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Telephone 1876 lockyer detail
There are many facets in the history of the future that sound very familiar and true, making it shocking to realize what a long timeline some presumably modern things have. For example, take the issue of the superiority of children to understand newly-arrived technological innovations. It seems as though children need to be shown exactly once how to access a certain segment of a program or how to program the television. It is perhaps a modern conceit that this issue belongs with us in the present and to the children of these children, somewhere in unfolding technological future. But this was certainly the case in 1876, with the (very) new technological breakthrough, the telephone.

Alexander Graham Bell was not the first to the invention of the telephone–this is one of those breakthroughs that was 'in the air" (like the electric telegraph, and the hypothesis on the background radiation of the creation of the universe, and television, and Cubism), and in several issues of the standard-keeper scientific journal Nature for 1876 there are several articles discussing the telephone which do not mention Bell. For example Antonio Meucci in 1849, Charles Bourseul in 1854, Johann Philipp Reis in 1860, Elisha Gray in 1874, and Thomas Edison in 1875, all came close to the practical application of the idea of the 'speaking telephone", but it was Bell who ruled the day with the superior design and the patent award. It was Gray who came closest of all to winning the future, beaten in the accounting department at the Patent Office by Bell by only a few hours, both his and Bell's patents received on 12 February 1876. (Gray's patent was actually received earlier in the morning than Bell's, but it was Bell's attorney who insisted on his patent being recorded immediately in the accounting ledger, with Gray's patent entered into the books two hours later, resulting in the awarding of the telephone patent to Bell. Ouch).

The August 24, 1876 issue of Nature contained a compact article (uncredited but written by the editor, the esteemed astronomer/astrophysicist Norman Lockyer) on the recent extravagances in electrical development, and included a long section on the telephone. Bell's name was not mentioned, and Lockyer concentrated on the work of Reuss and Gray. He also wrote about the use of the telephone, which does not yet involve the use of the instrument for voice communication. As in an earlier article in the same journal by J. Munro ("On the Telephone, an Instrument for Transmitting Musical Notes by Means of Electricity".London, Nature: May 11, 1876. Pp 30-32 and concentrating mostly on the Gray telephone), Lockyer discusses one application of the telephone in the transmission of music. (He does mention the remarkable experiments of Bourbouze, who in 1870 attempted to use the Seine as a conductor between two stations, those being two bridges, each outfitted with electric piles, enabling the transmission of information without wires–but that's for another post).

Lockyer writes about "the germ of notable improvements to be made on the electric telegraph", that

"in its present state, the invention is so complete that we can, at a distance, repeat one or more pianos the air played by a similar instrument at the point of departure. There is a possibility here, we must admit, of a curious use of electricity. When we are going to have a dinner party, there will be no need to provide a musician. By paying a subscription to some enterprising individual, who will, no doubt, come forward to work in this vein, we can have from him, a waltz, a quadrille, or a gallop, just as we may desire. Simply turn a bell handle, as we do a cock of a water or gas-pipe, and we shall be supplied with what we want".

Lockyer finishes with this great line: "Perhaps our children may find the thing simple enough".

My initial reaction is great surprise, that this feeling about children coming to understand a new technology quickly/instantly reaches (in evidence) back to 1876. How far back in time does this sentiment or realization reach? Is it ancient? I've never really thought about it, but now that I have, a little, and been presented with hard evidence that the sentiment reaches back into the 19th century, that it might as well reach all the way back, deep into dusty history–even pre-dusty. In any event, even though it is a little difficult for me to ascertain Lockyer's real feelings about the use of the new instrument, his reaction to children and technology seems to be an honest belief.

(I actually have a series of original early papers on the telephone (1876-1878) including the one below, offered on the bookstore section of this blog, here).

Telephone 1876 lockyer

Telephone 1876 munro

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Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1825), a French architect of fabulously distanced sight, produced this breathtaking image in 1792. The Tomb of Lars Porsena, King of Etruria (the great Etruscan king, d. ca. 500 BCE ), is just one of hundreds of works by Lequeu, a re-discovered architectural genius who worked during the same era as other visionary architects such as Etienne Boullee (1728-1799), Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), Louis-Jean Desprez (1743-1803), Francois Barbier (1768-1826), Charles Bernard (1765-1818), Francois-Joseph Belanger (1747-1818), and others, though these guys are the most famous. As a matter of fact, I think, almost all of these architects were re-discovered—Boullee, perhaps the most famous of the lot, was found again not in his buildings but in his visionary drawings that he deposited with the National Library. But Lequeu—found again in the same way–it seems had to be rescued from an even greater obscurity than the others. He tried to expose a unity that he saw in the world, some secret sort of unity, that he saw all around him, and which was unseen by everyone else in creation—at least until the 20th century.

Lequeu started out in a staid and brilliant way, a successful architect in his own right, and student of Scoufflot, designing ancient-inspiration buildings for the super rich. But along came the Revolution and away went his career—he wound up a surveyor and a cartographer until his retirement in 1815, after which he enters social and historical oblivion, until he finally dies in total obscurity ten years later (or so, the date is unclear). His post-revolutionary vision was as phenomenal as his success in selling his ideas were dismal. Well, this is really a cheap shot—his imagination was shockingly large, enormous, his designs fantastic and beautiful, and completely unexpected, and they seemed to grow larger/loftier and more interesting as time wore away at him.

I think that as Lequeu was cleaved away, cell by cell falling through the floorboards of his single rented room, he reached further into time and deeper into space than almost any architect of that hundred-year period. I also think that he was very well aware of his genius being seen as pure eccentricity—his dozen or so self portraits are among the most bizarre that I’ve ever seen (before 1900).


The odd thing in all of this is that in this brilliance there is still a reluctance to leave the Baroque, and this at a time when just about everyone else—beginning around 1750—was abandoning it. So much of the work of the other visionaries mentioned earlier freed themselves of the Baroque—not entirely true, not true at all, for the unique creations of Lequeu, who (as in the Tomb of Lars Porsena) included more than a few bits of the practice even in his most incredible works.

Somehow Lequeu saw the Lars Porsena tomb as a 650-foot tall (!!) structure, with impossible insight and filigree. Extraordinary. (In the upper corners of the drawing of the tomb Lequeu included a design for a coin and also the plan of the structure. The original tomb of Lars Porsena, according to Pliny the elder in his Natural History, XXXVI, 19, 91ff, was a 15 meter high rectangular base with 90 meter sides–completely destroyed in the wars in the first century.

Perhaps his most sensational creation (and one which was devoid of all Baroque influence, as it turns out) was his Meeting Place at Bellevue. It is almost impossible to believe that it is am 18th century creation—it is as harmonious ( armonia) as it is asymmetrical. It looks deeply 20th century, and looked as far into the future as it was deeply unknown.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1958

The birth year of Rosie the Robot is approaching.

(This beautiful sprocket nest, for a patent for transmitting power (1874), like all of the following patent images, is located at Google Patents, here)

Spacely sprocketsFor some odd reason I was thinking about Spacely's Sprockets, George Jetson's (of The Jetsons cartoon in the 1960's) employer. I wondered if this was a high irony–the "sprockets" part– and if there would be any sprockets in our space-aged future. Even by the end of the 60's, just at the end of this cartoon, I wonder if in the tens of thousands of parts that went into the hardware of the Apollo Project to get us to the Moon if there were any sprockets among them.

The sprocket was just such an excellent idea in the history of the transmission of power…but in the 15 or so books that are on hand here on the history of technology there's nothing in between "spring" and "Sputnik" in their indexes. Patents for sprockets seem to begin in U.S. patent history in the late 1860's. Sprockets show up in Gatling/machine guns (1878, with the Leland gun), chain propellers (1875), turn tables for railroads (1874), chain saws (1883), holler for printing machines (1882), stump extractors (1878), wind engine engines (1880), window shutters (1879), safety pulleys (1880), traction engines (1881), feathered paddling wheels (1882), potato differs (1883, with very great tank potential), harvesters (1880), hay elevators (1881), horse treadmills (1884), corn planters (1881), grain elevators (1883), and of course in veliocepedes (a very cumbersome device by Emmit G. Latta in 1880).

[Bicycle source here]

I suspect that there were sprockets in space in 1969, and perhaps they're in a Space X vehicle–I really don't know. Its just interesting to think of the coming of the sprocket and what an enormous influence it exerted in the history of power transmission–and the device's beauty.

My sneaking suspicion is that Rosie the Robot, the maid for the Jetson family–who was 45 years old in the beginning of the 1962 series– was loaded with 1965 sprockets–whether sprockets would exist in the year 2062 or whatever year George Jetson was alive in (certainly many centuries post-2062) is another story. But Rosie–the outdated-model mid-life maid of the future and most reasonable character in the series–surely had them.

Some beautiful sprockets:

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1953

"It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words … what justification is
there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A
word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”, for instance. If you
have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”?
“Ungood” will do just as well — better, because it’s an exact opposite,
which the other is not.’"–George Orwell, 1984

"Orwell and Nabokov wrote nothing like one another and did that to perfection."–Not H.L. Mencken

Hilladamson2[David Octavius Hill (1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (1821-1848), St. Andrews [East Gable End of the Cathedral with Tower of St. Regulus], [1843-1847]. Calotype. Source: Princeton University Library.]

There is nothing that limits action than the control of the stuff that describes it: words. Any dictatorship or totalitarian regime can appreciate this thought–many would try to eliminate even the thinking of this thought, let alone limiting the spoken parameters of discussing it. Removing the capacity to respond to what is happening in the world with other human beings by rephrasing the experience through the introduction of new words and the elimination of old ones is an excruciating form of absolute power that can be blatant as well as subtle, though I suspect that accomplishing this word control sotto voce would be the most effective/insidious method.

Orwell 1984 ms[A page of Orwell's corrected Manuscript of 1984; source: here]

George Orwell describes a terrifying society of just this sort in his book 1984 (with the complete text available here), which was an adventure into a Mystopia of the near-future (of about the year 2050). He writes about a society, Oceania, that attempts to makes it members into one conforming biological unit for the sake of control it. One of the methods used to accomplish this is the destruction of words and the creation of other state-controlled words to replace them, a sort of single-channel television for the mind, a device using its own vocabulary which audially impregnates the listener with versions of correct thinking, redefining reality by controlling the ways of interpreting it.

This is a list of some of the words that Orwell's society creates–some of course do not stand well on there own, their deviousness appreciated in the context of the story, like the first example, "artsem", which through constancy has come to numbingly replace the idea of what the word represents. Others, like 'good", are old words with a new meaning, making them new words with a bad (or not-good) meaning. Or "free" of the old (or Oldspeak") meaning, where even the word "free" is used only to describe an absence, as in "this sentence describing the use of the word "free" is "free from the old meaning of free", like you'd want a baby to be free from germs.

See here for an autobiographical note on Orwell; "A Short History of My Life", by Orwell in 1945, here.

Airstrip One: the new word for "England", which has been reduced to nothing but a terminal for the society of 1984, Oceania, is composed of the Americas, part of southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Artsem: Artificial
insemination, which is the enforced and nearly the only method of reproduction allowed in the society, another brick in a structure that controls the expression of intimacy between people. Big Brother needs new people for the society to continue, but he doesn't want there to be any emotional connection between them outside of the prescribed feelings that people are supposed to emulate. Artsem further indoctrinates a no-contact policy between people. There was the possibility of sexual intercourse but only for the production of children when artsem was not applicable–this was called "goodsex", which was the opposite of "badsex", which was sexual relations for the joy of it. The orgasm was a hunted thing, to be tracked down and eradicated.

BB: Big
The major domo of Oceania, a hitler/g-d, an extreme presence of control.
"The story really began in the middle sixties, the period of the
great purges in which the original leaders of the Revolution were wiped
out once and for all. By 1970 none of them was left, except Big Brother
himself. All the rest had by that time been exposed as traitors and
counter- revolutionaries."

Bellyfeel: an unfeeling and enthusiastic acceptance of an idea, following without knowing or knowledge.

Blackwhite: "… this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an
opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white,
in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it
means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party
discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white,
and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a
continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of
thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in
Newspeak as doublethink."

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RuffinI forgot to create a quick post to commemorate the passing of the beginning of the American Civil War, which began with an attack on Ft. Sumter, on Christmas Eve 1867. This Civil War would only take one year to resolve, and this "time" in the favor of the Southern states. This war was fought in the pages of a work of hopeful propaganda, the creation of Edmund Ruffin (1794-1865), a fire-eating State's rights/pro-Slavery Yankee-hater, Anticipation of the Future. The book was published in 1860, just before the start of the true war, and was basically an apology for the political and social positions of the South in general, a way of asserting Southern rights in what he felt would be the war to come. Ruffin thought that war would take a little longer to brew than the one he created in his book, and he had the South triumph in his version, in spite of the obvious shortcomings in manufacturing and trade and manpower and production.

Ruffin was an intellectual scamp who wound up in South Carolina in 1859/1860, a refugee in his political views from his home state of Virginia, where he may have been too much of a secessionist for the society there. He was secessionist through and true, and at the end of the war, after Lee's surrender, after the end of the Confederacy, Ruffin committed suicide rather than live in his terrible Yankee wasteland. (His last entry to his diary, made an hour or so before his death, he wrote "And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will [be]
near to my latest breath, I here repeat, & would willingly proclaim,
my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule—to all political, social and
business connections with Yankees, & to the perfidious, malignant,
& vile Yankee race".)

Ruffin. I don't know really what to make of him, though his importance seems austere at best. There are stories that circulate that establish him as the man who fired the first shot at Sumter in the beginning of the real Civil War. He certainly fired the first shot in his own version of 1860, in his imagination, and fancy. the way I think of him, though, is not the man who did or didn't fire at Sumter and get powder in his hair in 1861, but by is earlier work in agronomy, and particularly in his interest and work on bogs. That's it. Bogs. Or of course manure, as in his work of 1852, An essay on calcareous manures.

The book (the full title being Anticipations
of the Future, to Serve as Lessons for the Present Time: In the Form of
Extracts of Letters from an English Resident in the United States, to
the London Times (sic), from 1864 to 1870
) is available at the Internet Archive, here.

Here's a bit of the book, discussing the beginning of the war. Its a difficult read:

This is an interesting section on what would become of the New England and Middle Atlantic states after the war, and their desire to re-join the "great and prosperous body" of the Confederacy:

"As to the predaceous and troublesome New England states,
with their pestilent fanaticism, no political community or
power will be willing to accept their annexation, by union
or allegiance. Greedy as England has always been for
territorial acquisition and extended dominion, and anxious
to retain even the most costly and unprofitable colonial
possessions —  even England would now refuse to receive, as
a free gift, the voluntary annexation of New England to
British America. And when the other northern Atlantic
states, (New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Dela-
ware,) shall be left united with New England only, it is
not probable that they will consent to continue in that
baleful connection, and then very feeble political position.
These four states, bordering upon the great confederacy of
not only the southern but the north-western states, Will
doubtless desire to be re-annexed to the great and prosper-
ous body, even if yielding, as the necessary condition, all
power for the future action of anti-slavery fanaticism. Then
New England will be left alone, as it ought to be, without
any political associates to rob of their wealth, or to hate
and annoy or persecute, because of their diverse opinions,
or preferred policy."

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1947 Part of a long series on the History of Atomic and Nuclear Weapons
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I found this map via Alex Wellerstein–a very odd, very visual map of radiological effects of a massive nuclear weapons exchange, which basically leaves little in the way of hope for survivability. It was published in Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Ecological Effects of Nuclear War (edited by G. M. Woodwell) as part of symposium sponsored in part by the Ecological Society of America and the American Institute of Biological Sciences in 1963. Wellerstein (an historian at the Center for the History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics) correctly points out the problems with the model–among which are the 100% ground detonation and 100% achievability in yield–but there was something else that bothered me. Well, two things: first. the swath of death obliterated state lines, so you could sort of tell who was affected (although it seems as though my own mountain city of Asheville, NC is in a very slim thread of beige spiking into the death blotch), not that these distinctions would matter very much in the light of nuclear holocaust.

Atomic attack 20,000 mt
The second part didn’t occur to me until later. The missing state lines wouldn’t matter because there would be basically nothing left, or a something that approached nothing. As Sven Lindqvist points out in his book A History of Bombing (The New Press, 2001), a study conducted at the Max Planck Institute in 1982 showed that an exchange of 5,000 megatons was enough to throw hundreds of millions of tons of soot from burning forests into the atmosphere and create a cloud barrier that would last for six months and cause the temperature on Earth to drop 100 degrees. At the end of that time, after the sun poked its way through again, the damage to the ozone would be such that virtually anything that survived would be killed by UV radiation. Plus all of that nuclear exchange radiation. at the time–in 1982–the worldwide stockpile of nuclear weapons was acknowledged to be about 13,000 megatons.

It is estimated that 13,000 megatons had the damage capacity of 1,000,000 Hiroshimas, due not to increase weight but also to more efficient weight usage. That’s one Hiroshima for every 6,000 people.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1944
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The idea of the mastery of nature presents itself at different levels at different times, and the mid-Victorian Brits had a particular and interesting handle on the issue int he mid-late 19th century.

Mr. Darwin created a new threshold for the deep understanding of Nature and the possibilities of what that knowledge base might mean for generations to come–it was in a sense a time machine of possibility.

Darwin Origin announcement931It is thrilling to see this announcement from Darwin's publisher, John Murray (London), leading off On the Origin of Species in their list of nine new books appearing in their new books list for 26 November 1859 in the journal The Athenaeum.. Most of the other books have slipped into dusty bits, though, remarkably, a few are still around. One of them is coyly significant, and its author is important for yet another reason. The book is number eight on this list: Samuel Smiles Self-Help1, which was about the first book of its kind, a homily to honest work and insight and mutual benefit–it also outsold the Origin, with 20,000 sales in the first year, a bona fide bestseller. (The book would sell a quarter of a million copies by the time of Victoria's death.) So in its way, this book too helped people master another sort of nature–their own.

But that is not why we're visiting with Mr. Smiles–I'm more interested in his description of an element of British technology that was a wonder of its age: the powerful industrial hammer of James Nasmyth2. It was a technological achievement of the highest order and something that seems difficult to appreciate today. Invented in 1839 (the year of the invention of photography and the publication of Darwin's report from his researches on board the Beagle) a more massively-powerful version was displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and was its star performer.

Nasmyth engine 2[Image source and notes: see Note #4 below]

Smiles' made a very interesting observation on the nature of power the machine–rather on its power and the control of its power. The often-told story is that in demonstrating the device Nasmyth would explain and at times demonstrate the capacity of teh hammer to work on large elements going into huge ships; he would also explain that this vast power was also finely tuned and controllable and show this to be the case by having it crack an egg that was in a wine glass without damaging the glass. This meant that aside from being able to handle metals almost as thick as a person, it could also be relied upon to do extremely delicate work, and that the tens of thousands of pounds of pressure it could exert could be called upon to do even the most delicate task. This was a fantastic triumph of control, and was a keen insight into the coming nature of the machine and the rest of the developing Industrial Revolution.

Nasmyth 1854The post-Exhibition of a smaller variation of the hammer, about 12' tall, from Cyclopædia of useful arts, mechanical and
chemical, manufactures, mining, and engineering
, ed. by Charles
Tomlinson, London : New York, G. Virtue & co., 1854.


1. The book (the full text available here) is introduced with the following two quotes from Mill and Disraeli:

“The worth of a State, in the long run, is the worth of the
individuals composing it.”—J. S. Mill .

“We put too much faith in systems, and look too little to men.”—B.

Self Help ends with this quote from Francis Drake:

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
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This lovely image of the possibilities of future aerial flight was made by the celebrated caricaturist and illustrator George Cruikshank, and was printed in 1836. The aircraft at top is a massive affair (the selling of the "beautiful Castle in St. Cloud") offered great possibilities along with "no ground rent". It is absolutely a castle int he sky, literally and figuratively, and must've seemed to be something of a possibility to Cruikshank in the fifth decade following the first balloon ascension. Of course he was having a turn at aviation, but I think he also saw the bits of the feasible within his hopeful caricatures.

Aviation of the future[Source: E. Seton Valentine, Travels in Space, a History of Aerial Navigation, 1902. Here.]
Details below:Aviation of the future--house in sky

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

I stumbled upon these very inventive, peep-into-the-future of imagination images by Theodor Hosemann in journal Exlibris Buchkunst (for the year 1910). Hosemann's (1807-1875) name came into a blurry recognition as a leading genre painter and very busy illustrator in mid-century Germany, but certainly not for these images, which remind me very much of J.J. Grandville, one of the leading imagist illustrators of the 19th century. (Grandville has been a subject in this blog quite often; for example, see here.)

The originals were completed in 1847 and depict some of the trials demanded of future vision, looking into the year 1947. I particularly like the steam-driven horse-mobiles and the steaming-hatted Mercury laughingly outrunning a grimaced Time.

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of a series on Strange Things in the Sky

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This is a quick addition to the Extra-Earth category of this blog–and an amazing one. In the other examples the extra-Earths appear simply appear , with little or no interaction between the two. In this instance we have one Earth attacking the other.

Extra earth

There is no necessity for this to make much or any sense, what with the purple sky and, of course, the extra-Earth–but the attacking rocket taking off from the extra-Earth extra-Florida (or thereabouts) seems to grow in size as it gets closer to its target. After all, the attacking extra-Earth is less than 300' away from what has become an enormous and marauding space vehicle (judging from the distances in relation to the buildings) which is now longer than the extra-Earth-America is wide. But in the world where a miniature extra-Earth can attack a standard-sized-Earth, this would be a minor quibble.

Honestly, I think I like to write about such things for the joy in having to think of a title for the post.