Aug 06

Not So Random Connections

After a great presentation on a topic mapping project last night, Victor mentioned James Burke and his show, Connections. How did I miss that series? Now I’m dying to get my hands on the DVD’s.

Burke postulates that major technological changes occur in response to “triggers”, some that are seemingly unrelated. A change in any system, whether mechanical, electrical or economic, triggers other changes. And so the connections begin.

Here’s a sample from one of his books:

Q: How was Napoleon important to the development of the modern computer?
A: Napoleon’s troops in Egypt buy shawls and start a fashion craze. In Europe the shawls get made on automated, perforated-paper-control looms. This gives an American engineer Herman Hollerith the idea to automate calculation using punch cards. Which gets used to control ENIAC, the first electronic computer.

Here’s a pic of such a loom. Oh yes, as Frank explains there, it was cause for some early cases of software piracy. Textile mills would have to carefully guard their punchcards lest some other steal their designs by making off with their cards. Sounds like great fun.

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