Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Johannes Vermeer - Master of Perspective and Lighting

The Milkmaid
by Johannes Vermeer, 1660
On October 31, 1632, Dutch genre painter Johannes Vermeer was born in Delft. Vermeer always worked slowly and with great care, using bright colours and sometimes expensive pigments, with a preference for cornflower blue and yellow. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

Born as the only son to Reijnier Janszoon, Johannes Vermeer learned much about art from his father, who was a silk weaver as well as a member of St. Luke's Guild, where he traded numerous paintings. Johannes Vermeer later also became a member of the guild and there are rumors that he began his art career as an apprentice of Leonaert Bramer.

During Vermeer's busy years, he earned himself a great reputation and his financial situation was in comparison to other painters of his era extraordinary good. He was able to take care of his 11 children and his wife easily, he was even promoted to the dean of St. Luke's Guild and therefore a man with great influence in the community.

Vermeer was known for his slow painting style, which may have been the cause that he only completed about 35 paintings. Also, his time as an active artist was rather short, due to his sudden and early death at the age of 43, but his pieces can be divided into 3 different periods. In the 1650's, Vermeer expressed his deep love with the style of the baroque influenced by his time at the gild. Typical for this period was for instance 'Christ in the House of Martha and Mary' of 1655, which depicts a rather modest style in comparison to his later works, but still he did not miss out the strong contrasts in the clothing of the protagonists.

The period of the 1660's was Vermeer's most intense. He developed whole new techniques and used the style of chiaroscuro, meaning that he strongly focused on tone contrasts. Another 'effect' he increasingly used in this period was camera obscura. It did not take long until he mastered this new styles perfectly and this is what he is now mainly known and appreciated for. One of his most famous paintings, the 'Milkmaid' resulted from this period

The last working period Vermeer's is characterized by his recreations of shadows and space like in the painting 'A young Woman seated at the Virginals'. Unfortunately his financial situation became critical in his last five years and at the end of his life, Vermeer ran into dept and also his good health started to fade. In December of 1675, he suffered from a sudden stroke an passed away.

Vermeer's works are due to their unique style and the few number of paintings very popular on the market and several fake paintings still exist. Vermeer was able to highly influence the art scene and earned himself a great respect in the community. Even Salvador Dalí admired Vermeer's paintings and stated that his painting 'The Lacemaker' was just as great as the 'Last Judgement' by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

At yovisto you may enjoy a video by curator Walter Liedke, who presents Vermeer's masterpiece 'The Milkmaid'. The details of the composition and subject matter of The Milkmaid and other paintings are explored in this lecture.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Orson Welles and the 1938 Radio Show Panic

Headline of the New York Times from Oct, 31, 1938 about Orson Welles' 'War of the Worlds'
On October 30, 1938, a Saturday night at 8 pm, H.G. Wells' 'The War of the Worlds' was broadcasted at CBS radio in an adaption presented and narrated by future famous film director and actor Orson Welles. The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to many listeners that an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress and created outrage and panic because some listeners took the broadcast of an alien invasion for real.

The basis of Orson Welles' radio adaption was H.G. Welles famous science fiction story about an alien invasion from Mars and it was Welles' idea to produce it in the form of a news bulletins as if the events were taking place live. Welles' story wasn't this popular in the US by that time as it is today. Moreover, it finally became part of today's popular culture also because of the 1938 events related to its broadcast and the panic reaction this broadcast created within parts of the population. And it was 'The War of the World' that made Orson Welles a star.

H. G. Wells's original novel story of an alien invasion of Earth was adapted by Howard Koch and Anne Froelick with ideas from Orson Welles. The original setting was switched from 19th-century England to contemporary Grover's Mill, an unincorporated village in West Windsor Township, New Jersey in the US. The program's format was a (simulated) live newscast of developing events created with voice acting and sound effects. To this end, Welles played recordings of Herbert Morrison's radio reports of the Hindenburg disaster for actor Frank Readick and the rest of the cast, to demonstrate the mood he wanted.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, Central Time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars. The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the Earth with enormous velocity..."
That, of course, doesn't sound right....The first part of Welles' program had the form of a series of musical pieces broken up by increasingly urgent news bulletins, reporting that a "huge flaming object" had dropped on a farm near Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Up to this time, no radio play before had tried a form like this and the bulletins gave the story a sense of verisimilitude that it otherwise would have lacked. Moreover, listeners who came in late missed the opening announcement that this was not real but simply a radio adaptation. Listeners in panic packed the roads, hid in their cellars, prepared and loaded their guns, or even wrapped their heads in wet towels as protection from Martian poison gas, in an attempt to defend themselves against aliens. News of the panic quickly generated a national scandal. In the New York Times correspondent Dorothy Thompson wrote
"All unwittingly, Mr. Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air have made one of the most fascinating and important demonstrations of all time...they have proved that a few effective voices, accompanied by sound effects, can convince masses of people of a totally unreasonable, completely fantastic proposition as to create a nation-wide panic."
Learn more about famous film director and actor Orson Welles at yovisto in an Question and Answer session at Boston University taken at 1979.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Germany's First Radio Program Goes Public

Distribution of the Radio to the German Public during World War II
© Deutsches Bundesarchiv
On October 29, 1923 the very first radio program in Germany was broadcasted from the Vox-Haus in Berlin, Tiergarten.

The history of the radio is long and for many years it was not clear, who the official inventor of the radio really was. To mention is of course Thomas Edison in the first place, who invented the phonograph and its development from acoustic wave to electric impulses by Alexander Graham Bell, who also made major contributions to the invention of the telephone in 1876. It was then up to Heinrich Hertz' discovery of electromagnetic waves and Guglielmo Marconi's ability to transmit messages across the Atlantic Ocean in 1897 wireless. Nikola Tesla was then to develop the technological foundations of broadcasting and he is the one now officially associated with the invention of the radio.

It was on Christmas Evening in 1906, when Reginald Fessenden broadcasted the very first radio program in the United States including a speech by Fessenden, music from the phonograph, a violin solo, and a short reading of the bible heard on the US-Atlantic-Coasters. The years went by and while in the USA no real commercial radio stations were formed, a Dutch citizen transmitted the very first well known program, financed by voluntary amounts of the public. The first commercial radio station in the USA began broadcasting in 1920 in Pittsburgh.

In Germany, things did not go that fast and a little bit differently. World War I required everyone's reserves in all meanings, which did not really engage the development of new businesses. Nevertheless the former 'Reichspost' in Berlin was occupied with developing new radio technologies in their laboratory.

In September 1923, F. Wichart, a technician in the laboratories was occupied with the task to bring everything together needed for the broadcasting station without any costs at all in two weeks, which he managed. The first station was located in a small attic of the so called Vox-Haus in Berlin and the technicians started a few broadcasting attempts in the beginning of October until suddenly secretary of state Dr. Hans Bredow showed up on October 29, who instructed the present technicians to start the program on this day. Artists and a time schedule had to be put together quickly and it was probably as provisional as the equipment itself including the oldest version of the carbon microphone you could possibly think of back then.

"Achtung, Achtung, hier ist Berlin auf Welle 400 m!" were the first words that shouted through the radios and was followed by a cello solo a short presentation of of Alfred Wilde's arias and a few pieces from the gramophone. Radio had finally arrived Germany with its first station 'Funk-Stunde Berlin', but who listened to the new program? The license to listen to the radio cost about 350 billion Papiermark (an official currency during the German hyperinflation), which was hardly affordable by the general public. The very first official listener was the German merchant Wilhelm Kollhoff, for this huge amount of money he paid, the tobacconist received a radio as well as his license with the number 1. 

Throughout the years, radio technology and the broadcasted content improved, the Funkturm Berlin was finished in 1926 and in the same year the newly founded global-radio-association managed the frequencies world wide. The radio and its development really supported the recovery of the Germans from the War and all of its side effects. New business models had to be developed and through the years further stations began their broadcast, which supported new ways of cultural and informational exchange. Soon local and world news could be easily transmitted to the public and even sport events could be broadcasted live in 1926.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video about 'The Principles of Radio' from 1943, explaining the importance and the technical features of radio from the very beginning.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bill Gates - From Entrepreneur to Philantrop

Bill Gates
© World Economic Forum
On October 28, 1955 entrepreneur William Henry "Bill" Gates III, or simply Bill Gates, was born in Seattle, Washington. You might think of him whatever you like, but he has left his footstep in history with creating the incredibly successful operating system MS Windows or his office application programs MS Word, MS Powerpoint, or MS Excell.

Bill Gates grew up in an upper middle-class family with his two sisters, Kristianne and Libby, in Seattle. His father, William H. Gates II, is a Seattle attorney, his mother, Mary Gates, was a schoolteacher, University of Washington regent, and chairwoman of United Way International. Gates attended public elementary school and the private Lakeside School. There, he  discovered his interest in software and began programming computers already at age 13. When Bill Gates graduated from Lakeside in 1973, he scored amazing 1590 out of 1600 on the college SAT test.

In 1973, Gates entered Harvard University as a freshman, where he lived down the hall from Steve Ballmer, now Microsoft's chief executive officer. While at Harvard, Gates developed a version of the programming language BASIC for the first microcomputer - the MITS Altair. In his junior year, Gates left Harvard to devote his energies to Microsoft, a company he had begun in 1975 with his childhood friend Paul Allen, who was two years his senior at Lakeside School. Guided by a belief that the computer would be a valuable tool on every office desktop and in every home, they began developing software for personal computers. With Microsoft Gates and Allen built the world's largest software business, while Bill Gates became one of the richest men in the world.

In November 1980, IBM was looking for software that would operate their upcoming personal computer (PC) and approached Microsoft. Gates quickly impressed IBM, convincing them that he and his company could meet their needs. The only problem was that Microsoft had not developed the basic operating system that would run IBM's new computers. Actually, Gates bought an operating system and adapted it to work for the IBM PC. He delivered it for a $50,000 fee, the same price he had paid for the software in its original form. IBM wanted to buy the source code, which would have given them the information to the operating system. But Gates refused, instead proposing that IBM should pay a licensing fee for copies of the software sold with their computers. Doing this allowed Microsoft to license the software they called MS-DOS to any other PC manufacturer, should other computer companies clone the IBM PC, which they soon did.

In the later stages of his career, Gates has pursued a number of philanthropic endeavors, donating large amounts of money to various charitable organizations and scientific research programs through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, established in 2000. In the same year, Gates stepped down as chief executive officer of Microsoft, but remained as chairman and chief software architect. SInce 2006, he gradually transferred his duties at Microsoft to Ray Ozzie, chief software architect, and Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer, while he will remain at Microsoft as non-executive chairman.

At yovisto you can enjoy a TED-Talk by Bill Gates himfelf explaining 'How I`m trying to change the world now'

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lise Meitner - The Misjudged Genius

Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn
On October 27, 1968 the scientist Lise Meitner passed away. She is known today for her passionate and extraordinary work on radioactivity and nuclear physics along with her colleague Otto Hahn, who was honored with the Nobel Prize while Meitner stayed unrecognized.

Born in 1878 in Vienna, Lise Meitner's talents were early detected, not unusual for scientists who achieved these major efforts in their later lives. It was just bad luck that she unfortunately was not male. She was not allowed to attend either grammar school or university and could only later finish these studies. Finally attending the University of Vienna she was highly influenced but also respected by Ludwig Boltzmann, a genius in physics himself. It was later noted that Boltzmann "gave her the vision of physics as a battle for ultimate truth, a vision she never lost".

Despite the many political difficulties, Meitner managed to earn herself the doctorate degree in 1906 as the second woman in the field of physics ever. Right after this milestone she met Stefan Mayer, another Austrian physicist focusing on radioactivity, who suggested Meitner to look into his fields of study. She began measuring the 'absorption of alpha and beta radiation emitted bythorium and actinium in foils of various metals', which introduced her to the the topic that would change and determine the rest of her life.

In 1907, Lise Meitner left for Berlin to study with Max Planck, whose gesture to accept a woman in the auditorium was very unusual, but he soon discovered her huge talent and hired her as an assistant. It was also in the university's physics department where she met the man who she would work with in a 30 year partnership, Otto Hahn. Their collaboration was commented by Sir James Chadwick as "one of the most fruitful partnerships in the history of science". But working together was not easy, since no women were allowed in the Chemistry Institute. Meitner worked in the Institute's basement secretly for a while until moving their work to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute in Dahlem, where Meitner worked without salary to begin with.

After serving in World War I, Meitner came back to work with Otto Hahn, and it seems like she was finally respected in the scientific community. She was awarded the Leibniz Medal and got her own physics section, also she became the very first woman in Germany to be offered a post of a full professor in physics.

Things changed in 1933, due to Adolf Hitler who was gaining power and worsening the situation for thousands of people including the work group of Lise Meitner. Being a Jew, she had to flee and accidentally landed in Sweden where she continued her work with physicist and nobel laureate Manne Siegbahn, but still corresponding with Otto Hahn whom she secretly met once in a while. Because it was impossible for Meitner and Hahn to publish their works on nuclear fission together for political reasons, Hahn was the one associated with their major efforts.

What Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn quickly had to realize was that they not only contributed to physics and chemistry, their discovery was soon noticed by Roosevelt, which may have been a critical point to begin with the Manhattan Project in which Meitner refused to contribute in.

Lise Meitner is to be seen as a genius physicist who despite the political and social challenges she had to face never gave up on her dream to becoming a giant in her fields of research. She is along with Otto Hahn responsible for presumably one of the most effective but also dangerous discoveries of humankind.

However, Lise Meitner was mostly (after finally leaving the stereotypes behind) appreciated in the scientific community. Even Albert Einstein praised her as the 'German Marie Curie' and in 1997 the synthetic element 109 (Meitnerium) was named after her.

At yovisto you can enjoy the lecture 'Lise Meitner and the Discovery of Fission' by Anthea Coster from Dartmouth College.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Johann Philipp Reis Demonstrates the first Telephone

Johan Philipp Reis' Telephone 

On October 26, 1861, German teacher and inventor Johann Philipp Reis, presented his telephone system at the 'Physikalischen Verein zu Frankfurt am Main'. Although it did not convince his contemporaries, his invention marks a milestone in telecommunications.

Philipp Reis was born on January 7, 1834 in Gelnhausen, Germany in a Jewish family as son of a baker. Reis's mother died while he was an infant, and he was raised by his paternal grandmother, a well-read, intelligent woman. At the age of six Reis was sent to the common school of his home town of Gelnhausen. Here his talents attracted the notice of his instructors, who advised his father to extend his education at a higher college. In 1845 Reis was sent to the well known Garniersche private school in Friedrichsdorf. There he learned not only mathematics, physics and chemistry, but also English and French. In 1850 the 16-year-old Philipp Reis became an elementary school teacher in Friedrichsdorf. Although he was no entirely trained teacher, he knew how to tie up his pupils with interesting experiments. He was a self educated person and he continued his own education taking private lessons in physics.

In 1852, Reis began work on his "artificial ear" (künstliches Ohr) project by gathering some common materials found around his house in Friedrichsdorf, Germany, not far from Frankfurt. In his first attempts in his homemade lab in a shed in his backyard he was to construct a crude assembly designed to imitate human ear functions only with a very low budget. A violin case was the resonator, a hollowed-out beer can was the mouthpiece, a sausage (Wurst) casing was stretched across it to serve as a diaphragm!

The telephone was invented by at least five different people in four different countries. Although Alexander Graham Bell is generally credited as the "winner" in the race to invent the telephone in the period between 1850 and 1876, his invention was preceded or paralleled by Philipp Reis, the Belgian-French M. Charles Bourseul, the Italian Antonio Meucci, and his fellow-American Elisha Gray. Actually, the key to the telephone device is the microphone. For his first experiments in the 1850s, Reis used a sausage skin stretched across a hollowed-out cork as a membrane for his crude microphone (der Geber). Using wax, he attached a metal contact to the membrane. This contact was linked to the strings of a violin, which served as a receiver or speaker. Later he would use an electromagnetic receiver.

After nine years of work, Reis had refined his device to the point that he could present it to Frankfurt's Physics Association on 26 October 1861. His lecture on "Telephony Using Galvanic Current" („Das Telefonieren durch galvanischen Strom”) did not receive as much enthusiasm as Reis might have hoped for. But two years later, 50 copies of his "Telephon" (he was one of the first to coin the term) were manufactured by a German firm, and a few more in England. Overall, Reis' telephone was not practical enough to become a commercial success. It could transmit sound, particularly music, but it was difficult to understand the spoken word. Reis died of tuberculosis two years before Bell's U.S. patent was filed in 1876. Ironically, in his patent fight with Bell, Elisha Gray used the legal defense that it was Reis and not Bell who had invented the telephone, and thus Bell was not entitled to his patent. But the court ruled that the Reis version could not be considered a real telephone, and Bell finally won the patent struggle.

As for every new telecommunication device, the very first sentence that has been transmitted, plays an important role for posterity. Therefore, such a first sentence should be meaningful somehow, while on the other hand it shouldn't be obvious int the way that the receiver might have guessed the communicated message. For Johann Philipp Reis' telephone the very first sentence to be reported was:
"Das Pferd frisst keinen Gurkensalat." 
(in english: The horse does not eat cucumber salad.)
I think this is quiet some sentence ;-)

At yovisto you can learn more about the history of telecommunication in a video from the ATT archives on 'To communicate is just the beginning'.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Pablo Picasso - A Giant in Art

Pablo Picasso
(1881 - 1973)
On October 25, 1881, famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer was born. He is considered as one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century and is widely known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore.

Pablo Picasso's talent was early detected. At the age of seven he painted his first work on oil 'Picador' showing a matador in the arena.  At 14 he attended the famous art academy 'La Llotjia'. In this period he was mainly influenced by Spanish painters of the 17. century. At 19 he was able to perform his first solo exhibition with rather modest success, which caused him to go on a motivational trip to the capital of art - Paris, where he got in touch with the works of Edgar Degas or Pierre Bonnard.
It was his period of orientation, Picasso deeply admired the Catalan painters as well as painters form the so called Symbolism, he enjoyed English and Austrian paintings.

In 1901, after Picasso's best friend Casagemas killed himself the well known blue period began and was characterized by its melancholy and was mainly interpreted as pure sadness even though critics very much enjoyed the new paintings. Very typical for these years is the painting 'Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas)'. In the following rose period, the financial success finally set in, the paintings were not as sad and the color blue slowly lost its significance in Picasso's works. 

In 1908 the period Picasso is now mainly known for began and lasted for 16 years.  The fist cubism period, the 'analysic cubism' was developed by Picasso along with Georges Braque and was characterized through brown and rather neutral colors taking apart certain objects. The synthetic cubism marked the first use of collages and depicted mostly paper cut fragments pasted into different compositions. 

Throughout World War II, the neoclassical period followed with its famous 'Guernica' about which the painter himself noted:  
"It isn't up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them."
After World War II, Picasso changed styles again and dedicated himself to sculpturing and graphic reproduction in which he again focused on bullfight symbols, a traditional Spanish topic that has occupied him throughout his life.

Pablo Picasso was a generous artist who always had the need to re-invent himself. He was deeply admired by the famous Salvador Dalí, the author André Breton or Max Ernst who highly appreciated Picasso's surrealistic works.

At yovisto, you can enjoy Francoise Gilot's talk 'An Encounter with Picasso' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek - The Father of Microbiology

Anton van Leeuwenhoek
On October 24, 1632, the Dutch tradesman and scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the inventor of the microscope, was born. He is commonly known as "the Father of Microbiology", and considered to be the first microbiologist.

That Van Leeuwenhoek made some of the most significant discoveries in the history of biology is rather surprising. Born in 1632, the son of a basket maker was not so fortunate to receive higher education or even a university degree. At the age of 16, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek began his apprenticeship with a cloth merchant in Amsterdam as bookkeeper and cashier. What the young Van Leeuwenhoek considered to be a quite miserable situation soon changed to be highly interesting. There he saw the first version of the microscope, a magnifying glass attached to a small stand, which was commonly used by cloth merchants of these days and it highly fascinated Van Leeuwenhoek. Some years later, in 1654 the business man opened his own drapery shop, but he would never lose the interest in glass processing and only about ten years later he already knew how to grind lenses and produce his first microscopes himself.

It must be noted, that microscopes with several lenses were used before Van Leeuwenhoek, but the quality was astonishingly bad which increased his motivation to built a microscope with just one perfect lens, which succeeded.

His first observations, which he performed in his free time were rather simple like measuring the numbers of microorganism in certain units of water. However, these kind of observations were almost unique to this point but still, the hobby-biologist was disregarded in the scientific community.

Eventually in the 1670's, Van Leeuwenhoek got in touch with the Royal Society of London and was finally able to publish his observations, which instantly caused him to become famous in the scientific community and beyond. But the good times didn't last so long. After presenting his results on single-celled organisms, the now well known scientist was again challenged because the existence of single-celled organisms wasn't really clear at these times and Van Leeuwenhoek's credibility initially shrank until his work was fully validated several years later.

Nevertheless, the 'amateur' which he was regarded as sent almost 600 letters to the Royal Society throughout his whole life about his investigations. He was able to produce 500 high quality lenses and at least 25 microscopes of different types. One was even capable to magnify up to 500 times and with it he was able to majorly contribute to the new scientific field of microbiology. He for instance discovered the infusoria, bacteria, a cell's vacuole and spermatozoa. About the last discovery there were several serious troubles Van Leeuwenhoek had to face with theologists.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek really deserves the name 'Father of Microbiology' due to his many groundbreaking observations and his efforts on building microscopes. He always kept his creation of the lenses as a secret and it could not be revealed until the 1950's.

At yovisto, you can enjoy a video about Anton van Leeuwenhoek and his achievements.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wilhelm Schickard and his Calculator Machine

Wilhelm Schickard (1592-1635)
On October 23, 1635, German astronomer and mathematician Wilhelm Schickard, who constructued the very first mechanical calculator, passed away. His famous calculator was able to perform additions and subtractions. For more complicated operations, it provided so-called Napier bones, named after the Scottish mathematician John Napier, who came up with the idea of logarithms. Although it is widely believed that the first mechanical calculating device was created by the French mathematician Blaise Pascal in 1642. However, that distinction actually belongs to Wilhelm Schickard.

Born in Herrenberg, Germany, on April 22, 1592, Wilhelm Schickard was a brilliant student. Little is known about his early life. By the age seventeen, he had already received his B.A. in theology and Oriental languages from the University of Tübingen. Continuing his studies, Schickard received his M.A. in 1611. In 1613, he became a Lutheran minister, serving several towns around Tübingen. He served in this capacity until 1619, when he was appointed Professor of Hebrew at the University of Tübingen.

In 1617 he met famous astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630),who inspired Schickard's interest in mathematics and astronomy. While toiling over the many tedious calculations necessary in astronomy work, Schickard's thoughts turned to the notion of mechanically performing mathematical calculations. Although the discovery of logarithms and logarithmic tables by John Napier (1550-1617) several years earlier had greatly simplified the process of multiplication and division, Schickard sought to develop a calculating machine to completely automate these functions.

In 1623, Schickard finally succeeded in building a mechanical device which could perform additions and subtractions. On September 20, 1623, he wrote in a letter to Johannes Kepler as follows:
"What you have done by calculation I have just tried to do by way of mechanics. I have conceived a machine consisting of eleven complete and six incomplete sprocket wheels; it calculates instantaneously and automatically from given numbers, as it adds, subtracts, multiplies and divides. You would enjoy to see how the machine accumulates and transports spontaneously a ten or a hundred to the left and, vice-versa, how it does the opposite if it is subtracting"
Schickard's letter also mentions that the first machine to be built by a professional, a clockmaker named Johann Pfister, was destroyed in a fire while still incomplete. Schickard abandoned his project soon after. Wilhelm Schickard died of the bubonic plague in Tübingen, on 23 or 24 October 1635. However, in the 1950s, scholars who were collecting the works of Kepler found, tucked into a book, Schickard's original drawings of his device. This made it possible for Professor Bruno Baron von Freytag Loringhoff of the University of Tübingen to reconstruct Schickard's calculator. Even though Wilhelm Schickard designed his mechanical calculator twenty years earlier, Pascal is still the inventor of the mechanical calculator because the drawings of Schickard's calculating clock described a machine that was neither complete nor fully usable.

Learn more about Schickards calculating machine in an animated video explaining its mechanic design.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Franz Liszt - Rockstar of the 19th Century

Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)
On October 22, 1811, famous Hungarian piano player, composer and conductor Franz Liszt was born. During the nineteenth century Liszt was renowned for his extreme virtuosic skill as a pianist. According to his contemporaries he was the most technically advanced pianist of his age and by the 1840s he was considered by some to be perhaps the greatest pianist of all time.

Liszt was born in 1811 as the son of Adam Liszt, who had a long lasting experience as cellist in orchestras led by the famous Joseph Haydn or Johann Hummel himself. It was soon clear that Franz was special, learning to read music and write on sheets of music autodidactically at the age of seven. He was able to perform his own music on stage when he was nine and was already considered a virtuoso. His father, aware of his son's talented then did everything to support Franz Liszt as a pianist but caused his son a lack of education in every subject but music, which he had to make up by himself years later. But indeed his father managed to raise money for Franz' musical education wherefore they moved to Wien where famous musicians and composers noticed his huge talent and before turning 15, Liszt was considered to be one of the greatest pianists of all times.

In 1827, Liszt faced serious problems. His father has passed away and the16 year old was from then on responsible for his life and most importantly for his works. He ran into a deep crisis due to some unsuccessful pieces and ended his career as a pianist for two years. It was in 1831 when Liszt heard Chopin, Paganini, Rossini and Mendelsson Bartholdy, finding out that his abilities as a pianist had decreased, which deeply motivated him to end the crisis and continue his career.

After some successful happy years, Liszt noticed like everyone else the upcoming new star pianist Thalberg, who earned (in contrast to Liszt) enormous amounts of money for his concerts and was soon to be at least as popular as Liszt himself. Liszt could not accept this development and faced several confrontations with Thalberg, which he mostly lost. But Franz Liszt was far from being intimidated, he heavily focused on his possibilities as pianist and composer, making him one of the greatest and most appreciated artist of all times.

Liszt restlessly traveled through Europe, always looking for new fame and initiating a so called 'lisztomania', his rock star status was then at its highest point, however still competing with Sigismund Thalberg.

Liszt got involved with the cultural development of the city of Weimar, he was a great support to many artists such as Richard Wagner. He then composed his first orchestral works, but again faced difficulties in the 1860's. His daughter Cosima began a relationship with Wagner, and his other two children Daniel and Blandine passed away. These events are considered to be the reason why Liszt then mainly composed religious pieces, which were remarkably dark and thoughtful.

But just as all the others, this crisis also went away and Liszt was again able to play and compose,  to travel and to love the way he always did, with the only difference that is age has begun to show its effects and it gradually became a little quiet around the famous musician until he passed away in Bayreuth at the age of 75.

However, Franz Liszt counts as one of the greatest piano virtuosos, initiating whole new techniques to approaching the instrument. He is famous for his passionate piano solos and his program music is ever lasting. He was a great influence to Richard Wagner, a patron of young talents and a musical revolutionary who is remembered and admired even more than 100 years after his major works.

At yovisto you can enjoy the video 'The Naked Liszt', an intimate look at the life, love and music of celebrated Hungarian composer.       

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Eris - The Planet of Discord

On October 21, 2003, a photograph of the nocturnal sky was taken, where almost 2 years later, in January 2005, evidence was raised that there might be a 10th planet at the borders of our solar system: Eris, located in the Kuiper Belt and named after the Greek godess of discord. And discord it should be, because Eris as a planet is rather small and astronomers were arguing, whether it is a planet at all. The end of the story resulted in loosing another planet of the solar system. Pluto lost its status as a planet furthermore also be called only a 'dwarf planet'.

That Eris was discovered was mainly due to good luck after all. Using the 1200 mm Samuel Oschin telescope in California, Eris' image was taken in 2003 but due to the dwarf's very slow motion around the Earth it was not detected yet. The team used an image search software and programmed it to exclude all objects moving slower than 1.5 arcseconds per hour in order to reduce the number of false positives. Only a re-analysis could reveal Eris' existence in 2005.

Soon after its discovery, many research efforts have been accomplished in order to classify and specify the then unknown object. NASA initially described Eris as the tenth planet due to the fact that it may be larger than Pluto. However, the International Astronomical Union named a group of experts designated to find an exact definition for planets. As a result neither Eris nor Pluto could be classified as planets an from then on counted as 'dwarf planets'.

Eris depicts the most distant known natural object in our solar system. After many and long lasting discussions about its size, most scientists finally came to the conclusion that Eris has about the same size but is about 27% more massive than Pluto. Also its surface may be quite similar to Pluto's, after observations with the Gemini North Telescope located in Hawaii, astronomers revealed the presence of methane ice and measured the presumably grey appearing dwarf's temperature at about -243 to -217 degrees Celsius.

Another observation, also taking place in 2005 revealed that a moon is orbiting around Eris as well. It was called Dysnomia after the Greek goddess of lawlessness, who was also the daughter of Eris.

At yovisto you may enjoy the video lecture 'Pluto, Eris, and the Dwarf Planets of the Outer Solar System' by Mike Brown, one of Eris' discoverers.

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Christopher Wren and his Masterpiece - Saint Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral in 1896
On October 20, 1708, the construction of Sir Christopher Wren's famous Saint Paul's Cathedral was finished when the final stone was placed on its lantern. The Cathedral is dedicated to Paul the Apostle and depicts the fifth of its kind standing in London since 604 AD.

After the destruction of the old Saint Paul's Cathedral in 1666 during the Great Fire of London, Christopher Wren was assigned the task to design a replacement structure three years later. Wren was an experienced architect, who already designed more than fifty churches, but also a passionate scientists known for his major contributions to the fields of astronomy and physics.

Prior to the Great Fire, Wren had already begun working on the old Cathedral. He started designing additional interiors and already planned the construction of a dome in order to replace the old spire. The fire did not destroy the old Cathedral completely, but experts later decided to tear down the rest of the walls as well and start from the beginning.

Christopher Wren had to go through five stages of designing to find the model that was suitable. The first three he published, but later regretted this due to the many "incompetent judges". His first four designs included a Greek cross, with elements from the Renaissance, later Gothic and were strongly influenced by Wren's knowledge in astronomy. The final design was influenced by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and Francois Mansart's Val-de-Grace in Paris. This last attempt was finally accepted and the first stone beginning the construction was laid in 1675.

The construction of St. Paul's Cathedral was not easy, due to the clay soil which was difficult to work with. Wren had to make several changes in the overall design in order to guarantee the Cathedral's solidity. During the construction, many well known English artists and craftsmen were to decorate the Cathedral including Sir James Thornhill. His work on the dome of the Cathedral was to be his master piece he is now best known for and depicts eight scenes from the Life of Saint Paul executed in grisaille.

Many royal events took place in the Cathedral since its opening in 1708, such as Queen Elisabeth II celebrating her jubilees or her 80th birthday. Also you might remember the glorious wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles in 1981, which also took place in the Cathedral. Up to this day, St. Paul's Cathedral depicts a must see attraction to most tourists visiting London, bringing visitors from all over the world to amazement due to its glory and its extraordinary architecture.

At yovisto you can enjoy the lecture by Martin Stancliffe, surveyor to the fabric of St Paul's Cathedral due to its 300th anniversary.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Goethe Got Married

Thumbstone of Christiane von Goethe in Weimar,
@ Barnos, CC-by-sa 3.0/de
On October 19, 1806, the famous German writer, artist, and politician, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, finally got married with his mistress Christiane Vulpius after having lived together quasi-maritally since 1788, to the scandal of the ladies of Weimar and the vexation of Bettina von Arnim-Brentano.

Christiane Vulpius came from a poor family, allthough her father had studied law for a while. She was the one woman that should change the life of the most prominent writer of his age to become his wife and the mother of his children. And they should only meet by chance. Christiane Vulpius was a comely damsel of 23 years when they met, with golden curling locks, rosy cheeks, laughing eyes and a neatly rounded figure. She met Goethe on 12 July 1788 as she spoke to him to ask for help for her brother, who needed help as a starting writer. Goethe supported her brother and soon he and Christiane started a love affair. She had only little education, and he could not take her into society; but she was a good and loving wife, and her quick mother-wit fitted her for an intellectual companion. After a year their first child was born, a boy named August. Four other children followed, but they all died young.

Christiane lived with Goethe in his house in Weimar, buy the court and the society of Weimar disapproved of the liaison and he could not show her to the world. This changed only around 1806. After death of his close friend and colleague Friedrich Schiller Goethe lost for a time his interest in literature. It was the time of the Napoleonic wars, and within a year and a half the battle of Jena was fought, and Goethe's hometown Weimar was sacked by the French army. She managed to stop plundering french soldiers at the door of their house until Goethe had acquired the official protection of the French commander. It was probably the insecurity of life at this time which led him to marry the mother of his son, with whom he had been living for seventeen years -- or rather, should we say, the sense of insecurity led her to consent to the marriage, which she had before refused. They married a few days later at the Jakobskirche in Weimar. On Goethe's request Johanna Schopenhauer formally invited Christiane to tea to help introduce her to society.

Nothing in Goethe's life has been so misunderstood and misrepresented as his relations with Christiane Vulpius. She was always treated as a wife, and very much better than most wives, the two being united by bonds more indissoluble than those of the church. Christiane was from a much lower rank in society; but she understood Goethe's nature as no one else did. Christiane loved the theatre. She visited plays in Weimar as well as in other places. By 1815 her health was failing and in 1816 she died after a period of disease. She was buried at the Jakobskirchhof in Weimar, the very same church where the two got married. For a long time the location of her grave was unknown, but after researching old documents the location was rediscovered and a new stone was placed there.

At yovisto you can learn more about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the lecture given by Dr. Rudolf Kötter from Universität Erlangen about the famous argument of Goethe against Newtonian optics.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Charles Babbage - The Father of the Computer who hated Street Music

Drawing of Charles Babbage's famous Difference Engine
On October 18, 1871, Charles Babbage, mathematician, inventor and early computer scientist passed away. We think, everybody should know about Charles Babbage and his seminal work on the first mechanical universal computer, the Analytical Engine. Although the Analytical Engine never was build during his lifetime, due to the lack of according fine mechanics in the 19th century, Babbage sketched out everything necessary to construct and to program a universal computer.

Born in Teignmouth, Devonshire on December 26, 1791 as son of Benjamin Babbage, a fairly wealthy London banker, Charles Babbage suffered from many childhood illnesses, which forced his family to send him to a clergy operated school for special care. During his younger years, he received private tutoring from elite school teachers due to the wealth of his father. When he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1810, he was turned off by the sort of math that was taught, so together with his friend John Herschel, the later famous astronomer, he decided to form his own math group known as the Analytical Society who would apply scientific logic and thought to test mathematical ideas of the time. When, in 1812, Babbage transferred to Peterhouse, Cambridge, he was the best mathematician; but he failed to graduate with honours. He received an honorary degree later, without even being examinated, in 1814. By that time, Babbage worked as a mathematician, principally in the calculus of functions. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, in 1816, and played a prominent part in the foundation of the Astronomical Society (later Royal Astronomical Society) in 1820. From 1828 to 1839, Babbage was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge.

Charles Babbage
In the times of Babbage there was a really high error rate in the calculation of math tables, when Babbage planned to find a new method that could be use to make it mechanically, removing the human error factor. This idea started to tickle his brain very early, in 1812. Three different elements influenced him in this decision: he disliked untidiness and unprecision; he was very able with logarithmical tables; he was inspired from an existing work on calculating machines produced by Schickard, Pascal, and Leibniz. He discussed the main principles of a calculating engine in a letter he wrote to Sir Humphrey Davy in the early 1822. By that time Babbage began developing his Difference Engine, a mechanical device that could calculate and tabulate polynomial functions, but he was unable to complete it because of a lack of funding. The name 'Difference Engine' derives from the method of divided differences, a way to interpolate or tabulate functions by using a small set of polynomial coefficients. Both logarithmic and trigonometric functions, can be approximated by polynomials, so a difference engine can compute many useful sets of numbers for navigators and scientists.

Ada Augusta King
Countess of Lovelace
In the 1830s Babbage began developing his Analytical Engine, which was designed to carry calculations guided by a programming logic, but this device was never built. Babbage's book Economy of Machines and Manufactures (1832) initiated the field of study known today as operational research. Unfortunately, little remains of Babbage's prototype computing machines. Critical tolerances required by his machines exceeded the level of technology available at the time. And, though Babbage’s work was formally recognized by respected scientific institutions, the British government suspended funding for his Difference Engine in 1832. One year later Ada Augusta King, Countess of Lovelace, the only legitimate child of the famous poet Lord Byron, met Babbage and was fascinated with both him and his computers. She became a competent student of mathematics, which was most unusual for a woman at the time. It is often suggested that Ada was the world's first programmer.

Unfortunately, Babbage was never able to complete his Analytical Engine, and the concept was shelved and forgotten until 1937 when many of his unpublished notebooks were discovered. Finally, in 1991, British scientists got around to constructing a machine called Difference Engine No. 2 (accurate to 31 digits) built according to Babbage's detailed specifications.

According to the account of Lady Lovelace Babbage hated music. He tolerated its more exquisite forms, but abhorred it as practiced on the street. "Those whose minds are entirely unoccupied", he wrote with some seriousness in 1864, "receive [street music] with satisfaction, as filling up the vacuum of time". He calculated that 25% of his working power had been destroyed by street nuisances, many of them intentional. Letters to the Times and the eventual enforcement of "Babbage's Act", which would squelch street nuisances, made him the target of ridicule. Babbage also worked in the fields of philosophy and code-breaking, as well as campaigning for reform in British science. He died at his home in London on 18 October 1871.

Learn more about Charles Babbage and his work in the lecture of Prof. Doron Swade from Neukom Institute at Dartmouth College about 'Constructing Charles Babagge's Analytical Engine'.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Much More Powerful Than Expected - Kepler's Supernova

X-ray, Optical and Infrared Composite of Kepler's Supernova Remnant
On October 17, 1604, the famous German astronomer Johannes Kepler started his observations of the 1604 supernova, named after him as Kepler's Supernova or Kepler's Star. Special about this 'new' star was it being the very last observed supernova in our own galaxy, the milkyway.

The supernova was first observed on October 9, 1604, a few days before Kepler really looked at it. And 'looked at it' means that he was able to see it with his naked eyes without any telescope. The explosion of the star was so powerful and so bright, that it could be easily detected as one of the brightest objects in the sky for weeks. Getting technical here it is to be said, that SN 1604 had an apparent magnitude of -3, which is a little brighter than Jupiter's maximum brightness.

As you may might know, the brightness (as viewed from Earth) of a supernova is dependent on the mass of the original star, its distance from Earth and many other determinants. Information on the energy, released during the explosion give the supernova remnants and in the case of the Kepler Supernova, scientists around the globe are still researching on these matters, trying to find out what really happened during the explosion.

Researchers at NASA questioned the known facts on the supernova's remnant and worked out some untypical behavior using the Chandra X-ray Observatory. In the above picture you can see the X-ray images of the remnant, each color depicting different types of energy. According to these images, they previously concluded the supernova to be 'Type 1a', which usually appears after a white dwarf gains mass until becoming instable and is destroyed. So far so good, but very unusual here for this type of supernova is, that SN 1604's remnant is strongly assymmetrical. Through further studies of these interesting aspects, the researchers came thus to the conclusion that this supernova explosion was a lot more powerful and occurred at a much longer distance than previously assumed, the complete results are described in the September 1st, 2012 edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

But even though huge approaches in these fields of study have been achieved in the last years, not every detail of the event that occurred more than 400 years ago was exposed.

Learn more about supernovae in Prof. Charles Bailyn's lecture about 'Frontiers and Controversies in astrophysics' from Yale University.

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