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Posts Tagged ‘telegraph

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

 

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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.”

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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

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Written by LW

June 10, 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

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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

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Written by LW

May 24, 2018 at 1:01 am

“We expect more from technology and less from each other”*…

 

Replace these “wireless telegraphs” with smartphones, update the dress a little, and this vision from a 1906 issue of Punch magazine could easily be for 110 years in the future. Part of a series of “forecasts” for the year to come, the caption reads: “These two figures are not communicating with one another. The lady receives an amatory message, and the gentleman some racing results.” It’s a reminder that the idea of technology leading to a breakdown in “authentic” human interaction is a worry not solely limited to our age.

Punch seemed to have a knack for uncanny predictions of distant technologies to come. See for example this vision of the Skype-like “Telephonoscope” from 1879…

A Vision of Isolating Technology from 1906,” from Public Domain Review.  (The original is housed at the Internet Archive, from the University of Toronto Libraries.)

* Sherry Turkle, Alone Together

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As we pull on the thread, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that Queen Victoria sent the first official telegraph message across the Atlantic Ocean from London to the U.S. (Test messages had been exchanged for the prior 10 days).  Her message to President Buchanan, in Washington D.C., began transmission at 10:50am and was completed at 4:30am the next day, taking nearly 18-hrs to reach Newfoundland. With 99 words, consisting of 509 letters, it averaged about 2-min per letter.  The message was forwarded across Newfoundland by an overhead wire supported on poles; across Cabot Strait by submarine cable to Aspy Bay (Dingwall), Cape Breton; then by an overhead wire across eastern Canada and Maine, via Boston to New York.

This earliest Transatlantic Cable went dead within a month.

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Written by LW

August 16, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Certainly it constitutes bad news when the people who agree with you are buggier than batshit”*…

 

The NSA’s 2007 internal manual for research on the Internet is, well… mesmerizingly odd.  On it’s way to a Dungeons-and-Dragons-as-reported-by-an-undergraduate-Classics-major-like depiction of life online, it cites Borges, Freud, and Ovid – and that’s just the preface…

The NSA has a well-earned reputation for being one of the tougher agencies to get records out of, making those rare FOIA wins all the sweeter. In the case of Untangling the Web, the agency’s 2007 guide to internet research, the fact that the records in question just so happen to be absolutely insane are just icing on the cake – or as the guide would put it, “the nectar on the ambrosia.”…

More of the backstory at “The NSA’s guide to the internet is the weirdest thing you’ll read today“; browse through the text in its extraordinary entirety here.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards themselves?, or more familiarly, who will watch the watchers?)

– Juvenal

* Philip K. Dick

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As we limber up our gaming fingers, we might recall this is an important anniversary in the pre-history of the Internet:  on this date in 1837, Charles Wheatstone and William Fothergill Cooke patented the electric “Five Needle Telegraph” in London (U.K. No. 7390).  They were subsequently granted a patent in the U.S. 10 days before Samuel Morse received his, but Morse was given priority by the U.S. PTO as the first inventor.  Nonetheless, Wheatstone and Cooke had priority in the U.K.; their system served British railways, press, and law enforcement for decades, first as the service of an independent company, then as a nationalized part of the General Post Office.

Wheatstone (left) and Cooke

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Written by LW

June 10, 2016 at 1:01 am

“We face neither East nor West; we face forward”*…

 

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

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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.

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Written by LW

August 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

“It is a miracle that one does not dissolve in one’s bath like a lump of sugar”*…

 

A professor of physiotherapy, Dr. Curran Pope’s practice embraced “diseases of the mind and nervous system”, which he treated with both electro-therapy, and hydrotherapy in his own sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky.  In 1909, he published Practical Hydrotherapy: A Manual for Students and Practitioners.

As the book’s contents list suggests, Pope considered hydrotherapy – treatment in which the temperature or pressure of water is used – as a viable method for curing anything from diabetes and heart disease to paranoia and alcoholism. The treatments are comprised of baths, douches, enemas, steam, and wet sheets, which are applied in various temperatures and orders depending on the ailment. Pope believed the body to heal itself and that water could aid the healing or indeed help to prevent diseases from occurring. He also believed in testing the methods on himself. He writes in the preface:

Much information and a clearer insight than mere description can give, is to note the physiological action of hydrotherapy by “putting yourself in his place.” One application of a cold jet douche to the spine gives more realistic information than pages of description. I therefore make the suggestion of “practice on yourself” first. Many experiments herein mentioned have had the author as principal party in interest.

Get wet at Public Domain Review, where one will find many more illustrations like the one above; then page through Dr. Pope’s book at the Internet Archive.

* Pablo Picasso

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As we dip our toes, we might send temperate birthday greetings to William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin; he was born on this date in 1824.  A physicist, mathematician, and engineer, he has been described as the Newton of his era:  At the University of Glasgow, where he taught for over half a century, he did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and did much to unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form.  He worked closely with mathematics professor Hugh Blackburn in his work, especially the development and application of trigonometry.  He had a side career as an electric telegraph engineer and inventor, which propelled him into the public eye (and ensured his wealth, fame, and honor– his work on the transatlantic telegraph project earned him a knighthood from Queen Victoria).  And he had extensive maritime interests, among which he was most noted for his work on the mariner’s compass, which had previously been limited in reliability.

Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honor. While the existence of a lower limit to temperature (absolute zero) was known prior to his work, it was Lord Kelvin who determined its correct value as approximately −273.15 degree Celsius, or −459.67 degree Fahrenheit.

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“A gentleman is someone who can play the accordion, but doesn’t”*…

 

An accomplished accordionist, driving to a performance, stopped in front of his dry cleaner and ran in to pick up his tux.  Arriving at the counter, he realized with a shock that he’d left his instrument on the back seat, in plain view.  He grabbed his suit, ran back to the car– and was horrified to see that his worst fear had come true.  As he peered through the broken back window of his car, he saw a second accordion lying next to his…

Readers who can help themselves can try out the browser accordion:

* Tom Waits

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As we get in touch with our inner Lawrence Welk, we might recall that it was on this date in 1844 that Samuel Morse tapped keys of a different sort to send 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

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Written by LW

May 24, 2013 at 1:01 am

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