. But most of us give little thought to the shape of the universe. Just as the sphere offered an alternative to a flat Earth, other three-dimensional shapes offer alternatives to “ordinary” infinite space.

We can ask two separate but interrelated questions about the shape of the universe. One is about its geometry: the fine-grained local measurements of things like angles and areas. The other is about its topology: how these local pieces are stitched together into an overarching shape.

Cosmological evidence suggests that the part of the universe we can see is smooth and homogeneous, at least approximately. The local fabric of space looks much the same at every point and in every direction. Only three geometries fit this description: flat, spherical and hyperbolic…

Alternatives to “ordinary” infinite space: “What Is the Geometry of the Universe?

* Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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As we tinker with topology, we might recall that it was on this date in 1811 that Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from the University of Oxford for publishing the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism.  Shelley, of course, went on to become a celebrated lyric poet and one of the leaders of the English Romantic movement… one who had a confident (if not to say exalted) sense of his role in society:

Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

220px-Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint source

 

“Amaze your friends!”…

 

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Flatulence humor goes back to the first known joke, recorded by ancient Sumerians. Since then, it’s lingered for thousands of years, wafting from Medieval illuminated devotionals to Shakespeare’s plays. So naturally, employees of JEM Rubber Company in Toronto, known for making tire repair patches, were delighted when they figured out how to turn its scrap rubber into literal windbags around 1930. They approached Soren Sorensen “Sam” Adams—whose S.S. Adams Company was responsible for giving the world Sneezing Powder and the Joy Buzzer—but the cushion that blows a loud raspberry was just a bridge too far.

“They came to Adams because he was a big producer of novelties, hoping to sell it to him as a product to distribute in the U.S.,” says novelties collector Mardi Timm. “But he was so incensed about the indelicacy of the joke that he refused it.”

Undeterred, the representatives of JEM took their fart joke to Alfred Johnson Smith, whose popular Johnson Smith & Co. catalog was a Bible for mischief makers, offering novelties, magic tricks, and popular pranks like trick cigarette cases and squirting flowers. “Mr. Smith looked at it and said, ‘What a great gag!’ and put it in his catalog,” Mardi explains…

This is the world of Stan and Mardi Timm. Perusing their collection of products sold by Johnson Smith and other novelty firms is an experience akin to Pee-Wee Herman’s gleeful romp through Mario’s Magic Shop, trying out squirting mustard bottles and buying trick gum… the Timms’ vast collection of roughly 1,800 artifacts, focused on items from the Johnson Smith catalogs from the early 20th century and beyond, is more than juvenile pranks—it includes cheap toys and quirky but practical inventions like flashlights, twirling spaghetti forks, and electric tie presses, as well as guides promising to teach valuable skills like detective work or jiu-jitsu.

“Novelties are so much more than goofy, silly things,” Mardi says. “Everything that comes on to the marketplace starts out as a novelty. They’re things that are not common, things that make you say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen one of those before!’ or ‘What is that thing?’”

The collection documents U.S. (and UK) popular culture from the mid-1910s through today…

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More– much more– at “Fun Delivered: World’s Foremost Experts on Whoopee Cushions and Silly Putty Tell All.”

* Boy’s Life

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As we ponder pranks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that Doogie Howser, M.D. ended it’s fourth and final season.  Created by Stephen Bochco and David E. Kelley (both rather better known for police, legal, and medical procedural dramas like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Chicago Hope, and Boston Legal), the series featured Neil Patrick Harris as the youngest doctor in America (“can’t buy beer… [but] can prescribe drugs”)… with a best friend– “Vinnie Delpino”– who was pretty surely a customer of Johnson Smith.

doogie and Vinnie

Doogie and Vinnie

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Written by LW

March 24, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The appearance of new species naturally and the appearance of new inventions by artifice are both responses to need”*…

 

Gaia

 

Our reign as sole understanders of the cosmos is rapidly coming to an end. We should not be afraid of this. The revolution that has just begun may be understood as a continuation of the process whereby the Earth nurtures the understanders, the beings that will lead the cosmos to self-knowledge. What is revolutionary about this moment is that the understanders of the future will not be humans but cyborgs that will have designed and built themselves from the artificial intelligence systems we have already constructed. These will soon become thousands then millions of times more intelligent than us.

The term cyborg was coined by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline in 1960. It refers to a cybernetic organism: an organism as self-sufficient as one of us but made of engineered materials. I like this word and definition because it could apply to anything ranging in size from a microorganism to a pachyderm, from a microchip to an omnibus. It is now commonly taken to mean an entity that is part flesh, part machine. I use it here to emphasize that the new intelligent beings will have arisen, like us, from Darwinian evolution. They will not, at first, be separate from us; indeed, they will be our offspring because the systems we made turned out to be their precursors.

We need not be afraid because, initially at least, these inorganic beings will need us and the whole organic world to continue to regulate the climate, keeping Earth cool to fend off the heat of the sun and safeguard us from the worst effects of future catastrophes. We shall not descend into the kind of war between humans and machines that is so often described in science fiction because we need each other. Gaia will keep the peace.

This is the age I call the “Novacene.” I’m sure that one day a more appropriate name will be chosen, something more imaginative, but for now I’m using Novacene to describe what could be one of the most crucial periods in the history of our planet and perhaps even of the cosmos…

The father of the Gaia principle with a provocative take on the coming age of hyperintelligence: “Gaia Will Soon Belong to the Cyborgs.”

See also: “Is Moore’s Law Evidence for a New Stage in Human Evolution?

For more background on (and some criticism of) Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis see “Earth’s Holy Fool?–Some scientists think that James Lovelock’s Gaia theory is nuts, but the public love it. Could both sides be right?

[image above: source]

* James Lovelock

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As we scrutinize systems, we might send closely-observed birthday greetings to Franklin Henry Giddings; he was born on this date in 1855.  An economist and political scientist by training, he was instrumental in the emergence of sociology from philosophy (of which it had been considered a branch) into a discipline of its own, and a champion of the use of statistics.  He is probably best remembered for his concept of “consciousness of kind” (rooted in Adam Smith’s concept of “sympathy,” or shared moral reactions), which is a state of mind wherein one conscious being recognizes another as being of like mind.  All human motives, he suggested, organize themselves around consciousness of kind as a determining principle.  Association leads to conflict which leads to consciousness of kind through communication, imitation, toleration, co-operation, and alliance.  Eventually, he argued, a group achieves a self-consciousness of its own (as opposed to individual self-consciousness) from which traditions and social values can arise.

Franklin_Henry_Giddings source

 

“For she had eyes and chose me”*…

 

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Psychologist David Perrett’s… Perception Lab recruited 300 men and 400 women, all of whom had heterosexual partners and had been raised by two parents. They learned that romantic partners tend to look alike — the participants and their partners tended to have similar hair color and similar eye color.

This might be explained by a self-similar preference or narcissism, but on looking deeper into the data Perrett’s team found that the single best predictor of one’s partner’s eye color was the eye color of one’s parent of the opposite sex. If a woman’s mother had blue eyes and her father had brown eyes, she would most likely be partnered with a brown-eyed man. If a man’s mother had blue eyes and his father had brown eyes, his partner most likely had blue eyes. Similarly, the hair color of a man’s mother was the single best predictor of his partner’s hair color. “These results indicate that individuals choose partners who resemble their opposite-sex parent both in eye and hair color.”…

The mysteries of human attraction: “Eye to Eye.”

Read the underlying paper: Anthony C. Little et al., “Investigating an Imprinting-Like Phenomenon in Humans: Partners and Opposite-Sex Parents Have Similar Hair and Eye Colour,” Evolution and Human Behavior 24:1 [2003], 43-51.

* William Shakespeare, Othello

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As we peer through the window to the soul, we might spare a thought for playwright, poet, artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; he died on this date in 1832.  Probably best remembered these days for Faust, he was “the master spirit of the German people,” and, after Napoleon, the leading figure of his age.

In 1810, Goethe published his Theory of Colors (Zur Farbenlehre), which he considered his most important work.  In it, he contentiously (and incorrectly) characterized color as arising from “the dynamic interplay of light and darkness through the mediation of a turbid medium.”  Still, Goethe was the first systematically to study the physiological effects of color; his observations of the effect of opposed colors led him to a symmetric arrangement of his color wheel, “for the colors diametrically opposed to each other… are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye.”  Indeed, after being translated into English by Charles Eastlake in 1840, his theory became widely adopted by the art world, most notably by J. M. W. Turner.

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Written by LW

March 22, 2020 at 1:01 am

“A design isn’t finished until someone is using it”*…

 

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Design for a museum of fine arts, Otto Wagner

 

Archi/Maps—a self-styled “eclectorama” of architectural images—should be bookmarked in every design fan’s browser. Created by Parisian Cedric Benetti, senior creative director at the occasional French fashion magazine Creem and currently a student of architectural history at the Sorbonne, the site offers captions that provide only the most basic information for each image (e.g., “Florence in 1835,” “Bank of Montreal, Winnipeg, Manitoba”) and gives no links to source materials. Thus Archi/Maps serves primarily as a record of one man’s wandering fascination with things architectural—and, perhaps, may inspire visitors to make their own discoveries… [source]

* Brenda Laurel

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As we ruminate on renderings, we might carefully-structured birthday greetings to architect Morris Homans Whitehouse; he was born on this date in 1878.  A primary “author” of Portland’s modern cityscape, he (and colleagues in his firm) designed dozens of Portland’s most recognizable buildings, court houses, schools, sports facilities, churches, and temples through the first half of the 20th century; over a dozen of the buildings he designed appear on the National Register of Historic Places.

Morris_H._Whitehouse source

 

“A map is the greatest of all epic poems”*…

 

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A marmot hiding in plain sight in the Swiss Alps

 

Errors—both accidental and deliberate—are not uncommon in maps (17th-century California as an island, the omission of Seattle in a 1960s AAA map). Military censors have long transformed nuclear bunkers into nondescript warehouses and routinely pixelate satellite images of sensitive sites. Many maps also contain intentional errors to trap would-be copyright violators. The work of recording reality is particularly vulnerable to plagiarism: if a cartographer is suspected of copying another’s work, he can simply claim to be duplicating the real world— ideally, the two should be the same. Mapmakers often rely on fictitious streets, typically no longer than a block, to differentiate their accounts of the truth (Oxygen Street in Edinburgh, for example).

But there is another, less institutional reason to hide something in a map. According to Lorenz Hurni, professor of cartography at ETH Zurich, these illustrations are part inside joke, part coping mechanism. Cartographers are “quite meticulous, really high-precision people,” he says. Their entire professional life is spent at the magnification level of a postage stamp. To sustain this kind of concentration, Hurni suspects that they eventually “look for something to break out of their daily routine.” The satisfaction of these illustrations comes from their transgressive nature— the labor and secrecy required to conceal one of these visual puns…

Slipping one past one of the most rigorous map-making institutions in the world: “For Decades, Cartographers Have Been Hiding Covert Illustrations Inside of Switzerland’s Official Maps.”

* Gilbert H. Grosvenor (President of the National Geographic Society, first editor of the magazine, and champion of cartography [and photojournalism])

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As we hide Easter eggs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1345– according to 14th century scholars at the University of Paris– the Black Death was created… from what they called “a triple conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the 40th degree of Aquarius, occurring on the 20th of March, 1345.”

AKA the Pestilence, the Great Bubonic Plague, the Great Plague, the Plague, or less commonly the Great Mortality or Black Plague, the Black Death was actually transmitted by fleas who had fed on diseased rats.  It killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.

More on “the greatest catastrophe ever.”

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Spread of the Black Death in Europe and the Near East (1346–1353)

source

 

Written by LW

March 20, 2020 at 1:01 am

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