The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History Since 1900 by David Edgerton. Very good book, taking a broad look at some of the myths about technology and innovation. Got quite a bit of attention a couple of years back.
His main point is that you should judge the technology of an age by when the tech is most used, rather than when it's invented. He points out quite a few examples, such as the use of steam and horse power in the mid-twentieth century. But it's the breadth of examples yielded by this kind of analysis that's most interesting.
He points out that some glamorous inventions get more attention than the prosaic. Corrugated iron roofs, condoms, flat-pack furniture are some examples he gives.
He also considers other myths. The rate of progress doesn't seem to be ever-accelerating, but has remained pretty constant over the last century. Innovation doesn't seem to be linked to economic growth at a national level. Inventions are rarely created by scientists and then made commercial: things like the cavity magnetron were created in the field, then studied by scientists.
Edgerton regards the military as more important in innovation than is generally thought. He points out that the Manhattan Project was run by an army engineer not by Oppenheimer, and that discounting the costs of new factory buildings it wasn't all that expensive:
Let's start with the name. The use of the term "Manhattan Project" obscures an important word in its full name, which was "Manhattan Engineer District". It was so-called because it was run by the US Army's Corps of Engineers, a prestigious old institution that had long taken the best graduates from the West Point military academy. The Corps was organized into districts, and they created one for thie new project, which was a production, development and research project. In the usual stories about big science, its phenomenal cost of $2bn is referred to as if this was the cost of the development effort, when in fact most of the $2bn went on the building of two nuclear factories at Oak Ridge and Hanfod. General Leslie Groves, the head of the project and senior member of the US Army Corps of Engineers, had previously supervised the building of munitions plants, issuing contracts worth much more than the entire cost of the Manhattan Project.Other factoids abound: Teflon was not a by-product of the space programme but was in use before; the Holocaust was largely carried out with bullets and exhaust fumes not purpose-built gas chambers.
Overall, a fascinating and contrarian look at the history of technology; well worth reading.
Had a quick wander past the Telectroscope on the South Bank, though I didn't queue up to stand in front. It's a kind of steampunk jeux d'esprit: a supposedly Victorian viewing device incorporating a teleconference between New York and London.
From outside the ropes you can just about catch glimpses of the screen inside the tube. Looks fairly impressive, though in real life it looks more spray-painted than brass. The gadgety bits look OK don't do any whirring or steaming.
More vintage porn magazines [NSFW, duh]
Multiplayer typing race.
The spEak You're bRanes Twat-O-Tron.
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