Surprisingly, Uncle Sam played an essential role in the creation and development of the iPhone - of course, much has been written about the late Steve Jobs and other leading figures at Apple and their role in making the modern icon, and its subsequent impact on our lives. And rightfully so. But who are other key players without whom the iPhone might have been little more than an expensive toy? Tim Harford tells the story of how the iPhone became a truly revolutionary technology.
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The boom in global trade was caused by a simple steel box. Shipping goods around the world was – for many centuries – expensive, risky and time-consuming. But 60 years ago the trucking entrepreneur Malcolm McLean changed all that by selling the idea of container shipping to the US military. Against huge odds he managed to turn ‘containerisation’ from a seemingly impractical idea into a massive industry – one that slashed the cost of transporting goods internationally and provoked a boom in global trade.
Saving lives with thin air - by taking nitrogen from the air to make fertiliser, the Haber-Bosch Process has been called the greatest invention of the 20th Century – and without it almost half the world’s population would not be alive today. A 100 years ago two German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, figured out a way to use nitrogen from the air to make ammonia, which makes fertiliser. It was like alchemy; ‘Brot aus Luft’, as Germans put it, ‘Bread from air’.
Haber and Bosch both received a Nobel prize for their invention. But Haber’s place in history is controversial – he is also considered the ‘father of chemical warfare’ for his years of work developing and weaponising chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War One.
Kirsty Young’s castaway this week is Bruce Springsteen.
His career has brought him 20 Grammys, two Golden Globes, an Academy Award and his albums sell in their millions around the world. He grew up in New Jersey where the Catholic church played a central role in his early life. The family teetered on the brink of poverty, and his first guitar was rented, rather than bought. He spent his apprentice years as a musician and singer with local bands before landing a record deal in 1972. When ‘Born to Run’ was released in 1975 it turned him into a household name. His first Top Ten single was ‘Hungry Heart’, ahead of his most successful album ‘Born in the USA’ which was released in 1984.
In spite of having long transcended the environment he grew up in, Springsteen has remained a chronicler of blue-collar lives. His records are frequently a political commentary on the struggles of ordinary Americans. In the Nineties he settled into family life with his wife Patti Scialfa who sings with his E Street Band.
BBC programme on the history and music of the concertina, focusing on its inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone as a somewhat belated recognition of his bicentenary in 2002.
In addition to the presenter, Peter Day, the program features (in order of appearance) Bob Gaskins, Brian Bowers, Margaret Birley, Stephen Chambers, Frank James, Douglas Rogers, Sean Minnie, and Steve Dickinson.
The program was produced by Neil Koenig.
BBC World Service programme broadcast 07 September 2004.
Stephen Evans goes deep into the Milky Way to look at the phenomenon of StarCraft.
Stephen Evans goes deep into the Milky Way to look at the phenomenon of StarCraft and reveals how, in South Korea, it is more than just a computer game and is a key part of the rapidly growing multi-billion dollar world of esports. Worth over $620 million globally, with a worldwide audience of over 135 million people, esports are now big business, and in South Korea much of this thanks to the impact of certain computer game called StarCraft. StarCraft is essentially a sci-fi, military-based real-time strategy (RTS) game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. It was released in 1998 and in the years since has become one of the world’s most popular computer game titles shifting over 11 million copies and spawning a mainstream cultural sensation in South Korea where thousands of fans pack into stadiums across the country to watch the best StarCraft players in the world battle it out for big money stakes. From the importance of PC Bangs - the ubiquitous street corner hubs for gaming fans - to the multi-million dollar world of professional StarCraft and esports Soul-based journalist and broadcaster Stephen Evans joins the dots of how this game took root in a South Korean society that embraced super fast broadband and was thirsty for a multi-scenario, multi-player and multi-layered challenge. Socially inclusive, cheap and available to everyone, since the late 1990s online gaming has taken this nation of 50 million people by storm, and StarCraft is central to this way of life. This way of life has brought dizzying successes and change, but with it the issue of addiction and related health problems the South Korean government have been forced to regulate this brave new world to tackle issues that are becoming increasingly relevant to policy makers outside of the Korean peninsular.
Julia Hobsbawm investigates the idea that we are all connected by only six links.
Is everyone in the world really connected by only six links?
A famous experiment by social psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s claimed that it took on average only six steps for a message to pass between two strangers in America. Since then the idea has become part of popular culture. But is it true? And if so, does it matter? Julia Hobsbawm investigates how social networks work, whether we should all pay more attention to our network connections, and whether governments can use social networks to promote - for instance - messages about health. Maybe, she discovers, it’s not the six degrees of separation that matter, but the three degrees of influence.
Google dominates internet searching. Rory Cellan-Jones asks if it is too powerful.
Google dominates internet searching across most parts of the globe. The algorithm which produces its search results is highly secret and always changing, but is crucial in influencing the information we all obtain, the viewpoints we read, the people we find out about, and the products we buy.
It dominates the market because it’s so effective. Rivals find it difficult to compete. But however good the algorithm, however carefully crafted to give us what Google thinks we actually want, is it really healthy for one search engine, and one company, to have so much impact?
Rory Cellan-Jones explores Google’s uniquely powerful role at the centre of today’s information society.
Marie-Louise Muir explores the tradition of keening for the dead in Ireland.
Keeners were the women of rural Ireland who were traditionally paid to cry, wail and sing over the bodies of the dead at funerals and wakes. Their role was to help channel the grief of the bereaved and they had an elevated, almost mythical status among their communities. The custom of keening had all but vanished by the 1950’s as people began to view it as primitive, old-fashioned and uncivilised.
Now, broadcaster Marie-Louise Muir sets out to ask what’s been lost with the passing of the keeners.
She travels to Inis Mor, a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, where one of Ireland’s last professional keeners - Brigid Mullin - was recorded by the song collector and archivist Sidney Robertson Cowell in the 1950’s. Brigid’s crackling, eerie evocation of sorrow echoes down the years to capture a tradition in its dying days - a ghostly remnant of another world.
Dr Deirdre Ni Chonghaile is a native of Inis Mor and thinks modern funerals have taken on an almost Victorian dignity in a society that in general has become far less tolerant of extravagant displays of grief. Deirdre believes it was this very extravagance that helped lead to keening’s demise. Its emphasis on the body and human mortality was in direct conflict with the notion of a Christian afterlife and the influential role of the keening women may even have been regarded as a threat to the patriarchy of the Church.
As the story of the keeners blends with the waves and winds of Ireland’s west coast, Marie-Louise reflects on the passing of this once rich tradition.
Producer: Conor McKay.
Bridget Mullin with Sidney Robertson Cowell, keen performance and conversation. Smithsonian Folkways, Ralph Rinzler Archives.
Neil O’Boyle, keen demonstration on fiddle. Irish Traditional Music Archive, Dublin
Eithne Ni Uilleachan, ‘Grief’ from the album Bilingua (Gael Linn)
The Gloaming ‘The Pilgrim’s Song’ from the album ‘2’ (Real World)
Milk Carton Kids ‘Wish You Were Here’ (Anti/Epitaph)
Brian Eno ‘The Ship’ (Warp)
The legendary country singer-songwriter unveils the secrets of composing a great song.
Legendary country singer-songwriter Steve Earle unveils the secrets of composing a great song. Every year he runs a four-day intensive training session in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Journalist and aspiring songwriter Hugh Levinson joined around 100 other would-be balladeers to see what they can learn both from Steve and his fellow teacher, Shawn Colvin. Listen in to stories of dreaming, methadone, guns, jail, death and betrayal. All the good stuff.
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