JF Ptak Science Books  Quick Post

I came upon this small, rare item in the early aviation box here.  Its the inaugural address establishing the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, the even held at the residence of the Duke of Argyll (Campden Hill) on 12 January 1866.  The text is by James Glaisher, who was a significant experimentalist/balloonist in addition to running the Department of Meteorology and Magnetism at the Royal Greenwich Observatories for 34 years. The document is only 7×4 inches, but it winds up being quite dense (literally and figuratively), with about 800 words packed onto one side of this double-column sheet.

Gibbs-Smith, in his interesting and very useful Aviation, an Historical Survey states:

“One of the most important dates in flying history is the year 1866, when there was founded in London the Aeronautical Society (now Royal) of Great Britain.  Although not the earliest society devoted to flying it
was by far the most important and. influential .  It soon attracted men  who realized that mechanical flight was ultimately possible, and who were determined to study and solve its problems..  From then on the main
development of aviation was to lie in the hands of scientifically or technologically trained men.  The subject if flying…now took on a new seriousness…it now become a proper subject of investigation…”– p. 41.

The object itself does not appear in the OCLC/WorldCat, and so is extremely uncommon in this format, so I thought it would be useful to report on it and reprint it here.  The original is also available for purchase on the store’s blog.


Aeronautical society150

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1993 Follow Me on Pinterest

There are times when the future turns up in unexpected places–and sometimes that imagery is quite unintentional, and belongs only to the viewer in that future, looking back. It seems to me that many of these examples belong in the history of scientific illustration

Thomas Dick’s Celestial Scenery, or, The wonders of the planetary system displayed
was published by Harper & Brothers in New York in 1838 is a good example for a home of some of these flashes of future brilliance. What we’re seeing in the pages of this chunky book–which was an influential object in the early reading of a number of people who were to become influential astronomers, one including E.E.. Barnard–are lovely, simple, and include some relatively simple images of size comparisons. The result seems to my eye to suggest Suprematist art, geometrical art that would come into being another 75 years hence or so. (This movement was founded by the great Kazimir Malevich in the 19-teens, who said of it: “Under Suprematism I understand the primacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist, the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.) Of course the Dick images were simple comparatives and not-yet-art–but they certainly do suggests themselves as something more than what they are. The full text of the book is located at the Internet Archive, here. (Thanks to Trevor Owens and his interesting Pinterest collection here who brought my attention to the Dick book via images of the Martian canals.)

A plan of the rings of Saturn relating their size and some of their imagined composition:

Astronomy dick saturn
Kazimir Malevich, Black Circle, 1915:


Comparative of the Earth to Saturn’s rings; image bottom, depicts the Sun and Jupiter

Astronomy dick earth saturn

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1991 Follow Me on Pinterest

LudditeIf the young Ned Ludd had fallen asleep and somehow managed to stay in a reverential dreamland for the past 225 years or so, I wonder what he would think, awakening in 2013. Where would his ambitions lie, assuming that he awoke with the old fire still intact?

Certainly the strength of his convictions would be displaced to some new area beyond smashing the machines that took away the jobs of workers and helped secure them as the lowest-end of a very new man-machine interaction that keep workers working hard for less money. Seeing that machines are everywhere, it would be a hard thing to reject, what most jobs in most areas depending upon a pile of machines that like the cosmological pile of turtles of James Jeans reaches all the way down and all the way up.

Ned Ludd may not have been real, but his name and at least imagined riotous activities against machines were real enough to give the Luddites their name. I think it is commonly believed today that a Luddite is simply anti-tech, but back at te turn of the 19th century and into its second decade, the Luddites were a definite force intent on destroying the very new machines that were taking away the jobs of skilled workers. In the 18-teens, it seems that most of the historical interest in this movement concentrates on their actions against machines in the textile industry: these were proto-"strikes", very physical labor protests against industry selecting machines over man. The threat grew so intense that following the threatening acts of the late 1780's attempting to protect industrial property from this sabotage, that in the war year of 1812 the Destruction of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1812 (52 Geo 3 c. 16), also known as the Frame-Breaking Act was passed by an act of Parliament, which made it a capital offense to destroy mechanized looms. It was intended to break the back of the Luddite movement and preserve industry, and in the progress of the life of the limited act (it was designed to expire after two years), saw the execution of some 60-75 people for acts of violence against property. (The sentencing end of this act is a little difficult, as it seems that judges imposing sentences tended not to cite this act, though the result was the same.) The Frame Breaking Act was replaced by another less lethal act which sentenced lawbreakers to 10-20 years "exile" in Australia, but that too was short-lived and replaced by another flavor of the act that brought back the death penalty.

For whatever reasons, the Luddites seem to have been broken, or absorbed, or exhausted, by the end of the second decade of the 19th century. Mr. Ludd it seems never had a birth date and didn't seem to die, and may not have been an actual person. But as I said if he had slept for 225 years and entered consciousness again, today, it may well be the current evolution of human-machine interaction may be too advanced for him to address. Perhaps Ludd would be interested more in the coming future of human/machine development, when human bodies are disposable, and i hta tcase would fight for the right of humans to retain their humanity. But where would that fight start? Would he have rejected artificial hearts in the 1960's? Artifical hips? Would heart stents be a part of this encroaching history of the mechanization of humanity? And if that was so, would the innovations of Joseph Lister in sanitizing the operating theatre also be an unfavorable development? Would spectacles count? Haring aids? Canes" Wheelchairs? It does get very sticky, unless Mr. Ludd decided to draw the line in the sand at the future transmission of consciousness or whatever into a new non-carbon-based receptacle to cheat death.

Maybe Ludd would aim lower and higher at the same time, deciding that the computer and its veiny internet was the real culprit of contemporary human demise, seeing the world wide web as more a primitive attempt at a global consciousness that robs all of its users of their individual humanities. Of course he would have to become something on the lines of an alchemical adept in order to know how he and his confederates could hack and destroy the internet, causing what might be monumental collapse of the economic world as we know it, launching a new/old era of agrarianism.

Or maybe Ludd has something entirely different on his mind, like Captain Ahab not really thinking very much about The Whale at all, his mind elsewhere, concentrating just on the contract for hunting up a commission rather than an intellectual and hyper-spiritual trophy.

Philip K. Dick might have had a place for Ludd in one of his stories, which is about as much harm as he could do, unless resurrected by a super-evil-rich-nogoodnic with a mask and a cape intent on committing his Geniusopathia to Digiocide.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1991 Follow Me on Pinterest

Infographic nazi materials148

This dense, complicated table showing the distribution of
strategic raw materials (published in The Illustrated London News 3 August
1940) I is a decent example of how not to display data.


Perhaps there’s just too many variables to try to control here in one visual display: it tracks twenty raw materials by percentage of access for thirteen different countries, with the entire graph being displayed in a sort-of progression according to metric tons of material. Maybe it’s the varying widths of the bars representing the material, maybe it’s the complex designs distinguishing the countries, and maybe its just too many lines. The only time this really works for relatively-offhand use is when you’re looking for one country in particular, and then the eye allows it self to just concentrate on the solid black (Germany) or the stars in a bar (U.S.) When the graph is used in this manner it displays rather quickly that Nazi Germany doesn’t control a whole lot of the combined tonnage of the twenty strategic materials, which was a particularly good thing for the general reading population in the Allied world to see, because the war was not going so well at this early stage. (At this point in the war—less than a year old now in Europe—the Battle of Britain had begun though it was still weeks away from when the massive Blitz begins, and Hitler had just toured Paris…it was not a good time for Britain, and a worse time for France. The Soviet Union is listed still with the Axis as it was still 10 months away from being attacked, Hitler turning on his allies in Operation Barbarosa in June 1941.)

A little further effort would show that the Allied countries are mainly lighter, with the “belligerent” or neutral countries are darker, showing the lighter is on top with darker beneath, and that in general the Allies control more of these materials than the Axis. It is also interesting to not ethe relative smallness of control by Great Britain, though when you throw in the rest of the British and then the French empires the possession summary changes dramatically.

So the data is there, and there’s allot of it, and its fairly nimble—its just that the visual display is not pretty or easy to use .

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1990 Follow Me on Pinterest

Let no man seek / Henceforth to be foretold
what shall befall / Him or his children. — Milton, Paradise Lost XI,

In recent history the general response of the popular vision of society to new innovations in technology is to put whatever the newcomer is to work and to find a commonality to mediate newness and necessity. There's really nothing quite like having a vision of the future when there's something new in the techno-world to make the image seem as though it could be possible, the limitations of the innovation not yet being established and all that. And so when something like the Second Industrial Revolution takes of in the 1830's there is a new belief that problems wide and narrow could in the future be solved with steam powerand often these same hopes and visions were cauterized in print, the belief in inventions like steam-powered laundresses and carriage horses and ditch-diggers all painted with sloppy buckets of incredulity and overreaction by immensely talented and public artists like George Cruikshank, a gifted English cartoonist/satirist/caricaturist and social commentator. In many cases like these though artist/visionary was wrong in the short run by right in the long–Cruikshank couldn't have seen too deeply into the future in the 1830's/1850's because that Steampunk world of the 1930's would arrive with electricity or the internal combustion engine or some other innovation that would come after Cruikshank's time, and those impossible images that he created of steam-powered flying machines and such would actually come true and quickly, but would just skip his own generation's technological innovations and become the commonplace object in the future two-generations or so hence.

For example, here we seem some hyperspeculative Cruikshankian dreams on the possibilities of near-in-time powered flight, which combines the newness of steam and flight, and published in his The Comic Almanac (1843). The possibility of Utopia prophesy is so strong that steam-fired flying machines fill the air and passengers fill building-tops, standing above enormous banners advertising daily trips to Peking, Mont Blanc and Canton, as well as half-hour departures to Paris.

There are legions of images like this, but what attracted my attention this morning was the application of the relatively new-found technologies wrapped around the possibilities of robotics and radio. Early radio broadcasting and the newly-coined "robot" (the term was coined just a few years earlier in 1921 in Karel Capek's play Rossum's Universal Robots) came together very nicely in this spec article for Science and Innovation in May 1924:Radio-police-automaton-1924

The inset detail is pretty interesting, the robots unleashed on a crowd, under control of a radio patrol car.

Radio-police-automaton-1924 det

Another view of police-in-the-future, earlier-on in the century, from a series of French postcards (printed ca. 1900), depicting what the possible world of the future might look like in the year 2000:

Police flyinh

And an earlier 'version" of both came to life int he hands of Curikshank (again), who produced what might be the earliest image of an artificial exoskeleton:

Albert Robida (1848-1926) saw pretty deeply into the future, his mind
wrapped around the plausibilities of possibilities, and getting a lot of
them quite right. (He was enormously prolific, with some 60,000 designs
to his credit as well as 200 illustrated books and many dozens of
illustrated journals, many of them quite lovely and prescient, if
somewhat upsetting to the common-reading mind of mid-late 19th Europe). Here's Robida on the possibilities of ElectroPunk:

["Un quartier embrouillé ", La Vie électrique, Paris, Librairie Illustrée, [1892]. I wrote a little about Robida here.]

Of course, Robida as well overplayed and underplayed his vision of the electrical future–I think he woul d have been shocked to see that dead trees are still supporting most of the wired world's digital infrastructure, but he would have been overwhelmed to learn what that electricity was transmitting.

It would be an interesting measure to see how long it took between some futures going from hyper-speculated to not-so to be positively under-speculated and perhaps naive.


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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1988 Follow Me on Pinterest

People get stuff wrong.–(could've been said by) R.P. Feynman

Maras eyeball2_edited-1[Source: via Chronicles of America series at the Library of Congress, here, and first seen via the interesting Pinterest collection of Trevor Owens, here.]

Some five years after Percy Lowell filed his Gigantic Situation of intelligent life on Maris in 1906, and 14 years after H.G. Wells' octopusian Martian invasion, the Salt Lake Tribune published this limb-numbing story on solar-flare-sized plant eyeball creatures who were said to inhabit Mars. Rather they lived of Mars–the eyeball plant was thousands of miles big, growing along the surface of Mars, and then rising up above it to survey itself and its dominion via an unlashed and unlidded eggy eyeball of stupendous size mileage.

But when you squint and feel the whole scenario out, you can sort of see how someone might've come up with this solution to the Martian canals. Or canali, as they were first described in in 1877 in Italian by the very busy and very astute G.V. Schiaparelli–it was unfortunate that the need for mistranslating the word from Italian into "canals" rather than 'channels", but wicked imagination must've taken hold of Lowell, and he ran with the idea that the markings on the surface of the planet were of intelligent design. (I'm sorry that Schiaparelli is remembered mostly for this particular contribution to astronomy in the popular mind–he was really a pretty extraordinary scientist and historian of science, and in his exceptional biography in the 1910 volume of the Astrophysical Journal there is a long and lauditory appraisal of his life and career, without a peep/mention of the infamous canali).

And by "squinting" acknowledgement I mean squinting very hard–at least it could account for the changing seasonal forms of the canals, as their positions would change if the thing was alive. Of course, the whole "living planet" deal doesn't work out so well physically and biologically, though it is a smashing good idea for a scifi story, especially one appearing in 1912. Lowell had a very difficult time explaining the movements of these figures, because–according to his theory–the Martians would've been constructing positively enormous canals that stretch across the planet which were also wide enough to be visible via telescope from Earth–with changing positions, that would mean, possibly, that the Martians would fill these things back up again at the turn of the season, and then build and fill the next, and so on. It would be an interesting calculation to see how much real estate was being moved on Mars every year.

Lowell did come up with an explanation for this seeming motion–turgidly, he felt that the canals themselves didn't actually moved; rather, it was a huge movable biomass on the canals at were changing so much the activity could be seem fro space. There were many problems with the theory, as very ably pointed out by the great Alfred Russell Wallace, who eviscerated Lowell and his intelligent Martian life idea (published in his Mars and its Canals published in 1906 which was followed by Mars as the Abode of Life in 1909) in his own book, Is Mars Habitable? (1907). The Mars business eclipses Lowell's other very capable work, or at least so it seems–when the man died in 1910, he was buried on Mars Hill at the observatory in Flagstaff.

The Giant All-Seeing Eyeball was hoisted high in the Tribune, given supposed life by the very highly capable astronomer W.W. Campbell (1862-1930, with his biography here at the National Academy of Science), who is quoted by the paper as being the source of this preposterous theory. Campbell was not pleased by this–not at all. And I can well imagine why.

I can't consider the Salt Lake paper's story a hoax (as in the case of the great Moon hoax perpetrated in the pages of the New York Sun in 1835), mainly because it is surrounded by other crazy/funny stories–and it didn't try to present the story as a piece of non-fiction, as is classically the case with hoaxes. The Tribune followed up this story on the very next page with one on how the English aristocracy was turning into gorillas.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

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Moon is still champion

The iconography of the Moon is certainly wide and vast, but I'm thinking that this may be a very good candidate for the first time that the Moon appears as an airplane. I found this lovely image depicting the champion of the air, the great and all-knowing height-highness, the Moon. In 1914, eleven years after the first powered heavier than air flight of the Wright brothers, the development of more sophisticated was appreciating at a high rate, and there were newer higher records for (fixed wing) altitudes. (In 1908 the altitude record was about 360'; in 1910, it stood at 8,000'–balloons had achieved loftier records, around 40,000' in 1912.) This was a sly way of pointing out that try as they may and try as they might, the inhabitants of Earth wouldn't come quite so close to the Moon as they would dream. And that was true until Apollo 8 found itself on the far side of the Moon, only 56 years later. [Source: The Day Book, Chicago, March 24, 1914. Image provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, Urbana, IL. Persistent link: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045487/1914-03-24/ed-1/seq-31/]

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I just found this in the October, 1930 issue of Popular Mechanics and like all of these sorts of identifiers it struck me as potentially useful. At the very least, it is interesting, and so I pass it along:

Airplane silhouette part b

Larger images of the silhouettes below:

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This is an interesting image without a story, though its implications are huge and the engineering involved is incredibly substantial. It appears in the September 1930 issue of Popular Mechanics, and shows a "huge concrete tube" connecting Africa and Gibraltar. the interesting part, the "strange" part of the title of the illustration), is that the tunnel is basically like an underwater bridge. When the idea of the tunnel was first proposed by the Spanish government in 1930 it was found that the rock between the two continents (and actually about where the two continents meet) was extraordinarily hard–too hard for the contemporary technology to deal with. One proposal to get around the tunneling aspect was to lay the tunnel above the bottom of the channel, which is what we're looking at in this image.

Tunnel to africa147

JF Ptak Science Books Daily Dose from Dr. Odd Follow Me on Pinterest

“The first principle [in science] is to not fool yourself.” R.P. Feynman

“The Woo-woo
is all the same, everywhere, anytime, every time.”
—James Randi on the
history of the pseudosciences .

See also: the Geology of Hair

If a person can read another person’s face “like a book”, then I suppose that the face might have some “tracks” on it–beastly objects like the tracks of words (a la Mr. McMurtry in Lonesome Dove) or perhaps something more like the elements of a map, something that is defined and pleads for interpretation, decisive and imaginative at the same time.

This came to mind reviewing an older post on this blog, Maps of the Cosmos of Moles, and saw what looked like deeper geological entries on the subject’s face, which was a 17th century alchemical/astrological appraisal and mapping of human moles, but more so than the arrangement of the moles in question. (Funny to go into a project mapping moles on humans and come out of it with a geology of noses, a phrase by the way which does not show up in a Google search). In any event, a magnified view of Mole Man’s face coupled with its circular arrangement in the engraver’s technique seemed to suggest something of a volcano in the subject’s nose, complete with contour lines.

Mole map detail[Full image found below]

There’s a very prominent similarity to any number of geological features, liek the one below of the Devil’s Tower:

Devils_tower det

The contour lines of Mole Man reminded me of something else, another map o fa human face that had a very distinctive geological flavor to it, and another nose:

Geology of noses

Contour yellowstone det
The nose belongs to a Paint-by-Number portrait of Jimmy Durante, a vaudeville/stand-up/entertainer with a very prominent and probably the most famous nose of the 1940′s and 1950′s.

I doubt that this means anything at all–it was a nice exercise of pulling together a few divergent images in a very odd forced alignment.


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