Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What hath God wrought?


First there is this from The History Channel:

In a demonstration witnessed by members of Congress, American inventor Samuel F.B. Morse dispatches a telegraph message from the U.S. Capitol to Alfred Vail at a railroad station in Baltimore, Maryland [on May 24, 1844]. The message–“What Hath God Wrought?”–was telegraphed back to the Capitol a moment later by Vail. The question, taken from the Bible (Numbers 23:23), had been suggested to Morse by Annie Ellworth, the daughter of the commissioner of patents.

Morse, an accomplished painter, learned of a French inventor’s idea of an electric telegraph in 1832 and then spent the next 12 years attempting to perfect a working telegraph instrument. During this period, he composed the Morse code, a set of signals that could represent language in telegraph messages, and convinced Congress to finance a Washington-to-Baltimore telegraph line. On May 24, 1844, he inaugurated the world’s first commercial telegraph line with a message that was fitting given the invention’s future effects on American life.

Just a decade after the first line opened, more than 20,000 miles of telegraph cable crisscrossed the country. The rapid communication it enabled greatly aided American expansion, making railroad travel safer as it provided a boost to business conducted across the great distances of a growing United States.


And then there is this personal postscript:

I remember learning Morse Code in the Navy, and the experience nearly drove me crazy: listening to code for eight hours a day was an unpleasant way to earn a paycheck. However, it was an important part of my job as a cryptologist.

But now think about this: The world without rapid communication is nearly unimaginable and would be unbearable for many people; however, other technologies might be more important to modern life. So, which invention of the last 200 years do you think is the most important and essential to your everyday life?



14 comments:

  1. Tim,

    I don't know whether you would consider it an invention or a discovery, but electricity is the most important and essential, not only for my life, but for civilization today.

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    1. Yes, Fred! I read and reviewed a book that imagined life without electricity:
      http://bookloons.com/cgi-bin/Review.asp?bookid=10846
      Frightening and real possibility!

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  2. There's no doubt, Tim, that a wide variety of inventions and discoveries have transformed our lives. And I agree with Fred that harnessing electricity has been chief among them. I'd like to add to this list the internal-combustion engine and the automobile. Mobility changed the face of many countries, and changed the structure of families as people moved. That's not to mention the myriad industries that grew up around cars and their engines.

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    1. Margot, the horseless carriages replaced the horses, but what will replace the horseless carriages? Hmmm.

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    2. Tim,

      If you mean an individual ground transport vehicle, then there are a wide variety of options: gas, electric, steam, solar, something we haven't conceived of yet . . .

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    3. I suddenly recall watching The Jetsons! And, of course, S/F writers have imagined all sorts of "fuels," "engines," and "vehicles" for transportation in the future. My favorite might be the transporter on Star Trek. Yes, once upon a time, I was a fan of the TV series (i.e., the first iteration). Here is more about transporters:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transporter_%28Star_Trek%29

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  3. If we are going that fat back, then the winner is electricity. On it is based telegraphy and all subsequent telecommunications, including the internet. The latter is changing our world as radically as it's mother did, but in a much shorter span of time.

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    1. Stephen (et al), doesn't the inherent problem with electricity consist of its "manufacture"? While electricity does exist naturally in nature (i.e., lightning?), it must be "manufactured" before it can be used by human beings, and production depends upon a "fuel." When will we come up with an endless "fuel" source that really works for most or all applications? Wind and solar seem to fall far short of the actual needs. At least that is my off the cuff analysis and query.

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    2. There are countless sources of 'fuel' as yet untapped or unthought of. But Stephen is right. If you only go back 200 years that it'll have to be electricity (though I guess we could live without it if required). But my personal favourite invention is, of course, the printing press!

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    3. Indeed, CK, thank God for Gutenberg!

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    4. While we usually associate electricity with power generation, my thinking in mentioning it was that telecommunications are essentially based on our understanding of electromagnetism.

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    5. Stephen, now we're into science, a foreign language to me, so I defer to you and others on that score.

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  4. Elec is it, but ballpoint pens were important, also... Hammers, too...

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    Replies
    1. And as the man said to Benjamin in The Graduate, "Plastics!"

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