Tag Archives: Technology
Another shameless plug… my husband’s second album is now on Spotify (as well as iTunes)! [It’s actually his first, but in the process of digitalisation it’s the second one now; in case you missed the first one, just click here. ] Just click on the image below to have a listen! Enjoy.
With this being the first album, we had toyed with the idea of recording an English version; my husband and I translated and smoothed out the text for each of the songs (not an easy task between Swiss German and English, to get the rhythms & sentence structures to match the already-recorded soundtracks!), but it was mothballed before we got started on the recordings, due to the complexities it would have entailed by recording it in Britain (with English-speaking kids). Maybe one day; but in the meantime, he’s written enough songs to fill five more albums. Technology has drifted from physical to digital, so I doubt another “album” is on the horizon (though oddly enough, LPs have been coming back into style since about 2010). You never know.
Living in the Cyber Age, it’s easy to forget that personal computers only came into existence for the mass market in 1981 (and even then, didn’t become common household items until the early 1990s), with the launch of the IBM Personal Computer (they coined that term, and the shortened “PC”). We got our first personal computer in 1993, and it had the astounding RAM of 256 MB!
As far as telephones went, I grew up with several: My grandparents’ farm had a box phone on the wall, with the separate ear piece; then they modernized to a heavy black beast of a rotary phone – the kind you could really slam down if the need arose; in fact, you had to be careful how you set it down when you weren’t upset, because it was so heavy that it might sound like a slam in the receiver! My family had wireless land-line phones, but the signal was poor if you moved much farther away than a long cable would have allowed. Remember the impatience of dialling a number on the rotary dial, especially if it contained nines or zeros? And remember that curly cable that got tangled on itself from being over-stretched? Cell phones didn’t really come into their own until the late 1990s as a mass-market item; kids today would find that hard to imagine, as they seem to think they’ll fall off the edge of the known universe and die if they leave the house without their cells.
Before Spotify, iTunes or MP3s, and even before CDs were common, cassette tapes and LP (long-play) records were all the rage. Remember winding cassettes with a pencil? Now that films like “Guardians of the Galaxy” have highlighted cassettes, this generation thinks they’re a novel gadget, and history begins to repeat itself with the labels of “retro” or “vintage” attached to make “old” sound “cool”! We had an 8-track player in our car, with a cumbersome disc the size of an old Beta movie cassette case. My father was always at the cutting edge of technology, and in the late 70s we had a laser disc player; the DVDs were the size of LP records (yet looked just like a CD or DVD of today), and we had films like “Logan’s Run” and “Heaven Can Wait”. The technology didn’t catch on, so I’ve never known anyone else who had that contraption (an image below shows the size comparison to a modern DVD). Another gadget we had was a set of picture frames hanging on our living room wall; they were filled with psychedelic lights that reacted to sounds, changing colours as you talked, sang, or watched television. The topic of TVs is a whole other kettle of fish! As the way of dinosaurs, cassettes and 8-tracks, CDs are nearly a thing of the past now, with digital clouds; even television stations will struggle to survive in the changing technology with on-demand digital providers becoming more popular. Here are a few images to stir your nostalgia for stone-age technology:
With so many changes happening just within a few decades, it’s easy to imagine that a century ago, things were even more different. I wish I had statistics for Europe, but here are a few US stats for the year 1906 – 110 years ago. Some of these items came in the form of a chain e-mail several years ago, and I didn’t forward it; even so, I’ve made new friends, I haven’t been hit by a meteorite, and I’ve been perfectly happy, despite the threats that come from breaking such a chain…
- 18% of households in the US had at least one full-time servant or domestic help.
- 2 out of every 10 adults were illiterate; only 6% of all Americans had graduated from high school.
- 90% of all doctors had NO college education; they rather attended “medical schools,” many of which were condemned by the press and the government as sub-standard.
- A 3-minute call from Denver to New York City cost 11 dollars.
- A competent accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year, a dentist $2,500, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
- Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California.
- Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.
- Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and ice tea hadn’t been invented yet.
- Marijuana, heroin and morphine were all available over the counter at corner drugstores; pharmacists claimed that, “Heroin clears complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”
- More than 95% of all births in the US took place at home.
- Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
- Sugar cost 4 cents per pound; eggs were 14 cents for a dozen; coffee was 15 cents a pound.
- The American flag had 45 stars: Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska had not yet been admitted into the Union.
- The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30.
- The average life expectancy was 47.
- The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
- The average wage in the US was 22 cents per hour.
- The maximum speed limit for most cities was 10 mph.
- The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
- There was no official Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
- There were about 230 reported murders in the entire US.
- There were only 8,000 cars in the US, and only 144 miles of paved roads.
- With a mere 1.4 million people, California was only the 21st-most populous state.
- The five leading causes of death in the US:
- Pneumonia and influenza
- Heart Disease
- The top news articles of the time:
- Roald Amundsen, Norwegian explorer, located the Magnetic North Pole.
- Ethiopia declared independent in a tripartite pact; the country was divided into British, French, and Italian spheres of influence.
- Finland was the first European country to give women the vote.
- President Roosevelt sailed to the Panama Canal Zone. It was the first time a U.S. president travelled outside the country while in office.
- Reginald Fessenden invented wireless telephony, a means for radio waves to carry signals a significant distance. On December 24, he made the first radio broadcast: a poetry reading, a violin solo, and a speech.
- In Economy, federal spending was $0.57 billion; unemployment was 1.7%, and the cost of a first-class stamp was 2 cents.
- On 18 April, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit San Francisco, California, killing over 3,000. Though many have heard of the famous quake, a less-publicized 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit Ecuador and Columbia earlier in the year, on 31 January, causing a tsunami. On 16 August, a magnitude 8.2 earthquake in Valparaíso, Chile left approximately 20,000 dead, while on 18 September, a typhoon and tsunami killed an estimated 10,000 in Hong Kong. The media all but ignored such events, making the San Fran earthquake the best-known, though it was the least of all these events in the loss of lives. [Note the warning about shooting looters, from the San Fran mayor, in the images below.]
- A few famous births in 1906: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 Feb.); Hans Asperger (18 Feb.); Lou Costello (6 March).
Below are a few ads and gadgets from 1906 (gleaned around Pinterest), for your amusement:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” (On inventing the light bulb)
Thomas A. Edison
Most inventions are the results of exploration, experimentation, blood, sweat and tears, and lots of sleepless nights. But there are some moments of serendipity, those “Hmm. That’s strange…” discoveries that are not lightly tossed aside but seen for their potential. It’s taking the lemons life has thrown their way, tossing in a wet rag and a few copper and zinc coins, and coming up with a battery.
Here’s a line-up of a few of those wet rag-tossers of science and technological discoveries:
Who: Henri Becquerel, French physicist and Nobel laureate.
Why: A bad spate of cloudy days. He’d been working with naturally fluorescent minerals (in this case a uranium rock), to see if they’d produce x-rays if left out in the sun. It was winter, and when a week of clouds moved in he wrapped up his equipment and stuck it in a drawer to wait for a sunny day. You really don’t want to hear, “Oops” and “radioactive” in the same sentence, but that’s what he eventually realised he’d discovered: When he came back to his bundle, he found that the rock had imprinted itself onto the x-ray plate without having been exposed to sunlight. Marie & Pierre Curie eventually put a name to the “oops.”
Who: Leo Hendrik Baekeland, Belgian chemist with more than 50 patents to his name.
Why: He was actually looking for a substitute for shellac, which was expensive and made from Asian beetles. His experiments produced a mouldable material that could withstand high temperatures without distorting, and he called it “Bakelite.” It soon became clear that it had countless uses, and now we wonder what on earth some things were made out of before he came along.
Who: Charles Goodyear
Why: He’d spend years trying to find ways to make rubber easier to work with, while still being resistant to heat and cold. One day he accidentally spilled a mixture of rubber, sulphur and lead onto a hot stove (I hate it when that happens). In this case charred on the stove turned out to be a good thing, because it wasn’t ruined – it was vulcanized rubber. Unfortunately, like many inventors, he wasn’t very good with money; he died $200,000 in debt. He didn’t even live to see the famous company named after him, as it took his name nearly 40 years after his death.
Who: Jamie Link, Chemistry graduate working on her doctorate at the University of Californian, San Diego.
Why: One of the silicon chips she was working on burst; but she discovered that the tiny bits still functions as sensors. Among other things, they can be used to monitor the purity in water, detect airborne biological hazards, and even locate tumour cells in the human body. In this case, homework blowing up in her face wasn’t a bad thing.
The Big Bang
Who: Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias, radio astronomers
Why: While working with the Holmdel antenna in New Jersey, they noticed a confusing background noise. After eliminating the obvious and the not-so obvious, they realized that it must be cosmic microwave radiation leftovers from a universe-forming explosion (that’s just what I thought). Oddly enough, just 37 miles up the road, Robert Dicke and his team had also been working on the theory (which had been around for decades, by the way) and searching for that background noise; when he heard of their discovery his comment was, “Well boys, we’ve been scooped.” He wasn’t the one that won the Nobel Prize. Incidentally, the term “Big Bang” was coined during a 1949 radio broadcast to highlight the difference between the two scientific models of “steady state” and “expanding state” cosmology.
Who: Alfred Nobel, Swedish Chemist and Engineer. Yes, the same one the Nobel Peace Prize is named after.
Why: Trying (and failing several times) to stabilize Nitro-glycerine, an explosive liquid. In 1864 his own brother and several others were killed in an explosion in Stockholm, and some think it pushed him even more to find a way to transport it safely. Once while transporting the substance, he noticed that one of the cans leaked into the packing material, a sedimentary rock called Kieselguhr. He explored the possibility of the mixture as a stabilizer, and patented his discovery as Dynamite. It revolutionized building and mining, saving untold lives from accidental explosions.
Who: Developed in the Franco-German GSM cooperation in 1984 by Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert.
Why: Originally written into technical standard specs for mobile phones across Europe, the script enabled telecom engineers testing the system to send short messages back and forth between themselves to help manage the networks; but consumers got wind of that “Short Message Service” (SMS), and have been digressing in spelling and syntax ever since.
Who: Harry Brearly, English metallurgist for an arms manufacturer.
Why: Given the task to develop a non-rusty gun barrel, Harry began testing his creation with various corrosives, including lemon juice; he realized that it would be great for cutlery (not to mention thousands of other uses that have since been discovered). But really, he owes credit to a Frenchman from 1821, who first recognized the iron chromium alloys’ resistance to corrosion; at the time however, the manufacturing of it was not within their technical grasp.
Who: Researchers at the US Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory in Japan.
Why: They had cracked a fish tank, and patched it together again with superglue (cyanoacrylate). They noticed that the fumes from the glue had condensed on oils in fingerprints on the glass, making them clearly visible. It is now an important tool in forensic science.
Who: A Chinese cook, according to legend
When: 2,000 years ago.
Why: They were accidentally invented by a cook who mixed together charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter — all items commonly found in kitchens in those days apparently. The mixture burned and when compressed in a bamboo tube, exploded. I wonder if he survived to tell the tale.
Who: Thomas Edison, credited with the first successful phonograph that both recorded and reproduced sound.
Why: There were several men in the throes of developing devices similar to a phonograph, but had either not been successful, had limited success, or had not even made it past the basic concept phase. In the summer of 1877 Thomas Edison was tinkering with a paper cylinder and a piece of tinfoil that would record telegraph signals; his was not an accidental invention as much as it was an educated – very educated – guess of trial and error. He knew the principles of various concepts, and put them together like puzzle pieces until he got the results he felt could be possible – recording and playing back the human voice. Think how amazed he would be to know we don’t even need such devices anymore, it a completely digital age… we use satellites in space to chat half way around the world, real-time.
Ink Jet Printer
Who: Ichiro Endo, Engineer at Canon.
When: August 1957
Why: The Canon engineer discovered the principle, as the story goes, when he set a hot soldering iron next to his pen; it reacted by spitting out ink just moments later, and the principle behind the ink jet printer was born.
Who: Chinese alchemists
When: 9th century
Why: Ironically, they were trying to create an elixir of immortality; we can only assume that the discoverers failed; let us hope their first attempt didn’t turn out to be their last. Ingredients are saltpetre (potassium nitrate), sulphur, realgar (arsenic sulphide). The first use of gunpowder was in Chinese fireworks; but typically human, it didn’t take long for a good thing to be abused and shortly thereafter it was being used in crude cannons and exploding weapons. ‘Fire rockets’ were made by capping bamboo reeds, filling them with gunpowder and bits of metal, and then lit and shot from a bow; you could say that they were the first solid-fuel rockets.
Who: Henning Brand, German scientist
Why: For some odd reason, Brand decided to store 50 buckets of his urine in his cellar for a few months in the hopes that they might turn into buckets of gold. It may seem odd to us; but urine has long been used in manufacturing; it was used to wash hair before shampoos were invented, and was used in various products, including clothing dyes, during the Industrial Revolution. Strangely it didn’t work; but after letting the urine stand until it was purified, he then boiled down the liquid until he was left with a paste. He then heated this paste to very high temperatures and ended up with phosphorus. Of course. That’s what you do with that much urine, apparently.