Thursday, December 31, 2009

On this day: Edison presents his light bulb.

On this day a long, long time ago, in 1879 (that's 120 years for the maths-averse), Thomas Edison brought us the light bulb. He'd been working on it some, but on the last day of the 1870s, it was presented to the world.

It caused a stir then, and onwards, but the peak of relevance for Edison was in 1931, when he died. Since then, however, companies like Con Ed (Consolidated Edison) and Com Ed (Commonwealth Edison) have kept the name in the news to the present.

How important was Edison's invention? Well, the term light jumped in relevance when he invented the light bulb, and peaked when he died. I guess it's nice to be able to see.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On this day: First Freeway

The term "freeway" today is well-steeped in the English language. But on this day in 1940, the first such freeway opened in California. What is now known as the Arroyo Seco Freeway opened in LA. In the early 20th century, the Pacific Electric railway ruled long-distance travel in Los Angeles; it'd be a thing of the past within 20 years, and freeways would sprawl across LA and much of the rest of the country. The term freeway only arose in the mid-1930s. It jumped in relevance in 1940 and 1941, but with the coming of the war disappeared for the next couple of years (what with tire and gas rationing and no cars being built). Of course, after the war, it rose steadily as the Interstate system was built, and then leveled off and fell as the system reached maturity.

What are the peaks in 1989 and 1994? The Loma Prieta an Northridge earthquakes which, amongst other things, collapsed freeways, snarling traffic in the Bay Area and LA, respectively, and making big news of freeways.

As far as the Arroyo Seco Freeway is concerned, it peaked with its opening in 1940 and 1941, fell dramatically during the war, and then peaked with its completion in the early 1950s.

The next peak, in 2003, was when the road was closed to traffic for a day to allow cyclists, rollerbladers and pedestrians to access the roadway where, for more than 60 years, only cars had ventured. The road, of course, reopened later that day.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On this day: Havel elected president

After 40 years of Soviet Occupation, the Velvet Revolution liberated the Czechs from their Russian oppressors, and they created a democratic government. A month and a half later, 20 years ago today, playwright and intellectual  Vaclav Havel was elected to the presidency unanimously by the Federal Assembly, which he retained months later in a full, free election. He'd generally maintain the presidency during the breakup of Czechoslovakia, and hold the Czech Republic's presidency until 2003.

Vaclav Havel's relevance peaked, of course, in 1989 and 1990, and continued to be rather high during his presidency. However, it's interesting to note the Prague Spring in the late 1960s, when Havel had plays performed in the Czech Republic, which were then banned. Compared with his presidency, it was not high at all, but it does show the relevance he had when press was somewhat free in that time period—and not for a while afterwards.

Monday, December 28, 2009

On this day: the first American IVF baby

 The first in-vitro fertilized baby born in the US, Elizabeth Jordan Carr was born on today's date in 1981. She was newsworthy then, and has been checked in on by the press from time to time since, although IVF is so common now that she's not particularly noteworthy:

What's interesting is that while today we might call her an IVF baby, we would not have done so, at least not until several years after she was born. The term in-vitro fertilization reached its peak relevance in 1989, and has leveled off and fallen some since.

IVF, on the other hand, wasn't used until 1984, and was then only used sparingly until it climbed dramatically in the late 1990s, probably when the Internet and assorted communication changes made for more abbreviating.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

On this day: Guantanamo opens

On December 27, 2001, it was announced that "enemy combatants" would be held at Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba. It was not, of course, the first time that Guantanamo had been in the news.

Guantanamo first was mentioned in the early 1960s when tensions were high with Cuba (see Missile Crisis, Cuban). But things simmered down there and it became one of many US-operated bases in foreign lands worldwide. In the 1990s, there was a period where it house Hatian and even some Cuban refugees, but that was disallowed by the courts, and it sank back in to oblivion. Until, of course, 2002, when enemy combatants (see below) were first housed there—we'll see how it fares once they are moved stateside.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On this day: tsunami vs. tidal wave

It was December 26 in 2004 that the tsunami hit. There have been other tsunamis back through the years, but it was the one in 2004 that caused the most damage, or was at least the most widely reported. Before then, tsunamis were rarely in the news, but since 2004 (and 2005, when most of the coverage occurred), they show up quite often.

Still, it seems bizarre. Were there really no tsunamis before 2004? Was 2004's so big that it blew coverage out of proportion to this degree? Nope. The difference, of course, is that befre 2004, we were more likely to call a tsunami by its misnomer, a tidal wave.

 Tidal wave coverage also peaked in coverage in the mid-2000s, but in 2004, not 2005. Many early news reports were about "tidal waves" but, presumably, editors got on board with "tsunami" and the term tidal wave ebbed."Tsunami" has stayed significantly higher since 2004, and "tidal wave" has dropped to pre-1990 levels.

A couple more notes. First, you can see that there were tidal waves in 1946, and 1960, although it becomes more muddled after that. Second, if you look at recent uses of tidal wave in the news, it is more likely to be used as a figure of speech, "a tidal wave of trash" or "an olympic tidal wave" or "a tidal wave of rage." In the past, it was more likely to describe the wave itself. When will we talk about a "tsunami of public outpouring" or a "a tidal wave of applicants"?

Friday, December 25, 2009

On this day: Gorbachev resigns

The Soviet Union was crumbling in the late 1980s, but Mother Russia was hanging by a thread. On Christmas, 1991, that ended. Mikhail Gorbachev resigned on that day, recognizing the republics which split off, and ended communist rule in Russia.

Gorbachev rose to prominence in the mid-1980s and was only mentioned more and more as the country crumbled. His relevancy came to a head in 1991, fell quickly, and has been low since. I'll bet, however, when he dies, there'll be a bit of a spike.

(We'll look in to many newsworthy Soviet Union topics in the future.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On this day: the end of Iran-Contra

On the Christmas Eve news dump in 1992, lame duck president George H.W. Bush pardoned the participants in the Iran-Contra Scandal just before the end of his term.

It was also the end of the term in the news. It had been on the decline for years, and while the 1992 pardons bumped it up a tad, Iran-Contra would continue downwards.

In other words, we already knew all about Iran-Contra, and figured there would be a pardon. Even the report, which came out in 1994, barely provided a coverage bump. Since the, well, there've been bigger fish to fry.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rudolph the recent reindeer

Rudolph, of the red-noses, has been a staple of Christmas as far back as I can remember. And I'm an atheist/Jew, so figure that out. But, it turns out that ol' Rudolph has only been around since the mid-1940s. Yup, the story was created for Montgomery Ward in 1939, made in to a song in the late 1940s and was first broadcast on television in 1964 (see the jump there). It has since had no real peaks or valleys, although the sleigh ride seems to be slowing a bit in recent years.

More interesting, however, is a chart for reindeer.

Of particular note is the threefold jump in the late 1890s. Anyone want to venture a guess as to why reindeer were in the news then? The answer is the gold rush in the Klondike which, apparently, needed a hardy, cold-weather pack animal.

The rest of the variation seems to be based on the commercialism of Christmas (with Rudolph et al at the forefront), which rose in the 1920s, fell with the depression and the war, and rose again in the post-war boom.

On this day: the Immaculate Reception

In 1973, the Steelers and Raiders were playing a playoff game in Pittsburgh. Down 7-6 at their own 40 with 4th-and-10 and five seconds left, Terry Bradshaw threw a pass downfield. The pass bounced off Raider Jack Tatum (or maybe Steeler John Fuqua, which at the time would have been illegal) but was caught just off the ground by Franco Harris, who ran it in for a touchdown. You have to see it to believe it. The pass was called The Immaculate Reception.

According to a 2000 article in the Post Gazette, the name was coined in a bar in Pittsburgh, and has had legs since.

Peaks started coming at anniversaries, especially the 20th (1992) and 25th (1997) (this is a frequent theme we'll explore with anniversaries) with the term's use peaking from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, and beginning to decline, a bit.

A Festivus for the rest of us

On this date in 1997, Seinfeld, then in its last year of television (it announced it would go off the air a couple weeks after the Strike episode aired) coined the holiday of Festivus.

Festivus got some play in late 1997 and early 1998, but really took off with the advent of the Internet, and especially personal publishing (blogs and such) in the mid-2000s. It's had some staying power, but, alas, has declined off its 2005 peak. Still, it's had more staying power than Seinfeld which understandably peaked in 1998 (with the shows surprising ending), although it has stayed at the pre-1998 level since.

So, get our your aluminum poles, air your grievances and get ready for your feats of strength. It's a Festivus for the rest of us!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The War on Christmas

Remember the "War on Christmas"? It seems that it has, well, petered out. But is this the end of a long-time war, won by the anti-Christmas faction? Or is it the demise of something that was little more than a flash in the pan?

It seems as though it is the latter. This "war" was big news in 2005 and has fallen every year since. What's, well, just as interesting, is that 2005 was the top year of Google News relevance for Fox News

and Bill O'Reilly,

the main instigators of the meme. I guess something so silly can only be kept up for so long.

On this day: don't F$#K with Lenny Bruce

On December 22, 1964, comedian Lenny Bruce was convicted of obscenety. Bruce died in 1966, but the frivolity of the conviction reigns today. The chart of Lenny Bruce shows that his legacy has lived on, culminating in a posthumous pardon in 2003.

Obscenity, on the other hand has become less newsworthy in the past 50 years, with the exception of 1991, when an art museum in Cincinnati was tried for obscenity. And acquitted.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On this day: Lockerbie

Every day we'll have an "on this day" feature (the New York Times is a good source, as is the Wikipedia entry for any given day) where we look at the Google News time chart of a specific event. Today, we go back to 1988, when Libyan terrorists blew up an airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing hundreds. The story has been in the news for quite some time, from the initial bombing to the trial in the late 1990s to the release of the dying bomber in 2009. It will be interesting to see, in coming years, how coverage of the bombing continues.

The Internet (or the web, or the tubes …)

This medium, which makes this blog possible, has evolved rapidly in the last couple of decades, as have its many names. Remember when everyone talked about the World Wide Web to the extent that three Ws still often precede web addresses? The term was almost a flash in the pan: it was coined in 1989, the term's usage peaked in 1996, and has declined dramatically since. We still use "the web," we just don't call it that.

The term the web peaked later, but still pre-2000.

The term www rose to prominence somewhat later, peaked, for some reason, in 2006, and has declined since.

and the net is similar to the web.

So, the web is now called the Internet, right? Well, not completely. Like the other terms, internet peaked in 2000 (with the dot-com bubble and all) but while the others have declined and leveled out, the term "internet" has resumed growth and is being used at almost-2000 levels:

So where does that leave us? Are we really talking less about the internet now than we were in 2000? Sure, 2000 had the dot-com boom, but this medium which is so oft used no longer has a definitive name. Almost no one had high speed internet back then, now everyone does. Rather than coalescing under one name, the Internet has split in to many terms—in just two decades names have fallen, and risen, and it is now often referred to with jargony names which have arisen from, well, from the internet. To wit:

That's the chart for interwebs, an entirely jocular term which has increased dramatically since 2006. The peaks before that are from Houston Interweb Design, a once-publicly traded web design firm (remember when everyone went public in the 90s?) which has ceased to exist.

Then, of course, there's the intertubes

which come from a "series of tubes"

for which we have Uncle Ted Stevens

to thank. Or as you may know him, Senator Tubes.

Statement of purpose, or, "what is this all about"

A few weeks ago, I searched for a term on Google News and a chart popped up, showing the relative frequency of that search term over the past several decades. "That's interesting," I said, and put in another search term. And another. And another. And realized that there are very interesting trends to visualize and think about historically. When were certain terms used, and fall out of favor? Why might a certain news search rise and fall at a particular time? What memes have risen and fallen? How does something today compare with something in the past?

I plan to explore these much, much further. And hopefully find some interesting historical tidbits along the way.

For now, here's the chart for "Google News":