Tag: gadgets

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The Magic Flight of Thought

  Today I was talking to my sister (Happy Birthday, Chi!) and we were chatting about the crazy speed of new technology. How strange it is to collapse our life experience into a series of new devices and how they affected us, and then try to imagine what it is like to be born digital, with all this shiny stuff that has no historical context. As Peter Goldman said: “Between the twitterverse and the 24-hour cable news cycle our history keeps disappearing.” Now, everything is instantaneous, all knowledge is free, one-to-one communication is a such a waste of time… “duh! old timer, how can you be so passé.” This got me thinking about the impact of earlier communication technologies and what they were like in the popular culture before they were taken for granted. What was it like 100 years ago, when the telephone was first established as a fixture of modern life? In 1880, there had only been 108,000 telephones in use, by 1890 there were 467,000 telephones installed. Think of the rapid change as this newfangled device penetrated American society. 1900 600,000 (for 76,000,000 people) reaching 0.79% of the population 1905 2,200,000 (for 83,000,000 people) reaching 2.6% of the population 1910 5,800,000 (for 92,000,000 people) reaching 6.3% of the population During the first 25 years of its existence the telephone was physically accessible to less than 1% of the population, but that number nearly tripled between 1900 and 1905, then doubled again, between 1905 and 1910. This exponential growth, and the exposure of greater and greater numbers of people to this technology — which could project their voice instantly to almost anywhere — must indeed have seemed like magic, like something from mythology come to life! So it was not surprising to find an advertisement in the 1914 Farm Journal in which the American Telephone and Telegraph Company actually portrayed their service in mythological terms. AT&T was established only nine years earlier, in 1885, and by 1914 they had been riding a totally unparalleled explosion of telephony…and yet, from their point of view, they had more than 90% of the population left to capture as customers! How to capture their imagination and then their money? That must have been the operating question for the AT&T publicity machine of the time. And here is what they came up with:

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Unboxing a 1964 Smith Corona Sterling

It would be great if everyone was as lucky as I was today when unboxing a Fedex carton containing a used manual typewriter.   The typical horror stories of rattling loose pieces and totally broken machines could be greatly reduced in number if people were careful packers, like the “secretagent” who sold me this beautiful old typer!

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Telepathic Bird Brains and Ornithopters

From the editorial “Communication Between Minds” by Fred Pohl [Worlds of Tomorrow, Nov 1965] “Reading Vitus Droscher‘s fascinating The Mysterious Senses of Animals (Dutton), when it occurred to us that an experiment Droscher had described could be construed as a proof of telepathy. The experiments in question were performed by von Holst and Jechorek at the Max Planck Institute. The subjects were two chickens, connected by a wire and an amplifier that carried a current from the brain of one chicken to the brain of the other, via stereotaxically implanted electrodes. When the first chicken was exposed to the sight of a dog, the second chicken — completely out of sight and hearing, in another room — fluttered up the wall, squawking in alarm. Not telepathy?”

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21st Century Bag of Tricks

The modern day shaman — the serial start-up entrepreneur — carries around a fascinating collection of baubles and tools. The old school shrunken heads, shark’s teeth, eagle feathers, ointm

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Aloha Mars, Can-D gram for Perky Pat!

Given the opportunity, I just couldn’t resist sending a little micro-chipped token of my affection to my favorite sub-miniaturized phantasm on Mars. Aloha, Perky Pat! How’s the water at Lake Shalb

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The Groove is Analog

I was talking with my friend Don about this cool book I am reading about the rocket scientist John Whiteside Parsons — _Strange Angel_ — when the conversation somehow changed tracks to Le

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Bust Out of Energy Addiction

Isn’t it about time we moved beyond the idiotic “central heating” concept and kicked our energy habit? But how, you might ask, do we get this 100 quadrillion BTU monkey off our back? The answer, as

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Taikonauts prepare for liftoff!

The countdown has begun for tonight’s scheduled liftoff of the Shenzhou 7 mission, which includes the first EVA space-walk by Chinese Taikonauts. The intrepid crew will be wearing Chinese made “Feit

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From Space Travelers to Scavengers

Although it is exciting to think about water and soil on Mars, and new horizons for human exploration of space, still we should bring our heads back out of the clouds and face facts: human civilizati

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Technology for Paranormal Research

Reading the latest news about the haunted city hall of Middleborough, Massachusetts got me wondering about the state of the art for ghost busting. What self-respecting paranormal commando would be cau