Twitter and the Telegraph

Ainissa Ramirez is a scientist author and a self-proclaimed science evangelist. She’s the creator of a podcast series called Science Underground. She joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the similarities between the telegraph and the tweet.


Ainissa Ramirez is a scientist, author and self-proclaimed science evangelist.

She's the creator of a podcast series called 'Science Underground.'

She joins me now to discuss the similarities between the telegraph and the tweet.

So was telegraph -- was that the first Twitter in...

I think it's the precursor to Twitter.

For the same reasons that Twitter only has 140 characters or 280 characters, the telegraph also only made people use very short sentences.

They're very short.

Because it was expensive.

It was expensive, but the reason why it was expensive is because you could only send one message on the line, so they tried to make sure that the line wasn't tied up.


Give me an idea of how it actually works.

What happened when a telegraph message was sent and received?

Okay, so Samuel Morse created the telegraph, and what it is, is it's an electrical signal.

If you hear a short pulse, that's a dot.

If you hear a long pulse, that's a dash.

Morse code.

Morse code, that's right, exactly, exactly.

And so when you see different dashes and dots collected in certain ways, those become a code that can mean a letter, or it could mean a word, and so messages were very short.

They would say something like, 'Come home. Dad is sick,' something like that.


And you knew that you had to get to where you were going instead of long, 'Hey, I just wanted to let you know our father has been ill,' none of that, no time for that.

Is there kind of a lasting impact that the telegraph has had on society?

I mean, did it help us figure out how to right shorthand, how to write concisely?

Couple of things -- SCOTUS, POTUS, OK.

That's all from the telegraph.

Also, America was trying to separate itself from England, and one of the ways that we did that was with language.

So, we wanted to have shorter sentences to begin with, but the telegraph also inspired that because newspapers were also one of the biggest customers of telegraph, and so anything you read in the newspaper would also have short sentences, but the most lasting impact was Hemingway.

Hemingway was a reporter at a newspaper.

He loved that short, sparse style that we were all encouraged to follow.


And so Hemingway's style is a result of the telegraph.

Now when we think about Twitter or all these other different kind of mediums that are coming on, these are self-expressions.


But really the telegraph was one of the first ways that I guess we were expressing what is the most important and urgent in the briefest amount of letters and words.

Right, right, right.

Well, you know, we have to think about the time.

People wrote long letters, and the telegraph was sort of like this cool thing, like, they did, but their primary way of communicating was actually the long letter.

Now we have an assortment of different ways of communicating, and we mostly use shorter means of communicating, and so now linguists actually having... They express some concern, not solely for language.

They're not worried about the health of the Oxford comma.

They said that, you know, we can code-switch between different types of writing, but it's the instant communication that's giving rise to another problem, and that's that we're losing our way in terms of being human.

We aren't picking up empathy because we're so busy using emojis to communicate emotion where we're not picking it up from someone's face, and that's what we do as humans, so that's the thing that most scientists and people who study language are really concerned about, not so much the health of language.

Language always changes.

Technology is one of the forces that changes it, but it's also that we're losing some of our human skills.

All right.

Ainissa Ramirez, thanks so much.

Thank you.


Fifty years ago, NASA began lofting parachutes to altitudes and speeds meant to simulate the conditions of Mars' entry.

Those early tests demonstrated the challenges of inflating lightweight materials in a 1,500-mile-an-hour wind and having them survive well enough to help enable a safe landing on the red planet.

Today, as our missions become ever more daring, we need new parachutes capable of surviving those strenuous environments, and we need ways of testing them at loads higher than ever before.

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory worked with NASA's Wallops Flight Facility to develop a new test technique.

The Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiments, or ASPIRE project, uses a two-stage Black Brant 9 sounding rocket to carry its payload to the conditions needed to stress the parachute.

The rocket is launched out over the Atlantic Ocean and ascends to altitudes where the atmosphere of Earth mimics the atmosphere near the surface of Mars.

The third and final ASPIRE test launched on September 7th.

The parachute was deployed at nearly twice the speed of sound.

In less than half a second, 200 pounds of nylon, Kevlar and Technora go from a small drum-sized bag with the density of wood to an inflated parachute with a volume of a large house, generating nearly 70,000 pounds of drag.

In slow-motion images, you can see the rapid emergence of the parachute as it begins generating the drag crucial for deceleration at Mars.

These images give us amazing insights into the physics and early behaviors of a supersonic parachute inflation.

The apparent ease of the unfurling and unfolding in the parachute belies the severity of the extreme environment in which this occurs.

After three successful tests of ASPIRE, NASA has now tested their new parachute at loads and conditions exceeding any large supersonic parachute before it and 40% higher than the highest load expected for the Mars 2020 mission.

Our parachute is now certified for flight at Mars.

X-rays used to be a tool for doctors only.

Now, scientists at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, are using X-rays to figure out how grapes can survive New York winters and still produce tasty wines in the fall.

Here is the story.

The first thing most people experience when they walk in the door is, they're just completely overwhelmed by the number of blinking lights, wires and the amount of equipment all over the place, and I still love it.

After all these years coming in, come down, you actually... You walk in.

You say, 'Hey, science is done here.'