Saturday, May 13, 2017

On The Information

The Information by James Gleick starts with Claude Shannon and his 1948 paper, and that will be the centerpiece of the book. But the author quickly slides further back into time - back to when the Erupean colonialists were first in encountering the talking drums of 'Dark Africa'.

[At times there are two trains running with this book. That is, one, the argument that the world changed when some essential elements of what is information were conceived (by Shannon) and, two, a history of culture as communication. My interest here is the former, but notes are included on the latter.]

[It might be worthwhile to cite Glieck's sources - the book is built in part on erudition he gained by research/reading.]

It seems some of the missionaries begin to transcribe the language of the drums they heard. I take it this was a culture without written word. The Europeans, some of them, were quick to make the connection between the talking drums and the telegraph. 

Mixing metaphors, if you will, they forwarded the notion of the Signal - the fact that there was something similar underlying very different elements - the drum and the telegraph. Well, in fact, the connection was known. After all, the armies of Napoleon and others used drums as a muster point for armies. The European battle drum message was simple, like a church bell, indicating ''time to go to church.'' while the African drums had more complex messages


From the Vaults: Appreciation of Claude Shannon. 

It's about as hard now to imagine the world of the telegraph as it is to imagine the world of the cuneiform. IT was a distant technology even when I was a lad, although there were Western Union offices in most fair-sized towns. One found telegrams in parents' mementos trunks - and they appeared, read by comically droll Western Union delivery men or boys,  in the old movies -  STOP -  the old movies that filled up so much of the time on early TV - STOP - We knew that telegrams were clipped and sparse- their words precious. The sound of the telegram was the staccato dispatch. The sound of telecommunications was electric dits and dahs, 0's and 1's -- it was the variable length Morse (telegraphic) code and then the fixed-length Baudot and Murray (teletype) codes.

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