Friday, March 25, 2011

New Mexico then... then... and now

When this post rolls up, I'll be at the Left Coast Crime convention in Santa Fe, New Mexico, hanging out with mystery readers and writers (and taking in the sights).

So, what to say about New Mexico?

Well, there's the far (human) past:
 Petroglyph National Monument and Bandolier National Monument

The more recent (human) past:
Georgia O'Keeffe and Los Alamos (back when)

My little piece of "now":

And lest I leave Victorian times out of the loop... here's a great website, Moments in Time, with a short video about Victorian fashion and New Mexico, a la 1880s. If you've ever wondered how women of this era managed to put on a corset without help, check it out!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Internet and Thomas Edison's pen

A little time-travel arm-chair adventure story, made possible by long-ago genius and modern-day technology.
For various reasons having to do with (my) fiction (endeavors), I was on the hunt for information about  the state of the phonograph in 1880.
It all began (a while ago... in terms of months that is, not years or decades) when I stumbled across the fact that the phonograph was invented in 1877 (factoid in the book The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s, which noted that the gas engine and carbon microphone were invented that year as well).
Very cool, I thought. I am particularly interested in the state of music and what was happening in the 1800s (before 1880).
As I came closer to writing what I thought of as "the scene" involving said phonograph, I began to wonder: What did this device look like? I know Thomas Edison invented it. Were there phonographs out and about? Was it a common machine? What did it play? The book didn't have any more information, so ...
I let loose the dogs of research...
Right away, I found a nifty photo on Wikipedia—Thomas Edison with his invention (photo taken in 1878)
In the same entry, I found an image of an Edison cylinder phonograph, taken in 1898:

Okay, so one is a tad too early, the other is quite a bit too late. So, what was the state of affairs in 1880? I began widening my search. Found some nifty stuff. Didn't bookmark it all, but here's a more "in depth" look at the 1877 machine, in Mix magazine (online) on the Edison Cylinder Recorder.
Somewhere along the line, I stumbled onto a reference of an Edison Phonograph patent dated may 18, 1880. Good enough for me...
A quick virtual trip to the US Patent and Trademark Office site, and lo and behold, I download a copy of Edison's 1880 patent (one page shown below):
At this point, late at night, I sat back in my comfy chair in my home office, and thought about what had just occurred. In 2011, from my laptop, in the comfort of my home, I had just snagged an electronic copy of a patent of one of Edison's most important inventions—130 years after his pen-and-ink copy (complete with his signature) was given the nod. I could examine the drawings and read the text and see his hand upon the page.
Truly amazing.
And I think Thomas Edison would have approved...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Nature Takes All

Sobering day, what with the 8.9 earthquake in Japan. This will be short.
We have always tried to understand nature and predict it.
Starting waaaaay back with clocking the seasons and the stars...

Right up to the edge of today, with predicting the motion of tsunami (thank you, NOAA, for your awesome modeling)...

So... Predict Nature?
To some extent. 
Harness it?
We've proved we can use a portion of the energy from sun, water, and wind for our own purposes, and pretty much extinguish species as we desire (although I do think the insect world will probably prove the ultimate survivors).
But "control" Nature? As in control the motion of tectonic plates and the evolution of the stars?
Not likely.
Too, we once believed the universe circled 'round our little planet.

We now know differently.

Humans = hubris. 
And Nature wins out, in the end.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Moving along...

Movement past and present.
I actually was going to post about something else, but this captured my attention instead.
Regarding the past: Eadweard Muybridge pioneered stop-action photography back in 1880s (galloping horse and all). There is a show of his work—including hauntingly beautiful photographs of Yosemite and elsewhere—which just opened at SFMOMA. I hope I can somehow make time to get to this exhibit. I'm fascinated by Muybridge's work ... and intrigued by his rather tortured personal life as well (all fodder for fiction, you know).

And for the cutting-edge here and now: Here's a really amazing technical development—a "Nano Hummingbird" flapping-wing nano air vehicle, developed for DARPA by AeroVironment.

Description that goes with the YouTube video: "Battery-powered and remote-controlled, the hummingbird-like prototype uses flapping wings for propulsion and control. Carring a video camera and downlink, the prototype has a wingspan of 16cm (9.5in) and weighs just 19 grams (0.66oz). It can hover for 8 minutes, remaining stable in gusts up to 5mph, and reach up to 11mph in forward flight."
What can I say? This... is... awesome. I'd like one for Christmas, please.