A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3 million hits| History of Science, Math & Tech | Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
The path of existence of the non-planet planet Pluto along with the rest of its Solar System friends can be nicely plotted out for visual ease on a series of mostly-concentric orbital lines. Pluto's line is the longest, taking about 248 years to complete its orbit traveling at about 10,600 mph, which means that in a year's 8760 hours that it moves very close to the equivalent along its path as the Earth's distance from the Sun, which is an odd bit of trivial. In any event, it is a long line.
There was another line/Pluto point of interest that takes us much closer to home, and much more near in time and space. Project PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) was a vast, integral, and magnificent engineering undertaken by the British government to surrepticiously and safely deliver petroleum to the Allied forces in Europe during WWII. It reached through England and across the Channel in two places (code-named Bambi and Dumbo), via pipelines laid under the sea, and supplied armies in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, and Germany (as far as Mainz).
[This is a detail of one of the vast bobbins that were hauled across the sea, unspooling many hundreds of miles of pipe in several lines.] This is what it looked liek apart from a detail image:
Of course getting fuel to your troops in advanced positions is a major undertaking--not being able to do so would kill an army (just such a thing arguably happened with the Afrika Corps). Fuel could of course be trucked in in drums, and sent across the water in ships--but that doesn't come close to the fantastic efficacy of having a pipeline. And this is just what Pluto was--an extraordinary idea made real, with enormous positive consequences.
This beautiful object is Le jeu de la sphere ou de l'univers selon Tyco Brahe [The game of the (celestial) sphere, or the universe according...] and was printed in 1661, and was an educational toy for the advancement of kids young and old. It was played with a spinner and took the players on a tour of the universe, compiled in 4 elements, 7 planets, the constellations of the Northern hemisphere, the Zodiac, then constellations of the Southern hemisphere, and then the Empyrean. Presumably after playing at the game for some time the players would know something at least through familiarity.
1) Earth ; Case 2) Water ; 3) the three Regions of the air; 4) Region of Fire ; 5) the Moon ; 6) Mercury ; 7) Venus ; 8) the Sun ; 9) March ; 10) Jupiter ; 11) Saturn ; 12) the firmament ; 13) the Little Dipper ; 14) the Dragon ; 15) Cepheus ; 16) Cassiopeia ; 17) the Camel ;18) the Great Bear ; 19) La Teste in Cheveleure Berenice ; 20) The Bouvier ; 21) Hercules Crown of the North ; 22 ) The Serpent ; 23 ) Antinois ; 24) Sting Eagle ;25) the Liré sign; 26) the Dolphin Horse ; 27) the Pegasus Horse ; Case . 28) Andromeda ; Case . 29 ) The Triangle of the North the Abelles ; Case . 30) : Perseus ; Case . 31) the hide ;32) the Aries ; 33) Taurus ; 34) the Gemini ; the Escreuisse ; 36) Lyon ;37) the Virgin 38) Libra ; 39) : Scorpio ; 40): the Sagittarius ; 41) Capricorn ; ) : the VerseEau ; 43) Pisces ; 44) : the Balene ; 45) : the Eridau River ; 46) : Orion ; 47) : the Unicorn ;48) Little Escreuisse Canucule or small dog ; 49) the Hydra of the North Raven ; 50) : Vase ; 51) the Centaur ;52) the wolf ; 53) the Altar ; 54) Crown Midy Dard du Midi ; 55) : the Poisson 's Gruc ; 56) the Phenix ; 57) the Hare ; 58) Canis Major ; 59) Rooster Turkey ; 60) : the Dove ; 61) : L'Arche Christmas ; 62) : the Dorado Cloud the Hirondele ; 63) The Cameleon Fly ; 64 ) The Triangle Midy Bee Indiene ; 65) the Peacock ; 66) Indian ; 67) the Tocan the Hidre Southward ; 68) Premiere Mobille ; 69) Sky Christallin ; 70) : Sky Empyrean.
Earlier in this blog appeared a similar and later game:
--"Whoever first arrives here is to take the title of Astronomer Royal'"--end point of the game The Pleasures of Astronomy
I'm not sure how early the earliest board game featuring a scientific game might be, but I do know that this one--Science in Sport, or the Pleasures of Astronomy; A New & Instructive Pastime. Revised & approved by Mrs. Bryan; Blackheath--seems to be very advanced for its age. Made in 1804 by John Wallis on London, the game such as it is isn't very "game-y"--the gaming aspect of it isn't very interesting or involved--mostly the mostly-representative aspect so the game is to just expose the young players to select aspects of the history of astronomy. As a pedagogical tool, the game probably works pretty nicely.
The game board, or the course of the game, is relatively standard, though the subject matter is not. The object was to arrive at Flamsteed House1, and by the course of victory the young player would become acquainted with elements of morals, ethics, natural philosophy (although Wallis did in fact produce a very similar game for that topic alone) plus of course some basics of astronomy.
1. "Flamsteed House, the original Observatory building at Greenwich, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke and built in 1675-76." See here for more information.
Not only is this a very early article approaching the subject of space-time, appearing in Nature in 1885 (volume 31, issue 804, page 481), but it is also the most probable source for H.G. Wells' earliest inspirational source for thinking that would result in such classics as The Time Machine. (See here for an earlier post in this blog for a review of Well's book in Nature.) I bumped into it recently on a graze through the endlessly interesting early-ish volumes of this great journal.
And there were certainly many who came before Wells on the subject of the fourth dimension (though not many on the subject of time as the fourth dimension): R.C. Archibald wrote on d'Alembert's (1754) use of time as a fourth dimension (in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society for May 1914); Cayley's "Analytical Geometry of n-Dimensions (Cambridge Mathematical Journal, 1843); Grassmann's Die Lineale aus Dehnungslehre (1844); Riemann's 1854 effort on curved space (translated in 1873 for Nature by W. Kingdom Clifford); Beltrami's introduction of the pseudosphere in 1868; J.J. Sylvester (again in Nature for 30 December 1869); Hermann von Helmholtz and his curvature for three-dimensional spaces, and others. Also, according to Linda Dalrymple Henderson in her The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton, 1983) in Appendix B there were only a few other efforts before this Nature article. (Some of these include Halsted, "The New Ideas about Space", in Popular Science Monthly, July 1877; Hinton's "What is the Fourth Dimension?", Dublin University Magazine, 1880; Lane "Transcendental Geometry" Popular Science Monthly, August 1882; and Fullerton, "On Space of Four Dimensions" the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, April 1894.)
Both images are details from this lovely tintype, a piece of photographic Americana I picked up in an antique store, found while looking for odd bits like it to construct an imaginary mug book for people who committed imaginary crimes, crimes against teh imagination. But not this man--he held his imagination in his little hat, a hat too small for his head. The original is really rather small, only about an inch tall, but for all of its minor dimensions it has major visual attractions.
The great Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin--one of the leading lights of the physics world of the 19th century and a man who worked deep and wide and over and under and around and through many different fields--contributed the following bit of unusual and interesting thinking. It came at the Swansea Meeting of the British Association (1880).
I'm not sure at what point during the War this image was made (though I suspect it was midway through the American experience) and shows what I think is the enlistment and draft numbers for U.S. soldiers. The progress of the growth of the Army is charted against German cities that were to be conquered or had already been engaged. The Doughboy in the graphic along with everything else looks clean and hopeful and determined--the end result of all of this determination was Victory and Defeat and people dead everywhere.
It is very odd how in the History of Stuff that clouds really were
never studied or named until the early 19th century--
not even the great classifiers reaching back to Aristotle did so.
Clouds are enormous and changing moving statuary,
and bring pain and joy and everything and nothing,
and still they escaped notice.
Even the invisible Winds have been named
and codified going back millennia.
It makes me think of things that we have control over now,
modifiers of expression, that have been basically the same
for decades of centuries or longer, and escape notice for improvement.
I was thinking of the markers/signifiers on the keypad I'm using right now.
The "."/period, for example. Outside of "..." which signifies (mostly)
a trailing away or reticence of some sort,
the period has stayed the same for 500 years.
But not all sentences end in the same manner--
some come beautifully to a halt,
some struggle for existence and then die at the end,
others are seemingly both eternal and lifeless,
some find themselves at a screaming halt, and so on.
There must be different sorts of "."'s, no?
[Alexsandr Rodchenko, White Circle, 1918. Source: Radicalart.info, here]
There have been additions like we see in that last sentence "?",
where a sentence is ended in a question or questioning.
And of course there's the "!" and then combinations
of those two "?!", "!?", "??", "!!", and so on.
But the period seems to stay about the same.
Perhaps a color or three could be added, like a red period
when the sentence comes to a hot and firey end.
Or a period within a white circle to indicate variency or aloofness from its conclusion.
Perhaps a change in size, or several concentric rings,
could indicate coming to an end in exasperation,
or mensuration, or perspiration, or whatever other number of -ations there might be.
[Ivan Kljun, Red Light, 1923. Source: Radicalart.info, here]
The problem is then a person could use a keyboard for just the period--
same too could be said for the comma and the delivery of pause and effect.
And then again, if the sentence was written well enough,
a person wouldn't need all of that extra cabbage at the end--
plus, well-written or not, the reader could supply their own ending.
So I guess we'll just leave the period alone.
The "dot" however is another story.
It probably didn't make a triumphant appearance until the printer's tray,
and then stayed that way
for hundreds of years, half a millennium, until, suddenly, it was much more.
It became the point of pointilism, getting an enormous independent life in the hands of
Seurat and Pissaro in the 1880's, and Signac and Van Gogh in the '90's, and Metzinger and Delauny in the 'oughts,
and were filled with color and division and reflection and endless possibilities,
all dependent on where you stood and the proximity to the artwork.
And then in 1915 the dot became a point became a circle became an icon,
artwork again but without almost every other visual aspect of all the other painters who
ever painted before,
a beautiful simple place on a canvas by Kasimir Malevich.
That's the image up at the top of the page, the Mona Lisa of Suprematism.
It came just a few years at about the end of the greatest revolutionary period of change
that has ever occurred to/with humans, from about 1885-1915, when almost everything became 'modern". Centuries/millennia of artwork became completely different with the pre-Impressionsts, and then again with Kandinsky who removed all representation of identifiable forms and replaced them with shapes and colors, and then with Malevich who removed almost all of those and wound up with his monumentally simple forms, a deceptively simple thing leading to great complexity.
This increible image shows an enormous gathering of the 137 Brigade, 46th Division, gathered post-battle on the banks of the St Quentin Canal, next to the Riqueval Bridge. It was one in a series of pivotal battles to bring the war to a close, this breaking the Hindenburg Line (a major element of the German defence system) which came which formed part of the German defence system, the Hindenburg Line, which was broken on 29 September 1918. They are being addressed by Brigadier General J C Campbell VC CMG DSO on the Riqueval Bridge.
The close-up below was taken directly from the Imperial War Museum (here), and shows the reason or major reason for the assembly, which was an address by Brigadier-General J.C. VC CMG DSO Campbell to his troops, more visible with his cap off, at extreme left on the bridge.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2203 (an earlier post continued and expanded)
"Sometimes a book is just entirely bad, and sometimes it is entirely nothing. It is impossible for a book to be both very bad and very nothing. Impossible. Except for this book, whose badness is exceeded only by its nothingness, and vice versa". (probably not) Oscar Wilde
And so into this black hole of imaged Wildeian description we go, into a very real-ish book.
I found a novel tonight, bought long ago and long ago mostly lost. It was written by a doctor who worked in the District Hospital in Lima, Ohio, and written in 1934. The Lima Hospital was the largest poured concrete structure in the world when it was built in 1915, and stayed so until the Pentagon was completed. The hospital was established for the criminally insane, had 14"-thick walls, and reinforced steel bars laid into the walls that went "right down to bedrock".
It was somewhere in there that this doctor wrote something that was really so toweringly bad that it escapes comprehension. I own the carbon copy of the unpublished work, which is typed on 14x8.5" sheets of paper, front and back, running 94 pages. It is a very crowded affair, with 90 lines of single-space typed lines, making the work about 115,000 words long.
There wasn't enough space evidently for paragraphs, which gives the work a kind of insistent, casket-cramped cruelty. To read it takes your breath away for its dullness--the book moves so weirdly and at the same time so very slowly that it doesn't move at all even while moving.
A few months ago I found the seven-foot-long scroll of the book's plan--a work of crowded magnificence of nothing and confusion, being very orderly at the same time. It went to a friend of mine who created artwork around it, and as it happens made a very noticeable appearance in a very significant yearly show in NYC last week. I was stunned to find that there was actually a text to go with the scroll-outline--it emerged from the warehouse this week, so perhaps this too will find a very celebrated life as art as well. Certainly the book would go nowhere on its own as a book, though it stood a chance at surviving on the grounds of its considerble design weirdness, which is of a complexified beauty.
In the meantime, before all of the letters slide themselves off the page from sheer boredom and before the thing is resurrected as a magnificent artistic effort, I'll share some ianges of the extra-ordinary book of reversed brilliant badness. I've also culled a few imaginary descriptions of the book from writers known and not:
"He couldn't speak. He could barely see. Blinded by the flames ignited inside his eyeballs from the novel in his lap. The words were like molten lead, sucked off the page by his eyes, forming a vacuum in his brain. It was a bad book".
The first-time published novelist's approach:
"He couldn't speak the words of the thoughts in his head, because they and all of his breath were stolen by the magic of the complete badness of the book in his lap".
"The book was bad and bad, and bad was the book. Even the badness of the bad was bad, a whole new insight into being bad. It was the bad book by which bad books are called bad".
"He didn't read the book so much as he looked through it. It was easy--there was nothing there. As bad as it was, it could get no worse. So he shot it, and poured a drink".