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
[Image source: Google Books, The Mechanics' Magazine, Museum, Register, Journal, and Gazette, Volume 26, 1837.]
This remarkable fire-fighting suit was present in an article in the prestigious Mechanics' Magazine, and published in London in 1837. It does seem impossible in its way to the modern reader, particularly for the eye-popping hood and lighted-candle-belt apparatus. But it is very sobering to think that this would have been a vast step-up from what was available at the time--especially for the leader house of air into the jacket/hood. Here's the full text of the description of the apparel:
This is sort of what the future of tabulation looked like in 1902--except that the people in this year were already living in this tabulating future, surprisingly already a dozen years old at this point. The cover illustrates an article on the machinery used in the production of statistics and tables and general data organization by the great work by Herman Hollerith, who had already performed this function for the U.S. Census of 1890. (Hollerith had offices at Wisconsin Avenue and the C & O Canal, in Georgetown, D.C., about ten blocks from where my old store used to be at Volta & 33rd.)
The 1880 census had cost about $6 million and took 9 years to tabulate; the 1890 census using the Hollerith machines cost $10 million and took seven years. The main focus of many in government was the cost differential—not the incredible amounts of new controllable information. The rent of the Hollerith machines was only $750,000 for the conduct of the entire census, so the differential must’ve been in the extra utility costs (for electricity, for example, which was used for the first time to run the tabulators) and for the small army of statisticians and data entry people. Be that as it may, the government was not amused, particularly when Hollerith figured that he had actually saved the government $5 million. The two parties left each other grumbling, though the roar of the trickle down from the Hollerith success drowned it out. The tabulating system was quickly exported, and large private concerns in the U.S. saw a savior in the system that would soon rescue them from the sea of paper in which they were beginning to drown.The Hollerith company did very, very well for itself, and soon merged with three other companies (in 1911) to ease the burden of success. The resulting company was called the Computing-Tabulating-Research Company (CTR), which after a short while became the International Business Machine Corporation (IBM).
[Source of abstract: Publications Indexed for Engineering, PIE, volume 4.]
And the article from the Scientific American, as follows. (It is worth pointing out that a few hundred pages following is an article about William Terrel's fantastic tide-predicting machine, a beast of a sicentific instrument that weighed in at 2,500 pounds and functioned slendidly for 30+ years...)
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2332 (expanding an earlier post from 2009) Blog Bookstore
Gustave de Rechter, the author of this pamphlet (The Application of a New System for the Preservation of Dead Bodies, Grammont, Belgium, 1899) had, as you might guess, a very specific reason for keeping the dead from being entirely, decomposedly, dead.As the director of the School of Criminology and of Scientific Police of Belgium, Dr. de Rechter tried to find a way of preservation of bodies for forensic and legal purposes.
Hefollowed in the footsteps of people like Alphonse Bertillon (France) and Hans Gross (Austria) in helping to establish a scientific basis for criminology in the late 19th century. In his case, the preservation of the dead would allow the bodies (of the murdered or suspiciously departed) to be re-examined at a much later date (at least months down the road) should the defense in a murder case challenge the original findings of the medical examiner.
As de Rechter points out, this was particularly true in the case of poisoning, where in 1899 the evidence would be all but dissipated from the body following even a week of death—he maintains that his new method of preservation (via an incubated spray of formic aldehyde, or formaldehyde) would enable further inspection even months after death. De Rechter manages to forestall the inevitable, the great crumbling that awaits everything, everyone, at some point, the "distinguished thing" of Henry James' (last words), to return everything to the earth, to what Larry McMurtry (in Lonesome Dove) refers to as "nothing but a boneyard".
(The images here are from the pamphlet, with de Rechter showing the effects of his nasty spray on corpses and what they looked like after some months sleeping in their formaldehyde cocoons.)
This is just a very quick posting of an interesting bit of data that I stumbled across while looking for William Ferrel's tide predicting machine in the May 3, 1902 issue of Scientific American. I should say it it an unusual piece of info, showing the lengths of trans-oceanic ships and utilizing their plan to locate it on the graph: One thing is for certain: the Great Eastern was a beast--the Titanic would be 192' longer than this, and the QEII and USS Enterprise another 300' longer than that.
The designer of the Great Eastern, Isambard Kingdon Brunel, was pictured against the very impressive launching chains of the ship, seen here in this iconic photograph by Robert Howlett in 1857. (Howlett tragically died at a very young 27 just at the beginning of a brilliant and innovating career.)
Fleeming Jenkin was a very considerable man with a huge range of interests and talents, along the lines of a William Thomson/Stanley Jevons. His main deal though and the place where he earned his keep was in engineering, and here he was virtuosic. I call him up now because of an article that appeared in the 1878 issue of Nature magazine, entitled "The Phonograph". The instrument was invented by Edison in 1877 (and patented in February 1878)--it was an extraordinary thing with great promise, though not so much in the ways we think of today. In any event, Jenkin was able to produce one for himself--to reverse engineer it--from descriptions he read of the machine in the newspapers, which is a big accomplishment.
What he set to do with it was impressive--he began to study the components of speech. And not just by audio comparison--he devised a method to make transverse sections of the recording wax so that they could be magnified and allow him to study the visual differentiations made by speech in the medium. Now that is very good--making the phonograph into a phonic graphing machine.
Here's the article, written by Alexander J. Ellis, as it appeared in the May 9, 1878 issue of Nature:
This intereting and half-Surreal woodcut appeared as a small 3/4"x1 1/2" illustration for an article in Nature for May 22, 1873. I like it quite a bit. It is tiny, spare, odd, and contains all of the necessary technical details. And it was an innovation--just a fine piece of work.
The satirical sturgeon, the London Punch magazine, took many shots at innivation and invention over the years, mostly within the months and first year or two of the creation of whatever it was they were taking to the humor shed. Electricity was one such area, and there were many poems and cartoons and satirical slings thrown in its path. The "light bulb" as we know it didn't quite exist in 1879 (the year of our cartoon) though the history of electric lighting was already quite long by that point--just not very effective, and certainly not in even limited distribution. (The next big step would be in 1880 with Edison's vast improvement on the lightbulb.) Here's a good example of Punch's take on the electric light's future --and the pallor of fish and fish sellers in the new era of artificial light:
Alexander Graham Bell was already mega-famous by the time he unveiled what he considered to be one of his greatest inventions. Working at his L Street lab as well as from his home (which was just a few blocks away from my store in Georgetown, which was at the 34th & Volta Place, also just a few doors away from Alger Hiss' old place, and a few doors the other way from Warren Christopher's house where he slipped and fell on his last day in DC on the snowy steps and sidewalk that he never shoveled, and so on) he developed the photophone. In the day, in 1880, when it was completed he considered the work so substantial and filled with so much potential that he left his plans on deposit in a sealed something-or-other until he announced the results for real, which came at a public lecture on August 27, 1880. (This perhaps for the big taste of legal trouble he got into with his telephone--troubles and contentiousness that would continue for years. Also there was something in the air about this, so to speak, with an article in Nature attesting to rivals of the ingenious invention coming in the 23 May issue of the same year.) In any event, he found this invention to surpass his telephone and phonograph--except that few people today recall the instrument, much less what it did1.
It was a fantastic thing, an elegant device utilizing his discovery of the photoacoustic effect--basically, transmitting wireless telephone conversations, transmitting speech on light rays, a feat that would not be utilized until the last two decades of the 20th century, a precursor to fibre-optic communication--it was just decades away from practical application.
In his article in Nature of September 23, 1880, electrical pioneer Sylvanus Thompson writes (opening that weekly issue) that "sounds can be transmitted from one station to another wherever a beam of light can be flashed; ...we may expect the slow spelling out of words in flashing signals of the heliograph to be superceded by the more expeditious whispers of the photophone" (page 481). Actually it seems that this paper beat the sponsor organization of Bell's August address into general print, though The Electrician seems to have bested them both with an article on September 18.
Bell was happy. According to Ben Richmond at Motherboard, Bell wrote a lovely note to his father on his success:
“I have heard articulate speech by sunlight! I have heard a ray of the sun laugh and cough and sing! ...I have been able to hear a shadow and I have even perceived by ear the passage of a cloud across the sun's disk.”
1. Wiki quotes Donald J.C. Phillipson and Neilson, Laura, entry on Bell in the Canadian Encyclopedia online. "Of the 18 patents granted in Bell's name alone, and the 12 he shared with his collaborators, four were for the photophone, which Bell referred to as his 'greatest achievement', telling a reporter shortly before his death that the photophone was "the greatest invention [I have] ever made, greater than the telephone." Wiki and Philipson/Neilson.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2321 A Post called "Computer Art, 1949", revisited and much expanded
This is a great example of an exactly-what-is-this object, something that seems to be one thing, then the other, but then neither.
I'm not sure how to investigate this right off-hand, but I think that there is a special category in the history of art, subcat history of art and technology, subcat history of computer art, subcat using the technical aspects of the computer in art. The image above comes from the front cover of one of the early issues of the "new" Physics Today magazine (volume 2, number 10), in October 1949--it is the artwork of Paul Bond, who created this portrait of a juggler "on a matrix sheet used for plotting computor [sic] plug board diagrams", and is one of 11 such images. So, while not computer art--artwork generated by the computer--it is artwork using items designed to operate the computer, a sort of very early computer-material montage. (It would be in the first-time-ish category, but I can't say this with any surety--it is however very very early for what it is.)
It reminds me in a way of a magazine article using the illustration of a photograph--it was in the curious category of the first time an image of a photograph was published, that is to say it was a woodcut of a photograph though not the photograph itself. This appeared in Golding Bird's series of articles, "A Treatise on Photogenic Drawing", which was five papers found and bound in the London-published journal, The Mirror. and were extremely works on the new science of photography, appearing in issues from April 20-May 25, 1839. The image appears on page 241 (issue no. 945, Saturday April 20) and displays this first image of a photogenic drawing, which was the first publication of an image produced by any sort of photographic process. (The process here is the 'sun picture" , a photographic process, making this the first published "photographic" image, but really it is more like the first publication of a photographic image that was produced via woodcut. It predates the first mass-published photograph by four years and the first (entirely) photographically illustrated book (The Pencil of Nature ) by six years.)
Our computer artwork illustrates an interesting article ("Modern Computing") by pioneers R.D. Richtmyer and N.C. Metropolis . Richtmyer/Metropolis have a very sober approach to the computer--and mostly speaking about the ENIAC--and address its romance, possibilities, and seemingly (to me) most of all "a need for defining the limits of computing machine operation, as well as its promise". In effect, the authors really only address the known quantities of computing capacity in 1949, and even though tempted by looking into the future, they really do not. Their vision of the future is very pragmatic, and so far as speaking to future applications of the machine they choose the very Bartlebian philosophy and chose not to: they conclude "by their very nature, these applications are not easy to foresee, and perhaps, therefore, this is the point at which this discussion should close", preferring to watch the beautiful and complex whirlwind in a thicket from the outside.
There have been much earlier images of automated steam-driven robots with some sort of calculating brain, and images of imaginative computer-like objects, and stretching back into the 18th century, so the idea of creativity and thinking and human-like qualities made by things constructed of metal and wood with a power source of steam or electricity and so on was well-established, though lurking in deep-background. Art made with the computer seems to come a fair bit later than this issue, later still than what might be considered the first art generated via the computer (which were images made from manipulating an oscilloscope) in 1952. This was the work of Ben F. Laposky (1914-2000) an Iowan and mathematician/draftsman and former sign-painter who took long time exposure photographs of waves motions on a cathode ray oscilloscope with sine wave generators and found beauty in them. His work was first exhibited at the Sanford Museum in Cherokee, Iowa, in 1952, as "Oscillons or Electronic Abstractions"1 --hundreds of other shows would follow.2 One of the earliest appearances in print of the oscillons is in Scripta Mathematica, Sept-Dec, 1952, pp 305 (and then somewhat later in Design, May 1953).
Among the earliest computer-generated art--that is, art made via an automatic process input by humans by created by the machine--was created and noted by A. Michael Noll (b. 1939) with an IBM 7094 and described as "computer art" in "an August 1962 technical memorandum"3. Noll has written extensively (and interestingly! and early) on human/computer interfaces including computers and dance, fourth dimensional imaging, and much else4, including a fabulous comparative study of an original Mondrian and a computer-generated alternative5. (Noll is today widely recognized as one of the first in the field of digital art and 3-D animation.)
[Image source: Compart, Cener for Excellence in Digital Art, here.]
In any event, I think at the very least that the Bond artwork is very curious, interesting, and probably very early for what it is.
1. This reference was first found in Arthur I. Miller's Colliding Worlds, (Norton, 2014) on page 66. Miller is perhaps the most upper tier in upper tier historians of science with the specialty of art/science interface--over the years I have enjoyed his work enormously.
--See here for a full text of Electronic Abstractions.
2. "Electronic Abstractions are a new kind of abstract art. They are beautiful design compositions formed by the combination of electrical wave forms as displayed on a cathode-ray oscilloscope. The exhibit consists of 50 photographs of these patterns . A wide variety of shapes and textures is included. The patterns all have an abstract quality, yet retain a geometrical precision . They are related to various mathematical curves, the intricate tracings of the geometric lathes and pendulum patterns, but show possibilities far beyond these sources of design."—Sanford Museum, Gallery notes for Electronic Abstractions, 1952 (Wiki) For a good appreciation of Laposky, see Alison Drain, "Laposky's Lights Make Visual Music" in Symmetry 4/3, pp 32-33.
3. Miller, page 68.
4. See the following:
Noll, A. Michael, “Short-Time Spectrum and Cepstrum Techniques for Vocal-Pitch Detection,” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Vol. 36, No. 2, (February 1964), pp. 296–302
Noll, A. Michael, “Computers and the Visual Arts,” Design and Planning 2: Computers in Design and Communication (Edited by Martin Krampen and Peter Seitz), Hastings House, Publishers, Inc.: New York (1967), pp. 65–79.
Noll, A. Michael, “The Digital Computer as a Creative Medium,” IEEE Spectrum, Vol. 4, No. 10, (October 1967), pp. 89–95
Noll, A. Michael, “Choreography and Computers,” Dance Magazine, Vol. XXXXI, No. 1, (January 1967), pp. 43–45
Noll, A. Michael, “The Effects of Artistic Training on Aesthetic Preferences for Pseudo-Random Computer-Generated Patterns,” The Psychological Record, Vol. 22, No. 4, (Fall 1972), pp 449–462.
Noll, A. Michael, "Computer-Generated Three-Dimensional Movies," Computers and Automation, Vol. 14, No. 11, (November 1965), pp. 20-23.
Noll, A. Michael, “Computer Animation and the Fourth Dimension,” AFIPS Conference Proceedings, Vol. 33, 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference, Thompson Book Company: Washington, D.C. (1968), pp. 1279-1283
Noll, A. Michael, “Art Ex Machina,” IEEE Student Journal, Vol. 8, No. 4, (September 1970), pp. 10-14.
5. Noll, A. Michael, “Human or Machine: A Subjective Comparison of Piet Mondrian’s ‘Composition with Lines’ and a Computer-Generated Picture,” The Psychological Record, Vol. 16. No. 1, (January 1966), pp. 1–10.
This is a general report on the origin, development and status of the Hagelin "cryptographers"--a word used here to describe the physical machines (rather than the people working on codes). After his father invested in Aktiebolget Cryptograph, Boris C.W. Hagelin (1892-1983) took over ht leadership of the company in 1925, producing several fine models of encoding crypto machines, using Arthur Scherbius' (as in the "Scherbius Principle", 1878-1929) rotor designs, some of which were marketed under the name "Enigma" (models of which were purchaed by the Wehrmacht in 1926 and modified for heavy use in the '30's and through WWII). The company produced 140,000 units during WWII (while headquartered in the U.S) and is still in business today as Crypto AG, in Zug, Switzerland.
(The Hagelin Cryptographers, an Analysis. Stamped CONFIDENTIAL, mimeographed in New York, by Ericsson Telephone, 1942.)
Sections in the document include "Models Built at Express Demand of the French Authorities", "Evolution of Hand Cryptographer Type C-362", "Hagelin Cryptographer Models" (BC-38 and C-362), "Methods of Operation", "Superiority of Hagelin Cryptographers over Competing Makes", and others, including a final section "How to Sell Cryptographers". There is a mention of the "Enigma" machine on page 14, which is limited to mentioning that it is not sold outside of Germany. Although the Swiss firm founded by Boris Hagelin has manufactured, and continues to manufacture, many kinds of cipher machines, the words "Hagelin machine" will normally inspire thoughts of their unique lug and pin based machines.
"Let no man seek / Henceforth to be foretold what shall befall / Him or his children.Milton," Paradise Lost XI, 770-72
George Cruikshank--the gifted English cartoonist/satirist/caricaturist and social commentator--was readying his viewers to some hyperspeculative dreams on the possibilities of near-in-time powered flight. Steampunk air travel is so commonplace in the near future that there are departure stations on building-tops
This etching by George Cruikshank "Air-um Scare-um Travelling," from The Comic Almanack (1843), satirizes speculative hopes for balloon flight. The banners hanging from the departure-tower advertise pleasure trips from England to suitably fashionable and exotic locales: daily to Peking, Canton, Mont Blanc, and "every quarter hour" to the birthplace of modern ballooning, Paris. In the lower-left background, one flying machine explodes in mid-air--even in this aeroborne soliloquy to the future, there was more than a touch of danger.
I just like the cover art for Radio News. For at least the decade that I know about this journal published with very heavily red covers. This one, for April 1931, was really red and also had some unusual design going on--especially after the cover text was removed. That fellow is standing there with the giant tube that helped the venerable KDKA (Pittsburgh, one of a few contenders for the title of "first commercial radio station" in the U.S.) reach millions of people, with a very powerful 400 kW signal--it basically made the station a local-national. (As it turns out the highest power ever authorized for AM radio was 500 kW to WLW (Cincinnati) in 1934, but which was modified down to 50 KW.)
[The only manipulation was removing the text from the bottom right that displayed the issue's contents--everything else is in situ.]
The eyes of top-ranking Nazis must have popped when they saw this work by Henri Moreau (1893-1978) and Paul Chovin. It is a fairly technical paper on the V-1, the progenitor of their supposedly war-ending "secret weapon" the V-2, and to see the data and detail published in a tech journal in the city that was until very recently held in Nazi hands....well, there was very strong irony there. "L'arme allemande de represailles <<V1>>", seen here in offprint form, was published in Genie Civil, 1 January 1945--it is eight pages long, and printed in Paris (newly liberated from the German army 25 August 1944) in early 1945. The offprint itself is a rare thing, with no copies whatsoever located in WorldCat, and nothing floating around on the interwebtubes. I was frankly surprised to find this fairly-well documented piece on the V-1, but no report itself, so I decided to reprint the report in its entirety. Some of the text runs off the side of the scanner, but that is the best I can do in scanning the pamphlet without taking it completely apart.
I found this very interesting history of calculating machines in the February 1885 issue of The Popular Science Monthly(Volume XXVI, No IV)--it is a wonderful piece, nicely illustrated, too. [Lucas, Eduoard. "Calculating Machines", in the February 1885 issue of The Popular Science Monthly (Volume XXVI, No IV), pp 411-452. ] I thought for sure that I had posted this before because I was so excited to find it--evidently I did not. In any event, here it is: