Saturday, February 19, 2011

Juggling in noisy channels

Claude Shannon, the father of error correction and partial subject of Freeman Dyson's entertaining new NYRB piece (they always start beautifully and end in banal technophilia -- this one is at least silent re carbon-eating trees, though it has some puzzling things to say about Wikipedia), was an interesting character:

Professor Shannon had a whimsical side and developed a juggling machine, rocket-powered Frisbees, motorized Pogo sticks, a mind-reading machine, a mechanical mouse that could navigate a maze and a device that could solve the Rubik's Cube puzzle. At Bell, he was remembered for riding the halls on a unicycle while juggling three balls.

Shannon's interest in juggling was not purely practical; there is apparently a seminal article on the theory of juggling in his collected works (something else I learned from a Dyson article, see here). I have tried and failed to find this online. And Shannon is also reputed to have built an Ultimate Machine that he kept on his desk:

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