Aug. 19, 2014
The Country of Trees
The text of today's poem is not available online.
It's the birthday of English novelist Jonathan Coe (books by this author), born in Lickey, a suburb of Birmingham, in 1961. His father was a physicist for a motor company, and his mother taught music and gym. Coe began writing at the age of eight, a detective story called The Castle of Mystery. He sent his first novel to a publisher when he was 15; it was rejected, and a few years later he was so embarrassed by it that he burned the manuscript in a bonfire in his parents' back garden. He worked on what would eventually become his first published novel, The Accidental Woman (1987), at Cambridge University while completing his doctoral thesis on Henry Fielding. Eight more novels followed, usually satirical examinations of the current political or social climate.
On this date in 1839, French painter and physicist Louis Daguerre presented his photographic process to the French Academy of Sciences. The first actual photograph had been made a couple of years earlier by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, but the quality wasn't very good and the plate had to be exposed for eight hours to capture the image. Daguerre worked with Niépce to develop a more practical method. He found that if he coated a copper plate with silver iodide, exposed it to light in the camera for 20 to 30 minutes, fumed it with mercury vapor, and then fixed it with a salt solution, he was able to capture a permanent image. He called the finished product a "daguerreotype." Many early photographers became ill, or even died, from mercury poisoning using this method. The daguerreotype was best suited for still objects, but people nonetheless lined up to have their portraits taken. This was not for the faint of heart: subjects had to sit in blazing sunlight for up to half an hour, trying not to blink, with their heads clamped in place to keep them still. It's not surprising that most of the early daguerreotype portraits feature grim, slightly desperate faces.
An early professional daguerreotype photographer remarked on people's reaction to their portraits: "People were afraid at first to look for any length of time at the pictures he produced. They were embarrassed by the clarity of these figures and believed that the little, tiny faces of the people in the pictures could see out at them, so amazing did the unaccustomed detail and the unaccustomed truth to nature of the first daguerreotypes appear to everyone."
It's the birthday of poet Ogden Nash, (books by this author) born in Rye, New York, in 1902. He sold his first verse to The New Yorker in 1930 and published his first collection, Hard Lines, in 1931. All told, he produced 20 volumes of humorous poetry, wrote several children's books, and wrote the lyrics to two musicals: One Touch of Venus (1943) and Two's Company (1952).
He wrote, "O Duty, / Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie? / Why glitter thy spectacles so ominously? / Why art thou clad so abominously?"
He said "Middle age is when you're sitting at home on a Saturday night and the telephone rings and you hope it isn't for you."
It's the birthday of Philo Taylor Farnsworth, the inventor of the television, born in a log cabin in Beaver, Utah, in 1906. He conceived of the basic elements necessary to transmit a visual image while he was still in high school; later, at Brigham Young University, he began his research in earnest. He co-founded Crocker Research Laboratories in San Francisco when he was just 20 years old, and the following year, in 1927, he transmitted his first image: a straight line. Investors wanted to know when they would see financial returns, so at his first demonstration for the press in 1928, he transmitted the image of a dollar sign. This earned him the first of about 165 patents.
Farnsworth appeared only once on his invention: He was the mystery guest "Dr. X" on the game show I've Got a Secret in July 1957.
Today is the birthday of the father of Star Trek: Gene Roddenberry, born in El Paso, Texas, in 1921. He flew B-17 bombers during World War II, flew commercially for Pan-Am after the war, and served as an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. He really wanted to be a writer, though, and got some freelance jobs consulting and writing scripts for several TV shows, including Dragnet, Have Gun — Will Travel, and Dr. Kildare. In 1956, he resigned from the LAPD and began writing full time.
The first show he created and produced was NBC's The Lieutenant, which aired from 1963 to 1964. Set at Camp Pendleton, it examined social issues through the lens of a military environment. He'd always loved science fiction, though, so in 1964 he developed the idea of a new series about space exploration — "a Wagon Train to the stars," as he described it — and shopped it around to several studios, most of which were uninterested. Desilu Productions, the company run by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, finally expressed an interest, and NBC agreed to run it. The pilot aired on September 8, 1966. His wife, Majel Barrett, provided the voice for the Enterprise's computer. Ratings were never great, and it only aired for three seasons, but it was a huge success in syndication, and has since spawned an animated series, four spin-off live-action TV series, and 11 feature films.
Star Trek was the first sci-fi series to depict a generally peaceful future, and that came from Roddenberry's fundamental optimism about the human race. "It speaks to some basic human needs," he said in 1991, "that there is a tomorrow — it's not all going to be over in a big flash and a bomb, that the human race is improving, that we have things to be proud of as humans. No, ancient astronauts did not build the pyramids — human beings built them because they're clever and they work hard. And Star Trek is about those things."
Roddenberry died in 1991 and, with his widow's permission, his ashes were carried on a 1992 mission of the space shuttle Columbia. The following year, NASA awarded him their Distinguished Public Service Medal for "distinguished service to the Nation and the human race in presenting the exploration of space as an exciting frontier and a hope for the future."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®