1945 advertisement, Argentina
Seventy years ago today (June 10, 1943), László Bíró filed for a patent on a new type of pen and, with his brother György, formed Biro Pens of Argentina. While working as a journalist in Hungary in the previous decade, he noticed that the ink used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge-free. He tried using the same ink in a fountain pen but found that it would not flow into the tip, as it was too viscous. Working with his brother, a chemist, he developed a new tip consisting of a ball that was free to turn in a socket, and as it turned it would pick up ink from a cartridge and then roll to deposit it on the paper. Bíró first patented the invention in Paris in 1938. The new design patented in Argentina (where the brothers have moved in 1943) was licensed for production in the United Kingdom for supply to Royal Air Force aircrew, who found they worked much better than fountain pens at high altitude. In 1945 Marcel Bich bought the patent from Bíró for the pen, which soon became the main product of his Bic company.
Poster for Warner Bros.’ Don Juan (1926), the first major motion picture to premiere with a full-length synchronized soundtrack
Today in 1922, Joseph Tykociński-Tykociner publicly demonstrated for the first time a motion picture with a soundtrack optically recorded directly onto the film. In the first sounds ever publicly heard from a composite image-and-audio film, Helena Tykociner, the inventor’s wife, spoke the words, “I will ring,” and then rang a bell. Next, Ellery Paine, head of University of Illinois’ Department of Electrical Engineering (where Tykociner worked), recited the Gettysburg Address. A dispute between Tykociner and University of Illinois president David Kinley over patent rights to the process thwarted its commercial application.
Today in 1949, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was published. “The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed–would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper–the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.”
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the memory hole is a small chute leading to a large incinerator used for censorship:
In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.
In the novel, the memory hole is a slot into which government officials deposit politically inconvenient documents and records to be destroyed. Nineteen Eighty-Four’s protagonist Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth, is routinely assigned the task of revising old newspaper articles in order to serve the propaganda interests of the government.
As soon as Winston had dealt with each of the messages, he clipped his speakwritten corrections to the appropriate copy of The Times and pushed them into the pneumatic tube. Then, with a movement which was as nearly as possible unconscious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.
Today in 1954, Alan Turing died from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined that his death was suicide; his mother and some others believed his death was accidental. Turing is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. Check out the CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) exhibit at the Jerusalem Museum of Science in honor of Alan Turing and the talk by the curator of the exhibition, Nathan Zeldes. See also the Turing Google Doodle and the ACM Turing Centenary celebration.
Pew Internet: Parents who have minor children at home are a relatively tech-savvy group. They are more likely than other adults to have computers, internet access, smartphones, and tablet computers. (This relatively high tech use may be due to the fact that parents with minor children living at home tend to also be younger than other adults.) They are also more likely than adults without children to read e-books. But as parents adopt new reading habits for themselves on electronic devices, the data show that print books remain important when it comes to their children…. When it comes to sharing books or reading with a child, most Americans adults (not just parents) who have read both print and e-books think that print books are the better option.
One hundred eighty years ago today (June 5, 1833), Ada Byron (later Countess Lovelace) met Charles Babbage when visiting his house to see a portion the Difference Engine, or what her mother, Lady Byron, called his “thinking machine.” James Gleick writes in The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood: “Babbage saw a sparkling, self-possessed young woman with porcelain features and a notorious name, who managed to reveal that she knew more mathematics than most men graduating from university. She saw an imposing forty-one-year-old, authoritative eyebrows anchoring his strong-boned face, who possessed wit and charm and did not wear these qualities lightly. He seemed a kind of visionary–just what she was seeking. She admired the machine, too.”
With the Analytical Engine, Babbage imagined the modern computer. Gleick quotes Ada on imagination, from an essay she wrote in 1841: “It is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of Science. It is that which feels & discovers what is, the real which we see not, which exists not fir our senses. Those who have learned to walk the threshold of the unknown worlds… may then with the fair white wings of Imagination hope to soar further into the unexplored amidst which we live.”
In this she anticipated Albert Einstein’s much-quoted observation: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
See here the comic book version of the Lovelace and Babbage story.
Sixty years ago today (June 3, 1953), The New York Times declared the “birth of international television.” From Broadcast Engineering:
Satellite coverage of the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer enabled the largest audience ever, an estimated 750 million people worldwide, to watch the fairytale spectacle playout in real time. The challenge of that broadcast was a far cry from the one faced by CBS and NBC news departments when some years earlier, during those Byzantine-era presatellite days, the networks struggled to provide same-day coverage of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London.
In order to provide the first same-day coverage of an event on another continent, the networks undertook a planning and logistics nightmare. The year was 1953, the introduction of videotape was still several years away, and film and kinescope capture ruled. The networks sent production teams to London, chartered aircraft with seats removed to make room for film processing and editing equipment, and the race was on between CBS and NBC to see who could air the first coronation footage. One of the more comical episodes, although I am sure not comical to those involved, occurred at the conclusion of the coronation when the taxi rushing the CBS film and crew to London’s Heathrow Airport ran out of gas!
Interestingly, although it was NBC who edged out CBS by just minutes to be first on-air with coronation footage, it was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that had actually trumped both of the U.S. television networks.
The CBC aired film that had been flown from London to Goose Bay, Canada; Goose Bay to Labrador, Canada, by jet aircraft; on to Montreal by Canadian fighter jets and then helicoptered to the CBC network facility. Determining in the final minutes that CBS was about to beat them, after several frantic phone calls, NBC secured the lines and the OK to pick up and air the CBC’s coverage. A hollow NBC victory at best, it was CBS that aired its own shot and edited film report of the coronation during its evening broadcast and earned plaudits in the following day’s “New York Times.” The June 3 edition of the “Times” reported that CBS’ coverage of the coronation was the “birth of international television.”
Up and down the land, her subjects celebrated at street parties complete with their own queen. At this one in Kensington, London, 14-year-old Maureen Atkins was ‘crowned’ by the local vicar.
Some 253 children attended enjoying a magic show, clowns and cake. They were later given a 15 shilling savings certificate.