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Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

When Halley’s comet returns to our quarter of the universe this year, the great 200-inch Hale Telescope, perched high on Palomar Mountain in California, will follow it across the sky. In fact, the 200-inch, the world’s largest telescope for a full three decades after its dedication in 1948, was the first telescope to detect the comet during its current return, back in 1982. We can always expect the phenomenal from the 200-inch.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

Elting E. Morison, Killian professor of humanities emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is one of the nation’s preeminent interpreters of technology. Though a great fan and chronicler of America’s industrial growth, he takes a clear, unawed view of his favorite subject. “The technological universe,” he says, “should be designed to fit and serve the human dimension.”

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

On April 12, 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk, a slightly built, forty-year-old research professor from the University of Pittsburgh, became a hero. On that morning, before one hundred and fifty news reporters and five hundred scientists and physicians crammed into an auditorium at the University of Michigan, “amid fanfare and drama far more typical of a Hollywood premiere than a medical meeting,” according to an account in The New York Times , it was announced that Dr.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14
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Years before 1682, when the English astronomer Edmund Halley first saw the comet that now bears his name, Americans were searching the night skies. The first telescope in the New World arrived from England in 1660. With it, John Winthrop, Jr., lifted his eyes from the Connecticut wilds to a blurry image of Saturn.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

We have all been taught to be critical of the written word, but we tend to let the omnipresent graphics of our era pass without close scrutiny. This we do at our own loss and peril. Graphics are rich stores of information, but often they lie about quantitative information and are unnerving and confusing when they could be aesthetically pleasing. In his recent book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information , Edward R.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14
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CAMBRIDGE, MASS . : In a small room on the top floor of building E51, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a white-haired professor addressed the following question to his assembled colleagues: “Which comes first, processed cheese or processed people?”

During the next few minutes, this issue was seriously examined. Has processed food turned us into a nation with a taste for the bland? Or did a dull appetite precede, and perhaps even inspire, the manufacture of processed food?

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14
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”If I have seen further,” wrote Sir Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke, “it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Today we all stand on the shoulders of giants who not only have extended our vision of the universe but also, by deftness of mind and technique, have actually invented the modern world.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

My father had a concept he called “gadget value”—the intrinsic interest of machinery unrelated to its use. I have found plenty of it over the years in steam locomotives, steamboats, theater organs, and interurban cars, but never so much as in the cable car. In graduate school at the University of Chicago, I became interested in the city’s cable-car system, which had been the biggest in the country.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

During the summer of 1900 three fine new steam engines arrived in Brooklyn from the Ames Iron Works of Oswego, New York, and went into service spinning the generators that supply power to Pratt Institute. They’re still there.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

On a shelf in a largely ignored basement display case at Rockefeller University sit a variety of medical devices that have been produced by that institution’s laboratories over the past half century. One of them is especially awkward looking —a glass cylinder that rises two feet before sprouting a seemingly haphazard array of tubes. Its glass innards of more tubes and smaller chambers suggest the workings of some unidentifiable life-form.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14
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The First Issue

We received more than two hundred letters commenting on our first issue, which appeared last summer. Here are a few:

 

The First Issue

What a superb first issue! The articles about Salk and Edison are gems. The interview with Elting E. Morison (I have had those two books of his on technology for some years) is most welcome. And the writing is remarkably lucid.

Burnett Cross
Hartsdale, N.Y

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14
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We received more than two hundred letters commenting on our first issue, which appeared last summer. Here are a few:

 

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

IN 1929 BERN DIBNER , an electrical engineer living in the Bronx, New York, read a recently published book by Stuart Chase called Men and Machines .

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

On January 9, 1793, not quite ten years after the birth of aeronautics, the first manned flight above American soil took place. A French balloonist, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, lifted off from the jail yard of the Walnut Street Prison in Philadelphia and floated into New Jersey.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

Back in the 1930s my father invented and named the Chicago boot, a device to prevent movement of an automobile if the adjacent parking meter had not been paid in full. That anyone in those troubled times would worry about people chiseling nickels out of the Chicago traffic administration seems, in retrospect, slightly balmy. Yet my dad was so fascinated with his idea that he announced he was going to patent it.

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 03:14

The era of the American independent, professional inventor extended from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the First World War—almost half a century. During this short period the United States became the world’s industrial leader, supplanting the United Kingdom, which had belittled the industry and technology of its former colony. Between 1880 and 1915 the United States moved ahead in the production of coal, pig iron and steel, heavy chemicals, electrical machinery, and electrical light and power.

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

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