Tag Archives: History

The Most Important Scientist You’ve Never Heard Of

Pretty much as long as there has been human civilization, there has been lead. While it’s certainly useful, that usefulness has come with a terrible price. It’s been known since the Greeks and Romans that lead is harmful but it didn’t stop us from using it. It took a “fringe” scientist by the name of Clair Patterson, who accidentally discovered widespread lead contamination while trying to measure the age of the Earth, to finally convince people that the use of lead needed to be strictly curtailed.

It’s hard not to see parallels with the current battle of global climate change. Despite overwhelming evidence a few industry-supported voices still manage to keep us from doing anything. Will there be a modern Clair Patterson to finally bring us to our senses or are we doomed?

The Relay Computers

Most people are at least vaguely familiar with the early history of modern digital computers, particularly their importance in breaking the Nazi Enigma codes during WWII. Less familiar is the computing machines that preceded them.

In response to the need for more and faster computation, researchers developed a series of analog computers that did the job but were complicated and difficult to maintain. Inspired by (and in some cases actually using) the switches used to connect telephone calls, digital computers using relays were developed that used base 2 arithmetic. As useful as they were these relay computers would end up mostly being forgotten, replaced by machines based on vacuum tubes.

Ass-chewing and schadenfreude: Inside Hillary’s failed campaign

The Democrats have a litany of reasons why Clinton lost: Russia, poor whites, Bernie Sanders, etc. In truth, Clinton’s 2016 campaign failed for most of the same reasons her 2008 campaign did: a disorganized staff struggled to define a clear and persuasive message for their unexciting establishment candidate.

Instead of looking at the factors that caused Clinton to lose the nomination to Obama and addressing them, her campaign simply repeated everything. To no one’s surprise (but their’s, apparently) the results were the same.

How economic boom times in the West came to an end

Out of the chaos of World War II came the greatest economic boom the world has ever seen. Fueled by a rapidly modernizing workforce, productivity increased in the years between 1948 and 1973. Then war in the Middle East and the oil embargo put a stop the boom and the productivity increase.

But it wasn’t just the oil crisis. The improvements in education, the transfer of workers into manufacturing and the move of women into the workforce had all peaked. Despite minor blips here and there the sad fact is productivity has not significantly increased since 1973, there’s simply no more improvement to be gained.

Countries that elected left-leaning governments tried electing right-leaning governments in hope of changing things. It didn’t work. The old ways simply don’t work and no knows what will. Keep this in mind as the year progresses.

Lower Falls and Maplewood Park

Today I visited one of the more overlooked parts of the Genesee River, the Lower Falls. It’s not quite as scenic (or as high) as High Falls and gets far fewer visitors. Unlike High Falls, however, it’s still an active hydroelectric site under the control of RG&E. Among other things it was once home to a small settlement, with a mill and other buildings that exist now only in bits and pieces.

Lower Falls by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

 

Lower Falls by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

 

Island by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

 

Mill Race by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

 


Next to the Lower Falls site, is Maplewood Park. The park boundaries have been changed over the years, likely because of proximity to the steep cliffs of the river gorge. This structure was abandoned and placed well behind a fence. Nevertheless it gets lots of visits. I would have been one of them but I didn’t have the proper gear with me and thought it best to visit another day.

Maplewood Park by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

 

The rise and fall of the Gopher protocol

When I first encountered what we now call the Internet, it was called NSFnet and was run by the National Science Foundation (although references to the ARPAnet still abounded). Finding information or any kind of file was difficult at best unless you already knew where it was stored. My grad school was connected, as were most universities, but we didn’t have DNS set up so you actually had to use IP numbers to specify hosts to connect to. It was the opposite of user-friendly.

By 1992 the governing committee of the Internet realized it needed a better way to connect this growing network to its users. Among the contenders was the Gopher protocol that was created by programmers at the University of Minnesota.

Gopher did very, very well for a while, greatly exceeding Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, one of the others proposed. Then the University decided to charge users to use Gopher. The rest is, as they say, history.

Wellsville and Salamanca

Last week I hopped on the Bumblebeemer and took a long ride to the Southwestern corner of NY State. One of the places I stopped was Wellsville where, as the name suggests, oil was discovered. Most if not all of those old wells have either gone dry or become to expensive to maintain. This old pump was visible from the road and was apparently part of a system of wells and pumps long since abandoned.

Driven by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Bearing by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Pump by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Further down the road is Salamanca. It’s an odd place as the city is entirely on the Allegany Reservation of the Seneca nation. As a result, the Senecas own the land and homeowners lease the property. It’s been controversial and has scared a lot of people and businesses away. Salamanca was a major rail hub at one point but that has long since lost its importance. These are some of the remnants of its rail yard (along with a museum).

Towers by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Falling Concrete by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Bent by Tom Maszerowski on 500px.com

Google Maps shows that there was a large roundhouse and turntable in the yard at one time so I’m going back to check that out sometime.