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Technology

2005 Reith lectures: Chapter 2 – Collaboration

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2005/lecture2.shtml

When I returned to this Engineering Department from the USA in 1984 my wife and I bought an historic and wonderful house some ten miles south of Cambridge. It was built around 1520, a date that could be substantiated to within a decade by the form of the oak beams that comprised its floors and ceilings. These had been shaped by iron blades that only lasted about ten years. Being someone of the present rather than the past I had not previously been much preoccupied with history but living in the splendid oak structure – like a fine sailing vessel that had gone aground – inspired me to wonder what had preoccupied the technologists and scientists of that age.

In my search I discovered that on 24 August 1563 a ‘conjunction’ took place of the planets Saturn and Jupiter. The two appeared so close together in the sky that they seemed to merge together. This rare occurrence was of great importance in an era when it was widely believed that exceptional astronomical events both influenced and predicted worldly happenings.

The problem was that the very best minds of the period, in Europe at least, were quite unable to calculate exactly when the conjunction was to take place. Some calculations were at least a month out. The best were inaccurate by days. Given the science and technology of the period, such inaccuracy is easy to understand. There were no reliable and accurate clocks. And without astronomical telescopes, robust celestial observation was to a great extent impossible. And besides, how many of us could do this calculation today?

The importance of overcoming such problems was not just a matter of shoring up the credibility of astrologers. Upon fine and accurate astronomical observation, and upon accurate timekeeping, depended reliable navigation, and the possibility of fruitful voyaging in the coming centuries. Measurement, the development of observational instruments and accurate clocks, complex calculations: all these came together in the ensuing centuries. Technology was of importance and gained support and the process by which these advances was achieved perfectly illustrates the productive connection between science and technology. The latest manifestations of this are the Global Positioning System, which I shall describe later, and its European descendant Galileo.

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Technology

2005 Reith lectures: Chapter 1 – The Triumph Of Technology

This year’s series is called The Triumph Of Technology

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2005/lecture1.shtml
Four thousand years ago, just 5 miles north of present day Thetford, our Neolithic ancestors began what may have been the largest early industrial process in these islands. This is the site that the Anglo-Saxons called ‘Grimes Graves’ and it contains nearly four hundred mine-shafts, built to extract high-quality flints, which could be chipped to produce sharp cutting edges. Using nothing but tools of bone and wood and presumably the flints themselves, these ancient people excavated to a depth of up to twelve metres, to reach the buried flints. It has been calculated that the miners needed to remove 1000 tonnes of waste to produce eight tonnes of flint. The site covers nearly 40 hectares and the whole project is astonishing.

Whilst more advanced technologies had developed elsewhere – for instance in China – our ancestors’ task was anything but easy. They needed timbers to shore up their excavations and ladders to get down in to them, lighting was required in the deeper pits and they needed tools, which they made from deer antlers, so they had to manage the local herds of red-deer. A separate and skilled industry was required to work the extracted flints and to market and distribute them. The flints were used as axe heads, as agricultural implements, as arrow-heads, and no doubt there were countless other applications that we have lost track of. The Grimes Graves operation underpinned the foundations of a new sort of society. The timescale was quite different from our own. Excavation at Grime’s Graves lasted more than five centuries, whereas, for example, valve electronics lasted about fifty years.

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Trust No One

TechnologyReview.com,The People Own Ideas!

TechnologyReview.com – The People Own Ideas!
By Lawrence Lessig June 2005
http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/05/06/issue/feature_people.asp?p=0

We entered the youth camp that morning by passing down a long, white gravel road and under a wooden gate. Spread to one side, and for as far as you could see, were rows and rows of tents. In front were scores of showers, with hundreds of kids in swimsuits milling about, waiting to rinse. It felt like a refugee camp.

In a sense, it was. More than a hundred thousand had descended upon Porto Alegre, Brazil, to attend the World Social Forum, a conference intended to offer a progressive alternative to the much smaller, and much more famous, World Economic Forum meeting at Davos, Switzerland (see “Letter from Davos,” April 2005).

Just past the showers was a sprawling collection of wooden huts, connected by a canvas spread across their roofs. This was the free-software lab. To the right, there was a training room, with more than 50 PCs arranged along long tables. At the far end was a large screen, where 20 to 30 kids were watching an instructor explain the workings of some video-editing software. Every machine was running free software only–GNU/Linux as the operating system, Mozilla as the browser, and a suite of media production software, most of which I had never seen on any machine anywhere.

Car Pipe Organs

For the last couple of days I have been thinking about car pipe organs again. This is an idea from some years back. The basics are fairly simple, you have a number of cars driving along a freeway side by side. On the top of the cars are long metal tubes of various lengths and diameters and as the car hits the right speed the velocity of the air travelling through the pipe will resonate and a note will sound. So the theory is that if the cars drive along speeding up and slowing down they will be able to play a tune. Now there are a number of things that need to be worked out I agree, but in principle it should work.

The reason that this is back in the front of my consciousness as opposed to hiding down the back with all the other scary thoughts is that I saw a show on the Crucible ( a blacksmiths shop in San Francisco not the play) and they were playing with flame throwers mounted on the top of their trucks and it got me to thinking (hey you down the back there… yes you the car pipe organ thought. Come up the front here for a minute) that maybe by squirting flame down the pipes you would lower the density of the air in the pipe and get a bit better control over the pitch.

Anyway thats as far as the thought has got at the moment (OK thought, back into storage.). I need to find a pyromaniac and see what they think. Dont you just love it when art , physics and madness all intersect?

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