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Posts Tagged ‘Watson

“LOCK-AND-KEY, n. The distinguishing device of civilization and enlightenment”*…

 

The pursuit of lock picking is as old as the lock, which is itself as old as civilization. But in the entire history of the world, there was only one brief moment, lasting about 70 years, where you could put something under lock and key—a chest, a safe, your home—and have complete, unwavering certainty that no intruder could get to it.

This is a feeling that event security guard service experts call “perfect security.”

Since we lost perfect security in the 1850s, it has has remained elusive. Despite tremendous leaps forward in security technology, we have never been able to get perfect security back…

Joseph Bramah’s challenge lock: “The artist who can make an instrument that will pick or open this lock shall receive 200 Guineas the moment it is produced.” 200 Guineas in 1777 would be about £20,000 today. The challenge held until 1851.

From the late 1770s until the mid-19th century, two British locks– the Bramah and the Chubb– offered their users unpickable security.  Then, at A. C. Hobbs, an American locksmith, attended The Great Exhibition—the first international exhibition of manufactured products– and destroyed that sense of security forever…

 

The “unpickable” Chubb Detector Lock

Read the remarkable Roman Mars’ account of security (and the loss thereof) in “In 1851, A Man Picked Two Unpickable Locks and Changed Security Forever“; hear it on his wonderful podcast, 99% Invisible.

* Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

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As we reach for our keys, we might recall that it was on this date in 1953 that a different kind of lock was picked: Nature published a one-page article by James Watson and Francis Crick outlining the structure of DNA– te work for which the pair won a Nobel Prize in 1962.  (Their paper ran immediately ahead of one co-authored by Maurice Wilkins, who shared the Nobel award, in the same issue.)

 source (and larger, legible version)

 

Written by LW

April 25, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Briton”*…

 

A section of the Endonym Map

 

An endonym is the name for a place, site or location in the language of the people who live there. These names may be officially designated by the local government or they may simply be widely used.

This map depicts endonyms of the countries of the world in their official or national languages. In cases where a country has more than one national or official language, the language that is most widely used by the local population is shown…

See and explore the whole world at  “Endonyms of the World.”

* George III

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As we contemplate connecting across cultural differences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell first spoke through his experimental “telephone”– to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, in the next room.  Bell wrote in his notebook, “I then shouted into M [the mouthpiece] the following sentence: ‘Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.’ To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said.”

Bell’s lab notebook, March 10, 1876

source

Written by LW

March 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

I for one welcome our new computer overlords…

source

In the aftermath of Watson’s triumph over humanity’s best, your correspondent thought it wise to remind readers (and himself) that this is not the first time that we mortals have faced the onslaught of astounding new technology.

The good folks at Dark Roasted Blend have compiled a nifty through-the-ages recap of attempts to create “life” in new-fangled ways; from Leonardo’s “robot” and John Dee’s “flying beetle” to an “steam-powered hiker” and an “electric milk man” from Victorian England, there’s quite a selection in “Amazing Automatons: Ancient Robots & Victorian Androids.”

It’s all fascinating; but the sweet spot is surely the selection of creations from the 18th (and early 19th) centuries, when the then-highly-developed crafts of metal working and watchmaking were turned to automata.  Consider, for example…

Jacques Vaucason created numerous working figures, including a flute player, which actually played the instrument, in 1738, plus this duck from 1739. The gilded copper bird could sit, stand, splash around in water, quack and even give the impression of eating food and digesting it.

Pierre Jaquet-Doz created three automata, The Writer, The Draughtsman and The Musician, which are still considered scientific marvels today. The Draughtsman is capable of producing four distinct pictures, while the Writer dips his pen in the ink and can write as many as forty letters. The Musician’s fingers actually play the organ and the figure ends her performance with a bow.

More, at Dark Roasted Blend.

As we remind ourselves to re-read Kevin Kelly’s excellent What Technology Wants and then to retake the Turing Test, we might stage a dramatic memorial dramatist and scenic innovator James Morrison Steele (“Steele”) MacKaye; he died on this date in 1894.  He opened the Madison Square Theatre in 1879, where he created a huge elevator with two stages stacked one on top of the other so that elaborate furnishings could be changed quickly between scenes. MacKaye was the first to light a New York theatre– the Lyceum, which he founded in 1884– entirely by electricity. And he invented and installed overhead and indirect stage lighting, movable stage wagons, artificial ventilation, the disappearing orchestra pit, and folding seats. In all, MacKaye patented over a hundred inventions, mostly for the improvement of theatrical production and its experience.

Steele MacKaye

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