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“If you’re shopping for a home entertainment system you can’t do better than a good dissecting microscope”*…

 

Harris P. Mosher lecturing at Harvard Medical School in 1929, with a giant skull made in the 1890s

In their introduction to the book version of Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten, Philip and Phyllis Morrison wrote elegantly of the importance of the evolution of the tools of science to scientific progress.  It’s the continuous improvement in these “instruments of vision” that pushes back the frontiers of knowledge, and allows us to know, ultimately to understand, more and more of the universe around us.  In an essential way, then, the history of scientific tools is the history of science.

Harvard’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments allows one literally to browse through that history.

The permanent collection includes over 20,000 instruments and artifacts, (including an incredible collection of  microscopes, partially pictured above).

Now through December 5, the Collection is mounting “Body of Knowledge,” an exhibition that focuses on the devices, publications, and tools that have contributed to our (still-)expanding understanding of the human body.

The title page of Andreas Vesalius’s 1543 anatomy textbook, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body), depicting a public dissection.

It includes a copy of Vesalius’s masterpiece (as above) and anatomical models (the 78-inch-tall skull shown at the top of this post, plus a 48-in-long skeleton of a foot).  In all, it showcases the social and cultural practices of anatomy through the centuries.

For more background on the Collection, visit its site, and check out this Harvard Magazine piece; for more on the exhibit, click here and here.  Browse the collection (from whence, all of the images above) here.

* Jack Longino

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As we polish our lens, we might send birthday greetings in the form of a question to Jeopardy; the brainchild of talk-show host and game show maven Merv Griffin, it was first broadcast on this date 50 years ago, in 1964.  At sign-on, Jeopardy was an afternoon game show hosted by Art Fleming; after a decade before dinner, it moved after, as a weekly syndicated show.  Then, in 1984, the syndicated version got a facelift– Fleming was replaced by Alex Trebek– and the show went nightly…  where it’s prospered ever since.

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Written by LW

March 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

I for one welcome our new computer overlords…

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In the aftermath of Watson’s triumph over humanity’s best, your correspondent thought it wise to remind readers (and himself) that this is not the first time that we mortals have faced the onslaught of astounding new technology.

The good folks at Dark Roasted Blend have compiled a nifty through-the-ages recap of attempts to create “life” in new-fangled ways; from Leonardo’s “robot” and John Dee’s “flying beetle” to an “steam-powered hiker” and an “electric milk man” from Victorian England, there’s quite a selection in “Amazing Automatons: Ancient Robots & Victorian Androids.”

It’s all fascinating; but the sweet spot is surely the selection of creations from the 18th (and early 19th) centuries, when the then-highly-developed crafts of metal working and watchmaking were turned to automata.  Consider, for example…

Jacques Vaucason created numerous working figures, including a flute player, which actually played the instrument, in 1738, plus this duck from 1739. The gilded copper bird could sit, stand, splash around in water, quack and even give the impression of eating food and digesting it.

Pierre Jaquet-Doz created three automata, The Writer, The Draughtsman and The Musician, which are still considered scientific marvels today. The Draughtsman is capable of producing four distinct pictures, while the Writer dips his pen in the ink and can write as many as forty letters. The Musician’s fingers actually play the organ and the figure ends her performance with a bow.

More, at Dark Roasted Blend.

As we remind ourselves to re-read Kevin Kelly’s excellent What Technology Wants and then to retake the Turing Test, we might stage a dramatic memorial dramatist and scenic innovator James Morrison Steele (“Steele”) MacKaye; he died on this date in 1894.  He opened the Madison Square Theatre in 1879, where he created a huge elevator with two stages stacked one on top of the other so that elaborate furnishings could be changed quickly between scenes. MacKaye was the first to light a New York theatre– the Lyceum, which he founded in 1884– entirely by electricity. And he invented and installed overhead and indirect stage lighting, movable stage wagons, artificial ventilation, the disappearing orchestra pit, and folding seats. In all, MacKaye patented over a hundred inventions, mostly for the improvement of theatrical production and its experience.

Steele MacKaye

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