Friday, September 25, 2015

Nyctography

Look it up on Wikipedia. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, had a serious problem (or so he thought). He often woke up during the night because he had ideas he felt needed to be written down immediately. Since he didn't want to light a candle just to have to extinguish right away again, he devised a nyctograph that allowed him to write a kind of shorthand in the dark. He described it in “The Lady” magazine of October 29, 1891:
Any one who has tried, as I have often done, the process of getting out of bed at 2 a.m. in a winter night, lighting a candle, and recording some happy thought which would probably be otherwise forgotten, will agree with me it entails much discomfort. All I have now to do, if I wake and think of something I wish to record, is to draw from under the pillow a small memorandum book containing my Nyctograph, write a few lines, or even a few pages, without even putting the hands outside the bed-clothes, replace the book, and go to sleep again. … I tried rows of square holes, each to hold one letter (quarter of an inch square I found a very convenient size), and this proved a much better plan than the former; but the letters were still apt to be illegible. Then I said to myself ‘Why not invent a square alphabet, using only dots at the corners, and lines along the sides?’ I soon found that, to make the writing easy to read, it was necessary to know where each square began. This I secured by the rule that every square-letter should contain a large black dot in the N.W. corner. … [I] succeeded in getting 23 of [the square-letters] to have a distinct resemblance to the letters they were to represent. Think of the number of lonely hours a blind man often spends doing nothing, when he would gladly record his thoughts, and you will realise what a blessing you can confer on him by giving him a small ‘indelible’ memorandum-book, with a piece of paste-board containing rows of square holes, and teaching him the square-alphabet.[1]
Obviously, we don't have his problem(s), if only because we have electricity that can be switched on/off easily to operate a light, a tape recorder, a PDA, or whatever.



1. Wikipedia, also has a picture of the device.

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