The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Back in the days when I read the Scientific American regularly, one of my favourite columns was Connections by James Burke. It was a broad-spectrum treatment of science with a historical context wherein a discovery or invention didn't occur in a vacuum, but was rather an emergent phenomenon given the culture and gestalt of the time. Extending the trope that anybody is connected to anyone else by six-degrees of separation (where the connection is gauged by knowing each other), Burke showed how disparate events had ramifications on each other.

Consider, for instance, this sequence:
  1. Shawls in Egypt during the Napoleonic invasion prompt a fashion craze, leading to
  2. Their manufacture on automated perforated-paper controlled looms, which give
  3. Herman Hollerith the idea of automatic calculation via punch-cards, that
  4. Are used in the programming of ENIAC, the first electronic computer.

This, evidently, is a connection across time. Many of Burke's articles, however, dealt with contemporaneous connections. Indeed, in some pieces, he would start with a person, follow the chain and return to the same person.

I find, now, that he produced for the BBC, a superb three-season series of programmes eponymously titled, which are now available on DVD. Do I want? Yes, indeed I want.


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