I was reminded that yesterday, December 10, was the birthday of Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace - otherwise known as one of the pioneers of computer programming. While the exact nature of her contributions to Charles Babbage's analytical engine research is disputed a bit, her icon status as a computing visionary and inspiration to tech-inclined women is pretty solid.
So it seems an appropriate time to release a project I've been working on for a little while now: the Deliberatepixel t-shirt store, with its first offering: the Ada Lovelace: Heroine Geek t-shirt. It's the first in a series of "Heroine Geek" shirts featuring inspirational women from technology history, which might expand in the future to women from other geeky/sciencey areas.
Coincidentally, two days ago, December 9, was the birthday of another female computing icon: Grace Hopper - but I don't have her shirt ready yet. She'll be in the store soon, along with the ENIAC programmers and Hedy Lamarr.
Florence Foster Jenkins, who lived in the early part of the Twentieth century, wanted nothing more than to become a singer. No matter that her voice was, to put it mildly, weak. She used the fortune she came into halfway through her life to fund a series of concerts. The comedic value of her shows proved so great that by the time she gave her final performance, she sold out Carnegie Hall.
Moral of the story? In her own words: "They can say that I couldn’t sing, but they can never say that I didn’t sing!
The new Library of Congress Flickr page everyone's talking about is in fact incredible. And if you love looking at historical photographs of everyday Americans, the Library of Congress also maintains a massive database of photographs taken under the name of the Farm Security Administration, the New Deal agency that chronicled the effects of the Depression. Some of the later LoC Flickr photos are originally from this collection, which features legendary photographers like Man Ray and Walker Evans. My favorites? The vintage sideshow images.
Did French theater patrons a hundred years ago really duck and hide under their seats when first faced with the footage of a train rolling towards them? Was The Jazz Singer really the first film with sound? Is Citizen Kane in fact better than any other movie ever made? Michael Z. Newman takes on these and other film legends, and the way film historians and journalists have misused them.
Great article - but I'll admit it's difficult to let go of such stories. Part of the attraction of film for me is its mythological capacity, and moviemakers themselves often love creating or reinforcing myths about moviemaking. After all, Singin' in the Rain probably did more to establish the legend of The Jazz Singer as an one-note revolution instead of the culmination of a long process of small steps than any historian or journalist ever could. All of the folklore about films are all stories about the power of cinema, and for those who love cinema, they're the stories we want to believe.
The Ladies Home Journal predicted in 1901 what our lives would be like one hundred years from then. Some are surprisingly, if fancifully, near to the truth:
Man will See Around the World Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span. American audiences in their theatres will view upon huge curtains before them the coronations of kings in Europe or the progress of battles in the Orient. The instrument bringing these distant scenes to the very doors of people will be connected with a giant telephone apparatus transmitting each incidental sound in its appropriate place.
Others aren't even close. How about the one that says everyone will walk ten miles: "A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling." Or that the "unnecessary" letters of C, X and Q will be removed from our alphabet and the second most popular language spoken will be Russian.
My favorite, though, is the prediction that no one will buy or prepare food, but it will be prepared and delivered to us via pneumatic tubes, into which we will put the dirty dishes for transportation to a facility where they are sanitized for us. No cooking or cleaning up? Can we get going on this, please?
The Guardian book blog sings the praises of radical, unapologetic Restoration author Aphra Behn, and wonders what she would think of today's women writers:
On a previous blog on literary time travel, Aphra Behn was mentioned as someone whom it would be an adventure to visit. But what if we could bring her here, to the present, just for the day? What would she think of a traipse around the bookshops and the writing of noughties women; booksellers' tables groaning under the weight of pastel book covers that, far from defying convention and questioning and confronting, actually conform to the oldest patriarchal conventions?
I'd like to think that her answer would be so bawdy and cutting that, even today, it would be unprintable.
Last week, a great article by Anna Gosline about what it feels like to die in various ways made the rounds. Now, on Inky Circus, she's posted a few tidbits that didn't make it into the original article. Such as:
Hangmen were seriously proud people, even verging on cocky. They were professionals and prided themselves on doing their jobs well. They were also kind of famous, especially the English hangmen from the 17 and 1800s. Fun times. I think it might have been cognitive dissonance over how horrid their job actually was - if you could perfect the skill, make the death as clean and painless as possible, it wasn’t really that bad, right? Also, if you drop a man too far (give him too much rope) his head will rip off. Which was just totally embarrassing. For the hangman.
Blog Morbid Anatomy covers the cultural, artistic, and scientific intersections of life and death. If you're bit squeamish at either the morbid or the anatomical, or both, you might want to skip this one. If not, sail on - it's fascinating.
Alice in Wonderland is so ubiquitous now that it's hard to remember it was not always a piece of our cultural mythology, but once was just a book; and, likewise, that Alice was not always the blond, blue-eyed cartoon heroine, but once was a flesh-and-blood girl (neither blond nor blue-eyed). This morning I was reminded of all this when I came across an article about today's date - May 4, the anniversary of the birthday of the child for whom Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was originally written, Alice Liddell.
In fact, it seems there are three Alices: Miss Liddell, the character in both Alice books, and someone else, a ghostlike accumulation of hundreds of interpretations, edits, and re-imaginings. The archetypal Alice that most people recognize today is not only completely disconnected from Alice Liddell, it's often quite a bit removed from the literary heroine. The common Alice today is more of a blank slate on which others project their own phantasmagoria.
I would have to say that the Alice I prefer to remember is the one that lives strictly within the pages of her books. The thoughtful, logical, and curious girl-adventurer, who is more sophisticated a heroine than most the preceded her, and many who came after her. And yet she is still inextricably tied both to the Alice legends has and continues to inspire, and to the human girl who inspired her.
Apparently towards the end of her life, Alice Liddell was rather sick of being known as the "Alice;" one can only imagine how sick she would be of it were she alive in this day and age, especially with all the academic picking apart of her association with author Lewis Carroll, pedophilia charges and all. I don't think there's anything wrong with her keeping her distance from his creations. After all, as others have pointed out, the book Alice is probably not a portrait of a real girl, but of Carroll himself. And beyond that, she's something else, someone different to each person who meets her.
Related Site Update
I've had a certain project idea related to Alice kicking around in back of my mind for a while now, and this article persuaded me to get it going. So here it is: That's Logic, an Alice in Wonderland weblog. I plan to use it to collect various Alice references, creations, and other assorted items of interest. If you like it, let me know and I'll be sure to keep it up.