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Fence me in…


While those of us in the U.S. await a mesh network, BLDG BLOG reminds us that back at the turn of the last century there was a “ranchpunk” predecessor that spanned the American West…

“Across much of the west,” C.F. Eckhardt explains, “…there was already a network of wire covering most of the country, in the form of barbed-wire fences. Some unknown genius discovered that if you hooked two Sears or Monkey Ward telephone sets to the top wire on a barbed-wire fence, you could talk between the telephones as easily as between two ‘town’ telephones connected by slick wire through an operator’s switchboard. A rural telephone system that had no operators, no bills—and no long-distance charges—was born.”

The system relied upon the creative use of everyday materials as insulators; in fact, according to Delbert Trew, “the most clever, most innovative cowboys used every conceivable type of device as insulators to suspend the wire. I have found leather straps folded around wire and nailed to the posts, whiskey bottle necks installed over big nails, snuff bottles, corn cobs, pieces of inner-tube wrapped around the wire and short straps of tire holding telephone wires to the post.”

New York Times, June 1, 1902

Read more about this “oral internet of fences” at BLDG BLOG.


As we hope that we’re heading back to the future, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Seymour Papert; he was born on this date in 1928 (actually, on February 29 of that year, which was a leap year).  Trained as a mathematician, Papert has been a pioneer of computer science, and in particular, artificial intelligence.  He created the Epistemology and Learning Research Group at the MIT Architecture Machine Group (which later became the MIT Media Lab); he directed MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; he authored the hugely-influential LOGO computer language; and he is a principal of the One Laptop Per Child Program.  Called by Marvin Minsky “the greatest living mathematics educator,” Papert has won won a Guggenheim fellowship (1980), a Marconi International fellowship (1981), the Software Publishers Association Lifetime Achievement Award (1994), and the Smithsonian Award (1997).




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