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“Reason is the first casualty in a drought”*…

The 100th meridian runs from pole to pole, 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. It cuts through six U.S. states, forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. Powell identified this line as marking the point where the average annual rainfall dropped from 61 centimeters on the eastern edge to 46 centimeters at the western edge. New research shows a sharp aridity gradient still exists, but it’s moved east a bit, closer to the 98th meridian. Climate models predict it will move farther eastward in coming decades. Credit: National Atlas, modified by K. Cantner, AGI.

n 1878, without benefit of the Landsat program, GPS or Google, and just a decade after the creation of the National Weather Service, John Wesley Powell first advanced the idea that the climatic boundary between the United States’ humid East and arid West lay along a line “about midway in the Great Plains” — almost exactly 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. This line, the 100th meridian, runs from pole to pole and cuts through six U.S. states, forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. The 100th meridian also corresponds roughly to the 600-meter elevation contour as the land rises from the Great Plains toward the Rockies.

In his 1878 “Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States,” Powell identified the “arid region” as the land west of the 51-centimeter-per-year rainfall line, which closely tracked the 100th meridian. This amount of rainfall per year is about the minimum that permits farming without irrigation, and it also greatly influences the types of crops that can be grown. The line Powell noted as dividing the arid and humid sections of the continent has become known as the “effective” 100th meridian.

Powell’s original goal in describing the effective 100th meridian as a dividing line was to persuade the federal government to bear in mind the greater aridity when planning for settlement and development in the western territories, which would be very different than in the moisture-rich east…

Today, the 100th meridian is still considered a climatic boundary line, but that will likely change in the coming decades: The 51-centimeter rainfall line is gradually moving east due to climate change, according to recent research…

The very middle of the U.S. is becoming increasing drier, with what are sure to be huge consequences: “Dividing line: The past, present and future of the 100th Meridian.”

* Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

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As we ponder parching, we might send environmentally-unfriendly birthday greetings to C. Montgomery Burns; he was (fictionally) born on this date in 1893. A recurring character in the animated television series The Simpsons (voiced initially by Christopher Collins, and currently by Harry Shearer), he is the evil, devious, greedy, and fabulously wealthy owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant and, by extension, Homer Simpson’s boss.

“Excellent.”

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Written by LW

September 15, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Moore’s Law is really a thing about human activity, it’s about vision, it’s about what you’re allowed to believe”*…

 

Karen-fungal-computing-2

 

In moments of technological frustration, it helps to remember that a computer is basically a rock. That is its fundamental witchcraft, or ours: for all its processing power, the device that runs your life is just a complex arrangement of minerals animated by electricity and language. Smart rocks. The components are mined from the Earth at great cost, and they eventually return to the Earth, however poisoned. This rock-and-metal paradigm has mostly served us well. The miniaturization of metallic components onto wafers of silicon — an empirical trend we call Moore’s Law — has defined the last half-century of life on Earth, giving us wristwatch computers, pocket-sized satellites and enough raw computational power to model the climate, discover unknown molecules, and emulate human learning.

But there are limits to what a rock can do. Computer scientists have been predicting the end of Moore’s Law for decades. The cost of fabricating next-generation chips is growing more prohibitive the closer we draw to the physical limits of miniaturization. And there are only so many rocks left. Demand for the high-purity silica sand used to manufacture silicon chips is so high that we’re facing a global, and irreversible, sand shortage; and the supply chain for commonly-used minerals, like tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, fuels bloody conflicts all over the world. If we expect 21st century computers to process the ever-growing amounts of data our culture produces — and we expect them to do so sustainably — we will need to reimagine how computers are built. We may even need to reimagine what a computer is to begin with.

It’s tempting to believe that computing paradigms are set in stone, so to speak. But there are already alternatives on the horizon. Quantum computing, for one, would shift us from a realm of binary ones and zeroes to one of qubits, making computers drastically faster than we can currently imagine, and the impossible — like unbreakable cryptography — newly possible. Still further off are computer architectures rebuilt around a novel electronic component called a memristor. Speculatively proposed by the physicist Leon Chua in 1971, first proven to exist in 2008, a memristor is a resistor with memory, which makes it capable of retaining data without power. A computer built around memristors could turn off and on like a light switch. It wouldn’t require the conductive layer of silicon necessary for traditional resistors. This would open computing to new substrates — the possibility, even, of integrating computers into atomically thin nano-materials. But these are architectural changes, not material ones.

For material changes, we must look farther afield, to an organism that occurs naturally only in the most fleeting of places. We need to glimpse into the loamy rot of a felled tree in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, or examine the glistening walls of a damp cave. That’s where we may just find the answer to computing’s intractable rock problem: down there, among the slime molds…

It’s time to reimagine what a computer could be: “Beyond Smart Rocks.”

(TotH to Patrick Tanguay.)

* “Moore’s Law is really a thing about human activity, it’s about vision, it’s about what you’re allowed to believe. Because people are really limited by their beliefs, they limit themselves by what they allow themselves to believe about what is possible.”  – Carver Mead

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As we celebrate slime, we might send fantastically far-sighted birthday greetings to Hugo Gernsback, a Luxemborgian-American inventor, broadcast pioneer, writer, and publisher; he was born on this date in 1884.

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 as 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… and was thus the inspiration for the name “Philco.”)

[UPDATE- With thanks to friend MK for the catch:  your correspondent was relying on an apocryphal tale in attributing the Philco brand name to to Philo Farnsworth.  Farsworth did work with the company, and helped them enter the television business.  But the Philco trademark dates back to 1919– pre-television days– as a label for what was then the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company.]

Gernsback, wearing one of his inventions, TV Glasses

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“There’s no such thing as an unabridged dictionary”*…

 

dictionary

 

Write with a better dictionary. Modern dictionaries have lazy definitions that focus too much on simplicity at the cost of precision. Instead of using the default one on your computer, bookmark this site, and start using the Webster’s 1913 dictionary…  – @david_perell

The connoisseur’s reference to American English – a dictionary for writers and wordsmiths: Webster’s 1913.

[TotH to @Frauenfelder and Recommendo]

* Jack Lynch, The Lexicographer’s Dilemma: The Evolution of “Pro 

per” English, from Shakespeare to South Park

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As we choose our words carefully, we might send amusingly-composed birthday greetings to Don Knotts; he was born on this date in 1924,  An actor, screenwriter, and comedian, he’s best known for his role as Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, a 1960s sitcom for which he earned five Emmy Awards (though he’s also pretty well-known for having played Ralph Furley on Three’s Company and for several films, including The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  In 1979, TV Guide ranked him #27 on its 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list.

When you work with words, words are your work  – Don Knotts

Don_Knotts_Barney_Fife_1966 source

 

“All [tv] shows are like cigarettes. You watch two, you have a higher chance of watching three. They’re all addictive.”*…

 

CTV_covid-watching_1.2-02-1565x1043

 

If you’ve found yourself watching hours and hours of “comfort food” TV during the COVID-19 outbreak, you’re not alone. CableTV.com recently conducted a survey of nearly 7,000 housebound viewers and found that they’re spending a lot of time with old friends—capital “F” Friends, to be exact….

While we fully expected beloved 1994–2004 comedy Friends to top the list, we were blindsided by second-place winner Rick and Morty. The animated series’s existential nihilism couldn’t be more of a contrast to the warm fuzzies of Friends. You’re obviously going through some stuff, America…

The full breakdown, state by state (and a larger version of the map above) at: “What the US Is watching during COVID-19.”

* Dan Harmon, co-creator of Rick and Morty (and creator of Community)

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As we shelter in (very different) places, we might send sympathetic birthday greetings to Theodore Martin (Ted) McGinley; he was born on this date in 1958.  An actor with a long and successful career on American television, he has become the “victim” of a Hollywood legend that has deemed him “the showkiller.”

After having popped up on a few long-running shows in their waning months/years (Happy Days being the most prominent, but there was also The Love Boat and Dynasty), McGinley began to be known via tongue-in-cheek observations as the greatest show-killer of all time.

Indeed, McGinley has been called “the patron saint of shark-jumping” by jumptheshark.com founder Jon Hein.

Does the evidence bear this out? …Not entirely. Both Happy Days and The Love Boat lasted about 60 episodes once McGinley was cast. Even by the old longer-seasons standards of TV, that’s a lot of episodes. Married…With Children lasted eight years and 167 episodes from the point that McGinley was cast as Marcy’s second husband, which by all rights should have put the show-killer thing to rest forever. And can we really blame McGinley for Sports Night being the brilliant-but-cancelled brief gem that it was? (Though I suppose the Ted McGinley Show-Killer thing isn’t about blame as much as it is about cosmic justice.) But if even a nondescript sitcom like Hope & Faith can last for 73 episodes past the Curse of McGinley settling on their doorstep, maybe we can call the show-killer thing debunked?

Except … the legend is more fun, isn’t it? [quoted material: source]

McGinley himself has a very good sense of humor about it all, and has made fun of the legend surrounding him in appearances on Married… With Children and Cartoon Network’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold (where he was re-teamed with Happy Days co-star Henry Winkler)

HappyDays

McGinley (left) with Henry Winkler and Anson Williams on Happy Days

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Written by LW

May 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Amaze your friends!”…

 

timms_catalog_ventrilo_1938_retrospace

 

Flatulence humor goes back to the first known joke, recorded by ancient Sumerians. Since then, it’s lingered for thousands of years, wafting from Medieval illuminated devotionals to Shakespeare’s plays. So naturally, employees of JEM Rubber Company in Toronto, known for making tire repair patches, were delighted when they figured out how to turn its scrap rubber into literal windbags around 1930. They approached Soren Sorensen “Sam” Adams—whose S.S. Adams Company was responsible for giving the world Sneezing Powder and the Joy Buzzer—but the cushion that blows a loud raspberry was just a bridge too far.

“They came to Adams because he was a big producer of novelties, hoping to sell it to him as a product to distribute in the U.S.,” says novelties collector Mardi Timm. “But he was so incensed about the indelicacy of the joke that he refused it.”

Undeterred, the representatives of JEM took their fart joke to Alfred Johnson Smith, whose popular Johnson Smith & Co. catalog was a Bible for mischief makers, offering novelties, magic tricks, and popular pranks like trick cigarette cases and squirting flowers. “Mr. Smith looked at it and said, ‘What a great gag!’ and put it in his catalog,” Mardi explains…

This is the world of Stan and Mardi Timm. Perusing their collection of products sold by Johnson Smith and other novelty firms is an experience akin to Pee-Wee Herman’s gleeful romp through Mario’s Magic Shop, trying out squirting mustard bottles and buying trick gum… the Timms’ vast collection of roughly 1,800 artifacts, focused on items from the Johnson Smith catalogs from the early 20th century and beyond, is more than juvenile pranks—it includes cheap toys and quirky but practical inventions like flashlights, twirling spaghetti forks, and electric tie presses, as well as guides promising to teach valuable skills like detective work or jiu-jitsu.

“Novelties are so much more than goofy, silly things,” Mardi says. “Everything that comes on to the marketplace starts out as a novelty. They’re things that are not common, things that make you say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen one of those before!’ or ‘What is that thing?’”

The collection documents U.S. (and UK) popular culture from the mid-1910s through today…

timms_smoking_explosivecigaretteads

More– much more– at “Fun Delivered: World’s Foremost Experts on Whoopee Cushions and Silly Putty Tell All.”

* Boy’s Life

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As we ponder pranks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that Doogie Howser, M.D. ended it’s fourth and final season.  Created by Stephen Bochco and David E. Kelley (both rather better known for police, legal, and medical procedural dramas like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Chicago Hope, and Boston Legal), the series featured Neil Patrick Harris as the youngest doctor in America (“can’t buy beer… [but] can prescribe drugs”)… with a best friend– “Vinnie Delpino”– who was pretty surely a customer of Johnson Smith.

doogie and Vinnie

Doogie and Vinnie

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Written by LW

March 24, 2020 at 1:01 am

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