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
This back page of the Scientific American for December 7, 1893, has it all: buggies of such speed that the army would want them; the great Comptometer ("prevents office headache" and I am sure it did so); the Comet Crusher Great Ballast and Ore Breaker; the Charter Gas Motor Company offering The motor of the 19th century; asbestos rolled roofing tarp; $50 Kodak cameras (equal to about $1200 in 2014 buying power according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), and so on. I can just about smell the sweet sweet oil that made everything function...
The front page and very present image (running the full height of the magazine) of the Scientific American for the October 28, 1893 issue presents the Otis elevator on exhibit at the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Otis was one of a dozen manufacturers showing their wares--it was also evidently the largest and most sensational display, with their demonstration (electric) elevator constructed in the center of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Hall and rising 185' from the ground. At the time the nation's tallest skyscraper was the New York World buildiing, recently finished in 1890 and 349' high. The tallest buildings of the previous decade weren't close to this, and weren't as tall as the Columbian Otis elevator, so the thrill of the folks who took the ride to the top of this great indoor structure must have been palpable.
And of course tall buildings wouldn't be anything without an elevator; and elevators would be nothing without a great, reliable, and safe (Westinghouse) braking system.
The way of the new world, the spread of commercialism and of consumerism, the increase in the size of a middle class that was actually approaching what we today would think of as a middle class, the wanting rise of places for disposable income to go from millions of new people with spare money to spend, led the sellers of stuff-immemorial to start advertising their bits on the side of out-of-doors everything. The fight for the attention span of the new consumer went from the newspapers and magazines to the side of buildings and then, as the motor car began to proliferate, to thousands and hundreds of thousands of miles of roadway.
Billboards to buildings, and buildings as billboards, and more--as some of the early branders might've seen it, the sky was the limit, or at least so for this caricature of the impending future, as seen in Punch, or the London Chiarivari (‘Picturesque London – or, sky-signs of the times’, 6 September 1890, p. 119.)
That of course was a view to the near-future--the reality of the situation was more like what was portrayed by a watercolor by Orlando Parry, ‘A London street scene’, in 1834, so imaging a step-beyond may not have been too difficult a thing to portray:
A more recent example of the threat of rampant billboardism and the struggle for the pocket and attention of teh consumer is seen in this 1931 illustration that was tucked inside this almost-provocatively-named pamphlet, Billboards ad Aesthetic Legislation, New Applications of Police Power (published by the St. Louis Public Library). It is astonishing to think of the vast changes that took place in the remaining American frontier, taking place so quickly--two generations separated the last of the great cattle drives to billboard legislations along auto routes in the western states.
Fighting for the pennies in the pocket bottoms of the working poor and the middle class is getting to be Old Stuff, an interesting chapter in the History of the Assault on the Attention Span of Human Beings.
In an earlier issue of Nature, back on January 15, 1880, there appeared a wonderful article by Francis Galton that turned out to be one of the earliest treatments of synesthesia. “Visualized Numerals” 1 concerned (in one aspect) the mental visualization of the act of doing mathematics. That is to say, what images people formed in their brains as they performed mathematical functions. It was also an illustrated article making it perhaps the first attempt at visualizing a thought process.
Browsing another issue of Nature for May 6, 1890, there appeared another unusual and related piece, this by George N. Newton, "Visualized Images Produced by Music" (reproduced below).
This was probably nothing new to a lot of people, least of whom included tone poem composers and others who heard music and experienced color sensations--but this too, like the Galton, was a very early publication on the subject. Or at least in a reachable, non-trivial, not-obscure publication--there were instances of articles written earlier in the 19th century, though they did not find an audience like that of Nature. Folks have been thinking about color hearing for thousands of years, though not necessarily writing much about it or (later) publishing on it--to these people this article was preaching to the choir, in color.
1. See "A New Class of Scientific Image? Synesthesia, Francis Galton and Picturing Thought", here.
See RhythmicLight.com for a reproduction of Bainbridge Bishop's A Souvenir of the Color Organ (1893).
Also for a good site with many links, see the Center for Visual Music, here.
Edison's name was not a popular item in the average American home before his invention of the phonograph. It was actually some months later, after the initial announcement in 1877, that Edison became justifiably famous. (The phonograph seems to have been up-and-running by August of 1877, though Edison did not apply for the patent until December of that year, the patent itself being granted in January 1878.) It is difficult today to place the amazement and astonishment that greeted the invention--there was nothing like it, before, ever--except for writing, of course, and then the recording telegraph. It was a sensational piece of power, being able to record and save sound--and then play it back again. It was the first time in human history that the auditory sense world could be audibly preserved.
The thing about the earliest phonographs was that the recording were made on tin foil, which meant that the cylinder had a limited lifespan. The use of wax on the cylinder took a few years to come (Edison having moved on to other more interesting ideas like the light bulb rather than mess around with tweeking the phonograph) and following the initial public sensation with the invention in 1878/9 there was not another big rush towards it until the mid-1880's with the much more durable wax cylinder. This version not only was more stable and had a far greater shelf life, it was also much easier to use (i.e. record and play), and it was in the late 1880's that the ideas for the use of the thing really took off.
I noticed this ad for Mrs. Potts' "Sad Iron" at the top of the page for something that I wrote the blog-post previous to this one. It is an odd thing, Uncle Sam presenting the Czar with a recording of Mrs. Potts' irons being shipped his way. (This was a clothing iron, shaped sort of like a boat, made of iron, and fired up on some heat source--Mrs. Potts' big improvement was to have a detachable handle on the thing.)
The ad is dated June 1, 1878, which makes it quite an early use of the great new invention, still in the same year as when the thing was patented. And here it is, a wonder of the age, used to sell irons.
I wonder about how quickly other great inventions succumbed to trivial notice like this...or perhaps this is more a sign of the instrument's acceptance into popular culture, and it is actually a measure of the distribution of a great new idea that is so even and complete that six months later the thing is so well known as to be trivial? Or perhaps this is a peek at a more-modern phenomenon for capturing teh attention of a buying public by using a word that is hyper-popular and in the news and a main point of discussion, like "Atomic Cafe" or "Radium Cakes"?
In an interesting article in Popular Science Monthly (volume 44, December 1893) Helen Zimmern reviews the work and vision of positivist-criminologist Cesare Lombroso's Criminal Woman. Lombroso was a believer in certain bits of investigation and experimentation that he took as science. He examined the physical characteristics of criminals and made aggressive assumptions on how the shared statistics of visual clues could elucidate the character of a person. He measured all sorts of things in prisoners--head shape, skull capacity, all manner of other body part measurement,s hearing ability, strengths,m weaknesses. color determination, acuity, agility, sagacity of facial features, and on and on, and was fairly well satisfied that he had unlocked a code of criminality determined by mostly visual interpretation--in effect, a naked-eye DNA. It was certainly in keeping with the time and the belief in New Statistics. Most of it was bunk, dangerous, and useless.
IT was all taken as a science of sorts at the time, and Ms. Zimmern reviewed the Lombroso work as a scientific, evidentiary document. Mostly the conclusion are sad and wilting.
Here's a bit from the review, followed by a couple of links to other works in English by Lambroso.
“...on tattooing in women, the tendency to tattoo being, according to Lombroso, an infallible indication of criminal tendencies.”--Cesare Lombroso, "Criminal Woman" review, page 221.
[Source: Joshua Robinson, "A Machine Before its Time", Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2010. See below.]
Somewhat Zelig-like, Charles Howard Hinton (1853-1907) is a sort of shadowy Oxford-educated figure who turns up in the beautiful Jorge Luis Borges' works, and who married George Boole's daughter, and who was a great and very early visualizer of geometries of higher dimensions, and who was the coiner of tesseract, and the inventor of a baseball pitching machine, and a practical joker, and a sci-fi writer, and who deserved an obituary in the New York Sun by the masterful Gellett Burgess (May 5, 1907), and who seemed to keep one step ahead of everyone and himself.
He was also the creator of crazy cubes.
There are many standard-bearers in the history of modern art who probably owe something to Hinton, who published his ideas on the fourth dimension (illustrated!) just at the time when this idea was in it trial runs in the artwork of the modern age.
And so do baseball players—or at least those at Princeton, where he introduced his machine which evidently was used there for several seasons. The pitching gun really was a cannon, the baseball loaded into the thing with an appropriate cartridge to shoot the ball at pitcherly speeds, which he described it in Harper's Weekly for March 20, 1897. (How Hinton got to Princeton is interesting and a mystery, both; he was an instructor of math in England until he was charged and convicted of bigamy in 1886, whereupon he took his first wife and four (?) sons to Japan to teach in Yokohama for a while, then yadda yadda yadda he starts teaching at Princeton in 1893.)
Hinton was into a lot of things, with a very inquisitive mind, and very smart. And so he bounced here and there in his careers, from position to position. David Toome, in his fine The New Time Travelers: A Journey to the Frontiers of Physics (2010) gently and wonderfully describes Hinton (in his relations to the exterior world of work) as “buoyant” (page 29).
In any event, Hinton seems not to have patented the thing,so far as I can determine in 10 minutes of patent searches.
The cannon seems to have excited a bit of baseball scifi in itself, adding to Hinton's other pleasures.
In a longer and better article than mine, Joshua Robinson writes in the Wall Street Journal about Hinton's machine and the near-roboticized future of baseball:
“...(I)n 1896, the Los Angeles Times called it a "Frankenstein." One Washington Post columnist worried it would ring in an age of robots ruining the national pastime—this was a long time before anyone was worried about steroids.
"There would be the base-burning, high-pressure, anti-friction catcher," he wrote, "and the shortstop made of aluminium and rivets and filled with cogs, cams, valves, shafts, and belting."
Hinton's pitcher was an interesting idea, but ultimately it proved to be too cumbersome and slow to be of any sustained use. Plus, as Robinson points out, after the cartridge was fired there was a puff of smoke, which caused occasional consternatiuon and confusion for those standing in front of the canon. And ducking.
And the so-called "crazy cubes"? That moniker is my own creation. These were simply (really not so) creations by Hinton that he said would help people visualize his four dimensional world, as Rudy Rucker (see below) describes as "points moving around in three dimensions might be imagined as successive cross-sections of a static four-dimensional arrangement of lines passing through a three-dimensional plane..." Evidently the cubes helped many people experience a more internalized world of fantastic difference, some stating that the cubes drove some people insane. Of course they were just colored cubes, pretty in themselves--though the problem of visualization was fairly knotty.
[Source: The Fairyland of Geometry, a Cultural History of Higher Space, 1869-1909, here.]
The Lowell Offering is an extraordinary publication, featuring in its editorial and production and writing staff the women who worked in the many factories in Lowell, Massachusetts. It didn't start out that way--it was an ordinary-ish journal begun by Reverend Abel Charles Thomas (1807-1880, and pastor of the First Universalist Church) in 1840 and filled with popular notions and polite works by the locals. The tables changed in 1842/3, and the writing was switched, the stories and fictions and observations made by the women of the factory, and the journal stayed that way until it folded in 1845. Women had been working in the mills of Lowell since it was Lowell, created by Francis Cabot Lowell, who got the place up and running in about 1823 as a model working community that hummed with hundreds of looms, making the area one of the leading textile producers in the world. Actually, "hummed" is a poor selection of words--it was really more like a noisy bedlam, a cacophony of metal and leather, the background radiation so to speak of several generations of workers in America.
"Lowell Massachusetts was founded in the 1820s as a planned manufacturing center for textiles and is located along the rapids of the Merrimack River, 25 miles northwest of Boston. By the 1850s Lowell had the largest industrial complex in the United States. The textile industry wove cotton produced in the South. In 1860, there were more cotton spindles in Lowell than in all eleven states combined that would form the Confederacy. Mind Amongst the Spindles is a selection of works from the Lowell Offering, a monthly periodical collecting contributed works of poetry and fiction by the female workers of the textile mills. The Lowell Mill Girls, as the workers were known, were young women aged 15-35. The Offering began in 1840 and lasted until 1845. As its popularity grew, workers contributed poems, ballads, essays and fiction. The authors often used their characters to report on conditions and situations in their lives and their works alternated between serious and farcical..."
To the Factory Girls
"We cordially invite the Factory Girls of Lowell, and the operatives and working people generally, whether they agree with us or not, to make the Voice a medium of communication; for it is your paper, through which you should be heard and command attention. The Press has been too long monopolized by the capitalist non-producer, party demagogues and speculators, to the exclusion of the people, whose rights are as dear and valid."1845.11.07 Source: Industrialrevolution.org, which has MUCH else of interest.
A good introductory selection from The Lowell Offering is TALES OF FACTORY LIFE, No. 1 [from Lowell Offering, 1841], here.
Workingmen Publishing a Paper?
“What! Those Workingmen Publishing a Paper?—Yes, friends, as strange as it may seem, “Those ignorant Workingmen” have come to the singular conclusion, to do some of their own thinking, reading, and talking. We have lived long upon the dear bought teachings of those who measure cut their knowledge according to our goal, and as this is getting rather scarce we think duty demands, that we should stir up our ideas, and see what things we have stowed up rusting away, which may be of some little value to ourselves and a portion of the community. Will you allow it?" Source: Industrialrevolution.org, again, 1845.05.29
And Life Among the Spindles, located here. And also here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/37471/37471-h/37471-h.htm
It is interesting reading, if not syrupy at times, and very highly sentimental (Dickens, in his tour of America in 1842, commented “Of the merits of the Lowell Offering as a literary production, I will observe…that it will compare advantageously with a great many English Annuals.”)--nevertheless there's much in there to give an idea of what it was like as a lower-middle-class working stiff woman. Bottom line, it is a fabulous thing.
Just a very short note here, as I was doing a little work on black holes, and read the earliest recognizable scientific papers on the idea of the black hole (I almost wrote black "whole" which is an interesting concept that I guess might be sort of the same idea as a black 'hole" if the notion existed), and thought to reproduce parts of them here. The paper is by John Michell (mind the 't"!, 1724-1793, pioneering/filed creator of seismology and magnetometry, and one of the first people to competently weight the world) and exists in this long but beautifully titled work found in the Philosophical Transactions in 1784:
"If the semi-diameter of a sphere of the same density as the Sun were to exceed that of the Sun in the proportion of 500 to 1, a body falling from an infinite height toward it would have acquired at its surface greater velocity than that of light, and consequently supposing light to be attracted by the same force in proportion to its inertia, with o ther bodies, all light emitted from such a body would be made to return toward it by its own proper gravity." (Michell, Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society of London, January 1,1784.
He came up with the beautiful idea of "dark stars", and even how to find them--it is unfortunate how (and also a function of the times) that his work would go basically unnoticed until a time when it could be better understood, but only so far as historicism is concerned. Michell however was rescued in the 1970s at least in bibliographies, lifted from his parson's grave of scientific anonymity.
There's a pair of short notices in two consecutive issues of Nature (September 22 and 29, 1910) that brings up a probably mostly-overlooked bit of thinking by Charles Darwin's (and Francis Galton's) grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802). Way before Charles (born 1809) and Francis (born 1822) Erasmus was a powerhouse Darwin, and a powerhouse-in-general. He was primarily a physician, but was also an inventor, physiologist, abolitionist, botanist, and inventor, among other things. He famously speculated on evolution, and less-famously on the coming of the steam age.
In the first article here, pointing out a piece in The Times by R. Meldola, it is shown that Darwin saw the coming of steam from a good distance away: “As the specific levity of air is too great for the support of great burthens by balloons, there seems to be no probable method of flying conveniently but by the power of steam, or some other explosive material, which another half-century may probably discover”.) The editors of Nature included the notice to provide a bit more evidence of Darwin's vision via his poetry, stating that he “foretold, in the following lines, the advent of aerial navigation”:
Soon shall thy arm, UNCONQUER'D STEAM! afar Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car; Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear The flying-chariot through the fields of air. -- Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above, Shall wave their fluttering kerchiefs as they move; Or warrior-bands alarm the gaping crowd, And armies shrink beneath the shadowy cloud.
In the next issue of Nature there's a short notice by Arthur Platt, “Erasmus Darwin on Flying Machines”, (page 397 of September 29, 1910), where he quotes Dawin on the coming of powered flight: “As the specific levity of air is too great for the support of great burthens by balloons, there seems to be no probable method of flying conveniently but by the power of steam, or some other explosive material, which another half-century may probably discover”.
That's pretty good. Over at the Erasmus Darwin House site is another interesting side of Darwin's interest in flight, where it is found in hi snotebooks a good and early understanding of teh mechanics of bird flight:
"In the 18th century there was still no satisfactory explanation for the mechanics of flight and, inquisitive by nature, Darwin appears to have set himself to the task. Sketched out in his commonplace book in 1777 at the height of the 18th century quest for automata and artificial life, the bird (technically a goose) will be brought to life in a steam punk style reminiscent of the era. Using a small reservoir of compressed air as the in-flight rewinding mechanism in the book, Darwin’s description of a bird’s flight is very close to reality, and appears to be the first complete account of a power-plant and the necessary cycle of the wings’ movement..."--Erasmus Darwin House, here.
Munch--that is the first thing that came to mind on seeing these maps from Willis Luther Moore's Weather Maps Celebrating s Lecture on Storms and Weather Forecasts ("Delivered under the auspices of the Men's Association of the Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church...Baltimore, Maryland, Monday, November 16, 1896, P.M.") Others may not see it, but I do see "The Scream" in there, in America's heartland, in glorious black-and-white. And screaming they should have been--that winter in January 1886 was brutal, calling for 30 below zero in places like the appropriately-named Jornada del Muerto in Texas. In any event the maps are really quite lovely, and not really "early" anymore for weather maps of such detail (these maps beginning to appear in the 1840's and becoming pretty accurate placeholders of weather memory by the 1880's.
"Sveriges folk vet inte mycket om alt detta"/Swedish people do not know much about this..."
This is an unusual graphic--or at least a graphic display of information found in an unusual location, a publication in Swedish quoting sources from the Free Press from Stockholm (19 June 1943) on the effectiveness of Luftwaffe vs R.A.F. bombing.
It is supposed to be a graphic proof for the ferociousness of the Allies, published in a pamphlet called Konst i spillror (roughly, Art and Rubble, or Art in Rubble, something like this) which I believe was a German attempt to win Swedish hearts and minds by displaying the destructive force of teh other side of the war. The subtitle of the pamphlet is on the destruction of European cultural treasures in Antwerp, Nuremberg, Koln, Lubeck, Karlsruhe, Munich...plus bombed cemeteries, schools, hospitals, and so on. The locations are in Germany, mostly, or German-held areas, and decry the barbarity of the war in the hands of the British, Canadians, and Americans.
I do not have proof of this as propaganda, but it certainly feels like it. Sweden was a neutral country during WWII, managing to maintain its neutrality for the entire conflict. There were evidently soem concessions made to both sides--for Germany the major bit seems to have been allowing the German 163rd rail transport across Sweden in the attack on the Soviet Union (which I imagine was an enemy of my enemy move). On the other hand the Swedes accepted Jewish refugees from Norway and accepted all of the Danish Jews who were supposed to be sent to concentration camps. I can understand the Nazis wanting to try to make inroads into the national psyche, but I have a hard time imagining that this campaign succeeded on any level.
My copy is a photographic negative of the original, made during the war, and was once part of the Library of Congress Pamphlet Collection. As I said, I could be wrong in this interpretation, but I feel fairly confident that it is so.
On a graze through the journal Nature (still the same Nature as today's publication, the journal at this point being already 12 years old) looking for an article by the great W. Stanley Jevons on the aurora borealis (and the fluctuations of magnets), I bumped into the following short notice:
And this, from one of the most-cited articles in the history of the Physical Review:
"If, without in any way disturbing a system, we can predict with certainty (i.e., with probability equal to unity) the value of a physical quantity, then there exists an element of reality corresponding to that quantity."--Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen,"Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?" Physical Review, volume 47, May 15, 1935, page 777. Full text via the American Physical Society.
There is a great, unifying factor drawing together Aztec glyphs, Little Nemo in Slumberland, Marcel Duchamp, the Renaissance Sienese Sassetta, Guillaume Appolinaire, William S. Porter—they all display disparate chronological sense to a single story. The concept of displaying the passage of time, relating multiple events taking place at the same (or different) times, is really quite a lot older than the what is generally considered to be its recent modernist beginning. Duchamp’s Nude Descending, which is a masterpiece of modernism displaying unfolding time and multiple perspective views across time of the same object, is the direct descendant of centuries-old artworks. The Egyptians and the Aztecs certainly made use of this idea of multiple stories at multiple times in their stone storyboards. Closer to the present is the genre of early Renaissance painting like Sassetta’s The Meeting of St Anthony Abbot and St Paul the Hermit (painted circa 1440), which shows several aspects of the story over time, and depicted on the same canvas. (We see the beginning of St. Anthony’s journey at top left, heading out on his journey as a younger man, winding his way through dark wood and along a curving trail; we see him a second time as an old man, and then lastly at bottom, elderly, finally meeting the other monk.)
The rollout of the Sassetta masterpiece (hanging happily at the National Gallery in D.C.) reminds me a lot of the great hallmark of storytelling at the beginning of the twentieth century—no, not Barzun or Cendars, but Little Nemo (who predates all of the other greats who were to come in the next ten years or so). Winsor McCay’s (1871-1934) Little Nemo in Slumberland (appearing in the Hearst newspapers beginning in 1902)—better yet, the comic strip in general—adopts a platform for storytelling that is nothing short of revolutionary. By breaking out the development of the narrative in front of the reader and on one single sheet of paper gives the author fantastic maneuverability. This is also seen in the early motion pictures of Edwin S. Porter (like The Ex Convict, 1905) and D.W. Griffith (The Lonely Villa, 1909) who both use a new concept of contrasting editing—cutaways from the main action and pace of the.
film and incorporating vignettes of actions that are related and happening elsewhere, sometimes all of it happening at once. The story is able to develop multiple themes that are occurring at the same time but in disparate locations—the artwork of futurists Balla and Boccioni and the unclassifiable Duchamp reach for the same end, and so to (again) with Apollinaire and Cendars and the rest…and all of them coming into view in 1912/1913 or so.
There’s a lot to talk about on the tech end of this too, not the least of which is the work of Etienne Marey who made highly successful photographic investigations (in the 1870’s and 1880’s) of all manner of locomotion, some of the results of which look like the x-ray of Duchamp’s Nude. Perhaps the greatest early enablers of technological simultaneity are the telegraph and (more impressively) the telephone, both of which allowed people to be in two different places at the same time (so to speak).
Again, this is just a note, thinking out loud, about the concept of simultaneity, and I doubt that I've even broken the surface...I've not even considered the math and physical aspects of it all, not even a whisper about Einstein and Schroedinger. I've just done a search and found two works by eminent historians of science on this topic which I should think would demand reading: Max Jammer's Concept of Simultaneity (2005) and Peter Galison's Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps and the Empire of Time (2003). I'd like to return to this post when I think I might have an idea of what I'm talking about...