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  • For over 60 years National Bike Month and Bike to Work Day have celebrated the unique power of the bicycle and the many reasons why we ride. 2017 marks the bicentennial of the bicycle making this year's celebration extra special. We asked Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing, the authors of the recently released paperback edition of Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History, to reflect on everyday cycling through history.

    Yes, cycling is 200 years old now and still thriving. Some people make a distinction and claim that the bicycle is merely 150 years old, since the term "bicycle" arose only in 1867 when pedals were attached to the front wheel. "Bicycle", meaning two-wheeled, came from the French, yet a two-wheeler without pedals could be pretty fast anyway. Pushing the machine by long, powerful strides ensured the rider always had contact with safe ground.

    Posted at 07:00 am on Fri, 19 May 2017 in bicycle, design, history
  • In the conclusion of Ivan Ascher's interview about Portfolio Society: On the Capitalist Mode of Prediction, the author discusses the definition of neoliberalism, the book's cover art, Donald Trump, and more.

    Since this book is published in Zone’s Near Futures Series, which is considering the consequences of neoliberalism: how do you define neoliberalism?

    Frankly, I tend to stay away from definitional debates over what constitutes neoliberalism properly so called. There is much to be said for recognizing neoliberalism as a distinct class project, and there is much to be said for recognizing it as a distinct form of rationality. Both strike me as reasonable approaches, so long as they help us acknowledge the continuities and discontinuities between our contemporary formations and what came before. I suppose I am closer to Wendy Brown’s line of thinking than to David Harvey’s, but I don’t think one always has to choose. My own contribution is to focus on one particular aspect of the story, which is financialization.

    Posted at 09:00 am on Wed, 12 Apr 2017 in history, political science
  • Ivan Ascher discusses his book, Portfolio Society: On the Capitalist Mode of Prediction, a bold extension of Marx’s Capital for the twenty-first century: at once a critique of modern finance and of the societies under its spell.

    You suggest the excesses of capitalism might not have led to ruin for so many. As you write, “While it may be that the pursuit of profit is a defining constant in the history of capitalism, the precise forms of exploitation and predation that it produces are not.” Could you discuss this point?

    What I meant is simply that we must distinguish between what is old and what is new in today’s financialized capitalism. While I take the pursuit of profit to be a constant in capitalism, almost by definition, I also think the specific terms under which this profit is pursued can vary. Specifically, where the wage relation was once the main site of both profit-making and political struggle, it now seems the credit relation has taken its place—at least in much of the global North.

    Posted at 04:41 pm on Tue, 04 Apr 2017 in history, political science
  • The daguerreotype, invented in France, came to America in 1839. It was, as Sarah Kate Gillespie's book The Early American Daguerreotype shows, something wholly and remarkably new: a product of science and innovative technology that resulted in a visual object. We're celebrating World Photo Day with an excerpt from The Early American Daguerreotype.

    Originally a French invention, daguerreotyping—a photographic process that produces extremely detailed images—reached American shores in the fall of 1839. A daguerreotype is a direct-positive image on a silvered copper plate. Historically, the plate was polished until it had a mirror-like surface, then was treated with lightsensitive chemicals. The plate was then fitted into a camera and exposed to the subject. Once exposed, the plate was developed above a box of mercury fumes, and the image was fixed in a bath of hyposulfate of soda. The finished product was then washed and dried. Because the surface remained sensitive, it was placed under a plate of glass and usually put in a case.

    Posted at 10:00 am on Fri, 19 Aug 2016 in art, history, photography, science, technology
  • On July 20, 1969 workers called in sick and children stayed home from school. Crowds gathered around televisions in department store windows to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight by David Mindell examines the design and execution of each of the six Apollo moon landings, drawing on transcripts and data telemetry from the flights, astronaut interviews, and NASA’s extensive archives. In honor of the anniversary of the first moon landing, the following is an excerpt from Digital Apollo that describes the high tension of that fateful day.

    On a July day in 1969, after a silent trip around the far side of the moon, the two Apollo spacecraft reappeared out of the shadows and reestablished contact with earth. The command and service module (CSM) (sometimes simply ‘‘command module’’) was now the mother ship, the capsule and its supplies that would carry the astronauts home. The CSM continued to orbit the moon, with astronaut Michael Collins alone in the capsule. ‘‘Listen, babe,’’ Collins reported to ground controllers at NASA in Houston, ‘‘everything’s going just swimmingly. Beautiful.’’ His two colleagues Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘‘Buzz’’ Aldrin had just separated the other spacecraft, the fragile, spidery lunar module (LM, pronounced ‘‘lem’’), nicknamed Eagle, from the command module. This odd, aluminum balloon, packed with instruments and a few engines, would carry the two men down to the lunar surface.

    Posted at 09:00 am on Wed, 20 Jul 2016 in history, science, technology
  • As we observe Independence Day in the United States, we look back at the nation's history. William Hogeland's Inventing American History is a call to make the celebration of America’s past more honest. Hogeland argues that only when we can ground our public history in the gritty events of the day, embracing its contradictions and difficulties, will we be able to learn from it. In the following excerpt, he takes readers on a tour of the U.S.

    Posted at 09:00 am on Mon, 04 Jul 2016 in history
  • How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet recounts the Soviet Union’s failed attempts to construct its own Internet during the Cold War. Benjamin Peters discusses his book and considers the implications of the Soviet experience for today’s networked world. 

    What was the OGAS project? What role did it play in the development of computer networks?

    The OGAS project was the most ambitious attempt to network the Soviet Union—to construct a national computer network. Viktor M. Glushkov, whose New York Times obituary dubbed him the “king of Soviet cybernetics,” considered the OGAS his lifework between his appointment as director of the Institute of Cybernetics in Kiev in 1962 and his death of an apparent brain hemorrhage in 1982. “OGAS” is short for the obshchee-gosudarstvennaya avtomatizirovannaya system—or the all-state automated system, which itself was a shortening of its full train-length name: the All-State Automated System for the Gathering and Processing of Information for the Accounting, Planning, and Governance of the National Economy, USSR. This heroic or gargantuan project, in Glushkov’s 1962 proposal, sought to build incrementally on preexisting and new telephony networks until it would go fully online 30 years later, offering up in the process a real-time decentralized hierarchical computer network for managing all the information flows in the command economy. He envisioned it reaching from one central computer center in Moscow, to several hundred regional computer centers in prominent cities, and then to as many as 20,000 local computing centers in factories and enterprises stretching over all of Soviet Eurasia. Its higher purpose was to realize “electronic socialism” technocratically, guiding the socialist experiment another step toward communism itself. However, the project encountered significant obstacles on the path to its realization in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1980s, the OGAS project had splintered into a patchwork of unconnected and non-interoperable local factory control systems spread throughout the country.

    Posted at 02:10 pm on Tue, 24 May 2016 in history, information science, technology


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The MIT PressLog is the official blog of MIT Press. Founded in 2005, the Log chronicles news about MIT Press authors and books. The MIT PressLog also serves as forum for our authors to discuss issues related to their books and scholarship. Views expressed by guest contributors to the blog do not necessarily represent those of MIT Press.