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
“O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me t'untie.”--William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
This beautiful collection of knots and splices appeared on the front cover of Scientific American, March 18, 1871--a knot for every need. Knots become ever more complex at about the same time in the hands of the great mathematician and teacher, P.G. Tait. Tait was the major domo of knot classifiers so significant in the developing field of topology, and followed the work of Vandermonde, Gauss, and Kelvin. But here, in 1871, these were just beautiful and useful knots having open ends, and not having anything to do with the Tait conjecture--that would come later.
This fine little inset appears in "Chart of Principal Vegetable Growths and Chief Staples" from Matthew Fontaine Maury's Physical Geography, a classic work for schools, which was printed in 1873. Maury is considered to be the father of U.S. oceanography (The Physical Geography of the Sea (1855), was the groundbreaking work) and was a real pioneer in several areas. This did not exclude his adventures on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Confederate States of America, where he served as Chief of Sea Coast, River and Harbor Defenses, among other things. Maury had a complicated relationship with the idea of slavery, attempting to eradicate slavery (and slaves) by removing the institution and perhaps the owners and their plantations to the Amazon basin.
This small inset (above) measures 6x2.5" in the original on a 13x10" map, and shows the elevations at which certain trees and plants are found. It is an ingenious display, and depicts about 60 different samples. (The print in the map is about 1mm tall, by the way.)
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.
The image above is from one engraved plate featuring 43 aspects of the human eye--beautifully arranged, and somehow fitting perfectly on the 9x11" sheet of paper. It is a work of real design engineering.
Before the Neil deGrasse Tyson version and update of Carl Sagan's landmark television series, Cosmos, there was Alexander von Humboldt, and his enormously influential book of the same title, printed in 1845-1862. Well, von Humboldt's (1769-1859) book was actually Kosmos when published in German, which is where it started its life (and which von Humboldt suffered mightily for in it English translation). Von Humboldt was enormously studied and educated and of a high scientific mind over many subjects, one of those 19th century figures who seemed as though they could know everything, a polymath of high order (along the lines of Goethe and von Helmholtz and Thomas Young and others). He was a meteorologist and biogeographer before those sciences existed; a naturalist, geographer, archaeologist, and explorer, a natural philosopher of magnitudes.
The original of this map is available for purchase from the blog's bookstore, here.
Kosmos reflected his lifelong interest in order, and what he did was astonishing--he attempted to unifying the complexities of nature in one book (of five volumes), binding the various branches of science together in a cohesive whole, attempting to show how the laws of the universe acted here on Earth. It was a very influential work, very progressive, a masterwork of scientific method.
Sagan (and Tyson, soon) tried to explain what the universe was all about; 160+ years ago, so did von Humboldt, and for his time he came damned close to doing so, or as close as anyone could possibly come.
The fine little inset1 above (1x1.5 inches in real life) is an excellent display of water/land mass of the Earth, and is but one of eleven such images on this beautiful image (which appears in full, below):
"Der Erdkorper in seiner Gestaltung. Erdansichten. Entworfen von Tr. Bromme. Ausgefuhrt v. E. Winckelmann", published in Stuttgart, by Verlag von Krais & Hoffman. This map appeared in the atlas of Alexander von Humboldt's Kosmos, 1851.
The "fair" in this pamphlet, Ford at the Fair, was the Chicago World's Fair of 1932, and it was a souvenir for the visitor to the Ford Motor Company pavilion. Well, the building--pretty in profile, but odd/weird in plan--held other exhibitors whose business was related in support of Ford (Alcoa, Anaconda Copper, Bendix, etc.), and displayed in a singular turnaround the Cars as Consumable Products. (Remember that world's fairs such as this were still mostly displays of technology and industry and business, so you were more likely to see a Meat Pavilion or Heinz Products then than to see curious rides and historical whatnots in present incarnations.)
This unusual Bavarian trophy/hunt display of a couple of Fords in the middle of the floor plan--which says simply "hanging cars" on the map looked impressive and a little alien-esque:
And the map of the pavilion, which once you get over the possible Renaissance-like plan, and you pull back a little bit, it takes on a bit of a profile of a tank-like dragster:
In any event, this was a glorification process wrapped around a celebration of old-timey industrial celebration, presented in gleaming metallic greens and blues, and rubber, and gasoline, and oil, and hope.
Here's an interesting video showing the Ford pavilion at the fair, found at youtube.com:
Benjamin Butterworth, the Commission of Patents, produced in 1892 a superb work on the history of state of technical achievement in the U.S., The Growth of Industrial Art. The "art" part of the title actually referred to the creation-as-art of industry/technology more so than the design aspect of it, though the two are pretty closely related. There were 200 plates of illustrations for inventions for windmills, mails, screws, cork, bicycles, harvesters, threshers, glass makers,, ice harvesters, cigar manufacturing, sweeping, telephones, telegraphy, and so on, in more than 150 categories. Among these images some of my favorites are for advertising apparatus and means. For example, in the historical timeline below we find in #7 an automated flying leaflet distributor, and according to the text it was (unlikely) patented in 1862:
#6 is cringeworthy, showing the very common practice of covering optimally-placed buildings with billboards--I've seen numerous early-ish images (19th c) showing large swaths of buildings on busy streets nearly entirely covered by ads.
From Internet Archive, the full text with illustrations can be found here: https://archive.org/stream/growthindustria00Unit#page/n9/mode/2up
This striking photo shows the shell casings for one day's worth of bombardment by the U.K., at a position somewhere in France, 1916. I reckon that there are 3,000 105mm shell casings in this photo, which for one day's work is a lot. Throughout the course of the war it has been estimated that there were about 1.75 billion artillery shells fired, which makes this pile about .0000001% of the total; another way of looking at this number is that it would take about 580,000 of these piles to equal the 1.75 billion figure. It is a vast number, and vast numbers are hard to understand in a daily language.
"Let us leave our old friend in one of those moments of unmixed happiness, of which, if we seek them, there are ever some, to cheer our transitory existence here. There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast. Some men, like bats or owls, have better eyes for the darkness than for the light. We, who have no such optical powers, are better pleased to take our last parting look at the visionary companions of many solitary hours, when the brief sunshine of the world is blazing full upon them."--Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, page 518.
If I were on the Moon I think I would miss the obscurity of shadows--while being partially obscuring, they also enable highlight and brilliance in the place not in shadow. This is the controlled darkness of Goethe, who also found the production of color in the intersection of light and shadow. In the sciences ennumerating the optical art of shadow there is probably no one as poetic as Goethe on this subject, at least before 1900. The great master of optics, Isaac Newton, wrote on shadows (that is a pretty good title for an essay!) with seering insight but of course with no visual-literary poetry of any kind whatsoever, as a matter of fact his "'Enumeratio linearum tertii ordinis" ("Enumeration of lines of the third order, generation of curves by shadows, organic description of curves, and construction of equations by curves) which was originally printed as an appendix to Optics (and then published in Opuscula) was like a black hole of poetry, anti-poetic--except of course for the staggering genius that went into it all.
And so these dreamy thoughts were brought out by this not-so-simple study of frammenti, found in the volume 1/1 of MIT's first architectural journal, Technology Architectural Review, published in 1887. These shadows are excellent--there's a lot going on in these layers of differentiated light.
Check of other bits on this blog on shadows by entering that word int eh Google search tool.
I was struck by these images of the Earth as seen from other planets (and the Moon) in our solar system, mainly because I had associated at least one of them to Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), who I thought originated the view. But that is not the case, evidently, as this Scientific American article appears November 23, 1877, and the Flammarion book in which it appears (Astronomie Populaire) was not published until 1880. This is interesting in general because views of the Earth from other exact locations in the solar system are not common at this point in the late 19th century, and as can be seen in the illustrations there were some enormous (?) leaps of faith, though I am not sure how long a jump it would take to show a vegetative Mars in 1877.
Certainly the depiction of the Earth from an unspecified distance and location was very highly practiced in the history of astronomy, stretching back many centuries, but there is very little found for depicting an extraterrestrial prior to 1900--seeing the Earth in the sky with boots-on-the-extraterrestrial-ground is very uncommon.
This is really just a somewhat-related smidgen of a larger discussion on the history of the plurality of worlds and life elsewhere in the universe, an idea that is ancient, reaching back to the Greeks, and comes into play here with the Earth-like environment of Mars pictured above. These views are sympathetic to an idea of another set of observational eyes looking up at the Earth as Earthlings might do in looking at Mars, a very individualistic view of the night sky, making it personal by setting the event very close to the ground of the planet/Moon rather than a view that was set nearby in space. This is also conducive to the imagination of 1877 for visualizing not only the existence of life elsewhere, but also of interplanetary travel.
The somewhat-odd thing here is that it seems as though the Scientific American article was published independent of the famous reports of Giovanni Schiaparelli1 ("direttore del R. Osservatorio astronomico di Brera in Milano" ) which appeared in 1877/8 following his historic observations of Mars at the 1877 opposition and in which he used the word "canali" which would later be mis-interpreted/-used as "canals" (when it was intended as "channels"). Schiaparelli adopted new terminology for his great adventures on the surface of Mars including "ocean"(“the names I adopted will in no way harm the cold and rigorous observations of facts”2) though he did not intend for them to be used literally. (He had in fact used the word "canali" as early as 1859, a yer after Angelo Secchi had employed the term.) Also the great William Whewell had hypothesized the existence of oceans and mountains and the possibility of life on Mars earlier than that, in 1854; and Anthony Proctor contributed greatly to the life issue with his work and map (featuring continents and oceans) in 1867, so I think that the presentation of the Earth-friendly vision of the Martian surface in the Scientific American could well have been accomplished independently of the Schiaparelli observations of 1877. The idea of organized and technological life took off shortly after this in a sort of Martian-life-mania3, quickly reaching great new heights in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds in 1897, when Martians needed to have their own very destructive look-see of their own extraterrestrial sky. It wasn't unti the 20th century, really, when it became more a more common/popular thing to see the Earth imagined from a viewpoint on another world.
All this said, I do not know when the first illustration like this--a view of the Earth in an extraterrestrial sky with surrounding landscape--appears in print.
A modern view, from NASA, Curiosity , "first view of the Earth and the Moon from the surface of Mars(January 31, 2014)":
1. G. V. Schiaparelli', Atti della Reale Accademia dei Lincei: Memorie della Classe di sdenze fisiche, matematiche e naturali 3:2 (1877-1878): 3-13 The famous map by Nathaniel Green was published soon afterwards, Nathaniel E. Green, 'Observations of Mars, at Madeira, in August and September 1877', Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society 44 (1879): 123-40.
2. Dictionary of Scientific Biography, volume 12, pg 161).
3. Not my term and a good one--found in K. Maria D. Lane, "Mapping the Mars Canals Mania....", in Imago Mundi, Vol. 58, No. 2 (2006), pp. 198-211.
B.K. Bliss and sons came up with this idea to distinguish their ad, the one among many, on a full 16"x11.5" page of Harper's Weekly. The original is 1.75x2.25", so it is rather small, but it swims sort of free and clear on the page of 30+ advertisements because of its high contrast.
Thomas Nast (1840-1902) was an extraordinary talent who created the politically/socially influential political cartoon. He worked tirelessly for Harper’s Weekly, joining the weekly illustrated newspaper in 1858 at the age of 19, contributing at least one large (usually front cover) political statement and two smaller cartoons every week, for 26 years. He wielded an enormous social influence, electing a president (Hayes) and toppling Boss Tweed. He was a staunch Republican who endlessly fought for balanced budgets, free education, and equal rights for Indians and African Americans, fair economic play to the working classes, and was viciously anti Klan. He also created the popular images of Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, the Republican elephant Democrat donkey, and the Tammany tiger. The man got a lot of things right.
Here in one of his many hundreds of smaller illustrations Nast takes the Democrats, the Klan, and Tammany to task, lumping them all together into one blood-hungry U.S.-eating vulture/raptor, and it is pretty strong stuff:
I've found a number of interesting maps in the pamphlet collection here--these are highly unusual to my experience in that they were the work of a firm called "Geopress", which was an active business and cover for a significant intelligence agent for the Soviet Union, operating in Switzerland, collecting data relating to German activities during WWII. There's nothing I can add beyond the information that I quote extensively below from the CIA website on Rado--except that I cannot find images/examples of his Geopress work. So it seems the most efficient thing to do here is to simply quote the known sources and reproduce the images of the 18 maps and their accompanying texts.
As I said Rado operated Geopress as a news/cartographic service, and Rado was an accomplished cartographer, so the mans in and off themselves as maps are perhaps not a singular issue. Their evident scarcity, however, does seem to be an issue. Also I do not understand why these maps are so small, some of which are just 1"x 3"; also the uneven;y cut/torn text sheets that are made to accompany the maps are also puzzling in their own way. I do not understand the format--someone out there in Weblandia no doubt will.
All of the maps shown below are from 1942. They were received by the Library of Congress in June 1943 and stamped so on the backs of the maps. (They lived for some time in the "Pamphlet Collection" at the LC before being purchased by me in 1998.)
The following quotes come from the CIA website, the Center for the Study of Intelligence, here: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol12i3/html/v12i3a05p_0001.htm]
"Alexander (Sandor) Rado, Alexander Foote's chief in the Swiss-based "Rote Drei" net that in 1941-43 supplied Moscow with detailed information on German order of battle... His activity in intelligence, mapping, and related fields has lasted nearly 50 years and may earn him a place in the pantheon of major intelligence figures of the times."
"In 1936 or 1937, with Soviet funds and having a Swiss citizen as silent partner, Rado organized Geopress, a news agency specializing as Inpress had in maps and geographic background data. Geopress was more successful than Inpress because of better organization and the increased demand for news maps in the advancing shadows of World War II. As cover for an intelligence operation it proved ideal. Its normal activity—news collection and dissemination—provided justification for contacts with businessmen, officials, diplomats, journalists, and military leaders, some of whom became intelligence sources. It also justified a large volume of telephone and telegraph traffic, extensive postal business, and the maintenance of a courier system."
"While building up his Geopress cover Rado also developed his sources, organized communications, and summarized for transmission the reports collected by his growing network. And he even found time to maintain through publications his image as an internationally known geographer."
"24 Feb. 1945. During the German occupation of Hungary, (Rado) lived in Geneva where (he) published geographical maps for the Allied Governments until 1943; discovered by the GESTAPO and consequently his relatives in Hungary were murdered/ went with family to Paris in September 1944 and continued his work/summoned to Russia to report on his activities with the Free French Organization and left on 8 Jan. 1945 by special plane for Moscow/suspecting a trap, he got off the plane in Cairo where he remained/received no news from his wife in Paris and suspects that she might have been deported/he was formerly a Fellow of the Geographical Society in London, New York, Paris, Geneva, Rome and Washington, D.C. OFFICE OF CENSORSHIP, Egypt, 11 April 1945."
[Again, the source for this and the above quotes: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol12i3/html/v12i3a05p_0001.htm]
I've missed this pamphlet for years--tall, slender, no spine title--until this morning, when it came to life. It is the work of Miles C. Hartley, who deconstructed polyhedron for the purpose of reconstructing them in a classroom as "sensory experiments". This was his method of keeping students interested in math, or at least keeping students interested in something that hopefully led to an interest in math. Hartley recognizes that many textbooks will include models for the five regular polyhedron, and stop there, the students "stalemated". Hartley goes on to include 69 models, many of them fairly complicated, in the hope of creating a deeper interest in solid geometry and symmetry.
For example, this is a great rhombicuboctahedron, scooped out of the fourth image below, and which nicely fills a larger sheet of paper for cut-fold-paste:
If I could determine that the book was out of copyright and not just out of print I would just reprint the thing right here--but for now I've included the first 22 diagrams with scans tight enough to allow them to be printed, cropped, enlarged, and printed out again with each design on a 11x8 sheet of paper. Enjoy!
[Source: Hartley, Miles C., Patterns of Polyhedrons. This copy is the first edition of 1941, printed by Edwards Brothers lithography, 27x22cm, 29pp, and which seems to be fairly scarce. The reprints that are available in one form or another seem to all come from the "revised edition" of 1948 and 1951, which is the same size but with 48pp. I've not seen one of these and don't know if the diagrams are just spaced differently or if there are more.]
Although the artist/author created some great and 30's-bubbly cartoons, I'm not sure about what he was so grouchy about--plus I don't know about his number sources, either. The main graphic that gets to his point shows that in 1920 $1 bought 3.5 gallons of gas and paid 6 cents in taxes; in 1938 that dollar bought 6 gallons but the taxes were 36 cents. So the screed was about getting even more gasoline for the buck even though it was buying nearly twice as much anyway. Since the federal excise tax in gasoline actually went down from 1.5 cents to 1 cent a gallon at this time, the additional taxes would have come from the states, which I guess were not part of the equation in 1920. But the extra nickel or so per gallon looks to be about average for state taxes on gas in 1938 (as we see in Notes #1 below).
[The image at left is the rear cover of the pamphlet under discussion--it really doesn't have a title, just a series of statements.]
This was sort of a long way to go in looking at a cartoon-illustrated sweaty tax screed from 1938, but as it turns out there was a little surprise in the results. The author/artist is uncredited but the pamphlet was produced and published by the American Petroleum Industries Committee, which no doubt was lobby for a decrease in state (and federal?) taxes to lower the price of gasoline and perhaps to increase consumption. They made it abundantly clear that they did not like taxes. And as it turns out they really don't identify the source of the taxes, just gas taxes in general, though they made it seem as though it was a unified approach to lowering federal and state taxes together as a unit, and not as 48 individual governing bodies for state taxes. On the one hand the penny tax wasn't really so bad; ont he other the state taxes could be 4-5-6 cents, which turns out to be a lot more than states charge today (CPI adjusted).
So, given for example 5,000 miles/year at 15mpg1 average for 1938 is 333 gallons at 10 cents gallon making $33.33/year in gas expenses or 1.9% of a yearly average salary of $1,731.
In 2015, 5,000 miles/year at 20mpg=250 gals x $3.20 = $800/year in gas, and with the average salary (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) of $850/week or $43,700/year, the gas expense would be 1.8% of the yearly income. I have seen other figures stating the individual average salary to be about $30,000--the discrepancy is considerable and I'm not sure of the origin. Using the lower figure the gas expenses jump to about 2.6%.
In any event I found it odd that working with a few found and not-quite arbitrary stats that the average percentage of the cost of gasoline via yearly salary would be so very similar. Of course the cars have gotten much more expensive and also far more powerful and safer to operate, and car insurance has no doubt increased, as has maintenance, so the overall cost of keeping and using a car is quite a lot more today than in 1938--still the similarity of gas/yearly income was pretty cool to see.
Now the taxes that these guys were complaining about: that 1 cent in 1938 (according to the BLS inflation calculator) is equal to about 17 cents in 2015 dollars, which is just about what the federal excise tax is today in 2015. The 5 cent state tax in 1938 winds up being quite a bit more than state taxes today--for example North Carolina was charging 6 cents ($1.01) in 1938 compared to its 38 cents today.
And so where does this leave us? I really don't know, except that when there are general complaints about things costing too much it is interesting to see how expensive things really are in a longitudinal perspective. That, and always consider the source.
1. First of all the 5k/yr average driving is arbitrary. Secondly I've found the stat several times now in quick searches that Ford Model A cars got about 20mpg in 1928. Cars got heavier/more powerful by 1938 and for the sake of this exercise assume that the average mileage decreased with the increase in power and weight. It is a little bit of a long shot but probably not to far from the mark.
IRS stats for federal excise taxes on gasoline, http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/00gastax.pdf
Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose as Ms. Stein has said, though that doesn't necessarily apply to buckets and picks. Once upon a time there was a solid and universal need for many varieties of each one of these (exclusive of the not-elusive Ms. Hyacinth Bucket-pronounced-bouquet as the Major would say),and we get a taste for them in these pages of advertisements.
The first is for Hudson's hardware ("steel trucks, points, crossings, portable railway, steel buckets") and so on, presumably mostly for mining, and it appeared in The Engineer for July 4, 1884:
The ad has a superb aroma of engineering heavy finery.
The second is from the Engineering and Mining Journal, July 8, 1876, and the ad trumpets a "perfect, solid cast metal pick" for all sorts of segmented work. Different jobs, different surfaces, different environments, different people--different picks for the job.