Thursday, January 31, 2013

Franz Schubert - Misjudged Pioneer of the Romantic Music

Franz Schubert
(1797 - 1828)
On January 31, 1797, the Austrian composer Franz Schubert was born. Even though his many symphonies, operas and piano pieces were not highly appreciated during his lifetime, he was posthumously praised as one of the most important composers of the Romantic era in music.

Franz Schubert was the 13th of 16 children to Franz Theodor and Elisabeth Schubert and began his musical studies at the age of 5. His father taught him how to play the violin and the local chapel master taught him the organ. His talents as a singer were also early detected, wherefore he began his career at the orchestra of Vienna. His musical education increased during these years in the fields of singing and playing various instruments, to his influences belonged the music of Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or Antonio Salieri. He even began composing his first works at young age. When ending his official schooling and returning back to his family's home, the curious musician composed numerous works including the opera 'Des Teufels Lustschloß', but found no publishers. However, his social status grew and many friends of Schubert appreciated his works and talents, organizing musical events to his honor and financing his life since he had no regular income. 'Die Forelle' depicts an important lied of this period.

In the following years, Schubert was occupied with a few minor jobs, but basically broke after his return to Vienna. Also, the number of his musical accomplishments decreased even though he was able to develop his own style more and more. A little series of success set in, when his operas were being publicly performed and depicted a little break through for Schubert. Due to their success, he was able to publish further works, but when trying to compose further stage pieces, he failed. Also his health situation slowly began to worsen, he was known for his alcoholic excesses and later suffered from syphilis. Still, he managed to finish several works, like the famous song cycle 'Die schöne Müllerin' from 1823. Schubert spent the last years of his life writing and playing music with only modest success and passed away on November 19, 1828 at his brother's home.

Franz Schubert is often seen as one of the most misjudged musical geniuses, but also one of the most important of his period. Most of his works were written independently from his success or public appearance. Concerning public performances, Schubert counted as rather shy in contrast for Mozart or Beethoven. He produced a large amount of musical works, from which only a little part was actually published. Posthumously, many further pieces were published and depicted a great success, like his Symphony No. 9, performed by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy in Leipzig. Schubert counts as one of the founders of the romantic music, wherefore he was honored multiple times by the city of Vienna through monuments, streets, and plazas.

At yovisto you may enjoy a video lecture on Vienna, Franz Schubert and his accomplishments by Professor Christopher Hogwood including a demonstration of the Fantasy in F Minor, D. 940 for piano duet played by Florian Mitrea and Alexandra Vaduva.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Around the World in 80 Days

Jules Verne (1828-1905)
On January 30, 1873, Jules Verne's famous novel 'Around the World in 80 Days' (Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours) was published by Pierre-Jules Hetzel in Paris, France. It is one of Jules Verne's most acclaimed stories, where Phileas Fogg of London and his newly employed French valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager set by his friends at the London Reform Club.

Phileas Fogg lives at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens. He's a rich bachelor, around 40 years of age, but nobody knows his source of his fortune. Overall, Phileas Fogg always lives life in clockwork precision. One day at the London Reform Club, Phileas Fogg, Flanagan, Fallentin, and Sullivan are talking about a recent bank robbery. This conversation leads to a wager on  £20,000, where Fogg is quite sure he can travel around the world in eighty days, while Sullivan doesn't believe it can be done. Sullivan, Flanagan, and Fallentin think Fogg is not considering the unexpected. At the very same evening, Phileas Fogg is about to get on the train and start his expedition at 8:45 p.m. on Saturday 21 December 1872 together with his newly hired resourceful valet Jean Passepartout, who is caught unaware of the bet polishing shoes. Fogg tells Passepartout to pack only a few things, while everything else will be bought on the trip. The only luggage they will carry about is a carpet bag filled with £20,000.

This is the beginning of the fabulous plot and from now on we see how Phileas Fogg travels around the world and we witness the amazing adventures that he has together with his companions. While disembarking in Egypt, he is spotted by a dilligent Scotland Yard detective named Fix, who has been despatched from London in search of a bank robber. Because Fogg matches the description of the bank robber, Fix mistakenly believes Fogg to be the criminal. But since it is impossible to secure a warrant in time, Fix goes on board the steamer crossing the Suez Canal directed to Bombay. During the voyage, Fix gets acquainted with Passepartout, but does not reveal his purpose for following them on the journey. Passepartout and Fogg have no idea about Fix's true intentions, who wants to get Fogg back to England so that he can arrest him.
Map of the trip in Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
On his way in India Phileas Fogg learns about the barbaric practice of 'Suttee', i.e. burning of a woman after the death of her husband. The designated victim Aouda is an educated lady, who was married against her will to the old Rajah of Bundelkund. But, Phileas Fogg decides to save the woman and succeeds to abduct her by tricking the guards. Aouda and Fogg eventually fall in love and marry at the end of the book. The threesome visit Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, and the Wild West. Only hours short of winning his wager, Fogg is arrested by Inspector Fix. Though exonerated of the bank robbery charges, he seems to have lost everything, but the story continues...

Actually, in 1872 Thomas Cook, inventor of the travel agency business, organised the first around the world tourist trip, leaving on 20 September 1872 and returning seven months later, which probably served as a spark for the idea of the book. Several years later, in 1889, journalist Nellie Bly undertook to travel around the world in 80 days for her newspaper, the New York World. She managed to do the journey within 72 days, meeting Verne himself in Amiens. Her own book about the trip, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, also became a best seller.

At yovisto you can watch a very early movie adaption of one of Jule Verne's best known books 'La voyage dans la lune' (A trip to the moon) from George Melies produced in 1902.

References and Further Reading:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Karl Benz and his Automobile Vehicle

Carl Benz
(1844 - 1929)
On January 29, 1886, German engineer and entrepreneur Karl Benz patented the first successful gasoline-driven automobile.

Karl Friedrich Benz was born as Karl Friedrich Michael Vaillant into a family of a locomotive driver and a maid - the couple married a few month after Carl's birth - and after his father passed away two years later, his mother had to work hard to finance Karl's education. He attended a school popular for its nature science classes and later continued his education at the Poly-Technical University of Karlsruhe. After focussing on locksmithing, Benz decided to go into locomotive engineering and developed his early concepts for the horseless carriage shortly after. In the early 1870's, Benz launched the Iron Foundry and Mechanical Workshop in Mannheim along with August Ritter, but after a rough start their machines were impounded and only Bertha, Karl's later wife could rescue the company with financial aid through buying Ritter's shares.

Even though their business start was critical concerning financial issues, Karl Benz was able to push the development of engines forward, especially focusing on a petrol two-stroke engine, which was finished on New Years Eve in 1878. The curious inventor was able to patent the engine and its design as well as speed regulation systems, the water radiator, the gear shirt and further features needed to succeed on the market.

Because of the financial struggles, the Benz' had to transfer their business into a stock company with the effect that most members of the supervisory board disliked his new ideas and inventions if they were not obviously financially promising. Shortly after, Benz left the company founding Benz & Cie. Rheinische Gasmotorenfabrik Mannheim in the early 1880's, which became the world's biggest factory for automobiles until 1900. After further difficulties, Benz again left the business founding 'Carl Benz Söhne'.

Benz's difficulties not only were not only restricted to financial issues, but also concerned the general public, which confronted Benz' company with mockery and contempt for his wagons without horses. Nevertheless, Benz worked continuously on the advancement of his technologies. Times of upheaval set in, when Bertha Benz drove von Mannheim to Pforzheim without her husband knowing with the Patent-Motorwagen Nr. 3. She arrived after 12 hours and caused a great public attention convincing the people of Benz' new developments. But this is a whole different story...

At yovisto, you may enjoy the video cast on Carl Benz and his achievements.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Gustav Eiffel and his famous Tower

Eiffel Tower
March 1889
On January 28, 1887, French engineer Gustave Eiffel started construction work of his famous eponymous Tower in Paris. Finished 26 months later in March 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World's Fair, it has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. Until today, the tower is the tallest structure in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world; 7.1 million people ascended it in 2011.

When plans were first unveiled to build the structure for the 1889 World's Fair, the design was severely criticized by reknown intellectuals and artists. Gustave Eiffel's monument to mark the centenary of the French Revolution became a rather controversial subject in Parisian society. A group headed by such prominent nineteenth-century writers as Guy de Maupassant and Alexandre Dumas, as well as the architect of the old opera, Charles Garnier, lodged a formal complaint against the proposed plan, calling the design a disgraceful skeleton . . . "a gigantic factory chimney whose form will disfigure the architectural harmony of the city."

However, studies of the project began in 1884 and for the contest more than 100 artists submitted competing plans for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars to serve as the world exposition’s entrance. The commission finally was granted to Eiffel et Compagnie, a consulting and construction firm owned by the acclaimed bridge builder, architect and metals expert Gustave Eiffel. While Eiffel himself often receives full credit for the monument that bears his name, it was one of his employees, a structural engineer named Maurice Koechlin, who came up with and fine-tuned the concept.

When the tower opened to the public in May, 1889, it was an instant success. Eiffel was able to reimburse his creditors within one year, just through the admission ticket receipts from the 1,868,000 visitors. Tickets cost 2 francs for the first level, 3 for the second and 5 for the top, with half-price admission on Sundays. Twenty years later, however, the lease for the land expired, and Eiffel lost control of his tower to the City of Paris. The land was too valuable for such a frivolous structure, according to city council, and plans were made to turn the tower into scrap metal. This also happened to all the other iron buildings built for the exposition. Fortunately for the Eiffel Tower, the First World War came along, and the tower was transformed into a military radio and telegraph centre. In the opening weeks of the First World War, powerful radio transmitters were fitted to the tower in order to jam German communications. This seriously hindered their advance on Paris, and contributed to the Allied victory at the First Battle of the Marne. Thus, the tower's lease was renewed for another 70 years, and the tourists continued to flock to the structure.

Actually, the Eiffel Tower remained the highest building on earth until 1930 the Chrysler Building in New York was erected. From the ground to the flagpole its height was 312,27 meters in 1889, whereas it is today, 324 meters high with antennae. The height of the Eiffel Tower varies by 15 cm due to temperature.Different French television companies install their antennae right on top of the tower. The tower is built from puddled iron erected with a crossbar system made of 18.038 pieces and fixed with 2.500.000 rivets. Despite its size, the tower only weighs 7,300 tons. If you ever visit Paris and decide to climb the Eiffel tower by foot, you will have to conquer 1665 steps. Maintenance of the tower includes applying 50 to 60 tonnes of paint every seven years to protect it from rust. Overall, more than 200,000,000 people have already visited the tower since its construction in 1889.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by John Merriman of Yale University. His talk on 'Paris and the Belle Époque' is part of the lecture series 'France since 1871'. The Belle Èpoque, which the Eiffel Tower was built in depicted a period of optimism, peace, new technologies and scientific discoveries in France and especially Paris, ending with the beginning of World War I.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lewis Carroll - Mathematician and Creator of the Wonderland

Lewis Carroll
1832 - 1898
On January 27, 1832, British mathematician, photographer, and children's book author Lewis Carroll, creator of the stories about 'Alice in Wonderland', was born.

The English all round talented Carroll was first home schooled and confronted with challenging works like 'The Pilgrim´s Progress' - a Christian allegory written by John Bunyan, regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature - from early years on. When being transferred to grammar school he could glance with his intellect as well as from the first day on when attending Oxford College. After graduating, the brilliant mathematician stayed at the Christ Church for teaching and studying. To his favored mathematical fields belonged matrix algebra, geometry, or logic. He was able to publish several mathematical books and developed Dodgson's method (an improved voting method).

But despite his life as a mathematician, Carroll was enjoying the company of artists like Scottish poet George MacDonald or Preraphaelite painters Arthur Hughes and William Holman Hunt, influencing and motivating him to his own creative works he quickly became known for in his social circles.

From early years on, Carroll was fascinated by poetry and even published his own writings often with satirical and humorous content. His fame first grew when his romantic poem 'Solitude' was published in 1856 and in the same year his inspirations for 'Alice´s Adentures in Wonderland' began after meeting Henry Liddell at Christ Church. His family became a great part of Carroll's life and especially his daughter, Alice Liddell evolved a good friendship with the author. On a trip with Liddell's children, Carroll began inventing and writing down a story he would name 'Alice´s Adventures Under Ground'. Even though he denied it later on, it is assumed that Alice's character in the story is leaned on Liddell's daughter. However, his story was published in 1865 and caused instant success to the author. But Alice's stories were not to stay his only creative success, the poem 'The Hunting of the Snark' was able to increase Carroll's fame and his photographies gained popularity as well. During his photographer career, he was able to make portraits of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Michael Faraday, Julia Margaret Cameron, and many more.

Lewis Carroll continued his creative works as well as his work at the Christ Church almost until his death. His success remained after his passing and he is remembered by the lovers of his works not only for Alice's stories, but also for poems like 'Jabberwocky', one of the greatest nonsense poems ever written:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Lewis Carroll, 1871

At yovisto you may enjoy the video lecture 'Carroll in Numberland' at Oxford University.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Arthur Cayley and the Love for Pure Mathematics

Arthur Cayley (1821-1895)
On January 26, 1895, British mathematician Arthur Cayley passed away. He was the first to define the concept of a group in the modern way and helped to found the modern British school of pure mathematics.

Arthur Cayley was born in Richmond, London, England, on 16 August 1821 to his father Henry Cayley, a descended from an ancient Yorkshire family, who settled in Saint Petersburg, Russia, as a merchant. Arthur spent his first eight years in Saint Petersburg before his parents were settled permanently at Blackheath, near London in 1829. Arthur was sent to a private school. He early showed great liking for, and aptitude in, numerical calculation. At age 14 he was sent to King's College School. The school's master observed indications of mathematical genius and advised that Arthur be encouraged to pursue his studies in this area rather than follow his father's wishes to enter the family business as merchants.

Thus, at the unusually early age of 17 Cayley began residence at Trinity College, Cambridge. Still as an undergraduate at the age of twenty, Cayley already published three papers in the Cambridge Mathematical Journal, on subjects which had been suggested by reading the Mécanique analytique of Lagrange and some of the works of Laplace. Cayley's tutor at Cambridge was George Peacock and his private coach was William Hopkins. He finished his undergraduate course by winning the place of Senior Wrangler, and the first Smith's prize. His next step was to take the M.A. degree, and win a Fellowship by competitive examination. He continued to reside at Cambridge for four years; during which time he took some pupils, but his main work was the preparation of 28 memoirs to the Mathematical Journal.

A Cambridge fellowship had a limited tenure so Cayley had to find a profession. He chose law and was admitted to the bar in 1849. He spent 14 years as a lawyer but Cayley, although very skilled in conveyancing (his legal speciality), always considered it as a means to make money so that he was able to pursue mathematics. His friend the mathematician James Joseph Sylvester, his senior by five years at Cambridge, was then an actuary, resident in London. They used to walk together round the courts of Lincoln's Inn, discussing the theory of invariants and covariants. During this period of his life, extending over fourteen years, Cayley produced between two and three hundred papers.

At age 42 Cayley was appointed to a newly created Sadleirian professorship on 'the principles of pure mathematics' at Cambridge and he He gave up a lucrative practice for a modest salary. He at once married and settled down in Cambridge. He published over 900 papers and notes covering nearly every aspect of modern mathematics. The most important of his work is in developing the algebra of matrices, work in non-euclidean geometry and n-dimensional geometry. As early as 1849 Cayley published a paper linking his ideas on permutations with the French mathematician Augustin-Louis Cauchy's, followed by two papers which are remarkable for the insight they have of abstract groups. At that time the only known groups were permutation groups and even this was a radically new area, yet Cayley defines an abstract group and gives a table to display the group multiplication. He gives the 'Cayley tables' of some special permutation groups but, much more significantly for the introduction of the abstract group concept, he realised that matrices and quaternions were groups. Cayley developed the theory of algebraic invariance, and his development of n-dimensional geometry has been applied in physics to the study of the space-time continuum. His work on matrices served as a foundation for quantum mechanics. Cayley also suggested that euclidean and non-euclidean geometry are special types of geometry. He united projective geometry and metrical geometry which is dependent on sizes of angles and lengths of lines.

Cayley was awarded numerous honours, including the Copley Medal in 1882 by the Royal Society. He served as the president of the BMS (British Association for the Advancement of Science), the Cambridge Philosophical Society, the London Mathematical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society. On January 26, 1895, Cayley passed away due to natural causes.

At yovisto you can learn more about the work of Arthur Cayley in a presentation of Prof. Cheryl Praeger from the University of Western Australia) on 'Regular permutation groups and Cayley graphs'.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Henry IV and his Walk to Canossa

Henry at the gate of Canossa, by August von Heyden
On January 25, 1077, Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV arrived at the gates of the fortress at Canossa in Emilia Romagna beyond the Alpes to declare atonement and to pledge for forgiveness from Pope Gregory VII, who had excommunicated Henry earlier from church. Henry's act of penance became known as the “Walk to Canossa” (German: Gang nach Canossa). It took wisdom, patience, and self-restraint. It was also a brilliant strategy because he basically forced the Pope to forgive him.

Konrad was the long desired first son of the emperor Henry III and Agnes von Poitou, he was baptized a few months after his birth and from then on called Heinrich (Henry). His father experienced several problems with the empire's leaders due to their fear to lose power and authority. The young successor to the throne became King in 1054 and was engaged to Bertha von Turin in the following year. When Henry III passed away in 1056, his son was to follow his footsteps, but due to him being a child of only six years, Agnes von Poitou took over all governing tasks with the help of Pope Viktor II. Her regency was fulfilled with distrust and various rumors concerning her relationship with the Bishop of Augsburg. In 1062, the young King was kidnapped followed by the change of power to Anno II of Cologne. Only four years later, Henry IV. was finally declared of age. He married Bertha of Turin and in concerns of governmental issues, he attempted to make the national boundaries stronger while reducing the opposition. He struggled against the Lutici and Otto of Nordheim, the duke of Bavaria. Rumors spread that the duke plotted against Henry IV. wherefore he was deposed from Bavaria.

During the reign of Henry's father, the church's reformation was being planned and the Tuscan monk Hildebrand ascended papacy as Gregory VII in 1073. Gregory VII's and Henry IV's interests moved apart, resulting in growing tensions between the Church and the Empire. Henry continued to interfere in Italy and Germany while Gregory excommunicated several members of the Imperial Court threatening to do so with Henry as well. During Christmas 1075, Gregory was kidnapped and imprisoned, which he put on Henry's account and in the following year, Gregory VII was deposed on the behalf of Henry followed by the excommunication of the king. Henry decided to move to Italy and crossed the Alps barefooted and only dressed with a hairshirt. After reaching Pavia, Gregory hid in the castle of Canossa with Henry's troops not far away. Henry was about to perform the penance to Gregory, assuring his continued rule, but when he reached Canossa they were refused entry. It was delivered that Henry stood outside the gates for three full days, fasting and freezing. On the third day, the gates of Canossa finally opened and Henry knelt before Pope Gregory, who invited him back into the church right after. The end of Henry's excommunication was declared and he was able to return to the empire.

The saying 'Going to Canossa' from then on refers to the act of penance used numerous times in history. However, for Henry not everything turned out so well afterwards. Even though he was restored in Church, he did not receive the right to the throne and he was forced into civil war with Duke Rudolph of Swabia resulting in a further excommunication against Henry. Henry won the civil war and forced Gregory to flee. Henry IV. passed away on August 7, 1106 and was succeeded by his son Henry V.

At yovisto, you may enjoy the speech 'Render unto Caesar: Church and state and the Walk to Canossa' by David Daintree sharing his thoughts on the relationship between the Church and the state in the modern world.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Macintosh 128K making history with George Orwell

The Macintosh 128K
On January 24, 1984, Steve Jobs presented the the very first Macintosh, which became the first commercially successful personal computer with a mouse and a graphical user interface to the public.

Although the 128K was not Apple Inc,'s first computer on the market, it depicted a milestone. The Apple I was released in 1976, it was sold as a motherboard and would not fulfill today's requirements for the term 'personal computer', but just one year later, the Apple II glanced at the market with its cell based color graphics, its open architecture and the introduction of the floppy disk drive rivaling the TRS-80 and Commodore PET. Back then Apple faced a great start into their first sells due to the programm 'VisiCalc', a spreadsheet programm developed for the computer, making Apple computers suitable in people's homes as in offices for serious calculations.

Another milestone set the computer 'Lisa' by the Apple company. It depicted the first computer to feature a mouse as well as a graphical user interface and icons, the development was highly influenced by Xerox and up to this day it is not clear how big their influence actually was. However, Lisa's technological improvements and its great usability were not of much use since the computer cost US$9,995 in 1983, when it was released. Unfortunately, the business success of Lisa failed to appear, but the company released the Macintosh 128K just one year later.

Historical was not only the computer itself, but also the way it was presented. Apple chose the famous Superbowl commercials as the right platform to present a commercial that definitely stayed in peoples minds. It starts with a dystopic setting and a line of people marching through a monitored tunnel. Contrasts are used to emphasize the brightly colored runner wearing a cubist picture of the Macintosh carrying a large hammer while being chased by police men. Racing towards a huge screen showing 'Big Brother' giving a speech, she smashes the hammer right into the screen destroying it completely, while 'Big Brother' shouts "We shall prevail!". The commercial ends with a voiceover and a scolling text saying "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984".  The allusion to George Orwell's 1984 overwhelmed the viewers and was hailed by the advertizing industry as a masterpiece winning numerous awards. However, the television commercial and Steve Job's demonstration two days later paved the way for a great commercial success of the company and its competitive position on the market.

But besides the special attention the Macintosh 128K received due to the commercial, it also came with many technical features guaranteeing its success. The improved graphical interface used the metaphor of a desktop and files appearing like paper sheets as well as the ability to drag and drop files into the 'trash can'. More accessories on the desktop depicted a calculator, notepad and alarm clock which could be placed as desired. The machine was equipped with a Motorola 68000 microprocessor connected to 128 kB DRAM by a 16-bit data bus as well as with a 400kB 3.5 inch single sided flobby disk drive. The Macintosh 128K was sold about 70,000 times by May 1984 and superseded by the Macintosh 512K.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video demonstrating the Macintosh Computer in San Francisco.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ernst Abbe - Brilliant Engineer and Courageous Social Reformer

Ernst Abbe
(1840 - 1905)
On January 23, 1840, German physicist, optometrist, entrepreneur, and social reformer Ernst Abbe was born. Together with Otto Schott and Carl Zeiss, he laid the foundation of modern optics. As a co-owner of Carl Zeiss AG, a German manufacturer of research microscopes, astronomical telescopes, planetariums and other optical systems, Abbe developed numerous optical instruments.

Abbe was born in Eisenach in 1840 and was lucky to be financially supported by his father's boss, who guaranteed him a modest education. The young Abbe was talented in nature sciences wherefore he was able to attend the University of Jena and the University of Göttingen. After studying, he was occupied at the observatory in Göttingen and later began his career in physics at Frankfurt and Jena. He became director of the observatory of Jena and a member of the 'Academy of Sciences'.

In 1866, Carl Zeiss, back then the university's mechanic, invited Abbe to help him constructing a scientific microscope and after some difficulties at the beginning, both engineers were able to critically improve the microscopes they built and from then on, Ernst Abbe began his career as Zeiss' partner. However, next to the partnership with Carl Zeiss, Ernst Abbe also became famous for his publications in thermodynamics, mechanics and various theories on optics. Abbe constructed the very first refractometer, he was responsible for developing the 'Abbe number' and defining the term 'numerical aperture' as well as for the discovery of microscope's  resolution limits.

Abbe's work with Carl Zeiss not only made him famous, but also wealthy. After Zeiss's death, Abbe founded the Carl Zeiss Foundation and became highly active in concerns of social and political issues. He supported the social democrats, introduced the 8 hour working day and supported the freedom of assembly. Abbe depicted one of the founders of a newspaper, attempting to distribute politically independent news, wherefore he was loved by his employees as well as the general public of Jena.

Ernst Abbe was appreciated as a brilliant engineer and a courageous social and political reformer in Germany. He was honored numerous times through monuments, the lunar crater 'Abbe' was named after him and the Ernst Abbe Foundation was developed. He passed away on January 14, 1905 in Jena.

At yovisto, you may enjoy the video lecture 'Optical Instruments' by Jerzy Wrobel.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wicked Lord Byron's Wonderful Poetry

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824).
painted by Thomas Philipps, 1824
On January 22, 1788, George Gordon Noel Byron, 6. Baron Byron of Rochdale, commonly known simply as Lord Byron, English poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement was born. I remember to have learned about Lord Byron back at school with his lengthy narrative poems like Childe Harold's Pilgrimage or the shorter and much more beautiful poem "She Walks in Beauty". Anyway, Byron is considered one of the greatest British poets and remains widely read and influential today.

Byron was the son of Captain John "Mad Jack" Byron and his second wife, the former Catherine Gordon. Byron's father had previously seduced the married Marchioness of Caermarthen and, after she divorced her husband, he married her. His treatment of her was described as "brutal and vicious", and she died after having given birth to two daughters, only one of whom survived: Byron's half-sister, Augusta Leigh. Byron suffered from a deformity of his right foot. He was extremely self-conscious about this from a young age, nicknaming himself le diable boiteux (French for "the limping devil"). He spent his early childhood years in poor surroundings in Aberdeen, where he was educated until he was ten. When Byron's great-uncle, the "wicked" Lord Byron, died on 21 May 1798, the 10-year-old boy became the 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale and inherited the ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, in Nottinghamshire, and went on to Cambridge, where he piled up debts and aroused alarm with bisexual love affairs. Staying at Newstead in 1802, he probably first met his half-sister, Augusta with whom he was later suspected of having an incestuous relationship.

In 1807 Byron's first collection of poetry, Hours Of Idleness appeared. The poems were savagely attacked by Henry Brougham in the Edinburgh Review. Byron replied with the publication of his satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers in 1809. In 1809 he took his seat in the House of Lords, and set out on his grand tour, where he visited Spain, Malta, Albania and Greece. His poetical account of this grand tour, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812), an exotic travelogue spiced with romantic disillusionment, earned Byron instant glory and established him as one of England's leading poets. The first edition was sold out in three days only. Byron was renowned for his personal beauty, which he enhanced by wearing curl-papers in his hair at night. He was athletic, being a competent boxer and horse-rider and an excellent swimmer. While his fame was spreading,Byron was busy shocking London high society by starting an affair with Lady Caroline Lamb and was ostracized when he was suspected of having a sexual relationship with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, who gave birth to an illegitimate daughter.

In 1814, Byron's The Corsair, sold incredible 10,000 copies on the first day of publication. He was married to Annabella Millbanke in January 1815, and she gave birth to their daughter Ada in December, but left him in January 1816, obtaining legal separation. Rumours concerning the cause of their separation centred around Byron’s relations with his half sister Augusta Leigh, though it seems clear that the proximate cause was Annabella’s revelation to her nursery governess that Byron had practised sodomy on her. After the separation, Byron went abroad, never returning to England again. He was now the most famous exile in Europe. After visiting the battlefield of Waterloo, Byron journeyed to Switzerland. At the Villa Diodati, near Geneva, he was on friendly terms with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his entourage, which included Shelley's wife Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Claire Clairmont, who had begun an affair with Byron before he left England. At the end of the summer the Shelley party left for England, Claire carrying Byron’s illegitimate daughter. A tour of the Bernese Oberland with Hobhouse provided the scenery for Manfred, a Faustian poetic drama that reflected Byron’s brooding sense of guilt and remorse.

In April 1823 the London Greek Committee contacted Byron with a view to acting as its agent in helping the Greeks with their War of Independence from the Ottomans, which Byron immediately accepted. Arriving in Greece, he used £4000 (about £200,000 in modern terms) of his own funds to enable part of the Greek fleet to relieve Missolonghi, which was in a state of blockade, then sailed for Missolonghi himself in December, joining enthusiastically in the plans to attack the Turkish held fort at Lepanto. But in February he had a fit and on April 19, 1824 he died. His body was embalmed. The heart was removed and buried in Missolonghi, and his remains were then sent to England, and buried near Newstead Abbey, having been refused burial in Westminster Abbey.

At yovisto you may enjoy the two part video lecture by Tim McGee talking about Lord Byron and English Romanticism in general.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

George Orwell's Opposition to Totalitarism

George Orwell (1903-1950)
On January 21, 1950, British novelist and journalist Eric Arthur Blair, better known under his pen name George Orwell, passed away. The author of the famous dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and his works are well known for the awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and belief in democratic socialism.

For sure you will have heart of George Orwell. Even a computer scientist like me in his ivory tower cannot help but admit that George Orwell is one of the few authors he definitely knows. And this is not only because his 'Animal Farm' or '1984' have been part of curriculum at school. But most times, we know nothing more of George Orwell himself, but his name and that he was the author of the referenced famous novels. George Orwell was born as Eric Arthur Blair on 25 June 1903, in Motihari, Bihar, in India into a family of the "lower-upper-middle class". His father, Richard Walmesley Blair, worked in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. His mother, Ida Mabel Blair (née Limouzin), grew up in Moulmein, Burma, where her French father was involved in speculative ventures.When Eric was one year old, his mother took him and his two sister to England. At the age of five, Eric was sent as a day-boy to a convent school in Henley-on-Thames. It was a Roman Catholic convent run by French Ursuline nuns, who had been exiled from France after religious education was banned in 1903.

His mother wanted him to have a public school education, but his family could not afford the fees, and he needed to earn a scholarship. Ida Blair's brother Charles Limouzin recommended St Cyprian's School, Eastbourne, East Sussex. The headmaster undertook to help Blair to win the scholarship, and made a private financial arrangement that allowed Blair's parents to pay only half the normal fees. In September 1911 Eric arrived at St Cyprian's and stayed there for the next five years, returning home only for school holidays. Blair hated the school and many years later wrote an essay "Such, Such Were the Joys", published posthumously, based on his time there. At St. Cyprian's, Blair first met Cyril Connolly, who became a noted writer and, as the editor of Horizon, published many of Orwell's essays. In 1917, Eric moved to Eton, where he was a King's Scholar from 1917 to 1921. Reports of his academic performance at Eton vary: some claim he was a poor student, others deny this. It is clear that he was disliked by some of his teachers, who resented what they perceived as disrespect for their authority. In any event, during his time at the school Eric made lifetime friendships with a number of future British intellectuals.

After finishing his studies at Eton, Eric had no further prospect of gaining a university scholarship and his family's means also were insufficient to pay his tuition. Thus, he decided to join the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. There, Blair soon acquired a reputation as an outsider spending most of his time alone and reading. He resigned and returned to England in 1928 having grown to hate imperialism as can be observed by his novel Burmese Days, published in 1934, and essays as 'A Hanging', and 'Shooting an Elephant'. In 1933, he adopted his pen name George Orwell while writing for the New Adelphi. He chose a pen name that stressed his deep, lifelong affection for the English tradition and countryside: George is the patron saint of England, while the River Orwell in Suffolk was one of his most beloved English sites.

A proponent for socialism, Orwell now wanted to write for the ‘common man’ and purposefully lived as a tramp in London and the Home Counties and stayed with miners in the north. He learned of the disparity between the classes and came to know a life of poverty and hardship amongst beggars and thieves. His study of the under-classes in general would provide the theme for many of his works to follow. In 1932 Blair was a teacher for a time before moving to Hampstead, London to work in a bookstore. In 1936 Orwell was commissioned by Victor Gollancz to produce a documentary account of unemployment in the north of England for his Left Book Club. The Road to Wigan Pier established Orwell as one of Britain's leading writers and marked a high point in literary journalism. When Spanish civil war broke out, Orwell and his wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy, who got married a year before, both wanted to fight for the Spanish government against Francisco Franco’s Nationalist uprising. While on the front at Huesca in Aragon Orwell was shot in the throat by “a Fascist sniper”. In Barcelona he joined the anti-Stalinist Spanish Trotskyist Party of Marxist Unification. When the communists partly gained control, many of Orwell's friends were arrested, shot, or disappeared. He and Eileen barely escaped with their lives in 1937.

In August 1941 Orwell began work for the Eastern Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). His main task was to write the scripts for a weekly news commentary on the Second World War. In 1945, he finished writing one of his most popular books, Animal Farm, which was a satire in fable form of the communist revolution in Russia. The book, heavily influenced by his experiences of the way communists behaved during the Spanish Civil War, upset many of his left-wing friends. Although Orwell's health was now steadily falling apart, he started work on his famous Nineteen Eighty-four. Published in 1949, this book is an elaborate satire on modern politics, uncovering the corrupt morals of humans foretelling a world in which humans are made less than human in a world where citizens are at the mercy of the state's absolute control.

At yovisto you can learn more about George Orwell in the BBC documentary 'George Orwell: A Life in Pictures'.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

André-Marie Ampère and Electromagnetism

AndréMarie Ampére
(1775 - 1836)
On January 20, 1775, French physicist and mathematician André-Marie Ampère was born, after whom the SI unit of measurement of electric current, the ampere, is named. He is generally considered as one of the main founders of the science of classical electromagnetism, which he referred to as "electrodynamics".

André-Maria Ampère was born into a well educated family and influenced by the theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau early. He was home schooled by his father, who rejected public schooling and passionately taught his son with Denis Diderot or Jean le Rond d'Alembert’s Encyclopédie. Ampère once described his education (referring to himself in the third person) as: "His father, who had never ceased to cultivate Latin and French literature, as well as several branches of science, raised him himself in the country near the city where he was born. He never required him to study anything, but he knew how to inspire in him a desire to know. Before being able to read, the young Ampère's greatest pleasure was to listen to passages from Buffon's natural history." He submitted his first work on solving the problem of constructing a line of the same length as an arc of a circle to the Académie de Lyon at the age of 13, but it was not published. The young polymath also grew his interest in history, poetry, philosophy, as well as natural science.

The French Revolution depicted a decisive event for Ampère, since his father was guillotined by the Jacobines after taking over the government in 1792. André-Marie Ampère was devastated and quit his studies for over a year, until he met Julie Carron, whom he felt in love with and he finally began his first job as a mathematical teacher. Unfortunately, Carron did not develop the same feelings for him at first, instead she mentioned that "He has no manners; he is awkward, shy and presents himself poorly." Nevertheless, they married shortly after and everything began to work out for the young scientist since their son was born soon and he was appointed professor of physics and chemistry at Bourg École Centrale. The happiness did not last very long, since Julie became seriously ill. Still he mastered to accomplish several goals in the field of mathematics and earned himself a reputation that was at least good enough to financially take care of himself and his son after Julie passed away.

In the following years, André-Marie Ampère was occupied at the Ècole Polytechnique and later the Université de France while researching in mathematics, metaphysics, physics and chemistry. He made important publishings on the theory of light before combining theories of electricity and magnetism in the early 1820's. Inspired by Christian Ørsted, who demonstrated that a magnetic needle is deflected by an adjacent electric current, Ampère began researching on both theories and their dependencies on his own.

The fundamental ideas for electrodynamics were set when Ampère began demonstrating that two wires in a parallel position that carried electric currents would either attract or repel each other. However, Ampère's most important and most influential work was published in 1826. It was made public under the name 'Memoir on the Mathematical Theory of Electrodynamic Phenomena, Uniquely Deduced from Experience' and described four experiments and a mathematical explanation of the electrodynamic force law. It became one of the most inspiring contributions to the sciences of electricity and magnetism, which influenced not only Michael Faraday, but also William Thomson and James Clerk Maxwell and numerous physicists of the future.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture on Ampere's Law at Yale University by Prof. Dr. Ramamurti Shankar.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Paul Cézanne - Breaking all the Rules

Paul Cézanne
(1839 - 1906)
On January 19, 1839, French artist and Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne was born. He laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th-century conception of artistic endeavour to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Thus, Cézanne can be said to bridge between late 19th-century Impressionism and the early 20th century's Cubism.

Paul Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence and attended the Collége Bourbon along with the writer-to-be Èmile Zola and the prospective engineer Jean Baptiste Baille, who he evolved a great friendship with, discovering the works of Homer, Vergil and discussing various arts together. As his father wished, Cézanne began studying law to be able to take over his fathers bank 'Cézanne & Cabassol' in the future, but also increased his interest as well as his abilities in drawing and poetry writing while secretly taking lessons at an evening school.

After a dissappointing beginning in Paris around the year 1858 and a return to his home town, Cézanne gave it another try and enrolled into the 'Académie Suisse' getting to know Pissarro, Claude Monet, and Alfred Sisley. Against the prevailing artistic trends, Cézanne favored realistic paintings, influenced by Gustave Courbets. Due to these facts, the young artist was not allowed to exhibit his works at the famous 'Salon de Paris' why Napoleon III. evolved the 'Salon des Refusés' for artists like him not following the classical style of Ingres. Representative works of this so called 'dark-period' depict 'The Murder' or 'The Rape'.

In the early 1870's, Cézanne followed Pissarro's invitation to Pontiose, where the friend convinced him to use brighter colors and also showed him several new techniques, which led Cézanne to impressionism. Important in this dicisive period Cézanne's was 'Jas de Bouffan' from 1876. When Claude Monet planned his own exhibition, he wanted to support the young impressionists, whose works were not welcome in the 'Salon de Paris', Cézanne also presented his paintings but was instead mocked by critics and further artists. Paul Cézanne was far from being accepted in the artist community and found himself in financial difficulties in the 1880's, when he began working in Marseille and creating his first works anticipating cubism.

The first upheaval came in 1895, when the gallery owning Ambroise Vollard supported Cézanne with his first solo exhibition, where he was able to sell several works and his reputation as well as his financial situation began to rapidly increase.

Paul Cézanne passed away in 1906, but his paintings are remembered up to this day in various exhibitions. In 2007, his paintings were honored in an entire exhinition dedicated to Cézanne as a fore thinker of modern painting and an early influencer of cubism. He was able to inspire, Picasso, Braque, and Gris to find new ways of experimenting with complex perspectives and forms.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture on post-impressionism and the representing artist Paul Cézanne by Dr. Parme Giuntini.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Montesquieu and the Separation of Powers

(1689 - 1755)
On January 18, 1698, French philosopher and political thinker Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, generally only referred to as Montesquieu, was born. He is best known for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, which is taken for granted in modern discussions of government and implemented in many constitutions throughout the world.

Even though, Montesquieu's real date of birth is unknown, the offspring of the wealthy noble family was baptized on January 18, 1698 which is now referred to as his birthday. However, he was able to receive a classical education in Latin, mathematics, history and began writing his first literature pieces during his time at a renowned boarding school near Paris. In the early 1700's, the young Montesquieu studied law and quickly began his promising career in Bordeaux. But law was not the only scientific field he was interested in. He also worked on theories concerning national debt and joined the Academy of Bordeaux, a community of academics, writers and other intellectuals, where he composed several writings and gave a few lectures on religion and its power to moralize a country's masses. Montesquieu became internationally famous for the first time in 1721 for his novel 'Lettres persanes', which reflected the major ideas of the Age of Enlightenment. Another successful novel by Montesquieu was 'Le Temple de Gnide', published four years later and translated into numerous languages. Both works suffered from censorship.

Montesquieu began turning his back to his judical office and began dedicating his life to the 'Académie française', one of the institutes with the most prestige in France, a place for intellectuals in various fields. He also began travelling through Europe until 1731. When Montesquieu finally settled in is home town La Brède, he began writing an publishing his most influential works, like the 'De l'esprit des lois' from 1748 which took about 20 years of writing and thinking.

'De l'esprit des lois' became Montesquieu's most important work. In it, he mentions the decisive aspects determining the governmental and legal system of certain states, meaning that through these aspects a general spirit can be detected which was supposed to indicate a state's spirit of laws. Also he takes a clear position against absolutism leading him to his famous theories on the 'Separation of Powers'. The mastermind, philosopher of the early Enlightenment, and the father of liberalism, John Locke, once set the first milestone for the theory. Montesquieu described in his work the separation of the legislature, the executive, and judiciary. Right after being published, it was set on the 'Index Librorum Prohibitorum'. (the list of prohibited books) Montesquieu's masterpiece contained liberal as well as conservative aspects, pledging for a parliament with at least two parties instead of a monarchy preventing tyranni and anarchy. His first success earned Montesquieu through his work in the year of his passing, 1755. The Republic of Corsica solidified his ideas as part of their constitution in this year and the second and major breakthrough depicted the constitution of the United States of America, followed by every democratic state understanding the separation of power as the foundation of their constitutions.

At yovisto you may enjoy the video lecture on 'The Division of Powers' by Ivan Szelenyi of Yale University as part of the series Foundations of Modern Social Theory.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Johannes Diodato opens Vienna's first Coffeehouse

Vienna Coffeehouse Scenery "Zu den blauen Flaschen"
On January 17, 1685, Armenian merchant Johannes Diodato was granted the privilege to serve coffee in the city of Vienna, the former capital of the Holy Roman empire. Thus, Johannes Diodato opened the very first coffeehouse in Vienna and the habit of coffee drinking soon spread over Europe.

Of course we all know coffee. But, not all of us really do love coffee. Before starting my work in the office every day, I'm excited about the very first cup I get at the cafeteria. Without coffee - as is the saying among us scientists - science is not possible. But, why are we so fond of coffee? Coffee is nothing else but a brewed beverage with a distinct aroma and flavor, prepared from the roasted seeds of the Coffea plant. The seeds are found in coffee "cherries", which grow on trees cultivated in over 70 countries. the unsoasted green coffee beans are one of the most traded agricultural commodities in the world. Coffee can have a stimulating effect on humans because of its caffeine content and it is one of the most consumed drinks in the world.

The energizing effect of wild coffee was likely first discovered in the northeast region of Ethiopia, whereas coffee cultivation first took place in southern Arabia. When the consume of coffe really started is subject to argument. The earliest credible evidence of coffee-drinking appears in the middle of the 15th century in the Sufi shrines of Yemen. It was here in Arabia that coffee seeds were first roasted and brewed, in a similar way to how it is now prepared. Various legends involving the introduction of coffee to Istanbul at a "Kiva Han" in the late 15th century circulate in culinary tradition, but with no documentation.

In 1583, Leonhard Rauwolf, a German physician, gave this description of coffee after returning from a ten-year trip to the Near East:
'A beverage as black as ink, useful against numerous illnesses, particularly those of the stomach. Its consumers take it in the morning, quite frankly, in a porcelain cup that is passed around and from which each one drinks a cupful. It is composed of water and the fruit from a bush called bunnu.' - Léonard Rauwolf, Reise in die Morgenländer
Coffeehouses in Arabia soon became a concern as places for political gatherings to the imams who banned them, and the drink, for Muslims between 1512 and 1524. In 1530, the first coffee house was opened in Damascus, and not long after there were also many coffee houses in Cairo. According to the Ottoman chronicler İbrahim Peçevi the first European coffeehouse in Istanbul opened already in 1556.
The first European coffee houses in Europe outside the Ottoman Empire were established in Venice due to the traffic between La Serenissima and the Ottomans in 1645. In the following the first English coffee house openend in Oxford in 1652. From 1670 to 1685 the amount London coffee-houses began to multiply, and also began to gain political importance due to their popularity as places of debate. By 1675, there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses in England.

Pasqua Rosée also established the first coffeehouse in Paris in 1672 that still exists today and was a major meeting place of the French Enlightenment; Voltaire, Rousseau, and Denis Diderot frequented it, and it is arguably the birthplace of the Encyclopédie, the first modern encyclopedia. America had its first coffeehouse in Boston, in 1676.

Viennese cafés have an extremely long and distinguished history that also dates back centuries, and the caffeine addictions of some famous historical patrons of the oldest are something of a local legend. These coffee houses are unique to Vienna and many cities have unsuccessfully sought to copy them. Traditionally, the coffee comes with a glass of water. Viennese cafés claim to have invented the process of filtering coffee from booty captured after the second Turkish siege in 1683. Viennese cafés claim that when the invading Turks left Vienna, they abandoned hundreds of sacks of coffee beans. The Polish King Jan III Sobieski, the commander of the anti-Turkish coalition of Poles, Germans, and Austrians, gave Franz George Kolschitzky some of this coffee as a reward for providing information that allowed him to defeat the Turks. Kolschitzky - as the story is told - then opened Vienna's first coffee shop. But the truth of this story is often doubted. The first registered coffee house in Vienna was founded by the Greek Johannes Theodat (also known as Johannes Diodato) in 1685. Diodato served as a courier for Vienna and as an honour received the privilege of serving coffee as the only merchant in the city for 20 years.

At yovisto you can learn more about the secrets of coffee in the lecture by Susan C. Jackals from Seattle University on "Better Coffee through Chemistry".

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