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 thinking stick comes to us via the courtesy of the Scientific American Supplement (19 August 1876, page 542), and shows a lovely Victorian non-SteamPunk answer to on-the-run calculation. It is an almost-elegant device, and seems as though it should work just fine. Its utility as a writing instrument seems a bit limited, as seems the calculator part, but the whole of it seems to be full of possibility--and a very nice piece of dedicated thinking.
[Text describing the invention below.]
Other nice examples of adding/writing found in the U.S. Patent Office via GooglePatents are seen below:
I was shocked to investigate this seemingly magically-produced engraving under magnification--it was a small piece of inset work used to illustrate an idea within a much larger overall engraving. The detail is about a 5% cropping of the full image:
It is a subset of this detail:
Which in turn is a detail from this beautiful work which is itself a four-by-four inch detail in a larger engraving, the footprint of an elevation of the Sepolcro di Caio Cestio, which was printed in 1840.
The craftsman who produced this engraving incised 250 lines on one side of this 4-inch-square, then proceeded to incise another 250 lines on the other--or so. This means that there are something on the order of 62,000 (or thereabouts) squares produced by the draftsman in order to make a mostly-black background for the image.
The plan is for the pyramidal tomb of Caius Cestius who was a monied Roman who demanded that for the disbursement of his will to be complete had to have this tombstone built to himself in a prescribed period of time--mostly very quickly. The result has been captured by Piranessi and others--a very sharp-pointed pyramid about 130' at its base and 145' tall. When finished the builders incised their victory and documented it on the side of the pyramid so:
Opus absolutum ex testamento diebus CCCXXX, arbitratu (L.) Ponti P. f. Cla (udia tribu), Melae heredis et Pothi l(iberti). ("The work was completed, in accordance with the will, in 330 days, by
the decision of the heir [Lucius] Pontus Mela, son of Publius of the Claudia, and Pothus, freedman".)
All I really wanted to comment on here though is the craftsmanship of producing this finely-lined and remarkable detail
I wrote earlier in this blog about the geology of meat and want, the last in "States of Perfection: Refrigerated Food & the Archaeology of Meat, 1954" (here). ("Like Greek statues, orders of architecture, the golden ratio and Vitruvian man, these ads from LIFE Magazine in 1954 measure a sort of highest-attainable-state, though directed at middle class America....") This is a continuation on that theme, a little, as I found this interesting piece of a refrigerator ad in LIFE magazine for 26 July 1948. Art Linkletter interviews two women and a refrigerator here, introducing the new G.E. Electric Space Maker, which must've used a new motor to make more space available inside the new unit, as it wasn't much bigger on the outside than the old one. But seeing the food displayed on the ground in front of the refrigerators shows us what people wanted to have in their house, to eat--and what more of it they could want. Side-by-side: normal want, and advanced want.
In the long history of People Wanting Things, it has only been in the past few centuries where human beings were able to see the possibilities of their wants, or needs, displayed in print in the forms of advertisements in newspapers and magazines. For thousands of years previously the wants were visceral and obvious--certainly the physical part of stuff that wasn't exactly needed was not on display in any format, their descriptions passed by word of mouth--at least for the vast unwashed and working classes who could neither afford the newspapers or the goods for sale, as these were the times (in general that were BDI ("before disposable income). The "luxury" of catalogued needs really didn't begin until the mass circulation broadsheet or newspaper and the growth of the lower middle class, which in North America wasn't until the 19th century. Not only did this medium display the possibly variations of need, but also made suggestions of needs-not-yet-imagined, introducing the unknown for consideration in the "need" department. These are early advertisements that were also selling the possibilities of themselves, as well the dream that went with them.
It is interesting to look at advertisements from other eras--they seem to have an hypnotic effect, a small about of caffeinated want-lust is perhaps left over from those antique displays. In any event it is fascinating and revealing to see what the popular goods were that were being displayed. And by the time of the example that I'm using for today's post--American Agriculturist for the Farm, Garden, and Household (published in New York in 1871, this being volume XXX of the rock-of-Gibraltar journal for the small farmer)--the pages were teeming with material for sale. For this one issue (February, 1871) there were a scant forty pages to the issue--the format though was packed with info, the type was about 8-point and in triple columns, and the sheets were 13 inches tall. Pages 121-148 (of 160) is news and reports on all matters agricultural, from news on different seeds to newly manufactured sowers to discussions of fertilizers to a new type of cucumber; the rest of the issue, pages 149-160, were entirely dedicated to advertisement, the ads running cheek-to-jowl, some of which were 1/8-pagers, and the other tiny slugs of one square inch. There's about 250 ads on these twelve pages, many of which are illustrated. The woodcut images are occasionally fantastic.
From the looks of it, this image from an 8 April 1933 issue of the Illustrated London News is not quite a "verbal bomb" as we might think of such a thing today. The cutaway drawing (by the sensational G.H. Davies, who produced hundreds of these images for the magazine over four decades)shows an acoustic device housed in a Vickers Victoria aircraft. As described in the descriptive text to the image, Sir Philip Sassoon ("speaking in the House of Commons on the Air Estimates last month") mentioned in May 1933 an attempt to induce forces hostile to the U.K. in Northern Kurdistan by flying over rebel strongholds and threatening an air attack if no surrender was forthcoming.
Evidently a translator would address the town at 2-4,000' elevation through an audio system that amplified the voice"1,600,000 times". An address was made to the leaders of the tribesmnen to surrender their position, else an air attack would occur after three days. Even though described in the title of the image as a "verbal bomb", it isn't anything like the directed energy/sonic/acoustic/infrasonics/pulse weapon performance degraders that are currently available. What was happening here was simply (or not so) an attempt to get an enemy to relieve their position via tangible threat, sort of an acoustic leaflet bombing prior to the real thing. Of course this was backed up by actual bombing, which was still a relatively new weapon for armies--several nations which possessed this newish facility of war practiced bombing civilian/military targets alike in extra-territorial possessions. (There was a hot debate over what constituted fair use of aerial bombs beginning in earnest in the 1920's, but much of that soon devolved into debates on what constituted "civilian populations", and there the definitions were wide and sloppy.) In any event, the loudspeakers did not emit high-powered sound that would disturb/puncture eardrums or cause dizziness or problems with eyesight by making the eyeballs vibrate--they were just loud conveyers of Bad Things to Come.
In my experience with images in silhouette, the technical adaptations are very unusual (at least for things that are not spotter guides for enemy aircraft or ships-at-night)--more uncommon still are industrial buildings rendered in silhouette. But here's an example, taken from the Illustrirte Zeitung (Leipzig) for 1936. These are factories in the Feldmuehle Papier- und Zellstoffwerke company, and are really quite attractive.
The following two images are details from the 14th silhouette, at bottom-center:
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post [Also see an earlier post here on Air-Punk & Underwater 19th Century Cyborgs]
This land-whale of a vehicle, a bus design for "Land Crusing De Luxe", is left mostly to our imagination so far as specs and stats go. It looks as though it would accommodate perhaps 14 people on a long haul. There were two levels of living space as well as room for two (or four?) in sleeping quarters...perhaps a more luxurious class was seated downstairs. In any event there were three attendants on the bus for its not-many passengers, including a chef, a seward and a driver. (Elsewhere in the article the driver is referred to as a "pilot".)
I'm sure this would have been a beautiful thing--I picture is red on black, with an ultra-shine. I'm also sur ethat it would have been a delsight.
There is, buried deep within this engraving, a small but penetrating snapshot of working life in very early 19th century England. Very working life. We'll get to that in a moment, after introductions are made to the brilliant composer of these images.
J.G. Heck wrote and compiled a fascinating and complex work entitled The Iconographic Encyclopedia of Science, Literature and Art, and was published in America for the first time in 1851 following Spencer Baird’s translation from its original German.
The key to his work is the amount of data displayed on each of the 500 engraved plates illustrating this work and the way in which it is arranged. The design and layout of the 30,000 items on these 500 plates was a work of genius, and for my money it is easily the best-presented complex means of the display of data and objects that was published in the 19th century.
Take for example this illustration in the technology section (a subdivision of the applied arts which is a sub division of the plastic arts) and, continuing in this complicated scheme, was Plate 1 from Section X Number A1 with a description found in the text on a dozen pages in Section 2 of Volume 2 on section pages 134-150 and overall page numbers 835-851 (!). The plate contains 35 figures, very finely executed and rendered (many of the other of the 500 plates have 100 or more figures), and is in general related to the construction of roads and tunnels (and further, part of the “communications” section).
This of course would be a perfect Hypertext candidate.
The illustration itself contains an enormous amount of information. The row along the top third or so is dedicated to street construction and paving stone, showing stones in plan and profile, as well as a cross section and ground plan of a “typical” street (including sidewalks). It is interesting to note the detail of the cross section and the stonework that is placed beneath the horse and wagon section of the street. There are some other beauties here as well--details of wooden paving blocks, the plan for a Laves of Hanover road, different ways of cutting stone blocks—but we won’t deal with those right now, except to point out that there are several renderings of street cleaners and road rollers (of Shettenmann and another of Schaefer) used to border the street section from the tunnel section.
The middle section of the engraving is of course a cross section of the Thames tunnel of the beautifully-named Isambard Kingdom Brunel (begun in 1825 and completed 1843, the tunnel 35 feet wide (11 m), 20 feet (6 m) high and 1,300 feet (396 m) long, running between Wapping and Rotherhithe at a depth of 75 feet (23 m)). The representation here is only one inch high and ten inches long but is loaded with just fabulous detail, no the least of which are the (less than) 1mm tall workmen that can still be seen in the tunnel. The enlarged detail shows a section of the tunnel being built according to Brunel’s new specifications: a larger, shielded tunnel being constructed around the interior construction of 12 individual tunnels (each about tall enough to allow a (short) man to stand erect.
It is unneccessary to say how difficult this work must have been. Cramped, dirty, dark, stale-aired, and dangerous, this was the very definition of a compromised working environment.
In short, the engraving is a superb example of *correct* design of great artistic ability, all accomplished while displayed heaps and gobs of interconnected, complex information.
And these have smaller fleas to bite 'em, and so on ad infinitum.
--Jonathan Swift, 1733
There are a lot of triangles in this fabulous photo of the construction of the Empire State Building in 1931--a lot. At least fifty--more if you use your imagination or get your pinhole specs out. It is simply an excellent photo in which I'm seeing things of a reducible nature--not in the sense of a Sierpinski triangle/sieve/gasket, obviously--but just a simple exercise along those lines (ha!), experiencing the image by recognizing different sorts of boundaries within it.
[Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections, here.]
Well, not really. It is however an early diving suit (and perhaps the earliest apparatus worn on the person and submerged) the creative and comparatively lightweight effort of Karl Heinrich Klingert, who produced it at the very end of the 18th century, in 1797 or thereabouts. The suit was made of a metal helmet and wide metal girdle, with the vest and pants made of a waterproof leather, and with leather (?) leg straps. The air would be pumped down to the diver from a turret above (see below, just) and would arrive in the diver's helmet via weighted air tubes.
We hear daily reports referring to refining, but there are very few about fining.. But there the word was, (appropriately) stick in the title of John Petrus' translation of Lazarus Ercker's classic work, Fleta minor: the laws of art and nature, in knowing, judging, assaying, fining, refining, and inlarging the bodies of confin'd metals. In two parts / the first contains assays of Lazarus Erckern ... in V books : originally written by him in the Teutonick language, and now translated into English ; the second contains essays on metallick words, as a dictionary to many pleasing discourses, by Sir John Pettus ... Knight . (See the Richard Westfall entry at the Galileo Project on Erker, especially on how he was able to support himself. The book itself is an engineer's delight, with applications of practical experience on all aspects of mines, mining and working with mined products. It turns out that the original work by Ercker was so useful and popular that it was still around more than a century after Ercker's death. Oh yes--the original German editions were also among the first technical books to be supplemented by illustrations of the topics.)
The story of iron is very old in Europe--and much older in China, older by more than another thousand years or so. In Europe, though, iron from a blast furnace that has a high carbon content and a low melting point is called cast iron, and is quite brittle and cannot be worked by a smithy; fining is the process of cooking that cast iron up to its boiling point and skimming away the carbon, thereby giving the iron a higher melting point and a great capacity to be worked by a smith. This product is called wrought iron, and it was a major step forward.
Which really does have something to do with a more popular definition of "fining", which for the sake of simplicity would mean just to make something, well, "finer". I can imagine an eight-year-old figuring that out when aged six. A good, no-nonsense, perhaps 400-year-old word.
This is what printing looked like, once upon a time, a great and giant mass, tended by works, massive sheets of paper flying this way and that, smoke from a steam engine drive (somewhere)--heavy, loud. Accurate. A temple of texts (apologies to William Gass). The illustration is from Robert Hoe's A Short History of the Printing Press and of Improvements in Printing Machinery from the Time of Gutenberg up to the Present Day (1902) and exhibits a ten cylinder rotary type-revolving press
In addition to being a state-of-the-art (and above that, really) printing press it is in image a generator of metaphors--there's certainly plenty to go around, even on just a surface investigation of the woodcut. You can easily see a feeding-the-beast scenario in there--for news or for technology or steam or motion or whatever else), as well as darker interpretations, making the printing press into a spider as well; also, there's humans being subservient to the god of technology from whom all good things come, and so on. I'd really just like to feel one of those gigantic newspapers in my hands, fresh off the press...
This is an illustration of the approximate times and places that ships at sea could expect to be able to communication with each other by the relatively new invention of wireless telegraphy. (We're talking about Marconi here and just very briefly; this is not the place for the discussion of what he did or didn't "borrow" from his predecessors and contemporaries such as Heinrich Hertz, Oliver Lodge and Nikolai Tesla. He at the very least however owed all of them at least an enormous helping of gratitude, and probably more. Then there's Marconi's very conservative technical continuation in the field which is confusing and interesting. And finally but not the least of all of the stuff about Marconi is his comfort and support of the Fascist regime in Italy, where Marconi became a member in 1923, escalating in his fame through the party ranks to have none other than Benito Mussolini serve as the best man in his second wedding. But as I said that's all for another day.) It appeared in The Illustrated London News for 7 September 1907,surrounded by an article on Obelia in the "Science Jottings" section of the magazine. This chart isn't
quite as complicated as it seems, really: all you need to do is follow one line from the top to the bottom. Simply put, each diagonal line represents a specific ship (all of which are named) and their positions as they make their ways across the North Atlantic ocean; each intersection represents the time and place that two ships can communicate via wireless with one another. So, for example, the Empress of Britain will on its six-day voyage be able to communicate at least 26 times with other ships for news and information.
What this seems to me to be is the supplemental efforts of the ocean-going ships
to the newly established trans-Atlantic radio-telegraphic company and installation opened by Marconi in October 1907. Even though the first transatlantic communication is celebrated as having taken place in 1901, the performance, even in 1907, was still spotty.
The Laws of Irritability was a marvelous-sounding title (to our ears, in this year) for a rather important medical treatise on the contraction of muscles. It was a medical treatise by Felice Fontana1 (1730-1805), and had nothing to do with what we would think of as irritability, and certainly was a long way from a book like Robert Burton's beautiful and slightly unreadable (and fairly unendurable) Anatomy of Melancholy, even as much as we would like it to be. After all, wouldn't it be lovely, somehow, in a automated-Dickensian way, to see that there were 32 laws of irritability, and that this was the first of the afflictions like ennui and depression and so on that could be modified and codified, and I guess eventually commodified? (Making these things into commodities didn't have to wait for anything at all in the way of proof or scientific merit went; after all, they were published in published books, which would have to be purchased, so there's an instant commodification to them.) But alas the Laws of Irritability were nothing of the sort, referring to a set of observations and deductions more real than half-imagined self-references.
But all of this leads me in a very uncommon route to articulated clowns and skeletons, and of course artificial leeches.
This entire post started with the imaging that this book (below) by Fausto Nicolini, Vita di Arlecchino ("Harlequin's Life", published in 1958) and which contained a rather unusual bit to it-actually it didn't so much "contain" it but displayed it. The front and back covers were both illustrated with clown images--clown images that could be copied, its sections cut apart, and re-assembled into a working cut-out paper puppet. Now I've been dealing with scarce/rare/non-existent books for 30 years, and I cannot recall a similarly-covered book, where the reader could turn its cover into a puppet. But here it was.
[Click, enlarge, print and cut out your own dancing harlequin--the back cover is below.]
It reminded me of another work, a beautiful anatomical treatise by Jean Baptiste Sarlandiere, first published in France but eventually printed and published in New York in 1837 as Systematized Anatomy, or Human Organography. The sample below shows exactly how the book was laid out, almost as an instructional on how to reconstitute the body--a cut-out book, made to be separated and then pulled together again as a whole, the joints articulated with string or brass brads, a book no longer now a little puppet, "A real live boy". (And yes it happens to be an Italian author--Carlo Collodi--who gave life to that naughty marionette...this is a tough story for kids, I think, even though I muscled my way through it with our younger daughter, leaving out some of the brutal stuff.)
And it is via Sarlandiere that we get to our leeche issue, because it was he who fashioned the response tot he endemic leech shortages of the 1820's and 1830's with his creation of the artificial leech.
Oh to be in France in the 1830's and be a illegal leech importer, for your fortune would have been made. Leeches were still very important in medicine--as a matter of fact Francois Broussais2 saw the leech as a cure to virtually every diseases, saw them as a way of relseasing the inflammation and swelling and other complaints caused the body via strange and odd assaults on the body--the leech was a good and measured response to external insult, applied frequently and very liberally.
Evidently consumption on all fronts was on the rise, prices went high, but the availability of leeches went down. In France alone, leech production (in 1836) fell from 50 million to about 18 million, all but 1 million of those staying within the country. And so it was Sarlandiere who came to the rescue with his "artificial leech"3, something that would replace venthouses and bleeding cups and of course the leech itself. It was something that he had already developed years before, but perhaps time had caught up to it.
His devices are shown below4 (expandable):
I'm unsure of the disposition of the artificial leech; Sarlandiere's medical instrument lay in wait for the Dutch leech crisis, and seems to have gotten everyone through the sorrowful state of leechless affairs as they existed. At least he published images of what his invention looked like for the rest of the medical world to see and comment upon, and possibly use, and replicate. This unlike other "advances" in instrumentation which were kept under wraps, and secret, such as in the case of the foreceps kept secret by the Chamerlains for several generations. At least the widespread trust in the leech didn't last much longer.
1. The work was published as De irritabiltatis legibus, nunc primum sancitis, et de spirituum animalium in movendis musculis inefficacia, revised and translated into Italian as Ricerche filosofiche sopra la fisica animale (1775)Fontana leges irritabilitatis constituit, ingeniosus homo et accuratus, published in 1767.
"Formulated after the model of Newton's principles in physics, the laws of Fontana on muscular irritability were an important but neglected contribution to the subject of muscular contractility. The first law concerned Haller's concept of contractility as a property of muscle fiber itself, and pointed out that a contraction follows only after some stimulus. The discussion displayed insight into the underlying nature of tetanic muscular contraction. The second principle was the refractory period discovered by Fontana in heart muscle and applied to better understanding of the function of other muscles. The original third principle was a disproof of the efficacy of a theoretical entity, the 'animal spirits' . . . In his fourth law, Fontana pointed out the loss of contractility which results from stretching or compressing a muscle, and certain medical applications of this principle. The fifth law was concerned with problems arising from atrophy of disuse."--Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography, volume 5.
2. François Joseph Victor Broussais (1772–1838). Marie-Luce Jardin, Les Thérapies par les sangsues: les pratiques les plus anciennes aux traitements actuels hautement scientifiques, Université de Franche-Comté, Faculté de Médecine et de Pharmacie de Besançon, 2005, Thèse, pp. 32–3.
3. Jean-Baptiste Sarlandière, Bdellomètre du Docteur Sarlandière, Paris, Firmin Didot le jeune, 1819.
4. Teunis Willem van Heiningen, "Jean-Baptiste Sarlandière's Mechanical Leeches (1817–1825): An Early Response in the Netherlands to a Shortage of Leeches", in Medical History (Wellcome Trust), Med Hist. 2009 April; 53(2): 253–270.
And more on Fontana from the DSB ("Fontana, Felice." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol. 5. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008. 55-57. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 22 Dec. 2011):
The 1876 U.S. Centennial Exposition (formally called the "International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and products of the Soil and Mines) in Philadelphia was a grand and fabulous showing of all things American, celebrating the hundreth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. One of the crowning objects of the fair was to be the never-built 300-metre tall Centenniel Tower, pictured here in the 24 January 1874 issue of Scientific American. The structure appeared in relief against the background of other tall things built by humans, show in a relatively new fashion for displaying quantitative data comparisons in the same scale.
The practice of showing, say, the comparative heights of mountains and lengths of rivers by loading up all of the samples on one piece of paper for the ease of recognition was begun in the 18th century, but only rare; it began with some fits and starts in the 1820's again and then much more widely around mid-century, and seeming to peak at the end of the century before going somewhat dormant for the next few decades or so.
Another nice example of comparative heights of buildings:
And this as well:
[Source with key to the images found here, at Chestofbooks.com]
The excellent Bibliodyssey blog contributed a good healthy post on the subject of comparative heights of mountains map (here) with many fine examples of the art. Its a curious thing to me that the business of using same-scale comparisons in architecture is relatively new, coming (I think) as an invention of Etienne Durand in the 1840's.)
Here is one such example:
But getting back to the tower itself and it unbuiltedness, here's another example of an unbuilt tower--taller and bigger than the Centennial--which was proposed by Eugene Freyssinet (and which I wrote about earlier in this blog here):
Another in what is a long line of unbuilt towers would be this contribution by Vinnie Ream Hoxie (ca. 1874-6) which was his response to the finishing of the not-completed Washington Monument. Congressional sympathies towards spending money to complete the Washington Monument dried up to nothingness in 1856, just eight years after construction on the monument was begun. The consequence was that the monument was only a nubbin for several decades, standing about a third complete--it was Hoxie's idea no doubt to provide a sort of quick-and-dirty approach to finishing the project. Of course this looked like exactly what it was, and the idea died its own lonely death, thank goodness.
It had little appeal, at least to me. It is somewhat reminiscent of the exhibition of the completed forearm of the American Statue of Liberty, which as it turns out was also exhibited at Phildelphia in 1876, years before the completion of the rest of the statue. Short and stubby.
There are many other entries in the history of unbuilt towers, but their day will have to wait (for this blog, anyway).