A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
A.J. Perlis' and John Carrs' "Characteristics of the Small-Scale Computers" looked innocent enough, 12" tall and one folded piece of paper, and published in 1956, but there was a lot more to the simple publication than you'd expect from something so modest. The authors--John W. Carr III and Alan J. Perlis--were heavy hitters, and so I really wasn't very surprised to see what they had done "inside", though I was impressed and happy to see the data. Displayed on the 12x16" sheet of paper are 15 data points on 14 computers, many of them classic/famous: the 650 IBM, UNIVAC, Elecom, Alawac. (Remember that when you're looking at purchase price and monthly rental amounts that the 1956 dollar is equal to about $8.70 in 2015 dollars, so that $3275/month for the 650 would be about $30k. The $136k for the Datatron is about a million today.)
[Image source: FUTURAMA.Published by General Motors, 1940. 24pp. Original wrappers. Provenance: the Pamphlet Collection, Library of Congress. ]
The 1939 World's Fair in NYC famously exhibited a spherical attraction that exhibited a semi-robotic display of what the future would be like--a future that was only 21 years away, in 1960. There would be an enormous amount of weight on the shoulders of 1960, given what the World's Fair had to say about it in 1939. Few things were very right, and many of course were necessarily wrong--but that must be the case when looking into the short-ended future with a monstrous amount of anticipation. That--and since this was a feel-good celebration--nobody was talking about the world war that had already started.
One thing is for sure--the pavilion's creator, General Motors, did foresee that highways and automobiles will be in high demand up there in the tomorrowland of 1960. The display was designed by the fantastic Norman bel Geddes, who actually expanded on his superhighway theme in the next year with his book Magic Motorways (which can be read here). Anyway people were very excited by the whole affair--waiting in line for a few hours, winding their way through the pavilion to take their seats in a circular gallery overlooking a vast and complex assemblage of miniature societal models, the seating arena rotated to give the viewers views of the entire display. More than 26 million people saw the display over a six month period.
26 million is a big number. Futurama drew as many people in six months as the three New York City baseball teams (the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers) brought in for almost the entire decade. It is also equal to all of the deaths suffered by the Soviet Union during WWII.
I guess this was as good a vision as any--or at least it didn't seem to involve very much planning outside the new automatic automobile nervous system that would leech into the life-blood of the country. Other planned visions of the future do not look quite so good. For example, Le Corbuser's demolition of central Paris to make way for his Soviet apartment block reconstruction in his Voisin Plan (1925):
Again, this is not a wholesale look into the future, just the resurfacing of one of the world's greatest cities.
A man with a little bigger vision, Frank Lloyd Wright, saw a heavier future in his Broadacre CIty:
I'm not sure how these domed cities worked. B. Fuller had an idea like this for central Manhattan that I wrote about earlier in this blog, but his idea escaped me too.
V.I. Feodosiev (with his two initials looking ironically similar to the V1 that he wrote about) and G.B. Simiarev wrote a classic textbook1 in rocket technology which was published in Moscow in 1958. Even though it was translated and published in English the following year by Academic Press, the version here seems to have been translated in the same year as its Russian edition. I've had some translations-on-demand in the store that were fast-tracked for the particular agency that needed the work, translations that sometimes didn't appear in English for years afterwards. In this case the Feodosiev was translated (anonymously) for an undisclosed agency, though this copy wound up in the library of the NASA Division of Research Information2. It could well be that the work was produced for NASA but frankly there are many other candidates for the point of origin of interest. This copy is definitely different from the Academic Press translation, so at least two different translations were made of the text.
I really don't have that much to offer here on this edition, except to note its differences from the Academic Press version, though this may be of some use to someone working in this area.
The original is available via the blog's bookstore, here.
Here's an abstract/summary of the work (which has a slightly different title) by the Academic Press 1959 version of this publication:
"Introduction to Rocket Technology focuses on the dynamics, technologies, aerodynamics, ballistics, theory of servomechanisms, principles of navigation instruments, and electronics involved in rocket technology."
"The publication first takes a look at the basic relationships in the theory of reactive motion; types of jet propelled aircraft and their basic construction; and types of reaction motors and their construction. Discussions focus on air breathing motors, anti-aircraft rockets, long range bombardment rockets, surface to surface, short range bombardment missiles, thrust of a rocket motor, and operating efficiency of a rocket motor. The text then examines rocket motor fuels and processes in the combustion chamber of a rocket motor."
I really don't have much to say about this image except that it is a very nicely designed thing, an advertisement for fountain pens produced by Germany's leading pen manufacturer (Soennecken, established 1875), This full-page/front-page illustration appeared in Illustrirte Zeitung for 13 April 1911.
This two-page spread in the Illustrated London News appeared at the end of June, 1940, nine months into WWII, just two weeks or so before the beginning of the Battle of Britain. This was an extended battle lasting until September 1941 in which there were hundreds of German bombing raids flown over the U.K., with most of the damage and civilian deaths centered in London. In all some 40,000 civilians were killed in the raids, about half of them in London. Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Manchester, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Sheffield, Southampton, Swansea, and other cities were also bombed, some of them pulverized--for example, Hull received an enormous amount of attention for being a port city and easily identifiable by air, and was attacked more than 80 times, and Coventry's central city was decimated. (Enter "Battle of Britain" or "Blitz" in the Google search box for the other posts on this blog on this subject.)
But right at the beginning of this period the popular weekly published this listing of enemy planes--it was a smart thing to do, because it made millions of people into observers and data gatherers.
The artist of this work was the very very busy and talented G.H. Davis, who I have written about numerous times on this blog (just enter his name in the Google search box and you find a number of interesting tech drawings that he completed for the ILN).
This title sounds highly romanticized, I know, but it is in some sense pretty close to the truth. This distributor/manufacturer catalog offered the daily bits and pieces of the business end of personal and, well, business life. The sections of this heavily illustrated catalog includes the stuff of day-in and day-out life management: "for sale” and price tags, jewelry tags, colored marking tags, clasp envelopes, key tags, coin mailing cards, white and colored labels, address and mailing labels, notarial and lawyers seals, sealing tape, binding accessories, paper fasteners, sealing wax sets, desk set bookcases, gummed seals, holiday merchandise, sealing wax, tissue paper, crepe paper (with actual colorful samples), confetti, wedding cake boxes, overhead decorative displays, and such.
It is interesting to see pictures of these things that are (mostly) still with us now but different--they can elicit memories much like the smell of a kindergarten classroom . They were familiar and common objects once upon a time, essential and mostly invisible--but now, 70-odd years later, the near-memories might be close to the surface, waiting for a visual push to recognition.
The October 1945 issue of Popular Mechanics carried a story "Atomic Bomb for War / Atomic Bomb for Peace" as a reminder to its readers that the vast destructive power of the atomic bomb was just one example of what nuclear power might be--and that there could be incredible and wide-reaching benefits of the process for peaceful uses. This work came about eight weeks after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and seems to be only the second post-use story on the weapon in this magazine. The article does mention a prescient piece ("The Miracle of U-235") published in January 1941 in Popular Mechanics by physicist R.M. Langer1 (CalTech) which extolled the future possibilities of the energy/power potential of nuclear energy, which is really what the present article is all about. Except of course for the 5,000 a-bomb total destruction of Japan analogy, which is an odd thing.
Half of the article's illustration is dedicated to military applications of atomic energy, and the other to the peaceful; and in the upper-middle of the military side we are told that if necessary that every city in Japan could be completely destroyed with "5,000 atomic bombs". The truth of the matter is that a great percentage of the major (and minor-major and major-minor) cities had already been pretty much decommissioned. (Just weeks before the bomb came the massive firebombing of Tokyo--334 of General Curtis LeMay B-29's were loaded to utmost capacity with the newly-conceived M-69s bomb, an incendiary so vicious that the fires it produced were all but inextinguishable. The B29's bombed Tokyo for hours, killing 100,000+ people and making over a million homeless.) And so I'm not sure what the message was, here, except to establish that the complete destruction of a city with weapons dropped from planes was now a possibility. It was probably right at about this point that this idea became a real possibility--and so to for its extension, that given enough of these weapons, that the entire world could be bombed out of existence.
1. Langer wrote an earlier piece in 1940 for Colliers which was a more sugary version of the Popular Mechanics Article. In this one he hypothesized that uranium would basically fuel life--it would be a fuel source so cheap to produce that it wouldn't make economic sense to charge for it (?). It was the seed of peace that would lead to Utopia and eliminate wars. This was Langer's popular side--he did in fact work and publish through the 1930's on the fission issue; his vision of the future though were a little overly-optimistic.
I found this collection of photographs a number of years ago, mostly for the way that some of the decorated panels were not outfitted with photographs. The photographs were made in the early 1860s (one is dated 1862) and the decorations I take it were made by hand at the same time or thereabouts.
One of the most interesting images is this family portrait--it has one of the most elaborate manuscript "frames", and it also depicts a space ship in the background. Well, not really--but it is an interesting design for what I suspect was an (iron?) conservatory or greenhouse. Also handling the photograph in person led me to the very minor discovery that the curled up and sleeping dog was an extra and "photoshopped"--that is, added after the photo was made, a cutout of the dog pasted onto the print. No doubt it would have been difficult to have a dog sitting there for a long period of time with the family without moving given the relatively slow exposure time in 1862. I find that detail, that the family though enough of the dog to paste it into the final/finished project, to be very touching.
Each sheet measures about 16"x 16" The originals are available on the blog's bookstore, here.
“O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me t'untie.”--William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
This beautiful collection of knots and splices appeared on the front cover of Scientific American, March 18, 1871--a knot for every need. Knots become ever more complex at about the same time in the hands of the great mathematician and teacher, P.G. Tait. Tait was the major domo of knot classifiers so significant in the developing field of topology, and followed the work of Vandermonde, Gauss, and Kelvin. But here, in 1871, these were just beautiful and useful knots having open ends, and not having anything to do with the Tait conjecture--that would come later.
“The American people are entitled to know whether we are intervening in Cuba or intend to do so in the future…The answer to that question is no. What happens in Cuba is for the Cuban people to decide.”--Secretary of State Dean Rusk, April 17, 1961, 2 days in to the CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba.
"I know the world thinks of us, we are Communists, and of course I have said very clear that we are not Communists; very clear."--Fidel Castro, "Cuban Revolution". 1959 Year in Review. United Press International, the statement made on his tour of the U.S. in 1959.
James Farmer of the RAND Corporation wrote a summary of the U.S.-backed insurgency against Fidel Castro's government in the infamous Bay of Pig campaign in his Notes on the 1961 Cuban Revolution sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Project Rand Report, and published (May Day!) May 1, 1961. This is an internal document, or pre-print of the report, reproducing the document in some sort of photo-mechanical way, and it focused on the failures of the “Cuban revolution”—the same day as Castro’s May Day speech proclaiming his overwhelming victory against the counter-revolution.
Farmer states in his opening line: “If tacticians and political scientists can learn from errors, the first 1961 Cuban Revolution should be invaluable”.
Farmer evidently was sending a message in this medium as he refers again and again to the “first 1961” Cuban Revolution. He was not referring of course to 1953-1959 Castro-led revolution that ousted President Batista--rather it was a political statement by the author relating to what he assumed would be subsequent "movements" against the Cuban government.
For some reason the only references on the internet that I've found for this document come from me. Also: there is no record of this work in the OCLC. This item is available at the blog's bookstore, here.
Farmer also wrote a close and interesting appraisal of the "counter-insurgency" in Vietnam 1961-2, here: http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/papers/2006/P2778.pdf