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Posts Tagged ‘transatlantic cable

“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

“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

“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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