Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mozart's Famous Masonic Opera - The Magic Flute

The arrival of the Queen of the Night. Stage set by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781–1841) for an 1815 production
Opera is not for everybody, but there are iconic pieces that have become a cultural heritage for all mankind and that are well known all over the globe. Thus, everybody knows Mozart, and if you ask people, what piece of Mozart they know best, then most times you will hear the answer 'Die kleine Nachtmusik' or 'Die Zauberflöte'. On September 30, 1782, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's most famous opera, 'Die Zauberflöte' (The Magic Flute) premiered in Schikaneders theatre in Vienna.

The celebrated Magic Flute always was something special compared to other operas of the epoch. You might compare it to an early piece of fantasy fiction. It's magic casts a spell over the audience and people either love it or hate it. But, most of today's audience are not aware of all its references to freemasonry. In the case of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, the Masonic traditions observed by the composer and its librettist (Emanuel Schickaneder) have prompted some of the most philosophical discussions in the annals of opera. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a fellow free-mason, speaks to the masses outside the circle of free-masonry regarding The Magic Flute: "It is enough that the crowd would find pleasure in seeing the spectacle; at the same time, its high significance will not escape the initiates."

The libretto to "The Magic Flute" is considered such a jumble of nonsense that it is as well to endeavour to extract some sense from it. The libretist Emanuel Johann Schikaneder was a friend of Mozart and a member of the same Masonic Lodge. He also was the manager of a theatrical company and had persuaded Mozart to compose the music to a puppet show for him. He had selected for this show the story of "Lulu", which had appeared in a volume of Oriental tales published by Christoph Martin Wieland under the title of "Dschinnistan." In the original tale a wicked sorcerer has stolen the daughter of the Queen of Night, who is restored by a Prince by means of magic. While Schikaneder was busy on his libretto, a fairy story by Perinet, music by Wenzel Müller, and treating of the same subject, was given at another Viennese theatre. Its great success interfered with Schikaneder’s original plan. At that time, however, freemasonry was a much discussed subject. It had been interdicted by empress Maria Theresa and armed forces were employed to break up the lodges.

As a practical man Schikaneder saw his chance to exploit the interdicted rites on the stage. Out of the wicked sorcerer he made Sarastro, the sage priest of Isis. The ordeals of Tamino and Pamina became copies of the ceremonials of freemasonry. He also laid the scene of the opera in Egypt, where freemansory believes its rites to have originated. In addition to all this Mozart’s beautiful music ennobled the libretto even in its dull and unpoetical passages, and lent to the whole a touch of the mysterious and sacred. Because of its supposed relation to freemasonry, commentators have identified the vengeful Queen of the Night with Maria Theresa, and Tamino with the Emperor. Pamina, Papageno, and Papagena are set down as types of the people, and Monostatos as the fugleman of monasticism.

Mozart wrote on "The Magic Flute" from March until July and in September, 1791. September, 1791. September 30, two months before his death, the first performance was given. Mozart himself conducted the orchestra, Schikaneder played Papageno, while the role of the Queen of the Night was sung by Mozart's sister-in-law Josepha Hofer. Right from the start the opera was a big success:
"Although there were no reviews of the first performances, it was immediately evident that Mozart and Schikaneder had achieved a great success, the opera drawing immense crowds and reaching hundreds of performances during the 1790s." (Maynard Solomon)
At yovisto you can listen to a lively introduction into Mozart's Magic Flute opera from San Diego Opera talk.

References and further Reading:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

SpaceShipOne - the first private Spaceship

Spaceship One and White Knight in flight
On September 29, 2004, the Burt Rutan Ansari X Prize entry SpaceShipOne performed a successful spaceflight, the first of two required to win the prize. Thus, SpaceShipOne also officially became the very first commercial spaceship, after achieving the very first space testflight already on June 21, 2004.

The Ansari X Prize was proposed in 1995 demanding a demonstration of a private vehicle capable of flying a pilot to the edge of space, defined as 100 km altitude. This goal was selected to help encourage the space industry in the private sector. Therefore, all entries to the X Prize were not allowed to have any government funding. The aim of the Ansari X Prize was to demonstrate that spaceflight can be affordable and accessible to corporations and civilians, opening the door to commercial spaceflight and space tourism. The competition should breed innovation, introducing new low-cost methods of reaching Earth orbit, and ultimately pioneering low-cost space travel.

For the Ansari X Prize the X Prize Foundation offered a US$10,000,000 prize for the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. Initially called just the "X Prize", it was renamed the "Ansari X Prize" on May 6, 2004 following a multi-million dollar donation from entrepreneurs Anousheh Ansari and Amir Ansari. Overall, 26 teams from around the world participated, ranging from volunteer hobbyists to large corporate-backed operations. The award winning team was the Tier One project that made two successful competitive flights: X1 on September 29, 2004, piloted by Mike Melvill to an altitude of 102.9 km; and X2 on October 4, 2004, piloted by Brian Binnie to 112 km. They thus won the prize, which was awarded on November 6, 2004.

The design concept of Tier One was to air launch a three-person piloted spacecraft which climbs to slightly above 100 km altitude using a hybrid rocket motor and then glides to the ground and lands horizontally. SpaceShipOne takes off from the ground, attached to the carrier plane White Knight in a parasite configuration, and under White Knight's power. For launch, the combined craft flies to an altitude of around 14 km, which takes about an hour. SpaceShipOne is then drop-released, and briefly glides unpowered. The rocket engine is ignited while the spacecraft is gliding. Once under power, it is raised into a 65° climb, which is further steepened in the higher part of the trajectory. By the end of the 87 seconds burn the craft is flying upwards. If the burn was long enough then it will exceed an altitude of 100 km , at which height the atmosphere presents no appreciable resistance, and the craft experiences free fall for a few minutes. Then, it reenters atmosphere and glides down to a landing in about 20 minutes.

At yovisto you can watch the passionate talk of legendary spacecraft designer Burt Rutan, who lambasts the US government-funded space program for stagnating and asks entrepreneurs to pick up where NASA has left off.

Related articles at yovisto blog:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio - Archetype of the Wicked Genius

Judith and Holofernes by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1598)
On September 28, 1573, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, genius Italian artist of the Renaissance was born in Milano. He was best known for his realistic paintings with a dramatic appearance of lighting.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio grew up in the little town Caravaggio near Milan and after both of his parents have passed away, he began his apprenticeship at the famous painter Titian. Later on he had to escape from police charges and moved to Rome, where he began working for Giuseppe Cesari, the favored artist of Pope Clement VIII. He mostly painted fruits or flowers in this period. He then was able to introduce himself to some art collectors and improve his reputation.

In the late 1590's Caravaggio brought back the realism with his religion-themed paintings like 'Penitent Magdalene', famous for this period, because of it dealing with the theme religion so discreetly. Many popular artists followed his style then increasing Caravaggio's fame tremendously.

In 1599, the now famous painter Caravaggio was to paint the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi's church and more than succeeded with his work.  A few paintings then followed, discussing the topics death and turture that he had to repaint due to his realism, which was sometimes not accepted in this period, but in contrast his tendency to dramatic intensity was appreciated. Caravaggio transformed into a very polarizing and highly discussed artist, often broaching the issue of religion and mixing it with other topics like science or 'displacing' religious symbols in his pictures. For instance the 'Crucifixion of Saint Peter' shows the saint on the ground while presenting his horse's hind end in the center, which was sharply criticized.

In the early 17th century Caravaggio has killed a man, forcing him to flee again and landing in Naples, where he again became famous for his works. After some months he left for Malta, where he was imprisoned but able to escape to Syracuse, where he also got married. 

In his final years, Caravaggio painted many pictures revealing his nervousness and uncertainty. His later works like 'David with the Head of Goliath' also discussed his psychological bizarreness, especially after an unsuccessful attempt to murder the famous artist.

Caravaggio was a great artist, sometimes ahead of his time and unafraid to affront people with his paintings. However, he influenced many younger artists, especially in the Baroque painting.

At yovisto you may enjoy a video 'Caravaggio, Mad Marketing Genius' by Andrew Graham-Dixon.

References and Further Reading:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Don't be evil" - Google celebrates its 14th Birthday

Google Logo from 1998
On September 27, 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google and began their work in the garage of businesswoman Susan Wojcicki. Up to this day, the company has become one of the most powerful in the field of search, cloud computing, productivity software, and advertising, running more than one million servers world wide.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who met at Stanford University began working together on BackRub, a search engine that was not suitable to the University, because of it taking up too much bandwidth. They soon decided to found a new company and came up with the name Google, originating in the word 'googol', a mathematical term. It reflected their aim to organize an infinite amount of information on the web. With the financial support by Andy Bechtolsheim and the working space in Susan Wojcicki's garage, they could hire their first employee and immediately began growing tremendously, building up a great reputation in Silicon Valley and beyond.

PageRank was one of the first technologies, developed at Google. It was the first technology ranking websites based on the relationships to each other instead of counting how many times the search terms appeared on the page, which most search engines did back then. Google soon succeeded with their technology, allowing them to offer further services like mail, cloud computing, social media platforms or advertising. However, Google's search engine stays the companies oldest and probably most successful features, dominating the market in search engines and ranked as the most visited website in history.

A Noogler's propeller beanie
Like many other multinational companies, Google also had to face numerous skeptics and critics, mainly concerning data privacy. But besides the many opponents, Google has accumulated through the years, they are still able to fascinate and entertain the users in many ways. Google is known for its many creative Doodles or the yearly April Fool Jokes like the announcement of the Internet service TiSP (Toilet Internet Service Provider). Also the company is known for its special methods to motivating their employees. For instance, every new employee is called 'Noogler' and has to wear a propeller beanie cap in Google colors on their first Friday. Also the employees are able to use the company's gym, play billiards or enjoy Google's health care plan. Presumably this is why the company is in the list of ideal employers, published by Universum in 2011.

At yovisto you can learn more about Google and watch Larry Page himself presenting at TED talks about 'Inside the Google Engine'.

References and Further Reading:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

We Are the Hollow Men - T.S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
drawing by Simon Fieldhouse
On September 26, 1888, the publisher, playwright, literary and social critic and "arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century", Thomas Stearns Eliot, aka T. S. Eliot, was born, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. Although he was born an American, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 (at age 25) and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.

Born into a middle class family as the last of six surviving children, Eliot's father Henry Ware Eliot (1843–1919), was a successful businessman, president and treasurer of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company in St. Louis. His mother, Charlotte Champe Stearns (1843–1929), wrote poetry and was a social worker. As a child, Eliot had to overcome physical limitations, struggling from a congenital double hernia, he was unable to participate in many physical activities and thus was prevented from interacting socially with his peers. Being isolated rather often, his love of literature developed and the young boy immediately became obsessed with books and was completely absorbed in tales depicting savages, the Wild West, or Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. Eliot “would often curl up in the window-seat behind an enormous book, setting the drug of dreams against the pain of living." as Eliot’s friend Robert Sencourt comments in his biography. ...

Eliot was educated at Harvard and did graduate work in philosophy at the Sorbonne. After a year in Paris, he returned to Harvard to pursue a doctorate in philosophy, but returned to Europe and settled in England in 1914, where he was for a time a schoolmaster and a bank clerk. In 1927, Eliot became a British citizen and about the same time entered the Anglican Church. It was in London that Eliot came under the influence of his contemporary Ezra Pound, who recognized his poetic genius at once, and assisted in the publication of his work in a number of magazines, most notably "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in Poetry in 1915. His first book of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, was published in 1917, and immediately established him as a leading poet of the avant-garde. With the publication of The Waste Land in 1922, now considered by many to be the single most influential poetic work of the twentieth century, Eliot's reputation began to grow to nearly mythic proportions; by 1930, and for the next thirty years, he was the most dominant figure in poetry and literary criticism in the English-speaking world.

T.S. Eliot is considered to be one of the most daring innovators of twentieth-century poetry. Never compromising either with the public or indeed with language itself, he followed his belief that poetry should aim at a representation of the complexities of modern civilization in language and that such representation necessarily leads to difficult poetry. Despite this difficulty his influence on modern poetic diction has been immense.
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar.
 (T. S. Eliot, from 'The Hollow Men', 1925)
At yovisto you can watch a lecture of Prof. Langdon Hammer from Yale University on T. S. Eliot and his influential work.

References and further Reading:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Transatlantic Telecommunication Via Voice

World's first purpose-built Cable Layer Ship
Silvertown, 1901
On September 25, 1956 the world's first submarine transatlantic cable for telephony TAT-1 (Transatlantic No. 1) was inaugurated. It was laid between Gallanach Bay, near Oban, Scotland and Clarenville, Newfoundland between 1955 and 1956 by the cable ship Monarch. You might wonder that is was only possible to route a call between Europe and the United States before the mid 1950s, well at least by cable. Don't you at least remember some old black and white movies, where they claimed to make a phone call across the Atlantic? Well you're right.

But all transatlantic calls prior to 1956 were relayed by radio transmission, which was expensive, unreliable, and often disturbed be interfering noise. But, now you might argue that there has been a transatlantic cable almost 100 years earlier. And again you are right. But, this first transatlantic telegraph cable laid in 1858 by businessman Cyrus West Field was only meant to transmit Morse signals and not such complex signals as the human voice.

The famous cable we are talking about here had 36 voice channels and 51 amplifiers located at a distance of 70 km. In the first 24 hours of use, over 700 calls were performed wherefore the capacity was soon increased.

Even though, the TAT-1 was a great success, it was just the first of a whole series. The system was shut down in 1978 and followed by the TAT-2. The successor of the TAT-1 was upgraded by the capacity as well as a new method called 'time-assigned speech interpolation'.  This means that channels are only assigned when the caller is actually speaking. More TAT versions later followed, increasing the number of channels making it possible to include more and more countries for faster and safer communications. The current generation of transatlantic communication cables, TAT-14, of course offers digital connectivity based on fiber optics enabling bandwidths of up to 3.2 Tbps (only in theory, in practise 1.87 Tbps can be reached).

At yovisto you might watch an old video from AT&T Archives about long line telephone communications and the technology of submarine telecommunication cables.

References and Further Reading:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Black Thursday - The Wall Street Crash of 1929

Street scene on Black Thursday, Oct. 24, 1929,
the day the New York stock market crashed  © Bettmann/Corbis
The Wall Street Crash of 1929, also known as the Great Crash and the Stock Market Crash of 1929, began in late October 1929 and was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States. The crash signaled the beginning of the 10-year Great Depression that affected all Western industrialized countries, in Germany also referred to as the "Weltwirtschaftskrise".

The optimism and financial gains of the Wall Street stock market were shaken on "Black Thursday", October 24, 1929, when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) abruptly fell. On this very day, the crash started with a market loss of 11% of its value at the opening bell on very heavy trading.

There are many theories concerning the causes of the Great Depression. There are for instance the monetarists, believing that mistakes by authorities led to the decrease of money supply. In order to the monetarists, these facts caused a recession and later the Great Depression. Theories by the famous economist John Maynard Keynes are part of the demand-driven theories, meaning that the reduction on consumption due to a lack of confidence led to deflation. People tended to keep their money out of the markets, the prices dropped and therefore the demand dropped as well.

The causes of the Great Depression are still highly discussed, but however, finding a perfect answer does not change the effects and what the people had been through in this period. For once, the bankers became the presumably most unpopular people, in contrast to the bank robber heroes such as Bonnie and Clyde. The Depression hit the people around the globe. In Germany, it is seen as one of the factors that led the political system towards extremism, and the rise of the Nazi Party. The unemployment rate increased to more than 30%, which was highly used by Hitler in his propaganda speeches. In the United States hundreds of thousands found themselves homeless and more than 5000 banks had failed. The government passed several acts, like the Federal Home Loan Act to increase home construction and reduce homelessness.

Recovery set in at most countries in 1933 and most people believe that the Depression has ended with World War II, because of the War reducing unemployment and the massive spending in war nearly doubled the economic growth rates in the United States.

 At yovisto you can learn more about the Stock market and financial markets in the lecture of Prof. Robert Shiller from Yale University on 'Corporate Stocks'.

References and further Reading:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

In Xanadu did Kublai Khan a Stately Pleasure-Dome Decree

Kublai Khan (1215-1294)
On September 23, 1215 AD Kublai Khan, the second son of Tolui and Sorghaghtani Beki, and a grandson of Genghis Khan, was born. Considering the Mongol Empire at that time as a whole, his realm reached from the Pacific to the Black Sea, from Siberia to modern day Afghanistan – one fifth of the world's inhabited land area.

When Kublai was in his 30s, his brother, the emperor Mongke, gave him the task of conquering and administering Song-dynasty China. In 1257, unhappy with the progress of the war against the Chinese Sung Dynasty, Möngkë led an expedition into western China but was killed by the Chinese defense in August 1259. In 1260, supported by pro-Chinese groups, Kublai was elected as Möngkë 's successor, but his younger brother, Ariq Böge, disputed the election and proclaimed himself khan at Karakorum, Mongolia. In the following years Kublai fought his brother, defeating him in 1264.

Recognizing the superiority of Chinese thought, he gathered around himself Confucian advisers who convinced him of the importance of clemency toward the conquered. In subduing China and establishing himself there, he alienated other Mongol princes; his claim to the title of khan was also disputed. Though he could no longer control the steppe aristocracy effectively, he succeeded in reunifying China, subduing first the north and then the south by 1279. To restore China's prestige, Kublai engaged in wars on its periphery with Myanmar, Java, Japan, and the nations of eastern Southeast Asia, suffering some disastrous defeats. At home, he set up a four-tiered society, with the Mongols and other Central Asian peoples forming the top two tiers, the inhabitants of northern China ranking next, and those of southern China on the bottom.

He recruited men of all nations for his civil service, but only Mongols were permitted to hold the highest government posts. He promoted economic prosperity by rebuilding the Grand Canal, repairing public granaries, and extending highways. Under Kublai, the Mongols adopted divide-and-rule tactics. The Mongols and central Asians remained separate from Chinese life; in many ways life for the Chinese was left basically unchanged. Kublai was also well known for his acceptance of different religions. The rule of the Mongol minority was assured by dividing the population of China into four social classes: the Mongols; the central Asians; the northern Chinese and Koreans; and the southern Chinese. The first two classes enjoyed extensive privileges; the third class held an intermediate position; and the southern Chinese, the most numerous of all, were practically barred from state offices.

Under Kublai, the opening of direct contact between China and the West was made possible by Mongol control of central Asian trade routes and aided by the presence of efficient postal services. In the early thirteenth century, large numbers of Europeans and central Asians made their way to China. The presence of the Mongol power also enabled many Chinese to travel freely within the Mongol Empire, all the way to Russia, Persia, and Mesopotamia. In 1266 Kublai entrusted the Polo brothers, two Venetian merchants, to carry a request to the pope for one hundred Christian scholars and technicians. The Polos met with Pope Gregory X in 1269 and received his blessing but no scholars. Marco Polo, who accompanied his father on this trip, was probably the best-known foreign visitor ever to set foot in China. It is said that he spent the next seventeen years under Kublai Khan, including official service in the administration and trips through the provinces of Yunnan and Fukien.

Almost 500 years later, Kublai Khan became also famous in the western world by the 1797 poem 'Kubla Khan' by Samuel Tayler Cooleridge, praising the summer garden of Kublai Khan at Xanadu.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan  
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea. (lines 1-5)
Moreover, popular culture referred to Xanadu from the poem in Orson Welles' 1941 movie 'Citizen Kane'. It was the name of Charles Foster Kane's estate and the lines were quoted right in the beginning of the movie. Don't forget to mention also Frankie goes to Hollywood and their song 'Welcome to the Pleasure Dome' also referring to the poem.

At yovisto you can learn more about the times of Kublai Khan and the Mongolian Culture in a video presentation by James C. A. Watt from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art on 'The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty - A Retrospective'.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Life of Discoveries - the great Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday (1791 - 1867) in his laboratory
Painting by Harriet Moore
On September 22, 1791, the famous chemist and physicist Michael Faraday was born. He is responsible for the discovery of the electromagnetic induction, the laws of electrolysis and best known for his inventions, which laid the foundations to the electrical industry. But, to understand the person and the scientist Michael Faraday, we have to look a little bit into his background and his development.

Michael Faraday was born in 1791 in England as the son of a poor blacksmith. At the age of 13, he ended his formal schooling education to start working for George Riebau, where he later began an apprenticeship as bookbinder. Riebau supported Michael and the little experiments he was able to perform in the back room of the shop, inspired by the lectures by John Tatum he visited. After his schooling was done at the fatherly George Riebau, Faraday was to begin his career as a bookbinder, but secretly never really intended to do so. Again through Riebau he could attend some lectures of the famous Humphry Davy, whom he was able to show some notes he had taken from all the lectures and eventually he got hired at the Royal Institution of Great Britain as a lab assistant.

Humphry Davy counts as one of Faraday's most important influences and as one of his greatest supporters. Unfortunately, their good relationship had fallen apart when Faraday developed away from the unknown assistant to a widely famous scientist himself, Davy even accused him of plagiarism. However, at the Institution he arrived at the place he has always dreamed of and it would become the center of his life (next to Sarah Barnard, whom he later married). At the Institution's basement, where his lab was located he was able to perform about 30,000 experiments and published more than 450 scientific articles. Faraday became a passionate lecturer and soon one of the most discussed and most admired scientists.

In 1821, Faraday firstly introduced himself into the scientists society through publishing an article about electromagnetic rotation, a physical breakthrough. In fact without being honored, but with the mentioned wrong accusations by Davy and Hyde Wollaston. Faraday could also make major contributions to the field of chemistry, and spent several years in developing optical lenses. In 1824 Faraday was voted into the Royal Society and again to the dissatisfaction of Humphry Davy. Seven years later he could achieve another milestone in his scientific career. He disvovered the electromagnetic induction, a major requirement for the electric motor.

Faraday published further works of electrolysis, magnetism, and light. He has managed to achieve some of the greatest experiments important for humankind's development despite his worsening health issues, due to working with dangerous gases and mercury. The insignificant son of a poor blacksmith was able to become one of the greatest scientists of all times. Even Einstein kept a picture of Faraday on his wall along with Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell, and Ernest Rutherford once noted:
"When we consider the magnitude and extent of his discoveries and their influence on the progress of science and of industry, there is no honour too great to pay to the memory of Faraday, one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time"
At yovisto you may enjoy a lecture by the passionate lecturer Walter Lewin at MIT, discussing the 'Electromagnetic Induction'.

References and Further Reading:
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Friday, September 21, 2012

What a Brick! - The World's First Cell Phone

The Motorola DynaTAC 8000,
the worlds first commercially availabvle
cell phone in 1983
Mobile phones and smart phones have conquered the world. Billions of them have been sold already and they have changed the world as well as societies. But, do you remember the time, when you had to look for a phone booth to make an urgent call. About three decades ago, times slowly began to change, when on September 21, 1983, the Motorola DynaTAC, the world's first commercially available cell phone received its FCC certification. DynaTAC was an abbreviation of Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage. But, with a price of $3,995 in 1983 ($9,322 in present-day terms) it was a rather expensive while also exclusive gadget.

But, it was not the first mobile phone at all. Actually, in Germany, the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Railways) already started experimenting with a mobile telephone service along their tracks in 1918, shortly after the suitable radio transmitter was invented. A telephone service in the trains of the Deutsche Reichsbahn was already established in 1926 on the route from Berlin to Hamburg - only available for first class passengers. By 1930, telephone customers in the United States could be connected by radio to a passenger on an ocean liner in the Atlantic Ocean. But this service too was rather expensive.

The first mobile telephone call from a car was made on 17 June 1946 from in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, using the Bell System's Mobile Telephone Service. Mobile Telephone Service by that time was a rarity with only 5,000 customers placing about 30,000 calls each week. Calls were set up manually by an operator and the user had to depress a button on the handset to talk and release the button to listen. This was followed in 1956 by the world’s first partly automatic car phone system, Mobile System A (MTA) in Sweden. The MTA phones were composed of vacuum tubes and relays, and had a weight of 40 kg. In Germany a similar service followed in 1958. All calls had to be relayed manually and the equipment costs were about half the prize of the car.

Prior to 1973, mobile telephony was limited to phones installed in cars and other vehicles. Martin Cooper, a Motorola researcher and executive, led the team that developed the first hand-held mobile telephone for use on a cellular network. Using a really heavy portable handset, Cooper made the very first call on a handheld mobile phone on April 3, 1973 to his rival, Dr. Joel S. Engel of Bell Labs. He recalled the event later on in the following way:
"As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call. Remember that in 1973, there weren't cordless telephones or cellular phones. I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter - probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life.
On 6 March 1983, the DynaTAc mobile phone was launched on the first US 1G network by Ameritech. Its development costs hit about $100m and it took over a decade to really hit the market. The phone had a talk time of just half an hour and took ten hours to charge. Consumer demand was strong despite the battery life, weight, and low talk time, and waiting lists were in the thousands.

At yovisto you can watch Martin Cooper, inventor of the world's first cell phone, speaking at TEDxSanDiego about 'The Power of Wireless Social Networking'.

References and Further Reading:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The bustling Life and Publications of Mathematician Paul Erdös

Mathematician Paul Erdös (1913-1996)
© kmhkmh 
On September 20, 1996, Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös passed away. He published more scientific papers than any other mathematician in history, with hundreds of collaborators. Thus, he even created a 'small world' of its own, the famous club of people that posess an 'Erdös Number'. BTW, my Erdös number is 3, i.e. I have published a paper together with a co-author whose Erdös number is 2. In this little game of numbers, Paul Erdös has the Erdös number 0, his direct co-authors have the Erdös number 1. Thus, the Erdös number gives the distance - according to co-authorship of published scientific papers - to the famous Paul Erdös. But who was Paul Erdös and what else is he famous for....

Paul Erdös was born in Budapest in 1913 and showed an early interest in mathematics. Both of his parents happened to be mathematicians themselves, providing Erdös with the necessary support. Their genius son was introduced to set theory as well as infinite series at the age of 16 and was awarded the doctorate in mathematics at 21. After moving to Manchester, England, he accepted a position as guest lecturer and later taught at Princeton University. From then on, he was known as the restlessly traveling mathematician, giving lectures in the United States and Europe. 

Paul Erdös loved and lived the mathematics like no other, he made major contributions to the Ramsey theory as well as the probabilistic method. He has discovered a proof for the prime number theorem and Bertrand's postulate. Erdös published more than 1,500 articles, but even though he has built up a tremendous reputation in the field of mathematics, he never won the greatest mathematical prize, the Fields Medal.

The great scientist used mathematics for problem solving as well as socializing, sometimes combining the two of these. He would offer prizes for people, who finished some of his unsolved problems. The prizes ranged from 25$ up to several thousands, but there is no official number on how many prizes he actually gave away. Up to this day you can work on Erdös' problems, they are administrated by Ronald Graham, a famous mathematician himself.

You may also be wondering, how Erdös managed to work together with 511 collaborators and publish this many papers. Actually it's simple. He lived a life of a vagabond, traveling from place to place, teaching, writing, researching. Often enough he would just appear at other mathematicians homes saying "my brain is open" and not leaving until the work was done.

Erdös was a man seeking the entire freedom, which he found in mathematics. He called men 'slaves', women the 'bosses', and children were 'epsilons', that is how he rolled, never stopping to focus on mathematics, considering all kinds of commitment as distractions. He truly believed in what he was doing all his life, he understood mathematical lectures as prayers and mathematicians as devices for "turning coffee into theorems". Paul Erdös is to be considered as one of the most active and the most productive mathematicians in history.

At yovisto you can watch Prof. John Borrowman from Gresham College explaining the 'small world phenomenon' on Erdös numbers.

References and Further Reading:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

30 years of Smileys :-)

On September 19, 1982, Scott Fahlman posted the first documented emoticons :-) and :-( on the Carnegie Mellon University Bulletin Board System.

The original message from which these symbols originated was posted on September 19, 1982. The message was recovered by Jeff Baird on September 10, 2002 and is quoted:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-) 
From: Scott E Fahlman 

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:


Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use


From one of our previous blog posts you might remember that the original smiley has been invented by the designer Harvey Ball in 1963 and also there are evidences, that emoticons have been used way back in the year 1881 by Ambrose Bierce. He was then working at the satirical magazine 'Puck' and introduced \__/! as a smiling mouth, the exclamation mark had to be appended, if the sentence or phrase written, was meant ironically. 

But then, 30 years ago today, Scott Fahlman published the famous smiling (or sad) face, laying on the side, which spread widely in a short period of time. Many variations have then been created and with the development of new ways of communication, the emoticons' importance grew. It seems like a whole new language has established since then, actually two, because the Asian emoticons' appearance differs remarkably from the so called "western style".

At yovisto you might watch a short video interview with Prof. Scott E. Fahlman from Carnegie Mellon University about his now famous 'invention'.

References and Further Reading:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Harvard University

Harvard Memorial Church
© chensiyuan
On September 8th, 1636, by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Harvard University, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States was founded. Now you might wonder, why we feature this article at September 18th and we let you some time to think of, before we tell you the solution to this puzzle at the end of the story...

Initially called "New College" or "the college at New Towne", the teaching institution was renamed Harvard College on March 13, 1639, named after John Harvard, a young English clergyman from Southwark, London, an alumnus of the University of Cambridge (after which Cambridge, Massachusetts is named), who bequeathed the College his library of four hundred books and £779 pounds sterling, which was half of his estate. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark. The statue depicts Harvard seated with a gigantic book open on his lap. It is, of course, the Bible. The original motto of Harvard was (in Latin): “Truth for Christ and the Church.” In the 20th century, when Harvard became more secularized, they cut the last part of the phrase, so the motto is only “Truth” (Veritas). Of course, it was not secularism that produced Harvard, but Christianity.

Since that modest beginning, Harvard has grown from a training school for ministers to a global institution that promotes public service; from a school that forbade music outside of chapel services to a University where the arts are integral to scholarship; from an institution where learning “letters” followed strict classical models to one where a rainbow of humanities options reflect a diverse world; and from a place that focused on Latin and Greek to one that embraces science, technology, and innovation.

Let's get back to our little date problem according September 8, 1636. Well the solution is just simply. You might have heart of the Gregorian calendar reformation? In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII after whom the calendar was named, by a papal bull signed on 24 February 1582 introduced an new calendar to the world. This was necessary since it became obvious that the old Julian calendar lost synchronicity and the spring equinox, which was necessary for the calculation of the easter date, went out of tune with the calendar over the centuries. In 1582 the very first (catholic) countries shifted to the new calendar by making a leap of 10 days to get in tune again with the mechanics of the heavens. Being an English colony, the Americas adopted the new calendar later in the 17th century. The old date of the foundation of Harvard, September 8th 1636, was according to the old calendar, which comes to September 18th according the the new Gregorian calendar.

At yovisto you an watch a video by Harvard's students, explaining the innovative and interesting  ideas and solutions they are currently working on!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Happy Birthday Linux!

Penguin Tux, the Linux Mascot
© wikipedia
On September 17, 1991, the Finnish student of computer science Linus Torvalds, uploaded Linux kernel version 0.01 to the ftp server This might be considered as the date of birth of the famous free operating system Linux, although Torvalds announced the new OS a few weeks earlier on usenet already. Nevertheless, Linux has become one of the most popular operating systems today, and this of course with a god reason....

Linus Torvalds was born in 1969 in Helsinki, Finnland. His interest in computers started early with the Commodore VIC-20 and the Sinclair QL, for which he is known to have programmed a clone of the famous PacMan game. Later as a student of computer science, he purchased an IBM PC before receiving his copy of the MINIX operating system, which in turn enabled him to begin work on Linux.

MINIX is an inexpensive minimal Unix-like operating system, designed for education in computer science, written by Andrew S. Tanenbaum. During his computer science studies Torvalds became curious about operating systems in general. But, he soon got frustrated by the licensing of MINIX, which limited it to educational use only. Therefore, he decided to begin to work on his own operating system which eventually became the Linux kernel. As Torvalds wrote in his book "Just for Fun", he eventually realized that he had written an operating system kernel.

Torvalds started the development of the Linux kernel on MINIX, and applications written for MINIX were also used on Linux. Later on, when Linux matured, further Linux development took place on native Linux systems replacing all MINIX components by GNU applications, because it was advantageous to use the freely available code from the GNU project with the fledgling operating system. Programm code licensed under the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) can be reused in other projects as long as they also are released under the same or a compatible license. Torvalds initiated a switch from his original license, which prohibited commercial redistribution, to the GNU GPL. Developers worked to integrate GNU components with Linux to make a fully functional and free operating system.

Today, Linux systems are used in every domain, from embedded systems to supercomputers. The Use of Linux distributions in home and enterprise desktops has been constantly growing and Linux has also gained popularity with various local and national governments, such as e.g., Brazil, Russia, Spain, or in India or China, because of its independency from a special supplier.

At yovisto you can listen to Linus Torvalds himself sharing his thoughts on git, the source control management system he created two years ago.

References and further reading:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hoist the Sails! The Mayflower and its Journey to the new World...

Mayflower Stamp from 1920
On September 16, 1620, the famous transport ship Mayflower started its first voyage to the new world with English and Dutch separatists on board and arriving Plymouth, Massachusetts in the same year.

On board of the 170t Dutch cargo ship were a total of 102 passengers and an additional number of 30 crew members. They all were curious and hopeful to start a new life at the banks of the Hudson River, which would now be New York City. However, during their two month travel the passengers had to deal with rough seas leading to two deaths on board. Also the weather caused them to approach a different destination than originally planned. They anchored near today's Plymouth in Massachusetts and had to do nothing but wait for the winter to come, and to finally leave. During the winter, all travelers had to remain on the ship, and only half of them could survive the strong winter period. As soon as it started to warm up, the pilgrims were finally able to leave the ship and began building their new homes, while the fixed ship sailed back to England.

The Mayflower itself was built at some point around 1606, had an overall length of 28 meters (110 ft) and four decks. It was originally built for the transportation of goods, which made the settlers journey to America quite uncomfortable. The passengers had to share the cabins with living animals, lots of tools and several weapons, such as canons, artillery pieces, and huge loads of gunpowder. After the long journey to America and back to England, the Mayflower was strongly damaged and was taken out of order in 1622.

Although the Mayflower did not survive for long, the Separatists were able to manage their living in Plymouth and started their own government in the year of their arrival, which was manifested in the so called 'Mayflower Compact'. The settlement of Plymouth counts as one of the oldest in the new world and therefore the Mayflower depicts a symbol of freedom, future, and hope to many Americans.

At yovisto you can watch the lecture 'Being a British Colonist' by Professor Joanne Freeman from Yale University as part of her series 'The American Revolution'. 

References and Further Reading:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Marco Polo - The Great Traveler and Merchant

Marco Polo Mosaic
On September 15, 1254, the Venetian merchant traveler Marco Polo was born. He is best known for his journeys to Central Asia and China, narrated in the book 'The Travels of Marco Polo'.

Marco Polo directly followed his father's footsteps, who was a well known traveling merchant himself. The journey of Marco's father Niccolò and his brother Maffeo took many years, but it was worth it,  they came back with a tremendous amount of treasures an lots of experience concerning the eastern world.

It was in 1266, when they arrived in China. They decided to settle in the Mongolian empire of Kublai Khan, a grandson of the famous Dschingis Khan. Kublai Khan had never met any Europeans before and was absolutely curious about their culture and technlogies.  The men had to deliver a letter to the Pope, claiming 100 Europeans, who were familiar with grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy, also called the seven arts.  After their arrival back in Venice, they had difficulties, delivering the Pope's letter, because Pope Clement IV had passed away and it took a long time before a new Pope was elected.

But this was the first time, when Marco had the chance to meet his father and he was immediately intrigued by the cultures and treasures far-off horizons.

Marco, who had learned everything he needed in order to being a great merchant, like foreign currency or the handling of cargo ships early, was now able to join his father's travels. They departed for Asia and arrived in China through many detours when Marco Polo was 21 years old. They remained there until 1291 right before China's troubled times. Kublai Khan did not let them go voluntarily before accomplishing the task to guide a princess to Persian overseas. Finally, they could leave and it took almost four years until they arrived back home in Venice.

Marco Polo, who had written down his experiences during all adventures, caused discussions between many scientists up to this very day, arguing about the authenticity of his stories. Marco Polo missed out a lot of details he must have experienced, as e.g. the Great Wall of China, and advanced technologies such as the printing press and gun powder. Its also a myth that Marco Polo should be responsible for introducing Pasta from China to Italy. Besides Pizza, Pasta is one of Italy's national dishes today, and there is strong evidence that Pasta was already in use in ancient Rome.

At Yovisto you can enjoy a video about "Marco Polo: Silk Road to China" with the biographer and historian Larry Bergreen.

References and further Reading:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Alfred Kinsey and his Scientific Interest in Sex

Alfred Charles Kinsey at an interview
photo: Bill Dellenbeck, ©Kinsey Institute
On September 14, 1953, Dr. Alfred Charles Kinsey published the second of his controversially discussed and provoking reports entitled 'Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female'. Kinsey's work has profoundly influenced social and cultural values in the United States and many other countries.

Alfred Charles Kinsey grew up in a strictly religious Christian family and even though he did not share his parent's enthusiasm, Kinsey followed their wishes and demands. He even began studying engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology, but regarded these years as a waste of time. Finally, in 1914, the talented student could begin studying in his original fields of interest, biology and psychology. During the research for his doctoral thesis on gall wasps, Kinsey more and more tried to relate the wasps reproduction practices to human sexual practices, which opened up a whole new scientific field to him.

Alfred Kinsey began to closely look into human sexuality and was able to publish the first major works on this field of research. The first project he made public was the 'Kinsey Scale', a scale to measure sexual orientation ranking from 0 as exclusively heterosexual and 6 as exclusively homosexual. Today, the scale is seen as outdated, because of it not representing all sexual identities. Nevertheless, the scale was widely used and regarded by many sexologists for several years.

Kinsey did not hesitate to shout out what he had to say, even though he began his research in times when the topics of sexuality and sexual identity were not as open as they (at least seem to be) today. So he began organizing public discussion groups at Indiana University and openly promoted early sexual experiences in order to psychologically be a healthy person.

His first revolutionary work was was published in 1948 and was called the 'Sexual Behavior in the human Male'. It was the first part of the so called Kinsey Report and caused him to instantly become famous. The second work 'Sexual Behavior in the human Female' followed five years later. In the report, he explained his 'Kinsey Scale' in detail, he revealed statistics about the marital coitus and discussed the topic of sadomasochism, which caused a great scandal these days.

Despite the sexual revolution Kinsey was able to initiate through opening people's minds and confronting them with topics they may have found disturbing or firstly repellant, Kinsey caused many controversies concerning his scientific methods and his gathering of data. Many times he was accused of falsifying statistics and the biggest fraud was probably performed when Kinsey published his studies on pedophilia, claiming to have interviewed 9 men. In reality he only had the data of one person, pretending them to origin from 9 different sources. Also critically are his methods in gathering his staff and filming them during the sexual intercourse.

At yovisto you can watch science journalist Mary Roach presenting her book about '10 Things you didn't know about Orgasm', an entertaining, but also scientifically astonishing video in which she presents a romp through the historic and current landscape of sex research.

References and Further Reading: