Living History

I was struck by something when looking at some website analytics today.

This is the image I was looking at:

NY Traffic Map

Notice that line of dots across the middle of the state? That’s no accident. Here’s why:

Erie Canal map

The Erie Canal was a major engineering feat of the early 1800s and was a key transport path for over 100 years, although after around 1950 or so it stopped being a significant part of the commercial transportation network.

It’s kind of neat that the canal is visible from cyberspace.

Another Extremely Cool Discovery: First Recorded Voice

Audio historians have found a set of French “phonautogram” recordings from 1860 that predate Thomas Edison’s recordings by more than 10 years.

On a digital copy of the recording provided to The New York Times, the anonymous vocalist, probably female, can be heard against a hissing, crackling background din. The voice, muffled but audible, sings, “Au clair de la lune, Pierrot répondit” in a lilting 11-note melody — a ghostly tune, drifting out of the sonic murk.

What’s even cooler, you can download the clip yourself and listen to it. The quality’s not great, but it’s clearly a woman singing. Very neat.

50 Years Later: The Sputnik Backstory

This caught my eye tonight: the backstory of the Sputnik launch that kicked off the “space race” between the US and the USSR is finally coming out. Here’s a snippet, click through for the rest (it’s worth a read):

When Sputnik took off 50 years ago, the world gazed at the heavens in awe and apprehension, watching what seemed like the unveiling of a sustained Soviet effort to conquer space and score a stunning Cold War triumph.

But 50 years later, it emerges that the momentous launch was far from being part of a well-planned strategy to demonstrate communist superiority over the West. Instead, the first artificial satellite in space was a spur-of-the-moment gamble driven by the dream of one scientist, whose team scrounged a rocket, slapped together a satellite and persuaded a dubious Kremlin to open the space age.

And that winking light that crowds around the globe gathered to watch in the night sky? Not Sputnik at all, as it turns out, but just the second stage of its booster rocket.