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  • feedwordpress 08:01:00 on 2019/04/30 Permalink
    Tags: circuit design, , communications, communications theory, cryptanalysis, , , information theory, ,   

    “Information is a difference that makes a difference”*… 


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    Shannon information

     

    Information was something guessed at rather than spoken of, something implied in a dozen ways before it was finally tied down. Information was a presence offstage. It was there in the studies of the physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz, who, electrifying frog muscles, first timed the speed of messages in animal nerves just as Thomson was timing the speed of messages in wires. It was there in the work of physicists like Rudolf Clausius and Ludwig Boltzmann, who were pioneering ways to quantify disorder—entropy—little suspecting that information might one day be quantified in the same way. Above all, information was in the networks that descended in part from the first attempt to bridge the Atlantic with underwater cables. In the attack on the practical engineering problems of connecting Points A and B—what is the smallest number of wires we need to string up to handle a day’s load of messages? how do we encrypt a top-secret telephone call?—the properties of information itself, in general, were gradually uncovered.

    By the time of Claude Shannon’s childhood, the world’s communications networks were no longer passive wires acting as conduits for electricity, a kind of electron plumbing. They were continent-spanning machines, arguably the most complex machines in existence. Vacuum-tube amplifiers strung along the telephone lines added power to voice signals that would have otherwise attenuated and died out on their thousand-mile journeys. A year before Shannon was born, in fact, Bell and Watson inaugurated the transcontinental phone line by reenacting their first call, this time with Bell in New York and Watson in San Francisco. By the time Shannon was in elementary school, feedback systems managed the phone network’s amplifiers automatically, holding the voice signals stable and silencing the “howling” or “singing” noises that plagued early phone calls, even as the seasons turned and the weather changed around the sensitive wires that carried them. Each year that Shannon placed a call, he was less likely to speak to a human operator and more likely to have his call placed by machine, by one of the automated switchboards that Bell Labs grandly called a “mechanical brain.” In the process of assembling and refining these sprawling machines, Shannon’s generation of scientists came to understand information in much the same way that an earlier generation of scientists came to understand heat in the process of building steam engines.

    It was Shannon who made the final synthesis, who defined the concept of information and effectively solved the problem of noise. It was Shannon who was credited with gathering the threads into a new science…

    The story of Claude Shannon, his colorful life–  and the birth of the Information Age: “How Information Got Re-Invented.”

    * Gregory Bateson

    ###

    As we separate the signal from the noise, we might send communicative birthday greetings to the subject of today’s main post, Claude Elwood Shannon; he was born on this date in 1916.  A mathematician, electrical engineer, and cryptographer, he is, for reasons explained in the article featured above, known as “the father of information theory.”  But he is also remembered for his contributions to digital circuit design theory and for his cryptanalysis work during World War II, both as a codebreaker and as a designer fo secure communications systems.

    220px-ClaudeShannon_MFO3807 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:06 on 2019/04/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , codex, communications, , history of books, , Samuel Morse, ,   

    “From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”*… 


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    idea_sized-codex1-add-ms-43725

    Codex Sinaiticus (4th century, eastern Mediterranean)

     

    “Codex” is just the Roman name for a book, made of pages, and usually bound on the left. Its predecessor was the scroll or book roll, which was unrolled as you read. The codex is manifestly superior: one can hold many volumes (from the Latin for book roll, volumen); codices have a built-in cover for protection; and pages that can be numbered for reference, from which arose a cornucopia of tables of contents and indices.

    The codex didn’t catch on until surprisingly late in the ancient world. The early Christians, however, took to the codex with singular enthusiasm. Wider adoption of this form seems to have corresponded to Christianity’s spread. In the 4th century, no less a figure than St Augustine illustrates the difference between a codex and a roll – and the nagging ‘Christianity’ of the codex.

    Not yet baptised, in his garden where he had been reading, Augustine tells us he heard a child’s voice chant: ‘Tolle Lege!’ (‘Take up and read’). So he grabbed his book and flipped to a random page. His eyes lit upon a passage in Paul’s ‘Letters to the Romans’. The words he found were the key to his conversion. The book couldn’t have been a roll: it was a codex of the Gospels. But many of his other, often non-Christian books, were rolls.

    Virtually all ancient Christian texts were codices, and with each new scrap pulled from the Egyptian sands, this has been confirmed, rare exceptions ‘proving the rule’. Historians have concluded that, while Christians probably didn’t invent the codex, their scribes had gifted the general use of it to the Roman world and, in so doing, passed it, and much of what survives of Classical literature, on to us. But an inability to explain the exact origin and nature of this ‘Christian codex’ clouds every investigation, and for good reason: this conclusion is wrong. While nearly every early Christian text is a codex, not every early codex is Christian…

    The fascinating story in full: “The birth of the book: on Christians, Romans and the codex.”

    * Groucho Marx

    ###

    As we turn the page, we might send speedy birthday greetings to Samuel Finley Breese Morse; he was born on this date in 1791.  After establishing himself as a successful painter, Morse returned to a school-day obsession, electricity, and began to experiment with using it to communicate…  sufficiently successfully that he is now less well remembered for his (then celebrated) art work, than for his success as contributor to the development of the single wire telegraph– which revolutionized global communications— and as the co-developer of Morse Code.

    220px-Samuel_Morse_1840 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:34 on 2019/02/05 Permalink
    Tags: communications, , , Justin E. H. Smith, , , , Mme de Sévigné, , ,   

    “A unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”*… 


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    meme

    Is there any way to intervene usefully or meaningfully in public debate, in what the extremely online Twitter users are with gleeful irony calling the “discourse” of the present moment?

    It has come to seem to me recently that this present moment must be to language something like what the Industrial Revolution was to textiles. A writer who works on the old system of production can spend days crafting a sentence, putting what feels like a worthy idea into language, only to find, once finished, that the internet has already produced countless sentences that are more or less just like it, even if these lack the same artisanal origin story that we imagine gives writing its soul. There is, it seems to me, no more place for writers and thinkers in our future than, since the nineteenth century, there has been for weavers.

    This predicament is not confined to politics, and in fact engulfs all domains of human social existence…

    Justin E. H. Smith rages against the machine.  Come for the righteous indictment of algorithmic culture; stay for the oddly redeeming conclusion: “It’s All Over.” [TotH @vgr]

    But we might recall that Socrates (as reported in Plato’s Phaedrus) railed against the new technology of his time– writing– and its corrosive effect on memory.  Several readers of Smith’s essay have suggested that it is similarly “conservative.”  Smith engages those criticism here.

    Pair with “The Age of Post-Authenticity and the Ironic Truths of Meme Culture.”

    [image above: source]

    definition of a “meme” in Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene (1976)

    ###

    As we muse on meaning, we might send epistolary birthday greetings to Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné; she was born on this date in 1626.  A French aristocrat, she is the most celebrated letter writer in French literary history.  Those letters– over 1,100 survive– as celebrated for their vivid descriptiveness and their wit.  Mme de Sévigné’s letters play an important role in the novel In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, where they figure as the favorite reading of the narrator’s grandmother, and, following her death, his mother.

    Check them out at the Internet Archive.

    200px-Marquise_de_Sévigné source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:09 on 2019/01/05 Permalink
    Tags: communications, , , , , , stratigraphy, ,   

    “Eloquence is a painting of the thoughts”*… 


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    San Callisto bread and fishes__1542403117405__w800

    Fish and loaves fresco from the Catacombs of St. Callixto, Rome, c. 200. Christian iconography appeared in the first third of the third century. It quickly developed a clear vocabulary—an image of a fisherman represented Jesus Christ and the apostles, a fish under a breadbasket represented communion, and the superimposed Greek letters Χ (chi) and Ρ (rho), sometimes called the Christogram or monogram of Christ, represented Christ himself (Χ and Ρ are the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ, Christos). Early Christians used these and other symbols in mural paintings, catacomb frescoes, and sarcophagi carvings to label deceased Christians. Sixteen popes are buried in the catacombs of San Callixto, located on the Appian Way in Rome.

     

    Although Éric de Grolier, the so-called Father of Information Systems in France, coined the term infographic in 1979, the history of the graphical representation of information stretches back much further. The history of the visualization of information is intrinsically tied to the history of human cognition, of technology, and of art and design. Human beings have used visuals for so many things: to communicate ideas and stories; to represent space, time, and the cosmos; to extrapolate and compare sets of data; to show connections and disparities; to teach complex concepts or succinctly display information. Visualizations—maps, diagrams, graphs—make arguments for how we should understand the world, and thereby teach us how to understand, organize, and make sense of complicated reality. These simplified versions of the world allow us to see things that are usually unseen: the borders between political jurisdictions, the hierarchy of an organization, or the relationship between the mortal plane and the afterlife…

    A fascinating history of the visual expression of ideas: “Instead of Writing a Thousand Words, Part One: Ideas, Part Two: Maps, and Part Three: Data.”

    * Blaise Pascal

    ###

    As we show, not tell, we might recall that it was on this date in 1796, at the Swan Inn in Dunkerton (England), that William Smith, a self-educated geologist, wrote in a single sentence his discovery of the mode of identifying strata by the organized fossils respectively imbedded therein (the theory of of stratigraphy)– now an axiomatic fact of modern geological knowledge.  He went on to publish (in 1799) the first large-scale geological map of the area around Bath, Somerset.

    William_Smith_(geologist) source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:02:01 on 2016/05/16 Permalink
    Tags: , communications, , , , pictograms, , Sumeria, ,   

    “A word after a word after a word is power”*… 


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    Sumerian cuneiform tablet

    There is evidence dating back to Neolithic times in various parts of the world of people using pictograms—that is, drawing little pictures of objects to represent those objects. They might be scratched in stone, incised into pottery, or carved into bone or shell. Examples have been found in China (at Jiahu in Henan province), in southern Europe (at Vinča in Serbia), in the Indian subcontinent (at Harappa in Pakistan), in Egypt (at Girzeh), in Mesopotamia, and in Central America (near Veracruz in Mexico). The Chinese symbols, dating back to around 6600 BC, are currently believed to be the oldest discovered.

    However, most scholars do not class these symbols as “writing.” They do not appear to be capable of communicating complex or abstract ideas. They are pictures, or at most signs—perhaps used for identification, claiming ownership, or as memory aids.

    The general consensus in academic circles is that the earliest “true” writing system emerged in Sumeria (modern-day southern Iraq) around 3100 BC, and was fully developed with a substantial body of written texts and literature by around 2600 BC…

    More at “Hieroglyphs aren’t words—so which civilization invented the idea of writing?

    * Margaret Atwood

    ###

    As we ponder prose, we might recall that this is National Biographers Day– celebrated on this date each year to commemorate the anniversary of the first meeting, in 1763, of Dr. Samuel Johnson and his biographer, James Boswell.  Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson is widely claimed to be the greatest biography ever written. 

    Boswell (center left) meets Johnson (center right, on chair)

    source

     

     
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