As it’s still early Advent, it’s not quite that period between Christmas and New Year where “The Best of 2016” features grace the front page of every media outlet. Still, that hasn’t stopped TIME announcing its 100 Most Influential Images of All Time. Fortunately, TIME has done a much better job than most and this feature explores the background and impact of iconic photographs, from “The View from the Window at Le Gras” by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce to “Alan Kurdi” by Nilüfer Demir. These are the images which define the human experience for nearly two centuries; too many of the pictures show suffering and pain, but others will reassure and confirm the amazing achievements selflessly done for the benefit all.
2010’s podcast series “The History of the World in 100 Objects” by the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, is one of the highlights of the podcast genre. Produced by the BBC, each episode tells of a moment in history through a story woven around an object. At times it’s very moving, especially when a tale hits home and resonates with you. People haven’t really changed in thousands of years. Your problems were their problems.
But that’s old news. New though, is that the British Museum has a podcast of its own, called, err, The British Museum podcast. Doesn’t sound that inspiring and there’s only been one episode so far, but I think it will be interesting. The first episode is called The Suicide Exhibition and tells the story of how the museum responded to the outbreak of World War II.
“It wasn’t only people that were evacuated from London during the Second World War. Antiquities and works of art were moved outside of the capital in their thousands. Relocated to stately houses, abandoned tube stations and purpose-built, climate-controlled bunkers – this is the story of how the British Museum pulled off ‘the biggest, mass evacuation of objects in any museum’s history.”
The narrator does talk a little fast but give it a go. Americans will get used to the accent in no time. Just search for “British Museum” in your podcast app of choice (Libsyn / iTunes).
While we’re talking about the British Museum, you might want to listen to the latest episode of The Allusionist which discusses languages and the Rosetta Stone, one of the museum’s most famous exhibits.
The British Museum’sImpressions of Nations is now online and it shows coins from every United Nations member state. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, they’re all here, though as the Museum points out, not every country issues coins. Looking through the coins, eagles are popular images,with lions, elephants and fish also appearing. Queen Elizabeth II is the single most represented person as she is the head of state for many Commonwealth countries.
Europhiles can check out the coins from the different member states. For those not familiar with the euro, the notes are all the same, but the coins reflect the country of origin. The Irish euro has a harp on it, the German one an eagle and the Italian euro has the Vitruvian Man. Look also at Greece, Austria and Portugal.
Most are round, but some have holes (Denmark, Norway) and others are have, err, wiggly edges (Libya, Maldives, Myanmar). I can understand why people collect coins as they’re a fascinating insight into each country, often showing not only the history but also the aspiration of the nation.
Geeks older than 40 are likely to remember the 90s well. The Internet was a sleepy village, PCs were expensive, hard disks were small and software came on floppy disks. And I have lots of floppy disks, from packaged software and magazine cover disks to drivers and trial software. A rough estimate is that there are around 500 3.5″ floppy disks in both 720 kb and 1.44 Mb varieties stashed away.
In my mind, I always hoped to get into retro computing, but the reality is that there’s always going to be something new which is more interesting than hacking CONFIG.SYS to squeeze the drivers into as little memory as possible. So it’s with resigned acceptance that I’m finally having a clear out of the disks to reclaim valuable storage space.
Of course, I can’t simply throw the floppies in the bin. I’ll have to copy the files to my NAS “just in case” which has thrown up a couple of interesting things.
First, I’m surprised at how well the disks have survived. Of all the hundreds of disks, only two disks proved unreadable, both of which were magazine coverdisks. Expectations of floppies shedding iron oxide like Italian cars of the same era have proved unfounded and on the whole, they have been quite reliable.
Secondly, and not entirely unexpectedly, there has been the massive increase in file sizes and numbers over the years. Here’s a quick comparison of the Windows install disks.
Windows 1 – 178 files 1.9 MB over six 320 kB floppies
Windows 3 – 282 files 47 MB over eight 720 kB 3.5″ floppies
Windows 95 – 1946 files 574 MB on one CD
Windows XP – 6655 files 542 MB on one CD
Windows 7 – 2.2 GB download
Finally, it’s the “blast from past”. What companies and software has survived the 20 years since then? Here are a few of the disk sets that I uncovered.
PANTONE The 20th Century in Color looks to me like a great Christmas gift for anyone interested in colour and history: graphic designers, interior decorators, costume designers, website builders, Renaissance geeks. Authored by Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker and published last month, it’s a view of the last century with a focus on colour. Of course, it inserts the relevant Pantone colours allowing you to recreate colour schemes from the past to great effect.
The blurb says, “Pantone, the worldwide color authority, invites you on a rich visual tour of 100 transformative years. From the Pale Gold (15-0927 TPX) and Almost Mauve (12-2103 TPX) of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris to the Rust (18-1248 TPX) and Midnight Navy (19-4110 TPX) of the countdown to the Millennium, the 20th century brimmed with color. Longtime Pantone collaborators and color gurus Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker identify more than 200 touchstone works of art, products, decor, and fashion, and carefully match them with 80 different official Pantone Color palettes to reveal the trends, radical shifts, and resurgences of various hues. This vibrant volume takes the social temperature of our recent history with the panache that is uniquely Pantone.”
Hyperbole aside, I think this will be fascinating look back through the past century and will be more than just a coffee table book: it’ll be a source of inspiration for when you want to get that “period feel”. It’s on my Amazon wish list so with luck, I’ll be able to bring you a review in the New Year.
(You’ll just have to forgive the twin spellings of colour and color in this article.)
I’m packing up an old laptop to give away to a friend and checking through the bag to ensure that all the parts are there. As I do, a handful of PCMCIA cards fall out, all with names, products and technical details that are now part of history. A Xircom 10/100 Base TX Fast Ethernet adaptor. A US Robotics Sportster V32/V34 bis modem card. A 256 MB CompactFlash Card in CF-to-PCMCIA Type 1 adaper. A generic 11b wireless card.
Even the term PCMCIA has been relegated to history, first by being renamed as PC Card and then by being superseded by ExpressCard. But what happened to Xircom and US Robotics? The former was bought by Intel in 2001 though products were sold under the Xircom brand until 2005. USRobotics merged with 3Com in 1997 before being spun out again in 2000. It was later acquired by a private equity firm in 2005 and it’s still in existence, focusing entirely on modems.
So many companies and products have fallen by the wayside; Ad Lib sound cards; 3dfx graphics card; Hayes modems; Conner hard drives; Handspring PDAs. The list is long and illustrious. Some merged, some were bought out, some failed to compete and died. Others are still with us and it’s market forces and competition in action. Technology changes too and hot products become obsolete. Internal modems are no longer needed as we’ve all got ADSL and cable broadband wireless routers.
As I look round my office, I wonder how many of the names and products I currently see will still be here in 10 years’ time? Samsung…Dell…HP…Yamaha…Sony…Plantronics…Toshiba…Sun (already part of Oracle)…Logitech…Microsoft…AMD…Maxtor (now Seagate as well). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Sixty years of the BBC’s Reith Lectures archive have been made available as downloadable .mp3s, a fantastic resource for Renaissance geeks and lovers of 20th century history. The Reith Lectures are an annual short series of lectures on issues of the day pitched to the general public and given by respected individuals. They cover a wide range of topics but are touched by the era in which they were recorded. There’s usually four or five lectures in a series.
They’re named after Lord Reith, the first Director General of the BBC and started in 1948, continuing to this day. This year’s lectures on “Securing Freedom” will be given by Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese pro-democracy leader and Baroness Manningham-Buller, Director General of MI5 from 2002 to 2007. Last year’s were on “Scientific Horizons” and were presented by Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society. As you can see, these aren’t irrelevant boring lectures by dull academics.
Until now, if you didn’t catch the lectures when they were broadcast through the RSS feed, you had to use iPlayer to listen to the lectures and the on-line archive has been expanded right back to the start in 1948. Currently, they appear as three tranches, 1948-1975, 1976-2010 and this year’s, 2011.
Hopefully, the downloads aren’t restricted to the UK as there’s some very interesting content that’s worth listening to, some still relevant to today and other material that will help you in understanding previous decades and the impact they’ve had on today.
I think my broadband’s going to take a hammering this month…
Once in a while, a book comes along that contains ground-breaking insights. Such is the case with a book I’ve listened to over the past couple of days, the Audible audio book version of ‘The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires” by author Tim Wu.
“The Master Switch” is a compelling look into the history of major information industries such as the telegraph, the telephone, commercial broadcast radio, the commercial movie business, and commercial broadcast television. The book points out an identifiable, slowly-repeating cycle obviated by the fact that these industries were able to gain and hold monopoly status. Each in turn became quite adept at retarding disruptive technological innovations that threatened their respective business models.
Today we take an open Internet for granted, but these same and other forces are looking to take over control of the Internet and turn it into a closed, much more tightly-controlled system.
The book is extremely well written and well researched. The Audible audio book narrator Marc Vietor brings the book to life in a wonderful way.
Mr. Wu does a fantastic job of laying out the often-fascinating histories of companies such as Western Union, AT&T, NBC, etc. As consumers, we think we know these companies through their consumer advertising. The real history of these companies is often quite different and very eye opening.
If you enjoy stories about technology and business, you will almost certainly enjoy “The Master Switch” by Tim Wu.
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Today is the 98th anniversary of the birth Alan Turing, one of most brilliant minds of the 20th Century. Born on was born on 23rd June 1912 in London, England, he is known as one of the fathers of modern computing, though his ideas for programmable computers were ahead of their time.
He is widely know for the test which bears his name – the Turing Test – which Alan Turing designed to test for machine intelligence. In the test, a person communicates in natural language via keyboard and screen with two hidden respondents, one human, one computer. If the person cannot tell which of the respondents is the machine, the computer is said to have passed the Turing test. So far no computer has consistently passed the test.
Turing is also famous for his work during the Second World War at Bletchley Park and the breaking of the German naval Enigma code. In collaboration with Gordon Welchman, he designed an electromechanical machine called a “bombe” that eliminated unworkable Enigma settings, leaving only a few to be investigated by analysts. He went on to make a several further contributions to the war effort in different areas.
Regrettably, in 1952, Turing was arrested, tried and convicted for homosexuality which at that time was a criminal offence. As result, and despite his wartime record, his security clearance to work for the government was revoked. Sadly, in 7 June 1954, he committed suicide, eating an apple laced with cyanide.