A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
The central image in the opening salvo in Thomas Bowles' Geography Epitomiz'd. Of The Stars And Planets. Of The Sun And Moon. Of the Air and Meteors. The Terms of Geography Explain'd (1733) reminds me a great deal of later visionary and outsider works. It is a beautiful way to display and solidify vast chunks of data into a cohesive (and pretty and appealing) whole, an interesting structure that calms the dynamics of divergent information. It's a lovely piece of design and imagination. [Source: New York Public Libraries Digital Collections]
This image comes relatively early in the history of the German rearmament and the subsequent march to WWII. These infographics come from the Illustrirte Zeitung (Leipzig) in March 1932 and depict the various low levels to which the German military had reached. Germany's military situation was dictated by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles some six months after the Armistice was signed, the terms of which were decided over months and for which Germany was not an invited member to the negotiations. In any event, the protocols of the treaty were fairly strict (some felt not strict enough, while others like J.M. Keynes felt the economic restrictions and concessions were too harsh), and so far as the military was concerned the army, navy, and air force were all severely limited in size and development.
The 1919 treaty began to unravel in earnest by 1932, at which time Germany--reeling still from the Depression and from the economic hardships and concession placed on it by the treaty, suffering large unemployment and with a disastrous economy--by June of that year had decided to ignore the military restrictions of Versailles and sought to rearm. By July Germany withdrew from the nearly half-trillion-dollar (in 2013 American dollars) concessions agreement, and started to accumulate funds for a vast new military restructuring program. In a year Hitler was chancellor, and the Nazi Party made huge gains in the Reichstag. And the war was in motion.
Few people in Germany would have to be reminded that the military was in dire straights, but these infographics hammered the point home in a very stark visual manner.
("Germany is Disarmed!" shows the difference in man- and fire-power between 1913 anbd 1932)
I've accumulated 50 or so paper computer/calculators of various shapes and sizes and descriptions, ranging from calculating the mileage for a 1959 Rambler, the ground speed for a B-25, radiation dosimetry, one-handed bridge, nuclear weapon yields, political history quizzes, and many others--including this "Ball of Fame" baseball historical paper volvelle.
I've seen this online a bit, but I've not seen the guts/data of the thing, so I decided to take mine apart and scan it so that the baseball folks among the readers of this blog can make their own. I've scanned at 200 dpi so there's plenty of detail--just print out the four sections, grab your exacto knife, and you're in business.
The computer has an awful lot of detail, the most interesting to me being located at top-center, for "Park Dimensions"--in that quarter-inch square window we see info for the team, nickname, name of park, seating capacity, and the distances to the five points of the fences. Terrific! The rest of the info, fpr the years 1901-1960:
Batting (showing leading batter, team, average, home run leader, leading team for home runs, rbi leader and rbi team leader).
Pitching (showing leading pitcher, w/l record, team, KO leader, team strike outs, ERA pitching and team leaders.
Pennant winner: (showing the winning team, manager, W-L, and winning percentages.
Stolen bases: leader and team leader.
And, lastly, MVP.
There are bits and pieces that wouldn't fit the scanner, but they're replaceable.
The fossil record is generally one of the richest and most
compelling histories of the development of life on earth, a far-reaching,
cumulative record of extraordinary importance.There are the other, occasional, fossils that stand only by themselves,
and seem to have almost no use in the current time, living almost entirely
within themselves. The following statics seem to fall into that category—they
seem to be only a tombstone for an era, providing nothing except to tell the story
of what happened, existing only for that purpose, with no compelling
utilization for anything outside understand a small piece of life for the year
the stats were gathered.
The cause for this sentiment was found in a government
publication called Expense of Convicts of the United States (Letter from the
Comptroller of the Treasury…), 1 February 1859).The following comes in the first paragraph:
“I….report that 50 cents per months is allowed for rent of
prison for each prisoner in all the States and Territories uniformly.”
What this means is that the U.S. Treasury would pay 50 cents
to the state for keeping a federal prisoner.That is 50 cents per month, or about 1.7 cents per day. And that was
also for rent of the cell, exclusive of all else, each state furnishing the
government with the added cost, separately.
Evidently the only state in the country that prescribed an
exact amount for keeping a federal prisoner in a state institution was
Maryland, “which received 30 cents per day for all expenses, rent, board, medical attendance, clothing, bedding,
fuel, and etc” (italics in the original).The rest of the states and territories had diverging and different
expenses, from the southern district of New York at 25 cents a day for board,
and ranging up to about 50 cents per day in Michigan. Vermont charged an extra 60 dollars a year, in addition to the 6 bucks that they would
get for the rent of a Vermont
cell, to keep a prisoner—all expenses included—for one year, or about 18 cents
per day, total.
Unfortunately I don’t have the stats of how many federal
prisoner there were in 1859, so I don’t know how much of a percentage of the
budget was occupied by prison expenses.But what I do know is that even with tossing around the CPI with
multiplier effects and so on the figures translate in no way to keeping a
person in prison today.The cost of
housing someone in prison per year is around $35,000 a year, or $100 or so a
day.Adjusting the 1860 dollar via CPI
for 2009 makes that dollar worth about 25 dollars today, which would be a
doubling and a doubling again of keeping someone in prison.
I’m not so sure that those figures tell us much about what
we pay, today.
Next, I was having a breeze through The Prison System of the United States by S.J. Barrows
(Commissioner of Prisons for the U.S.) which was published in Washington in 1900.One particularly interesting
section was the publication’s solitary statistical table, “Appendix A”, which
detailed the crimes of the 625 men incarcerated in the state of Michigan in 1900.Well over half of all those in prison were
there for larceny and burglary, while about 12% were in the big house for
violent crimes. (Evidently 95% of this
number were literate and 70% could “cipher” (that is, produce basic arithmetical
skills)).The total crime list (such as
it was) includes the following:
Capital crimes (murder in the first and second degree) and
manslaughter, along with murderous assault comprised about 1% of the total
prison population.Other violent crimes
included assault with intent to do great bodily harm, rape, attempted rape,
rape and assault composed another 3%. Further assaults were classified under
(a) with intent to do great harm;and
then as assault on a female under 14 years; and on a female under 16 yearsThere were also the sexual assaults:taking indecent liberties with female; with
male child;unlawful and carnal
knowledge of a young child; inducing female to enter house of ill fame.These last two categories included about 5%
of the prisoners.Set aside form these
were the crimes of adultery, abduction, incest and sodomy, which included
another 3%.So it seems that the violent
offenders in prison in Michigan
in 1900 totaled out at 12% or so.
Burglary and larceny were thelargest categories, being subdivided into (a)
burglary accompanied by actual assault; (b) larceny; (c) larceny from a
dwelling; (d) larceny from a shop in daytime; (e) attempting larceny from
the person; (f) entering a church in daytime to steal; (g) breaking and
entering a store in daytime; (h) breaking and entering a store in
nighttime;(I) breaking and entering a
dwelling in daytime; (j) breaking and
entering a dwelling;(k) breaking and
entering a railroad car.
Then there were a few largely vacant offenses: Resisting an officer; Uttering and publishing
a forged note, breaking out of prison, perjury, arson, false pretense, and
malicious destruction of personal property, all combing for less than 2% of the
The vast majority of prisoners in Michigan were imprisoned for non-violent
crimes.The federal fathers, in the
meantime, recognized that people in prison shouldn’t be idle while paying their
debts to society, and should fill their time with work that would occupy the
prisoner and bring some income into the prison system:
“The moment we apply to the convict a
different system of economics because he is in prison we go astray. When we
subject to analysis the plans proposed for abolishing the competition of
convict labor we find them based on false principles or expecting results not
to be realized. The wiser way for the peace of society and the interest of the
State is to place prison industries on the same ground as free industries, and
defend that. It is also said in opposition to the contract system that
contractors do not pay as much for the labor of convicts as free laborers
In 2005 the federal offenses for which people are incarcerated include: Drug
Offenses 59.6%; Robbery 9.8%;Property
Offenses 5.5%;Extortion, Fraud, Bribery
6.8% ; Violent Offenses 2.7% ; Firearms, Explosives, Arson 8.6% ; White Collar
1.0%; Immigration 2.8%;Courts or
Corrections 0.8%;National Security
0.1%;Continuing Criminal Enterprise
0.8%;Miscellaneous 1.5% .54% of prisoner in state custody for the same
time were incarcerated for violent crimes, with drug offenses coming in at 20%
and property crimes at 19%.The racial
breakdown of prisoners in the U.S. is another tragedy: of the prison population
in toto of 2.3 million in 2008 there
were 4,777 black male inmates per 100,000 black males held in state and federal
prisons and local jails, compared to 1,760 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000
Hispanic males and 727 white male inmates per 100,000 white males—that means
that the black incarceration rate was double and then double and then
half-doubled again that of whites.What
this also means is that there were more blacks in jail cells than in college
dorm rooms in 2008.
I'm not sure that any amount of creative statistical mathemartistry could bring these figures to life for some sort of practical application in 2009, the present situation in the prisons being so immense and pervasive. Numbers and assorted data from the past usually have the capacity to help us see where we are today; as I said earlier, I think that these fossils are simply that: dead.
Building on some reaching and questionable physical identification work of Sir Francis Galton, Raphael Pumpelly tried to make photographs of what scientists looked like.
At a scientific meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., Pumpelly (along with Dr. (Thomas Mayo) Brewer and the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, (Spencer F.) Baird) undertook the experiment to determine whether or not there was a certain composite "type" in groups of academicians. He employed the justly-named head of the photography department at the NAtional Museum, Mr. (Thomas Mayo) Smillie, to make a series of 2-second exposures of the scientists upon a single glass plate. Two seconds per portrait was not long enough to make a defined portrait for a single sitter, but if there 15 or 30 such exposures on the same plate it was seen that collectively a strong impression would be produced. The resulting portraits are interesting in their own way, but probably not so interesting without the backstory.
The problem of course is the interpretation and what could come of classifying external characteristics for internal capacities, which would make this exercise as useful as cranial bump reading or body mole mapping.
Also it is unclear that if you didn't identify these images as composites of leading American scientists but were told that they were pictures of murderers or meat thieves or sneak burglars, it would be as easy to believe. Instead of identifying their characteristics of "intelligence" and "imaginativeness", changing the grid-of-explanation to criminality would certainly change those readings to something else.
[The original paper is available via our blog bookstore, here.]
This is really very good: on distinguishing the free press with what it is and what it isn't. The art icle appeared a few months before the official declaration of war between the U.S. and the U.K. (June 1812) in Cobbett's Weekly Political Register. It was written by William Cobbett (1763-1835) and I think that this was a direct and very vocal reaction to the government's instituting a tax on newspapers such as this--adding a tax made the journal not affordable to but a select class, thereby limiting circulation and being a de facto censor for the distribution of information.
He was also writing this from prison. Cobbett was sentenced to a two years' term in famous/infamous Newgate, sent their for treasonous libel after having written an anti-flogging article. He was also by that point a pain in the side of the government, and was paying for other perceived transgressions as well.
This warning to the public appeared four months after Germany began to bomb the U.K. from the air using lighter-than-air airships. There's also a section for identifying heavier aircraft, but bombing by that means didn't start evidently until 1916.
[Source: Technical World Magazine, May 1915, page 336.]
(airships) performed about 51 strategic bombing raids during World War
I. These raids caused numerous civilian casualties, killing 557 and
injuring another 1,358 people. More than 5,000 bombs were dropped on
towns across Britain, causing £1.5 million in damage. 84 airships took
part, of these 30 were lost, either shot down by enemy action or lost in
accident.The raids, though disconcerting to civilian morale, were militarily ineffective."--Wiki
Bombing from Zeppelins was very problematic--in the beginning of the bombing raids, mostly throughout 1915, the Zeppelins were able to fly beyond the reach of anti-aircraft weapons, and at certain altitudes just beyond this reach they could carry a relatively heavy load of bombs. The drawback was that bombing from this height was extremely haphazard, with little accuracy, which meant that most of the targets wound up being civilian areas, creating the term "baby killers" for the Zeppelins. In the next year when British defenses against the machines improved, the Zeppelins flew higher, which necessitated oxygen and a lighter payload, and more inaccuracy. Towards the middle/end of the war German command went more with bombing Britain from aircraft (like the Gotha) more so than Zeppelins. The end result was not very militarily effective, causing 2,000 mostly-civilian casualties. I'm not so sure about the use of the word "strategic" in the Wiki description.
Let's remember the city of Hull, which received eight attacks during the Great War, only a prelude to the massive attacks it would receive during WWII.
In an earlier post I wrote about what I thought was the first graphic representation of the process of forming and imaging a complex thought (found in Francis Galton’s Visualizing Numeracy).
It is interesting how people tried—over a long period of time—to get at
exactly that, the inner process, via some sort of external means, which
is almost entirely left in the not-so-exclusive world of the
Perhaps the greatest early effort (and certainly the most beautiful yet) to ascribe physical locations and attributes to the mind was the work and drawings of Robert Fludd. That would be Dr. Robert Fludd (1574-1637), occultist/philosopher, randy logician and hermticist astrologer pseudo-scientist; and maybe the best of his work is found in his fabulously titled work Utriusque Cosmi, Maioris scilicet et Minoris, metaphysica, physica, atque technica Historia (The metaphysical, physical, and technical history of the two worlds, namely the greater and the lesser…), published in Germany between 1617 and 1621. Things get very deep and complex and confusing, even in the illustrations; so as far as being a key to human knowledge, Fludd probably relaxed the confusion boundaries more than he strengthened insight—but maybe that was supposed to be his job, what with supposedly being a Grandmaster of the Priory of Sion
Another great effort in the attempt to physically determine what might be going on inside someone’s brain and mind were the physiognomists. Physiognomy (does it really matter how it is spelled? I should think that if I was to try and determine how I should spell the word using the very methods its practioners employed that the spelling might change daily…) from the Greek, basically meaning “nature” and “interpret”, claimed an ability to judge the scope of a brain by the shape of its container—the skull. If a skull was sunken or distended or high or pretty or what have you then this shape in some way related to the development of that area of the brain. So a high forehead could mean great insight or knowledge or intellectual ability; a low, sloping forehead meant, well, not, and to steer clear of such people with your
hand firmly on your purse. An early practioner was the very formidable Thomas Browne (1605-1682) (in the Religio Medici), but the powerhouse thinker (as it were) was Lavater (1741-1801), who caused and challenged all manner of mischief. The democratic nicety of this pseudo-science is that you didn’t really need to be associated with any extended scientific thought to engage in its application—a nice silhouette-maker would do, along with a series of interpretive and a decent personality was about all you needed. A nice clear forehead would help.
Nipping at the heels of Johann Caspar Lavater and company was Franz Gall (1758-1828) and the Phrenologists (from the Greek again, “mind knowledge”), who made a slight step beyond simple head shape by “reading” the bumps and indentations of the skull. Their educated fingers were in this way were supposed to have the capacity to feel the special elements of that part of the brain manifesting itself via cranial nodules or something.
Pathognomy was yet another step in the stairs to the flooded basement, where passions and emotions resident in the voice, or gesture, or facial expression, would somehow reveal the structure of the mind. I found this one pretty curious because it concentrated on the motions of the physical ramifications of the brain, which somehow seemed very elegant in a ghost-like, narcotized way.
But this is just the attempts to ascertain thought—actually picturing it, literally, was not all that common. Dreams,
fears, thoughts, pain, interpretative inner dialog—seems to have occupied artists far less than love or creed or ambition or devotion. Being able to “see” someone’s pain, or nightmares, was really quite special.
Thomas Cruikshank made this a sub-specialty for himself, depicting people suffering extreme anguish as a result of gout, or delirium tremens, or fear, and anthropomorphizing them, giving these concerns/fears/pains a human-like quality. So instead of seeing a badly inflamed gouty ankle and imaging its pain, we see anti-cherubs, demons, spikey creatures at work on the ankle, pricking it, setting it on fire.
Bosch of course performed miracles in setting out the fear of the Lake of Fire in very explicit, basic, understandable ways. In my opinion though the Chinese Hell Screens (as a genre) have Mr. Bosch beat by a long mile, as they were terminally specific in elucidating even what might seem to be trivial transgression for the casual viewer. (For example, a person who wasted paper would, according to one scroll, spend eternity in a lake of flaming feces, bobbing to the surface occasionally to be stuck in the face by a flaming spear. Now THAT’S Hell!)
We have certainly seen people in the throes of nightmare in art, but the relative subtlety of the visions of Henry
Fueli (The Nightmare, 1782) and William Blake (“Jeruslaem”, 1820, for example) and of course Fransico de Goya’s "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" (from Los Caprichos) really do wane in comparison to some of the highly explicit horrors of Cruikshank and James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson. Perhaps this is so because the later group seems to address the masses and making the nightmare more universal, visiting the ample-butted poor as it would the couch-bound Faintress of the Upper Classes. (I guess I should really remove Goya from the former class, as he really did intend to reach the working poor as much as anyone else.)
I’ve wondered about the artist Arcimbaldo—the genius portrait painter whose artistic palette was fruits and vegetables—and whether his use of various types and shapes of foods were supposed to correspond to any internal dialogs in the person sitting for him but, well, I think not. Nice thought, though.
Most effective though in graphically revealing the inner workings of someone’s mind is, yes, the word balloon, which takes a second seat to its younger sibling, the glorious thought balloon.
What a fantastic creation!
The word balloon, or the idea for it, exists for quite some time in Mesoamerica, incised in sculptures from 1000 years
ago. (See Hull, Kerry Michael (2003). "Verbal Art and Performance in Ch’orti’ and Maya Hieroglyphic Writing"). Something that we begin to recognize in a more modern form comes up in the 12 th century with word scrolls—elegant, flowing, appealing bits of fabric upon which the words of the person in the painting are written.
Word balloons really come into their own in political art in the 18th century (and do have a very curious, artistic affect in their longish, elongated appearance with tiny 3-point type inside). Sometimes the word balloons look like smoke with words in it—these might be my favorite, as they give the clear impression of the immediate and dissipating nature of most speech.
The Yellow Kid, generally acknowledged as the first “cartoon character”, at first had his speech written directly on his flanged shirt. It was around 1896 (I think!) that the words moved from his apparel and into a balloon over his head.
The most beautiful innovation though came a little later (exactly when I’m not sure, I’m sorry to say) with the invention of the thought balloon. What a magnificent idea! Why hadn’t this concept been employed earlier, anyway? How come it took until that unparalled period of time—1895-1915, when virtually everthing became “modern”, when just about everything (save politics, unless you include the creation of the concentration camp) experienced a paradigm shift—and not earlier? Certainly it is common and debased, and runs amok with the very idea of art and its attempt to show the viewer the inner machinations/beauty of its subject; but wouldn’t it be interesting to have the thought balloon for Lisa Gheradini (the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, “Mona”)?
Well, probably not.
But the thought balloon--bubbly, cloud-like apparitions above its thinker’s head—certainly has it place, and is
absolutely a more elegant invention discerning thought than Lavater or even the lovely Mr. Fludd could ever dream.
This is a distinctive utilization, featuring a king and queen versions of the tree/plant display, this by Edward Hitchcock (1763-1864) in his Elementary Geology, published in 1840, and showing paleontological chart of trees andplants:
At about the same time came this outline for a tree diagram, (of embryonic development), from Robert Chambers, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, printed in 1844, and which shows a model of development where fish (F),
reptiles (R), and birds (B) represent branches from a path leading to
And somehow in the different representations of the tree of life by Ernst Haeckel I failed to include these three very famous renderings, the first made for an English-language edition of his Evolution of Man, which appeared in 1879:
And this version, which appeared in the fifth edition of his Evolution of Man, printed in London in 1910:
I don't often see graphical displays of quantitative data utilizing quite so many images of shells, even when the image is comparing ammunition production. This striking example is found in The Illustrated London News for July 15, 1917.
[Geological map of the U.S. from the 1870 U.S. Statistical Atlas, here.]
Even though I have used (and owned) these atlases over a long time I've never collected them together in any of the 2600+ entries (2036 longer posts and 500+ Quick Posts) that I have made to this blog. So today I include links for the atlases in their entirety, as found on the sumptuous site of the Library of Congress. The books are interesting, fascinating, captivating, and beautiful.
It was a curious thing to find, these engraved images of Egyptian dance and movement, seeming for all the world like motion shorthand, a sort of antiquarian Labanotation or kinetography. They appear in the stray atlas volume here by Juste Adrien Lenoir de La Fage (1801-1862), Histoire Generale de la Musique et de la Danse, which was published in Paris in 1844. I imagine that this is a surprise mostly to me--the Egyptians certainly knew that tey danced, and from the looks of it, they danced with athleticism.
Most of the surprise part of this--the opening the book and having a sense of the "aha!" and deja vue-- were these images' association in my head with the work of the motion picture pioneer and all-around smart guy, Etienne Marey, who in the 1870's created what was essentially the
world's first "slow motion" device. One iteration of Marey's apparatus
was basically a long series of ganged cameras recording a motion for a
simple task at a given time frame and presented on a continuous strip
of photographic paper, sort of like a motion picture with the camera
speed set at three frames per second. The resulting images were
phenomenal and showed people for the first time the exactness of all
manners of simple motions--motions that no longer looked so "simple"
once all of its aspects could be studied from captured photographic
evidence. Even the act of hopping over a small stool or bending to pick
up a bucket of water were enormously revealing in a way like Robert
Hooke's Micrographia displayed the great detail and complexity
of the seemingly simple fly. Perhaps the most famous of Marey's series
of images was that of a galloping horse, which also for the first time
revealed what exactly the horse's legs were doing and proving that
almost every painter in the history of art represented the galloping
horse incorrectly. His series of photographs (as in the samples above and below)
show a fairly close fit to the work of the futurists (like for example
Duchamp) who would come into being after another four decades.
But the la Fage comes earlier still--granted, they are engravings, and they don't necessarily all show a progression of movement, though some of them do--but it makes them very interesting in a capturing-the-moment way like few people had done before.
When I was a kid I liked to go to Reiman's hardware store on Victory Blvd., Staten Island, New York, where there was everything and everything was in its place, though not every place was in its place. There was a certain untidiness to the store that made it seem as though everything was a jumble, except it wasn't. The order was controlled by a collection of hardware men who seemed to know everything and absolutely knew where everything was. I would walk in, go to the back, hold up the widget that I needed to the Old Man, and then he'd go to a half-wall filled with tiny boxes filled with tiny things, and find what I needed--or something better. The store was biggish, but very quiet, given all of the surface area of all of those thousands of tiny cardboard boxes. It was all enveloped with the hardware store equivalent of the old bookstore aroma.
These were the thoughts that sprang to mind when I saw a post at the SecretPlans.org site displaying that robot-like figure riding the hardware bike. It is found in what must be the bible of 19th century books on the keeping of a hardware store, appropriately titledThe American Hardware Store, written by R.R. Williams in 1896. It is remarkable for its organization and for its lovely presentation. And of course for its very prominent display of memory of what was necessary in building and maintenance from a hundred years ago. There are instructions to the store owner on what and how to exhibit, with images of displays of axe heads, hurricane lamp glass,scythes, plumbs, hatchets, horseshoes, scale beams, belts, pumps, oil cloths, and much more of the stuff that is mostly gone.
Thanks to this manual I think that when you go back in time and into that hardware store of 1896 you'll be ready.
With "all" of the recent talk about prime numbers I thought to post this elegant and small summary of the different ways of writing numbers.
Above is a lovely detail of a collection of "ancient arithmetical characters", including notations for the numbers 1 through 9 by "Boethius, Plenudes, al Sephadi, Sacro Bosco, Indian, Roger Bacon, and AL Sephadi".
It is interesting to see in this found map that the U.S. was still a vastly under-citied place in 1920. This map (from the Statistical Atlas of the United States, compiled by Charles S. Sloane in 1924) created for the census of 1920 shows the locations of cities with populations of 30,000 and above. It is strikingly clear that once you move west of the Minnesota/Iowa/Missouri/Arkansas/Louisiana line, there are very few big cities. 38 in fact-- and half of those in the two states of California and Texas. The rest are distributed fairly widely: six states had no cities >30k, three had one, two had two, and four had three. Other than that, there was a 1000+mile swath of land hundreds of miles wide spreading from central Texas to Oregon in which there were none of these cities.