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
The R 101 was one of the largest lighter-than-air airships ever created. The ship was still about a year away from its maiden flight when this popular survey was published in the Illustrated London News on March 29, 1929--unfortunately this flight would also be its last, finding disaster over France on October 5, 1930. The airship was 777' long, 140' high, and had a volume of about 5 million cubic feet, and operated with a crew of 42--a big object.
This great cutaway by the prolific S. Clatworthy appeared in the March 1941 issue of Popular Mechanics. It illustrates a section of the Vickers Wellington light bomber--a 6-man, 6'4 long and 86' wide medium distance aircraft that saw service from the mid-1930's and served with distinction throughout the entire duration of WWII. It is an unusual view through the plane, an oblique but nearly straight-down view showing the position of members of the crew and most especially the bombardier.
Here's a very nice presentation of the (Mark IX) bombsight shown in the inset of the cutaway, this from the Glenn's Museum site, here: http://www.glennsmuseum.com/bombsights/pics/mark_ix_side.jpg
"The British-designed RAF Mark IX bombsight was first introduced in 1939. It was used on Canadian and Great Britain planes in World War II: in particular Lancaster, Wellington and Sterling bombers, and Mosquitos, Beauforts and Beaufighters fighters. This was an early preset vector bombsight that involved squinting through wires that had to be manually set based on aircraft speed, altitude and bombload. The sight lacked tactical flexibility as it had to be manually adjusted if any of the parameters changed."
A nice image of a Wellington on the cover of Popular Science this same year (1940), here: http://www.popsci.com/archive-viewer?id=oScDAAAAMBAJ&pg=0&query
George Boehm wrote a fine, semi-offhanded paper on Claude Shannon's inventiveness: "Gypsy, Model VI, Claude Shannon, Nimwit, and the Mouse", in Computers and Automation, volume 2, number 2, March 1953. (The article is found on pp 1-4 in the issue of 37pp.)
Shannon (1916-2001) is widely seen as being the "father of information theory" though it might be more accurate to refer to him as the "father of the information age"--either title will do just fine.
Shannon basically established the foundation of the digital circuits in his 1937 A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits, which was also one of those great dreams-come-true parts of graduate school, when your masters' thesis is actually something that means something, and with Shannon's paper that "something" was exponential. It is the stuff of dreams but Shannon actually did it and did so with this paper at the age of 21. In the midst of a brilliant young career he also produced (in 1948, 11 years later) another great landmark effort, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, which is the pioneering paper on information theory and which was so brilliantly composed that its framework is still in place after 67 years. A year later came Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems, a work which established cryptography as a science more than a system. And on and on.
I like that Shannon was born in Petosky, Michigan, up there on the choppy Little Traverse, and all of those big-pebble Petosky fossil/stones.
This is a very insider-y semi-offhand but solid review of some of the gadgetry and robotic work of Claude Shannon:
This is a not-frequently-seen schematic of the Royal Air Force's Sunderland, a flying boat, and the largest airplane in British service, pictured and slightly dissected in Popular Mechanics in 1940. (Apologies for the blurry definition on the left side--the book is huge, and not very friendly to the scanner.)
Earlier in this blog I wrote about an unexpected military use of the camera obscura, here ("The Camera Obscura at War, 1885"). Today I found another use, which was a guided/guiding anti-aircraft weapon. I assume that this was mostly employed against the slower moving zeppelins (although in 1915 airplanes weren't moving that much faster) due to its very limited range of fire. The camera obscura itself didn't move, and the relatively small occulus offered not that big a range of sky to work with. But that said the weapon was an ingenious and simple mechanism, an early and primitive semi-machine-directed anti-aircraft gun. There is no mention of whether or not any of these were actually deployed, and compared to the AA guns that actually appeared in the first and second yer of the war, this attempt looks a little antiquated for the time. The article also makes no mention of the artillery to be used, which is a major consideration.
The article appeared in Popular Mechanics, April 1916 (pp 486-7)
This image comes right on the heals on what has been a much-shared image of the pre-Google Map Car of 1916:
[Image source: Popular Mechanics, volume 44, October 1925]
And as you can see, it isn't that at all, but the antenna on the roof of the cab does suggest itself on the odd-looking Googlemobile, and would have attracted as much attention as the Google car does today. At the time cars were not outfitted with radio set--this enterprising guy did so with his cab (mainly because he couldn't bear to leave his wireless at home) and attracted a lot of attention and clients due to the novelty of having the still-relatively-new idea of wireless in a car (of all places).
Here's that Google Map Car of 1916:
As I said in that earlier post, this was simply a darkroom on wheels, made to look like an enormous camera. If these folks were more enterprising they certainly could have made that darkroom into a camera, without that much fuss...except for the giant paper negatives, of course.
Radios in cars though was a breakthrough idea in 1925, and as we can see in this lovely pamphlet (published in 1936 by the National Broadcasting Company as a revenue-enhancer) the idea of the radio in the car was just beginning to fly. Shown in a delightful graphic display of data using auto steering wheels as a unit of measurement, there were about 100,000 cars with "receiving sets" in 1931, and by 1936 there ere 2.8 million, which is significant growth. NBC points out that there were 22,400,000 cars on the road in the U.S., which meant that there were 20 million cars that needed radios, which meant that there was another gigantic mobile audience of 20-60 million people, which meant that there was a big opportunity for more listeners and a fantastic opportunity to sell advertisements of a value reflecting that new huge audience.
Unlike the history of the vast majority of musical instruments, the piano could sort of play itself about 160 years after its invention. The idea of making a device that would record notes from a piano, and then punch them out onto long strips of paper, and have them play through a music box or other automatic instrument (and later on, by Centennial time, on a player piano) was a truly inspired thing, I guess. That's all fine and good, but none of these inventions really allowed for you to understand how a piano was actually played by a performer, and how that performer touched the keys--that would be interesting on many levels beyond the mechanistic reproduction of note-playing. It seems though that it wasn't until the close of the century that an invention was capable of recording the subtleties of key touch. And that was the work of A. Binet and J. Courtier who published their results of their experimentation with new instrumentation in "Recherches graphiques sur la musique" (Graphic research on music) in Revue Scientifique. The invention has been called "the start of the study of technical empirical musicology".1
The machine was described by C.H. Judd in Psychological Review2in 1896: "When a key is struck the style is deflected in such a way that the height of the deflection is proportional to the force of the pressure; the length of the deflection records the time; and finally the form of the curve gives a detailed account of the manner in which the movement was carried out."
In 1914 in "The Psychology of Piano Instruction" we find the following appraisal: "In much the same way have Binet and Courtier blazed the trail as Seashore puts it by tracing graphically the intensity form and time of finger movements in piano playing They point out the immense psychological interest there is in determining the kind of experience involved at the keyboard of a piano and the type of movements executed while at the same time graphic results obtained in this manner act as checks upon the performance Illustrations are given for instance to show the curve of a trill well performed in contrast to that of a trill poorly performed..."3
In any event I found this article by chance in Nature for October 17, 1895, and thought the machinery and idea were fascinating. This was probably the first English translation of the paper, which soon again appeared in an article in Popular Science in the U.S. in the next month:
“When a certain point of perfection has been attained in piano playing it becomes very hard to distinguish inequality of touch yet owing to the varying strength of the fingers it is only with much practice that perfect equality is possible. As will be seen further on involuntary movements and irregularities scarcely perceptible to the shown by the graphical method...”
“The apparatus...is quite simple in construction and consists chiefly of an india rubber tube placed under the key board united at its two extremities by a registering drum also of india rubber When the notes of the piano are played the pressure on the tube causes a wave of air to be sent through it into the drum upon which is attached a pen that in the ordinary way is made to record its movement on a moving roll of paper The wave makes the drum vibrate which in its turn jerks the pen thus causing irregular marks to be left on the paper The board on which the tube rests is regulated by means of w edges adjusted by a screw the board being either lowered or raised When raised it almost reaches the notes of the piano and in this case the registering action takes place but if it is lowered the whole apparatus is disconnected from the key board...”
The summation at the end of the Nature article:
"1. Dealing with its advantage from the psychological point of view it is found that the voluntary movements of the pianist can be observed without putting him to any restraint or embarrassment for the small tube does not affect the resistance of the notes nor is the exterior of the piano altered."
"2. For teaching purposes the device has been of great use. The record on the roll of paper shows the faults so precisely that although they are scarcely perceptible to the ear there is no denying their existence."
"3. We are well aware that written music cannot show every slight change in the time the composer might desire. By applying the graphical method this difficulty is eliminated and the time will be reproduced with the smallest details."
1. Empirical Musicology : Aims, Methods, Prospects: Aims, Methods, Prospects edited by Eric Clarke Professor of Music University of Sheffield, Nicholas Cook Professor of Music Royal Holloway, p. 77
2. Psychological Review in 1896, Vol 3(1), Jan 1896, 112-113.
3. Journal of Educational Psychology, vol 5, 1914, "The Psychology of piano Instruction."
About two months after the Germans used the first poison gas in WWI (on April 22, 1915 against French Colonial troops at he Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium) the Scientific American published (on June 12, 1915) an account of some very early responses to the new lethal threat. This was a more caustic and dangerous form of a warfare that existed for at least 2200 years, going back to the Peloponnesian wars, with pitch- and sulphur-saturated wood that was set alight and buried under siege walls, the noxious smoke incapacity the soldiers within the walls. As the SA article also points out, bellows were used to propel the nasty and noxious smoke produced in a cauldron of burning charcoal, pitch and sulphur, blown hopefully over the walls and lines of the enemy--this at about the same time as the Athenians and Spartans were having it out.
There's also indications that plague/disease-ridden animal carcasses were catapulted across enemy lines, armies going at one another using rockets of diseased meat. And so on.
But the 150 tons of chlorine gas that the Germans sent over the French lines on that day was something entirely different--and far more lethal than any other gas previously used. (There was an earlier attempt to use gas in battle, employing an even nastier gas--xylyl bromide. It was dispatched January 15, 1915 against the Russians on the Eastern Front, but due to extreme cold most of the gas froze--it still however was potent enough to kill a thousand soldiers.)
The early response to protection from gas warfare was inadequate, with masks being sometimes little more than string and cotton gauze. This response was better than no response, because in the end it at least gave some millions of soldiers comfort to know that they were being taken care of, that something was being done to address the gas problem. Of course this would last only so long as they didn't have to actually employ the mask.
As the war progressed, the gas mask response improved, though so did the lethal varities of gases that were employed. Even the best of the masks were incapable of defending much against phosgene and diphosgene--and then there was no protection at all from mustard gas, which was another beast entirely.
It was the illustrations that stopped me in the Scientific American article--first for the flannel muzzle mask (above), which made my heart half-break; and then, just beneath that picture, a portrait of a group of British soldiers wearing cloth masks, who were "prepared to weather a gas attack". They were told that adding a little water to the mask would help stop the gas, a lot of which was hopeful expectation and wishful thinking.
An earlier post appears here, "Gas Masks and Poison Gas, World War I, 1915", on early (November/December 1915) masks.
One of my favorite popular technical illustrators of the 20th century was G.H. Davis (1881-1963), who worked enormous accomplishments for the Illustrated London News for some forty years. His specialty seemed to be the cut-away schematic, showing half-exposed/half-not technical schematics on mostly oblique angles. The example below is a fine one, showing the (not-named) British 1925 tank, which I believe must be the Vickers Medium I or variation thereof. It was certainly an improvement over the tanks used in WWI, and for all intents and purposes it seems a "modern" tank.
William Coolidge (a long-lived inventor and EE man who ran the GE research lab) developed an improved x-ray tube that was like a Model T compared to existing Model A tubes. In any event I just liked the design of this ad, which appeared in Nature in 1914--especially the rendering of the tube.
I bumped into this short notice in the magazine Illustrated World for May 1916 and at first didn't recognize the instrument. It turns out that it is a skeleton drawing of the Ross "Precision Computer", an 8", multiple circular spiral (with 25 windings) circular slide rule. It might have had the same effectiveness as a 90' slide, though I read something elsewhere that it was more like 60'. In any event, it was made of metal, and glass, and celluloid, and was an effective and elegant instrument.
[Illustrated World, May, 1916, page 388. Apologies for the fuzziness--the book was too thick and too old to force it flat on the scanner.]
For more information as well as a photo of the instrument, see the Smithsonian Institution entry here: http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_690756
One of the great dreams of early modern flight was to get across the Atlantic. In the decade+ before the first non-stop transatlantic crossing many plans were presented for making it across the Atlantic with stops. The problem of course was where the "stopping" would take place. Popular Mechanics presented two of these ideas in 1925: one was the floating airport, a series of four 1200' long and 250' wide aviation harbors on the high seas, four of which would be necessary to get aircraft across the ocean. The other were aerial sky harbors, with zeppelins outfitted as aircraft carriers in the clouds.
These proposals look like less-than-fresh ideas in 1927 when Lindbergh makes his flight, and obsolete by the early 'thirties when several airlines offered transatlantic service. Anyway given the available technology the ideas were not half-bad, though the technology would overtake the necessity for these ideas idea pretty quickly. Considering that we go from the Wright flight in 1903 to transatlantic flight in 30 years, the speed of technological advancement was really pretty extraordinary.
This is an image of a philosopher's cabinet, engraving (on copper?) by "I. Friedlein fec", who was Johnann Friedlein, an emigree from North Germany to Denmark, and who worked ca. 1680-1705. It shows the tools of the trade for someone working in natural philosophy (the name "scientist" would not come into use for another 130+ years or so1) and is an interesting insight into a small, polite gentleman's club for experiment and investigation.
The men surround a decent collection of scientific instruments--I can locate a compass, dividers, oil lamp, magnifying glass, microscope2 (at the right elbow of the figure on the right), terrestrial and celestial globes, a (large) clock, barometer, and various weights and scales, and behind it all looms a rather large refracting telescope3 (is it five inches?)
For all of these expensive and current instruments, the lighting these gentlemen set up for themselves is pretty poor, though of course it does add to the mystery and dark experience of the image.
Here's another example of Friedlein's work, a frontispiece to Cryptographia, oder geheime Schrifften by Johann Balthasar Friderici, printed in 1685:
Nyt dansk kunstnerlexikon: bd. Indenlandske kunstnere (fortsættelse ...)by Philip Weilbach:
1. "Scientist", in the Oxford English Dictionary ("science" is a much older word in English):
1. A person who conducts scientific research or investigation; an expert in or student of science, esp. one or more of the natural or physical sciences.computer, earth, mad, natural, rocket scientist, etc.: see the first element.
It is possible that the ‘ingenious gentleman’ referred to in quot. 1834 is Whewell himself.
1834 W. Whewell in Q. Rev.51 59 Science..loses all traces of unity. A curious illustration of this result may be observed in the want of any name by which we can designate the students of the knowledge of the material world collectively. We are informed that this difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their meetings..in the last three summers... Philosophers was felt to be too wide and too lofty a term,..; savans was rather assuming,..; some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist, and added that there could be no scruple in making free with this termination when we have such words as sciolist, economist, and atheist—but this was not generally palatable.
1840 W. Whewell Philos. Inductive Sci. I. Introd. p. cxiii, We need very much a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a Scientist. Thus we might say, that as an Artist is a Musician, Painter, or Poet, a Scientist is a Mathematician, Physicist, or Naturalist.
2. "Microscope" (as a noun) in its earliest uses in English, in the OED:
1648 Bp. J. Wilkins Math. Magick i. xvi. 115 We see what strange discoveries of extream minute bodies, (as lice, wheal-worms, mites, and the like) are made by the Microscope, wherein their severall parts (which are altogether invisible to the bare eye) will distinctly appear.
1651 N. Highmore Hist. Generation viii. 70 The white circle..by a Microscope appears now to be the Carina or back and neck of the Chick.
3. "Telescope" (as a noun) in its earliest uses in English, in the OED:
[1619 J. Bainbridge Astron. Descr. Late Comet 19 For the more perspicuous distinction whereof I vsed the Telescopium or Trunke-spectacle.]
1648 R. Boyle Seraphic Love (1663) xi. 59 Galileo's optick Glasses,..one of which Telescopioes, that I remember I saw at Florence.
As soon as I saw this pamphlet--and its cover--I thought that it was one of those perfect statements for a particular year:
The pamphlet is a program for an international expo in Brussels: Bulletin Officiel de l'Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles, and it is very heavily laden with trains and signals and track and such, all the properties of powerful movement and promise, gigantic power in a directed environment. And beautiful.
Ball bearings are exceptionally important and have a long history, I mean, long stretching back more than 2000 years (in its most primitive form), finding formative articulation in the Renaissance, and then their first patent in 1869. They are important parts in the history of technology, metaphorically similar to the elevator brake in the development of skyscrapers. And they can be lovely objects in addition to their fine engineering and application.
The Bearings Company of America (of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, established in 1897) published a fine catalog (in 1938) for their products, including a few pages of photos of their gorgeous goods. Sometimes photographs like these have as much artistic impact as the techno works of Paul Strand and Dorothea Lange--the images are just fine.