Time-Lapsed National Park Webcams: Monitoring the Shutdown

On January 12, 2019, the ongoing federal government shutdown became the longest in United States history.  One of its casualties has been our national park system, if we’re to judge from reports of rampant litter, feces, and vandalism.  I was curious to see how the National Park Service air quality webcams have been faring. In…

Automatic Caricatures and Antifaces

The art of drawing caricatures might seem quintessentially human, but computers too can exaggerate the differences between any given face and a “normal” face, and they can also work out the opposite of a given face—sometimes called its “antiface”—which is less intuitive, and not a feat I think human artists have ever attempted freehand.  In…

Of Dreams and Patent Medicine

Early narrative phonography was as creative and conceptually groundbreaking in its way as early narrative film.  Take just one example: Muggsy’s Dream (1908).  The audio presented here was transferred from a cylinder in my collection by Dan Figurelli and Melissa Widzinski of MDPI on the Endpoint Audio Labs Cylinder Playback Machine (to get some practice…

Shorthand on the QWERTY Keyboard, 1875-1917

“kn u rd ths? gr8!” That might look like twenty-first-century mobile phone text messaging slang, of which it would in fact be a perfectly good example.  But that’s not what I’m using it here to illustrate.  Instead, I wrote it in one version of nineteenth-century “stenotypy,” following the guidelines put forward in a book published…

The World’s Oldest Aerial Photographs

A few months ago, I picked up a photograph on eBay showing a view of a town with a body of water in the background, evidently taken from a great height.  The seller described it as an “early aerial photo ca. 1860 from balloon” but wasn’t sure quite when it had been taken or where,…

A Document From 1656 Linked To Scotland’s Most Haunted Pub

It’s always interesting to browse the old handwritten documents that turn up for sale on eBay.  Often mysterious and illegible to the people selling them, they can repay careful attention by revealing the occasional text of unusual age or interest.  Here’s one recent acquisition that the dealer identified as “LARGE ENGLISH PAPER 1600s,” although it’s…