A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 4 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 4,200+ total posts
(Jean Baptiste) Amedee Couder wrote L'Architecture et l'industrie comme moyen de perfection sociale, a fine work that was published in Paris (by Brockhaus et Avenarius) in 1842. The work presents Couder's rather stroing visionary plans for a perfect city of industrial and scientific harmony, laid out in suggestively-fractal harmony, with the suggestions of a Renaissance-laden snowflake design. Whatever it was, it was beautiful to look at, at least on paper, though I'm not so certain that I'd care to live in the canyonlands of stone and shadow on the other side of the garden wall of the perfect scientific-industrial conclave.
(Its actually a fairly scarce book, with only two copies found in the WorldCat directory, so I've reproduced the book's larger folding plates)
The original volume may be purchased via the blog's bookstore, here.
Projet d'un palais des Arts et de l'industrie. 18x14 inches.
I wonder if this design had anything to do with Captains Kirk's/Picard's great and lovely ship, the USS Enterprise? It seems as though it is of a singular inspiration, this futuristic airport of London's futuristic future, designed by Mr. D.H. McMorran. Mr. Matt Jeffries, the man who design the Enterprise for Star Trek, was certainly alive at the time (1921-2003), though it seems a slim chance that the Illustrated London News for February 2, 1929 (in which this thumbnail image appeared) would have found its way to his boyhood hands in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. More likely for his engineering/design muse is the electric range heating coil, which seems to be the standard story of where the design originated. Still, this airport design does bear a striking resemblance to the Starship.
There have been several posts to this blog regarding unusual airport construction--covering part of the Thames, floating in the NYC bay, on top of numerous/differential rooftops, floating and/or moored in the ocean, on top giant airplanes, landing and launched from dirigibles, and so on (including a vertical airport where the aircraft are dropped in tubes). The example I have just found this morning is a mild twist on this topic, as it is a helipad--a futuristic one, judging from the Harley Earle/Buck Rogers-style design.
See, for example:
Floating and Airborne Airports: http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2015/03/floating-and-airborne-airports.html
There's nothing quite so ironic as understatement when the understatement is understated even in advance of itself. I've noticed this here and there with the depictions of atomic/nuclear war in the bomb's early history, say 1946-1960, as seen in comic books. For example, here's something I posted last week that is a fairly representative understatement done in a small way about a big thing:
It is I think representative of an entire class of mid-century image of atomic understatement.
Having found this one others were quick to follow.
The comic World War III is a caustic of advanced crispy-crunchiness, and set in the year 1980, where the future found the Brooklyn Dodgers still playing in NYC. For some reason, the photographer on the roof of the Polo Grounds takes a slow burn of realization that something big was going on, processing the burned pennants /heat/glare before settling on the enormous mushroom cloud rising four miles above Manhattan...
And another fine example, this graduating to a hydrogen bomb later in the decade, a bomb far more unimaginably powerful than the unimaginably powerful 20kt bombs of 1945. Okay, there are red skies and a firestorm the width of a city, and the "mushroom" ends the film, but there is only a perfunctory statement of the too-close-together heads that they now know what a hydrogen bomb explosion was, or is, or could be:
I know it is difficult to describe the Grand Canyon as it would be to witness a nuclear explosion (let alone be in one). But these under-nucleated statements is sort of the equivalent of describing the Grand Canyon as something along the lines of "We're here now and looking down".
And this is about as loud as the screaming gets in Capt. Marvel's adventures with the atomic bomb. This is surprising mainly because the comic was published only about a year after Hiroshima/Nagasaki, and imaging a "flock" of missile launched atomic weapons falling all over the U.S. was a salient look into the possible future.
And in the face of the unspeakable, Capt Marvel seems unflappable:
On the other hand there are excitable statements regarding the bomb:
But it does make one wonder about featuring shock-of-recognition statements about the apocalyptic bell ringing of nuclear weapons as expressed in comic books as a comparative whisper in the description of the thing. It is almost as though if the Cornishman spoke quietly enough he wouldn't make the wakening giant angry.
I've seen a number of plans from the 1925-1935 period calling for skyscraper-topped airports, and airports built over a largely cover-ed themes, and over a covered-up Central Park, and floating in NYC harbor, and so on. I have not seen too many future visions of underground airports. This plan appears in Popular Mechanics for June 1941 and advocates a very tightly controlled underground environment for airports. The war in Europe was nearly two years old at this point, and the bombing war from the air was very advanced. There is little doubt that all sorts of plans were being considered to protect air force complexes from bombing, though something of this scale, dealing with so few number of plans, could hardly have made it further than this public outing.)
[Image is expandable]
An earlier and peace-time example of underground tech is found at the great Modern Mechanix blog, and features an April 1935 article in the journal of the same name an effort to remove the airport underground. Dr. William Christmas is the chief major domo in the piece and he is depicted with his visions of flight of the future, holding a model of his 400' 25,000hp plane with 75' propellers set to cruise at 200 mph. The monster could not be accommodated by the plans for an underground airport at right, which frankly looks like a hard drive, and which seems like a positively enormous amount of engineering for a spinning platter underground airport with room for eight planes.
[Source: Modern Mechanix, http://blog.modernmechanix.com/mags/ModernMechanix/4-1935/under_air.jpg]
"Just as psychoanalysis reconstructs the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material, so we are now being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs… Each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory."--The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard, Millennium 1999, p. 41.
Is there a plural of apocalypse? Is there even a need for one (plural)? There is, of course, even if it is a word that is supposed to spell out the end of times--there can be more than one apocalypse, and they can happen at the same time, although given my very limited knowledge of the scifi genre I don't know of any books addressing dual/multi-combative apocalypses. (And here I'm not talking about one apocalypse generating all manner of associated badness, but a second, completely unrelated, apocalypse.)
So in trying to understand the nature of apocalypse storytelling I decided to make a very abbreviated overview of a vast literature of the end of times/apocalypse/technocaust/end of the world themes. This is just a short working list, really, and includes only short stories or novels, and to keep it relatively crisp I've chosen the artificial delimiter of an alphabet of apocalypse types. In many cases there is just one example (where there could be hundreds, so please don't fault the list for completeness because that would take years of assembly and understanding). The same goes for the categories of apocalypse--I'm certain I not included the majority of them, though I think that this is a good start (There are no movies or television shows listed independent of a text, so Soylent Green will show up but under Harrison's Make room! Make Room!. I think that tv shows/movies etc must be enormously outnumbered and the scale of ordersof magnitude by the print media.)
Evidently this list can be reproduced in the same spirit but with iterations--for example, Juvie Apocalyptic Lit (see here).
Also--the list is a little heavy with Wells, Chrisopher, Aldiss, Heinlein, and Ballard; this simply because I'm a little familiar with these writers. So, the list:
Climate Change: apart from the state of globa;l warming as we know it now, The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard 1962 is perhaps the best and most well-known adventure in this field.. In this book in 2145 solar radiation has shrunk and mostly melted the polar ice caps, which is a lot of water, and has turned most cities into architectural swamplands of vertical mangrove. Conversely Ballard wrote the novel The Drought in 1964 about all of the water on earth drying up.
This view of a future "skyscraper bridge" appeared in the May 1928 volume of Popular Mechanics (volume 48). It is an interesting idea , though very much on the high side, what with the structures being hundreds (500?) of feet high, towering over the shipping lanes. It is an old idea, the new bridge, and it reminds me of a lovely example in the Ponte Vecchio (literally, the "Old Bridge") of Florence, the recognizable image of it rebuilt in the 14th century. (It was probably designed by the great Taddeo Gaddi (remembered so well in narrative by Vasari and in portraiture by Paolo Uccello.) There was no Gaddi at work on this bridge, which was set to unite Chicago.
And the bird's-eye view of the enormous structure:
There have been a few dozen posts on this blog concerning the history of the future, and the present addition
The near-future of urban living evidently includes a lot of walking space for pedestrians, because in spite of the enormous increase in airplanes and cars and trains and so on, there is still a need for massive construction for folks to walk on. For example, take a look at this Babylonia-International style cityscape--it is a sort of concretized Craddle of Italo-Fascist Civilization, with lots of space pancaked one on the other, including skyscraper pedestrian bridges:
[Source: Popular Mechanics, January, 1928]
And further on we see another example of very segmented spaces for the comings-and-goings of urban progress, with people able to mill about on vast rooftop-like structures while the mechanized conveyances take place on three different levels. One of these levels is above-ground, and two are below: the slow traffic of commerce and delivery is still above ground, though beneath that and segmented again are the fast/slow traffic and buses and trains:
In the massive blocks of buildings is where the other living-of-life things occur--shops and restaurants at bottom, followed by offices , and the above them are the schools, and then finally above all else are apartments and playground. Oh: and atop it all are dirigible airfields.
This is a picture of the future--the main square, Eger, Czechoslovakia in June 1938, from the page of the Illustrated London News. It depicts the massive outpouring for two slain Sudeten farmers, supposedly murdered by Czech border guards. If you look a little closely, you'll see that everyone is giving the Nazi salute. This comes just a few months after the Nazi seizure of Austria in the Anschluss (March 11-13, 1938), and a few months before the Sudetenland was handed away to Hitler in the Munich Agreement (September 29, 1938). Then it would all be over.
It is a picture of the future--the very near future. Hitler would be in that same square in a few months, on a "goodwill tour"; the next year he would return as the conqueror. Six years later, the war would be over, and the great figurative majority of the people in this photo would be gone.
It is a big picture of a big group of people making a big mistake.
Albert Robida (1848-1926) imagined many things in his long and illustrative career, seeing deep into the futures that would/didn't come to be. Perhaps this one is nearly coming true but in a different format--his imagination 1882 inspiration of what the future of air traffic would be like attending the Paris Opera ("Le Sortie de l'opéra en l'an 2000") might seem more prescient of the view was in 2030 and the taxi cabs and other air chariots were drones instead. In this version of the future there are restaurants and limos and buses and private air vehicles galore, all anthropomorphically cluttering the environment 1500' above the city-center of it all though is a blue centurion, riding a futuristic Electra Glide, a helmeted cop on a small and sleek vehicle, right in the center of the sheet.
I’ve written earlier in this blog about the advent of robots and human machines, and I’d like to add these two images to that thread. Both are male, which is not horribly surprising since the earliest creation of a female robot belongs to the fertile Fritz Lang, who used his creation in his extraordinary movie Metropolis in 1927. (Male robot-like creations go back fairly deeply into the 19th century; so perhaps the creation of female robots was verbotten because of the possibilities for unacceptable sexual fantasies in the high- and post-Victorian world, struggling under the weight of many and multiply-applied public inhibitions. Perhaps it was because of the possibility of sexual relations with an inanimate object that was the cause for uni-gender robots, or perhaps it was a fear of a powerful, intelligent, unstoppable, superior creation that was also “womanly”. I don’t know.)
[And by the way "ca' canny"--which I've never bumped into before--is evidently a practice of deliberately slowing down work.]
The first is an image of the “human machine”, a cog-like adaptation of human workers in a Frederick Taylor-like Scientific Management study. Though many people had written and worked around Taylor’s 1911 semi-revolutionary book (and not necessarily a good revolution, but one nevertheless), I’m not certain that I’ve seen the worker trussed up so before this, encumbered by so many technical testing elements as to make him look like a cyborg (though that term would still be a while coming into the vocabulary.
This image is actually testing a person’s energy expenditure while pushing a wheelbarrow on an incline, and utilizes the newly-created equipment of the French physiologist Langlois, which in 1921 may well have measured for the first time the real-time changes in the rhythm of the heart and blood pressure, changes in body temperature and lung capacity of humans in an activity. I have no doubt that the results would have been very interesting to cardiologists, and probably didn’t mean a thing to industrialists like Henry Ford, who would’ve plowed ahead with their demands on their workers regardless of what tests said, schedules being schedules and all.
(I’m no tsure where this experiment fits in, historically speaking, even within the context of biological advances for that very year. Frederick Banting was able to do some pretty nasty stuff to dogs in a basement lab somewhere at the University of Toronto and come up with a successful treatment for diabetes mellitus–insulin, which would save the lives of millions and earn Banting a Nobel two years later. In the quasi/fake biological arenas came two biggish events: Jung’s creation of the concepts of introvert and extrovert, and Hermann Rorschach’s one-way conversational device for detecting psycho-pathological conditions (in people). I suspect that the Langlois data would fit in there somewhere along the rough edge of Jung and Rorschack, if only because the data was real.
The second image is in a way a reverse sequence of the preceding–an out-and-out robot that was being used to teach human physiology. In this case, the robot was a steam engine, constructed for the Schoolboys’ Exhibition at the New Horticultural Hall for 1928, perhaps under the influence of Karel Capek’s newly published drama R.U.R., which coined the term “robot”. The biological functions of humans were reinterpreted along a more user-friendly vocabulary of the steam engine, using pumps, boilers, hinges, belts, pulleys, filters, compressors and a furnace to explain the functions of respiration and circulation. It was an interesting approach to show these functions on their most basic level–and in less than 75 years, many of these mechanically represented organs were actually replaceable by real mechanical units performing the same task as the biological (as in the heart), while others could be replaced (via transplant).
"HIEROGLYPHICS: Language of the ancient Egyptians, invented by the priests to conceal their shameful secrets. To think that there are people who understand them! But perhaps the whole thing is just a hoax?"—Gustave Flaubert, Dictionary of Received Ideas1
[Reproduced from the Hachette reprint]
I've written a number of posts about pre-robot robots, robots before they were named, mechanical entities of some human qualities that performed tasks or played games, inanimate objects that engaged in articulated motion, with most of the early creations being in the early 19th century. I never have done the back-fill, the earliest days in which (if you squinted very mightily) robots may have appeared.
This came to mind today while writing about the great Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680), a man considered to "know everything" and who if he didn't know it made the knowledge come out of something else so help him god; he was a man of intense energy, extremely formidable learning, high creativity, and who seemingly possessed the talent to forget nothing. Today's episode (with the frequently-appearing Kircher in this blog) is just a small addition to the cosmology thread and the history of dots series.
The image that drew me in is found in Kircher's magnum opus, his Oedipous Aegyptiacus, printed in three volumes from 1652-1654--it is a half-miracle sort of work--it is astonishing, universal, fabulous, and in many cases, far-reaching....too far-reaching, especially in the case of his deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, where he pretty much gets it all wrong. In volume one (page 262), however there is an image of theraphim ("Theraphim Hebraeorum"), which are small-to-largish statuettes/statues which to save sp[ace and time here are seen by many as being something along the order of a household idol. (It is a much more complex story than this, but I think that for at least one aspect in defining these objects that this is basically correct.)
The illustration makes it seem as though the small statues have etched speech on extended tongues--in some versions of the theraphim story the statues do speak in their way. That makes them speaking statues. And speaking statues are--in a very antiquarian way--robots, or at least they are worthy of that consideration in my book. Or blog.
And this reminds me of another "speaking" statue: Memnom, of the the two Colossi at Thebes.This monument was said to be a "miracle" (by Colistatus, in the 3rd century CE) and that the only difference between it and a human was a body. Memnon was said to react to eh morning Sun, emitting a sound or song or speech; and again, at sunset, a more lamenting sound would issue from the statue, which would sometimes be accompanied by tears. The songs/cries were said to be returned by Echo, who responded with, well, an echo, which is what all of this might be in regards to the modern sense of the robot, and to the created artificial life of the future.
1. This fine quote was found in an interesting article "Egyptian Oedipus: Athanasius Kircher and the Secrets of Antiquity (2013) - Introduction" by Daniel Stolzenber, here.
These spectacular images of monumental monumentality appeared in the December 1916 issue of Popular Science Monthly. The author Frank Shuman (1862-1918) had some major inventing chops, not the least of which was some very forward-thinking work (in theory and practice) on solar power (one of which was a solar powered steam engine and another a liquid O2 propulsion system for submarines), so these suggestions for gigantic land battleships came with a fair amount of gravitas. This is some grand thinking, and as Shuman tells us, the beast below would weigh about 5,000 tons (the weight of several hundred Sherman tanks1) and would roll along on 200' diameter wheels. Unfortunately, outside of seeing some sort of (steam) power plant, there is no mention of how those wheels would be turned--I'd've liked to read about that. There is a mention of shock absorbers, but only so, jsut a bare hint.
[Image source is Google Books--I have this volume in a 40 year run of this periodical down in the warehouse, but the book was really too thick to lay flat ont he scanner, and so the Google Books scan was used..]
And for whatever reason there is no heavy artillery on this thing. The damage to the enemy would be done via the three wheels, and also by the enormous chains that hang from the front of the enormity, like a flailing slow-moving monster from a 1950's B-movie.
My guess is that this wouldn't do so well in the rain.
I found a news item in the April 6, 1929 issue of Nature that gives a real sense of the coming of the future, of the future-at-hand--and they seemed to have a sense of what was coming, though probably not as big as that future would be. In this case, it was the beginning of the passive visual assumption of the collective culture--the very quick and potentially immediate assimilation of pop culture, this by the invention of television and popular broadcasting.
The unidentified author was reporting on the recent activities of the Baird Television Development Company, which the author was interested in, and although it was "not presently practicable " it did "represent(s) a noteworthy scientific achievement", which I am sure was the writer's way of downplaying a very significant event.
There is a certain layered, geological dystopic quality to the images of these men laboring at producing piano rolls for player pianos (and found in The Illustrated London News for 18 December 1909). This is true especially for the details, the small boxes in the background to where the rolls are being "processed"--music pounded out with metal points on a hard surface, as though produced by whatever it was that was in those little labeled wooden containers, far removed from the artistry of melody. These are images of a culture being made into hundreds of thousands of miles of hole-filled paper.
The piano roles remind me of automatons replacing humans in entertainment, and then replacing the humans making the piano roles; of machines taking over the jobs of people writ large. There's a long and rich literary history of this idea, not the least (or first) of which is the appropriately-named Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, written in 1952. Like a tiny idea-machine, Vonnegut manufactured part of his tale from Brave New World, with Huxley having taken his bit from an earlier novel, We, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921--they're all bleak images of a future dominated by machines, the humans acquiring numbers for names, like the replaceable and expendable units they became. (Artwork by Malcolm Smith for Imagination, June 1954.)
The devices for producing the roles remind me of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, a functional prison designed so that all of the prisoners could be viewed from one central point. The profile of the place reminds me of the geared punch machine for the piano roles; I'm not at all sure about what the function of the prison reminds me of. But in the history of holes, I guess all it foes it fill u its empty holes with people, keeping them there for months or years or decades, and then replacing them with other people, part of a long and continuing series.
Here's the panopticonal prison at Presidio Modelo, Isla De la Juventud, Cuba--with the walls laid flat, and some cells filled-up, and reduced, you may be able to make a certain music with it, like reading the scores made by pigeons roosting on a five-wire-strung staff of utility poles. My daughter Emma just suggested that there could be a Morse Code crossover as well!)
The plan and elevation of these prisons relate to the player paino paper, like the early dots and dashes of communication, like the punched cards that Vonnegut had in mind when he was writing his early classic.
Now, the rest of the Illustrated London News story: