Category Archives: history

My 1984 Desk

I try not to spend much time talking about ye olde timey computing that I lived through, because it quickly becomes boring to all but those who were there, and the future is so much more exciting. But in looking up evidence I had of Tektronix having Ethernet (and Internet connectivity before that), I found a photo of my olde timey Tektronix office desk, and couldn’t resist cataloging how office computing has changed.

Continue reading My 1984 Desk

The uncanny Laughing Sailor automaton

Wookey Hole Laughing Sailor
Wookey Hole’s Laughing Sailor

Thanks to @feraldata I happened to be reading Elizabeth King’s piece on a 16th Century monk automaton.  The article describes the automaton as having “duende”, loosely translated as “soul” – that is, there is something surprisingly profound (or upsetting) about this simple robot.  That observation reminded me of the Laughing Sailor automaton that was popular as a Edwardian seaside amusement: drop in a coin, and the seated sailor in the glass booth would laugh and rock back and forth.

Sounds simple, non-threatening, and maybe even silly, doesn’t it?  Yet when I saw a Laughing Sailor automaton up close, at Wookey Hole, I found it had something uncanny in its behavior: the all-too-real eyes flick malevolently to the left and right; the face is disturbingly half way between a smile and a grimace, and the not-quite-human rocking to and fro suggests the fellow is far too amused by some joke that may turn out to be on you!

A Laughing Sailor of one sort or another has appeared in various movies, always in the form of a malevolent robot whose laughter comments on the macabre situation.  I’m not surprised – the little guy creeps me out.