Posts Tagged ‘Technology’
“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore always carry a small snake”*…
During the 1820s, thousands of folks along the Erie Canal corridor were … succumbing to the mind-blasting effects of raw alcohol. America was reeling through the most phenomenal drinking binge in its history. Hordes of citizens were living their lives in the woozy, dislocated haze of permanent inebriation.
Western farmers who grew barley, corn, and rye found it more profitable to ferment and distill their crops into strong liquor than to ship the grain to market. Whiskey was plentiful and cheap. Each man older than fifteen was drinking on average fourteen gallons of hundred-proof whiskey every year. By the middle of the decade, more than a thousand distillers were operating in New York State. Whiskey was cheaper than wine or beer, more readily available than imported luxuries like tea and coffee, safer to drink than water.
Whiskey was considered ‘so conducive to health,’ a journalist wrote in 1830, ‘that no sex, and scarcely any age, were deemed exempt from its application.’ Children drank. Adults deemed it more patriotic to drink whiskey than French wine or Dutch gin. Liquor filled the role that coffee would later assume as a morning bracer. A glass of whiskey with breakfast was commonplace.
A man need not go to a tavern: he could stop for a glass of whiskey at a grocery or candy store. He could down a shot at a barber shop. Theaters served strong drink. Millers provided the refreshment to waiting farmers. Militia musters always ended with heroic drinking. Casual sellers of grog set up bars in their basements.
Men during this period habitually drank at work. Before the spread of factories, artisans typically operated workshops that employed a dozen or so journeymen and apprentices. The master was expected to provide ale or whiskey for his employees’ dinner and breaks. He often drank with them. He tolerated a degree of absenteeism on what was known as Saint Monday, as workers recovered from Sunday binges…
– From Jack Kelly’s Heaven’s Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal, excerpted in the ever-illuminating Delancey Place.
More at “The peak of American intoxication.”
* W.C. Fields
As we head down the hatch, we might recall that it was on this date in 1844 that Captain J.N. Taylor of the Royal Navy first demonstrated the fog horn. At the time, it was called a telephone (to mean a far-signaling instrument to be used on ships, railway trains, etc.).
Happy National Pecan Pie Day
“Nothing can better cure the anthropocentrism that is the author of all our ills than to cast ourselves into the physics of the infinitely large (or the infinitely small)”*…
* Julio Cortázar,
As we step on the scales, we might send fiendishly ingenious birthday greetings to Rube Goldberg; he was born on this date in 1883. A cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor, he is best remembered as a satirist of the American obsession with technology for his series of “Invention” cartoons which used a string of outlandish tools, people, plants, and steps to accomplish simple, everyday tasks in the most complicated possible way. (His work has inspired a number of “Rube Goldberg competitions,” the best-known of which, readers may recall, has been profilled here.)
Goldberg was a founder and the first president of the National Cartoonists Society, and he is the namesake of the Reuben Award, which the organization awards to the Cartoonist of the Year.
Technology is killing off independent pizzerias in the United States at the rate of roughly 2,549 locations per year (in 2015 alone). The pizza category is being reshaped by both big new tech deployed by chains and fresh threats from sophisticated emerging brands that are taking slices of the pie from tens of thousands of ill-equipped and low-tech independent pizzerias…
The whole sad story at “How Tech is Killing Off Independent Pizzerias.”
* (probably apochrophal) plea from a young boy to “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, as Jackson left Cook County Courthouse where Jackson was testifying in the Chicago “Black Sox” scandal
As we ask for extra pepperoni, we might recall that it was on this date in 1841 that Orlando Jones received a U.S. patent for making cornstarch. Derived by grinding the white heart of a corn kernel, and primarily used as a thickener, cornstarch is also used to keep pizzas from sticking to the ovens, pans, or stones on which they are cooked.
“By the 1980’s and 1990’s, Moore’s Law had emerged as the underlying assumption that governed almost everything in the Valley, from technology to business, education, and even culture”*…
… and Moore’s Law— the assertion that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years– has indeed weathered pretty well since Gordon Moore coined it in 1965:
Still, all along the way there have been nay-sayers– those who believe that it simply must come to an end. Even Intel, which Moore co-founded after serving as Director of Research at Fairchild, the semiconductor pioneer at which he worked when he published his “law,” has now questioned whether “doubling every two years” can continue.
Of course, only time will tell. But believers can take heart in work recently published by Cornell researchers on their work with “quantum dots” [pictured at the top of this post].
Just as the single-crystal silicon wafer forever changed the nature of communication 60 years ago, Cornell researchers hope their work with quantum dot solids — crystals made out of crystals — can help usher in a new era in electronics.
The team has fashioned two-dimensional superstructures out of single-crystal building blocks. Using a pair of chemical processes, the lead-selenium nanocrystals are synthesized into larger crystals, then fused together to form atomically coherent square superlattices.
The difference between these and previous crystalline structures is the atomic coherence of each 5-nanometer crystal (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter). They’re not connected by a substance between each crystal — they’re connected to each other directly. The electrical properties of these superstructures are potentially superior to existing semiconductor nanocrystals, with anticipated applications in energy absorption and light emission…
* “By the 1980’s and 1990’s, Moore’s Law had emerged as the underlying assumption that governed almost everything in the Valley, from technology to business, education, and even culture. The “law” said the number of transistors would double every couple of years. It dictated that nothing stays the same for more than a moment; no technology is safe from its successor; costs fall and computing power increases not at a constant rate but exponentially: If you’re not running on what became known as ” Internet time,” you’re falling behind.”
― John Markoff,
As we get small, we might send thoughtful greetings to a man who can no doubt come up with new uses for tat power– Seymour Papert; he celebrates his birthday on this date (as he was born on February 29, Leap Day, in 1928). 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).
* 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.