December 11th

[edit] Kaleidoscope

On this day in 1871, David Brewster, the Scottish inventor of the Kaleidoscope was born. If you're not familiar with this toy, the Kaleidoscope is a short tube containing lenses, mirrors, and small, multicolored objects. When you look into one one end of the tube and twist it, you can see some beautiful geometrical patterns. In the late 1800's and the 1970's, this toy was extremely popular -- although Brewster never made a dime during these fads.

Many computer programs and screen-savers to simulate Kaleidoscopes have been written, and are available for download. There are also some web based Kaleidoscopes, where you can view these images online.

If you want to make your own Kaleidoscope simulation, Dr. Cliff Pickover shows some simple pseudocode for a Kaleidoscope on his website:

DO FOR i = 1 to 40 
  x1 = random; 
  y1 = random; 
  x2 = random; 
  y2 = random; 
  x3 = random; 
  y3 = random;

  /* Confine initial pattern to lower right quadrant */ 
  if ( x1 > y1 ) then (save=x1; x1=y1; y1=save;) 
  if ( x2 > y2 ) then (save=x2; x2=y2; y2=save;) 
  if ( x3 > y3 ) then (save=x3; x3=y3; y3=save;)     
  DrawTriangleAt(x1,y1,x2,y2,x3,y3) 

  /* Create 7 reflected images */ 
  DO FOR j = 1 to 7 
    Flip (x,y) Points as Described in Text 
    DrawTriangleAt (x1,y1,x2,y2,x3,y3) 
  END 
END

Today many folks spend their days staring at a "tube" with ever-changing multi-colored pixels -- we call it a television. In the Victorian era, choices were a bit more limited. And maybe the revival of the fad in the 1970's says something about the quality of the TV shows, then.

© 2006, Jorge Monasterio

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