JF Ptak Science Books Post 1986Follow Me on Pinterest

I've noticed a number of different varieties of unusual forests, though mostly they're repurposed, and stand above or on the ground, rather than the one seen in the image below, where the trees are inverted like roots. There's the massive forest that we see every day in the United States, the backbone of our digital culture is strung along the carcasses of dead trees, wires and cables hanging from tree corpses, an enormous chunk of our social interaction and economy dangling above us, moved by the wind and rain. Then of course there's neat and orderly forest, forests that have been cut down, stripped, and the elements stacked in sequences so that people could live inside of them. There are stockade fences, and picket fences. There are old roads from Colonial times and into the 19th century there were made sections of felled trees, and then others that were made from milled lumber (as in Plank Roads). There are forests that have been cut, and then milled all to one size, and laid next to one another in parallels and connected with heavy steel ribbons that stretched for hundreds of thousands of miles, their enterprises given ironic and commodious names with words like "Atlantic" and "Pacific" in them (like the "Union Pacific Railroad"). Dead Wood is everywhere, some of which was simply cut down, stacked, and then slowly burned.

Inverted forest106
Before being replaced by steel, foundations like this were made of lumber and/or stone, and was hardly uncommon–what is uncommon, to me at least, was to see a picture of finished footings, and then to be given such a creative name like "inverted forest". But this is what they were, as we can see here in the New York World's Fair Bulletin in 1937: 11 miles of forests pounded into the soil to support the weight of the iconic Trylon.

Inverted forest caption107

The Trylon is the spire in the middle of the image, next to the sphere–they were both enormous. The spire rose some 600', while the sphere was 180' in diameter–both were gone by 1941, razed at the end of the Fair (1939-1940), their materials used for the war effort. Both stood on the inverted forest.
Inverted forest caption108

[From a private collection, via the Library of Congress, from the White House in 1938.]

In the Alphabet of Inverted Things, forests may be the most unusual: inverted chords, melodies, voices, pyramids, river deltas, microscopes, personality. Forests seem so awful in their way. Inverted.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Follow Me on Pinterest

This single-sheet infographic sheet was published seven months after the end of the war, in June 1919, in the Illustrated London News. "Great Britain's High Place in the Allied Roll of Honor: the Testimony of Figures" is exactly that, a very significant, visual testimony. The images speak for themselves.

Infographic WWI--casualties109

Infographic WWI--casualties two110

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1987Follow Me on Pinterest

Magic square 7096
I found these extraordinary magic squares lurking in the September 1915 issue of Himmel und Erde–seeing them was a shock to me, especially since I was expecting articles dealing with more technical and also astronomy-related issues, though treated as a history of astrology/astronomy aspect I guess that I should've have been too surprised. The author, W. Ahrens (of Rostock) had written on different aspects of the magic square in the South Pacific ("Etwas von magischen Quadraten in Sumatra und Celebes") and more extensively on the Kabalah and magic squares (in "Hebraeische Amulette mit Magischen Zahlenquadraten" for example), and in general in his Mathematische Unterhaltungen und Spiele (1901).

Magic square 1090
(An interesting example of a "Venus" magic square, with seven cells).

Magic square 4093
(This magic square, a "Moon" or "Lunar" square, has nine cells, and also has a form of a "T" world map. The names of the magic squares were adopted by Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) who constructed squares of 3,4,5,6,7,8 and 9 cells, naming them for the seven "planetary" astrological symbols, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury and the Moon. The magic square as an idea seems to have been introduced in the west by Moschopulus of Constantinople in the earlier 15th century–the magic square itself though is ancient, alive and well in India more than 1500 years before its arrival in Europe).

Magic square 5094

A magic square amulette from East India.

Magic square 6095

Magic square 3092
Another 9-cell magic square, indentifying itself with "Lunae" and "Luna".

Magic square 2091

They're all quite beautiful.


JF Ptak Science Books Post 1985Follow Me on Pinterest

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

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1984 Follow Me on Pinterest

This remarkable photograph was published in The Illustrated London News on 15 September 1934 and shows the Fascist demonstration in Hyde Park of 9 September. There was an "anti-Fascist counter-demonstration" at the same time, same park–the two sides were divided by the "No Man's Land" path in the middle, screened by police on each side. The crowd at the left/middle is the fascist group–easily discriminated by their salute and then their visual sameness, so many of them wearing the signature black shirts. At bottom/right/top is the counter-demonstration group, which is far larger–they were orderly but not having any patience for Hitlerism.

Crowds fascist105

Which is a detail from:

Crowds fascist104
[Source: private collection]

I found a handbill for one of the opposing groups at the demonstration: the Young Communist League, which evidently showed up in force. In the caption of the above photo there is no mention of the party affiliation of the anti-fascists, except to quote witness Will Rogers saying "the Blackshirts were holding one meeting. Two hundred yards away the Communists were holding theirs. And in between was all of London lauhing at the both of them". According to a quick search I'm not sure that there were this many communists in all of London in 1934–I assume the anti- crowd was very mixed.

(These Blackshirts should not be confused with Albanian/Indian/Italian blackshirts, or German brownshirts (brown maybe because black was traditionally used for Christian Democrats?), or American silvershirts, though some do bear some resemblence. In the other color-shirt-political-affiliation categories there are, for example, the redshirts of Italy, the blue- and greenshirts of Ireland, the goldshirts of Mexico, the greyshirts of South Africa, the greeshirts of Romania, and the blue shirts of Taiwan).

Fascist demonstration 193
Source: British National Archive, here.

The "Mosley" here Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980), founder of The British Union of Fascists in 1932 which in 1936 changed its name to the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists and then in 1937, slimming it down to the British Union, until it was disappeared by the government in 1940 in a 'defence of the realm action" under Defence Regulation 18B.

Mosley and his wife were arrested in 1940 and spent a few years in relatively high privilege in prison, a situation granted by Winston Churchill. They lived in their own inner-prison cottage, with a garden and servents. They were released in great controversy in 1943 and seem to have spent decades in the far right spectrum publishing and promoting questionable and of course distasteful political viewpoints.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Follow Me on Pinterest

In all that I have seen relating to the mammoth planning and logistical operations concerning teh invasion of Europe by the Allied Forces on 6 June 1944 I don't think I'ev ever seen such incredibly detailed relief map models such as the one below. The original image resides at the Library of Congress and its catalog information describes it on a scale of 1:5,000 and a vertical scale of 1:2,500, with the model being two sections of 120cm squared (so 120x240cm (or about 3×6 feet). THE map "shows the tide lines, slope of the beach, buildings beyond the beach, and the location of hedgehogs" and the placement of anti-aircreaft weapons. The image is very expandable.

Utah Beach Model Part 1

And a detail:

Utah Beach Model Part 1 det

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Follow Me on Pinterest

These fabulous maps appear in the cartographer/privateer/navigator/explorer Guillaume Testu (1509-1572) Cosmographie universelle, selon les navigateurs tant anciens que modernes / par Guillaume Testu, pillotte en la mer du Ponent, de la ville francoyse de Grâce, which was a manuscript atlas composed in 1555 or so, and found online courtesy of the Bibliotheque Nationale (Gallica). It is extraordinarily rich in design, color, and most significantly in detail, much of which was real.

The work is 118 pages with 57 plates (almost all of which are maps)–I've posted below six world map projections plus a few maps of North America and Central America. And a beautiful wind rose. The rest are available via the previously-mentioned link.

Maps--testu world 1

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1982 History of Holes series #44 Follow Me on Pinterest

Sunspot hole
The composition of the sun remained basically hidden to scientists until relatively recently–certainly it was well into the 20th century before astronomers/astrophysicists got a good idea of what the sun is, exactly. The perfection of god's creation and Aristotle's unchanging nature of the sun must've been suspected for a long time given its coronal displays during total eclipse and ancient unaided observation of sunspots (which at least suggested that the sun rotated), but the true nature of the "imperfect" nature of the star wasn't firmly exhibited until the work of Thomas Harriot and the Fabricus and Galileo and Scheiner–but then there wasn't that much that could be employed from the data. So too true even with Bunsen and Kirchhoff in their profound invention and discovery in 1859 of the spectrographic analysis of the sun revealing its chemical composition (finding the absorption lines in the spectrum of the sun contained hydrogen,m nicekl, iron, sodium,cacium, and magnesium as starters)–this information was essential in establishing discoveries that would come much later on. (Interesting to note here that the first record of a solar flare is made in this same year by Richard Carrington, and also that this year saw the publication of On the Origin of Species as well as Riemann's hypothesis and Maxwell's kinetic theory of gases–a big year in the history of science).

The interesting hypothesis of sunspots as "holes" in the surface of the sun was made by Alexander Wilson (professor of astronomy at the University of Glasgow) in his paper "Observations on the Solar Spots" on 1 January 1774 and published in the Philosophical Transactions (volume 64, pp 1-30, and available here). It was one attempt at an explanation for the mysterious black spots that also opened the door to the possibility of the sun being inhabited. The spots then would have been conical holes in the sun's photosphere, with the dark part coming from a glimpse of the interior (and presumably cooler) part of the sun.

From the vantage point here in the future this looked like not such a great idea, especially coming only a few years before the (1787) discovery by William Herschel that the sun and the rest of the solar system was in motion relative to the stars and was slowly moving towards a point in the contellation Hercules, which was an enormous scientific breakthrough as well as philosophical-theological chllenge, a cosmological "aha!" moment. That said, Mr. Herschel also held the view that sun spots were possibly cavities in the surface of the sun, the reasoning for which was very good and at times convincing in the absence of anything better, a pretty good product for its time

The beautiful image introducing this post was designed about a hundred years after the Wilson paper, and appeared in the prolific Amédée Guillemin's (1826-1893) The Sun (translated from the original French in 1875), and which is available in full text pdf from The Haiti Trust. Guillemin spends a chapter on sunspots and holes and presents a convicing history of the idea, and that according to Wilson and others the spots were cavities in a liquid globule envelope and revealed the solid mass of the sun "through a cloudy atmosphere with a grey tiny all around" (page 214).

The epilogue of Guillemin's book addresses the issue of life on the sun ("Is the Sun Inhabited?") and in his review Guillemin very plainly makes the case that it is "absolutely impossible to support life" on the sun due to the heat–presently. He qualifies his assessment finally by asking "Will it become habitable?", and responding that it was "very possible" (page 295), but that it would have to take place in a future where the rest of the planets and everything else has gotten colder.


JF Ptak Science Books Post 1981

Paracelsus furnace[Image: the anatomical furnace for the distillation and diagnosis of urine. From: Walter Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance, second edition, Basel/New York 1982, page 193/194. the image also found on line here.]

While the ancient aspects of the inspection of urine as medical discovery seem distant, it is not so, the practice continuing for thousands of years, deep into the 17th century. There are some surprises, though, here and there, in the recent history of uroscopy, particularly involving Paracelsus (Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493-1541), and specifically with his Anatomy, that is, the Dissection of the Living Body or of Distillation of the Urine, printed in 1577. This is one of the many of the works of Paracelsus printed posthumously–in his relatively short but very full life of 84 years, he published four books, but then in the 40 years or so following his death there were at least 14 more works that were published. (A general overview of the works by and about Paracelsus–who worked in the areas of medico-occult and philosophy, alchemy, astronomy/astrology, theology, magic and more–can be found by piecing your way through the always-useful OCLC/WorldCat, here).

In the practice of general uroscopy urine was seen as a window into the health of the body–rather the lack of health. For centuries urine was simply observed, its color plotted against color wheels. Paracelsus worked in a different vein, and although this approach seemed as antiquated as possible after hundreds of years of practice, he adopted a proto-scientific approach to his urine inspection. The idea of urine and his "anatomical furnace", wherein the urine was distilled in a cylinder the size of the subject for interpretation, was a wide but interesting sidestep in the history of uroscopy, filled with some slight hope and more-than-slight abundance of need in belief. The point though is that Paracelsus went about this scientifically–no longer just an observational inspection: the urine was distilled, and coagulated bits (the "morbid species") was separated from the urine, and the precipitated items were studied, a "chemical dissection" (according to Walter Pagels in his standard biography of Paracelsus 1982). The cylinder was graduated in proportion to the subject; there was careful collection and handling of the specimen, and attempts were made to see beyond the standard practice of centuries past. So there was some hint of scientific method in this work–something that Pagels notes but still labels the work "disappointing, albeit a subtle new brand of uroscopy".