Biggest Bit Player in 20th Century!

DATELINE: Changing the World

 Shannon.

Imagine being one of the most important people to live in the 20th century and being unknown!

This documentary teases us with the notion that we are remiss to have missed Claude E. Shannon, the greatest inventor/scientist of the 20thcentury. He is called The Bit Player because he is the man who created ‘the bit” as part of the first “thinking machine.”

Yes. He’s right up there with Einstein, though no one has given him the time of day. His theoretics led to the iPhone, email, and all the other unquestioned intrusions into life. He rode a unicycle and juggled, and some thought he was a walking, breathing, thinking carnival barker.

Years ago we used to drive past his home in Winchester, Massachusetts, all the time, but only now do we recognize that a great man lived in that distinctive house. Had we known, we might have dropped in as unannounced as a text message from a stranger.

Eclectic, poetic, he was all you would never think was a scientist. He once invented a flaming trumpet for his high-school age son who was in a marching-band.

Growing up in the Midwest, he came to MIT after writing a stunning Master’s Thesis at age 21, years before Alan Turing’s seminal work. Shannon created codes, and in particular he made the binary code, and his two-number system meant that 1+1=1.  Uh-oh, that meant you were a nutcase in 1930.

Idiosyncratic sometimes makes you an academic pariah, but many of Shannon’s ideas were borderline science fiction and considered useless. If there was no personal PC, how could they be implemented or pragmatic?

How much call was there for a calculator that worked in Roman numerals? He loved to tinker and to let his mind wander the byways of opportunity, much like his pioneer grandfather.

When he spent a year at Princeton, Shannon used to wave every morning at Einstein as the genius walked to Princeton, but is vague about their meeting and interactions. He said he met Einstein but Einstein likely had no memory of meeting him.

It is characteristic of oddity in this biographical story.

With much derived from a filmed interview he gave late in life, we have evidence of a vibrant, ageless thinker that displays the power that must have been thwarted all too often in the earlier days of the 20thcentury.

This man gave Marshall McLuhan all the war and peace in the global village that he could muster. It’s always delightful to meet the most important people you never knew existed.

 

 

 

 

History of Time Travel: More or Less

DATELINE: Time, Relatively Speaking!

time bottled   At least in theory!

We admit to having a soft-spot for those mockumentaries that can fool us with their close imitation of traditional documentary form.

When you enjoy a steady diet of history through re-enactors, you certainly can grow complacent.

We tip our cap to Ricky Kennedy, director and creative force behind History of Time Travel, an ingenious little film that manages to weave a connection between reality, history, and outright fiction. He does it seamlessly and with a flourish of subtlety.

The historical overview is utterly perfect, but the focus on one “scientist” and his sons with an obsession for tripping up with a time machine takes on a large focus. Yet, that too is a sharp decision for pop appeal.

Not only are the conventions of movie-making and re-enacting spoofed, so are the so-called experts who seem both vapid and convincing: he cites professors from Harvard, Yale, and MIT, and throws in a couple of fake best-selling authors to spout their insider knowledge.

Interviews are interspersed with “home movies” from the 1940s. Oh, the technology existed, and that does ring truthful, but a few glitches in costumes and set will tip off the anachronistic lark to careful viewers.

We half-expected Dr. Strangelove to show up on the MIT faculty, and we are always receptive to a setting of Cambridge, Mass., our ancestral home.

People who like to find continuity goofs receive their come-uppance at the hands of this director. Without selling the store, we would advise any time travel theorist to pay attention to moveable props. We enjoyed the coffee mugs and backdrops: the doctor’s coffee pot is an amusing target.

Short and pithy, this 2014 film would be on the highlight reel of any proud film writer and director.

Wild Weekend=Andrew Luck(y) Strike

DATELINE: HUMOR!

Image

Einstein’s Pick?

It’s January madness time: Wildcard Weekend always turns out to be excruciating for Patriot fans when the next opponent is unknown—and could be any of three possible teams.

Many so-called experts waste their week trying to analyze the pickings to propose who will play whom. It’s better just to bide your time and gird your loins.

By Sunday night the cup of hemlock will be passed to the Patriots. Whether we sip the Kool-Aid or spill the poison, we can at least have a better idea of where the execution will occur and what team wears the hangman’s hood.

You’d have a better accuracy rate to predict what will happen on season four of Downton Abbey starting on Sunday than to figure out what team will move on to the New England blizzard bowl.

However you cut it, the next team on the dance card comes out of the Midwest. That’s the heartland of America coming to visit the birthplace of the Nation and the Athens of America.

Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati, are not exactly the big-time when it comes to culture, art, and high society—as you may find in Foxborough.

If a team with a lean and hungry look may be favored, the fault will likely be placed on the stars. If you asked Einstein about the formula of Daulton+Smith+Luck=Brady, you may as well calculate E=MC squared. The result is the same, whether Isaac Newton or Charles Darwin picks the winner.

It isn’t rocket science or even quantum physics. It’s football. Yes, we have concluded that it will all be based on Luck, the next generation of Brady. That’s string theory, fans.