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“The horror! The horror!”

Tis the season, thus time for seasonal specials. Indeed, since 1990, those fabulous folks behind The Simpsons have given us annual installments of what’s become a beloved Halloween tradition: The Treehouse of Horror, a collection of wonderful riffs on horror and sci-fi films/shows/tropes that never fails to delight.

Enthusiasts have created beaucoup “best of” lists (see here and here, for a couple of examples). Now, just in time (this year’s installment airs tonight), Bo McCready has created a terrific resource: a comprehensive run-down of the source/inspiration of each Treehouse of Horror segment– in infographic form. A small excerpt:

See it all at “Treehouse of Horror: 100+ Simpsons Halloween Stories!” from @boknowsdata.

Apposite: “Run for your life, Charlie Brown.”

* Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

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As we trick and treat, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that the Mercury Theater broadcast the Halloween episode of its weekly series on the WABC Radio Network, Orson Welle’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  The first two-thirds of the show (which was uninterrupted by ads) was composed of simulated news bulletins… which suggested to many listeners that a real Martian invasion was underway.  (While headlines like the one below suggest that there was widespread panic, research reveals that the fright was more subdued.  Still there was an out-cry against the “phoney-news” format…  and Welles was launched into the notoriety that would characterize his career ever after.)

Coverage of the broadcast

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 30, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Horror vacui”*…

A 1672 book about the vacuum by the German scientist Otto von Guericke depicts a demonstration he gave for Emperor Ferdinand III, in which teams of horses tried unsuccessfully to pull apart the halves of a vacuum-filled copper sphere.

Recently, (Roughly) Daily took a look at nothing– and the perplexing philosophical questions that it raises. Today, Charlie Wood examines nothing’s physical manifestation, the vacuum, and the similarly perplexing questions it raises for physicists…

Millennia ago, Aristotle asserted that nature abhors a vacuum, reasoning that objects would fly through truly empty space at impossible speeds. In 1277, the French bishop Etienne Tempier shot back, declaring that God could do anything, even create a vacuum.

Then a mere scientist pulled it off. Otto von Guericke invented a pump to suck the air from within a hollow copper sphere, establishing perhaps the first high-quality vacuum on Earth. In a theatrical demonstration in 1654, he showed that not even two teams of horses straining to rip apart the watermelon-size ball could overcome the suction of nothing. [See illustration above.]

Since then, the vacuum has become a bedrock concept in physics, the foundation of any theory of something. Von Guericke’s vacuum was an absence of air. The electromagnetic vacuum is the absence of a medium that can slow down light. And a gravitational vacuum lacks any matter or energy capable of bending space. In each case the specific variety of nothing depends on what sort of something physicists intend to describe. “Sometimes, it’s the way we define a theory,” said Patrick Draper, a theoretical physicist at the University of Illinois.

As modern physicists have grappled with more sophisticated candidates for the ultimate theory of nature, they have encountered a growing multitude of types of nothing. Each has its own behavior, as if it’s a different phase of a substance. Increasingly, it seems that the key to understanding the origin and fate of the universe may be a careful accounting of these proliferating varieties of absence.

“We’re learning there’s a lot more to learn about nothing than we thought,” said Isabel Garcia Garcia, a particle physicist at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in California. “How much more are we missing?”

So far, such studies have led to a dramatic conclusion: Our universe may sit on a platform of shoddy construction, a “metastable” vacuum that is doomed — in the distant future — to transform into another sort of nothing, destroying everything in the process.

Nothing started to seem like something in the 20th century, as physicists came to view reality as a collection of fields: objects that fill space with a value at each point (the electric field, for instance, tells you how much force an electron will feel in different places). In classical physics, a field’s value can be zero everywhere so that it has no influence and contains no energy. “Classically, the vacuum is boring,” said Daniel Harlow, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Nothing is happening.”

But physicists learned that the universe’s fields are quantum, not classical, which means they are inherently uncertain. You’ll never catch a quantum field with exactly zero energy…

For an explanation of how key to understanding the origin and fate of the universe may be a more complete understanding of the vacuum: “How the Physics of Nothing Underlies Everything,” from @walkingthedot in @QuantaMagazine.

* attributed to Aristitole, and usually “translated,” as above, “Nature abhors a vacuum”

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As we noodle on nought, we might spare a thought for Hugo Gernsback, a Luxemborgian-American inventor, broadcast pioneer, writer, and publisher; he died on this date in 1967 at the age of 83.

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 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…)

Gernsback, wearing his invention, TV Glasses

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“Music is like a river or stream”*…

“Deejays” at Shyvers Multiphone studio

The estimable Ted Gioia on an early music streaming success…

Streaming music was a dream long before it became reality. Back in 1627, Francis Bacon imagined a futuristic kind of music streaming technology in his utopian story The New Atlantis—where the inhabitants “have means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, this dream started to turn into reality. An electric utility in Cleveland even offered a service to residents in Lakeland—three channels piped into their homes from the power substation for $1.50 per month. The Muzak company, originally launched as Wired Radio, Inc. in 1922, initially built its business model on the same concept: Music would be provided to homes as a kind of utility, and paid for as part of the monthly electricity bill.

The company eventually changed its name to Muzak, and shifted its emphasis to businesses. The much larger home market continued to rely on recordings and physical media. Even radios, which started showing up in almost every household during the 1920s, never became an actual utility with consumers paying for the service. Instead, radio broadcasts were embraced by station owners as a way to sell advertising and supported by music companies in order to promote recordings and tickets to live events.

At the end of the 1930s, Seattle inventor Ken Shyvers launched a bizarre business out of a kind of studio bunker in the Pacific Northwest. Here a team of women worked late into the night with odd-looking machines combining the capabilities of a turntable, jukebox, and phone line.

The price was five cents per song. The input device looked like a small art deco cylinder, only 18 inches tall and easily fitting on a restaurant tabletop or bar counter. Many customers must have assumed these were some kind of mini-jukebox—except they offered a much wider range of song choices than any other competing technology.

The Multiphones (as they were called) allowed a selection of up to 300 tracks—and typically came with a list of around 170 options. The song choices were relayed to the female disk jockeys [pictured at the top], who worked out of an available room in a drugstore at Fourth Street and Pacific Avenue in Bremerton. They would play the chosen track, which was broadcast back to the customer via a telephone line.

Bars and restaurants were the target market, but there was no reason why the concept couldn’t have spread to homes. The technology never gained national distribution, but thrived in Washington state, where it found a user base in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, and Bremerton. From 1939 to 1959, the Multiphone was not only a viable business, but anticipated many key aspects of the music distribution model of our own time…

From @tedgioia‘s wonderful newsletter, The Honest Broker, the instructive tale of a Seattle entrepreneur who created a successful analog streaming platform—and ran it out of a drugstore: “The First Music Streaming Service.”

* Ali Akbar Khan

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As we tap our toes, we might might send tuneful birthday greetings to Herbert Butros Khaury; he was born on this date in 1932. Better known by his stage name, Tiny Tim, he was a ukulele-playing, falsetto-singing performer. He achieved tremendous celebrity in the late 1960s, appearing on Laugh-In and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (among others). His 1969 wedding (to “Miss Vicki”) on Tonight Show was watched by over 40 million viewers, a gargantuan audience for the time slot.

“Technology makes everyone feel old”*…

Cassette tapes, the fax machine, overhead projectors… Adrian Willings catalogues some transitional technologies that, he suggests, are headed for the dust bin of history…

… we’re… looking at some of the biggest, best and most memorable gadgets from the last century that have been outdated, outmoded or just forced into irrelevance by better, modern technologies.

You might remember many of these, but there are plenty of the younger generation that don’t…

… and won’t? “39 obsolete technologies that will baffle modern generations,” from @Age_Dub in @Pocketlint.

* Jennifer Egan

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As we mosey down memory lane, we might send electronic birthday greetings to David Sarnoff; he was born on this date in 1891. An early employee of Marconi Wireless Telegraph, he befriended its owner, and began a a long career in broadcasting.

Unlike many who were involved with early radio communications, who often viewed radio as a point-to-point medium, Sarnoff saw the potential of radio as point-to-mass. One person (the broadcaster) could speak to– inform, entertain, sell to– many. When Owen D. Young of General Electric arranged the purchase of American Marconi and turned it into the Radio Corporation of America, a radio patent monopoly, Sarnoff got his chance.

His colleagues were wary, but in 1921, Sarnoff arranged a broadcast of a heavyweight boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. An estimated 300,000 people heard the fight, and demand for home radio equipment bloomed that winter. As head of radio broadcasting for RCA, Sarnoff was instrumental in building and establishing the AM broadcasting radio business that became the preeminent public radio standard for the majority of the 20th century.

In that late 1920s and early 30s Sarnoff (who had become RCA’s President) drove the company’s push to develop television. In April, 1939, regularly scheduled television in America was initiated by RCA under the name of their broadcasting division at the time, The National Broadcasting Company (NBC). The first television broadcast aired was the dedication of the RCA pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fairgrounds and was introduced by Sarnoff himself.

Along the way, Sarnoff led the formation of RKO (in which the “R” stood for RCA) and bought Victor Talking Machine Company, the nation’s largest manufacturer of records and phonographs, assuring RCA a piece of the content business.

Sarnoff in 1922

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“Unless we change direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed”*…

The economy is in a very confusing place. Happily, the good folks at Full Stack Economics weigh in with data in the form of illuminating charts….

It’s a turbulent time for the US economy. The economy largely shut down in March 2020 only to come roaring back a year later with the highest inflation in almost 40 years. No one is sure what’s going to happen next.

At Full Stack Economics, we believe that charts are an essential way to understand the complexities of the modern economy. So in recent weeks, I’ve been looking far and wide for the most surprising and illuminating charts about the US economy. I’ve compiled 18 of my favorites here. I hope you enjoy it…

Speaking for myself, I did enjoy (and appreciate) it. I’m still confused, but I’m confused at a much higher level.

Take a look for yourself: “18 charts that explain the American economy,” from @fullstackecon (@AlanMCole and @binarybits)

* Chinese proverb (often mis-attributed to Lao Tzu)

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As we ponder the portents, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937, on NBC Radio, that The Guiding Light premiered. A soap opera created by Irna Phillips, who helped develop the template for the day-time serial drama targeted to women, it ran for a decade before shifting to CBS Radio, where it ran until 1956. But in 1952, CBS transplanted the series to television, where it ran as a daily (weekday afternoon) staple until 2009.

Irna went on to create other soaps (e.g., Another World) and in the process to introduce and mentor the giants of the form (including  William J. BellJames Lipton, and the great Agnes Nixon). With 72 years of radio and television runs, Guiding Light is the longest running soap opera, ahead of General Hospital, and is the fifth-longest running program in all of broadcast history– behind only the country music radio program Grand Ole Opry (first broadcast in 1925), the BBC religious program The Daily Service (1928), the CBS religious program Music and the Spoken Word (1929), and the Norwegian children’s radio program Lørdagsbarnetimen (1924–2010).

Show creator Irna Phillips (far right) talks with show cast members

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