(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Technology

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”*…

 

A New Orleans levee, lit from above [source]

400,000 years ago, humans and Neanderthals discovered fire. This ignited a relationship between people and photons that changed the course of mankind—and continues to evolve to this day…

* Martin Luther King, Jr.

###

As we remove our sunglasses, we might spare a thought for Roger Bacon; he died on this date in 1292.  A philosopher and Franciscan friar, Bacon was one of the first to propose mathematics and experimentation as appropriate methods of science.  Working in mathematics, astronomy, physics, alchemy, and languages, he was particularly impactful in optics: he elucidated the principles of refraction, reflection, and spherical aberration, and described spectacles, which soon thereafter came into use. He developed many mathematical results concerning lenses, proposed mechanically propelled ships, carriages, and flying machines, and used a camera obscura to observe eclipses of the Sun.  And he was the first European give a detailed description of the process of making gunpowder.

He began his career at Oxford, then lectured for a time at Paris, where his skills as a pedagogue earned him the title Doctor Mirabilis, or “wonderful teacher.”  He stopped teaching when he became a Franciscan.  But his scientific work continued, despite his Order’s restrictions on activity and publication, as Bacon enjoyed the protection and patronage of Pope Clement…  until, on Clement’s death, he was placed under house arrest in Oxford, where he continued his studies, but was unable to publish and communicate with fellow investigators.

Statue of Roger Bacon in the Oxford University Museum

 source

 

 

 

Written by LW

June 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The challenge for capitalism is that the things that breed trust also breed the environment for fraud”*…

 

 source

WannaCry, a computer virus that encrypts data and demands a ransom to unscramble it, hit thousands of computers in May, causing several hospitals in Britain to close their doors. Hardly a week now goes by without a large company admitting that its systems have been breached: Yahoo recently confessed that 1bn accounts had been compromised in an attack in 2013. Cyber-attacks are a scourge of modern life, but their history goes back further than you might expect.

The world’s first national data network was constructed in France during the 1790s. It was a mechanical telegraph system, consisting of chains of towers, each of which had a system of movable wooden arms on top. Different configurations of these arms corresponded to letters, numbers and other characters. Operators in each tower would adjust the arms to match the configuration of an adjacent tower, observed through a telescope, causing sequences of characters to ripple along the line. Messages could now be sent much faster than letters, whizzing from one end of France to the other in minutes. The network was reserved for government use but in 1834 two bankers, François and Joseph Blanc, devised a way to subvert it to their own ends…

Nearly two centuries ago, France was hit by the world’s first cyber-attack.  With a nod to Isaiah Berlin**, Tom Standage argues that it holds lessons for us today: “The crooked timber of humanity.”

* James Surowiecki

** Berlin’s title was a reference to a quote from Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

###

As we learn from history, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that two ships, the Niagara and the Agamemnon headed out from Keyham Dockyard in England to begin work on what would become the first operational Transatlantic cable, as previous attempts at laying a Transatlantic cable had failed.  Designed for telegraph operation, the cable run was completed on August 5th; and the first test message was sent on August 12th.

The Niagara at work

source

 

Written by LW

June 10, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Chance favors the connected mind”*…

 

The Wall Street Journal‘s review of the web in late 1996– completely intact, with links still live…

Stroll down memory lane here.

[TotH to Benedict Evans]

See also “We haven’t learned anything about what the web is for since 1996.”

* Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

###

As we try to remember, we might send well-connected birthday greetings to Bob Wallace; he was born on this date in 1949.  A software developer, programmer and the ninth employee of Microsoft, He was the first popular user of the term “shareware,” creator of the word processing program PC-Write, founder of the software company Quicksoft, and an “online drug guru” who devoted much time and money to the research of psychedelic drugs.

Bob ended his Usenet posts with the phrase, “Bob Wallace (just my opinion).”

 source

 

Written by LW

May 29, 2018 at 1:01 am

“After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”*…

 

A Victorian-era mathematical genius, [Ada] Lovelace was the first to describe how computing machines could solve math problems, write new forms of music, and much more, if you gave them instructions in a language they could understand. Of course, over the ensuing 100-plus years, dudes have been lining up to push her out of the picture (more on that below).

Lovelace is hardly the only woman to be erased from the history of her own work…

From computer programming to nuclear fission to the paper bag machine, it’s time to stop erasing these women from their great works.  Mother Jones restores eight female creators from their undeserved obscurity: “Ladies Last: 8 Inventions by Women That Dudes Got Credit For.

* Ann Richards

###

As we give credit where credit is due, we might recall that it was on this date in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, that Sojourner Truth electrified the gathering with an extemporaneous talk that has come to known as the “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech.

Born (c. 1797) into slavery in New York, Belle Baumfree (as she was born) escaped with her daughter to freedom in 1826.  She went to court to recover her son in 1828, and became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.  She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying the hope that was in her”– a hope that she expressed as a fervent abolitionist and champion of women’s rights.

In 2014, Truth was included in Smithsonian magazine’s list of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.”

 source

 

 

Written by LW

May 28, 2018 at 1:01 am

“It seems a long time since the morning mail could be called correspondence”*…

 

A Curtiss Jenny carrying mail for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before take off from the polo grounds in Washington, D.C.

On May 15, 1918, as hundreds of thousands of American troops fought from the trenches of Western Europe, a small number of U.S. Army pilots took on a domestic mission. Though they worked in the skies above East Coast cities, far from the carnage of World War I, their task was life-threatening, and it was as crucial to the nation’s psyche as any conflict fought on foreign soil. While their peers carried bombs across the Atlantic, these men carried the mail.

On a gloomy Wednesday morning, thousands of spectators gathered in Washington, D.C.’s Potomac Park to witness what would be the world’s first regularly scheduled airmail service. As the crowd buzzed with excitement, president Woodrow Wilson stood with the pilot, Second Lieutenant George Leroy Boyle. The two men chatted for a few minutes, Wilson in a three-piece suit and bowler hat, Boyle in his leather flying cap, a cigarette in his mouth. The president dropped a letter in Boyle’s sack, and the pilot took off for his journey from Washington, D.C., to New York, with plans to stop in Philadelphia for delivery and refueling. The flight, however, never made it to the City of Brotherly Love.

With only a map laid across his lap to guide him on his northbound journey, Boyle turned southeast shortly after takeoff. Realizing his mistake, he landed in a soft field in Waldorf, Maryland, damaging his propeller. Officials from the United States Post Office Department, the predecessor to the United States Postal Service, drove the load of mail back to D.C., and unceremoniously put it on a train to New York. Two days later, after blowing a second chance to fly the mail north and making an emergency landing in Cape Charles, Virginia, Boyle’s time with the Post Office came to an inglorious end.

Boyle may not have been the Army’s best pilot, but his misadventures highlight just how bold of a decision it was to begin airmail service at a time when flight was still in its infancy. “There was a rather general feeling that aviation was not yet sufficiently advanced to maintain mail schedules by airplanes,” said Otto Praeger, the Second Assistant Postmaster General, in a 1938 interview. “Strangely enough, some well known aircraft manufacturers themselves doubted the advisability of embarking upon a regular airmail service, and a number of them came to Washington to urge me not to undertake the project.” But Praeger stayed the course, determined to make airmail “like the steamship and the railroad, a permanent transportation feature of the postal service.”

Unfortunately, indelibly changing the nature of mail delivery came with serious risk for the pilots involved. Of the roughly 230 men who flew mail for the Post Office Department between 1918 and 1927, 32 lost their lives in plane crashes. Six died during the first week of operation alone…

Smithsonian reports on a new exhibition at the National Postal Museum honoring the nation’s first airmail pilots: “Delivering the Mail Was Once One of the Riskiest Jobs in America.”

* Jacques Barzun

###

As we muse on our missives, we might recall that it was on this date in 1844 that inventor (and celebrated painter) Samuel F.B. Morse inaugurated the first technological competitor to the post when he sent the first telegraph message:  “What hath God wrought?”  Morse sent the famous message from the B&O’s Mount Clare Station in Baltimore to the Capitol Building.  (The words were chosen by Annie Ellsworth, the daughter of the U.S. Patent Commissioner, from Numbers 23:23.)

Morse’s original apparatus

source

 

 

Written by LW

May 24, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”*…

 

As recently as a few decades ago in the Western world, stars dazzled humans with their brightness and the Milky Way could be seen spanning the far reaches of the heavens as night deepened into an unspeakable darkness. In the 21st century, such a scene is becoming a rarity across many parts of the globe as we light up the night like never before.

Today our experience of the night differs significantly from that of our ancestors. Before they mastered fire, early humans lived roughly half their lives in the dark. The only night light they had came from the moon when skies were clear. Then, when humans began to gain some control over fire use (probably around 400,000 years ago), everything changed. From that point on, most people have had access to some form of “artificial” light, at least occasionally. Thus began our persistent efforts to light up the night. Even people who lived relatively recently—those with candles, oil lamps, and early electricity—were far more familiar with darkness than we are today. Their nocturnal world simply wasn’t as bright as ours.

But what have we gained by illuminating the night? Has anything been lost in our efforts to banish darkness? Were people, and the world, better off when it was darker?…

Dive into the diurnal at: “A history of what we do in the dark.”

* Mary Oliver

###

As we go dark, we might recall this item from John Stow‘s Survey of London (original spelling: A Survay of London), published in 1598:

William Foxley slept in the tower 14 days & more without waking.

In the yeare 1546. the 27 of April, being Tuesday in Easter weeke, William Foxley, Potmaker for the Mint in the tower of London, fell asleepe, and so continued sleeping, and could not be wakened, with pricking, cramping, or otherwise burning* whatsoeuer, till the first day of the tearme, which was full xiiii. dayes, and xv. nights, or more, for that Easter tearme beginneth not afore xvii. dayes after Easter. The cause of his thus sleeping could not be knowne, though the same were diligently searched after by the kings Phisitians, and other learned men: yea the king himselfe examining the said William Foxley, who was in all poynts found at his wakening to be as if hee had slept but one night. And he lived more then fortie yeares after in the sayde Tower, to wit, vntil the yeare of Christ, 1587, and then deceased on Wednesday in Easterweeke.

 source

 

Written by LW

April 27, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable”*…

 

 click here for enlargeable version of the full chart

For most of civilized history, life expectancy fluctuated in the 30 to 40 year range.

Child mortality was all too common, and even for those that made it to adulthood, a long and healthy life was anything but guaranteed. Sanitation was poor, disease was rampant, and many medical practices were based primarily on superstition or guesswork.

By the 20th century, an explosion in new technologies, treatments, and other science-backed practices helped to increase global life expectancy at an unprecedented rate.

From 1900 to 2015, global life expectancy more than doubled, shooting well past the 70 year mark.

What were the major innovations that made the last century so very fruitful in saving lives?…  Interestingly, while many of these innovations have some linkage to the medical realm, there are also breakthroughs in sectors like energy, sanitation, and agriculture that have helped us lead longer and healthier lives…

See the list in full, along with a nifty infographic, at “The 50 Most Important Life-Saving Breakthroughs in History.”

Readers will note that “history” for these folks seems to start in the 19th century… so that one doesn’t find, for instance, the development of domestication or the invention of the plow.  And even then, one could quibble: surely, for example, the understanding of contagious diseases, epidemiology, and medical statistics/cartography that flowed from Dr. John Snow’s mapping of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London belongs on the list.  Still, it’s provocative to ponder.

* Joesph Wood Krutch

###

As we realize, with Krutch, that will the sweet comes the bitter, we might spare a thought for Rachel Carson; she died on this date in 1964.  A pioneering environmentalist, her book The Silent Spring— a study of the long-term dangers of pesticide use– challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind relates to the natural world.

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
– Rachel Carson

 source

 

Written by LW

April 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: