Testing: One… Two… Three… Is this Thing On?

A great many things have happened on December 6th over the centuries, but for audio buffs the world over one event stands out above the rest. It was on this date in 1877 that the first audio recording was made by Thomas Edison. Previously, April 12th was considered to be the anniversary based on a date Edison wrote on a sketch of his device made in 1917; but subsequent research has revealed that Edison had misremembered the date and now many historians accept December 6th as the date of record. (pun intended)

Edison with phonograph (1877)

Edison with Phonograph in 1877. (Photograph by Matthew Brady - Courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

That first recording was made with the assistance of Charles Batchelor and John Kruesi. Working under the Edison’s direction they created the first phonograph consisting of a cylinder with a sheet of tinfoil wrapped around it.  Sound was received through a funnel, which was connected to a diaphragm. Yelling into the funnel caused sound waves to vibrate the diaphragm, which in turn vibrated a small stylus (needle) that was attached to it. The stylus pressed the pattern of the sound waves onto the tinfoil as the cylinder was turned by a hand crank.

The indented tinfoil sheet then was moved to another, nearly identical, device that had a stylus attached to the diaphragm with a delicate spring. As the hand crank was turned this time the stylus was passed over the indents on the tinfoil. The indentations caused the stylus and thus the diaphragm to vibrate in the same manner as when the original words were spoken. The vibrations of the diaphragm were amplified by another funnel and, if one listened closely, the recording was  heard.

Kreusi, who actually built the device from Edison’s sketches, is credited with the first review of an audio recording. His response? “Gott in Himmel!” (God in Heaven!)

The tricky part was turning the crank at the exact same speed as when recorded so the sounds could be recognized. Those early tinfoil recordings were quite fragile and could be played only a couple of times before they would become damaged and be lost forever. In later, more commercial models, wax and other materials would replace the tinfoil.

And what was that original recording you ask? It was Thomas Edison himself reciting the childhood classic “Mary Had a Little Lamb“. As already mentioned, those tinfoil recordings were fragile and the 1877 original is lost forever, but the following link will let you listen to a re-enactment made by Edison at the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Phonograph made in 1927.

http://www.archive.org/details/EDIS-SCD-02

Today, 134 years later, quality recording technology is readily available to almost anyone. You probably have one in your pocket or purse right now. Few inventions have contributed to the shaping of culture and society world-wide as the ability to record and distribute the human voice.

In celebration of this world changing event I leave you with my favorite recording of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Historic Election Changes Everything

I know, the title of this post reads like a newspaper headline, but it’s truly how I feel about last night. Canada is different place this morning and for a number of reasons.   When this election started I was very much of the opinion that it was unneeded and would turn out to be a waste of time. I, like many people, felt we would likely just get more of the same, a Conservative minority government.

However; as you have likely noticed even if you didn’t stay up till 2 am to see the final results as I did, the face of the nation underwent a significant facelift last night.

The Conservatives have their majority mandate, largely centred in the west but with significant presence in Ontario. Harper’s place in history is secured with three Conservative victories in a row.

Jack Layton’s place in history is confirmed as well, leading the NDP to it’s most prominent place in Parliament ever – Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. He has good reason to feel proud this morning. With its base in Quebec it is a historic accomplishment. It will be interesting to see how he performs in this situation.

Micheal Ignatieff is more than just a footnote as well. He must wear forever the mantle of being the leader who took the Liberal party to the back benches for the first time in its long history. I’ve read two of his books and was impressed with his writing. I wonder what the title of his next book will be.

Giles Duceppe likely has the most to answer for. He not only lost the election but the Bloc has lost official party status. We will not be hearing from them in Parliament any time soon. The question now is will the voters of Quebec compensate for this massive turn by putting the Parti Québécois back in power provincially.

And for the fifth change in a single election, unprecedented in any previous election at any level of government, Elizabeth May has won the Green Party’s first seat in Parliament, earning her party a limited voice and a seat at the debates four years from now, provided the media types don’t change the rules in the meantime.

But there is one more change that took place last night that cannot be seen in the popular vote, the number of seats, or who does or does not have official party status. In previous elections, as the night wore on, I would find myself sitting in front of the TV set watching the results come in essentially by myself as Roberta dosed off on the couch beside me. But last night I had company.

Sarah, and Carlo, and Darby, and Brian and a host of others were watching right along with me. We commented and cajoled, lamented and wept, cheered and boasted back and forth without even being in the same room together. Through the medium of Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Messenger I was able to watch the results and converse about them with over a dozen friends and strangers from all across Ontario, from Guelph to Ottawa; across the nation from New Brunswick to B.C.; and even heard from friends in the United States and as far away as the British Isles in real times, only a few key clicks away.

It will change the face of Canadian elections forever, as it has done in other jurisdictions. Last night the major broadcasters followed the rules and refrained from sending out results across the nation until the polls were closed, but Canadians did not. From the beginning Tweeters and Facebookers sent out the word 140 characters at a time. As soon as the first ballot box was counted in Goose Bay, people in Vancouver knew the result.

Broadcasters, pollsters, political parties, Elections Canada even everyday Canadians are all going to have to spend the next four years figuring out how to conduct an election under this new reality. This new level of connectivity has the potential to make strategic voting a tactic that will skew and slant election results even more than our antiquated first-past-the-post Westminster model of government does already.

The results last night do, I believe, demonstrate the need for electoral reform. An 8% increase in the popular vote garnered the Conservatives and additional 13% of the seats in Parliament. An 11% drop in the popular vote in the GTA cost the Liberals nearly half the seats in Toronto. There does seem to be a valid reason to seriously consider proportional representation.

But what isn’t known yet, and won’t be known until the statistical analysts have had time to crunch all the numbers, is how much did Tweeted results from Charlottetown affect voter response in Burnaby. How much was the slight increase in voter turnout from 2008 inspired by the Social Voting movement and how much was due to Frank in Kingston screaming on Facebook, “Harper’s winning! Get your ass out there and VOTE!”

The pundits will pontificate for months on why we have the results we do. Did Harper get his majority because Canadians care more about the economy than they do about honesty and transparency? Or did he get it because we hate elections and punished Ignatieff for forcing one? Did Jack gain in Quebec because his attack on Micheal’s attendance record hit home? Or because he bloom has fallen off the Separatist rose? I’m not certain we’ll ever truly know for sure.

But what we do know is this, for better or for worse the people have spoken and we are going to have to live with it for the next four years. And I am fairly certain that last night’s results will change the way elections are conducted in this country, one way or another.

A Call to Remember

I’m currently involved in a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (I’m one of the ‘techie’ guys) and I have to tell you it’s been a great experience. Today was the high point of the process so far. There’s a step in the process called “polishing” in which an person who has not been a part of the production is invited to make observations, comments, offer advice, and in a word, help to “polish” the performance. Today I was thrilled to watch as R.H. Thomson, a great Canadian actor, held our polishing workshop at Guelph Little Theatre. It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had, watching as Thomson worked and reworked scenes with the members of our cast.

As great as it was to sit in on this experience, it’s not the workshop I want to tell you about. it’s what he had to say after the workshop I want to share with you.

April 2007 marks the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The monument to this event will be rededicated this year in France as part of the ceremonies marking the anniversary. To acknowledge the event here in Canada R.H.Thomson has initiated “The Words from Vimy Project.” Full details are available at the projects web site, but in a nutshell what they are seeking to do is hold a virtual role call of the Canadians that fought in that battle, many of whom lie buried on that very site.

To do this the project is seeking to contact the families of all the men who fought at Vimy Ridge. With the family’s permission, pictures, letters, personal thoughts and reflections, and comments by the surviving relatives will be collected and digitized to create a narrative of the Battle of Vimy Ridge using the words of young men who were there. This archive will allow Canadians to not just remember that so many young men gave their lives in April 1917, but to connect individually with many of the 97,000 Canadians who took part.

So if you are the relative of someone who fought at Vimy Ridge, or know someone who is, I ask you on behalf of the project (with R.H.Thomson’s permission) to contact the project and discuss with them having your relative’s memories added to the archive. You can link to either this blog or the project itself.

Help create a lasting and very personal memorial to these brave young men.

It should be noted that this is not RH Thomson’s first foray into the virtual world. Click on this link to read an article on his involvement with Canada’s Virtual War Memorial.

Please, Don’t remind me…

I have always been confused by Canadians’ apparent dislike for their own history, but I never fully appreciated until today just how deep this aversion runs. 

In an article entitled “A lesson in respect” published in today’s Toronto Sun, Sheila Copps points out a major difference between Canada and the U.S. in regard to respect for our leaders. As you are likely aware, U.S. presidents establish a library at the end of their terms that contains memoirs, papers, correspondence etc. that define their term in office. In Canada however, no such libraries exist; in fact, we don’t even have a single library for all their papers. Not only that but we have even squashed every attempt to create one. I’ll quote Ms. Copps….

Two attempts to establish the Canadian equivalent of a presidential library have failed. The first, at the newly minted Canadian Museum of Civilization, was quashed more than two decades ago when cost overruns terminated the project in the planning stages. Prime Minister Paul Martin recently killed the second, a proposed Canadian history museum, because the project was too closely associated to his former boss. Neither decision was surprising. Canadians are averse to hero worship and even more leery about positive political histories.

Why is this? Can anyone out there explain to me why it is that we are so indifferent to our own history in this country? Especially when so much time and effort is spent agonizing over just what it is to be a Canadian? National identity is born out of a nation’s history. Canada is the country it is today because of what has happened in our past, especially in the political arena. We are who we are because of the actions of people like Douglas, Deifenbaker, Trudeau and Pearson, and yes, even the likes of Mulroney, Turner, Clark and Campbell.

Every Prime Minister, regardless of political affiliation, has contributed in some way to making Canada the country so many people around the world want to call home. These contributions deserve to be chronicled and remembered. The inside story as to how and why decisions were made, both good and bad, are important if we are to learn the lessons the past has to teach us. And yet, because we seem to consider politicians unworthy of remembering, for any reason, we will instead condemn future generations to fighting the same battles over and over again.

So great is our disregard for the people who have led this great country, it took an act of parliament under the authority of Parks Canada to ensure that weeds do not over grow the graves of former Prime Ministers. Apparently we aren’t even willing to mow the grass to afford them some small measure of dignity.

Once again, I have to ask the question, Why? Earlier I referred to our attitude toward history as indifference; that might not be quite right. We recoil from our history so intensely I wonder if we aren’t in some measure ashamed of it. Like an embarrassed twenty-something we would rather people didn’t mention the things we did when we were teenagers. Our current attitudes and preferences are so different from what they once were we can’t believe, and don’t want to admit, we ever held to any other philosophy.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe when it comes to the community of nations we are still just a twenty-something. After all, while other nations have been around for hundreds, even thousands of years, Canada is a mere 140 years old. As nations go, we’re still a teenager, maybe even adolescent. Maybe, like most teenagers, we can’t think beyond the next big date, what parties will we be invited to, or which nation is paying attention to us this week. Maybe, like most teenagers, we won’t care about what really matters in life until we’ve grown up a little bit.

So, let me play the role of parent and say — Pay attention to your history Canada. Like older relatives, one day you’ll appreciate the wisdom of those who once led this country. I know it doesn’t make sense to you right now, but trust me, you’ll understand when you get older!

 

Lest We Forget

Each November we see a wide variety of things come to light that are intended to help us remember the men and women who have given their lives in the service of their country. Some of these are good and honourable ideas, others are just attempts to cash in on the emotions that run high at this time of year. Every once in a while however an idea surfaces that is an unqualified ‘ one of ‘ that makes you sit up and take notice. Today, I came across such an idea.

There are three Canadians left alive who served during the First World War. They are: 105-year-old Dwight (Percy) Wilson (shown in photo getting a kiss from his grand-daughter on his 105th birthday) and Lloyd Clemett and John Babcock, both 106. They are the last remaining links to the 619,636 Canadians who served between 1914 and 1918. Soon, when they too have passed on, there will be no one left to say, “Thank You” to from that terrible time in our history.

The Dominion Institute has suggested that when the inevitable day comes that the last of Canada’s WWI veterans passes, they should, on behalf of all the 66, 655 Canadians who died in service to their country during that war, be given a formal state funeral. I fully agree.

The passing of the last WWI veteran will, in fact, mark the passing of a generation, even an era. We should do all we can to make sure that their sacrifice does not fade from memory. To give the last veteran a state funeral as a significant tribute to every soldier who died in WWI is by all means a very fitting act. I hope you agree as well.

I am therefore asking you to join with me in asking our federal government to do just that. There is an online petition available to be signed at www.dominion.ca/petition . You may well have heard about this on the news by now, so what I have written here is not news. Some of you have already signed and for that I thank you. If you hadn’t please take a moment to click on the link above and do so. You will receive a verification email that requires you click another link to verify your email address is a valid one. The whole process takes only a few minutes.

The passing of the last Canadian WWI veteran will only happen once in our entire history. Let’s make sure it is an event that is well remembered.

Shalom…