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 is a not-frequently-seen schematic of the Royal Air Force's Sunderland, a flying boat, and the largest airplane in British service, pictured and slightly dissected in Popular Mechanics in 1940. (Apologies for the blurry definition on the left side--the book is huge, and not very friendly to the scanner.)
One of my favorite popular technical illustrators of the 20th century was G.H. Davis (1881-1963), who worked enormous accomplishments for the Illustrated London News for some forty years. His specialty seemed to be the cut-away schematic, showing half-exposed/half-not technical schematics on mostly oblique angles. The example below is a fine one, showing the (not-named) British 1925 tank, which I believe must be the Vickers Medium I or variation thereof. It was certainly an improvement over the tanks used in WWI, and for all intents and purposes it seems a "modern" tank.
This is an image of a philosopher's cabinet, engraving (on copper?) by "I. Friedlein fec", who was Johnann Friedlein, an emigree from North Germany to Denmark, and who worked ca. 1680-1705. It shows the tools of the trade for someone working in natural philosophy (the name "scientist" would not come into use for another 130+ years or so1) and is an interesting insight into a small, polite gentleman's club for experiment and investigation.
The men surround a decent collection of scientific instruments--I can locate a compass, dividers, oil lamp, magnifying glass, microscope2 (at the right elbow of the figure on the right), terrestrial and celestial globes, a (large) clock, barometer, and various weights and scales, and behind it all looms a rather large refracting telescope3 (is it five inches?)
For all of these expensive and current instruments, the lighting these gentlemen set up for themselves is pretty poor, though of course it does add to the mystery and dark experience of the image.
Here's another example of Friedlein's work, a frontispiece to Cryptographia, oder geheime Schrifften by Johann Balthasar Friderici, printed in 1685:
Nyt dansk kunstnerlexikon: bd. Indenlandske kunstnere (fortsættelse ...)by Philip Weilbach:
1. "Scientist", in the Oxford English Dictionary ("science" is a much older word in English):
1. A person who conducts scientific research or investigation; an expert in or student of science, esp. one or more of the natural or physical sciences.computer, earth, mad, natural, rocket scientist, etc.: see the first element.
It is possible that the ‘ingenious gentleman’ referred to in quot. 1834 is Whewell himself.
1834 W. Whewell in Q. Rev.51 59 Science..loses all traces of unity. A curious illustration of this result may be observed in the want of any name by which we can designate the students of the knowledge of the material world collectively. We are informed that this difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their meetings..in the last three summers... Philosophers was felt to be too wide and too lofty a term,..; savans was rather assuming,..; some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist, and added that there could be no scruple in making free with this termination when we have such words as sciolist, economist, and atheist—but this was not generally palatable.
1840 W. Whewell Philos. Inductive Sci. I. Introd. p. cxiii, We need very much a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a Scientist. Thus we might say, that as an Artist is a Musician, Painter, or Poet, a Scientist is a Mathematician, Physicist, or Naturalist.
2. "Microscope" (as a noun) in its earliest uses in English, in the OED:
1648 Bp. J. Wilkins Math. Magick i. xvi. 115 We see what strange discoveries of extream minute bodies, (as lice, wheal-worms, mites, and the like) are made by the Microscope, wherein their severall parts (which are altogether invisible to the bare eye) will distinctly appear.
1651 N. Highmore Hist. Generation viii. 70 The white circle..by a Microscope appears now to be the Carina or back and neck of the Chick.
3. "Telescope" (as a noun) in its earliest uses in English, in the OED:
[1619 J. Bainbridge Astron. Descr. Late Comet 19 For the more perspicuous distinction whereof I vsed the Telescopium or Trunke-spectacle.]
1648 R. Boyle Seraphic Love (1663) xi. 59 Galileo's optick Glasses,..one of which Telescopioes, that I remember I saw at Florence.
Well, what was really being picked up was the canvas on which an enormous panorama of the Mississippi River was painted. The work was that of New Yorker John Banverd (1815-1891), a portrait painter who awoke with the notion of displaying the shoreline of the Mississippi River for its entire length. To that end he raised money (based on his painting income and investments) and set out with his $3000 in a skiff to paint the river, back in 1840. According to a pamphlet that describes his effort (the full text of which is available at the Internet Archive, here), the effort took over 400 days--when his sketches were complete Banverd repaired to St. Louis where he built a wooden house specifically designed for him to transfer his sketches to an immense canvas. The work was completed in 1846, at which point his work was 12' high and 1500' long--by 1848 the length of the work expanded to 2600'. (Banverd advertised his work as being "3 miles" long--that wasn't the case, and that's okay, because he had produced one of the largest paintings ever produced by a human.
The panorama (and diorama, and cyclorama, and other iterations of 'raams) were a very popular entertainment form, as popular as plays and other similar exhibits and spectacles, lasting deeply into the 19th century. The Branverd panorama was on a large canvas that was advanced like a mechanism on a 35mm camera film advance--there were other sorts of displays, one of which kept the canvas static with the audience walking past it; others took place in a rotunda where the pano was on the walls of the structure and observers would be on a platform in the middle, where they would achieve a motion picture-like effect by turning slowly to see the entire image.
There were many panorama subjects, including subjects like Jerusalem, London, Rome, Lima, a journey down the Rhine, and so on. The medium would take a fatal hit with the invention of flexible roll film and the accessibility of photography to the masses, the invention of the half-tone making it possible to reprint photographic images in newspapers and magazines, and other bits that could generate images from everywhere and cheaply.
The panorama was taken by Banverd on a tour of major cities where people would pay a fee to see the gigantic artwork displayed before them, shown segment by segment on a large frame with cranks that would roll/unroll/collect the painting before the audience, almost like a very primitive movie.
The image above is from The Scientific American for December 10, 1848, and shows how Mr. Branverd figured out a knotty problem with the display of his super-massive work. Unfortunately, at the end of the life of the canvas it was cut into smalkl fragments and sold--evidently none of it survives.
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post--Poster Series #2
This striking image is the cover of a pro-union pamphlet leveled at the Australian iron-producer, B.H.P. (Broken Hill Proprietary, a 150-year-old firm), and published in 1943 by the Federated Ironworkers' Association of Australia. The great social observer and artist Thomas Nast was very aware that much of his "readership" couldn't read, and so he made his work (which was usually text-heavy) completely understandable as a purely visual message. So too for artists like the anonymous person who contributed this great cover--there is no question about what might be in the pages of the pamphlet.
It is also interesting to think about the "menacing" part of the title of this quick post--I would consider this still to be an early depiction of a robot (the term then still about a dozen years old) acting in a threatening manner towards humans--and in this case squeezing them until blood money is drawn.
This is a detail from the 600 dpi scan--click for an even larger image of this sample:
There is a very nice 13x19 inch 600 dpi poster being offered of this cover at the our POSTER Blog, here.
I found this interesting and lovely display of empirical data, and I like it quite a bit, even though it really isn't a good example of a graphical display of information. The chart was intended to show the differences in the profiles of British destroyers, and not much more. The image appeared in The Illustrated London News, April 23, 1949.
And the text:
Then there's this (below) a good graphical representation of the size of fleet strengths, steam and sail, appearing in The Illustrated London News for January 28, 1911, just a few years before the start of WWI:
JF Ptak Science Books Post 916 (from 2010, expanded)
The Illustrated London News for 27 February 1937 hosted a brilliantly designed graphic illustrating the ways in which the British War department could/should spend 1.5 billion pounds (or about $100 billion in 2009 dollars, sort of) over a five-year period as the price of keeping the peace. Of course they wouldn't make it but a quarter of that distance as Austria fell to Czechoslovakia which fell to Poland and the end. The full-page pictorial effort is to the right:
Nestled in the corner of this page--at about 2x1 inches--is this lovely little graphic, showing that 1.5 bil could purchase 300 Queen Marys, which this delightful little design showed to great effect, and a hidden gem inside of a gem. First is a detail of this detail,
Followed by the full smidgen of the overall page of comparisons and analogies:
Then there's the semi-standard presentation of what the Navy could purchase:
And then the Army:
And of course the Territorial Army:
And the Air Force (which if you look closely includes a balloon barrage facility at upper right):
By far the most interesting to me is the hidden gemoid of Queen Marys, all produced by the fabulous G.H. Davies, who did many hundreds of such images and sectional cutaways and plans and technical drawings for the ILN over a 25-year period. M.r Davies may well be my favorite technical artist of this period.
I'm just stopping for a moment in the MArch 16, 1890 issue of Nature to admire this lovely add for Browning's "Perfect" Microscope. In the issue it is about two inches square--it is just a nicely designed thing.
"The century of invention Anno Domini 2000 or the march of aerostation, steam, rail roads, movable houses & perpetual motion" is a terrific lithograph, made ca. 1834, the handiwork and imagination of Charles Jameson Grant, a satirist and observer of high order. He tried looking into the future 165 years hence, and in some practicable ways he got a lot of it right--the imagery wasn't there, but the ideas were.
[And as long as were slightly on the subject, the idea of "anno domini", or "the year of our savior", was an idea controlling the past and future aspects of time that came into being about 500 years after the birth of the event upon which the savior years are based. The idea of anno domini was really in widespread use until the Middle ages were well underway, around the year 800.]
It is difficult to make out from this print (found at the British Museum site, here) but the small visual clues and textual bits are very interesting. First of all the print displays things like small and large individual steam-powered four-wheeled vehicles, as well as plenty of balloons (in the spirit of aviation, at this point in its fourth decade and entering a great heyday) passing each other in every which way, off on adventures, or work, or in a race (as with the "out of Sight Club"). There are also numerous people flapping around in the sky ("winging it so early") with their (something)-powered wings, some of whom are hunting birds.
The main sensation here is speed, though I would not say it was democratic--the means to be able to got to Dublin in your balloon "for an appetite" and return later in the day would have been fantastic to the 1834 reader trying to image doing such a thing on such a whim, with a newspaper in your lap--but certainly it would be available to the leisurely class.
There was also an idea for balloonic (first time I've ever typed that!) communication, as one man in a balloon shouts to another to "give me a call by the first balloon", meaning perhaps it is a communication device, or a balloon-delivered letter.
The dialog certainly portrays an attitude of unremarkable observation, conveying how commonplace flight and mobile towns and steam cars would be in the year 2000. That's where one of the great insights comes into play--at lower left there is a person remarking about a race, and the exclamation upon a great rarity being shown: a live horse. That Grant would make this an issue is interesting, as it would certainly rub the 1830's consciousness the opposite way of what the brain expected to see in the street, and that was horses. Horses powered much of transportation at this time, and to imagine a world in which the horse would be gone would've been, well, unimaginable.
Ditto too the great and extensive coal mines fueling the Industrial Revolution (and it isn't as though factory workers in 1834 woke up int eh morning cheerfully exclaiming that, "Hey, We're in the Industrial Revolution!") going dry, the coal consumed.
Also at bottom there is a very unusual placard concerning robotics: "a cast iron Parson will preach by steam at Fudge Church". Now this is doubly intriguing because it not only invokes a steam-powered person, but a (perhaps) thinking one. It is also putting the word of god into the care and trust and tending--and right into the mouth--of a machine.In short--a robot preaching to a human choir. This is still far removed from the singularity (and the assumption that Our Robot Overlords would have any interest in humans or their religious beliefs), and seems a bit on the primitive side in its display, but the intellectual imagery is pretty powerful stuff. I assume that the power of this would've been less so at the time of publication, guessing that Grant was making more of a not-so-subtle satire on the steam-driven puffery of some preachers with the creativity of kettles, and that in the future this would be magnified to the point of steam and smoke. But still the idea of placing the deeply emotional stuff of belief systems in the control of a machine is extraordinary for the time, I think.
So I think that if you hard enough at this print and don't get distracted by the images Grant uses to try and visualize his ideas of eh future and concentrate on what these things represent, then I think that Grant got a lot of his vision right.
The "Proportior" (sounding somewhat like an exclamation, like Excelsior!, and looking for all the world like it should be spelled some other more appropriate way) a fabulous desktop/tabletop calculator, as seen in the Science, October 4, 1889:
Thanks to Ray Girvan for the link to a successful download of images for this!
There are many posts to this blog on this Looking Straight Down topic--just enter this phrase in the search box at left for a list.
The idea of representing a view straight down, of looking straight down from some height, is a relatively recent occurrence, this view being somewhat rare in the antiquarian world pre-balloon or pre-heavier-than-air flight. The pre-human-flight reason for its scarcity is understandable, but even after the first Montgolfier ascension in 1787, there’s another 120+ years of scarcity yet to come before these views would start to pop up in common (and uncommon) literature.. Now I’m not talking about cartography, which is basically a straight-down view of the world—what I’m referring to is that same view but not as a map per se, but what you would see if you were dangling out of a plane or balloon. It is an unusual and scarce perspective.
This series of images was found in Nature (September 3, 1885, and already well established and in its third decade of publication) and shows a very scientific exploration of looking straight down. The images show the pioneer and bibliophile Gaston Tissandier and his equipment and their position in the research balloon engaged in "photographic aerostation". Their experimentation was a clear success, the results of which were immediately applied to cartography, with the journal reporting "aerostatic photography has a great future". And so far as the looking-straight-down part is concerned, it certainly crytalizes a moment in time in that part of visual history.
And the cross-section of the map showing the progress of the Tissandier expedition and of the progress of looking straight down:
JF Ptak Science Books Revisiting and expanding Post #20 from 2008
I welcome the chance today to use our non-classical Homer instead of the beautiful Paolo Uccello to look at an issue of imaging a certain form of perspective drawing. I've always been intrigued by antiquarian images that looked straight down, or up, at things--90 degree, perpendicular, real straight-on stuff, giving a feel for depth (or height) and perspective. Funny thing is that in the wide world of scientific images, they really don't show up very often.
A Mock-straight-down is found in this prettily-designed example (French, ca. 1860)--it seems to be view form a height of 250 feet or so down on the square of a low- (Western) renaissance town. That's partly true, except that it is a mosaic from Pompeii (or Herculaneum), found embedded in the floor of one of those mummified houses.
Another pretender is this god's-eye view (from Abraham Rees' mammoth encyclopedia of 1800-1820) of the universe, centered upon our own helio-centric Solar System, which is centered, nested, amidst a whorl of other (contiguous and touching but not overlapping) solar systems, all of which is held in the infinite but knowable confines of an ourobus. This again qualifies as a straight-down/up if and only if (iff) you squint real hard and imagine you're seeing the scene through your CreatorView (TM!) glasses. (The Creator needs glasses?)
The drawing by Leonardo of the town of Imola (currently resident with the Windsors) does come quite close to the concept--it has more artistic features than the common city plan , and is definitely at a perpendicular to its subject.
But it is this that is so terribly interesting to me--a small part of a little print from an unidentified encyclopedia from the turn of the 19th c. It shows a picture of the earth looking straight down from a balloon, looking through an opening in the cloud cover, down to a small town. There is an iconic work on the representation of the world as known to succeeding generations where the picture of the world is seen through a succession of gradually diminishing clouds (being opened like drapes over time), but I honestly cannot think of an early image of looking at clouds from above and straight down. My sense is that this image would have caused as muchinterest and wonder as the first (Soviet) images of the other side of the Moon (back in 1959).
Even when moving into the pre-satellite 20th century image, the straight-down picture is a rarity. In the last few years after having looked at dozens of thousands of popularly-published images (for another project), the straight-down/up were a scant tenth or perhaps hundredth of a percent of the total. There were a number of photographs made looking straight up (as in the two examples here, looking up the main mast into the crow’s nest of the Queen Mary, and the other with the same view, only in the Bremen.
Occasionally the view like this will show up (looking laterally through the Vickers-Armstrong “Wellington I” bomber aircraft (June 1939)
I can't leave this topic without mentioning two recent additions to this genre--the first is the Eames' wonderful Power of Ten movie (go to youtube HERE, where in 40 steps we look at existence from quark to quasar.
The second is a little goofy but I like it nonetheless--the introduction to the Jodie Foster movie Contact (go to youtube HERE) built on the bones of the Carl Sagan book. Here we swing out from the Earth and into space, following a broadcast-audio trail of humanity into the not-too-distant time/space (ignoring the signal degradation bit but so it goes), and then leaving that quickly behind, hurling itself backwards, to the outer reaches of the universe, until (and we don't see this in the youtube clip) we wind up back in the iris of the heroine (and a bit too much like the Dave Bowman trip in "2001 a Space Odyssey").
But we don't see stuff like this very often, and I'm happy to go along for the ride. It really is just about seeing something new, after all.
Perhaps the lack of this perspective is summed up by our old friend Homer J. Simpson. In one episode of the Simpsons (long ago and far away…or last week) Homer explains (to Lisa?) why cartoon characters’ faces are always oblique in profile. Homer turns and looks directly into the camera,” and his face gets all pancakey. It's just not done “because it's goofy” he says. And at least in Homer’s case, the proof is definitely in the puddin’.
I've addressed the ideas of early mechanical men elsewhere in this blog (just enter "robot" in the site search box at left and you'll find two or three dozen related posts on the subject), but failed to include this very fine and early example by William Heath in his March of Intellect series (printed from 1825-1829).
He was particularly bitter about what he saw as an aristocracy of official ruination, and created an unusual steam-driven mechanical man with a book-driven intellect that swept up the great "rubbish" and "dust" of society. At the top of this early robot (preceding the invention of the term by about 100 years) was a pile of books with a "crown of many towers", which was London University, beneath which was a set of gas-light eyes, iron arms, and legs made of printer's tools, sweeping away useless and insulting lawyers and jurists and their legal wigs and obsolete and repetitive rules, medical quacks, and the dust of other official abuses, "sweeping rubbish from the land".
Another near-robotic image by Heath is his pre-Rube Goldberg automatic house, a central feature in the March of the Intellect No.2 (1829) which features fantastic flying machines hovering and screaming past the house.
[Source: Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University libraries, here]
It isn't a robot unless you consider the entire house as a host for all of the things going on inside itself, and then you have something else entirely.
While looking through an issue of the Comptes Rendus for the announcement of the funeral of the great mathematician and all-around genius Henri Poincare1, I found in the weekly issue (a fraction of an inch comprising the three-inch-thick half-yearly volume of papers published by the French Academy) this wonderful illustration. It looks a bit like the superstructure to a Cubist dance, and bears a good strong attraction to many of the still images produced by Etienne Marey, maybe even a little like a mirrored representation of a stick figure skeleton of Duchamp's Nude Descending, which interestingly was finished in this same year.
[Etienne Marey, ca. 1880/1]
There's also a bit of early dance notation that the image reminds me of, particularly Raoul Feuillet's publication of Pierre Beauchamp's Orchesography4,
a work published first in 1700 (and then in English in 1706) and
dedicated to instructing people on the movements of the dance:
The image is an illustration for the article "Un nouveau cinematographie a images, tres frequentes", by P(ierre) Nogues, and was a technical rendering of a device that ran film through a projector at a very high speed. Nogues (1878-1971) was an assistant and collaborator to Etienne Marey, who was one of the earliest and perhaps the greatest figures in early cinematography and who--like Eadweard Muybridge--successful managed to create articulate optical machines that could capture and record minute and fast motion in people, animals, blood, and so on. Nogues and his contemporaries lie Georges Demeny, Francois-Franck and Lucian Bull were among the founding encyclopedists of motion. The drawing above was an outline for a sprocket device that feed flexible film through a camera at very high speed (ultimately reaching some 380 frames per second). It is a beautiful thing.
[M. Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (Nu descendant un escalier n° 2, 1912. It is interesting to note in passing that this painting was supposedly rejected in the Salon des Indépendants show of 1912 and then caused a massive set-to in the NYC Armory Show of 1913. The infighting and family strife in the Salon in the 1900-1912 period is so big and complex it would make a fine if drippy daytime television romance drama.]
1. Poincare died 17 July 1912, aged 58; the announcement of the funeral for one of the intellectual kings of the 19th century appeared on page 263 in this issue for 22 July 1912.
This simple theoretical map is an invented scheme of John Strachey (1671-1743), an early geologist who with this thinking introduced the very big geological idea of strata. The original appeared in the Philosophical Transactions in 1725 (full text here, and another, with a more-realized version of representing strata, is here), and was reprinted I believe in Popular Science Monthly in 1869 with the above illustration (somewhat changed from the original). My interest in the image is tinged with design, as it reminds me of an enromous subterranean tornado of coal, even though what Strachey is doing here is establishing the idea of strata.
These lines then are the strata of these geological elements as they fan themselves out like pages from a book from the center of the Earth outward. Its all very vague at this point, but the kernel of a great idea is present.
The phrase "underground tornado" appears very few times in the intertubes with the world "shelter" accompanying it. It is nonsensical, mostly, to think of underground weather and particularly extreme weather, but it has certainy playud itself out many times in literature in the pre-science-fiction fiction days. In some stories there are multiple suns, amd waterfalls, and vast canyons many times the size of the Grand Canyon, and so on--there just doesn't seem to be much bad weather, down there.
[Note: Strachey, a country squire and gentleman of science, published his theories and findings in two papers in 1719 and 1725, and then in a small pamphlet in 1727.]