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POSTED AT 4:57 PM EDT    Monday, July 23, 2001
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Synchronopedia of 'Firsts' in Science and Technology

  
  
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Seepe's Synchronopedia of 'Firsts' in Science and Technology, an information-packed wall chart

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  • Synchronopedia Corp. 

  • By IAN JOHNSON
    Globe 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 fascinating read.

    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 hours.

    "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 easy.

    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 company said.

    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.


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