The TV Helmet

And four other intriguing things: marathons in your 90s, a designer heartbeat, ancient tombs, and Eno's cybernetics.
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Walter Pichler

1. Walter Pichler's "portable living room."

"Around forty-five years ago a  man wore a submarine-like white helmet that extended from front to back. His entire head disappeared into the futurist capsule; only the title betraying what was happening. TV Helmet created in 1967 is a technical device that isolates the user while embedding him or her in an endless web of information: closed off against the outside world, the wearer was completely focused on the screen before his eyes. TV Helmet is the work of Walter Pichler and it doesn’t merely formally anticipate the cyber glasses developed decades later; Pichler also articulated questions of content in relation to the media experience long before the 'virtual world' was even discovered. "

 

2. The improbable long-distance running career of a 103-year-old man.

"And there it was, the end of the most extraordinary long-distance running career that can be imagined: first marathon at 89, and nine more since, and a half-dozen lesser distances; the oldest man to run a full marathon, when he completed the Toronto Waterfront Marathon at 100; and a fantastical timing posted in 2003, 5:40:04 at the Toronto Marathon, at the age of 92, prompting Adidas (which sponsored him) to include him in their Impossible Is Nothing ad campaign, alongside David Beckham. The tag line of the ad said: 6:54 at age 89. 5:40 at age 92. The Kenyans better watch out for him when he hits 100. Since then, Singh has had tea with Queen Elizabeth II, a woman he is impressed with: 'Maharani England di tagri hegi-ae' (the queen of England is a strong woman); run with the Olympic torch during the London Games in 2012; developed a serious fetish for suits, ties and shoes (he has over a hundred suits, colour-matched with nearly that many pairs of shoes—'a strange thing,' he says, 'considering I spent 90 years more or less wearing the same type of white kurta-pyjama'); and of course, run more marathons."

 

3. A designer measures her heart, broadcasts a visualization of it beating.

"I've put my heartbeat on the internet. It's March 25, 2014 and the best technology I've found to save my heartrate is the Basis watch. It saves an average heartrate for each minute. It fails to record any heartrate for ~17.5% of minutes. When there is no data for a minute, you'll see the heartrate from the previous minute. Basis doesn't provide an open API, so I access the data using a variation of this code. The heartrate you see is from 24 hours ago. This is because the data can only be accessed via usb connection. Twice a day I connect the watch and upload my latest heartrates to the database. I've been doing this for 33 days now."

 

4. What it was like to walk into an ancient Egyptian tomb.

"Tunneling into ancient tombs was laborious—they had been designed to foil grave robbers, after all, and the intervening millennia had filled them with rocky debris. Arrival in the burial chamber was often disorienting. In the poor light, explorers momentarily mistook exquisitely mummified domestic animals for live ones. They found stacks of hard goods in the sarcophagi, but also dried flowers and the leavings of a last meal, as though only a few weeks or months had passed since the long-distant funerary rites. Arthur Weigall, an Egyptologist of the period who wrote eloquently about such moments, compared them to walking through a tear in the curtain of time.

"Even more striking, almost magical, was the quickness with which that curtain repaired itself. Upon discovery, items in the tombs started visibly to decay. The sudden change in temperature and atmosphere made vivid colors fade and carved outlines all but disappear. A scholar assigned to copy hieroglyphs inside King Tut’s tomb when it was discovered in 1922 records that he worked to the sound of ancient wood creaking and snapping as the new air flowed in."

 

5. The influence of cybernetics on Brian Eno.

"In Geeta Dayal's book about the making of Brian Eno's classic 1975 record Another Green World, she cites cybernetics as a defining influence on the creative process – 'cybernetic systems were used to model practically every phenomenon, with varying degrees of success – factories, societies, machines, ecosystems, brains – and Eno became a big fan of linking its powerful toolset to the studio environment, and to music composition. Eno was nothing if not interdisciplinary, and cybernetics may be one of the most interdisciplinary frameworks ever devised. Its theories connect engineering, math, physics, biology, psychology and some of this inevitably trickled into the arts.'"

 

Today's 1957 English Usage Tip

bacchanal, bacchant(e)Bacchanal bacchant are both used of males or females, or males & females, but with a tendency to be restricted to males; bacchante is used of females only. 

More candidates for modern resuscitation. 

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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