The bicycle was to prove transformative. Cheaper than a horse, it freed women and young working class people to roam free. And the bike was the testing ground for countless improvements in manufacturing that would later lead to Henry Ford’s production lines. Tim Harford considers whether the bicycle has had its day, or whether it’s a technology whose best years lie ahead.
The QWERTY keyboard layout has stood the test of time, from the clattering of early typewriters to the virtual keyboard on the screen of any smart-phone. Myths abound as to why keys are laid out this way – and whether there are much better alternatives languishing in obscurity. Tim Harford explains how this is a debate about far more than touch-typing: whether the QWERTY keyboard prospers because it works, or as an immovable relic of a commercial scramble in the late 19th century, is a question that affects how we should deal with the huge digital companies that now dominate our online experiences.
Producer: Ben Crighton
Editor: Richard Vadon
(Image: qwerty keyboard, Credit: Getty Images)
Bonus 4: Woodpecker and black box
The last bonus episode of our new podcast. For more, search for 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter and subscribe. Or find it here: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals
This one is about a bird’s remarkable skull and the quest to protect aeroplane flight recorders.
When the HMS Victory sank in 1744, with it went an inventor named John Serson and a device he’d dreamed up. He called it the “whirling speculum”, but we now know the basic idea as a gyroscope. Serson thought it could help sailors to navigate when they couldn’t see the horizon. Nowadays gyroscopes are tiny and, as Tim Harford describes, they are used to guide everything from submarines to satellites, from rovers on Mars to the phone in your pocket. They are also integral to drones – a technology that some believe could transform how we do our shopping. But for that, they’ll need to work in all weathers.
Image: A gyroscope (Credit: Getty Images)
Bonus 3: Mosquito and surgical needle
Episode 3 of our new podcast: the story of the blood-sucking pest and a pain-free surgical needle. Scientists have been studying the mosquito’s mouthparts. Could the dreaded ‘prick’ of a needle soon be a thing of the past? With Patrick Aryee.
Find it here: www.bbcworldservice.com/30animals