Tag Archives: Ptak Science Books

Outer Space Space Music From Outer Space

JF Ptak Science Books   Post 2561


Nothing quite sounds or looks quite so unusual as a forgotten piece of popular culture from a different generation, something that was stretching the boundaries in potentially cringeworthy ways.  Of course everything is removed from context, so the historical/cultural part isn’t immediately neuronally available, though with just a little bit of digging into memory or archives these things would fit the thing nicely in place and time and would recover their sensibilities.

But as stand-alones, these exemplars of outre thinking might do little more than raise a surprised eyebrow to their unexpected appearance.

So, while searching for exotica/tiki music online, I stumbled upon and over “The Spotnicks” (read “Sputnik”), a groovy 1961 Swedish band that I guess was a semi-equivalent to a 70’s hair band, except these guys appeared in space suits there at the hot part of the space race.  And:  they were actually very proficient musicians, though, proficiency (and even giftedness) don’t necessarily a good band make.  Never having heard of them before (I grew up in the era of The Rock and the Roll, though the music never really appealed to me much) I came to learn that the band is still around, and has made 42 albums, and sold 18 million copies of their music, which I would never have guessed to be the case.  So, while the music might not necessarily be the stuff of which memories are made, it wasn’t bad, and the players certainly seemed to have some chops.  (And their movement as they played seems to have come a decade or more before Devo.) 


Is the Dust Jacket Art Better than the Book?

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The Poison Plague was written by Will Levinrew (William Levine) and published in 1929, and by accounts that I have seen is the birthplace of an early and very competent scientist/detective, Prof. Herman Brierly. I don’t know much about detective fiction from this time period, but I do like this just jacket artwork, and from the little bits that I have been able to find of this novel online I can so far safely say that I like the dj image more than the text.

Books poison plague

The stories for The Poison Plague were evidently serialized in Argosy–here’s an interesting ad for the story, set to appear just a week after the ad in 1922, though it took another seven years for the book form to be published);


How Long Will Oil Last (?) (1919)

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In 1919, at the end of WWI, The Illustrated London News asked (and answered) the vital

question of the day in the coal v. oil dispute and the feeding of its navy:  which power source will last longer?  The graphic designer displayed the answer right there at the top:  American oil would last about 30 years, while its coal reserves would go for another 4,000 years.  The bigger question though was about the oil production and futures for the rest of the world, which was left unanswered (and unanswerable, smartly).  Its easy to second guess these guys and have a stab and a poke at their predictive power, but we’ve been getting the answers to these questions wrong every decade since then.  Suffice to say that the Brits were doing some strategic thinking on the issue of power supply, which of course is probably the greatest issue in fielding an army of navy (just ask Rommel).


A Note on the Future of the Future, 1911

JF Ptak Science Books    Post 2560


This  cross section illustration (“Rue Future”/Future Street) is from Eugene Alfred Henard’s1 (1849-1923) article, “The Cities of the Future”, from American City, Volume 4, January, 1911. In this article Henard (architect of the city of Paris and from 1880 a life-long employee and advocate of public works in that city) looks into the future and sees the movement towards underground (or enclosed) vehicular traffic, “smart” buildings, pneumatic tubing for vacuum cleaners (“almost sure to come into general use”), an improvement in the system for water delivery and removal, replacing coal with natural gas, and more. He lays out a plan to implement his idea that, if implemented in the city  of Paris, would cost $420,000,000 (or approximately $15 billion in 2006 money) over 100 years. [This part seems a little off given that the area for public roads alone in Paris at this time was 3,700 acres–nevertheless this was an interesting appearing plan, a significant portion of which has found its way into building and community planning albeit on a far smaller scale].


A Few Beautiful 19th Century Maps of Water

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“A current such that, although they had great wind, they could not proceed forward, but backward and it seems that they were proceeding well; at the end it was known that the current was more powerful than the wind.”–Ponce de Leon, the first to record the Gulf Stream, 1513

The first map of the Gulf Stream was created by the venerable Benjamin Franklin in 1769–a smart and busy man.  101 years later came this beautiful map, “Der Golfstrom im Winter (Januar) und Standpunkt der Thermometrischen Kenntniss des nordatlantischen Oceans & Landgebietes im Jahre 1870” by A. Petermann and published in Gotha by Justus Perthes in 1870.  It is highly detailed, and sumptuous, with a certain depth to it–which is a good thing, because it was showing a lot more data than its great grandfather map could possibly have imagined.  For as extraordinary as Franklin’s map was, it was equally astonishing how much data was collected from the mid 19th century onwards, and the beauty of this map displays a lot of it, including the temperature of the water at its different depths, the direction and the velocity of the currents, including the depth of the water, and the like. 


What 1,104,890 British Dead of the Great War Looks Like

JF Ptak Science Books

The Illustrated London News published this very sobering image showing the general reader in London in 1933.  It is entitled “In Memory of the 1,104,890 British Dead of the Great War”, and was drawn by D. Macpherson.  It very graphically represents all of the war dead of the British Empire of 1914-1918, depicted as a line of men, four across, extending from London to Durhham. 

The column passes from London through Hitchin, through Bedford and Peterborough and Grantham, past Sheffield and Leeds and York, and then on to Durham.  An extraordinary column of the war dead: 900,000 of the dead were not soldiers at the beginning of the war, but they sure died that way, and this map shows them all in a line, marching from  a point 269 miles distant.


There Was a Cubic Man and he Walked a Cubic Mile… (1917)

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  • “A Slight Attack of Dimentia Brought on by Excessive Study of the Much Talked of Cubist Pictures in the International Exhibition in New York.”


Cubist cartoon

This is John Sloan’s illustration in The Masses summing up the legendary Armory Show of 1913.

Between 17 February and 15 March 1913 there occurred in the huge building at Lex between 25th and 26th streets in NYC–the monumental International Exhibition of Modern Art at the armory of the Sixty-Ninth Regiment, the Fighting 69th (so called by Robert E. Lee), the “Fighting Irish”, the famous Armory Show, the Armory Show.  This was the first large public exhibition of modern art in America, and even though the 69th regiment had seen five wars (at least, so far as I can tell), the armory itself hadn’t really seen one, until 1913, when battle lines were drawn among the Cubists and within and without the confines of the modern” part of modern art, the sensitive honor of the nature of art laid bare.


History of Lines: Circles, Cartesian Vortices, Tree Rings, or ?

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At first (and second) glance this image comes very close to looking like a display of Rene Descartes’ illustrated cosmology (featuring his vortices (“tourbillons”)).  The images are indeed similar–first, the mystery image, followed by one of the Cartesian tourbillons (from Principes de la Philosophie from 1644):

1--may 14 circles det

[Primary image, detail.]

And the image from Descartes:

DEscartes tourbillons

1--may 14 circles

 [Primary image, receding.]

Is the primary image another incidence of the Cartesian cosmology as we see in the original and in other places, like in Nicholas Bion (in 1710)?


Battle Tech–Armored Vehicles, WWI

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I’ve written earlier in this blog on fabulosity in land battleships though not so much about the real thing.

  • For example, in “Movable Maginot: a Feast of Morbidly Techno-Gigantism”,  http://j.mp/1W4a853 well as others:

000--win--land tank

 [Also “moveable maginot” is a phrase that does not show up online, except for here.]

Moving away from the mega-behemoth of imagination, let’s have a look at this loco-tank as it was contrived and constructed in 1916, with the photograph appearing in Popular Mechanics Magazine for November, 1916 (midway through WWI).  

WWI Project armored loco272

In the same volume, in the October issue, we find this tracto-tank, a more-modest attempt at a differentiated tank constructed on the frame of tractor: (more…)

Robot Boots without the Robot–German Coal Mining Iron Boots, 1920

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This post is from the “Oh Sweet Mother of Neptune” series, because that is that you say out loud when you see pictures like this.  

German boots269

Found in the January 1920 issue of Illustrated World is this photograph, illustrating yet another mysterious and bad turn of the many hard angles found in the Treaty of Versailles.  The worker with a pick is a coal miner, and yes, he is wearing galvanized iron boots.  

It turns out that the Nuderlansitz coal mining region was flooded after the war, and after the draining came more water and a lot more mud. Seeing as there was a severe rubber shortage in Germany at the time, and that coal miners needed to mine, the suggestion pictured here were these galvanized iron boots.