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    Re: Teaching the discovery of the longitude
    From: Lu Abel
    Date: 2011 Mar 15, 14:58 -0700
    I personally don't see our technical progress as a science versus technology issue as much as technology perfecting and making practical scientific discoveries (or at least some of them).  

    Thermodynamics can explain internal combustion engines, but technological evolution makes them the ubiquitous items the are today.

    I'm a computer geek, old enough to remember when computers were built out of individual transistors and had core memories.  Magnetic core memories (tiny donuts of a ferromagnetic material) were the dominant memory technology from their inception in the late 1940s to their displacement by semiconductor memories in the 1970s.   Why did semiconductor memories displace cores?   First, because they were technically practical (not all scientific discoveries can lead to technically practical products).   But that's not enough.  Cores were essentially build one at a time, even in a  very high speed manufacturing process.  In semiconductor chips, transistors are essentially built in parallel -- doesn't matter how many of them there are.   So as soon as chip manufacturing technology allowed enough transistors to be put on a chip so the cost per bit of a memory chip dropped below the cost per bit of a core memory, semiconductor memories rapidly replaced core memories.    We've seen it other places, too -- jet vs piston engines in aircraft, color TV vs black-and-white TV, digital vs film cameras.

    So I'd say that at the beginning of the 18th century, there were two competing ways of determining time -- chronometers and lunars.  Manufacturing technology advanced chronometers (and some applied science also -- understanding the effects of temperature and motion on the chronometer's timing mechanism and then engineering those effects out); lunars are in some strong sense not amenable to technology improving them (hey, anybody for an iPhone app for clearing lunars?).   Ultimate result?  Chronometers replace lunars.

    Lu Abel


    From: H Burstyn <burstynh{at}iname.com>
    To: NavList@fer3.com
    Sent: Tue, March 15, 2011 1:32:33 AM
    Subject: [NavList] Teaching the discovery of the longitude

    At Syracuse University, I teach an online course (spring and summer) titled "Science and technology in the modern world." The first book I assign is Dava Sobel's Longitude. Contrasting the technological solution to the problem of finding longitude (the chronometer) with the scientific solution (lunars) gives me the theme for the course: how much does technology depend on science and how much is it independent? I'm very interested in the National Maritime Museum's research project in the history of the U. K. Board of Longitude, especially since it's directed by the distinguished historian of science, Professor Simon Schaffer.
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