A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 4 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 4,200+ total posts
The hint for this WIT? is already given in the title to the exercise--that said, can you figure out exactly what is going on here? It is a lot more complicated than you'd think, but at least part of the answer is pretty much a given when looking at the patent drawings. The tricky part of the answer here is knowing how this thing would be so lethal.
The original patent for this tube-and-rod design was made at the Danish Patent and Trademark Office in Copenhagen on 28 Jaunary 1958 at 1:58 p.m. The design could be for an associated cooling system for a steam turbine; or for a high-pressure/reactive clutch of passes and cylinders for a water turbine hydroelectric facility; or perhaps it was for a modern prison system utilizing water-filled bars for prison cells that could indicate a possible jail break if any leaking water was discovered, making tampering with the bars an impossibility.
This is one of the most important hole punchers in the history of holes, and also in the history of counting and figuring out what to do with counted things. Do you know who filed this drawing as part of their patent report, and what famous contribution this thing made?
Okay, so I've given it mostly away in the title--if not for that, this wouldn't be a very obvious contraption, would it?
There must have been a lot of people who had a problem with street cars in the 19th and early 20th centuries because in my meanderings through the Scientific American I have seen quite a few suggestions for dealing with the pedestrian vs the heavy moving metal problem. Many of them have to do with the humanified locomotive cow-catcher--that is an apparatus that would somewhat safely scoop up the unfortunate pedestrian before they became very fatally unfortunate. Here's just one example, found in the February 3, 1894 issue:
Neither the scoopee nor the scooper look pleased.
This problem is better illustrated by an early film of street traffic--it is amazing in a way that the orchestration of non-fatalities is so seemingly superb, the coercive element of the destruction of liminal space pretty well hidden in the seeming confusion.
[Via youtube, "From trolley, down Broadway and Union Square. Street scenes, stores, crowds, carriages.--Early 1900's"]
Here's another in this developing and fun series in the What-is-It? category. At first it reminded me of Renaissance woodcuts of various stages of creation anointed by a coy hand of the creator. This one though is late 19th century and has a definite highly au courant "Oriental" theme which so far as I can tell has nothing to do with the telling of the story of this object. It looks a little like a multi-horned phonograph (already in existence by about a decade at this point), and it also looks a little like a Chinese earthquake detector. It is surprising for what it actually represents, and it is a lot larger than you'd think, with the figure in the background definitely not to scale. Plus, it comes into the world a few years earlier than its gigantically famous counterpart, as though it had gone back in time...
[I apologize for the fuzziness at the top of the image here but I couldn't get the volume of Nature flat enough on the scanner to avoid the degradation.]
In the wonderland world of early applications of electricity to anything comes this marvelous image of an electrical thermometer from Nature for March 17, 1881.The original image is only about 3" tall, and I could not resist reproducing it in what is almost a 3:1 ratio. As pretty as it was/is, the implementation was a bit of a picture of a soggy sandwich.
Evidently the platinum screws running up the side of the thermometer (at every 3 degrees, though it could be refined to <1-degree increments), were connected to an alerting operator like a bell or some such thing. That way, if something was being heated to a certain temperature and the temp changed, an alarm would sound, and the whole process could be viewed remotely. Why this would be necessary I am not so sure--even the author admitted that the whole thing would be very cumbersome with the large number of insulated wires being tracked into the observing station. In any event, the image is striking, if not the idea.
On a recent reading graze I found this most interesting image and thought that it could be a number of things besides the thing that it really was:
So, what is it?
A) An attempt at a Time Machine. (Stephen Hawking said “[i]t seems there is a chronology protection agency, which prevents the appearance of closed timelike curves and so makes the universe safe for historians”. Feh for our story line and image! We'll let this stand and say that this would be a Wellsian vs. Thornian time machine.)
B) A Victorian listening device for extreme and well-to-do introverts that allows for the home dweller to stay inside and listen to everything that is going on in the immediate vicinity of their house. The remarkable bit here is that it was discussed that a retired physician, Manbot Fettle Dolp had one of these devices installed at his house in Kensington and actually recorded some 100 Edison cylinders worth of found sounds, an acoustical portrait of high Victorian London that without his effort would have been completely lost.
C) A tailoring device that would automatically record all physical attributes of a customer when they passed through the thing--it turns out that physical anthropologists used the device first to record all body aspect of criminals for a database of "what criminality looks like", but the results and tests were abandoned after it was determined that the author of the study, Rev. Fitzwilliam Fitz William, was the perfect average of the criminals he measured. Rev. Fitz William said the results were obviously "deeply and irretrievably wrong", though he did have some thoughts on the redemption of the project when writing from his prison cell twenty years later in Reading Goal.
D) The terminal of a central telegraphic station. ("The requirements of telegraphic communication on a large scale created widespread telegraphic networks. The "nodes" of a network, shown here, involved a respectably large number of circuits.")