Wednesday, October 27, 2010


One of the most fascinating TV series I've ever seen, is available online for free!  :-)

James Burke's BBC series - "Connections" and its sequels were telecast on DD-India, a few decades ago. Here are links to the entire blessed series, on YouTube:

Episode I - The Trigger Effect

Part 1/5 - Intro questions - dependence on tech networks - Eg. Manhattan, NY
Part 2/5 - Niagra power-station Adam Beck 2 - a Relay trips on 9 Nov., 1965
Part 3/5 - Grids shut down; black-out in hospitals, subways, ATC controls - Technology Trap - escape to the countryside? can you use a plough?
Part 4/5 - 12,000 years ago - migration to river valleys - invention of the plough; bread > oven tech; straw mats > cloth weaving;  laws & weapons to protect ownership. Building canals teaches you to work stone, geometry and mathematics > then you can build pyramids - step-pyramid of King Djoser at Saqqara near Cairo (2700BC)
Part 5/5 - Nile flooding - astronomy - Sirius rises before dawn on the 17th of July every year - one day before the annual flooding begins - Karnak - centre of a 4000-year empire built on simple technology - tech that `tied us for good`; Kuwait's dependence on technology - built in 4000 days!

Why those inventions happened between 6000 yearsago and how...or where they happened or when they happened, is a fascinating blend of accident, genius, craftsmanship, geography, religion, war, money, ambition...above all, at some point, everybody is involved in the business of change - not just the so-called "great men" no point of time did an invention appear just like that. You had to put together a number of things that were already there..
Episode II : Death in the Morning

Part 1/5 - Lydia (Turkey) - touchstone for testing gold purity - Alexander`s standard gold coins - Alexandria Library - 500,000+ books, ran for 1000+ years - Crafty law - `if you came to the port with a book, it had to be copied by the library` - Ptolemy`s (150AD) calculations & astronomy - star catalogue - 1022 stars.
Part 2/5 - - Lateen sail vs. old roman square sail - 1200AD -  Chinese stern-post rudder + lateen sail + Ptolemy`s star-charts - not used widely until 1456AD when the Turks took Constantinople and blocked East-West trade - triggered 16th Century - Voyages of Discovery -  - Francis Drake`s (1540-1596) - sea-captain, pirate, politician - the queen got 50% of the booty and pirates became `nobles`)- Portolan charts - mostly made in Majorca -  the Compass and the inaccuracies between `True North` vs. Magnetic North! - Elizabeth-I`s (1558) England - `worthless money, plague, filthy cities...stimulated a depressed economy by encouraging privateering sea-dogs - Drake, Raleigh and Hawkins...they went about with a gutsy disregard for convention which we describe today as `criminal``
Part 3/5 -1581 - compass-maker Robert Norman`s puzzle about a stationery needle > doctor, William Gilbert`s book on magnetism > Otto von Guericke`s invention of Vacuum Pump > Impressed Ferdinad-III (Holy Roman Emperor). Guericke`s spinning suphur ball (sparks) led to the discovery of electricity & telegraph! Many facinating branches - (1) Vacuum pump > discovery of gases > oxygen > how lungs work > respiratory medicine (2) Vacuum Pump > steam engine > railways (3) Vacuum pump > testing for sparks > modern radar.
Part 4/5 - Electricity - lightning strikes on gunpowder stores - Benjamin Franklin - lightning rods - interest in weather stations - hot-air balloons-  Ben Nevis in Scotland - morning `Glory` - Charles Wilson 1896 - International Cloud Atlas
Part 5/5 - Charles Wilson`s Cloud Chamber 1895 > X-ray clouds > Watson Watt - Radar + Rutherford`s - atom disintegration in cloud chamber + B29 bomber --> Hiroshima 6 Aug., 1945, 8:15AM....death in the morning.

Episode III - `Distant Voices`

Part 1/5 - Normans knights beat the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings (1066 AD). Advantage -  the stirrup
Part 2/5 - Henry-V ends the 400-year domination of the knight on horseback at the Battle of Agincourt (25 Oct., 1415). 8000 vs. 30,000 Frenchmen - secret weapon - the Welsh Longbow. Three inventions that bossted agriculture productivity - mouldboard plough, horse-collar and horse-shoe...and the 3-field system
Part 3/5 - Gunpowder from urine and dung (Urine > ammonia; bacteria+dung + nitrate; mix with woodash, filter with water = saltpetre crystals (KNO3);  So gunpowder = KNO3+sulphur + charcoal  /// Why didn't China not transform the world with its inventions?...
Part 4/5 - Cannon mania needed cash which came from the silver mines of Jachymov (aka Joachimsthal) in the moutains of northern Czech (1536) - produced 3m ounces in silver coins a year (Thaler > Dollar) -
Problem of flooding mines refered to Galileo who sends his student, Toricelli.  Experiments on  air pressure and effect on vacuum - Fr. Matin Mersenne connects with  Blaise Pascal (mercury dish experiments)> invented the Barometer! French astronomer Jean Picard carrying his barometer observed sparks...
Part 5/5 - Luigi Galvani (1783) sees frogs legs jump with charged scalpel // Volta's "pile" for electricity - Oersted's (1820) class with compass needle - electricity has a magnetic field - 1825 - first electomagnet in England - 1875 - A. Graham Bell reaches patent office just 2 hours before competitor...and people start hearing distant voices.

Episode IV - Faith in Numbers

Part 1/5 - Aqueducts that fed the gain-mills at Barbegal near Arles (28t of flour/day)- ruined when the Roman empire fell apart 1500 years ago -  burden of taxes -  The church held together through the chaos of middle ages - it was the `telecom dept`
Part 2/5 - Water wheels- Bennedictian monks  - systems management - best sheep rearing techniques - best wool - 2 key inventions - the foot-loom (too fast - no enough yarn!) and spinning wheel - Bruges  became a huge wool-textile centre - surplus cash  spent in Champagne Fairs  -  Italians most active - 15 cities had consulates in Troyes - until 1340s famine - 1347 - attack by death! arrived in a ship from Crimea - before receding four years later, it killed 40 million people, 200,000 villages wiped out.
Part 3/5 - Prosperity again after black-death - old linen > paper. Paper became cheap but clerks were few (black death) so printing evolved - a goldsmith named J. Gutenberg (1450s) invented inter-changable typeface - this democratized knowledge - most influential:  an Italian named Aldus Manutius  came up with the first `pocket edition` in Venice. Also invented the `italic` type to fit more into his pocket editions - Venice - richest city in Europe, full of businessmen...and Greeks- refugees from Turkish conquest of Constantinople (1453)
Part 4/5- Greek workers in printing presses popularized the classics...arts and architecture.
This got people like Michaelangelo into big prestige projects...1615 - building in Salzburg - mechanical toys, fountains - Lyon - craze for Chinese silk weaving patterns - perforated paper and cards.
Part 5/5 - The Jacquard loom  did not catch on in France because of the was a hit in England...paisley shawls became popular - automatic riveting machines helped build great iron ships...corssing the seas became easier! Ships moved the `poor huddled masses of Europe` to 1870s more than 7000 per day....8 million between 1850-1880! - 10 year census - John Shaw Shillings - Herman Hollerith  > Tabulating Machine ...1890 census was done in half the time - US pop 62m.

Episode V: Wheel of Fortune

Part 1/5 - Priest-astronomers observing the moon - told farmers when to sow - also observed planets (from `planeta` Greek for `the wanderers`!) - dusted out Ptolemy`s chart for 1022 stars -  Arabs - Astrolabe
Part 2/5 - Khalif Al Mansur - founder of Baghdad, got sick as a dog in 765 - cured by medico-astronomer from mountain monastry - Jurgis ibn Bakhtishu - First European medical school at Salona (?) in Italy - on the route of returning crusaders -- conflict between the traditionalists (church) and new thinkers --> nasty inquisition. Astronomy also helped in telling the time (replacing sundials and candles) - for praying at the right time - water clocks! But water froze in they used just the weights and came up with the verge & foliot!
Part 3/5 - Clock - machine telling people when to pray, when to work - a tapering "fuzee" to help a spring unwind evenly - main centre for watchmaking - Nuremberg (eg. Nuremberg egg by Peter Henlein) < good at metal work < because it was in a mining area -- produced best armor + best trinkets - Hans Lipperske - offers a looker (telescope) to the Dutch army (1603) -- Galileo used it to see Jupiter`s moons, questioned the catholic church`s earth-is-centre view and got imprisoned (1609) - Pisa cathedral 1681? swinging lamp.....Christiaan Huygens  1656 invented the pendulum....but it was not useful for the mariners.
Part 4/5 - Irregular spring problem - glass makers and refractory furnance...technique taken to steel furnaces by a clockmaker called Benjamin Huntsman  for making better springs - Jesse Ramsden - marked precise measurements on a sextant (1774) -- using screws made of Huntsman`s steel
Part 5/5 - America did not have skilled workers so they borrowed the Factory system and the idea of interchangeability parts from Honoré Blanc - then came Frank Gilbreth`s time & motion studies - went crazy seeing the inefficiency of bricklayers - The price of mass consumption...loss of individuality. Is there anything in your pocket (paraphelnaria of people`s pvt lives) that is not machine-made??

Episode VI: Thunder in the Skies

Part 1/5 - Rising prosperity in England - chimney, plastered walls, drapes and glass panes of Hardwick Hall. Kitchens & glass factories - flue drafts, mini-turbines..

Part 2/5 - Queen-E desperate to make bronze cannons - Copper from Bristol mines (1566) - Zach`s coal furnaces for making glass - 16th century property boom - shortage of wood for navy ships, so glass-makers packed off to cut forests in America for their charcoal, to Jamestown, Virginia.
Part 3/5 - History of Steam Engines - Bristol entrepreneurs: Miner Sir Robert Mansell helps Zach with money; 1699,  a young Quaker called Abraham Derby  turns up, makes brass utensils and then iron-ware, then copper at Coalbrookdale --- ends up making iron without impurities. The problem of flooding in coalmines solved using the Neocomen Engine (Thomas Neocomen building on T. Savery`s idea). Improved further by James Watt with his double cylinder, using John Wilkinson`s (1773) cannon-boring technique to make sturdy cylinders.
Part 4/5 -  Wilkinson`s BiL, Joseph Preistley tinkers with gas in brewery next door, makes soda, writes to Alessandro Volta about sparks. Volta, roaming around the Italian lakes of Cona and Maggiore uses `marsh gas` (methane) to fire his  uses his Glass Electric Pistol - 1850 Arctic ocean - whaling - oil for lamps replaced by an alternative discovered by Edwin Drake  - petroleum.
Part 5/5 - G. Daimler  and W. Maybach working at Otto Engines near Stuttgart, make first motorcar engine 1892 fuel spray (based on perfume spray!) in the Carburetor. Daimler`s distributor, E. Jellinek , comes up with a better idea(1899) for fuel ignitition using an electric spark! New car named after Jellinek`s daughter - Mercedes!
Summary: Neocommen`s piston + Drake`s oil + scent spray + Volta`s pistol = better engine. Wilhelm Kress tries to use it in a flying-boat 2 yrs before the Wright idea that evolves into `thunder in the skies` -- a Concorde. `Invention capable of annihilating both distance and people...`

Episode VII: The Long Chain

1/5 - Freight transport - Fluyts from Holland (warehouse of Europe) - developed in Horne (1595) - stripped the fighting galleys to basics, added control & automation (block & tackle); 1648 - Edward Llyoyd started an insurance company - categorized ships according to soundness of its hull (AEIOU - U =bad), and equipment (Good, Middling, Bad) - protecting wooden hulls against worms with a mix of pitch & tar...America becomes supplier - buys slaves as labor - to cut pine trees, bury them in pits and roast them...tar bubbled out with turpentine
2/5 - 1776 - tired of being ripped off, the Americans declared independence...and so ended cheap pitch & tar; Karl Ross, Earl of Dundonald,  tried recuperating fortunes by going into the inventions business...found way to make coal-tar -- discovered that gas from coal ovens was flamable...told J.Watt, who told his employee William Murdoch, who became the `inventor` of gas lighting -- Artificial colors from coal-tar + waterproofing material with rubber (1823) - Macintosh

3/5 -
- Mackintosh and Hancock started delivering waterproof everything all over the country - approached Kew Botanical Gardens for growing rubber in colonies
- Penang, Malaysia - nutmeg plantations....hacked forests - exposed, warm ponds - anopheles, malaria
- 1852 - malaria epidemics - the cure - Cinchona grown in A.America or Java - neither belonged to the Brits
- Cinchona powder (quinine) + sugar + water + gin = malaria cure = gin & tonic invention!
- So Kew was not keen on rubber because the GovGen of India had demanded production of Q in India
- Royal College of Chemistry - William Perkin - finds a way to make synthetic quinine
- 1856, while playing with a bye-rpduct of coaltar...he got a molecule very close the Q but it was the worlds first artificial dye -
- In 1982, most of these well fed, complascent, middle-class victorians regarded themselves and their country as the rightful guardians of anybody in the world they could muscle in on militarily or economically, to save them from themselves, of course!
- Chemistry was a very low-class thing to do...that is why Perkins teacher was a German, who were very good at promoting merit...
-But the Brits blew the opportunity ...and the Germans grabbed it!

4/5 - - By 1870 Germans were leaders in color chemistry - BASF, Hoechst, Bayer, Agfa
- You learnt much about chemistry though color - painkillers
- Green color which a crafty designer got the empress Eugene to wear
- Combine harvesters invented by American Mccormi -- dropped price of wheat sharply
- But the Germans ate black rye bread made by Prussian aristrocrats - the Yonkers?
- But rye was being exported in leaving a growing population short of they tried growing wheat but that needed fertilizer from Chile
- By 1890 all the money made by the industry was going to import food and fertilizer
- 1900 Fritz Haber tried to make fertilizer...succeeded in making sodium nitrate
- 1909 - Haber and Bosch were making tons of fertilizer

5/5 - - Germany - chemical industry + metal industry + now discovery of coal in Rhur moved her into the major league
- It bacame a major steel manufacturer - weapons and the first monorail in 1900
- Growth reflected ambitions of Kaiser Wilhelm, who brought the country to the edge of greatness all because of coal-tar and the way German chemists had used it
- Also in 1900 W-II started building a big navy...arms race with Britain that ended in war in 1914
- First major battle was off the coast of Chile because it was the biggest source of sodium nitrate. NaNO3 + sulphuris acid = nitric acid, which is essential for making explosives ....but Chile had been blockaded by Britain, so the Germans came up with the Haber-Bosch process
- WW-I lasted four years...
- What happend to the Acetylene, discovered by but he flushed it down the later a polymer - plastic, nylon -- unveiled by DuPont at Chicago WorldExpo 1933
- Acetylene also became a welding tool - oxy-acetylene

 Episode VIII: Eat Drink & Be Merry

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