Monday, February 25, 2008

Reader's Choice: Television: The Life Story of a Technology

We've heard from several readers how much they enjoyed the history, explanations, and style of executive director Alex Magoun's new book for Greenwood on the history of television from the discovery of a photoelectric effect in selenium in 1873 to the Consumer Electronics Show in 2007. But now Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries ("the premier source for reviews of academic books, electronic media, and Internet resources of interest to those in higher education"), has given it two thumbs up in this review from its February issue:

Tracing the history of television from early inception through golden age, to the current world of flat screens, cable, and satellites, Magoun (David Sarnoff Library) comprehensively overviews a medium now in everyone's memory. He readily admits that he neither watches television nor possesses any technical training in chemistry or physics, but these have not hampered his research skills. Magoun provides an interesting historical survey of major inventors, companies, and influences in the life story of a technology known as television. He writes from the perspective of a witness to the conception and birth of television. He continues to document its life from the role of a parent who ultimately must witness the eventual breaking away of the "child" so that it could forge ahead to build the revolutionary digital world, and he follows its eventual death as medium of choice for most people. Along the way, Magoun reveals how society has also evolved with each change in technology. Readers are left with an appreciation for an old friend that they enjoyed having around, as well as recognition of the role that television has played in making entertainment and communication what it is today.

Summing Up: Highly recommended.
General readers; lower- and upper-division undergraduates.
-- C. S. McCoy, University of South Florida

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Magoun to Speak at Long Island Radio Day

If you live on the other side of New York City from Princeton and have no plans for Saturday, March 1, set your course for the Tilles Center Atrium at the C. W. Post campus of Long Island University, the site of the second annual Long Island Radio Day! As the gateway to New York City harbor, Long Island has a tradition in wireless communications extending to the first Marconi station in the United States. This postcard shows the outpost at Babylon, Long Island, around 1905:

Inaugurated last year by the Long Island Wireless History Society, which saved that station's shack, the day's events between 10 am and 4 pm include our executive director, Dr. Alex Magoun, speaking on the history of television as no one else can, based on his critically acclaimed book; master thereminist Kip Rosser; and the Hunterdon Radio Theatre's recreation of the 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles and Howard Koch's War of the Worlds. You can be sure that Alex will have a few thoughts on The Farnsworth Invention!

There's much more to see, hear, and do: tours of C. W. Post's radio station, co-sponsor WCWP 88.1 FM; hands-on and historical exhibits; model trains and planes (but no automobiles--why not?); and restored tube radios, old-time radio programs, and all sorts of curious electronica for sale. So, take a tip and take this trip!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The World's Youngest Archival Assistant?

Until someone proves us differently, Vivian Zhang is the world's youngest archival assistant. A hardworking fourth-grade student in Montgomery, New Jersey, she helps at the Library on holidays, thanks to her father, who works at Sarnoff Corporation. Since last spring, when Vivian helped dry out hundreds of color slides, she has also assisted with resleeving and relabeling the negative collection of RCA Laboratories staff and rehousing Jan Rajchman's publications series in archival folders. Vivian's attention to detail, clear handwriting, dedication, and good humor are a big help not only to us but to future researchers!


We're very excited to see the world's largest engineering organization, the IEEE (formerly known as the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers) add video to its website. provides free streamed videos to those interested in what engineers do in some crucial areas for our future: environmentally sensitive design, transport, energy, and manufacturing, and what they've done in the past, courtesy of the IEEE History Center's first videohistory, with Jerry Minter, who specializes in collision-avoidance inventions.

It's wonderful to see the IEEE expand its outreach online; is a great complement to TryEngineering, a seven-language (!) collaboration with IBM to encourage more young people to consider and commit themselves to careers in engineering. There's something here for students, parents, teachers, and counselors, who can play engineering games; meet male and female engineers in aerospace, computer, and biomedical careers, among others; look for internships and college or university programs; and borrow from lesson plans, all online.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Williams Receives Braun Prize

We are pleased to announce that Library friend Richard "Dick" Williams is this year's recipient of the Society for Information Display's Karl Ferdinand Braun Prize for an outstanding technical achievement in, or contribution to, display technology. After a year of researching materials that would provide an electro-optic effect appropriate for a flat-panel display, Dick discovered and demonstrated in 1962 the fundamental effect of a low voltage generating an optical effect in a thin film of liquid crystals between glass plates coated with transparent conductors. He applied for the basic patent on transmissive and reflective displays using liquid crystals and published three articles in 1963 on his discovery of what researchers now call Williams Domains. Out of his methodical experimentation and publication, stimulated by David Sarnoff's wish for a TV to hang on a wall, came the innovation of the LCDs all around us.

For an extensive history of the innovation of LCDs, see Hirohisa Kawamoto's article for IEEE Proceedings.
Dick is far more than a one-trick pony. If you encounter him on one of his walks in Princeton's Littlebrook neighborhood, you might offer your congratulations and then ask him how he taught himself enough Chinese to lecture for eight weeks in Ulan Bator, or how dust actually damages fine machinery, or how to spot meteorite craters in Brazil, or how we could slow global warming by freeing energy from coal without burning it. . . .

3 Deaths in the Family

It is with sadness that we mark the passing on Monday of Harry Kihn, who served RCA and its laboratories and technologies with distinction and honor from the beginnings of television in 1939 to the beginnings of computer chips in 1977. A Life Fellow of the IEEE, Harry received 27 patents on everything from FM altimeters during World War II to "Kihn's Kolor Killer" for monochrome reception of color TV signals to digital decoder circuits for an early version of a cell phone. As a self-described "trouble shooter," in the second, corporate half of his career, Harry reviewed systems designs for the Air Force Autodin network and RCA's Spectra 70 computers, and carried out studies on a variety of subjects including digital communications, solid-state devices for consumer electronics, and laser projects at RCA.

Harry's dedication to the nomination of the IEEE Milestone for the invention of monochrome-compatible color television helps explain executive director Alex Magoun's commitment to the Library and the heritage it represents. He first met Harry while researching his dissertation topic at the Library in the mid 1990s, and Harry's explanation of the enormity of RCA's work in electronic television as well as the other technologies with which he was involved helped convince Alex that the Library deserved greater visibility.

Harry was 96. Please join us in offering condolences to his children, Michael and Les, and his grandsons, Edward and Thomas.

We also note the death of William C. "Wilkie" Wilkinson, who helped pioneer air-to-ground radar from World War II through the 1950s at the Princeton Labs before joining the Astro-Electronics Division in Hightstown. There he led the projects to develop antennas for the Apollo Lunar Orbiter, Excursion Module, and Lunar Rover, as well as the Viking Mars Lander. He wrote--and we wish we could read the rest of what must be a fascinating memoir--"For 53 years I was paid to do what I enjoyed doing." We should all be so fortunate, or determined.

And please join in extending sympathy to the Cuomo family, whose patriarch Frank died January 16. As a carpenter at the Princeton Labs from 1949 to 1991, Frank holds a special place in the history of the Library, for he designed and built the cabinetry, display mounts, and sliding frames therein under David Sarnoff's direction. If you've noticed the quality of the woodwork during a visit, you've admired the skill of this master craftsman.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Farnsworth Invention Trip Canceled!

We have learned that The Farnsworth Invention will be closing on March 2. Thus, our scheduled trip to see the show on March 29th has been canceled. Anyone who has already ordered tickets for this trip will receive a refund from the West Windsor-Plainsboro Community Education department.