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... 3,000+ total posts
This is the detail from the cover of Richard Knoller's (professor at the Technischen Hochschule in Vienna) Ueber Laengsstabilitaet der Drachenflugzeuge, published in 1911. In real the image is only about an two inches wide and spare-but-detailoed, wisely placed in the center of the oversized pamphlet, and set in a lofty blank space. Brilliant.
This is just a quick addition to a continuing series on antiquarian cosmological images (the two major posts, Visual Chronology of Cosmology, Part I and Part II) containing 80 images, mostly before the 19th century) and a long series on the History of Dots. The engraving below comes from the great intellectual explorer, Fr. Athansius Kircher, in his ultra-fabulous three-volume Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652-4). And in here--as is the case with some other cosmological images--in between the sphere of the Sun and the sphere of the stars was the realm of the planets, and that is where Fr. Kircher's artist employed the use of dots, to differentiate the planetary real estate from everything else.
And the image in full view (both images reproduced from the Hachette reprint):
"HIEROGLYPHICS: Language of the ancient Egyptians, invented by the priests to conceal their shameful secrets. To think that there are people who understand them! But perhaps the whole thing is just a hoax?"—Gustave Flaubert, Dictionary of Received Ideas1
[Reproduced from the Hachette reprint]
I've written a number of posts about pre-robot robots, robots before they were named, mechanical entities of some human qualities that performed tasks or played games, inanimate objects that engaged in articulated motion, with most of the early creations being in the early 19th century. I never have done the back-fill, the earliest days in which (if you squinted very mightily) robots may have appeared.
This came to mind today while writing about the great Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680), a man considered to "know everything" and who if he didn't know it made the knowledge come out of something else so help him god; he was a man of intense energy, extremely formidable learning, high creativity, and who seemingly possessed the talent to forget nothing. Today's episode (with the frequently-appearing Kircher in this blog) is just a small addition to the cosmology thread and the history of dots series.
The image that drew me in is found in Kircher's magnum opus, his Oedipous Aegyptiacus, printed in three volumes from 1652-1654--it is a half-miracle sort of work--it is astonishing, universal, fabulous, and in many cases, far-reaching....too far-reaching, especially in the case of his deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, where he pretty much gets it all wrong. In volume one (page 262), however there is an image of theraphim ("Theraphim Hebraeorum"), which are small-to-largish statuettes/statues which to save sp[ace and time here are seen by many as being something along the order of a household idol. (It is a much more complex story than this, but I think that for at least one aspect in defining these objects that this is basically correct.)
The illustration makes it seem as though the small statues have etched speech on extended tongues--in some versions of the theraphim story the statues do speak in their way. That makes them speaking statues. And speaking statues are--in a very antiquarian way--robots, or at least they are worthy of that consideration in my book. Or blog.
And this reminds me of another "speaking" statue: Memnom, of the the two Colossi at Thebes.This monument was said to be a "miracle" (by Colistatus, in the 3rd century CE) and that the only difference between it and a human was a body. Memnon was said to react to eh morning Sun, emitting a sound or song or speech; and again, at sunset, a more lamenting sound would issue from the statue, which would sometimes be accompanied by tears. The songs/cries were said to be returned by Echo, who responded with, well, an echo, which is what all of this might be in regards to the modern sense of the robot, and to the created artificial life of the future.
1. This fine quote was found in an interesting article "Egyptian Oedipus: Athanasius Kircher and the Secrets of Antiquity (2013) - Introduction" by Daniel Stolzenber, here.
The 1850's may have been the heyday of atlases appearing with illustrations of comparative river lengths/mountain heights; from 1840-1880 or so was the period in which the majority of descriptive comparatives were published. This is when you would see images of the lengths of rivers and the heights of mountains and waterfalls beautifully displayed in atlases, everything visually presented in high design and memory-forming fashion. I don’t know what happened after 1880, but the publication of this sort of data in beautiful and provocative formats really fell off, with the heights of mountains/lengths of rivers stuff relegated to filling the empty areas in the corners of double-hemisphere world maps.
The example below (from R. Montgomery Martin's Illustrated Atlas, 1851) is interesting because in addition to the standard mountain/river material, there is also the height of waterfalls; and, in a move that was probably very early as a practice, there are two sets of images that show lakes and island compared to one another on the same scale. Of course maps are composed of data that is necessarily set in the same scale, but here we see just the lakes and just the islands removed from their context and laid into a pool of similar objects. It is a mystery why this would've taken so long to happen, but it is also the case that the first comparative architecture depicting different buildings placed in an illustration that were on the same scale did not occur until the work of J.N.L. Durand in the surprising "late"year of 1800 (in his Recueil et parallèle des édifices de tout genre...), which is a curious thing.A Ver
These spectacular images of monumental monumentality appeared in the December 1916 issue of Popular Science Monthly. The author Frank Shuman (1862-1918) had some major inventing chops, not the least of which was some very forward-thinking work (in theory and practice) on solar power (one of which was a solar powered steam engine and another a liquid O2 propulsion system for submarines), so these suggestions for gigantic land battleships came with a fair amount of gravitas. This is some grand thinking, and as Shuman tells us, the beast below would weigh about 5,000 tons (the weight of several hundred Sherman tanks1) and would roll along on 200' diameter wheels. Unfortunately, outside of seeing some sort of (steam) power plant, there is no mention of how those wheels would be turned--I'd've liked to read about that. There is a mention of shock absorbers, but only so, jsut a bare hint.
[Image source is Google Books--I have this volume in a 40 year run of this periodical down in the warehouse, but the book was really too thick to lay flat ont he scanner, and so the Google Books scan was used..]
And for whatever reason there is no heavy artillery on this thing. The damage to the enemy would be done via the three wheels, and also by the enormous chains that hang from the front of the enormity, like a flailing slow-moving monster from a 1950's B-movie.
My guess is that this wouldn't do so well in the rain.
I found this interesting story-without-words in a column in American Agriculturalist, April, 1869. The velocipdes were fairly big, and fairly new-ish to be peddle-powered at the front wheel, and apparently not so welcome on urban streets. (Within fifteen years the bike would take on a decidedly very modern look, easily recognizable as being a close family member to that Schwinn cruiser you owned in 1982.) I don't have any insight about the editorial content of the segment...
I found a news item in the April 6, 1929 issue of Nature that gives a real sense of the coming of the future, of the future-at-hand--and they seemed to have a sense of what was coming, though probably not as big as that future would be. In this case, it was the beginning of the passive visual assumption of the collective culture--the very quick and potentially immediate assimilation of pop culture, this by the invention of television and popular broadcasting.
The unidentified author was reporting on the recent activities of the Baird Television Development Company, which the author was interested in, and although it was "not presently practicable " it did "represent(s) a noteworthy scientific achievement", which I am sure was the writer's way of downplaying a very significant event.
Nothing quite says no-color as German deep noir of the mid- and late-1920's. These movies can be so deep and contrasted, so very black-and-white, with such stark Moon-like shadows, no dawn or dusk just night and day, that it can make you forget that outside of the photographs and movies that people were moving around in great swirls of color. And nothing quite helps you to remember this than by having a look at a book like one below, a DIY piece printed in Berlin in 1927, the Farbige Wohraume1.
It is of interest here because in addition to blueprints and sections of the furniture to be built, there are associated illustrations showing the completed work placed in a decorated room. And it just so happens that these rooms are highly, colorfully decorated--not that there's so much in the room, per se, but there is definitely a lot of color.
1. Farbige Wohnräume, 24 Tafeln farbig dargestellter neuzeitlicher Räume (5 Wohn-, 6 Speise-, 6 Herren-und 7 Schlafzimmer) mit den einzelnen Nöbeln im Masstab 1:20. Dazu weitere 24 Tafeln mit den zur Anfertigung erforderlichen Grund- und Aufrissen und Detailschnitten einschliessich der Sitzmöbel. Berlin, Verlagsanstalt Deutschen Holzbeiter Verbanes GMBH. Rebound in library cloth, very nice, workable copy. 37x26cc, 24 color plates of room designs, followed by 24 heavy leaves of associated blueprints printed front and back, these showing a profile of the furniture to be constructed on recto and some cutting instructions on verso. The color illustrations of the furniture in a room setting is correlated with the blueprints in rear, each of the color plates with a corresponding sheet of blueprints. Only four copies located in WorldCat: Yale, University of Illinois, Grand Rapids Public Library, and Cornell.
Well: this is a variation of yesterday's post on the two opposite edges of color in oddly-applied scientific/technical manners. In unwittingly responding to the question "when is color-use bad?", the answers were found in these room decorations from 1942, all of which come from a pamphlet entitled Ideas for Old Rooms and New, extracted from the mind of Hapel (?) Dell Brown. It is a tidy book with ideas that are anything but tidy;and as you scroll down you'll see that the room solutions suggested by Hapel Del are anti-tidy; clutterous (no, not a word but could be). Everything about these creations speaks to the annihilation of visual resting places; everything seems to be an affront to the concept of causal emptiness. The weird thing is that there aren't very many objects in these rooms at all (at least comparing these rooms from where I'm sitting)--the visual complaints seem all rocketing from the abuse of colors found in the fabric of the furniture and walls and floors and window treatments. The eye gets no rest--and as a matter of fact, the cones of the eyeball are impaled on the rods as a result of the author/decorator desperate attempts to invent three more primary colors.
Believe it or not we don't really get the full flavor of the color cacophony because the floors in these picture look sort of benign, fading away into themselves--which they are not, according to the description in the text, because they are all high-gloss linoleum rolls or tiles ("efused [sic] with deep wondrous color". And that means not only are these floors adding sheen and color to the rest of the incredibly colorful--an effect fairly lost in these photos--they are also cold.
One thing that I haven't pointed out in this peon to syrupy/pastel-y/techno-gelatinous-chromodrama is that they were all done in response to a re-decoration of a perfectly nice-looking house, with all of the former "bland" colonial-style rooms presented in glorious black and white. I'd rather live in Maison Noir than in this happy nightmare.
The Bookman's Bus will definitely take you from point A to Point B, though it might not be a direct route, even when the direct route is the only route--there are stops to be made, turns to be taken, and of course turns to be built before they can be taken; eventually though you'll get to your destination, or not. And the destination can change, according to what is found along the way--it can get closer, or farther, as necessary. It is in the getting-there that some real stuff may happen.
I was looking for the Annalen der Physik publication by Gauss and Weber on the first use of an electromagentic telegraph, but I was looking in 1843 rather than 1833, which is a mistake I often make (which is weird because Morse's telegraph appears in 1837 and his code in 1843, so the date mix-up is a mystery. So with the retrieved volume 59 I realized that I was ten years off from where I wanted to be, but like any practicing reader I browsed--and my general book browsing practice is back-to-front, which is how I found a good article by Clapeyron, almost at the end of the book in the 8th section. I went a little further to see the neighbors for the Clapeyron in the 644-page book and the very paper preceding turned out to be a fairly significant paper in the history of physics and acoustics--Georg Simon Ohm's on what would be known as Ohm's Law of Acoustics. That would be the other Ohm's law. The big Ohm (published in his pamphlet Die Galvanische Kette in 1827) is one of the most powerful of the 19th century, and states "a relationship between the voltage across an electric circuit, the electrical resistance in the circuit, and the current in the circuit."(--Dictionary of Scientific Biography.)Ohm's law of acoustics doesn't take such a big bite out of the not-determined but is significant in the history of acoustics: "The proposition that the human auditory system responds to a complex sound by generating sensations of the separate components of the sound rather than a sensation of a single integrated sound; thus when we listen to an orchestra we hear the separate instruments although the ears receive only a single complex sound wave."(--Oxford Reference) And for the record the paper's title: "Ueber die Definition des Tones , nebst daran geknupster Theorie der Sirene und oehnlicher tonbildender Vorrichtungen", pp 513-565).
There were other interesting papers populating this volume, several of which had to do with early photography, including a work on using the Daguerreotype with the microscope, along with two papers by Moser (one of which was the first German translation of his work on "Invisible Light"), and another on shortening the time of exposures by the soon-to-be-very-famous H. Fizeau. Also there are two not-so famous papers by the famous Lenz (a two-parter, actually, on heat flow). There are others, not the least of which is a paper famous perhaps not for the complicated theory on the development of mountain ranges that was wrong, but for the data that was collected for the construction of the not very good theory--that was the work of Jean-Baptiste Elie de Beaumont, who had a long and distinguished career though not for his mountain theory.
So. There was a lot in this volume, and a lot of it turned out to be very interesting, in spite of teh fact that I had selected th ewrong volume to begin with.
Its easy to assume a modern prejudice regarding the interior decoration of 1910-1940 school rooms, allowing a certain conceit and picturing them in shades of gray, the images formed being "colored" by the images of those things that we have seen, almost all of which have turned up in black-and-white photographs or movies. But of course we know that this can't be true, and that Humphrey Bogart didn't always wear a gray worsted in his movies, and didn't move that gray suit through gray rooms. Its just that the image-formation is influenced by what we've seen, and since what we've seen of these rooms is mostly without color, then our images are difficult to assemble outside black-and-white. This applies to just about everything from that era, which explains why it is such a glorious shock to see motion pictures or photographs of (say) New York City street scenes from 1944. (And why is it such a jolt to the visual system to learn that police cars in Chicago during the 1933 World's Fair were orange?)
This is a duplicate of a carbon copy document by I.I. Rabi, and is one of 35 documents1 relating to the development of U.S. atomic policy, October 1945-January 1946, that comes from the library of Caryl Haskins2, a close and long-time friend of Vannevar Bush, who worked with Bush throughout World War II at the OSRD, and was executive assistant to Bush at NSRD 1941-1945. Vannevar Bush, one of the most important scientist-advisers of World War II, foresaw the development of the atomic arms race in 1943, and by 1945 became a fundamental thinker and advocate of addressing the problem of atomic information control. The 35 documents in this collection are--almost without exception--by aides and close colleagues of Bush who assisted him in formulating the positions and issues, dating from October 1945 through January 1946. They consist of background papers, drafts of proposals, informal studies, as well as mature statements of thought that would become implemented in the core of U.S. policy regarding the spread and control of atomic weapons. They are generally carbon typescripts and necessarily of extremely limited distribution, generally have no letterheads, occasionally carry the authors’ full names (although sometimes only initials are used), and 18 are stamped or typed “Secret”.
The sheet by Rabi (1898-1988) is simple but interesting, and in 53 words outlines the issues of the atomic bomb--it is dated November 21, 1945. IT was typed for Rabi by an assistant ("rb"), and at the bottom as being by Rabi. Rabi of course played key roles in the development of the bomb, as well as playing a very crucial and critical role in the discussion of the future of atomic weapons.
[These are the two copies of the Rabi outline--the second was Irving Langmuir's copy. There couldn't've been too many of these made--there would be the original, then perhaps six carbon copies. I any event, it is a rare thing. The original is for sale here at our blog bookstore.]
The sotto voce singing of the oblivious obvious/mundane is slung throughout the nearly 200pp-work "Mass Casualties, Principles Involved in Management", which were papers delivered at the 62nd annual convention of the Association of Military Surgeons, published in 1956 in Military Medicine.
How can a person--how can I--write about Nuclear Holocaust as being mundane? When it comes to reading how some people mundanely responded to planning for surviving it.
It is a very deep Disturbia into which people fall when writing about the millions of details in accounting for the unaccountable, writing about the medical/physical/psychical consequences of surviving a bomb when dozens might well be detonated at the same time, the millions of details overtaken by billions of other details not mentioned and perhaps not imagined.
I've collected some wide non sequiturs dealing with the matters of the nuclear apocalypse from a publication calledMilitary Medicine in an article entitled "Mass Casualties, Principles Involved in Management", which were papers delivered at the 62nd annual convention of the Association of Military Surgeons, 1956. Sometimes the chapter heading says it all, giving wide pause; and sometimes you have to wade in a little, but you don't need to go very far, or very deep. Overall the issue of the absolutely overwhelming devastation and the impossibility of dealing with the human consequences of nuclear war do absolutely get written about, but it occurs somewhere inside each contribution, which is front-loaded with pop-iconic understatement and then followed up with vast simplification.
Then of course there is the official-speak in quietly stating screamingly bad things: "a wide disparity will in all probability exist between patient load and medical resources". There's so much like that in this publication that it is hard to keep up, like differentiating sands on a beach.
[I resisted including the section on the use of dentists in the post apocalypse--it was too painful, and I ran out of steam.]
There is a certain layered, geological dystopic quality to the images of these men laboring at producing piano rolls for player pianos (and found in The Illustrated London News for 18 December 1909). This is true especially for the details, the small boxes in the background to where the rolls are being "processed"--music pounded out with metal points on a hard surface, as though produced by whatever it was that was in those little labeled wooden containers, far removed from the artistry of melody. These are images of a culture being made into hundreds of thousands of miles of hole-filled paper.
The piano roles remind me of automatons replacing humans in entertainment, and then replacing the humans making the piano roles; of machines taking over the jobs of people writ large. There's a long and rich literary history of this idea, not the least (or first) of which is the appropriately-named Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, written in 1952. Like a tiny idea-machine, Vonnegut manufactured part of his tale from Brave New World, with Huxley having taken his bit from an earlier novel, We, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921--they're all bleak images of a future dominated by machines, the humans acquiring numbers for names, like the replaceable and expendable units they became. (Artwork by Malcolm Smith for Imagination, June 1954.)
The devices for producing the roles remind me of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, a functional prison designed so that all of the prisoners could be viewed from one central point. The profile of the place reminds me of the geared punch machine for the piano roles; I'm not at all sure about what the function of the prison reminds me of. But in the history of holes, I guess all it foes it fill u its empty holes with people, keeping them there for months or years or decades, and then replacing them with other people, part of a long and continuing series.
Here's the panopticonal prison at Presidio Modelo, Isla De la Juventud, Cuba--with the walls laid flat, and some cells filled-up, and reduced, you may be able to make a certain music with it, like reading the scores made by pigeons roosting on a five-wire-strung staff of utility poles. My daughter Emma just suggested that there could be a Morse Code crossover as well!)
The plan and elevation of these prisons relate to the player paino paper, like the early dots and dashes of communication, like the punched cards that Vonnegut had in mind when he was writing his early classic.
Now, the rest of the Illustrated London News story: