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Daguerreotype Q&A

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Since my recent visit to the End of the Oregon Trail, I've been wondering about daguerreotypes. After a bit of research, I bring you this Daguerreotype Q&A:

Why doesn't anyone smile in these pictures? The common answer for this is a partially fact-based myth: because it took a long time to expose the image, the subject had to sit still. And, the story goes, frowning is easier to hold in place than smiling. The truth is that very early daguerreotypes (those from 1839-1845) did take 60-90 seconds of sitting still to capture an image, but the majority of daguerreotypes we see today are from post-1845, when new technology (the addition of bromine fumes to the process) reduced exposure times to a few seconds. A more plausible story is that people weren't used to having their pictures taken -- the expense and seriousness of the occasion (getting quite possibly the only photograph you'd ever have of yourself) led people to adopt a serious pose.

When were daguerreotypes popular? Although they're well known today (possibly due to Brady's Civil War images), daguerreotypes were merely one of several competing formats in nineteenth-century photography. They were introduced by Louis Daguerre in 1839 and remained popular into the 1860's. Because daguerreotypes developed a positive image directly onto the photographic plate, there was no way to reproduce them without sitting for multiple shots (there was no negative). This, combined with the expense, fragility, and technical difficulty of the process led to competitors including:

  • Calotype - which used paper negatives
  • Ambrotype - which produced a ghostly positive glass image that was then backed with black paper to produce a complete photograph
  • Tintype - which was durable (being printed on a plate of metal) and thus popular during the Civil War for soldiers in the field

Does anyone still make daguerreotypes today? Yes, though it's a complex and potentially toxic process. The Contemporary Daguerreotypes site (warning: a few tasteful nudes are included) features the work of modern daguerreotypists. See also: The Daguerreian Society, which has an excellent Daguerreotype FAQ with tips on preservation and much more.

Are there daguerreotype images online? I'm so glad you asked, rhetorical question-voice. Check out America's First Look into the Camera from the Library of Congress (including lots of Mathew Brady material). Also try The Daguerreian Society's searchable daguerreotype database or Daguerreotypes at Harvard. Finally, searching Google Images for "daguerreotype" turns up a variety of fun stuff.

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LG
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technology
New Device Sanitizes Escalator Handrails While They're in Use
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LG

If you have ever hesitated to touch a well-used escalator's handrails for fear of contracting some disease from the masses, LG Innotek has an answer for you. The company just released a handrail sterilizer that uses UV light to kill nearly every germ coating the rubber belts, according to The Verge.

As the railings move with the escalator, they pass through the UV light, which kills 99.99 percent of germs, according to tech developer LG Innotek. The sterilizer is placed just before escalator users hop on, ensuring the handrails are still relatively clean when you grab on at the bottom. The device is a little bigger than a regular hand sanitizer dispenser (around the size of a piece of paper) and starts automatically when the escalator begins moving. It runs on power generated by the movement of the escalator.

UV radiation is used to kill super-germs in hospitals (and one company wants to bring it to planes), but it's relatively easy to use on your phone, your toothbrush, or anywhere else in your house. You can already get handheld UV sterilizers online, as well as aquarium-specific ones. In April 2017, LG Innotek released a faucet that purifies water by UV-sterilizing it inside the aerator. However, the fact that escalator railings are constantly on the move makes them easier to clean automatically than subway railings, door handles, and other potentially germy public surfaces we touch every day.

Bear in mind that while nobody likes getting a cold, germs aren't always bad for you. Some types can even help protect you against developing asthma, as scientists found while researching the health differences between Amish children and their counterparts on more industrialized farms. Whether you touch the handrails or not, cities have their own unique microbiomes, and those ubiquitous bacteria are pretty much guaranteed to get on you whether you like it or not. On the bright side, if you are a germophobe, UV sterilization has been touted as a possible alternative to other antibacterial treatments that cause supergerms.

[h/t The Verge]

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JAXA/NASA
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Space
The New ISS Mascot: This Incredibly Cute Camera Drone
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JAXA/NASA

There's a new resident of the International Space Station, and it's definitely the cutest one there. The JEM Internal Ball Camera, or Int-Ball, is a spherical autonomous drone designed to act as the space station's roving photographer. The Japanese space agency JAXA released the first pictures of it on the station on July 14, as Engadget reports.

Int-Ball was delivered to Japan's Kibo module on ISS as part of a payload launched on June 4. It records both video and photos while moving through the microgravity of the space station. More importantly, it can both work autonomously or be controlled from Earth. The imagery can be seen in close to real-time on the Earth, so ground control can see what's happening on the station from the astronauts' point of view, offering guidance and help should anything go wrong.

The 3D-printed ball, which measures just 6 inches in diameter, has two "eyes" surrounding its camera so the astronauts can tell exactly what it's recording. (Not to mention adding to its cuteness factor.) It's propelled by 12 fans and navigates through the station using special pink targets mounted to walls and doors as reference points.

Astronauts spend about 10 percent of their workday photographing what's happening on the ISS, according to JAXA, but the drone camera could significantly reduce that time. The goal is to eliminate the task from astronauts' job descriptions entirely. Instead of documenting their work themselves, astronauts could focus on their research while the Int-Ball does the documenting for them.

[h/t Engadget]

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