A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
This is the great promise of this remarkably mundane and
contemporarily-wholly-removed pamphlet, which promises rewards and
riches to be made in even the simplest backyard frog ranch, and all done with water, cement and no secret decoder ring. I mean, good night! I really had no idea whatsoever about such frog-goings-on in the depths of our country, even if the "depths" was Ridgewood, New Jersey, and it was the Depression (this pamphlet published in 1936). I don't have too much else to say about this remark effort except that--for all I know and I am not going to research it--this may well be the earliest Frog Ranch Plan published in the U.S. There. I said it (though my "key words" section says it all: "Frog farm, frog ranch, frog raising, frog map").
I wonder what this cemetery looks like now, this colonial funiery landscape, all these British occupiers buried in their imagined death community? (Lord Curzon, for one, found it to be "the most pathetic site in Calcutta", which in 1900 was saying allot According to the piece below from the Telegraph, Calcutta, things haven't gotten much better.) Is there any melancholy left for a place like this, filled with the British working class in the heart of Calcutta? Perhaps they could never have imagined their Further India slip away on its own, and that they'd be buried in a so-incredibly foreign land?
Seems like this would be ripe terrain for post modernists, having a go at the real and imaginary architecture of dead colonials in a post-colonial world, using a language that only the initiated can understand. (Constructing self-referential vocabularies with slippery exterior-to-the-argument reference points isn't exactly the best way to get to a general discussion...nor doers it seem to be additive when the vocabulary has a life of its own.)
(I had a little go at the post-modernists and constructed a little language generator here.)
From The Telegraph, Calcutta, 16 September, 2007:
South Park Street Cemetery
"First stop: a grim place. But a haunting, beautiful place. Maintained
by the Christian Burial Board, the South Park Steet Cemetery was
founded on August 25, 1767. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, William Jones,
founder of Asiatic Society, John Hyde, a judge famous for his papers,
are buried here, as is Rose Aylmer, the woman who inspired the poem of
the same name by Walter Savage Landor. The tombs are in various stages
of decay. The sight of the mossy tombstones, mostly imposing, some
addressed to persons never known to history, as the headstone that says
“here repose the earthly remains of James Miller”, in various stages of
decay, but exuding serenity along the network of lichen-covered paths,
brings soothing thoughts. If this is the end, it is not so bad. The
caretaker is not very cooperative, though, and the place also invites
criminal elements after the dark.
Yes, this elegant, well written (oversized) 1946 pamphlet, which explains
in fabulous and excruciating detail how to use the telephone, does
indeed come with a two-part heavy paper telephone receiver for the reader's practice. It is packaged in an envelope in the back of the
pamphlet with a large drawing explaining how to put the two pieces
together. The work is just so fulsome, wholesome, forthright,
exacting and thorough that it just makes the casual reader stop in
their tracks. For example, it isn't until page 13 that we get to pick
up the receiver (and listen for the dial tone). I've reproduced some of
the table of contents to give an idea of the extent of the telephone
What brings this so close to being from out of the science fiction
past is that the booklet is ten years older than me. Atanasoff's ABC, Bell Labs Mark II, Bletchley's Colossus, and Harvard's Mark I machines existed, television was getting off
the ground, and telephones were exploding their way into more American
homes and businesses. But somehow, here on the verge of the greatest electrical revolution in history, we're still getting instructions on how to pick up the telephone. But I'm really not complaining here, not at all--its just the nexus of the "how to listen for a dial tone" and the coming of the ENIAC one year after this pamphlet is published that is so startling.
Even so, this instructional is more complete and (of course) better written
than any of the pc manuals that came with any of the machines that I've
purchase int the last 25 years. It is a thing of great and supra-obvious beauty.
. The appearance and tenor of this pamphlet is very deceptive--my initial
reaction was an eyebrow-raising surprise, followed by a humorous
deception, all aroused by the incredible, screaming cover design and
the somewhat bizarre stories and headlines in the text. How can one
refuse an article like this (seen below)? The "funny" part of the pamphlet was stopped dead cold when I started to actually read the stories accompanying the sub-title malaprops.
The point underlying all of these design elements which seem so much
sugar to my eyes was that the prisons in Chicago were
horrific--especially for African Americans, a point which is not
explicitly made but alluded to. None of this seemed particularly surprising to me, except that there were just so many reports--the shear numbers of bad prison conditions was just staggering.
This is an example of a quiet, naive masterpiece, and is a perfect companion to a fantastic pamphlet that I wrote about earlier this month on flagpole painting. This tall (11x8 inch) 35-page 1945 work with an impossible title has everything that you would need to know--as its title promises and delivers--to repair a zipper. Not replace a zipper--repair it. It is so beautiful as to want to make every engineer residing in the deepness of everyones' soul just simply weep. The pamphlet is simply but well illustrated and addresses 50-odd contingencies for zipper malfunction and failure, and speaks to a particular WWII mindset that that addresses problems in this very fashion. Repair rather than replace. The bottom line here is that this is as good as any book of the history of fluxions or the making of the atomic bomb or cooking up a virus, given the parameters and limitations of its subject.
(I have a pamphlet somewhere that was published by Dupont that
would've been a great cross-purpose reference, only I cannot find it.
It was called Stump Blasting. And, yes, since it was published by the
DuPont Chemical Corporation it heavily sold the idea to farmers of how
useful dynamite can be for just about any job. And I don't disagree
outright, but the approach to the philosophies of problem-solving
couldn't be more different, especially contrasting the Stump Blasting pamphlet with the Stump Removal one produced by a chain manufacturer.
And so how does it come to pass that someone ostensibly trying to
write a history of science blog that has been changed to a history of
ideas blog finds himself at almost-midnight on a Sunday plugging away
on a post about zipper repair and stump blasting? (And how often to do
those five words come together in a sentence? ) Simple: its about the
methodology and the approach to figuring out a problem. On the one
hand, you have a circumstance where the problem is addressed, solved
and eradicated; on the other, the problem is simply eradicated without
the "solved" part. (Zippers really shouldn't fail all that often--the
guy who patented the modern zipper in 1906 said that the zipper should
work 200,000 times.) Personally I think that it is better in the long
run to solve the problem rather than just replace it or blow it up.
Perhaps we're just living in a BIU ("blow it up") kind of world, but I
think we could use more zipper-repair approaches to thinking.
I don't often see covers of pamphlets featuring hundreds--or thousands--of people as a part of the design. In my continuing role as finder and re-finder of things found I have re-surfaced four of these designs, and I feel I should post them before they're captured in the un-finding process. Again. Back to the design: these are very striking, persuasive images, unavoidable in many ways, completely intriguing, beguiling. People just have to look at these things. Look: I made a little experiment today placing ten very interestingly-designed pamphlets on display, all with compelling and distinct merits, and including one with a big spread of humanity on the cover (the "Life" pamphlet. The very unscientific results is that people were generally first drawn to the complex people image, and stayed longer looking at it--by far--than any other image. Perhaps its the same sort of reaction going on when you watch people walking in front of a mirror or reflective surface, with the vast majority of folks checking themselves out in it. Maybe its just people looking for something familiar. Maybe the faces are simply, strictly more interesting than just points o the page. I'm not sure.
The first image is Life, the story of the fraternity lamda chi alpha, published around 1935; second, a one penny Labour Party publication coming from the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, published in London in 1937; third, a program for the Liberal Party, published in London in c. 1938; lastly, fourth, a program for some course of semi-statistical study with the John Hancock life insurance company. These beautiful designs were much more interesting than the very casual contents they covered.
Here are two fantastic (and also completely unrelated!) pamphlets from my Naïve Surreal collection, which have also positively, absolutely never been seen on TV. (As a matter of fact, neither are found in the massive OCLC WorldCat, which librarians use as a cataloging tool and I use as a relative-scarcity engine; and what this means is that neither pamphlet is located in any library collection worldwide. A bookseller once semi-complained to me that pamphlets such as these which have not been catalogued could very well be in a box in a basement somewhere. Hm. That may be true, but what does it matter? Like Frenhofer the unfinisher in Balzac’s Unfinished Masterpiece, if it is hidden and unaccountable, it might as well not exist.) The first pamphlet, Flagpole Painting, by James E. Hare, is perhaps the Ulysses of works on flagpole painting—according to the OCLC, it may also be the only work ever devoted to the subject. And it is wonderful! It is studious and determined, and takes it subject seriously, describing all of the nicks and tucks necessary to do a thorough, correct and injury-free job painting a pole. The title does produce a chuckle, being so unexpected and seemingly mundane, but it *is* a great work on the subject.
Even more unexpected is the title of the second pamphlet, Explosives as a Civilizing Force, by the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Dr. Julius Klein—a government-endorsed homage to blowing stuff up, published by the Institute of Makers of Explosives (103 Park Ave, NYC). This is certainly a title you don’t see every day. Dr. Klein starts off by disabusing the reader of the “bad press” of explosives: “a good many of us, I imagine, labor under a misapprehension about the explosives industry…we conceive of explosives as an instrumentality of havoc. But that conception is utterly wrong.” Utterly? The man does have a point of course, which he explains in subject headings like “Dynamite the Liberator”, “Many Unusual Uses”and “Explosives Release Raw Materials” But “utterly”? Its a real piece of heavily worked propaganda that makes the case for the economics goodnesses and misunderstood destructive values of TNT.
I have a collection of some fantastically-titled pamphlets and books. After considering their reaching, speculative, bizarre and surreal titles, they fall into a number of sub-categories, including:
--titles with question marks “?” (like the two wonderful pamphlets simply entitled "What ?" and of course the two that have no titles but question marks); --title with exclamation points “!” (these two marks actually don’t occur very often at all in titles, especially when the title itself already has a built in question/exclamation mark); --titles that include the phrase “the history of…” or “the story of….” so long as that history/story is (very) unusual; --titles that demand something or other of “America” (i.e., “Will America be Invaded?” or “America, Mussolini or Moscow” or "Sandbags, Worms and America"); --title pages with American flags.
This excludes a lot of the general naïve-surreal and historical pamphlet collection, but these, I think, would make a great exhibition of book of books, simply because so many of them have an unquestionable “what in the _” reaction capacity to them.
This pamphlet, Mud, its Romantic Story, (by Richard G. Collier, for the Common Brick Manufacturer Association of America, Cleveland, Ohio) is a prime example: a terrific title and a beautiful design. Point of fact though is that it is a lively little history of brick making in America. The good content almost takes away from the fantastic title, but so it goes.
So from time to time I’ll post these titles here even though they really don’t have much to do with the supposed mission of this blog—I’m sure that they’ll be entertaining.
JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #122 This four page pamphlet, received by the Library of Congress (and probably nobody else) on 1 October 1943, divines the origins of World War Two and the kidnapping of the Charles Lindbergh baby to a complex and impossible cabal of Japanese “War Lords”, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, the assassination of Leon Trotsky, the League of Nations, Elihu Root, “3 cent gallon kerosene”, the South Manchurian Railway, and some sort of “historical documents of posterity countersigned by Tokyo and Berlin” in the possession of Mrs. Renee Valentine (“Secretary”) of Staten Island, New York.
The entire affair began with “co-tenants of the kidnappers band in small studio building owned by a relative of a former U.S. Senator” under the instigation of “Germany, Japan and certain Arnold Benedicts types” brought about by the end of the “Jap-Russo” War of 1905.
We are told it was an “inside job”.
Somehow Teddy Roosevelt gets involved with Kaiser Wilhelm in arranging for the Russians to pay indemnity to the Japanese in terms of a land agreement of Southern Manchuria, opening the way to exploitation of China by the Japanese. Something else happens, the South Manchuria Railroad gets thrown in as well as four competing U.S. banks and Elihu Root and a failed League of Nations agreement which upsets a balance of power and brings “the Astors, Canterbury and the Guggenheims” into competition with the Japanese and Kaiser Wilhelm, doing something to the Treaty of Washington.
After this incredible and unconnected and partially non-existent series of events is both untangled and entangled before our eyes, the writer reaches the lonely and very solitary conclusion that “the necessary documents to prove these charges (??) could be secured through the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby”. I was waiting for the author to make a case for Lindbergh's real-life (and long held) Nazi sympathies, but that just didn't happen.
I really have no idea of what the writer is talking about, but the failure of making any connection whatsoever with any of the “facts and circumstances” is magnificently appalling, and has moved itself from the realm of being so bad that it isn’t even “bad” anymore. It is that singular sort of “badness” that makes the printed words seep into the paper and disappear before your very eyes, and the only thing that you can say is "wow".
JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #109 Herbert George Wells’ War of the Worlds was one of the very first efforts in modern history to reverse the outward-bound human trend of reaching out—he introduced aliens and the big idea of aliens (other than god or gods) coming to earth and doing us harm. He wrote WOTW in the third year of a very rollicking decade-long intellectual purge that would change the face of science fiction writing in Western lit, changing the idea of fantasy science, replacing burnt brain stems with powerful, well-written ideas. (In the period 1895-1905 Wells wrote The Time Machine (1895), Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), WOTW (1898), The First Men in the Moon (1901), When the Sleeper Awakes (1899), Anticipations (1901), the Discovery of the Future (1902) , A Modern Utopia (1905), among others*.)
Wells (born a year after the American Civil War ended and died a years after WWII ended) was a huge thinker and a gifted craftsman, with big ideas that he was able to put into simple, well constructed forms that were enormously popular. (Orwell remarked that Wells was the most read person in English in the 1900-1920 period.)
The prescient, observant futurist, Wells sought to also protect his own future in regards to his work, particularly with the WOTW—he secured all serial and reprint rights to the work in the United States, where it was being published in installments simultaneously by two different magazines. But rights be damned, as the magazine editors changed the story to suit their regional needs, painting the work in putrid reds and mauves to such a degree that the enraged Wells—who could do nothing about any of the changes--paid it a salty goodbye in the U.S.
But I think the major intellectual theft occurred in the weeks following the finale of the installments. An American popular science writer, Garret P. Serviss, was contracted by the Hearst Newspaper group to pick up the WOTW story where Wells had ended it. It would be continued—rather the story was stolen so that it could be twisted into another form—as a short novelette, problematic because of its interesting reach, but a problem nonetheless. Serviss was a popular but modestly gifted writer, both rising and falling to the occasion in the wake of Wells. His work, Edison’s Conquest of Mars, an intrepid journey in another man’s shoes, featured Thomas Edison raising an army in space ships, hell bent on getting to Mars to extract revenge for a dismembered, fractured earth, rendered nearly impotent by Wells’ Martians attacks.
Edison et alia make it, and all sorts of first-time stuff happens—the first “phaser” weapons are introduced, mid-space attack and counter-attack, asteroid mining, and lots of other things of concern in the originality of science fiction ideas. Unfortunately it was all borne on the back of a stolen series of ideas and story, and those happened to belong to Wells.
Here’s something worth noting, though—Serviss’ work may be one of the only instances of employing Wilhelm Roentgen, (the discoverer of the X-Ray (in 1895) and recipient of the first Nobel Prize in physics) and Lord Kelvin (perhaps the most eminent of English physicists of the late 19th century) as heroic members of a Martian attack force. Throw in the magnificent but moral incompetent Thomas Edison, and you have a unique real-life triumvirate employed in the telling of a stolen fantasy who, fortunately or not, come up with some really good, and early, ideas.
*The full 1895-1905 list from the HG Wells Society is very impressive, as is the whole of his output: 1895 Select Conversations With an Uncle The Time Machine The Wonderful Visit The Stolen Bacillus, and Other Incidents 1896 The Red Room Island of Dr. Moreau The Wheels of Chance 1897 The Plattner Story, and Others The Invisible Man Certain Personal Matters 1898 War of the Worlds 1899 When the Sleeper Wakes Tales of Space and Time 1900 Love and Mr. Lewisham 1901 The First Men in the Moon Anticipations 1902 The Discovery of the Future The Sea Lady 1903 Mankind in the Making Twelve Stories and a Dream 1904 The Food of the Gods 1905 A Modern Utopia Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul
I was reminded in my Asheville neighbor Marty Weil’s wonderful blog on all things ephemera of the importance and long-term significance of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-1991, and son and grandson of brewmasters). I think that it is impossible to calculate the overall impact of Seuss’ bringing young people to the joy of reading, and, actually, to the familiarization of kids with the bare mechanics of reading. Of course he told a great story, but his books were literally page-tuners—they were simply written with words useful to children, with few words per page, thereby allowing the child to see the pictures, read all of the words, and turn the page, giving them a sense of accomplishment along with enjoying a fine story. Perhaps it is the getting-the-kids-used –to-reading that was his most fantastic accomplishment—and something that few others have achieved, measuring by just pure numbers.
And the way in which he did this was to artistically use an extremely limited budget of words—Dr. Seuss used precisely 236 different words to write The Cat in the Hat.
And it is certainly true that there have been many sparse, wispy papers in the history of science form which enormous change has sprung (Einstein in 1905 comes quickly to mind). Pound-for-pound though The Cat in the Hat holds its own.
I’ll give the entire list of words below—just have a peek, and try to imagine writing something interesting with just this palette.
It isn’t fair at all to compare this masterpiece with others in different genres, but just to give you an idea of its relative simplicity I’ll quote some numbers taken from an incredible study conducted by Zachary Booth Simpson (“Vocabulary Analysis of Project Gutenberg”). Simpson’s interpretation is more complex than the story I’ll tell here, but basically he looks at the numbers of words in a piece of literature (for example) and then convenes the number of different words, deducing the actual and then relative density of word usage, which is pretty interesting (and verifies that pit-of-the-stomach feeling about which authors use more words in smaller space).
Gibbon’s Decline and Fall seems to lead the way in the absolute number of different words used (43,113!!, which is astonishing), in the 1.5 million word text, while old Uncle Bill uses 4,842 words in the 32,000-word Hamlet—meaning that Measure for Measure (sorry) Mr. Gibbon out-Bills Bill, which I thought was very hard to do. Other interesting bits are Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Doolittle, who tells the story with 2759 words; Moby Dick, told with a spectrum of 17,227 words; and Les Miserables is painted with 23,334 different words. The only work that comes close to Seuss in Mr. Simpson’s very considerable list is the New McGuffey Reader, which is really, actually, a tough go, and uses 630 words.
Unfortunately I do not know about the Dick and Jane readers But they’re no match whatsoever for the Good Doctor.
So my hat is off and off and off to Theodor Geisel, aka Dr.Seuss—on the anniversary of his anniversary in Seussland, where it is Seussqunetennial every day.