JF Ptak Science Books Post 1530
I was about to start a new series of posts on the History of Lines , something left out of this blog, oddly, given the different posts on the History of Dots and the History of Holes (and the History of Blank and Empty Things). A lot of that--the History of Lines business--has to do with the interpretation of things on paper: heart rate, "brain waves", the motion of a bumble bee, navigation, and of course, words. (The great Kickapoo tracker Famous Shoes in Larry McMurtry's Streets of Laredo, one of the Lonesome Dove tetralogy, found that the one thing he couldn't track in this world were the marks on the pages of a book.)
But I was distracted by the idea of seeing something in a different context, of associating something with a sense experience far beyond its origin, and so the History of Lines will wait just a little--something just a little beyond seeing some electrical function of the brain inscribed as a long line on a skinny piece of paper. What I found was this--the invention of Mr. E. Hardy, whose "Formenephone" detected the presence of combustible fire-damp or any other gas in mines, and which would then emit sounds on the accompanying (small) organ pipe. The apparatus would actually vibrate more rapidly as the gas content of the air increased. At the time (the notice of the invention appearing in the Scientific American Supplement #945 for 10 February 1894) the only other means of detecting these gases was by the change of the glow of a candle.
Perhaps this is in a way like the application of musical notes to the numbers pi or tau, though actually useful.
I'll return to the History of Lines tomorrow.
Formene, or marsh gas, is a "hydrocarbon which produces chloroform when the hydrogen in it is replaced with chlorine, loses hydrogen and yields anthracene".