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History of Technology

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The Struggle to Shape and Control the Electric Power Industry

For more than a century, the interplay between private, investor-owned electric utilities and government regulators has shaped the electric power industry in the United States. Provision of an essential service to largely dependent consumers invited government oversight and ever more sophisticated market intervention. The industry has sought to manage, co-opt, and profit from government regulation. In The Power Brokers, Jeremiah Lambert maps this complex interaction from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

A History of Computer Animation

Computer graphics (or CG) has changed the way we experience the art of moving images. Computer graphics is the difference between Steamboat Willie and Buzz Lightyear, between ping pong and PONG. It began in 1963 when an MIT graduate student named Ivan Sutherland created Sketchpad, the first true computer animation program. Sutherland noted: “Since motion can be put into Sketchpad drawings, it might be exciting to try making cartoons.” This book, the first full-length history of CG, shows us how Sutherland’s seemingly offhand idea grew into a multibillion dollar industry.

We may imagine the digital cloud as placeless, mute, ethereal, and unmediated. Yet the reality of the cloud is embodied in thousands of massive data centers, any one of which can use as much electricity as a midsized town. Even all these data centers are only one small part of the cloud. Behind that cloud-shaped icon on our screens is a whole universe of technologies and cultural norms, all working to keep us from noticing their existence. In this book, Tung-Hui Hu examines the gap between the real and the virtual in our understanding of the cloud.

The Sciences of Policy in Britain and America, 1940-1960

During World War II, the Allied military forces faced severe problems integrating equipment, tactics, and logistics into successful combat operations. To help confront these problems, scientists and engineers developed new means of studying which equipment designs would best meet the military’s requirements and how the military could best use the equipment it had on hand. By 1941 they had also begun to gather and analyze data from combat operations to improve military leaders’ ordinary planning activities.

The Story of India's IT Revolution

The rise of the Indian information technology industry is a remarkable economic success story. Software and services exports from India amounted to less than $100 million in 1990, and today come close to $100 billion. But, as Dinesh Sharma explains in The Outsourcer, Indian IT’s success has a long prehistory; it did not begin with software support, or with American firms’ eager recruitment of cheap and plentiful programming labor, or with India’s economic liberalization of the 1990s.

How a Box Changes the Way We Think

We live in a world organized around the container. Standardized twenty- and forty-foot shipping containers carry material goods across oceans and over land; provide shelter, office space, and storage capacity; inspire films, novels, metaphors, and paradigms. Today, TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit, the official measurement for shipping containers) has become something like a global currency.

Stanford and the Computer Music Revolution

In the 1960s, a team of Stanford musicians, engineers, computer scientists, and psychologists used computing in an entirely novel way: to produce and manipulate sound and create the sonic basis of new musical compositions. This group of interdisciplinary researchers at the nascent Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA, pronounced “karma”) helped to develop computer music as an academic field, invent the technologies that underlie it, and usher in the age of digital music.

Patents, HIV/AIDS, and Race

In The Genealogy of a Gene, Myles Jackson uses the story of the CCR5 gene to investigate the interrelationships among science, technology, and society. Mapping the varied “genealogy” of CCR5—intellectual property, natural selection, Big and Small Pharma, human diversity studies, personalized medicine, ancestry studies, and race and genomics—Jackson links a myriad of diverse topics.

The Pre-Chernobyl History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry

The Chernobyl disaster has been variously ascribed to human error, reactor design flaws, and industry mismanagement. Six former Chernobyl employees were convicted of criminal negligence; they defended themselves by pointing to reactor design issues. Other observers blamed the Soviet style of ideologically driven economic and industrial management. In Producing Power, Sonja Schmid draws on interviews with veterans of the Soviet nuclear industry and extensive research in Russian archives as she examines these alternate accounts.

The mechanized assembly line was invented in 1913 and has been in continuous operation ever since. It is the most familiar form of mass production. Both praised as a boon to workers and condemned for exploiting them, it has been celebrated and satirized. (We can still picture Chaplin’s little tramp trying to keep up with a factory conveyor belt.) In America’s Assembly Line, David Nye examines the industrial innovation that made the United States productive and wealthy in the twentieth century.

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