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The Birth of Digital Poetry

An English professor rediscovered how some of the best poets in the world were coding poetry algorithms in the 1960s

3 min read
photo of J.M. Coetzee
Photo: Micheline Pelletier Decaux/Getty Images

photo of J.M. CoetzeeProgrammer Poet: Acclaimed author J.M. Coetzee developed software for composing verse on an early British supercomputer.Photo: Micheline Pelletier Decaux/Getty Images

When we think of people who probe the historical uses of technology, English professors don’t usually spring to mind. But Rebecca Roach, a postdoctoral researcher in modern literature at Kings College London, did just that when she came across a box of “incomprehensible material” last year while diving into the archives of the Nobel Prize–winning poet and novelist J.M. Coetzee at the Harry Ransom Center, at the University of Texas at Austin.

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The Unsung Inventor Who Chased the LED Rainbow

LEDs came only in shades of red—until George Craford expanded the palette

10 min read
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Man  with grey hair wearing dress shirt and tie standing in front of an LED stoplight and holding a panel with yellow and red LEDs glowing
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Walk through half a football field’s worth of low partitions, filing cabinets, and desks. Note the curved mirrors hanging from the ceiling, the better to view the maze of engineers, technicians, and support staff of the development laboratory. Shrug when you spot the plastic taped over a few of the mirrors to obstruct that view.

Go to the heart of this labyrinth and there find M. George Craford, R&D manager for the optoelectronics division of Hewlett-Packard Co., San Jose, Calif. Sitting in his shirtsleeves at an industrial beige metal desk piled with papers, amid dented bookcases, gym bag in the corner, he does not look like anybody’s definition of a star engineer.

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