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Non-event in celebration of 150th Anniversary of the failure of the 1865 Atlantic telegraph cable

Materials for making Failure DayAt 10.30 on 31 July 1865 the third attempt to lay a trans-Atlantic submarine telegraph cable ended in abject failure. After 1250 miles of cable had been paid out, the cable snapped and was lost over the side. To commemorate this epic failure to communicate Scrambled Messages held a Complete Non-event at the Institute of Making, UCL on Monday 13 July. At the event failure was embraced, explored and discussed through making, thinking and ...


Dots and Dashes: The Way We Live Now

  • William Powell Frith Prison SceneAnthony Trollope's 1874-1876 serialised novel, The Way We Live Now raises some interesting (and telegraphically suggestive) problems about sequencing information. Switching: Mrs Hurtle’s Letters When Mrs Hurtle summons Paul Montague to her for their penultimate interview, it is by letter.  A very short letter, which reads, “Yes. Come.  W. H.”  The reader knows this is in fact the third of three letters that she has written to Paul, but the only one she ...


Dots and Dashes: Wheatstone Obituaries


smaller wheatstone'Our readers will have learned with great regret the news of the death, in Paris, of Sir Charles Wheatstone, one of the greatest modern inventors.'  So begins The Times' obituary of Wheatstone on October 22nd 1875 (p. 8), a few days after his death.

Given his work on telegraphy, the life of this 'greatest' of inventors plays an important role in our project, whilst at the same time we are interested in compression, brevity and ...


Scientific Apparatus Exhibition

King’s College, London contributed items from the Wheatstone Bequest to an exhibition of 1876 designed to increase popular knowledge of science.  The Special Loan Collection of ScientiCatalogue exhibitionfic Apparatus was organised by the British Government under the aegis of the South Kensington Museum.  It was called ‘vast and important’ by The Popular Science Review.[i] There was not sufficient space for the more than 4,500 exhibits at in the main South Kensington Museum ...


Wires across the Strand

strand cover cc licenceYou know, of course, of The Strand Magazine's most famous contents: Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, illustrated by Sidney Paget. This renowned association makes the Strand a familiar periodical to many readers today, but the Strand exceeds merely housing Holmes. It became a desirable site for short fiction by many writers; indeed from 1910 in England P.G. Wodehouse wrote stories exclusively for the Strand. [1] At the same time it offered ...


Junk mail: an unintended biography of Sir Charles Wheatstone

Sir Charles Wheatstone's equations on a Rubicon coal order form.The experience of working with a person’s private archive, their uncensored outpouring of thoughts, generally leaves the researcher feeling closer to the subject of study. There is a distinct notion of ‘getting to know you’. When leafing through papers, pattern recognition (that most human of traits) kicks in and the researcher goes about the largely unconscious business of harvesting fragments of the person from the scraps of text. As informative as they are ambiguous ...


The World does not get Smaller

Objects of Long-distance control. Lateen rigged caravel.This Friday us lucky lot at Scrambled Messages held the first of our workshops. This one was on the subject of Space. In particular what do telegraphic technologies do to our understandings of space. There are lots of familiar old-adages of The World Gets Smaller variety. But really? Does it?

One of the texts we read and discussed in relation to this was an old-skool ANT piece by John Law (1986) about techniques of navigational ...


Snail Mail

Sympathetic snailsOn the 26th October, 1850, the same year as the first Dover to Calais submarine cable, an article appeared on the front page of the French newspaper La Presse.  The author, Jules Allix, reported with much excitement on an invention which he asserted would change the world (Allix, 1850).  The invention was made by a Monsieur Jacques Toussaint Benoit and was for a method of instantaneous communication over distance without the use of wires.  Benoit ...