By IAN JOHNSON
and Mail Update
Pop quiz — when was the computer punch card invented? And
what year was the first disk drive used?
If you had Seepe's Synchronopedia of "Firsts" in Science
and Technology tacked to a nearby wall, you'd know within
seconds that the answers are 1890 and 1955, respectively.
For trivia buffs and people who do work involving the
history of technology, the Synchronopedia is both a useful and
Developed by Concord, Ontario's Christopher Seepe, the
Synchronopedia of "Firsts" in Science and Technology is a
colour wall chart measuring 101.6 centimetres by 71.12 cm. It
sells on his Web site, www.synchronopedia.com, for $29.99
(U.S.) plus shipping (bulk pricing is also available).
The chart has more than 2,500 entries and 150 small photos
covering discoveries and inventions from 1,000 B.C. to today.
The amount of information is staggering, ranging from things
like the first recorded reference to a "robot" (Hephaestus,
850 B.C.) and the invention of false teeth (Etruscans, 700
B.C.), to the first computer programmer (Ada Lovelace, 1835),
the start of the Alberta tar sands project (1974) and the
founding of Microsoft (1975).
Finding all this information and figuring out how to cram
it onto a poster was no easy feat -- according to the
inventor, researching and designing the chart took about 3,000
"I started developing the Science and Technology Chart
several years ago as a kind of labour of love," Mr. Seepe
said. "... I found that the technology required to produce
such a product was not financially or commercially viable
until very recently."
The science and technology wall chart was developed on a
1.2 GHz PC with 750MB of RAM using CorelDraw, Corel PhotoPaint
and a variety of other software tools. The photos and
thousands of text entries are arranged on colour-coded bands
that run from one side of the page to the other. The width of
each coloured band varies with the number of discoveries in
that category each year. The result is a chart that looks
confusing and even somewhat intimidating at first glance.
But when you take a closer look (the text is rather small,
so you'll want to be up close), the simplicity of the
organization is inspired and finding things is actually very
The timeline starts on the left side of the page at 1,000
B.C. and moves across to 2,000 A.D. at the extreme right.
From top to bottom, the page is divided into the
aforementioned colour-coded categories (the text entries also
have an icon that indicates the category). Each coloured band
matches a category dealing with a certain type of science,
engineering or technology discovery or event. The categories
are: architecture and construction, chemistry, communication,
computing and tabulating, electrics and electronics, home and
personal, mathematics, medicine and disease, other sciences,
physics, period table of the elements, space and weather, time
and measurement, tools and machinery, and transportation. A
category called 'world events' has been included to give the
timing of the inventions and discoveries more perspective, the
At the bottom of the page is an alphabetical
cross-reference table. You look up the topic you're interested
in and it gives the year and the coloured band to look in. To
find out when the equal-sign was first used, for example, you
are told to look in the mathematics band in the 1,500- to
1,600 A.D. range, where you'll discover the first recorded
instance of it was in a document from 1556.
Entries are listed in black type if they were discovered or
invented by men, in red if by women. Since space is limited,
the reference chart is only set up alphabetically by
discoveries and inventions. A 40-page alphabetized reference
list of people and where their discoveries and inventions are
located on the chart can be downloaded from the company's Web
site for free. The site also has an extensive
question-and-answer section with tips on how to get the most
out of the chart.
The text on the chart is small and people with poor
eyesight will probably need a magnifying glass for some
sections. But the print quality is top-notch, the letters and
colours are crisp, and the chart is covered in a tough,
UV-resistant coating to protect it.
While the Synchronopedia contains an immense amount of
information, it is really a starting point for serious
research. Due to the number of entries and the limited amount
of real estate available on the chart, entries are kept to a
few words - usually the name of the invention or discovery,
the person credited with it, and the year it happened. But
it's fascinating to browse the chart and see when things
happened throughout history and what other discoveries were
being made around the same time.
The company is also working on a followup chart, Seepe's
Synchronopedia of Women in History.