Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Carl Friedrich Gauss - The Prince of Mathematicians

Carl Friedrich Gauß
(1777 - 1855)
On April 30, 1777, German mathematician and physical scientist Carl Friedrich Gauß was born. He who contributed significantly to many fields, including number theory, algebra, statistics, analysis, differential geometry, geodesy, geophysics, electrostatics, astronomy and optics. He is often referred to as Princeps mathematicorum (Latin, "the Prince of Mathematicians") as well as "greatest mathematician since antiquity".

Carl Friedrich Gauß grew up as an only child, his mother could barely read but was known to be incredibly intelligent. Rumors about Gauß say that he could calculate before being able to speak and that he corrected his father on his wage accounting at the age of only three. No matter if these rumors are actually true, it indicates that Gauß' talents and his love for complex calculations were detected very early. At the age of seven, he started to attend school and already designed formulas to easen his calculations during math class.

There is one famous telling about Carl Friedrich Gauss's boyhood discovery of the "trick" for summing an arithmetic progression. The event occurred when Gauß was seven and attended the Katharina-school in Brunswick. The teacher, one Büttner, had set the class the task of calculating the sum 1 + 2 + 3 + .... + 100 - probably to get a bit of peace for himself, with instructions that each should place his slate on a table as soon as he had completed the task. Almost immediately Gauß placed his slate on the table, saying, "There it is." The teacher looked at him scornfully while the others worked diligently. When the instructor finally looked at the results, the slate of Gauss was the only one to have the correct answer, 5050, with no further calculation. The ten-year-old boy evidently had computed mentally the sum of the arithmetic progression 1 + 2 + 3 + ... + 99 + 100, presumably through the formula m(m+1)/2. His teachers soon called Gauss's talent to the attention of the Duke of Brunswick [1].

At the age of 14, Gauß was introduced to Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Braunschweig, who supported the young Gauß financially and he was able to enroll at the university. Gauß was at the age of 19 the first to prove the possibility to construct a regular heptadecagon, and after earning his doctorate degree, the mathematician began his work on the text book of number theory in Latin language, 'Disquisitiones Arithmeticae'.

In the following years, Carl Friedrich Gauß was offered several positions at foreign universities, but in loyalty to the Duke and the hope of getting his own observatory he stayed in Göttingen, where he had to give lectures. Despite the fact that he did not enjoy his teacher occupation, several famous future mathematicians were taught by him, like Richard Dedekind or Bernhard Riemann.

Gauß' contributions to the field of mathematics are numerous. At the age of only 16, he made first attempts leading to non-Eucleidean geometry. Two years later, Gauß began researching on properties of the distribution of prime numbers, which later on led him to calculate areas underneath graphs and to the Gaussian bell curve. Independent of Caspar Wessel and Jean-Robert Argand, Gauß found the geometrical expression of complex numbers in one plane.

Gauß began working in the field of astronomy after finishing his famous 'Disquisitiones Arithmeticae' and managed to calculate planetary orbits through his method of least squares. He shared his experiences in the work 'Theoria motus corporum coelestium in sectionibus conicis solem ambientium. His achievements in this field made Gauß internationally famous and several of his astronomical methods are still in use today. Numerous mathematical methods and formulas carry Gauß' name today and throughout his lifetime and beyond he earned himself the reputation as one of the most genius and productive mathematicians of all times.

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

  • [1] Boyer, Carl B. 1968, 1991. A History of Mathematics. Second edition. Revised by Uta C. Merzbach; foreword by Isaac Asimov. New York: Wiley. (p. 497)
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Monday, April 29, 2013

Karl Drais and the Mechanical Horse

Karl Drais' Laufmaschine
On April 29, 1785, German inventor Karl Drais was born, who invented the Laufmaschine ("running machine"), also later called the velocipede or draisine, also nicknamed the dandy horse.

Karl Drais became a teacher in a small town near Heidelberg, Germany in 1805 and only six years later, he was released of his duty to focus on his ideas and inventions he already had in mind. To his many inventions belonged a recording machine for pianos, and even one of the first typewriters with 25 keys, also he is credited with inventing the haybox, a cooker that used the heat of the cooked food to complete the cooking process.

However, Karl Drais is rather known for inventing the Laufmaschine, also called running machine. Already in 1813, he developed a device equipped with four wheels, but unfortunately it was rejected by German officials. In 1816 the year without summer, also known as 'Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death' appeared after the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Nearly all countries of the northern hemisphere suffered from hunger, bad harvests and illnesses. Many horses died because food became rare and expensive. As Hans-Erhard Lessing later proved, Karl Drais continued working on his running machine in 1816 to support the people who's transportation depended on horses.

And indeed, his invention was quite successful and substituted for many the use of horses. The first ride on the 'draisine' became famous and he completed a distance of 7km with an approximated average speed of 15km/h. He began organising public events where people tried out his machines and two years later, he was granted the patent (well, something comparable) for the Laufrad.

After some years, further inventions advanced the development of the bicycle as we know it today and Karl Drais began applying his mechanisms to rails. In 1842, he tested his mechanical rail-bicycle for the first time in Karlsruhe. Later versions of this inventions depicted for instance the hand-lever draisine, which became famous in animated movies or in Jule Verne's 'Around the World in Eighty Days'. In Germany you can still ride all kinds of draisines since many shut down rails are used for Drais' invention as tourism attractions.

Karl Drais is remembered as the remarkable inventor of the bicycle precursor. His hometown Karlsruhe followed the inventors' example and became known as extraordinary bicycle friendly and Drais himself even was promoted the Roman Catholic Church's patron of the cyclists.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a short video by David Herlihy on the development of 2-wheeled human-powered transportation.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki

Thor Heyerdahl
(1914 - 2002)
On April 28, 1947, Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and five crew mates set out from Peru on the self-built raft Kon-Tiki to prove that Peruvian natives could have settled Polynesia. With Kon-Tiki, Heyerdahl sailed 8,000 km across the Pacific Ocean in a self-built raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands to demonstrate that ancient people could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between apparently separate culture

Thor Heyerdahl studied zoology, geography, and anthropology at the University of Oslo. In 1940, he participated in a expedition to British Columbia and noticed significant similarities with Polynesia. Also, during a stay on Fatu Hiva, he noticed that certain statues reminded him of those in South America. Due to his observations and the fact that many researchers have made similar observationd,  Heyerdahl made the hypothesis that it was possible to travel from North America to Polynesia with a small single boat.

To prove his hypothesis, Thor Heyerdahl decided to build a small raft and travel all the way by himself guided by five crew members consisting of a cook, an engineer, a helms person and two radio operators.

The raft itself was built from 60 cm thick balsa wood connected with hemp rope. The construction was supported with pine wood and the mast consisted of two almost 9m long pieces of mangrove wood. They decided not to use any metal pieces in order to guarantee a solid experiment. The only modern devices on board depicted a a compass, a sextant, and three radio sets for communication.

From Callao, Peru, the crew left and sailed straight to the Humboldt current. Controlling the "ship" was difficult at first, because the crew had to learn sailing techniques of the Native Americans. On their trip, the six men caught fish, and collected rain water, saving their own stock. On July 30, the Kon-Tiki reached Puka-Puka, but was unable to berth. Only 7 days later, the raft run aground near Raroia after a journey of 101 days and 6980 km.

Next to Heyerdahl's extraordinary accomplishment, almost proving his hypothesis and safely reaching Polynesia, the crew made several discoveries during their trip. They for instance discovered several fish kinds, like the snake mackerels. However, the final prove of Heyerdahl's hypothesis is still not given. He did indeed demonstrate, that a journey across the Pacific Ocean with simple rafts was possible but he could not show that in fact this ever happened in history. At the moment several scientific theories circulate in the scientific community, but since none could be completely proven, the Polynesian origin remains unknown.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a controversial four part video lecture by Lisa Smith on "The last great human migration: DNA and the human settlement of the Pacific" from 2011.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Edward Gibbon and the Science of History

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)
On April 27, 1737, English historian and Member of Parliament Edward Gibbon was born. His most famous work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788 and is known for the quality and irony of its prose as well as for its scientific historic accuracy, which made it a model for later historians.
History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind. (Edward Gibbon)
For sure you must have heard of Edward Gibbon's seminal work on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, which has become a reference and also a benchmark for all later researchers interested in Roman history. Even more, the six volumes also have their literary value when considered as prose. So far, I have only read the first two volumes, but I'm quite sure that I will continue.

Edward Gibbon was born on April 27, 1737, son of Edward Gibbon, a wealthy Tory member of Parliament, and his wife Judith at Lime Grove, in the town of Putney, Surrey, among six siblings. Gibbon was a sickly child. Following the death of his mother at age nine he was sent away to Westminster School, where he stayed with his ‘Aunt Kitty’, Catherine Porten who would have a strong influence on him and whom he adored. It was she who showed the first real affection for the sickly boy and introduced him to reading. Also his subsequent education at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was enrolled as a gentleman-commoner at age 15, was rather irregular. According to Gibbon's own explanation he was too bashful to spend his time in taverns, but his studies ended anyway after one year, when he was expelled for turning to Roman Catholicism, probably the most memorable event of his time at Oxford and a decision which was undoubtedly directed against his Anglican college tutors.

Within weeks of his conversion, the youngster was removed from Oxford and sent to live under the care and tutelage of Daniel Pavillard, Reformed pastor of Lausanne, Switzerland. Just a year and a half later, after his father threatened to disinherit him, on Christmas Day, 1754, he reconverted to Protestantism. In Lausanne also he fell in love with Suzanne Curchod, who would later become the wife of Louis XVI's finance minister Jacques Necker, and the mother of Madame de Staël. Their relationship was ended by his father, and Gibbon remained unmarried for the rest of his life.

In 1761, after his return to England, Gibbon published his first book, Essai sur l'Étude de la Littérature, which produced an initial taste of celebrity and distinguished him, in Paris at least, as a man of letters. From 1759 to 1770, Gibbon served on active duty and since 1762 after his deactivation in reserve with the South Hampshire militia. In 1763 he embarked on the Grand Tour of continental Europe, which also included a visit to Rome, where he first conceived the idea of composing a history of the city, later extended to the entire empire, a moment known to history as the "Capitoline vision":
It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted fryars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the City first started to my mind.
In 1770 Gibbon's father died and left him to be a wealthy man. He settled in London, joined a number of sophisticated social clubs, became a Freemason and even a member of parliament. However, these endeavours did not distract him from writing. After seven years of research Gibbon published the first volume of his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776. The book was an immediate success, promoting Gibbon one of the most distinguished historians of the age. This fresh take on the fall of the Roman Empire relied heavily on primary sources and was extremely controversial in its argument that the decline was largely the result of the increasing influence of Christianity in draining the traditional martial spirit of the Romans. The rest of the overall six volumes were published in 1781, 1787 and 1788.

The years following Gibbon's completion of opus magnum were filled largely with sorrow and increasing physical discomfort. It is believed that he suffered from an extreme case of hydrocele testis (scrotal swelling) and after an operation designed to treat this disease, he contracted peritonitis and died on 16 January 1794.

At yovisto you can learn more about Edward Gibbon's great work and listen to the first chapter of 'The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' to get a first hand impression about his writing.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
On April 26, 1564, English poet and playwright William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. He is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. Shakespeare's works, including some collaborations, consist of about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, two epitaphs, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

In western civilization, there isn't hardly anybody who has not ever heard of William Shakespeare. Often it is said, his works comprise almost every schematic plot that has ever been played afterwards including major Hollywood productions. However, if you have ever read Shakespeare or seen one of his dramas live played in the theatre, you will never forget - so much for sure. I came across Shakespeare way back when I was at school, but we didn't study his plays or poems in the English lectures, but instead we had the chance to experience some theatre performances of his most famous plays just for fun, such as e.g. Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, or The Tempest. Well, The Tempest was kind of a strange production, because all players on stage were tarred and feathered...

William Shakespeare was the son of John Shakespeare, an alderman and a successful glover, and Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon as the third child of eight and the eldest surviving son, baptised there on 26 April 1564, while his actual date of birth remains unknown. In his younger years Shakespeare attended the Christian Holy Trinity church on the banks of the Avon river, studying the Book of Common Prayer and the English Bible. Early on Shakespeare likely attended the Elizabethan theatrical productions of travelling theatre troups that came to Stratford to entertain the local official townsmen. Although enrolment registers did not survive, around the age of eleven Shakespeare probably entered the grammar school of Stratford, King's New School, where he would have studied theatre and acting, as well as Latin literature and history. When he finished school he might have apprenticed for a time with his father, but there is also mention of his being a school teacher. You see, there is not very much really known about Shakespeare's early live.

The next record of his life is in 1582, when still a minor at the age of eighteen and requiring his father's consent, Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway got married. It is also not known exactly when Shakespeare began writing, but contemporary allusions and records of performances show that several of his plays were on the London stage by 1592. From 1594, Shakespeare's plays were performed by only the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new king, James I, and changed its name to the King's Men. In 1599, a partnership of company members built their own theatre on the south bank of the River Thames, which they called the Globe. Most of Shakespeare's greatest plays then were written for the Globe, including Hamlet, Othello and King Lear until it burnt down during a performance of King Henry VIII. It is said that Shakespeare himself acted in a number of roles including the ghost in Hamlet and Old Adam in As You Like It. Records of Shakespeare's property purchases and investments indicate that the company made him a wealthy man.

The earliest known publications of his plays were published in quarto editions from 1594, that being on a sheet of paper folded four ways. By 1598, his name already had become a selling point and appeared also on the title pages. William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616 and was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church two days after. The epitaph on his tumbstone says:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare // To digg the dust encloased heare // Blessed by y man y spares hes stones // And curst be he y moves my bones.
At yovisto you can learn more about Shakespeare's play Othello in a rare recording of famous actor and director Orson Welles, delivering a Question and Answer with the students of Boston University.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kolmogorov and the Foundations of Probability Theory

Andrey Kolmogorov
(1903 - 1987)
image by Konrad Jacobs
On April 25, 1903, Soviet mathematician Andrey Nikolaevich Kolmogorov was born. He was one of the most important mathematicians of the 20th century, who advanced various scientific fields, among them probability theory, topology, intuitionistic logic, turbulence, classical mechanics, algorithmic information theory and computational complexity.

Andrey Kolmogorov was born in Tambov in 1903 and raised by his aunts. Fortunately, one of them was occupied as a teacher, wherefore Kolmogorov was able to receive a good basic school education. Already in his teenage years, he began designing perpetual motion machines and after moving to Moscow, Kolmogorov graduated from high school. In 1920, he enrolled at Moscow State University, more specifically at the Chemistry Technological Institute.

The young scientist became widely known for his wide ranging knowledge. During his undergraduate years he published papers on the science of history and began gaining interest in set theory and the theory of Fourier series. Kolmogorov's decision to become a mathematician occurred around that time. He was able to construct a Fourier series diverging almost everywhere, which was noticed internationally.

Right after his graduation at Moscow State University, Kolmogorov started his research under Nikolai Luzin, a famous mathematician active in the field of set theory, mathematical analysis and point-set topology. There he got to know Pavel Alexandrov and established a great friendship with him. By the way, Alexandrov was also a close friend to the German mathematician Emmy Noether, who worked with Alexandrov at the University of Moscow for a few years.

However, Andrey Kolmogorov became highly interested in probability theory along with Aleksandr Khinchin. In 1925, he published his famous paper 'On the principle of the excluded middle' , proving that all statements of classical formal logic could be expressed of intuitionistic logic.

The great breakthrough came in 1933. Kolmogorov published the book Foundations of the Theory of Probability, axiomatizing the probability theory in a rigorous way from fundamental axioms in a way comparable with Euclid's treatment of geometry. It changed Andrey Kolmogorov's status to the world's leading expert in the field, wherefore he became the first chairman of the department of probability theory at the Moscow State University. Kolmogorov later extended his work to study the motion of the planets and the turbulent flow of air from a jet engine. He thus demonstrated the vital role of probability theory in physics. Next to his efforts in mathematics, Kolmogorov was always willing to establish a better relationship between mathematics and philosophy in aspects of probability. Kolmogorov had many interests outside mathematics, in particular he was interested in the form and structure of the poetry of the Russian author Alexander Pushkin.

In his further years of study, Kolmogorov worked on stochastic processes and classical mechanics. In this field, he is known for the Kolmogorov–Arnold–Moser theorem. He solved an interpretation of Hilbert's 13th problem and founded the algorithmic complexity theory.

Andrey Nikolaevich Kolmogorov passed away on October 20, 1987.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture on probability theory  by professor Faber at ETH Zurich.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Salvage of the Vasa

The Vasa
by Javier Kohen
On the morning of 24 April, 1961, the Swedish warship Vasa was salvaged with a largely intact hull after it had sunk after sailing less than a nautical mile (ca 2 km) into its maiden voyage on 10 August 1628 at Stockholm harbour.

While Sweden counted rather as a poor and small country before the 17th century, the government established one of the most militarized states in the history of Europe through the years. However, during the thirty years war, Gustavus Adolphus was in power and he insisted in enlarging the naval presence in the Baltic, wherefore further ships had to be built.

Previously, the Swedish Navy preferred building smaller ships with light guns, but needed a fleet of larger ships to impose the opponents with Sweden's military strength. Vasa was intended to be the first of five ships, and as the biggest of all supposed to carry 300 soldiers. During the years of building the ships, the shipyard faced economic problems and due to the fact that the Swedish Navy lost 10 ships in a storm, the king began hurrying the production.

Also during its building time, Gustavus Adolphus sent several new requirements for the ship. He ordered to install 72 24-pound canons, changed the size of the keel and the overall rigg. During a stability test in summer of 1628, several problems were noticed but the king, who had visited the Vasa only once in spring, kept sending letters and hurrying the construction. The impressive ornaments, statues and colors on board should support the ships authority, but in fact made it even heavier and harder to maneuver.

Captain Söfring Hansson ordered Vasa to set sail on its maiden voyage to the naval station at Älvsnabben. It was a nice day with only a light breeze and the sails were set on the south side of the harbor. All gun ports were open in order to fire a salute while Vasa left Stockholm. As the wind caught in the sails, the ship suddenly heeled onto its port side wherefore the lower gun ports were pushed under water. The ship was now unable to straighten up and suddenly sank to a depth of 32 meters, 120 meters from shore. During the disaster, many came to help the endangered crew, but still around 50 were killed. Investigations to find someone to blame lasted for long, but in the end, nobody was sentenced.

Already a few days after the catastrophe, officials began planning the later unsuccessful recovery of the ship. The salvage operations caused the ship to take much damage and natural forces under water also did their best demolish Vasa. At the very beginning of the 1960's the ship was raised for the first time with the help of pontoons. It was a very dangerous process, in which 1300 divers were involved. After a while, mud was cleared off and the gun ports were closed. On April 24, 1961, the Vasa was able to break surface for the first time watched by hundreds of people from all over the world.

During excavations, the ship had to be kept wet so it would not crack and over 700 sculptures and 26000 artifacts were discovered. The ship itself among most of its found decorations are now exhibited in the famous Vasa museum in Sweden.

At yovisto you may enjoy a video lecture by Gavin Roser of the Nothern Maritime University on overall Ship Knowledge 

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yovisto is part of the 'D-Werft' project

15 partners consisting of enterprises, universities, and institutions are cooperating in the 'D-Werft' project. In the project, all processes being part of the media value chain like scripting, pre-production, production, and post-production as well as the distribution, archiving, and commercialization are to be connected via semantic technologies. As a result, a 'Linked Production Data' Cloud will be created, turning Potsdam Babelsberg into a unique location of movie production.

The partners plan to invest more than 8 million Euros in the project of which the Federal Ministry of Education and Research will participate with up to 6 million Euros as recommended by the consultant committee on April 23, 2013.

As part of D-Werft, yovisto will support the core technology 'Linked Production Data' with its expertise in semantic technologies. Furthermore, for the sub-project 'Distribution Services', yovisto will support the implementation of semantic and explorative search, as well as intelligent recommendation systems especially in the field of innovative user interfaces.

Next to yovisto, participating organizations are filmwerte, Interlake, Schätze des Deutschen Films, transfer media, WDR mediagroup digital, the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, the German Broadcasting Archive, the Film and Television University "Konrad Wolf", the Hasso-Plattner-Institute Potsdam, and the Institut für Rundfunkttechnik in Munich. Associated partners are Studio Babelsberg, GrundyUFA Produktions GmbH, e.discom, and the SAP Innovation Center.

On April 30, the 'D-Werft' group hosted a press conference, introducing the project and answering many inspiring questions by curious journalists. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Max Planck and the Quantum Theory

Max Planck
(1858 - 1947)
On April 23, 1858, German theoretical physicist Max Planck was born, who originated quantum theory, which won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck was born in Kiel, but remained most of his school years in Munich. There he was introduced to the world of physics. After his graduation at the age of 16, he did not easily decide to study physics. His main interest belonged to musics. Max Planck had an absolute pitch, played the piano, cello and was an amazing singer. He even composed a few musical pieces during his time at school. However, he eventually decided not to become a professional musician due to the little career chances he foresaw.

At first, Planck enrolled at the University of Munich and later studied in Berlin. After receiving his doctorate, the young scientist became Privatdozent in Munich and then Associate Professor of Theoretical Physics in Kiel. In 1889, Planck succeeded Gustav Kirchhoff as Professor at the University of Berlin.

Planck's earliest interests are known to be in the field of thermodynamics. On this topic and the subject of entropy and the theory of dilute solutions, he published his first works. Then radiation processes engaged Planck's attention, and after some time of research he demonstrated that these are to be seen as electromagnetic in nature. This led Planck to the problem of the distribution of energy in the spectrum of full radiation. He managed to deduce the relationship between the energy and the frequency of radiation and completed a publication in which he announced "that the energy emitted by a resonator could only take on discrete values or quanta." He introduced a fundamental physical constant now well known as the 'Planck constant'.

On December 14, 1900, Max Planck reported his newest research results, that demonstrated the relations of radiation. Today this day is known as the birth hour of quantum physics, but back then nobody knew what they really had in front of them.

In 1905, Planck read Albert Einstein's publication "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies". Einstein was still pretty unknown in the scientific community, but Planck, who also researched on special relativity at this time, was able to convince his colleagues of Einstein's theories. It was in the same year, that through Einstein's work, Max Planck noticed a mistake in his calculations and finally managed to establish further versions of his quantum theory, in oder to combine Planck's law with classical physics.

At yovisto, you may enjoy Professor Leonard Susskind explaining the basics of Quantum Mechanics (staring 5min in)

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Monday, April 22, 2013

How Mosaic has Changed the World

NCSA Mosaic Web Browser for Windows
On April 22, 1993, version 1.0 of NCSA Mosaic, or simply Mosaic, was released, the web browser credited with popularizing the World Wide Web. It was the first Web browser as we know today with a graphical user interface enabling an interactive easy to use browsing experience.

In the early days of the World Wide Web, there was a text-based browser called Lynx. I'm quite sure that only a few of you have heart about Lynx, but it is the oldest existing web browser still in use and in development since 1992, initiated by a few students from the University of Kansas. Browsing in Lynx consisted of highlighting the chosen link using cursor keys, or having all links on a page numbered and entering the chosen link's number. It's usage was intended for text terminals, but in the early 1990's graphical user interfaces were on the rise, as e.g. workstations from Sun microsystems or even early Windows 3.1.

Browsing the web with a text terminal is only half the fun, and the web would never have had its breakthrough without the ability of graphical browsing. It was the Mosaic web browser that should denote a turning point and popularize the web, being developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA)at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign beginning in late 1992. The history of NSF's supercomputing centers overlapped greatly with the worldwide rise of the personal computer and workstation. It was, therefore, not surprising that software developers focused on creating easy-to-use software tools for desktop machines. The NSF centers developed many tools for organizing, locating, and navigating through information, but perhaps the most spectacular success was the NCSA Mosaic, which in less than eighteen months after its introduction became the Internet "browser of choice" for over a million users, and set off an exponential growth in the number of decentralized information providers.

In 1992, Joseph Hardin and Dave Thompson worked at the NCSA and when they heard about Tim Berners-Lee's work on the WWW, they downloaded the ViolaWWW browser, and then demonstrated the web to NCSA's Software Design Group by connecting to the web server at CERN over the Internet. As expected, the group was impressed and on the suggestion of computer graphics expert Dr. Ping Fu, undergraduate student assistant Marc Andreessen and Unix specialist Eric Bina began work on a browser version for X-Windows on Unix computers, first to be released as version 0.5 on January 23, 1993. A final Version 1.0 was released on April 22, 1993, followed by two maintenance releases during summer 1993. A version of Mosaic for the Macintosh was developed by Aleks Totic and released a few months later, making Mosaic the first browser with cross-platform support, which besides its graphical user interface might be considered its most important breakthrough.

Marc Andreessen, the leader of the team that developed Mosaic, left NCSA and, with James H. Clark, one of the founders of Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI), and four other former students and staff of the University of Illinois, started Mosaic Communications Corporation, which eventually became Netscape Communications Corporation, producing the famous Netscape Navigator. In August, 1994, NCSA assigned all commercial rights to Mosaic to Spyglass, Inc. Spyglass subsequently licensed their technology to several other companies, including Microsoft for use in Internet Explorer. The NCSA stopped developing Mosaic in January 1997, since Netscape and Microsoft began to bring large development teams to bear on development of their own browsers.

Today, graphical web browsers are everywhere on our computers, tablets, smartphones or ebook readers. What's coming next? Will a combination of graphical and auditive interface similar to Apple's Siri succeed? What about 3D browsers? Who knows...

At yovisto, you can learn more about the early days of the World Wide Web in the talk of Tim Berners Lee at Annaberg Networks Network Seminar.

References and Further Reading:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Triumph of the Game Boy

Game Boy Classic
On April 21, 1989, Nintendo presented the 8-bit handheld video game device called Game Boy, the first handheld console. The Game Boy and its successor, the Game Boy Color, have been tremendous successful by combined selling 118.69 million units worldwide. Upon its release in the United States, it sold its entire shipment of one million units within weeks.

I had a lot of fun with the device as well. I remember the many hours I played to finally beat the black and white (or rather gray) Super Mario game, unable to turn it off because it never saved the game progress and you had to start from the beginning, next time playing. Something that parents never understood.

The Game Boy was the most commercially successful of its kind, even though it had several competitors on the market. One of those was the Atari Lynx, which even went with color graphics and networking abilities. Unfortunately users were only able to play 4 hours, because it used too much of the battery power. Another competitor was Sega's Game Gear, which was in comparison to the Game Boy much more expensive and was only sold around 11 million times in total. The Game Boy really succeeded with its energy efficiency, able to run about 10 hours, even though it lacked of good lighting and only displayed four shades of grey. 

Gaming with the Game Boy never got boring and almost everyone found a game he or she liked. Probably some of the most successful games were Tetris, Super-Mario and Donkey-Kong. A great part of Game Boy's success also depicted the Pokémon series published in 1996 and I remember everyone fighting over which was better, the red or the blue edition. Nintendo also published several add-ons for the handheld device, such as the Game Boy printer and a camera, which was really a great fun before camera phones established on the market. Also very useful was the Game Boy magnifier and the additional light you could set up.

After the original Game Boy, many upgrades followed through the years including a transparent version or the Game Boy Light with an additional background lighting. However, the Game Boy Color was probably the biggest advancement in the first 10 years, published in 1998. It was able to pictures 56 colors at the same time and equipped with an infrared port to support networking. The first touchscreen on a Game Boy was introduced with the Nintendo DS in 2004 and differed in almost everything from the normal Game Boy series.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a TED talk on the future of gaming by Peter Molyneux staring Milo, the virtual boy.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Jacques Cartier and the Discovery of Canada

Jacques Cartier (1491-1557)
On April 20, 1534, French explorer of Breton origin Jacques Cartier set sail under a commission from the king, hoping to discover a western passage to the wealthy markets of Asia to discover Canada and Labrador. Actually, Jacques Cartier was the first European to describe and map the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the shores of the Saint Lawrence River, which he named "The Country of Canadas", after the Iroquois names for the two big settlements he saw at Stadacona (now Quebec City) and at Hochelaga (now Montreal Island).

Jacques Cartier was born in Saint-Malo, France on December 31, 1491. There is little information about the early life of Jacques Cartier but he would have been well educated and would have studied cartography, navigation, astronomy, mathematics and seamanship in his early life. He was a respectable mariner and reportedly accompanied Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian captain who sailed under the French flag for King Francois I of France, on his expeditions to North America exploring the northeast coast of North America from Cape Fear, North Carolina to Maine and also a voyage to Brazil from 1524-29. In 1534, King Francis I of France sent Cartier on a new trip to the eastern coast of North America, then called the "northern lands." On a voyage that would add him to the list of famous explorers, Cartier was to search for gold and other riches, spices, and especially a passage to the riches of Asia. In the words of the commission, he was to "discover certain islands and lands where it is said that a great quantity of gold and other precious things are to be found".

Jacques Cartier sailed on April 20, 1534, with two ships, the Grande Hermine as a ship of 60 tons and another small ship, together with 61 men, and arrived 20 days later at the western coast of Newfoundland, which he started to explore. Cartier sailed inland, going 1,000 miles up the St. Lawrence River past Anticosti Island and discovered also Prince Edward Island. He named the new country "Kanata" meaning village or settlement in the Huron-Iroquois language. After 137 days, Cartier returned to France in September 1534, sure that he had reached an Asian land.

Jacques Cartier set sail for a second voyage on May 19 of the following year with three ships and 110 men. He sailed up-river the St. Lorenz and reached the Iroquoian capital of Stadacona, where he left his main ships and used his smallest ship to continue on to Hochelaga (now Montreal), arriving on October 2, 1535. The expedition could proceed no further, as the river was blocked by rapids. So certain was Cartier that the river was the Northwest Passage and that the rapids were all that was preventing him from sailing to China, that the rapids and the town that eventually grew up near them came to be named after the French word for China, La Chine: the Lachine Rapids and the town of Lachine, Quebec. The upcoming winter saw an outbreak of scurvy which cost the lives of 25 of his men. When Cartier returned safely home to France in July 16, 1536, he reported back to the King and the French council started to make plans to colonise Canada.

On October 17, 1540, King Francis ordered the navigator Jacques Cartier to return to Canada, this time for a colonization project, from which he returned back home in 1543, never to return to Canada again. In 1545, he published an account of his expeditions and voyages of explorations. He died at age 65/66 on September 1, 1557 during an epidemic, possibly typhus.

At yovisto you can learn more about diplomacy of native Americans at the times of Jacques Cartier's arrival in the talk of Professor Brett Rushforth, who will discuss the calumet, or peace pipe, and its changing role in Native diplomacy.

References and Further Reading:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Happy Bicycle Day

LSD blotters with Bicycle Day image
by YttriumOx
On April 19, 1943, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in the Sandoz (now Novartis) laboratories in Basel, Switzerland performed a self-experiment to determine the true effects of LSD, intentionally ingesting 0.25 milligrams (250 micrograms) of the substance, an amount he predicted to be a threshold dose (an actual threshold dose is 20 micrograms). While riding home on his bicycle, he experienced the very first LSD trip, now referred to as “Bicycle Day”, and proved that he had indeed made a significant discovery.

Albert Hofmann was born in Baden, Switzerland and studied chemistry at the age of 20 with major interests in plants and animals. Later on, Hofmann researched on chemical structures of chitin, which he received his doctorate degree for.

When Albert Hofmann joined the pharmaceutical-chemical department of Sandoz in Basel, he studied the plant squill and the fungus ergot in order to purify and synthesize their components and use them as pharmaceuticals. On November 16, 1938, Hofmann intended to obtain a respiratory and circulatory stimulant when researching lysergic acid derivatives. This was the day, the scientist first synthesized LSD, but he decided to set aside this subject for a while. On April 16, 1943, Hofmann continued his research and accidentally absorbed a little amount of LSD, getting to know its effects on his mind and body.

Surprised by the effects of the substance, Hofmann decided to perform a self-experiment on April 19, 1943. He ingested himself 250 micrograms of LSD, thinking of it to be a threshold dose which is actually 20 micrograms. Hofmann noted to feel the effects of the drug about an hour later. His assistant was to escort Hofmann home, but since due to wartime restrictions cars were prohibited, they had to take the bike. On his way home he struggled periods of anxiety and thought of his neighbor to be an evil witch. He called for a doctor, who could not detect any physical abnormalities except for extremely dilated pupils. Later on, Hofmann noted about his feelings that
"... little by little I could begin to enjoy the unprecedented colors and plays of shapes that persisted behind my closed eyes. Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me, alternating, variegated, opening and then closing themselves in circles and spirals, exploding in colored fountains, rearranging and hybridizing themselves in constant flux"
Done with his experiment that later became widely known as 'Bicycle Day', Hofmann knew he had discovered an incredible psychoactive substance if used in lower doses. And indeed through the 1950's, the drug received much research attention and every undergraduate psychology student took LSD as part of their education. Most medical institutions began using the substance in order to research on its ability to cure like alcoholism or to enhance creativity, like Sidney Cohen did with the help of Aldous Huxley. Through the years hundreds of scientific papers and numerous books were published on the effects of the substance on the human body in the medical sense. And indeed it was successfully applied on several mental illnesses. But in the 1960's, it was found that LSD had a high potential in abuse and was made illegal in most western states. 

One of the most prominent LSD researcher was probably Dr. Timothy Leary, who began focusing his work on the substance while teaching at Harvard University. But after a while, student's parents as well as university officials began criticizing Leary's methods wherefore he was expelled from the institution. However, he kept researching up to a point where he was not able (or maybe did not want) to control his experiments anymore. His meetings turned into LSD parties and were monitored by the CIA. Richard Nixon then described Leary as the "most dangerous man in America".

At yovisto, you may enjoy a TED talk by James Leitzel on the legalization of drugs.

References and Further Reading:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome

The Cupola of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, photo: @Lysander07
On April 18, 1506, the foundation stone of the new St. Peter's Basilica in Rome took place under the guidance of Pope Julius II. A succession of popes and architects followed in the next 120 years, their combined efforts resulting in the present building. Today, St. Peter's is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and remains one of the largest churches in the world.

It is believed by a long tradition that St. Peter, after a ministry of about thirty years, travelled to Rome and met his martyrdom there in the year 64 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. St. Peter's martyrdom took place near an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the Circus of Nero. The obelisk now stands in Saint Peter's Square and is revered as a "witness" to Peter's death. It is one of several ancient Obelisks of Rome. According to tradition, Peter's remains were buried just outside the Circus and was initially marked simply by a red rock, symbolic of his name (Petrus in greek denotes 'rock'). Almost three hundred years later under the reign of emperor Constantine the Great, Old St. Peter's Basilica was constructed over this site. It was of typical basilical Latin Cross form with an apsidal end at the chancel, a wide nave and two aisles on either side. By the end of the 15th century, having been neglected during the period of the Avignon Papacy, the old basilica was in bad repair. The first repair and enlargement intervention was ordered in the middle of the 15th century by Pope Niccolo V, who entrusted Leon Battista Alberti and his helper Bernardo Rossellino. It was Pope Julius II, who is responsible for the construction of the new St. Peter's Basilica. In 1505 Julius made a decision to demolish the ancient basilica and replace it with a monumental structure to house his enormous tomb. A competition was held, and a number of the designs have survived at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. A succession of popes and architects followed in the next 120 years, their combined efforts resulting in the present building.

And what he had planned was gigantic. It’s the world’s largest Basilica of Christianity, nested into the heart of the Vatican city, with its 186 metres of length, a height of 46 metres in the central aisle, a main dome 136 metre high and 42 metres large in diameter. The huge façade is 114 metres wide and 47 metres high. It has a surface of 22,000 square metres and more than twenty thousand persons may attend the prayers. At the time of the death of both pope Julius II. and architect Donato Bramante only the central pillars had been constructed. The famous renaissance artist Rafael took over the guidance of the works, and proposed a Latin cross plan instead of the previously planned Greek cross. Rafael was succeeded by Baldassarre Peruzzi first and Michelangelo later, who instead chose a return to the Greek cross. After the death of all contenders, pope Paul V imposed the Latin cross structure, which was realized by Maderno, who took care as well of the façade as we see it today.

The plan of the St. Peter's belongs to Michelangelo, who managed to finish only the portion of the dome basement. Giacomo Dalla Porta completed the dome according to Michelangelo’s drawings in 1588-89. The positioning of most of the interior furnishing of the Basilica was assigned to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who worked in the St Peter's Basilica for twenty years. He also arranged St Peter's square in front of the Basilica in 1656-1667. St. Peter's Basilica comprises forty five altars and eleven chapels,  about ten thousand square metres of mosaics, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and the papal canopy by Bernini, only to quote some of the most important pieces. Finally,  St. Peter's Basilica was consecrated in 1626.

Today, St. Peter's Basilica is one of the most frequented places of the world. More than 20,000 visitors per day come to see the most famous church and I can tell you that it is really worth while! What you really shouldn't miss is ascending to the top of the cupola. At the base of the cupola you can look down on Bernini's most impressive papal canopy. Then you can further climb to the top and have a marvelous look over St. Peter's square, Vatican city, and Rome.

At yovisto you may enjoy Dr. Beth Harris from the Khan Academy in a conversation about Gian Lorenzo Bernini's work on the Chair of Saint Peter in St. Peter's Basilica.

References and Further Reading:
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Important Theorem of Thomas Bayes

Thomas Bayes (1701 - 1761)
On April 17, 1761, English mathematician and Presbyterian minister Thomas Bayes passed away. He is best known as name giver of the Bayes' theorem, of which he had developed a special case. It expresses (in the Bayesian interpretation) how a subjective degree of belief should rationally change to account for evidence, and finds application in in fields including science, engineering, economics (particularly microeconomics), game theory, medicine and law.

Thomas Bayes was born into a prominent family from Sheffield in 1701 and enrolled at the University of Edinburgh in 1719. He began studying logic and thrology, assisting his father at the non-conformist chapel in London. In later years, Bayes became minister of the Mount Sion chapel.

Even though Bayes is known to have published only two major works, they were quite influential. The first, published in 1731, was titled 'Divine Benevolence, or an Attempt to Prove That the Principal End of the Divine Providence and Government is the Happiness of His Creatures' was rather dedicated to the field of theology. Five years later however, Bayes published anonymously 'An Introduction to the Doctrine of Fluxions, and a Defence of the Mathematicians Against the Objections of the Author of the Analyst'. This work was rather mathematical and in it, Bayes defended Isaac Newton's theories on calculus and its logical foundations. In following years, Bayes' interest in probability theories grew and his interesting ideas and findings were collected in his manuscripts and most of them only became known after his passing.

Unfortunately, Bayes' most important and most influential work was published after his death. The 'Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances' was read to the Royal Society in 1763. The work contained a statement of a special case of probability now called Bayes' theorem. The theorem can be seen as a "way of understanding how the probability that a theory is true is affected by a new piece of evidence". Through the years, it has been helpful in a variety of scientific fields, and is often used to clarify the relationship between theory and evidence. Richard Price, who once published Bayes' papers after his death believed that Bayes' theorem could prove the existence of God. This technically combines Bayes' research fields in mathematics and theology and Price's claim opened up a wide field of discussion for future scientists and it still depicts a debate topic up to this day.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture on Basic Probability Theory by Professor Dr Faber at Zurich.

References and Further Reading:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Aviatrix Wilhelmine Reichard

The portrait of Wilhelmine Reichard (1788—1848),
German balloonist
On April 16, 1811, Wilhelmine Reichard launched to her first solo flight in a gas balloon, thus becoming Germany`s very first female balloonist. You might remember that in 1783 the brothers Montgolfier already launched the very first balloon, as we reported in our recent blog post 'More than just Hot Air...'. Actually, the first passengers were a sheep, a rooster, and a duck that were given the honor to take part in the first flight with living creatures on board.

The first recorded manned flight was made in a hot air balloon built by the Montgolfier brothers on 21 November 1783, starting in Paris and reaching a height of almost 200 meters. The pilots, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes, covered about 9 kilometers in 25 minutes. In the same year, Professor Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers made the first gas balloon flight, also from Paris with a hydrogen-filled balloon that stayed aloft for over 2 hours. Only 2 years later, the first aircraft disaster occurred in May 1785 when the town of Tullamore, County Offaly, Ireland was seriously damaged when the crash of a balloon resulted in a fire that burned down about 100 houses, making the town home to the world's first aviation disaster. To this day, the town shield depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes.

The very first woman to fly in a ballon followed only 8 months after the first manned flight on June 4, 1784, when opera singer Élisabeth Thible took her place with Mr. Fleurant on board a hot air balloon christened La Gustave in honour of King Gustav III of Sweden. Another early woman balloonist was Jeanne Geneviève Labrosse, who became the first woman to ascend solo in 1798 and, on October 12, 1799, the first woman to make a parachute descent (in the gondola), from an altitude of 900 meters. But also disaster is not far ahead. Ballooning was a risky business for the pioneers. When Marie Madeleine Sopie Blanchard ascended in her hydrogen balloon to watch a firework on July 6, 1819, she should become the first woman to lose her life while flying. Her craft crashed on the roof of a house and she fell to her death.

Wilhelmine Reichard, who should become Germany`s first female balloonist, was the daughter of a cup-bearer of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg. She married the chemist and physicist Johann Gottfried Reichard in 1807  and the family moved to Berlin in 1810. That same year Johann Gottfried Reichard made his first flight in a self-constructed gas balloon from Berlin, making him the second person to fly in a gas balloon in Germany. On 16 April 1811 Wilhemine Reichard made her first solo flight, starting in Berlin. She reached a height of over 5,000 metres and landed safely in Genshagen, 33.5 kilometres from her starting point. This was not the first solo flight by a woman in Germany; the Frenchwoman Marie Madeleine Sophie Blanchard - you remember her being the first woman to crash to death in a balloon - had previously made a flight in September 1810, starting from Frankfurt.

Wilhelmine Reichard's third flight in 1811 reached a height of approximately 7,800 metres. Due to the altitude she lost consciousness and her balloon crash-landed in a forest; badly injured, she was rescued by local farmers and survived. After some difficulties during the Napoleonic wars, her husband wanted to purchase a chemical factory in Döhlen. To raise the money, Wilhemine Reichard conducted several more flights. Her first flight after the accident in 1811 took place in October 1816. A later flight took place during the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in Aachen in 1818. Flights in Prague and Vienna also made her known in Austria-Hungary. Her last flight was in October 1820, starting in Munich at the famous Oktoberfest. Wilhelmine's husband conducted balloon flights until 1835. He died in 1844, and Wilhelmine managed the chemical factory of her husband until her own death in 1848.

At yovisto you can watch the video of young scientist Josh Taylor, who also became a balloon pioneer by achieving his goal of recording video footage at heights of 100,000 feet. His balloon reached even 118.000 feet (35.97 kilometers) and recorded astonishing material from above the earth.

References and Further Reading
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