Progress

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What Did George the Third Know?

He never saw a match.
He never saw a bicycle.
He never saw an oil stove.
He never saw an ironclad.
He never saw a steamboat.
He never saw a gas engine.
He never saw a type-writer.
He never saw a phonograph.
He never saw a steel plough.
He never took laughing gas.
He never rode on a tram car.
He never saw a fountain pen.
He never saw a railway train.
He never knew of Evolution.
He never saw a postage stamp.
He never saw a pneumatic tube.
He never saw an electric railway.
He never saw a reaping machine.
He never saw a set of artificial teeth.
He never saw a telegraph instrument.
He never heard the roar of a Krupp gun.
He never saw a threshing machine, but used a flail.
He never saw a pretty girl work on a sewing machine.
He never saw a percussion cap, nor a repeating rifle.
His grandmother did his mending with a darning needle.
He never listened to Edison’s mocking machine or phonograph.
When he went to a hotel he walked upstairs, for they had no lifts.
He never saw a steel pen, but did all his writing with a quill.
He never held his ear to a telephone, or talked to his wife a hundred miles away.
He never saw a fire engine, but when he went to a fire, he stood in line and passed buckets.
He never knew the pleasure and profit to be derived from reaing Science Siftings.

Science Siftings, 1894

Wire Bonds

The San Diego Daily Union of April 25, 1876, records a wedding by telegraph. W.H. Storey was the U.S. Signal Service operator at Camp Grant, Ariz. He couldn’t get leave to travel to San Diego, where Clara Choate lived, and there was no minister within hundreds of miles of the camp, so it appeared that the wedding couldn’t take place. But Storey thought, “A contract by telegraph is binding; then why can we not be married by telegraph?”

They were. Clara traveled to Camp Grant, and the pair were married over the wire by Jonathan L. Mann, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal church of San Diego. Lt. Philip Reade invited all managers along the line between California and Arizona to be present at their stations as wedding guests.

At 8:30 p.m. the father of the bride sent this message from San Diego:

Greeting to our friends at Camp Grant. We are ready to proceed with the ceremony.
D. CHOATE AND PARTY.

The answer came back:

We are ready.
W.H. STOREY.
CLARA E. CHOATE.

Then the Rev. Mr. Mann read the marriage service, which was repeated to Camp Grant as uttered, word for word, by Mr. Blythe, chief operator at the San Diego office. At the proper moment, the solemn ‘I do’ came back over the wires signed first by ‘William H. Storey,’ then by ‘Clara E. Choate.’ Then, following the words of the minister, the instruments clicked.

‘As a token of your sincerity you will please join your right hands.’

The answer came promptly: ‘It is done.’

The service was then concluded in regular form, after which congratulatory messages were sent the bride and groom from all stations. Suddenly Chief Operator Blythe of San Diego broke in and telegraphed Mr. Storey that ‘the Silver Cornet band of San Diego is just outside the office, giving you and your bride a serenade,’ a welcome that was warmly appreciated even though it was not heard at Camp Grant, 650 miles away.

Mr. and Mrs. Storey are still living in San Diego and have a happy family of five bright children who will always find pleasure in telling the story of their parents’ romantic wedding.

Listening In

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In 1890, as the telephone’s influence spread across the United States, Judge Robert S. Taylor of Fort Wayne, Ind., told an audience of inventors that the telephone had introduced an “epoch of neighborship without propinquity.” Scientific American called it “nothing less than a new organization of society.” The New York Times reported that two Providence men “were recently experimenting with a telephone, the wire of which was stretched over the roofs of innumerable buildings, and was estimated to be fully four miles in length”:

They relate that on the first evening of their telephonic dissipation, they heard men and women singing songs and eloquent clergymen preaching ponderous sermons, and that they detected several persons in the act of practising on brass instruments. This sort of thing was repeated every evening, while on Sunday morning a perfect deluge of partially conglomerated sermons rolled in upon them. … The remarks of thousands of midnight cats were borne to their listening ears; the confidential conversations of hundreds of husbands and wives were whispered through the treacherous telephone. … The two astonished telephone experimenters learned enough of the secrets of the leading families of Providence to render it a hazardous matter for any resident of that city to hereafter accept a nomination for any office.

In 1897 one London writer wrote, “We shall soon be nothing but transparent heaps of jelly to each other.”

(From Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New, 1988.)

Small World

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A striking example of the strength of the British Empire in the early 20th century: In 1911 Britain completed the “All Red Line,” a network of telegraphs that linked its possessions. The system was so redundant that an enemy would have had to cut 49 cables to isolate the United Kingdom, 15 to isolate Canada, or 5 to isolate South Africa. As a result, British communications remained uninterrupted throughout World War I.

Sir Sandford Fleming described the network as “the cerebro-spinal axis of our political system … through which would freely pass the sensory impressions and the motor impulses of the British people in every longitude.”

Related: In Air Facts and Problems (1927), Secretary of State for Air Christopher Thomson noted that the whole empire might be visited by an aircraft capable of “long hops”:

For the purposes of the immediate future a ‘long hop’ may be taken as 1,500 miles in length. One such hop would cover the distance from the south coast of England to Malta, a second would reach Egypt, a third Bushire (on the Persian Gulf), a fourth India, at Karachi or Bombay, a fifth Ceylon, a sixth the Straits Settlements, a seventh Port Darwin in Northern Australia; three more would reach New Zealand.

“Thus, in ten ‘long hops,’ or ten days and nights, the traveller and the mailbag out of England would arrive in the most distant of our dominions without landing at an air station which was not either British or under British control.”

Blow by Blow

https://www.google.com/patents/US543086

In 1895, stung by charges that boxing is a brutal sport, Joseph Donovan patented the training rig on the left. Each boxer wears a harness and headgear with electrical contacts at each of the classic vulnerable points: the heart, the pit of the stomach, the chin, the nose, etc. When a sparring partner hits one of these points, a bell sounds and points are scored.

Donovan argued that this makes the scoring more objective and the sport more civilized. “It renders one of the healthiest and most fascinating athletic exercises absolutely safe,” he wrote, “doing away completely with roughing, bloodletting, brutality, knockdowns, and knockouts, and reducing boxing and the manly art of self-defense to a science, in which rapidity of arm and leg work, endurance, and quick conception are the only factors.”

In the same spirit, in 1956 Willie Roberson patented a glove with a built-in counter (right): “Each time a blow above a predetermined force is struck, such blow will be recorded, whereby the total number of effective blows struck during a boxing match will be readily available to the referee and judges judging the boxing match.” If we combine the two then we can even confirm the counts!

Language Arts

https://pixabay.com/en/woman-artificial-intelligence-506322/

A replacement for the Turing test has been proposed. The original test, in which a computer program tries to fool a human judge into thinking it’s human during a five-minute text-only conversation, has been criticized because the central task of devising a false identity is not part of intelligence, and because some conversations may require relatively little intelligent reasoning.

The new test would be based on so-called Winograd schemas, devised by Stanford computer scientist Terry Winograd in 1972. Here’s the classic example:

The city councilmen refused the demonstrators a permit because they [feared/advocated] violence.

If the word feared is used, to whom does they refer, the councilmen or the demonstrators? What if we change feared to advocated? You know the answers to these questions because you have a practical understanding of anxious councilmen. Computers find the task more difficult because it requires not only natural language processing and commonsense reasoning but a working knowledge of the real world.

“Our WS [Winograd schemas] challenge does not allow a subject to hide behind a smokescreen of verbal tricks, playfulness, or canned responses,” wrote University of Toronto computer scientist Hector Levesque in proposing the contest in 2014. “Assuming a subject is willing to take a WS test at all, much will be learned quite unambiguously about the subject in a few minutes.”

In July 2014 Nuance Communications announced that it will sponsor an annual Winograd Schema Challenge, with a prize of $25,000 for the computer that best matches human performance. The first competition will be held at the 2016 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, July 9-15 in New York City.

Here’s another possibility: Two Dartmouth professors have proposed a Turing Test in Creative Arts, in which “we ask if machines are capable of generating sonnets, short stories, or dance music that is indistinguishable from human-generated works, though perhaps not yet so advanced as Shakespeare, O. Henry or Daft Punk.” The results of that competition will be announced May 18 at Dartmouth’s Digital Arts Exposition.

(Thanks, Kristján and Sharon.)

Wing Men

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Bombers in World War I were typically manned by two crew members, a pilot and an observer. The pilot operated the forward machine gun and the observer the rear one, so they depended on one another for their survival. In addition, the two men would share the same hut or tent, eat their meals together, and often spend all their free time together. This closeness produced “some remarkable and amusing results,” writes Hubert Griffith in R.A.F. Occasions (1941):

There were pilots who took the precaution of teaching their observers to fly, with the primitive dual-control fitted to the R.E.8 of those days — and at least one couple who used to take over the controls almost indiscriminately from one another: there was the story that went round the mess, of Creaghan (the pilot) arriving down out of the air one day and accusing his observer of having made a bad landing, and of Vigers, the observer, in turn accusing Creaghan of having made a bad landing. It turned out on investigation that each of them had thought the other to be in control of the aircraft; that because of this neither of them, in fact, had been in control at all; and that, in the absence of any guiding authority, the machine had made a quite fairly creditable landing on her own.

Griffith writes, “It was, I suppose, the most personal relationship that ever existed.”

Witchery

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In April 1861, Thaddeus Lowe set out from Cincinnati in the balloon Enterprise, hoping to reach the eastern seaboard. After wandering 900 miles he came down in Unionville, S.C., where he received a rather cold welcome:

Many of them thought Mr. Lowe was an inhabitant of some ethereal or infernal region, who had floated to the earth to do damage to its inhabitants. He thought he would pacify them by showing that he could live on the substantial things of earth just as they did; so he took from the basket a variety of cakes, crackers, bread and butter, cold meats, etc. He also passed out several India-rubber bottles of water which had frozen solid, and to let them realize how cold it was in the upper region of the atmosphere where he had been, he cut one of them open and took out a large mold of ice, shaped exactly like the bottle. This was the worst thing he could have done, for immediately one man asked how any one but a devil could put so large a piece of ice through so small a place as the nozzle. At last an old dissipated man suggested that one who was capable of doing such things was too dangerous to run loose and moved that he be ‘shot on the spot where he had dropped from the skies.’

He won his freedom only by appealing to the officers of South Carolina College, who knew Smithsonian secretary (and ballooning enthusiast) Joseph Henry.

On the way back to Cincinnati, Lowe stopped at a meeting of the Tennessee legislature. He became the first to notify Lincoln of that state’s decision to secede.

(William Jones Rhees, “Reminiscences of Ballooning in the Civil War,” Chautauquan, June 1898.)

Moving Pictures

In 1864 a photographer employed by Mathew Brady used a four-lens camera to record activity at a Union Army wharf along Potomac Creek in Virginia. The four images were taken in quick succession, so staggering them produces a crude time lapse of the events they record:

In effect they present a four-frame film, perhaps the closest we’ll come to a contemporary movie of life during the Civil War. Here are a few more, all taken in Virginia in 1864:

Union cavalry crossing a pontoon bridge over the James River:

Traffic in front of the Marshall House in Alexandria:

Union soldiers working on a bridge over the Pamunkey River near White House Landing:

There’s more information at the National Park Service’s Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park blog.