John Harrison: Longitude

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Longitude by Dava Sobel

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Albert Einstein, British Empire, clockwork universe, Copley Medal, Dava Sobel, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, lone genius

“The Method of Lunar Distances and Technological Advance,” presented at the Institute of Navigation, New York, 1969. Pack, S. W. C. Admiral Lord Anson. London: Cassell, 1960. Quill, Humphrey. John Harrison, the Man Who Found Longitude. London: Baker, 1966. —. John Harrison, Copley Medalist, and the £20,000 Longitude Prize. Sussex: Antiquarian Horological Society, 1976. Randall, Anthony G. The Technology of John Harrison’s Portable Timekeepers. Sussex: Antiquarian Horological Society, 1989. Vaughn, Denys, ed. The Royal Society and the Fourth Dimension: The History of Timekeeping. Sussex: Antiquarian Horological Society, 1993. Whittle, Eric S. The Inventor of the Marine Chronometer: John Harrison of Foulby. Wakefield, England: Wakefield Historical Publications, 1984. Williams, J. E. D. From Sails to Satellites: The Origin and Development of Navigational Science.

That passage appeared prescient when the disastrous wreck on the Scillies scuttled four warships. The 1707 incident, so close to the shipping centers of England, catapulted the longitude question into the forefront of national affairs. The sudden loss of so many lives, so many ships, and so much honor all at once, on top of centuries of previous privation, underscored the folly of ocean navigation without a means for finding longitude. The souls of Sir Clowdisley’s lost sailors— another two thousand martyrs to the cause—precipitated the famed Longitude Act of 1714, in which Parliament promised a prize of £20,000 for a solution to the longitude problem. In 1736, an unknown clockmaker named John Harrison carried a promising possibility on a trial voyage to Lisbon aboard H.M.S. Centurion. The ship’s officers saw firsthand how Harrison’s clock could improve their reckoning.

When he had thought out the novel contraption to his own satisfaction, which took him almost four years, he set off for London—a journey of two hundred miles—to lay his plan before the Board of Longitude. 8. The Grass hopper Goes to Sea Where in this small-talking world can I find A longitude with no platitude? —CHRISTOPHER FRY, The Lady’s Not for Burning When John Harrison arrived in London in the summer of 1730, the Board of Longitude was nowhere to be found. Although that august body had been in existence for more than fifteen years, it occupied no official headquarters. In fact, it had never met. So indifferent and mediocre were the proposals submitted to the board, that individual commissioners had simply sent out letters of rejection to the hopeful inventors. Not a single suggested solution had held enough promise to inspire any five commissioners— the minimum required by the Longitude Act for a quorum—to bother gathering together for a serious discussion of the method’s merits.


pages: 184 words: 53,625

Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age by Steven Johnson

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Airbus A320, airport security, algorithmic trading, banking crisis, barriers to entry, Bernie Sanders, call centre, Captain Sullenberger Hudson, Cass Sunstein, cognitive dissonance, credit crunch, crowdsourcing, dark matter, Dava Sobel, David Brooks, Donald Davies, future of journalism, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, HyperCard, Jane Jacobs, John Gruber, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, lone genius, Mark Zuckerberg, mega-rich, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Naomi Klein, Nate Silver, Occupy movement, packet switching, peer-to-peer, Peter Thiel, planetary scale, pre–internet, RAND corporation, risk tolerance, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, social graph, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Tim Cook: Apple, urban planning, US Airways Flight 1549, WikiLeaks, William Langewiesche, working poor, X Prize, your tax dollars at work

Once a premium had been established—and the reward publicly announced—the prize money created a much larger pool of minds working on the problem. John Harrison’s story, powerfully recounted in Dava Sobel’s bestselling Longitude, demonstrates how a prize-backed challenge extends and diversifies the network of potential solutions. Born in West Yorkshire, Harrison was the son of a carpenter, with almost no formal education, and notoriously poor writing skills. When he began working on his first iteration of the chronometer, his social connections to the elites of London were nonexistent. But the £20,000 offered by the Board of Longitude caught the attention of his brilliant mechanical mind. Because the board ultimately doled out small increments of funding with each new draft of the chronometer, Harrison was able to continue tinkering with the problem of longitude for almost half a century. In the language of network theory, the Board of Longitude and the RSA offered prizes in order to exploit the intelligence at the edges of the national network.

But that history cannot be told in its full complexity without reference to organizations such as the RSA, and the tradition of what we now call prize-backed challenges. Countless stories of innovation from the period involve a prize-backed challenge. During the century that followed that first coffeehouse meeting, the RSA alone disbursed what would amount to tens of millions of dollars in today’s currency. John Harrison’s invention of the chronometer, which revolutionized the commercial and military fleets of the day, was sparked by the celebrated Longitude Prize, offered by the Board of Longitude, a small government body that had formed with the express intent of solving the urgent problem of enabling ships to establish their longitudinal coordinates while at sea. Not all premiums were admirable in their goals: William Bligh’s ill-fated expedition to Tahiti aboard the Bounty began with an RSA premium awarded to anyone who could successfully transport the versatile breadfruit plant to the West Indies to feed the growing slave populations there.

For more on the Royal Society of Arts, see A History of the Royal Society of Arts, by Henry Trueman Wood, and Joseph Banks and the English Enlightenment: Useful Knowledge and Polite Culture, by John Gascoigne. On the innovation threat posed by intellectual property restrictions, see Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas, and my own Where Good Ideas Come From. Ayn Rand’s views on patents come from an essay, “Patents and Copyrights,” included in the collection Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. John Harrison’s story is told in Dava Sobel’s popular Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. Beth Noveck’s inspirational work with crowdsourced patent review, dubbed “peer to patent,” is described in her WikiGovernment. For more on Jon Schnur and the origin and implementation of the Race to the Top program, see Steve Brill’s entertaining Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools.


pages: 459 words: 103,153

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure by Tim Harford

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Andrew Wiles, banking crisis, Basel III, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, Black Swan, car-free, carbon footprint, Cass Sunstein, charter city, Clayton Christensen, clean water, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, complexity theory, corporate governance, correlation does not imply causation, creative destruction, credit crunch, Credit Default Swap, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Dava Sobel, Deep Water Horizon, Deng Xiaoping, double entry bookkeeping, Edmond Halley, en.wikipedia.org, Erik Brynjolfsson, experimental subject, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Fermat's Last Theorem, Firefox, food miles, Gerolamo Cardano, global supply chain, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Isaac Newton, Jane Jacobs, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, John Harrison: Longitude, knowledge worker, loose coupling, Martin Wolf, mass immigration, Menlo Park, Mikhail Gorbachev, mutually assured destruction, Netflix Prize, New Urbanism, Nick Leeson, PageRank, Piper Alpha, profit motive, Richard Florida, Richard Thaler, rolodex, Shenzhen was a fishing village, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, South China Sea, special economic zone, spectrum auction, Steve Jobs, supply-chain management, the market place, The Wisdom of Crowds, too big to fail, trade route, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, web application, X Prize, zero-sum game

The British parliament turned to Sir Isaac Newton and the comet expert Edmond Halley for advice, and in 1714 passed the Act of Longitude, promising a prize of £20,000 for a solution to the problem. Compared with the typical wage of the day, this was over £30 million pounds in today’s terms. The prize transformed the way that the problem of longitude was attacked. No longer were the astronomers of the Royal Observatory the sole official searchers – the answer could come from anyone. And it did. In 1737, a village carpenter named John Harrison stunned the scientific establishment when he presented his solution to the Board of Longitude: a clock capable of keeping superb time at sea despite the rolling and pitching of the ship and extreme changes in temperature and humidity. While it was well known that knowing the correct time back in London could enable a navigator to calculate longitude using the sun, the technical obstacles to producing a sufficiently accurate clock were widely thought to be beyond human ingenuity.

The reason a prize is needed is because even with a patent, no pharmaceutical company could expect to reap much reward from a product that will largely benefit the very poor. Pneumococcal infections kill nearly a million young children a year, almost all of them in poor countries. As John Harrison could have attested, the problem with an innovation prize is determining when the innovator has done enough to claim his reward. This is especially the case when the prize is not for some arbitrary achievement, such as being the fastest plane on a given day – remember the Schneider Trophy, which inspired the development of the Spitfire – but for a practical accomplishment such as finding longitude or creating immunity to pneumococcal meningitis. Harrison was caught up in an argument between proponents of the clock method and the astronomical method. Similar arguments could emerge today. One pneumococcal vaccine might be cheap and fastest to market; another might be more reliable and have fewer side-effects.

The cheap, easy-to-build and effective Hurricanes did indeed outnumber Spitfires in the early months of the war, but it was the Spitfire’s design that won the plaudits. * The Board of Longitude never gave Harrison his prize, but it did give him some development money. The British parliament, after Harrison petitioned the King himself, also awarded the inventor a substantial purse in lieu of the prize that never came. The sad story is superbly told by Dava Sobel in her book Longitude, although Sobel perhaps gives Harrison too much credit in one respect: it is arguable that by producing a seaworthy clock, albeit a masterpiece, he did not solve the longitude problem for the Royal Navy or society as a whole. To do that, he needed to produce a blueprint that a skilled craftsman could use to produce copies of the clock.


pages: 366 words: 100,602

Sextant: A Young Man's Daring Sea Voyage and the Men Who ... by David Barrie

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centre right, colonial exploitation, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Fellow of the Royal Society, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, lone genius, Maui Hawaii, Nicholas Carr, polynesian navigation, South China Sea, trade route

William Hogarth included a cheerful lunatic searching for a solution to the longitude problem in the background of the scene from the madhouse in The Rake’s Progress of 1735. Such skepticism was misplaced. After a struggle lasting hundreds of years, two radically different solutions to the problem of finding the time on board ship emerged almost simultaneously in the 1750s—one mechanical, the other astronomical. Both, however, relied on accurate angular measurements made with a quadrant or, better still, a sextant. As we shall see, one method was based on a new kind of clock, while the other depended on the first accurate tables of the motions of the moon. In practice, however, the two techniques were to be mutually dependent for many years to come. THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY of the development by John Harrison (1693–1776) of the first accurate shipboard timekeeper—and his long struggle for official recognition of his feat—is by now well-known.

Melville, H. (1974). Moby-Dick, or The Whale. London: Folio Society. Milet-Mureau, M. L. A. (1797). Voyage de La Pérouse autour du monde. 4 vols and atlas. Paris: Imprimerie de la République. Mixter, G. W. (1960). Primer of Navigation (4th ed.). Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand. Norie, J. W. (1839). A Complete Epitome of Practical Navigation. London: J. W. Norie. Quill, H. (1966). John Harrison: The Man Who Found Longitude. London: John Baker. Raban, J. (2000). Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings. London: Picador Raper, L. H. (1840). The Practice of Navigation and Nautical Astronomy. London: R. B. Bate. Ritchie, R. A. (1967). The Admiralty Chart: British Naval Hydrography in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Elsevier. Rodger, N. A. (2005). The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649–1815.

She fired a gun and showed lights to warn the ships astern of her of the impending danger: [The land] being but two miles distant, we were all under the most dreadful apprehensions of running on shore; which, had either the wind blown from its usual quarter [south-west] with its wonted vigour, or had not the moon suddenly shone out, not a ship amongst us could possibly have avoided. . . .13 One officer recalled seeing the cliffs rearing up “like two black Towers of an extraordinary height,” but every ship managed to get clear.14 Anson’s own log gave the Centurion’s longitude on April 13 as 87°51' W, while another surviving log gives a longitude of 84°12' W just before land was sighted.15 The difference between these estimates is itself an indication of how difficult it was to determine longitude reliably by DR. In fact the longitude of Noir Island is about 73 degrees West, which means that Anson’s estimate was out by nearly 14 degrees—a distance of almost five hundred nautical miles in this latitude. The authorized account of the voyage plausibly places the blame for these very large errors on the unexpected strength of the ocean currents in this locality: It was indeed most wonderful that the currents should have driven us to the eastward with such strength; for the whole squadron esteemed themselves upwards of ten degrees more westerly than this land, so that in running down, by our account, about nineteen degrees of longitude, we had not really advanced above half that distance.16 The squadron—from which two ships had already separated—faced further battering by storms as it struggled northward.


pages: 316 words: 90,165

You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves by Hiawatha Bray

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A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Albert Einstein, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, bitcoin, British Empire, call centre, crowdsourcing, Dava Sobel, digital map, don't be evil, Edmond Halley, Edward Snowden, Firefox, game design, Google Earth, Hedy Lamarr / George Antheil, Isaac Newton, job automation, John Harrison: Longitude, John Snow's cholera map, license plate recognition, lone genius, openstreetmap, polynesian navigation, popular electronics, RAND corporation, RFID, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, trade route, turn-by-turn navigation, uranium enrichment, urban planning, V2 rocket, Zipcar

A sailor thousands of miles away could now calculate the time at Greenwich by using a sextant to measure lunar distance and then compare his results to Maskelyne’s tables. The lunar tables prepared by Maskelyne and his colleagues formed the core of a new nautical almanac. Published every year, it became an indispensable guide to the world’s navigators. Eventually Greenwich would become the baseline used by sailors worldwide to calculate longitude. However, the lunar method wasn’t nearly accurate enough for the remarkable man who finally solved the problem for good. British carpenter and self-taught clockmaker John Harrison spent about forty of his eighty-three years of life designing timepieces that could withstand the stresses of a sea voyage while still keeping accurate time. His H4 marine chronometer of 1755 was a near miracle of engineering, losing just a few seconds of accuracy even after months at sea. Harrison’s invention was just what the world’s navigators had needed.

Now if he knew that it was noon at some point on land, he would know that he was 45 degrees west of that point. How far is that in terms of miles? It depends how far north or south you were. At the equator, 15 degrees of longitude works out to about 1,035 miles of distance, or 69 miles for each degree. But the lines of longitude converge at the North and South Poles, so the distance covered by 15 degrees of longitude gets smaller as you move north or south of the equator. Luckily, a simple formula can be used to calculate the distance, as long as you already know your latitude. And, of course, navigators had already mastered latitude. Thus, if a sailor could nail down the calculation of longitude, he could quickly and accurately figure out his position on any ocean. So what the sailor needed was a highly accurate timepiece that could operate for months without gaining or losing more than a few minutes.

Ever since, the world’s official timekeeping organizations, such as America’s National Bureau of Standards, have embraced the new standard, called Coordinated Universal Time. Cesium clocks are extraordinarily accurate. The best of them will lose a second every 100 million years.9 Because they are tuned to the superfast vibration of cesium atoms, the clocks can subdivide time down to the billionth of a second. This extreme precision makes the atomic clock the twentieth-century equivalent of John Harrison’s pocket chronometer of 1761—a timepiece that transformed the art of navigation. The clocks’ pinpoint precision made it possible to measure the tiny variations in timing caused by distance. This capability was put to work in a navigational system called LORAN, which has been replaced by GPS in the United States and Canada, though it is still used in other countries, such as Russia. An upgraded version of a navigational system first used by the Allies in World War II, LORAN became even more accurate when atomic clocks were added.


pages: 368 words: 96,825

Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter H. Diamandis, Steven Kotler

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3D printing, additive manufacturing, Airbnb, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Amazon Web Services, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, cloud computing, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dematerialisation, deskilling, Elon Musk, en.wikipedia.org, Exxon Valdez, fear of failure, Firefox, Galaxy Zoo, Google Glasses, Google Hangouts, Google X / Alphabet X, gravity well, ImageNet competition, industrial robot, Internet of things, Jeff Bezos, John Harrison: Longitude, John Markoff, Jono Bacon, Just-in-time delivery, Kickstarter, Kodak vs Instagram, Law of Accelerating Returns, Lean Startup, life extension, loss aversion, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, Mars Rover, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microbiome, minimum viable product, move fast and break things, Narrative Science, Netflix Prize, Network effects, Oculus Rift, optical character recognition, packet switching, PageRank, pattern recognition, performance metric, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, Peter Thiel, pre–internet, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, ride hailing / ride sharing, risk tolerance, rolodex, self-driving car, sentiment analysis, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, skunkworks, Skype, smart grid, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, technoutopianism, telepresence, telepresence robot, Turing test, urban renewal, web application, X Prize, Y Combinator, zero-sum game

My first step, after realizing that an incentive prize might help me fulfill my personal moonshot, was to learn everything I could about prizes, their history, and how and why they worked. The Power of Incentive Competitions Orteig didn’t invent incentive prizes. Three centuries before Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic by plane, the British Parliament wanted some help crossing the Atlantic by ship. In 1714, the £20,000 Longitude Prize was offered to the first person to accurately measure longitude at sea. It worked. In 1765, horologist John Harrison pulled it off, but beyond opening the oceans to navigation, this competition brought incentive prizes—as a method for driving innovation—into the public eye. The idea spread quickly. In 1795, for example, Napoléon I offered a 12,000-franc prize for a method of food preservation to help feed his army on its long march into Russia. The winner, Nicolas Appert, a French candy maker, established the basic method of canning, still in use today.2 In 1823 the French government offered another prize, this one a 6,000-franc purse for the development of a large-scale commercial hydraulic turbine.

The best incentive competitions are global in nature. In seeking the broadest range of qualified teams—independent of age, education, and experience—you maximize the opportunity for breakthrough results. In other words, don’t try to anticipate where solutions will come from. In the case of the Longitude Prize, the British Admiralty was so certain that determining longitude would come from looking at the stars, they filled the committee charged with picking the winner with astronomers. As a result, John Harrison, a watchmaker, was denied the purse for nearly a decade. 12. Prize timelines and deadlines. The prize timeline is a function of the competition’s degree of difficulty. Smaller HeroX challenges might be awarded in six months to a year, while larger-end $10 million XPRIZEs are designed to be won in a three- to eight-year time frame.

Louis (New York: Scribner, 1953). 2 Stephen Schaber, “Why Napoleon Offered a Prize for Inventing Canned Food,” NPR, March 5, 2012, http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/03/01/147751097/why-napoleon-offered-a-prize-for-inventing-canned-food. 3 Knowledge Ecology International, “Selected Innovation Prizes and Reward Programs,” KEI Research Note 2008:1, http://keionline.org/misc-docs/research_notes/kei_rn_2008_1.pdf. 4 All Marcus Shingles quotes come from an AI conducted 2014. 5 Burt Rutan, “The real future of space exploration,” TED, February 2006, https://www.ted.com/talks/burt_rutan_sees_the_future_of_space. 6 Statista, “Statistics and facts on Sports Sponsorship,” Sports sponsorship Statista Dossier 2013, March 2013. 7 Alice Roberts, “A true sea shanty: the story behind the Longitude prize,” The Observer, May 17, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/may/18/true-sea-shanty-story-behind-longitude-prize-john-harrison. 8 See http://www.interculturalstudies.org/faq.html#quote. 9 Dan Heath and Chip Heath, “Get Back in the Box: How Constraints Can Free Your Team’s Thinking,” Fast Company, December 1, 2007, http://www.fastcompany.com/61175/get-back-box. 10 For all things LunarX, see http://www.googlelunarxprize.org. 11 Campbell Robertson and Clifford Krauss, “Gulf Spill Is the Largest of Its Kind, Scientists Say,” New York Times, August 2, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/us/03spill.html?


pages: 456 words: 123,534

The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution by Charles R. Morris

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air freight, British Empire, business process, California gold rush, clean water, colonial exploitation, computer age, Dava Sobel, en.wikipedia.org, glass ceiling, hiring and firing, if you build it, they will come, interchangeable parts, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, joint-stock company, lone genius, manufacturing employment, new economy, New Urbanism, old age dependency ratio, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, purchasing power parity, QWERTY keyboard, refrigerator car, Robert Gordon, spinning jenny, Stephen Hawking, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, trade route, transcontinental railway, traveling salesman

In swamps and bogs, the iron is precipitated by oxidation and bacterial action, forming low-grade ore deposits that sink into the mud. Ore raisers recovered the iron by dredging. It was then roasted and thoroughly dried (steam could explode a blast furnace) and pulverized in a stamping mill to reduce the impurities before smelting. Most ancient iron was from bog iron, but it is no longer used for industrial purposes. New Jersey’s iron bogs now produce cranberries. t John Harrison used wooden gears in the first longitude chronometers because the oils in the wood made them self-lubricating. Brass was harder and more durable but needed external lubrication, which trapped dust and other contaminants. Harrison feared that their accuracy would degrade on an extended voyage. As he shrank his chronometers, small-dimension machining mandated the switch to brass components. His prize-winning chronometer was watch-sized and had all brass works.

A century later, that bias, perhaps interacting with a certain upper-class intellectual style, may have disadvantaged Great Britain in its inevitable industrial confrontation with the United States. The Longitude Problem Eighteenth-century British admirals grumbled about keeping their ships out past August. The navigational apparatus for taking latitude readings—the north/south position—was quite accurate. The noon sighting—to fix the latitude, recalibrate the ship’s clock, and turn the calendar—was inviolable ritual on British warships. A captain could readily find a line on the same latitude as the mouth of the English Channel and ride it home. Without obvious landmarks, however, it was much harder to divine how far east or west you were. That was the longitude problem, and to a seafaring nation it was of first importance. Without accurate longitude readings, ships could lose all sense of location in open oceans. Even when familiar trade routes were known to harbor pirates, merchants dared not vary from them for fear of getting lost.

But observational instruments were not nearly accurate enough to track anything but the grossest positional changes of the moon with reference to the fixed stars. Even if they had the requisite accuracy, it would be very difficult to take such readings from the deck of a rolling ship. There were also some nasty mathematical complications to correct both your position and the reading from Greenwich to that of an observer at the center of the earth. Newton, for once, was wrong, and the watchmakers won. A self-taught genius named John Harrison built four candidate clocks over thirty years. They were highly innovative but extremely complex, and there were serious questions about their reproducibility. Nevertheless, all of them met the requirements for the prize, although it took the intervention of the king to secure Harrison his award, in part because of opposition from the astronomers who dominated the awards committee.l In the event, roughly a quarter century after Harrison’s death in 1777, watchmakers in both France and England were turning out affordable and reliable pocket-sized marine chronometers that enabled longitudinal calculations satisfactory for most purposes.


pages: 240 words: 75,304

Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time by Clark Blaise

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British Empire, creative destruction, Dava Sobel, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Khartoum Gordon, Robert Gordon, Silicon Valley, transcontinental railway, traveling salesman, Upton Sinclair

But I, as Superintendent of the Greenwich Observatory, entirely repudiate the idea of founding any claim on this. Let Greenwich do her best to maintain her high position in administering to the longitude of the world, and Nautical Almanacs do their best, and we will unite our effort without special acclaim to the fictitious honour of a Prime Meridian. Airy’s conclusion strikes the scornful, above-the-battle stance to which astronomy often aspires. (One need only recall the arguments recorded in Dava Sobel’s Longitude, the contempt of an earlier astronomer-royal, Sir Nevil Meskalyne, for the provincial clock-maker John Harrison.) Airy’s recommendation to the Privy Council was to abstain from any “novelty” or “social usage,” on the principle that government intervention might prove more harmful than the recognized inconveniences enumerated in Fleming’s paper.

It will be seen that we are about 40 degrees nearer Greenwich and therefore 40/360th or about 1/9th the circumference of the Globe (in this latitude) away from Toronto and therefore our time on board should be 1/9th of 24 hours faster than Toronto time, hence where it is noon by my watch it is 2:40 o’clock by ship’s time. Between noon yesterday and noon today we ran easterly about five and a half degrees longitude and as each degree of longitude is equal to 24 hours divided by 360, or four minutes of time, the ship clock has to be moved forward four minutes for each degree of longitude passed over and thus today five and a half times 4 equals 22 minutes. At this rate our lunch which is at noon will come about twenty minutes sooner every day. The distance between Quebec and Glasgow by the course of the ship is about 2900 miles and this afternoon we have passed over about half that distance.

First of all, he proposed the rescinding of the Rome accord on the universal day (one of the last Fleming initiatives still standing). The universal day should begin at the Greenwich midnight, not noon, for the avoidance of double-counting the dates in Europe and North America. The Russian deserves credit for the east-west division of longitudes, 180 degrees east and west from the zero meridian, also an overturning of a Fleming-supported Rome agreement. Otherwise, Greenwich would have been in the anomalous position of lying, simultaneously, on the zero and the 360th degree of longitude. Villages a few miles west of Greenwich would carry unwieldy coordinates like 359 degrees west longitude, while neighboring towns a few miles east might lie at two degrees. To de Struve also goes the credit for unifying the astronomer’s day with the civil day (“We think it easier for the astronomers to change the starting point, and to make allowance for the twelve hours of difference in their calculations, than it would be for the public and for the business men, if the date for the universal time began at noon, and not at midnight”) and, perhaps most significantly, for the creation of the all-important international date line (“the change of the day of the week, historically established on or about the anti-meridian of Greenwich, should henceforth take place exactly on that meridian”).


pages: 385 words: 103,561

Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Our World by Greg Milner

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Ayatollah Khomeini, British Empire, creative destruction, data acquisition, Dava Sobel, digital map, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, experimental subject, Flash crash, friendly fire, Hedy Lamarr / George Antheil, Internet of things, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, land tenure, lone genius, Mars Rover, Mercator projection, place-making, polynesian navigation, precision agriculture, race to the bottom, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, skunkworks, smart grid, the map is not the territory

But it was ultimately the horological solution that prevailed. John Harrison, a self-taught clockmaker, developed an ocean-hardened chronometer he called H4. The first reproduction of H4 was carried on Cook’s second Pacific voyage, when his encounter with Tupaia was a distant memory. Having tested it against the lunar distance method for calculating longitude, Cook offered rave reviews of the chronometer when he returned to England in July 1775, calling it “our trusty friend” and “our never failing guide.” The chronometer soon became standard. The longitude problem was solved. The significance of the chronometer cannot be overstated. Its effect on the world rivals that of any other invention, including the printing press and the microchip. Dava Sobel, in her definitive history of Harrison’s creation, Longitude, notes (without endorsing) the theory that the chronometer “facilitated England’s mastery over the oceans and thereby led to the creation of the British Empire, for it was by dint of the chronometer . . . that Britannia ruled the waves.”

Captains might increase the certainty of their bearings by hewing close to latitudinal parallels, the method Columbus used during his voyage to North America. By the early eighteenth century, longitude miscalculations were responsible for several deadly shipwrecks. The problem was not merely safety, but also the perceived economic losses caused by the inability of ships to go anywhere and everywhere with confidence. The widespread skepticism that longitude was conquerable was reflected in the common colloquialism “discovering the longitude,” which meant attempting the impossible. The longitude problem presented itself as a classic Enlightenment conundrum. To search for “the longitude”—and discover it—was to pursue a kind of perfect knowledge. Conceptually, there were two potential solutions: either a clock robust enough for sea travel, or some kind of astronomical method of apprehending time.

Latitude, a ship’s north–south position, was a fairly simple proposition, calculable by observing astronomical phenomena such as the heights and angle of stars, using a sextant. Longitude, one’s east–west position, was trickier, largely because it doesn’t exist in an objective sense. It is more like a conceptual imposition engraved on the planet’s face. The planet really does have an equator and two poles for us to define north and south. Longitude is defined in relation to a prime meridian, a line stretching between the poles. This meridian can be anywhere. Throughout history it has been placed at different spots, until the world reached a consensus that zero degrees is defined by a line running through the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in London. Simple astronomical observations won’t yield longitude at sea. One needs to know what time it is at that spot on the ocean, and also what time it is at some spot where the longitude is already known. With that knowledge, the math is simple: the Earth rotates 360 degrees in twenty-four hours, so each difference of an hour represents a movement of 15 degrees from the reference point.


pages: 661 words: 169,298

Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Atahualpa, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, delayed gratification, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, Karl Jansky, Lao Tzu, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, planetary scale, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Solar eclipse in 1919, source of truth, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

Still, the longitude problem was obviously imperative, and more than a few inventors took it on, encouraged by the large cash prizes proffered by the governments of seafaring states like Spain, Portugal, Venice, Holland, and England. The richest of these was a prize of twenty thousand pounds, offered by the British Board of Longitude to anyone who could devise a practicable method of determining longitude on a transatlantic crossing to within one-half a degree, which equals sixty-three nautical miles at the latitude of London. John Harrison, an uneducated carpenter turned clock-maker, pursued the prize for much of his working life. He constructed a succession of “watches” (the term, meaning a portable clock, comes from the shipboard practice of dividing up the day into six watches of four hours each) of increasingly subtle and rugged design, checking them for accuracy by observing the disappearance of designated stars behind a neighbor’s chimney each night.

Time: 1755 Noteworthy Events: Kant proposes that spiral nebulae are galaxies of stars. Time: 1761, 1769 Noteworthy Events: Transits of Venus observed by widely scattered scientific expeditions, permitting new determinations of the distance from the earth to the sun—the “astronomical unit.” Time: 1765 Noteworthy Events: John Harrison is acknowledged by the English Board of Longitude to have developed the marine chronometer, making possible accurate timekeeping and the determination of longitude at sea. Time: 1766 Noteworthy Events: Henry Cavendish identifies hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. Time: 1781 Noteworthy Events: William Herschel discovers the planet Uranus. Time: 1783 Noteworthy Events: Herschel derives the general direction of the solar system’s motion through space, by studying the proper motion of thirteen bright stars.

It was just such an error that had dashed Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet on the rocks of the Scilly Islands. The problem of determining longitude at sea had defied resolution for so long that many regarded it as unsolvable. The mathematician in Cervantes’s The Dog’s Dialog muses crazily that he has “spent twenty-two years searching for the fixed point”— el punto fijo, the correct longitude—“and here it leaves me, and there I have it, and when it seems I really have it and it cannot possibly escape me, then, when I am not looking, I find myself so far away again that I am astonished. The same thing happens with squaring the circle.”3 Sebastian Cabot on his deathbed claimed that God had revealed the answer to him, but added, alas, that He had also sworn him to secrecy. Still, the longitude problem was obviously imperative, and more than a few inventors took it on, encouraged by the large cash prizes proffered by the governments of seafaring states like Spain, Portugal, Venice, Holland, and England.


pages: 398 words: 100,679

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch by Lewis Dartnell

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agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, clean water, Dava Sobel, decarbonisation, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, global village, Haber-Bosch Process, invention of movable type, invention of radio, invention of writing, iterative process, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, lone genius, mass immigration, nuclear winter, off grid, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, technology bubble, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, trade route

It took the monomaniacal, obsessive efforts of a single clockmaker, John Harrison, over much of his life, to design and construct a sufficiently accurate marine clock, and necessitated the invention of many new mechanisms along the way, including caged roller bearings to greatly reduce friction and the bimetallic strip to cancel out expansion with temperature. So is there a different way around the problem? Obviously, if any reliable clocks or digital watches have survived in the aftermath, all you would need to do is set one to the local time when you head off, pop it in your pocket during your odyssey, and take it out to compare against local time (which you’d still need to determine by sextant observation) to get a fix on your current longitude. But what if there are no relic timepieces? The problem in the early eighteenth century was that although you could work out your local time, you had no way of remotely telling the current time back in Greenwich.

These traces running north-south between the poles are called lines of longitude, and the east-west rings encircling the planet on either side of the equator are lines of latitude. All the lines of latitude are parallel to one another, and the lines of longitude cut across them always at right angles. So, near the waistband of the world the latitude-longitude coordinates approximate the street-avenue system on the flat plane of Manhattan, with the square grid increasingly distorted toward the poles by the spherical geometry of the Earth. As with the Manhattan streets, you need to set starting points so you can specify your numbered coordinates relative to them. The equator is the obvious 0° latitude line, but there is no corresponding natural zero mark for the longitude numbering: we happen to use Greenwich, London, as the “prime meridian” purely out of historical convention.

The Earth spins toward the east, causing the apparent motion of the Sun across the sky and the wheeling of the stars at night. The Sun’s position is how we define the time of day (right back to the fundamentals of sundials we saw earlier), and so the problem of finding your longitude—how far around the world you are from some chosen baseline—boils down to finding the difference in time of day at the same instant between the baseline and your current position. The Earth spins 360 degrees in 24 hours, so a difference in the timing of noon of one hour equates to 15 degrees of longitude. Determining your longitude is therefore a measure of time transposed back into space. In fact, you’ve almost certainly felt the solution to longitude acutely yourself: modern high-speed air transport teleports us between remote locations with very different local times before our bodies can adapt. Before GPS, navigators exploited the same principle as that behind jet lag!


pages: 367 words: 99,765

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings

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Asperger Syndrome, augmented reality, Bartolomé de las Casas, Berlin Wall, British Empire, clean water, David Brooks, digital map, don't be evil, dumpster diving, Eratosthenes, game design, Google Earth, helicopter parent, hive mind, index card, John Harrison: Longitude, John Snow's cholera map, Mercator projection, Mercator projection distort size, especially Greenland and Africa, Mikhail Gorbachev, New Journalism, openstreetmap, place-making, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, Skype, Stewart Brand, Tacoma Narrows Bridge, traveling salesman, urban planning

The early mapmakers deserve every bit of this attention. Today we’re so surrounded by high-quality maps that we have the tendency to take them for granted. Well, of course this is what my hometown looks like! See, here it is on Google Earth. Maybe we can remember or imagine a time when there was no aerial imagery or airborne radar or GPS, but 250 years ago, before John Harrison invented the marine chronometer, there wasn’t even a reliable way for sailors to measure their own longitude. Think about that for a moment: the best technology on Earth couldn’t tell you how far east or west you were at any given moment. That’s a wee bit of an obstacle when it comes to drawing reliable maps. When Ptolemy mapped the known world in the second century, he had to rely on oral histories and a series of rough mathematical guesses to gauge east-west distances.

I must have been distracted by the thought of thousands of confluence hunters combing the Earth for perfectly arbitrary geometric points. At least members of the Highpointers Club are climbing to real geographical peaks, albeit minor ones in many cases. The earth’s grid of latitude and longitude, on the other hand, is entirely arbitrary. The fact that we divide the circle into 360 degrees is an ancient artifact based on the Babylonians’ (incorrect) estimate of the number of days in a year. Lines of longitude are even more arbitrary, since the Earth doesn’t have any West Pole or East Pole. Our current zero-degree line of longitude, the Prime Meridian through Greenwich, was a convention chosen only after much political wrangling at the 1884 International Meridian Conference, called by mutton-chopped U.S. president Chester A. Arthur. France refused to vote for the London line and continued to use its own meridian, through Paris, for thirty years.

* Google Map Maker has a complicated set of protocols in place to avoid Wikivandalism on its maps. “So if I draw imaginary highways to spell dirty words in the middle of Siberia, you’ll catch me?” I asked Google’s Jessica Pfund. “Oh, we’ve seen that,” she said wearily. * If you do the math, there are actually 64,422 latitude and longitude confluences, but most of them are located on water or on the polar icecaps. Jarrett and company have also disallowed many of the higher-latitude confluences because lines of longitude converge there. As you get further from the Equator, confluences crowd together until they’re less than two miles apart at the poles. * The singular form of “antipode” has three syllables, like “antipope,” but the plural has four: “an-tip-uh-deez.” This is because the word “antipode” shouldn’t really exist at all.


pages: 88 words: 26,603

Asteroid Hunters (TED Books) by Carrie Nugent

Dava Sobel, John Harrison: Longitude, Kuiper Belt

He desperately wanted to calculate the orbit himself before releasing his observations to the world, as the orbit would confirm the discovery, adding weight to his claim. But pressure from the other astronomers was mounting (Rule #2: “Share your observations”). Everyone was itching to see this new planet for themselves. Not everyone was being nice about it. Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, has been remembered by history as a bit of a jerk. (If you have read Dava Sobel’s Longitude, you may remember Maskelyne as John Harrison’s nemesis). At this time, he wrote a particularly nasty passage: “There is great astronomical news: Mr. Piazzi, Astronomer to the King of the two Sicilies, at Palermo, discovered a new planet the beginning of this year, and was so covetous as to keep this delicious morsel to himself for six weeks; when he was punished for his illiberality by a fit of sickness . . .” Piazzi, unable to calculate an orbit, eventually caved and shared his observations, which were quickly distributed.

“The first thing that’s got to be done is to really understand as best we can what the orbit is, and if it’s really an impactor or not,” he said. To determine its orbit, astronomers would need as many observations of the asteroid’s position as possible. This would require international cooperation. Some asteroids are only visible from one hemisphere on Earth; it’s possible that tracking would need to be done by astronomers in countries below the equator. And since telescopes can’t look at the Sun, you’d want observatories at different longitudes, so the asteroid could be monitored constantly as night falls around the globe. But even after thousands of observations, there’s still going to be a small amount of uncertainty in where exactly the asteroid is going. Although the orbit might be predicted with extraordinary precision, the chance it has of hitting Earth is expressed as a probability. This is very similar to predicting the weather.


pages: 350 words: 103,988

Reinventing the Bazaar: A Natural History of Markets by John McMillan

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accounting loophole / creative accounting, Albert Einstein, Alvin Roth, Andrei Shleifer, Anton Chekhov, Asian financial crisis, congestion charging, corporate governance, corporate raider, crony capitalism, Dava Sobel, Deng Xiaoping, experimental economics, experimental subject, fear of failure, first-price auction, frictionless, frictionless market, George Akerlof, George Gilder, global village, Hernando de Soto, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, income inequality, income per capita, informal economy, information asymmetry, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, job-hopping, John Harrison: Longitude, John von Neumann, Kenneth Arrow, land reform, lone genius, manufacturing employment, market clearing, market design, market friction, market microstructure, means of production, Network effects, new economy, offshore financial centre, ought to be enough for anybody, pez dispenser, pre–internet, price mechanism, profit maximization, profit motive, proxy bid, purchasing power parity, Ronald Coase, Ronald Reagan, sealed-bid auction, second-price auction, Silicon Valley, spectrum auction, Stewart Brand, The Market for Lemons, The Nature of the Firm, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, trade liberalization, transaction costs, War on Poverty, Xiaogang Anhui farmers, yield management

With the technology freely available to all, the market would be competitive and the price would be driven down to manufacturing cost. An early precedent for a buyout is the prize the British Parliament offered in the eighteenth century for a method of determining longitude, as chronicled by Dava Sobel in her absorbing book Longitude. Untold lives had been lost in shipwrecks caused by navigation errors, so the prize offered was a rich £20,000. A host of inventors submitted ideas, most of them hare-brained. The problem of measuring longitude accurately was solved by a humble clockmaker, John Harrison, with his invention of the chronometer. Its design was made available “for the use of the public” and it came to be mass-produced and universally used aboard ships, making sea journeys far less hazardous. Could a buyout mechanism be as successful in generating innovation in pharmaceuticals as it was in begetting the chronometer?

The difficulty is, as usual, one of information. The value of an innovation is impossible to assess in advance. Governments—and everyone else—lack the knowledge to set the buyout price optimally. If it is set too low, it will not succeed in generating any new drugs. If it is set too high, on the other hand, the taxpayers’ money will be misspent. In the case of the prize for the measurement of longitude, for instance, the flurry of activity set off by the announcement of the prize and John Harrison’s own actions suggest, with the benefit of hindsight, that a more modest prize might have worked as well.12 A research tournament is an alternative way of generating innovation. This offers a cash prize, as with the buyout mechanism, but is awarded differently. The prize is paid on a specified date and is not delayed until whenever the innovation is successfully completed.

The Economic Consequences of Taxing the Rich. Cambridge, Harvard University Press. Smith, Adam. 1976. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. First published in 1776. Smith, Eugene. 1975. Minamata, New York, Holt, Rinehart, Winston. Smith, Vernon L. 1982. “Microeconomic Systems as an Experimental Science.” American Economic Review 72, 923–955. Sobel, Dava. 1996. Longitude. New York, Penguin. Sobel, Joel, and Takahashi, Ichiro. 1983. “A Multistage Model of Bargaining.” Review of Economic Studies 50, 411–426. Sobel, Robert. 1970. The Curbstone Brokers: The Origins of the American Stock Exchange. New York, Macmillan. Spence, A Michael. 1973. “Job Market Signaling.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 87, 355–374. Spulber, Daniel F. 1996. “Market Microstructure and Intermediation.”


pages: 319 words: 105,949

Skyfaring: A Journey With a Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker

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Airbus A320, British Empire, Cape to Cairo, computer age, dark matter, digital map, Edmond Halley, John Harrison: Longitude, Louis Blériot, Maui Hawaii, out of africa, phenotype, place-making, planetary scale, Ralph Waldo Emerson, random walk, the built environment, transcontinental railway

Nor can they be interfered with externally—indeed, the development of inertial navigation was spurred by the need for accurate, jamming-proof guidance systems for missiles. Flying over north London I can see a churchyard in which I sometimes sit with a coffee, where the tomb of John Harrison, “late of Red-Lion Square,” stands. Encouraged by the astronomer Edmund Halley, Harrison developed the “sea clocks” that helped solve the longitude problem, the difficulty with determining one’s east–west position at sea, an achievement so important that the officials who recognized it were known as Commissioners of Longitude. At such moments over London, as we come to the end of the planetwide countdown that every flight to this city effects, our longitude is nearly zero; it may ticktock from west and east and back to west as we cross the Greenwich Meridian in the next minutes of our approach pattern to Heathrow. I reckon we could just about explain to an admiral or navigator from several hundred years ago how GPS works.

He wrote these letters on a ship sailing from New York to San Francisco, all around South America, via Cape Horn, on the sort of sea journey his railroad would relegate to history. Transfixed by the ocean, he wrote to his brother that if he had had such an experience of the sea when he was younger, he might have devoted himself to nautical adventures rather than the “pursuits on land” that would bring him his fame and fortune. The captain on Hopkins’s ship, after determining the latitude and longitude, posted this information “where all may see and enter in their journal.” In the cockpit green digits show our longitude and latitude, much as the captain’s notice showed Hopkins the last-known position that he then copied onto his letters, an itinerant and star-sighted address as important a detail to him as the date. Hopkins also wrote about the stars at sea, which have “a serenity and bewitching loveliness in these latitudes such as I have never seen on land.”

Before I became a pilot I had the naive sense—a feeling, as opposed to what I’d been taught to the contrary—that most people lived in a world that looked something like where I grew up: small towns, forests, fields, four seasons, hills in some recurring, familiar pattern, the reference of a coastline a few hours away, and the vague gravity of a major metropolis at some similar distance. Today I understand in a direct and visual sense what I learned in school, that humanity is concentrated in a dense set of the lower latitudes of the northern hemisphere, and further in a dense set of longitudes in the eastern hemisphere; and what I have read since school, that ours is an age of cities—small ones as well as the conurbations like Mumbai, Beijing, and São Paulo that dominate the urban earth—in which for the first time a majority of humanity lives. A plane’s center of gravity is a critical piece of information that pilots receive before takeoff; it depends on the weight and location on the aircraft of the passengers, cargo, and fuel.


pages: 284 words: 79,265

The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman

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Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Andrew Wiles, bioinformatics, British Empire, Cesare Marchetti: Marchetti’s constant, Chelsea Manning, Clayton Christensen, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, conceptual framework, David Brooks, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, Galaxy Zoo, guest worker program, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, index fund, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, life extension, Marc Andreessen, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Milgram experiment, Nicholas Carr, p-value, Paul Erdős, Pluto: dwarf planet, publication bias, randomized controlled trial, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, social graph, social web, text mining, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation

This was true even before computers and large scientific databases. Revealing hidden knowledge through the power of the crowd has been a great idea at almost any time in human history. This is behind the concept of the innovation prize. The British government once offered a prize for the first solution to accurately measure longitude at sea—created in 1714 and awarded to John Harrison in 1773—but this was by no means the first such prize. Other governments had previously offered other prizes for longitude: the Netherlands in 1627 and Spain as early as 1567. They hoped that by getting enough people to work on this problem, the solution—perhaps obtained by drawing on ideas from different fields—would emerge. In 1771, a French academy offered a prize for finding a vegetable that would provide adequate nutrition during a time of famine.

Robert Merton, a renowned sociologist of science, argued in “Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth-Century England” that the concerns of the English people during this time period affected where the scientists and engineers of that century focused their attentions. It is unsurprising that they were obsessed with the construction of precise timepieces—that is what was needed in order to carefully measure longitude on the high seas, something of an English preoccupation during this time. In addition, Merton argued that it wasn’t just the overall population size that caused innovation, but who these people were: It turns out that a greater percentage of eminent people of that time chose to become scientists rather than officers of the church or to go into the military. This in turn influenced the rapid innovation of England, rather than overall population size.

., 174 Godwin’s law, 105 Goldbach’s Conjecture, 112–13 Goodman, Steven, 107–8 Gould, Stephen Jay, 82 grammar: descriptive, 188–89 prescriptive, 188–89, 194 Granovetter, Mark, 76–78 Graves’ disease, 111 Great Vowel Shift, 191–93 Green, George, 105–6 growth: exponential, 10–14, 44–45, 46–47, 54–55, 57, 59, 130, 204 hyperbolic, 59 linear, 10, 11 Gumbel, Bryant, 41 Gutenberg, Johannes, 71–73, 78, 95 Hamblin, Terry, 83 Harrison, John, 102 Hawthorne effect, 55–56 helium, 104 Helmann, John, 162 Henrich, Joseph, 58 hepatitis, 28–30 hidden knowledge, 96–120 h-index, 17 Hirsch, Jorge, 17 History of the Modern Fact, A (Poovey), 200 Holmes, Sherlock, 206 homeoteleuton, 89 Hooke, Robert, 21, 94 Hull, David, 187–88 human anatomy, 23 human computation, 20 hydrogen, 151 hyperbolic growth rate, 59 idiolect, 190 impact factors, 16–17 inattentional blindness (change blindness), 177–79 India, 140–41 informational index funds, 197 information transformation, 43–44, 46 InnoCentive, 96–98, 101, 102 innovation, 204 population size and, 135–37, 202 prizes for, 102–3 simultaneous, 104–5 integrated circuits, 42, 43, 55, 203 Intel Corporation, 42 interdisciplinary research, 68–69 International Bureau of Weights and Measures, 47 Internet, 2, 40–41, 53, 198, 208, 211 Ioannidis, John, 156–61, 162 iPhone, 123 iron: magnetic properties of, 49–50 in spinach, 83–84 Ising, Ernst, 124, 125–26, 138 isotopes, 151 Jackson, John Hughlings, 30 Johnson, Steven, 119 Journal of Physical and Chemical Reference Data, 33–35 journals, 9, 12, 16–17, 32 Kahneman, Daniel, 177 Kay, Alan, 173 Kelly, Kevin, 38, 46 Kelly, Stuart, 115 Kelvin, Lord, 142–43 Kennaway, Kristian, 86 Keynes, John Maynard, 172 kidney stones, 52 kilogram, 147–48 Kiribati, 203 Kissinger, Henry, 190 Kleinberg, Jon, 92–93 knowledge and facts, 5, 54 cumulative, 56–57 erroneous, 78–95, 211–14 half-lives of, 1–8, 202 hidden, 96–120 phase transitions in, 121–39, 185 spread of, 66–95 Koh, Heebyung, 43, 45–46, 56 Kremer, Michael, 58–61 Kuhn, Thomas, 163, 186 Lambton, William, 140 land bridges, 57, 59–60 language, 188–94 French Canadians and, 193–94 grammar and, 188–89, 194 Great Vowel Shift and, 191–93 idiolect and, 190 situation-based dialect and, 190 verbs in, 189 voice onset time and, 190 Large Hadron Collider, 159 Laughlin, Gregory, 129–31 “Laws Underlying the Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood, The” (Carroll), 36–37 Lazarus taxa, 27–28 Le Fanu, James, 23 LEGO, 184–85, 194 Lehman, Harvey, 13–14, 15 Leibniz, Gottfried, 67 Lenat, Doug, 112 Levan, Albert, 1–2 Liben-Nowell, David, 92–93 libraries, 31–32 life span, 53–54 Lincoln, Abraham, 70 linear growth, 10, 11 Linnaeus, Carl, 22, 204 Lippincott, Sara, 86 Lipson, Hod, 113 Little Science, Big Science (Price), 13 logistic curves, 44–46, 50, 116, 130, 203–4 longitude, 102 Long Now Foundation, 195 long tails: of discovery, 38 of expertise, 96, 102 of life, 38 of popularity, 103 Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), 98, 100–101 machine intelligence, 207 Magee, Chris, 43, 45–46, 56, 207–8 magicians, 178–79 magnetic properties of iron, 49–50 Maldives, 203 Malthus, Thomas, 59 mammal species, 22, 23, 128 extinct, 28 manuscripts, 87–91, 114–16 Marchetti, Cesare, 64 Marsh, Othniel, 80–81, 169 mathematics, 19, 51, 112–14, 124–25, 132–35 Matthew effect, 103 Mauboussin, Michael, 84 Mayor, Michel, 122 McGovern, George, 66 McIntosh, J.


pages: 778 words: 227,196

The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes

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Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, British Empire, Copley Medal, Dava Sobel, double helix, Edmond Halley, Etonian, experimental subject, Fellow of the Royal Society, invention of the printing press, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John Harrison: Longitude, music of the spheres, placebo effect, polynesian navigation, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, trade route, unbiased observer, University of East Anglia, éminence grise

Her Conversations became a winning publishing formula, which she successfully expanded to cover several other topics, notably in her Conversations on Natural Philosophy (1819). NEVIL MASKELYNE, 1732-1811. FRS. Mathematician and Astronomer Royal, who produced a valuable Astronomical Almanac for mariners. He supported Herschel at the Royal Society, and later became a loyal and kindly friend of Caroline’s, having her stay on her own at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. He sat on the Board of Longitude, and was subsequently vilified - perhaps unjustly - for his treatment of the chronometer-maker John Harrison. He had a complex relationship with Sir Joseph Banks, whom he did not think knew enough mathematics. WILLIAM NICHOLSON, 1753-1815. British chemist and early experimenter with electrolysis, who famously repeated Lavoisier’s experiment decomposing water into hydrogen and oxygen, thereby demonstrating that it was not a primary ‘element’. He was the founder and editor of Nicholson’s Scientific Journal, an influential monthly publication, comparable to today’s New Scientist, which published many of Davy’s early papers.

But it may not be improper to set you right in one particular which you possibly may have misunderstood, and that is that you suppose the ships to have been fitted out for your use, which I own I by no means apprehend to be the case.’80 The Admiralty had, in effect, rejected the notion of underwriting another purely scientific voyage, for what Sandwich called ‘improvements in natural knowledge’. From now on Cook’s voyages were to take on more practical and empire-building objectives (though they would include testing the rival chronometers of John Harrison and John Arnold). Lord Sandwich made it clear that Banks would have to pursue his science on his own: ‘Upon the whole I hope that for the advantage of the curious part of Mankind, your zeal for distant voyages will not yet cease, I heartily wish you success in all your undertakings, but I would advise you in order to ensure success to fit out a ship yourself; that, and only that, can give you the absolute command of the whole Expedition.’81 So Banks commissioned his own brig, the Sir Lawrence, went to the Hebrides and inspected Fingal’s Cave, and then sailed on to Iceland, where he made many friends, admired the geysers and volcanoes, collected lava specimens, but made few original discoveries.

On 8 May Herschel left for London, his precious telescope and folding stand perilously packed into a mahogany travel-box (’to be screwed together on the spot where wanted’), accompanied by a hastily assembled trunk of equipment including his large Flamsteed atlas (marked up by Caroline), his new catalogue of double stars (similarly written up by Caroline), ‘micrometers, tables, etc’, and rather makeshift court dress.144 At Greenwich, Maskelyne was stunned by the superior quality and light-gathering power of Herschel’s ‘home made’ mirrors. He immediately recognised that they were far more powerful than any of the official observatory telescopes, and probably than any other telescope in Europe. Maskelyne, reputed to be a jealous and illiberal man because of his supposed ill-treatment of the watchmaker John Harrison, behaved with great forthrightness and generosity to Herschel. On 3 June 1782 Herschel wrote exuberantly to Caroline, casting aside his usual circumspect tone: ‘Dear Lina…The last two nights I have been star-gazing at Greenwich with Dr Maskelyne & Mr Aubert. We have compared our telescopes together and mine was found very superior to any at the Royal Observatory. Double stars they could not see with their instruments I had the pleasure to show them very plainly, and my [folding stand] mechanism so much approved of that Dr Maskelyne has already ordered a model to be taken from mine; and a stand to be made by it for his reflector.


pages: 1,197 words: 304,245

The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution by David Wootton

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agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, British Empire, clockwork universe, Commentariolus, commoditize, conceptual framework, Dava Sobel, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, en.wikipedia.org, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, germ theory of disease, Google X / Alphabet X, Hans Lippershey, interchangeable parts, invention of gunpowder, invention of the steam engine, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, knowledge economy, lone genius, Mercator projection, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Philip Mirowski, placebo effect, QWERTY keyboard, Republic of Letters, spice trade, spinning jenny, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

Meanwhile, Robert Hooke, Huygens and Jean de Hautefeuille devised between 1658 and 1674 ways of controlling a balance wheel (which had been invented in the fourteenth century, and was more stable than a pendulum for a travelling timepiece) with a spring so that small clocks and watches would tell time reliably. Still, the task of making a seagoing clock or watch was far from solved: such a timepiece had to remain accurate despite changes in temperature and humidity, and despite the movement of the waves. The problem was not solved until John Harrison produced the first reliable marine chronometer in 1735.18 Were the discoveries of Galileo, Hooke and Huygens irrelevant? Certainly not, but they were insufficient. It took more than a century to solve the problem, but in the course of that century steady progress was made towards a solution. Clockwork, of course, was not a seventeenth-century innovation. As we have seen, the first mechanical clocks date to the late thirteenth century, and their geared machinery derived from water-wheels and windmills.

This is beautifully illustrated by a diagram Peter Apian drew for his Cosmographic Book (1524). It shows how the measurement of longitude and latitude depends upon reference to an imaginary grid. To simplify things, Apian treats this grid as if it were a flat surface, not a sphere. And he presents it in perspective, with two parallel lines converging towards a vanishing point. It is, in fact, just like the grid used by artists to establish the picture plane, and its representation requires the same techniques as the representation of a tiled floor. The great art historian Erwin Panofsky claimed that the tiled floors in perspective paintings were the first abstract system of coordinates; he was wrong, because Ptolemy had already invented longitude and latitude as a system of coordinates, but he was right to think that perspective painting implies an abstract system of coordinates.73 In the bottom-left-hand corner of Apian’s diagram he has drawn some mountains, suggestive of a real place, perhaps even a reference to the Alps.

Kepler was convinced one had to think of forces flowing through space – his inspiration was provided by Gilbert’s recently published study of the magnet – and ask oneself how a celestial helmsman would take his bearings.21 Consequently, he insisted on using one single mathematical model to account for a planet’s movement across the heavens. When he tried to employ this method for Mars using Brahe’s combination of circles, he could get satisfactory results for the longitudes (2 minutes of error), but then the latitudes failed. When he readjusted the geometry to get the latitudes right, the error in the longitudes climbed to a value that would once have been dismissed as insignificant but which Kepler now thought intolerable: a full 8 minutes.22 The truth is that, if Kepler had been determined to find a system of circles that would fit, he could have done so, as he later recognized. But instead he began to play around with other mathematical models, and he discovered that he could produce results to a satisfactory standard of accuracy (better than 2 minutes) if he modelled the orbit as an ellipse with the sun as its focus.


pages: 442 words: 110,704

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel

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Albert Einstein, card file, Cepheid variable, crowdsourcing, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Ernest Rutherford, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, index card, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, pattern recognition, QWERTY keyboard, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Solar eclipse in 1919, V2 rocket

Also by Dava Sobel Longitude Galileo’s Daughter Letters to Father The Planets A More Perfect Heaven And the Sun Stood Still (a play) VIKING An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC 375 Hudson Street New York, New York 10014 penguin.com Copyright © 2016 by John Harrison and Daughter, Ltd. Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices,promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader. Here: Angelo Secchi, Le soleil, 1875–1877.

While it would be unseemly, Pickering conceded, to subject a lady to the fatigue, not to mention the cold in winter, of telescope observing, women with a knack for figures could be accommodated in the computing room, where they did credit to the profession. Selina Bond, for example, was the daughter of the observatory’s revered first director, William Cranch Bond, and also the sister of his equally revered successor, George Phillips Bond. She was currently assisting Professor William Rogers in fixing the exact positions (in the celestial equivalents of latitude and longitude) for the several thousand stars in Harvard’s zone of the heavens, as part of a worldwide stellar mapping project administered by the Astronomische Gesellschaft in Germany. Professor Rogers spent every clear night at the large transit instrument, noting the times individual stars crossed the spider threads in the eyepiece. Since air—even clear air—bent the paths of light waves, shifting the stars’ apparent positions, Miss Bond applied the mathematical formula that corrected Professor Rogers’s notations for atmospheric effects.

Radial velocity An object’s speed of approach or recession along the line of sight. Radio astronomy A complement to optical astronomy; the study of electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths much longer than those of visible light. Redshift The shift of known spectral lines toward the red end of the spectrum, caused by the object’s motion away from the observer. Right ascension The celestial equivalent of longitude for stating star positions. Royal Astronomical Society The world’s first organization of astronomers, founded in 1820 as the Astronomical Society of London. Seeing The quality of the observing conditions, ideally cloudless skies and minimal movement of air. Astronomers rate seeing on a scale ranging from one (very poor) to ten (perfect). Spectrum The rainbow of colors (and Fraunhofer lines) contained in visible light.


pages: 252 words: 70,424

The Self-Made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value by John Sviokla, Mitch Cohen

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Cass Sunstein, Colonization of Mars, corporate raider, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Elon Musk, Frederick Winslow Taylor, game design, global supply chain, James Dyson, Jeff Bezos, John Harrison: Longitude, Jony Ive, loss aversion, Mark Zuckerberg, market design, old-boy network, paper trading, RAND corporation, randomized controlled trial, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, smart meter, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Tony Hsieh, Toyota Production System, young professional

HOW EXECUTIVES CAN APPLY THE LESSONS OF PATIENT URGENCY Businesses have understood time’s integral role in the success or failure of commerce since the early days of trade. As far back as 1736, when the British inventor John Harrison conducted the first sea test of the marine chronometer, a device that used time to accurately estimate a ship’s latitude and longitude at sea, businesses were dealing with the challenge posed by the uncertainty of time. Before Harrison’s invention, sea captains could only identify latitude by measuring the angle of the sun at noon, when it reached its apex, but without an accurate timepiece they had no way to measure longitude, and so quite literally had no idea where in the world they were at any given moment. Armed with a chronometer, sea captains could now navigate with more accuracy, avoid dangerous routes, and effectively decrease the length of their journeys.


pages: 607 words: 133,452

Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin, David K. Levine

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accounting loophole / creative accounting, agricultural Revolution, barriers to entry, cognitive bias, creative destruction, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Dean Kamen, Donald Trump, double entry bookkeeping, en.wikipedia.org, endogenous growth, Ernest Rutherford, experimental economics, financial innovation, informal economy, interchangeable parts, invention of radio, invention of the printing press, invisible hand, James Watt: steam engine, Jean Tirole, John Harrison: Longitude, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Arrow, linear programming, market bubble, market design, mutually assured destruction, Nash equilibrium, new economy, open economy, peer-to-peer, pirate software, placebo effect, price discrimination, profit maximization, rent-seeking, Richard Stallman, Silicon Valley, Skype, slashdot, software patent, the market place, total factor productivity, trade liberalization, transaction costs, Y2K

This may sound like we are making up unrealistic examples to build straw men that can easily catch fire. Nothing is further from truth. Consider the following discussion of some of the theoretical implications of the 1714–73 saga of John Harrison, his clocks, and the Board of Longitude prize. What Parliament had solicited was knowledge. What it got were four clocks, all different. Compare Harrison’s clocks with the astronomical algorithm that the board had hoped for. Such an algorithm did, in fact, materialize. The so-called lunar method used observations of distance between the moon and the stars to infer longitude. The lunar method had the essential feature of a pure public good: the tables that linked the observations to longitude were costly to compile in the first place, involving countless calculations, but once this was done, anyone could use the template at only the additional cost of owning the tables.

The clocks were certainly not, and the tables embodying the calculations were not either. If I were to take your clock or your table of calculations, that would certainly make it difficult for you to make use of the same. It is true that the tables were eventually made public together with the template of how to build the clock. This, however, is a consequence of the existence of the prize set by Parliament and administered by the Board of Longitude. The tables were “sold to the public” in exchange for the 10,000 pound prize, or at least for the promise of it, as it took a while for the prize to be awarded to Harrison. Absent the prize, Harrison would have most likely sold the clocks to skippers or shipowners in the most common of all private transactions: money for goods. To acquire usable knowledge, the buyers would have had to learn enough about astronomical laws, algebra, clock-making, and so on, to understand the tables and the template, and P1: KNP head margin: 1/2 gutter margin: 7/8 CUUS245-07 cuus245 978 0 521 87928 6 May 21, 2008 16:55 Defenses of Intellectual Monopoly 155 would have had to pay the requested price to the owner of the tables – the owner, that is, of the embodied knowledge.

P1: KXF head margin: 1/2 gutter margin: 7/8 CUUS245-IND cuus245 978 0 521 87928 6 April 29, 2008 10:0 Index abolition of intellectual property, 253–257 Bach, Johann Christian, 187 benefits of, 245 Badische Chemical Factory, 88 need for gradual approach to, 244–245 Baen, 35–36 reasons for, 243–244 Baker-Hamilton Commission, 25–26 advertising, sale of, 143 Bayh-Dole Act, 228 Africa, 64, 69, 258–259 Becker, Gary, 163–164 agglomeration, 164 Benetton, 56–57 agriculture, 51–56 Bessen, J., 77, 83–84, 197 impact of patents on, 197 biomedical research, patents as incentive in, innovation in, 52, 79 227–228 in Iraq, 81 biotechnology, 221–222 market for, 128–129 Blackberry, 5 oligopolization of, 79–80 Board of Longitude prize, 154–155 patents in, 52–53, 55–56, 79–82 Boldrin, M., 129 in poor and developing countries, Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act 80–81 of 1998 (CTEA), 7–8, 100–103, 104 profit in, 129 books, 22–26. See also publishing industry PVPA, 79 availability of and copyright, 103–104t, rice, 81 105 AIDS drugs, 69–71, 227, 258–259 Google Print, 89–90 airplane industry, 87–88 lack of copyright for in airplanes, simultaneous discovery in, nineteenth-century America, 22–23 206–207 profitability of without copyright, 22–26 Almeria, Spain, 56, 57 Borges, Jorge, 154 Amazon.com, 168–169 Boulton, Matthew, 1–3, 4–5, 11–12 American Seed Trade Association, 53 bribery in pharmaceutical industry, animals.


pages: 636 words: 202,284

Piracy : The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates by Adrian Johns

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active measures, banking crisis, Berlin Wall, British Empire, Buckminster Fuller, business intelligence, commoditize, Corn Laws, demand response, distributed generation, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, full employment, Hacker Ethic, Howard Rheingold, informal economy, invention of the printing press, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Marshall McLuhan, Mont Pelerin Society, new economy, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener, pirate software, Republic of Letters, Richard Stallman, road to serfdom, Ronald Coase, software patent, South Sea Bubble, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, the scientific method, traveling salesman, Whole Earth Catalog

Opponents of literary property therefore maintained that mechanical inventions were “as much the natural Property of the Inventors, as Books are of the Authors” – which is to say, no natural property at all. “A book is a combination of ideas,” argued Donaldson’s camp; “so is a machine.” Both were the result of “invention,” and all attempts at distinction were “unintelligible.” Both might be kept secret, but as soon as they were published, they were naturally open to all. Yates cited John Harrison – inventor of the chronometer that solved the longitude problem – to confirm as much. “Every Reason that can be urged for the Invention of an Author may be urged with equal Strength and Force, for the Inventor of a Machine,” he insisted. “Original Inventions stand upon the same Footing, in Point of Property, ... whether the Case be mechanical, or Literary; whether it be an Epic Poem, or an Orrery.” Harrison had certainly invested at least as much inspiration, mental labor, and money in building his clocks as Thomson ever had in writing The Seasons.

And looming over all was the competition for naval supremacy with Britain’s great rival as a trading nation, the Netherlands. Many of the most pressing problems of the age – philosophical as well as political and military – concerned the sea. The problem of the longitude is only the best known of them: anyone who furnished a reliable and portable technique for determining the longitude of a ship far removed from its home port would become rich, and would vastly enhance the power of the nation that possessed the secret. Aspirants to “solve the longitude” included not only men like Edmond Halley but any number of otherwise obscure “projectors.” By the early eighteenth century they had become a running joke. But as well as the longitude, the sea presented other issues demanding explanation, including the phenomena of the tides. Alongside these issues, moreover, which were predominantly mathematical and physical, it also posed a set of chemical questions.

The concept became something like a shibboleth of the new society, standing as a symbol of the moral dubiety of “revolution principles” alongside the national debt, projectors, the Bank of England, and standing armies. By 1718 London’s theatergoers could even go to see the leading actor of the day, Colley Cibber, playing the role of Peter Pirate, “a Bookseller by Trade, but broke lately,” in the latest comedy. Mr. Pirate personified all the associations of his caste, with his obsession with “credit,” his claims to have solved the longitude, and his memory of “a dose of Antimony” administered to him by a Wit (“and I have never been my own Man again since”). If the Whig defense of 1688 rested on a principle of property – as it largely did – then piracy, like stockjobbing, represented the weakness, amorality, ambition, and transgression that came with it. The Glorious Revolution therefore left a legacy in this sphere of piracy, the metropolis, as much as it did in the other sphere of piracy, the Caribbean.


pages: 565 words: 164,405

A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William J. Bernstein

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Admiral Zheng, asset allocation, bank run, Benoit Mandelbrot, British Empire, call centre, clean water, Columbian Exchange, Corn Laws, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, deindustrialization, Doha Development Round, domestication of the camel, double entry bookkeeping, Eratosthenes, financial innovation, Gini coefficient, God and Mammon, ice-free Arctic, imperial preference, income inequality, intermodal, James Hargreaves, John Harrison: Longitude, Khyber Pass, low skilled workers, non-tariff barriers, Paul Samuelson, placebo effect, Port of Oakland, refrigerator car, Silicon Valley, South China Sea, South Sea Bubble, spice trade, spinning jenny, Steven Pinker, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas L Friedman, Thomas Malthus, trade liberalization, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, transcontinental railway, upwardly mobile, working poor, zero-sum game

Not only was the new route cheaper and quicker, but the crew remained healthier and the supplies fresher in the cooler midlatitudes. As a bonus, Brouwer was able to avoid the Portuguese at Malacca. Brouwer's method-round the Cape of Good Hope, head west for seven thousand miles, then turn left-became standard procedure for European mariners for the next three centuries.22 The trick was knowing when to head north to thread the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. John Harrison's marine chronometers, which could accurately measure longitude, would not come along for another 150 years, and many a Dutch and English ship failed to make the turn and got carried "beyond the bend" (as Coleridge's ancient mariner, cursed for shooting an albatross, had sailed south of Australia and shot straight into the Pacific). Only the lucky ones returned to tell of their accidental discoveries of Australia's northern and western coastlines.

Chinese sources suggest that Islam arrived in Canton in about 620, a full dozen years before the death of the Prophet.; Before the Chinese invented the magnetic compass, in around the twelfth century, mariners depended on celestial navigation; fog and overcast skies often proved as deadly as the fiercest storms. Although sailors since Greek times knew how to measure latitude, accurate determination of longitude did not become possible until the eighteenth century. The constant companion of the medieval traveler on the open seas was terror. As vividly recounted by a fifth century Chinese pilgrim who had voyaged to India and back: The Great Ocean spreads out over a boundless expanse. There is no knowing east from west; only by observing the sun, moon, and stars was it possible to go forward. If the weather was dark and rainy, the ship went forward as she was carried by the wind, without any definite course.

Two decades before, the Treaty of Tordesillas had moved the demarcation line eight hundred miles to the west of the original papal line in order to protect Portuguese claims in Africa. Magellan told the Spanish that Portugal would now have to pay the piper; since the treaty bisected the globe, the dividing line in the eastern hemisphere had also moved eight hundred miles to the west, to what is now about 135 degrees east longitude. In Magellan's considered opinion, this shifted the Spice Islands into the Spanish zone. Within a few months of his arrival in Spain in the fall of 1517, he had secured backing for his plan, and two years later his multinational crew launched into the Atlantic on the most astonishing, and nearly the most deadly, of all the voyages of discovery. Only thirty-one of the approximately 265 men-those who were not killed by the Filipinos, the Portuguese, or scurvy, or who did not desertcompleted the circumnavigation.


pages: 677 words: 206,548

Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It by Marc Goodman

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23andMe, 3D printing, active measures, additive manufacturing, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Airbnb, airport security, Albert Einstein, algorithmic trading, artificial general intelligence, Asilomar, Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, Bill Joy: nanobots, bitcoin, Black Swan, blockchain, borderless world, Brian Krebs, business process, butterfly effect, call centre, Chelsea Manning, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, computer vision, connected car, corporate governance, crowdsourcing, cryptocurrency, data acquisition, data is the new oil, Dean Kamen, disintermediation, don't be evil, double helix, Downton Abbey, drone strike, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Erik Brynjolfsson, Filter Bubble, Firefox, Flash crash, future of work, game design, Google Chrome, Google Earth, Google Glasses, Gordon Gekko, high net worth, High speed trading, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, hypertext link, illegal immigration, impulse control, industrial robot, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Internet of things, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, John Harrison: Longitude, John Markoff, Jony Ive, Julian Assange, Kevin Kelly, Khan Academy, Kickstarter, knowledge worker, Kuwabatake Sanjuro: assassination market, Law of Accelerating Returns, Lean Startup, license plate recognition, lifelogging, litecoin, M-Pesa, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, Metcalfe’s law, mobile money, more computing power than Apollo, move fast and break things, move fast and break things, Nate Silver, national security letter, natural language processing, obamacare, Occupy movement, Oculus Rift, off grid, offshore financial centre, optical character recognition, Parag Khanna, pattern recognition, peer-to-peer, personalized medicine, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, Peter Thiel, pre–internet, RAND corporation, ransomware, Ray Kurzweil, refrigerator car, RFID, ride hailing / ride sharing, Rodney Brooks, Satoshi Nakamoto, Second Machine Age, security theater, self-driving car, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Skype, smart cities, smart grid, smart meter, Snapchat, social graph, software as a service, speech recognition, stealth mode startup, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, strong AI, Stuxnet, supply-chain management, technological singularity, telepresence, telepresence robot, Tesla Model S, The Future of Employment, The Wisdom of Crowds, Tim Cook: Apple, trade route, uranium enrichment, Wall-E, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Wave and Pay, We are Anonymous. We are Legion, web application, Westphalian system, WikiLeaks, Y Combinator, zero day

But prizes can also be the spark that produces a revolutionary solution to an intractable problem. Such was the case when the British Parliament established the Longitude Prize in 1714 in an effort to help with maritime navigation in order to ensure the “safety and quickness of voyages, the preservation of ships, and the lives of men.” Though latitude (north-south positioning) was easy to measure using the position of the sun, until the early eighteenth century there was no way for sailors to calculate their position longitudinally from east to west. By an act of Parliament, the British government offered £20,000 (more than £1 million today) for a solution that could find longitude to within half a degree. The incentive prize inspired John Harrison, a self-educated working-class clock maker, to invent the marine chronometer, a clocklike device that solved the problem.

“Where” is determined by a number of techniques—by your phone’s GPS antenna, by triangulating your mobile’s location and distance between cell-phone towers, and even by the Wi-Fi networks you connect to. These locational data are increasingly being appended to more and more of your online transactions in so-called file metadata—that is, data that provide data about other information. For example, when most people take a photograph with their mobile phones, their locational data (GPS coordinates, longitude and latitude, and so forth) are embedded in the image file. When you upload those photographs and videos to Craigslist, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, and hundreds of other services, those revealing locational metadata can be passed right along with the original file. For some apps, the request for your location is perfectly logical, such as with Google Maps or GPS navigation tools. But for others, capturing your locational data is just another way for app makers to sell your data at greater value.

Another way in which burglars are targeting you is via the locational data embedded in the files you’ve posted online. As noted previously, these so-called metadata are silently implanted and hidden in the photographs, videos, and status updates you share with others via your mobile devices and reveal the date and time the photograph was taken, the serial number of the phone or camera, and, most important, the longitude and latitude (GPS coordinates) of where the picture was snapped. The metadata containing this information, though not immediately obvious when watching a video or viewing a picture, lie there readily accessible by anybody who knows how to download a simple browser plug-in to access them. With any one of hundreds of free tools, suddenly your photographs come to life and magically appear on a Google Map that allows anybody to zoom in on the precise location where the picture was taken.


pages: 407 words: 114,478

The Four Pillars of Investing: Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio by William J. Bernstein

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asset allocation, Bretton Woods, British Empire, buy low sell high, carried interest, corporate governance, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Dava Sobel, diversification, diversified portfolio, Edmond Halley, equity premium, estate planning, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, financial independence, financial innovation, fixed income, George Santayana, German hyperinflation, high net worth, hindsight bias, Hyman Minsky, index fund, invention of the telegraph, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, Long Term Capital Management, loss aversion, market bubble, mental accounting, money market fund, mortgage debt, new economy, pattern recognition, Paul Samuelson, quantitative easing, railway mania, random walk, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, risk/return, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, South Sea Bubble, survivorship bias, The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, the rule of 72, transaction costs, Vanguard fund, yield curve, zero-sum game

This, in turn, demands the precise measurement of latitude (north/south position) and longitude (east/west position). The determination of latitude is a relatively easy task, and by the mid-eighteenth century, had been practiced for hundreds of years—a sea captain simply needs an accurate midday measurement of the sun’s elevation. But longitude is a much tougher nut. By the eighteenth century, seafarers realized that the most likely route to success lay in the development of a highly accurate timepiece. If a navigator could determine the local solar noon—the maximum elevation of the sun—and also know the time in London at the same moment, he then would know just how far east or west of London he was. This required a timepiece that could keep time to within one-quarter of a second per day over a six-week journey—at sea. Master craftsman John Harrison finally accomplished this amazing feat in 1761.

W. W. Norton, 1996. Nocera, Joseph, A Piece of the Action. Simon and Schuster, 1994. Ritter, Jay R., “The Long Run Performance of Initial Public Offerings.” Journal of Finance, March, 1991. Santayana, George, The Life of Reason. Scribner’s, 1953. Siegel, Jeremy J., Stocks for the Long Run. McGraw-Hill, 1998. Smith, Edgar L., Stocks as Long Term Investments. Macmillan, 1924. Sobel, Dava, Longitude. Walker & Co., 1995. Strouse, Jean, Morgan: American Financier. Random House, 1999. White, Eugene N., ed., Crashes and Panics. Dow Jones Irwin, 1990. Chapter 7 Benzarti, S., and Thaler, Richard H., “Myopic Risk Aversion and the Equity Premium Puzzle.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, January 1993. Brealy, Richard A., An Introduction to Risk and Return from Common Stocks. M. I. T. Press, 1969.


pages: 469 words: 146,487

Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Niall Ferguson

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British Empire, Cape to Cairo, colonial rule, Corn Laws, European colonialism, imperial preference, income per capita, John Harrison: Longitude, joint-stock company, Khartoum Gordon, Khyber Pass, land reform, land tenure, liberal capitalism, Livingstone, I presume, Mahatma Gandhi, mass immigration, night-watchman state, profit motive, Scramble for Africa, spice trade, The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, the new new thing, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, union organizing, zero-sum game

Pitt’s was a policy that partly depended on Britain’s nascent economic pre-eminence: in shipbuilding, metallurgy and gun founding she now enjoyed a discernible lead. The British were using not only technology but also science to rule the waves. When George Anson circumnavigated the globe with his six vessels in the 1740s, the cure for scurvy was unknown and John Harrison was still working on the third version of his chronometer for determining longitude at sea. The seamen died in droves; the ships frequently got lost. By the time Captain James Cook’s Endeavour sailed for the South Pacific in 1768, Harrison had won the Board of Longitude’s prize and Cook’s crew were being fed sauerkraut as an anti-scorbutic. It epitomized the new alliance between science and strategy that on board the Endeavour there was a group of naturalists, notably the botanist Joseph Banks, and that Cook’s voyage had a dual mission: to ‘maintain the power, dominion, and sovereignty of BRITAIN’ by laying claim to Australasia for the Admiralty and to record the transit of Venus for the Royal Society.


pages: 580 words: 168,476

The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph E. Stiglitz

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affirmative action, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, airline deregulation, Andrei Shleifer, banking crisis, barriers to entry, Basel III, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, capital controls, Carmen Reinhart, Cass Sunstein, central bank independence, collapse of Lehman Brothers, collective bargaining, colonial rule, corporate governance, Credit Default Swap, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Dava Sobel, declining real wages, deskilling, Exxon Valdez, Fall of the Berlin Wall, financial deregulation, financial innovation, Flash crash, framing effect, full employment, George Akerlof, Gini coefficient, income inequality, income per capita, indoor plumbing, inflation targeting, information asymmetry, invisible hand, jobless men, John Harrison: Longitude, John Markoff, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, Kenneth Arrow, Kenneth Rogoff, labour market flexibility, London Interbank Offered Rate, lone genius, low skilled workers, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, market bubble, market fundamentalism, mass incarceration, medical bankruptcy, microcredit, moral hazard, mortgage tax deduction, negative equity, obamacare, offshore financial centre, paper trading, Pareto efficiency, patent troll, Paul Samuelson, payday loans, price stability, profit maximization, profit motive, purchasing power parity, race to the bottom, rent-seeking, reserve currency, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Coase, Ronald Reagan, shareholder value, short selling, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, spectrum auction, Steve Jobs, technology bubble, The Chicago School, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, The Myth of the Rational Market, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, too big to fail, trade liberalization, transaction costs, trickle-down economics, ultimatum game, uranium enrichment, very high income, We are the 99%, wealth creators, women in the workforce, zero-sum game

The adverse effects of so-called incentive pay The Right, like many economists, tends to overestimate the benefits and underestimate the costs of incentive pay. There are certainly contexts in which monetary prizes have the potential to focus minds on a thorny problem and deliver a solution. A famous example is detailed in Dava Sobel’s Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. As she reports, in the Longitude Act of 1714, the British Parliament set “a prize equal to a king’s ransom (several million dollars in today’s currency) for a ‘Practicable and Useful’ means of determining longitude.” This was critical to the success of transoceanic navigation. John Harrison, a watchmaker with no formal education but a mechanical genius, devoted his life to this quest and ultimately claimed the prize in 1773.55 However, it is a great leap from the power of monetary incentives to focus minds on a great quest to the idea that monetary incentives are the key to high performance in general.

Wealth in the form of collateral plays a kind of catalytic role rather than a role of input that gets used up in the process of producing output. See K. Hoff, “Market Failures and the Distribution of Wealth: A Perspective from the Economics of Information,” Politics and Society 24, no. 4 (1996): 411–32; and Hoff, “The Second Theorem of the Second Best,” Journal of Public Economics 25 (1994): 223–42. 55. The exciting story is told in the bestseller by Dava Sobel, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time (New York: Walker, 1995). 56. Technically, the problems with incentive pay arise when there are information asymmetries. The employer doesn’t fully know the quality of the products produced by the worker (otherwise, he would specify that). In a trial, the judge and jury worry that the strength of an expert’s opinion might be affected if his compensation depended on the outcome of the trial. 57.

., 187–206 alternative frameworks for, 188, 202 banks’ deception in, 198, 199, 200, 201, 373 burden of proof in, 199–200 contracts in, 197 corporate advantages in, 66, 132, 189–90, 191, 203, 272, 327, 374 costs in, 100, 189–90, 202 distributive consequences of, 190, 193, 271, 317, 370 economic bias in, 44 Federal Reserve accountability in, 252 financial crisis prosecution in, xv–xvi, 70, 119, 199, 372, 373 financial sector’s favoring in, 191–202, 203, 204–6 information asymmetries in, 271, 368 political influence in, 44, 190–91, 200 property rights in, 190, 194, 197, 198, 199 purpose of, 100, 188–91 reform of, 273 rent seeking in, 42, 43, 203, 273 and social responsibility, 121 unfairness in, 42, 43, 100, 189–90, 191–202, 203, 206, 368, 373, 375 Lehman Brothers, 253, 313, 390 Leme, Paulo, 353 Lenin, Vladimir, 354 Lessig, Lawrence, xxiv LG, 203 Lincoln, Abraham, 137 List, John, 347 lobbying, 48, 95, 101, 185, 196, 319, 324, 325, 338 Lockheed Martin, 210 London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor), 47 Longitude (Sobel), 109 Lula da Silva, Luiz Inácio, 5, 139, 353 Luxembourg, 183, 286 manufacturing: compensation shifts in, 65, 328 job losses in, 54, 56, 57, 232–33, 285, 321 societal impact of, 156 marginal productivity theory, 30, 33, 77, 267 marketing, 150–51, 160, 162, 357, 359 Marlboro Man, 151, 354 marriage, economic insecurity and, 15, 303 Marshall, Alfred, 102 Marx, Karl, 30, 292 Massachusetts, 200–201 McCarty, Nolan, xxiv McDonald’s, 381 media, 128–29, 134, 135, 136, 160, 163, 252, 272, 286, 335, 348, 349, 358 Medicaid, 14, 228, 277, 378 Medicare, 17, 48, 97, 147, 163, 176, 210, 228–29, 265, 320, 355, 364, 378, 380 Mexico, 16, 42, 64, 138, 176, 365 MF Global Holdings, 313 microcredit, 196–97 Microsoft, 42, 44, 45–46, 74, 203, 317, 318, 319 middle class, 54, 117, 137 assistance to, 29, 274 economic insecurity of, xvii, 12–14, 23, 26, 103, 265–66 globalization’s effect on, 63, 64 Great Recession’s effect on, 10 hollowing out of, 2, 9, 25, 38, 84, 133, 300 income of, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 14, 25, 54, 56, 57, 63, 72, 240, 297, 298, 300, 385 recovery of, 29, 225 tax deductions for, 222–24, 379 unfair policies toward, xv, xxii wealth sources of, 3, 8, 13–14, 91, 167 Middle East, 40 see also Arab Spring Mill, John Stuart, 368 monetarism, 257, 258–59 monetary policy, 85, 86, 88, 133, 177, 208, 234, 239–40, 248, 250, 251, 252, 254, 257–58, 259, 261, 262, 263–64, 380, 382, 385, 389, 392 distributive consequences of, 243–45, 264, 279 idea-shaping in, 256–63 monopolies 31, 32, 35, 39–47, 95, 97, 140, 213, 270–71, 274, 316, 318 moral hazard, 171, 229, 256, 362, 363 Mortgage Electronic Registry System (MERS), 198, 201, 374 mortgage fraud, 198, 201, 372, 373 mortgage restructuring, 169–72, 201–2, 284–85, 362, 363 mortgages, tax deductions for, 222, 223, 379 mortgage securities, 205 Mosaic, 318 motivation, 102, 103, 111–12 Motorola, 203 Mozilo, Angelo, 333 Mueller, Edward, 42 Mullainathan, Sendhil, 103 municipal bonds, 212, 378 National Academy of Sciences, 26 National Center for Supercomputing Applications, 318 National Commission on the Causes of the Financial and Economic Crisis in the United States, 357, 358 National Economic Council, 180 Netherlands, 19, 22 Netscape, 45–46, 318 New Deal, xiii, 88, 231 Newfoundland, 138 New York Times, 11, 119, 205 Nokia, 203 North American Free Trade Agreement, 141 Norway, 22, 23, 183, 220 NTP, Inc., 203 Obama, Barack, x, 352 deficit reduction by, 207 and ethanol subsidy, 51 Federal Reserve nominees of, 319 financial crisis response of, xv, 168, 169, 361 health care program of, 14, 163, 276 tax position of, 395 Obama administration, xiv, 67, 170, 171, 200, 250, 284, 362, 396 Occupy Wall Street, ix–xiv, xix–xxi, 102, 116, 118, 127, 134, 345 “Of the 1%, for the 1%, by the 1%” (Stiglitz), xi Olin Foundation, 44, 359 1 percent: definition of, xxii economic framework’s favoring of, xx, xxii, 31, 34, 62, 67, 91, 117, 131, 142, 173, 174, 189, 191, 204, 239, 244, 245–46, 264, 348, 354 economic security of, 18, 19, 25 globalization’s benefits to, 62, 64, 142 idea-shaping by, 129, 134, 137, 146–86, 211, 236, 256, 287 income of, 2, 4, 8, 25, 52, 72, 85, 215, 267, 294, 295, 297, 298, 299, 300, 315, 332, 335 legal framework’s favoring of, 188, 191, 202, 206, 273 media’s control by, 129, 134, 286 political power of, xix, 32, 67, 83, 86, 89, 101, 118, 119, 120–21, 129, 131–33, 134, 137, 138, 146, 191, 267, 285, 348, 351 public perception of, 20–21, 146, 154, 159, 358 reform aimed at, 29, 268–74 rent seeking by, 32, 38, 41–43, 77 saving by, 85, 88, 223, 275 small government preference of, 93 social contract violation by, xvi–xvii social contributions of, 27, 41, 77–78, 96, 266 social norms’ shaping by, 53 taxation of, 5, 38, 42–43, 62, 71–73, 74, 76, 77, 84, 86, 87–88, 114, 115, 116, 138, 142, 159, 167, 208, 209, 211, 212, 214–15, 218, 221, 223, 224, 225, 226, 256, 274, 275, 294, 312, 335, 344, 360, 383, 394 value change in, 288 wealth of, 2, 3, 8, 25, 32, 38, 56, 72, 73, 80, 84, 166–67, 295 see also corporations; financial sector Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 16, 185 Orshansky, Mollie, 305 Ostrom, Elinor, 322 overdrafts, 194, 370 Pager, Devah, 69 Papua New Guinea, 184 patents, 43, 202, 203, 316, 374, 375 see also intellectual property pension funds, 227–28 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, 17 Pew Foundation, 20 pharmaceutical industry: government munificence toward, 40, 48, 97, 210, 211, 224, 228, 272, 276 research in, 97 see also health industry Pierson, Paul, xxiv Piketty, Thomas, xxiii, 114 Pinochet, Augusto, 258 polarization, 8–9 Polarized America (McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal), xxiv police lineups, 149 police states, 125 politics, U.S.: cognitive capture in, 161–62 corporate influence in, 34, 37, 41, 47, 48, 50, 51, 61, 62, 95, 99, 101, 111, 131–32, 135, 136–37, 200, 202, 285, 286, 319, 324, 325, 338, 350 distributive consequences of, 31, 52, 58, 239, 277, 278, 322 economy’s linkage with, xi, xix–xx, xxiv, 34, 38–39, 47, 52–53, 59, 65, 66, 89, 118, 131, 135, 138, 151, 173, 266, 287, 288–89, 348 idea-shaping in, 129, 137, 148, 149, 151–52, 153–55, 159–62, 163, 166–72, 175, 180, 185, 186, 285 legal consequences of, 190–91 media’s role in, 129, 134, 135, 136, 160, 163, 286 reform of, 135–36, 267, 285–86 regulatory capture in, 47–48, 248, 249–50, 253, 264 societal factors in, 64 unfairness in, x, xi, xii, xviii–xx, 31–32, 39, 41, 83, 101, 114–15, 118, 119, 120–21, 127, 129, 131–33, 134, 135, 136–37, 138, 144, 146, 191, 196, 200, 202, 267, 285, 286, 319, 324, 325, 338, 348, 350, 351 voting in, 119–21, 129–31, 133, 134, 135, 137, 286, 288, 325, 345, 349, 350, 351, 355 see also democracy, U.S.; government, U.S.


pages: 369 words: 80,355

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger

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airport security, Alfred Russel Wallace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Berlin Wall, Black Swan, book scanning, Cass Sunstein, commoditize, corporate social responsibility, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, David Brooks, Debian, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, en.wikipedia.org, Exxon Valdez, Fall of the Berlin Wall, future of journalism, Galaxy Zoo, Hacker Ethic, Haight Ashbury, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, invention of the telegraph, jimmy wales, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, linked data, Netflix Prize, New Journalism, Nicholas Carr, Norbert Wiener, openstreetmap, P = NP, Pluto: dwarf planet, profit motive, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Republic of Letters, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, semantic web, slashdot, social graph, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, technological singularity, Ted Nelson, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Whole Earth Catalog, X Prize

For example, Ed Melcarek, who was earning a living installing HVAC systems, won $25,000 for figuring out a novel way of getting fluoride into toothpaste tubes for Colgate-Palmolive: Ground the tube and give a positive electric charge to the fluoride power.25 As Karim Lakhani, a professor at Harvard Business School, has pointed out, such contests occurred well before the advent of the Net. In 1714, the British Parliament offered £20,000 to the first person who could come up with a way of determining longitude at sea.26 John Harrison was finally granted the money in 1773, at the age of seventy-nine, after a literal lifetime of work on the project.27 But before the Internet, it pretty much took an act of Parliament to spread word of a contest beyond the bounds of the experts in the field. Now, the Internet’s looseness with information has enabled contests to become a normal way in which knotty problems can be solved.


pages: 1,088 words: 297,362

The London Compendium by Ed Glinert

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1960s counterculture, anti-communist, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, Bob Geldof, British Empire, Brixton riot, Corn Laws, Dava Sobel, double entry bookkeeping, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, Exxon Valdez, hiring and firing, invention of the telegraph, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, John Snow's cholera map, Khartoum Gordon, Mahatma Gandhi, mass immigration, Nick Leeson, price stability, Ronald Reagan, Sloane Ranger, South China Sea, South Sea Bubble, spice trade, the market place, trade route, union organizing, V2 rocket

At the second congress, held in Rome in 1875, France announced it would be happy to accept Greenwich as the setting if Britain adopted the metric system. Britain agreed, but more than 120 years later the metric system has still not been fully implemented. Even though Greenwich was given the 0° longitude setting, calculations in 1949 showed that the Greenwich meridian, rather than having a longitude of exactly 00° 00’ 00’’, measured 00° 00’ 00.417’’ East, an anomaly which had arisen because the seventh Astronomer Royal, George Airey, had measured 0° longitude in the 1840s in a different room of the observatory from the one originally chosen for the task. As a consequence the Greenwich Meridian was moved 26.39 feet. The observatory moved to Herstmonceaux, Sussex, in the 1960s and the Greenwich buildings are now used by the National Maritime Museum.

John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, worked from sheds in the observatory garden (now Quadrant House and Sextant House), erecting a telescope on the balcony that was fixed to observe the movement of Sirius, day and night, proving that the earth rotates at a constant speed. In 1714 the authorities offered a lucrative prize to anyone who could construct a longitudinal watch and the winner was John Harrison (1693–1776), whose first timepiece, H1, completed in 1735, kept time at sea on the Centurion with considerable accuracy, despite the movement of the ship, the regular changes in the temperature and the scepticism of Isaac Newton. Centurion later sailed without H1, a factor which may have been instrumental in its sinking with the loss of seventy lives en route to the island of Juan Fernandez.

Gilbert and George’s studio (1968–), No. 12 The well-known performance artists Gilbert Proesch and Flete George Charles Ernestine Passmore, better known as Gilbert and George, moved to Spitalfields in the late 1960s, when the area was at its lowest ebb and one of the least fashionable enclaves of the capital (‘it was like walking into a book in the nineteenth century: amazing light, and few people in the street, more like literature than reality’, according to Gilbert), but decades later found that their locale had become one of the most fashionable places in central London, thanks to the surrounding gentrification and the influx of artists into Spitalfields and Shoreditch. Nos. 4–6 Built as a silk merchant’s house by Marmaduke Smith in 1726, Nos. 4–6 – used in the late-twentieth-century television version of Dava Sobel’s Longitude – is grander than most of the other properties on the street and features a rusticated central doorway, carved surround, cantilevered canopy and full height Doric pilasters, as well as being decorated internally with much mahogany, used because the duty on the wood had been lifted only four years previously. By 1914 the property was part banana warehouse and part tenement residence, and in 1977 it was bought by the Spitalfields Trust, becoming the first local house to be saved from destruction at a time when Georgian properties were being bulldozed because they were unfashionable or uninhabitable.


pages: 687 words: 189,243

A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy by Joel Mokyr

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Andrei Shleifer, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, clockwork universe, cognitive dissonance, Copley Medal, creative destruction, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, delayed gratification, deliberate practice, Deng Xiaoping, Edmond Halley, epigenetics, Fellow of the Royal Society, financial independence, framing effect, germ theory of disease, Haber-Bosch Process, hindsight bias, income inequality, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Joseph Schumpeter, knowledge economy, labor-force participation, land tenure, law of one price, Menlo Park, moveable type in China, new economy, phenotype, price stability, principal–agent problem, rent-seeking, Republic of Letters, Ronald Reagan, South Sea Bubble, statistical model, survivorship bias, the market place, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, transaction costs, ultimatum game, World Values Survey, Wunderkammern

Hilaire-Pérez (2007) emphasizes the innovative capacity of French artisans in their guilds, and the examples she cites are interesting. There can be no doubt that in a purely artisanal world, evolutionary sequences of microinventions did take place that led to considerable technological progress, both product and process innovation. Moreover, some of the more interesting “great inventors” of the age—starting with Newcomen and his assistant John Calley, the clockmaker John Harrison and the instrument maker James Watt—were skilled artisans themselves. Yet artisans, unless they were as unusually gifted and well educated as the brilliant inventor Jacques de Vaucanson (1709–1782) or the ingenious French armorer and inventor Edme Régnier (1751–1825), were good at making incremental improvements to existing processes, not in expanding the epistemic base of the techniques they used or applying state-of-the-art scientific knowledge to their craft.

His ideas were widely implemented and led to military reforms in the Austrian and French artillery.6 An example of a vexing practical problem that the advances in both propositional and prescriptive knowledge between 1500 and 1700 helped solve was the measurement of longitude at sea. The issue had been on the forefront of natural philosophy, and some of the greatest minds had worked tirelessly to solve it using new insights in astronomy and the new tools that had become available. Galileo, for one, hoped to use his discovery of the moons of Jupiter in determining longitude. The invention of the spiral-spring balance in watches by two of the best minds in the seventeenth-century, Huygens and Hooke, was another contribution to this effort. Without the insights of propositional knowledge, Harrison’s marine chronometer (completed in 1759) would never have been made.

Yet again: without any input from scientifically trained chemists such as Scheele and Berthollet, it may be doubted that chlorine bleaching would have evolved when it did (Musson and Robinson, 1969, pp. 251–337). Wootton (2015, p. 489) remarks that early modern science solved two of the most difficult problems it set for itself: the calculation of the trajectory of a projectile, and the determination of longitude at sea. I would add to that a third: the means of preventing smallpox, first through inoculation, and later by vaccination. Much depended on the capabilities of eighteenth-century science and mathematics to come to grips with difficult problems of energy, materials, and biology. When it could be done, however, it was successful. Consider the work of a relatively obscure figure of the Industrial Enlightenment, Benjamin Robins (1707–1751).


pages: 420 words: 124,202

The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention by William Rosen

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Albert Einstein, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, barriers to entry, collective bargaining, computer age, Copley Medal, creative destruction, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, decarbonisation, delayed gratification, Fellow of the Royal Society, Flynn Effect, fudge factor, full employment, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, iterative process, Jacquard loom, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Joseph Schumpeter, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, knowledge economy, moral hazard, Network effects, Paul Samuelson, Peace of Westphalia, Peter Singer: altruism, QWERTY keyboard, Ralph Waldo Emerson, rent-seeking, Ronald Coase, Simon Kuznets, spinning jenny, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, transaction costs, transcontinental railway, zero-sum game, éminence grise

That particular guild was not a true medieval organization; it had been founded “only” in 1631,6 just in time to define its exclusive franchise as embracing not only clocks but all forms of mathematical instruments. Partly as a result, they were considerably more welcoming of innovation than the more ancient organizations; when Watt arrived in London, their most illustrious member, John Harrison, was not only improving on his prizewinning marine chronometer, which he had invented as a solution to the problem of calculating longitude at sea, but also had previously created new versions of both clock escapements and pendulums. Unfortunately for Watt, Harrison’s guild was just as jealous of their territorial prerogatives as any thirteenth-century goldsmith; their bylaws prohibited any member from employing—and, especially, training—any “foreigners, alien or English”7 unless they were bound to the member as apprentices.

In his 1910 poem, Rudyard Kipling allegorized the phenomenon: Gold is for the mistress—silver for the maid; Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade. “Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall, “But iron—cold iron—is master of them all.” * And, to be fair, the “Struve Geodetic Arc,” which consists of thirty-four cairns, obelisks, and rocks-with-holes-drilled-in-them along a fifteen-hundred-mile chain of survey triangulations running from Ukraine to Belarus, and commemorating the nineteenth-century measurement of a longitude meridian. The work of the astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve, it was indeed a noble and memorable achievement, but it draws considerably fewer tourists than, say, Stonehenge. * The conventional archaeological sequence that leads from stone to bronze to iron “ages” has its critics. The fact that one seems inevitably to follow the other is puzzling on the face of it, given that iron is far easier to find than copper.


pages: 790 words: 150,875

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson

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Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Andrei Shleifer, Atahualpa, Ayatollah Khomeini, Berlin Wall, BRICs, British Empire, clean water, collective bargaining, colonial rule, conceptual framework, Copley Medal, corporate governance, creative destruction, credit crunch, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Dean Kamen, delayed gratification, Deng Xiaoping, discovery of the americas, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, European colonialism, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francisco Pizarro, full employment, Hans Lippershey, haute couture, Hernando de Soto, income inequality, invention of movable type, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kitchen Debate, land reform, land tenure, liberal capitalism, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, market bubble, Martin Wolf, mass immigration, means of production, megacity, Mikhail Gorbachev, new economy, Pearl River Delta, Pierre-Simon Laplace, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, profit maximization, purchasing power parity, quantitative easing, rent-seeking, reserve currency, road to serfdom, Ronald Reagan, savings glut, Scramble for Africa, Silicon Valley, South China Sea, sovereign wealth fund, special economic zone, spice trade, spinning jenny, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, The Great Moderation, the market place, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, total factor productivity, trade route, transaction costs, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, upwardly mobile, uranium enrichment, wage slave, Washington Consensus, women in the workforce, World Values Survey

It was always more likely that the latter, with its distinctive culture of experimental tinkering and patient observation, would produce the technological advances without which there could have been no Industrial Revolution (see Chapter 5).45 The line that led from Newton’s laws to Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine – first used to drain the Whitehaven collieries in 1715 – was remarkably short and straight, though Newcomen was but a humble Dartmouth ironmonger.46 It is not accidental that three of the world’s most important technological innovations – James Watt’s improved steam engine (1764), John Harrison’s longitude-finding chronometer (1761) and Richard Arkwright’s water frame (1769) – were invented in the same country, in the same decade. When Newton died in March 1727 his body lay in state for four days at Westminster Abbey, before a funeral service in which his coffin was borne by two dukes, three earls and the Lord Chancellor. The service was watched by Voltaire, who was astonished at the veneration accorded to a scientist of low birth.


pages: 1,263 words: 371,402

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois

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augmented reality, clean water, computer age, cosmological constant, David Attenborough, Deng Xiaoping, double helix, financial independence, game design, gravity well, jitney, John Harrison: Longitude, Kuiper Belt, Mahatma Gandhi, mass immigration, Paul Graham, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Skype, stem cell, theory of mind, Turing machine, Turing test, urban renewal, Wall-E

If you like zombies (which were so frequently encountered this year, even in the science fiction anthologies, that they seemed to be taking over the field), you’ll want The Living Dead (Night Shade Books), edited by John Joseph Adams and packed full of zombie stories by Dan Simmons, Michael Swanwick, George R.R. Martin, Stephen King, Andy Duncan, and others. Another attempt at subgenre definition and canon-forming was The New Weird (Tachyon), edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, a mixed anthology of reprint stories (the best by M. John Harrison, Clive Barker, and Jeff Ford), some original material, critical essays, and transcribed blog entries which had some good stuff in it but which ultimately left me just as confused as to what exactly The New Weird consisted of when I went out as I’d been when I went in. Good work was also to be found in The Best of Jim Baen’s Universe II (Baen), edited by Eric Flint and Mike Resnick, and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Volume 2 (Tor), edited by Edmund R.

Kramer; Best Poetry Collection, Being Full of Light, Insubstantial, by Linda Addison, and Vectors: A Week in the Death of a Planet, by Charlee Jacob and Marge B. Simon (tie); plus Lifetime Achievement Awards to John Carpenter and Robert Weinberg. The 2008 John W. Campbell Memorial Award was won by In War Times, by Kathleen Ann Goonan. The 2008 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for Best Short Story was won by “Finisterra,” by David Moles, and “Tideline,” by Elizabeth Bear (tie). The 2007 Philip K. Dick Memorial Award went to Nova Swing, by M. John Harrison. The 2008 Arthur C. Clarke award was won by Black Man, by Richard Morgan. The 2007 James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award was won by The Carhullan Army, by Sarah Hall. The Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award went to Stanley G. Weinbaum. Death hit the SF and fantasy fields hard again this year. Dead in 2008 and early 2009 were: Sir ARTHUR C. CLARKE, 91, one of the founding giants of modern science fiction, the last surviving member of the genre’s Big Three, which consisted of Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A.

We were looking at a woman, wearing a heavy black uniform, shiny like waxed leather. She was pinned back into a heavily padded seat: I did not doubt that I was looking at the pilot of one of the ships racing to intercept us. Much of her face was hidden under a globular black helmet, with a red-tinted visor lowered down over her eyes. On the crown of the helmet was a curious symbol: a little drawing of the Earth, overlaid with lines of latitude and longitude, and flanked by what I took to be a pair of laurel leaves. She was speaking into a microphone, her words coming over the bridge speaker. I wished I had studied more dead languages at the academy. Then again, given my lack of success with Arabic, perhaps I would still not have understood her Latin either. What was clear was that the woman was not happy; that her tone was becoming ever more strident.


pages: 654 words: 204,260

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Arthur Eddington, Barry Marshall: ulcers, Brownian motion, California gold rush, Cepheid variable, clean water, Copley Medal, cosmological constant, dark matter, Dava Sobel, David Attenborough, double helix, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, Kuiper Belt, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, out of africa, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, supervolcano, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

If you measured the deflection accurately and worked out the mass of the mountain, you could calculate the universal gravitational constant—that is, the basic value of gravity, known as G—and along with it the mass of the Earth. Bouguer and La Condamine had tried this on Peru's Mount Chimborazo, but had been defeated by both the technical difficulties and their own squabbling, and so the notion lay dormant for another thirty years until resurrected in England by Nevil Maskelyne, the astronomer royal. In Dava Sobel's popular book Longitude, Maskelyne is presented as a ninny and villain for failing to appreciate the brilliance of the clockmaker John Harrison, and this may be so, but we are indebted to him in other ways not mentioned in her book, not least for his successful scheme to weigh the Earth. Maskelyne realized that the nub of the problem lay with finding a mountain of sufficiently regular shape to judge its mass. At his urging, the Royal Society agreed to engage a reliable figure to tour the British Isles to see if such a mountain could be found.