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
The fine infographic below displays the size and might of the Cunnard line's newest ship, "534", which would be christened the RMS Queen Mary two years from when this image was published (in Popular Mechanics, January 1932). It was a beast, a thousand feet long with a crew of a thousand, it shuttled 2,100 passengers across the Atlantic for 33 years, and for a number of those years held the record for the quickest crossing. I particularly like it standing next to the newly-completed Empire State building.
There is probably a more elegant way of asking this question and still be catchy/popular, like "Speed of Stuff" or "On the Speed of Stuff" or some such--fact is though I should have begun a series by this (sort of) name years ago. It is a nice catch-all for mostly unrelated stuff, except for the "speed" part, which would be a nice thread. In any event, I came upon this article today while looking for the beautifully-named Fleeming Jenkin article on a very unusual telegraph. It appeared in the May 5, 1870 issue of Nature, which is actually the first series in volume II of the then brand-new journal, and this was just issue #27. But right up front in this issue was a great-looking paper by a "M. Foster" called "The Velocity of Thought". (This was not by a wonderful Mr. Foster from high school who warned us kinds in 1970 that we will one day be fighting in Afghanistan, "you mark my words,boys"--a bold position given that we still had a few years to go in Vietnam at that point.) I think that this "M. Foster" is Professor Michael Foster, who in time would add (if he hadn't already) an M.D. and then a F.R.S. to his surname. In any event I append the entire article below, which I found online at the University of Wisconsin.
(I should add that there is a nice book review by the great W. Stanley Jevons in this issue as well--anyone interested in purchasing the original issue cane write me at the addy found in the "About" section of this blog.)
Before the internet the idea to the idea of the internet existed to some extent in the head of a great unsung hero of the U.S. WWII figure, Vannevar Bush, a person who may well have invented the notion of hypertext. Vannevar (pronounced “van ee var”) was a flinty no-nonsense New Englander who was an organizational and mechanical genius who as a professor at MIT developed a remarkable analog computer that greatly advance computation capacities for solving differential equations. This was in the 1930’s, and even after creating an improved electromechanical version of the machine still chose the wrong way to go in the soon-to-materialize digital computer revolution. During WWII Bush was one of the most important Americans in the war effort, overseeing the entire scientific effort of the U.S.—an enormous effort dispatched beautifully (and successfully). His importance in this regard is difficult to overstate. He also published a short paper on the hypertext idea in an article in The Atlantic in 1945.
The article, “As We May Think”, outlined his idea for a device he called the MEMEX (“memory” and “index”), which compressed and organized all that its user could remember and whatever information would be obtained in the future via electromechanical apparatuses, and available with associative tracking between the microtext frames. So all manner of book and papers and reports and newspapers and images would be microphotographed and stored in a beautifully-indexed mechanical retrieval system where it would live with the information of others. There was also the possibility of real-time textual additions to whatever it was that was retrieved, the genetic precursor of hypertext. Bush’s thinking has been deeply recognized (and also by the creators of the internet) as the intellectual grandparent of the modern internet.
And so I had a mostly-comical response to the image that I found (left) in the pages of the March 1932 issue of Popular Mechanics--it was actually on the back of the page that I was looking for (on passenger rocket travel across the Atlantic). With Bush in mind, this image of a man reading a miniaturized book using the system of Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske (1854-1942), and the photo shows the reader with the equivalent of a 100,000-word novel. The article only mentions this one book, and doesn't venture out into imagining anyone carrying a library with them, nor does it mention searches of organizing systems, but it does bring to bear the possible power of having access to a vast amount of info held on a strip of paper about the size of a newspaper column. And for 1932, that was a strong idea.
That's what I reckon this column of soldiers would represent of the total casualties of WWI.
Generally images like this are a virtual image-host for me, a bucket of ice cold water thrown onto a sizzling summer sidewalk, all sorts of ideas steaming from it. But for photographs of Doughboys1 marching, especially assembling for parade, this one struck me a little more oddly than most, giving instant pause, making me concentrate on the haze, or dust, that allowed the columns of soldiers to blend into one another and fade, losing their boundaries with their mass receding into a dull blur.
The Western Newspaper Union was selling this image for insertion in newspaper or journal stories about the war, for a small use fee. There were a few American organizations like Western Newspaper that were created to photographically cover the war, using pools of photographers who would distribute their work anonymously and which was available for common, general use for a small charge. The photographs allowed out were certainly restricted and censored, though in my stash of these of objects (numbering about a thousand) I'd say that 10% of them look pretty edgy to my eyes. Most of the action of war was not covered, but then again this aspect was still fairly technically difficult in 1918. Images of pain were almost never allowed, and certainly not pain of Allied troops. Aid stations were almost never covered as well, as were dead bodies, or at least those again of Americans or Brits or French or Canadian. The imaging of the war was certainly under a fair amount of supervision and control. (The original is available for purchase through our blog bookstore. here.)
The image shows American troops assembling for a parade through the streets of London before being deployed. The mistiness of the composition looks like a statistic to me, these men standing for those who had come before and fallen.
The U.S. lost .13% of its population to casualties (125,000 killed and 205,000 wounded) during the war--a war which by the time America got here had already been visciously fought for three years, costing dozens of millions of lives. The figures for everyone else weren't nearly so "fortunate" as the U.S.: New Zealand's 18,000/41,312 killed/wounded amounted to 1.6% of its population. The U.K. lost 2.19% (964,000/1,663,000), Italy was 3.48% (650,000/953,000 plus 650,000 civilian casualties), while France suffered a 4.29% (1.4 million/4.27 mil) blow of its total population to war. Things were worse on the other side: Germany 3.82% (2 mil/2.4 mil plus 426,000 civilian deaths, and the Ottoman Empire 12% (400,000/771,000 plus 2.1 million civilian deaths. Worst of all was the Ally Serbia, suffering a catastrophic 16% loss of its population to war, including 275,000/725,000 plus 426,000 civilian casualties. As gruesome as the numbers were, the Americans felt only a small percentage of the total sting of war--by 11 November, more than 21 million soldiers would have been wounded, with 9.7 million soldiers and 6.8 million civilians killed. It was an enormous price.
And that's what I see in the mist of what may be something like 10,000 soldiers on display in this photograph. .003% That's two of these columns every day, twice a day, for the entire 1550 or so days of the war.
1. The origin of the term "Doughboy" is unclear, or varied, or rich, but it is at least pretty oldm beginning around the time of the Mexican American War in 1846-1848--evidently when the soldiers marched through dry, tough terrain they wound up being covered by earth with the color of dough. Doughboy.
This item is actually for sale from the blog's bookstore: Western Newspaper Union original photograph. 5/25 x 7 inches. Includes the attached printed description on a separate piece of paper, affixed at image bottom. Fine copy. $300.00
I came upon this table of the heights of structures while looking for another chart showing the heights of mountains and the lengths of rivers, with the lengths of rivers nestled between the mountains in an upside-down pyramidal mountain form in the sky--yes, it is a striking design. In the attempt of not finding a good copy that could be downloaded and shared there was however success in the serendipitous find of the following print:
SOURCE: I was happy to find this at the tumblr account of Atlas of Affinities: http://atlasofaffinities.tumblr.com/image/76306197926 Barbie du Bocage, "Tableau Comparatif de la Hauteur des Principaux Monuments", 1852.
The color isn't quite right but that came as a result of manipulating the sharpness and clarity (and contrast) to make the legend somewhat more legible than in the original, which wasn't a very chunky scan. In any event there is a clearer image if you click on this, and I'm pretty sure that all of the numbers and structures are reasonably legible.
I was looking through some of the astronomical prints here and came upon this lovely piece of frammento, a bit detached from its source. I think it may be from Elijah Burritt's astronomical atlas, but probably not. From what I can tell my guess for the source is the U.S., mid 19th century--or at least after 1846 when Urbain Le Vernier brought its mathematically-suspected existence into the world, and as we can see in the chart Neptune is clearly included in the realm of the planets. In any event the image is very striking, and it does its job.
This yellow is similar to the cover of Dr. Seuss' One Fish, Two Fish..., the color yellow symbolizing courage/nobility in Japan, wisdom in Islam, and a deity-color in Hinduism; the color so fond of many great writers like London and Doyle, and Harte and Stevenson that they employed in in titles of the books. The favorite color of Van Gogh1, and perhaps not-so-favorite of Shakespeare (appearing in references to bile and melancholy and falling leaves), it is usually a positive color--except that it also can signify cowardice, ego, caution, and illness (malaria, jaundice).
And so, yellow. The yellow here is a color of soil, and a beautiful yellow it is, the chart a piece of found-art in itself, a found-Abstraction. It actually was published in the Atlas of American Agriculture, lithographed by A. Hoen, and published in 1936--a particularly bad year for U.S. western soils.
And a detail:
1. The Van Gogh museum's "Van Gogh Letters" is a must-visit if you are interested in his correspondence. http://vangoghletters.org/vg/ Actually the word "green" pops up about 15% more often than "yellow" as the most often mentioned color in the correspondence, though I think that the scholars say that his favorite color hands-down was yellow.
Some of the most interesting Found-Art images in the history of science belong to astronomy, and within that, some of the most expressive and least-populated images of great appeal and haunting beauty are for early images of comets. And so it goes for this ("tinted") engraving of Biela's Comet, which illustrated an article by London-born W.T. Lynn (at the time with the Royal Observatory, Greenwich) which was published in the April, 1867 issue of The Intellectual Observer. The comet was named for Wilhelm von Biela who discovered the periodic nature of the comet (6.6 years, it had been identified as early as 1772), and had disappeared by the 1850's, but not before breaking up into at least two large pieces, which is what we are looking at below:
"Keep then the sea which is the wall of England, and then is England kept in Gode's Hand, so that fore anything that is without, England were at peace withouten doubt."
This fantastic three-foot-long panorama was published as a folding centerfold for the Illustrated London News Supplement of May 30, 1942. By the middle of 1942 I think it was pretty clear that Germany could not hope to compete with the U.K. in the production of ships, and especially in the area of submarines, where the Luftwaffe demanded and received the lion's share of resources necessary for construction.The Battle of the Atlantic was being won, the blockade was working and intact, and the U.S. had entered the war militarily. No doubt it was a good thing for the reader's of this popular magazine to be reminded of their stellar naval history at this point of the war. There are 45 ships and boats on this panorama, ranging from the times of Alfred the Great to the King George V.
In his long and vastly productive scientific life, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919 ) produced extraordinary and beautiful work. He was a busy man working over a number of specialties, writing more than 40 books and a large number of contributions to scientific publications. He is perhaps best remembered early on in his career for a popular defense of Darwinism, writing Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte, (1868, nine years after the publication of the Origin, and translated into English as The History of Creation in 1876) which was a successful attempt to get Darwin's complex ideas into public discussion. Next to that he is probably best remembered today for his biological work and for describing thousands of new species of life forms. Today though he came up (again) in reference to the display of scientific images and data, which takes us to his fantastic work in the description of the radiolaria and the display of his results. I was interested in symmetry and the filling-up-of-page-space without actually crowding the paper--in this, Haeckel was a master, his work is breathtaking. Here are a couple of examples of his work, along with a link for more images coming from 19thCenturyScience.org:
I found this ad on the back page of the last issue of the Scientific American before that of December 29, 1877, which carries the announcement and description of the invention by Thomas Edison of the groundbreaking "talking phonograph". In any event, the saw image is beautiful:
These wonderful images of the aurora borealis occurs as plate 4 and a text illustration on page 113 in Amedee Guillemin (1826-1893) and edited by Silvanus P. Thompson (1851-1916), the lovely Electricity and Magnetism, published in London, 1891. The aurora is about the most impressive displays in the Earth's atmosphere, and little understood, really, until the 20th century--and it wasn't until the 19th century that it was shown that there was a relationship between the Earth's magnetic field and the aurora. And remember, it wasn't until the early 19th c that even the clouds were given scientific designations (by Luke Howard)--the aurora borealis was a more difficult matter.
[Sources for the images as well as the full text of the book: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupid?key=ha001481470]
$650 doesn't sound like much in today's dollars, but in 1912 that 650 would be about equal to the average salary of a factory worker1; so, if you calculated the trip of 1/3 year at the average salary today of, say, $45,000, it feels more expensive. It doesn't translate all that well, really, but it does give a good idea of what that 650 meant in 1912.
Uncle Sam is taking a breather from his work on the Panama Canal, which is clearly under construction in the vignette at bottom left and something that wouldn't open for business for another two years. The Hamburg American Line was definitely associating the grand undertaking in Panama with its around-the-world cruise offering--the Panama engineering feat was certainly considered one of the wonders of the world. The zeppelin flights were extraordinary in themselves, what with making transatlantic flights with 400-800 people (depending on the airship) who received three square meals a day, could rent their own rugs, go to the barber and to the ship's library, and listen to the airship's band.
The bottom line here is that this is a great design, and as advertisements go it seems to be very effective.
(See http://www.gjenvick.com/PassengerLists/Hamburg-AmericanLine/Westbound/1912-11-01-PassengerList-PresidentLincoln.html#axzz43r2FHFKT for various passenger lists, activities, menus, and the like.)
1. See an earlier posst, http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2009/09/the-overworked-working-poor-of-1914-women-and-children-and-what-they-didnt-get-paid.html
There is a lot of interesting material in this volume of the Scientific American Supplement for 1912. Initially I looked in it for a fantastic story about geoengineering and the flooding of the Sahara (a post is forthcoming), and in that browse I bumped into the following graphical/representative display of U.S. automotive production (in the article "Growth of the Automobile Industry"):
I've featured other such images on this blog--measuring things in terms pyramids, Trinity Churches, gigantic nails, enormous bread, Gargantuan soldiers, that sort--but nothing along the lines of these mammoth cars. The largest of the lot represents the overall auto production in the U.S. for 1911 (which was 300,000) which had they been made into one massive buggy would have been 442' tall, and an unstated but commensurate length (which I guess would have been on the order of 2500' long. The other bits are self-explanatory regarding imports and exports of autos in 1911, the data is there but the interpretation leaves it all a bit wanting. In any event I really just wanted to capture the Big Car.
I didn't think that there would be many entries for a series on measuring things with ships--they do pop up here and there, as with this issue of the Scientific American for March 31, 1906. There's probably room for a History of Measuring Things By Uncommon Non-Standard Means series on this blog--after all, there are examples for ships as a measure, and there are other bits on this blog about measuring things in units of the Eiffel Tower, gargantuanly-oversized bread, enormous nails, collections of beef, Trinity Churches, miles of soldiers, and the like. Here are a few examples:
Measuring Things in Terms of Trinity Churches http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2013/12/jf-and-so.html
Ships in the Skyline http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2008/09/comparative-d-1.html
Ships on the Pyramid http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2008/09/jf-ptak-scien-3.html
These units of measurement do seem a little odd, but they really have a capacity to humanize inescapably difficult numbers by putting them in context with a known entity, like Trinity Church. In this new case of ship/measurement, the newest of the Cunard Line's transatlantic ocean liners (that would be named Lusitania and Mauritania) is presented here on the front page of the Scientific American pressed up against structures that are presumably well known amongst its readers.