Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

The Modern Sherlock Holmes Is A Scientific Man

From September 24, 1911

THE MODERN SHERLOCK HOLMES IS A SCIENTIFIC MAN

THE MODERN SHERLOCK HOLMES IS A SCIENTIFIC MAN: Swiss Professor Tells of Professional Criminals and the Means of Detecting Them in a Book That Has the Indorsement of M. Lepine, Head of the Paris Police. (PDF)

That reminds me: the modern Sherlock Holmes is now streaming on Netflix.

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Written by David

September 20th, 2011 at 10:00 am

New Identification System Ousts Rogues’ Gallery

From September 10, 1911

NEW IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM OUSTS ROGUES' GALLERY

NEW IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM OUSTS ROGUES’ GALLERY: Capt. Joseph A. Faurot After Studying the “Portrait Parler” Abroad Will Introduce It in New York’s Detective Department and Promises Great Results. (PDF)

This new system of identifying criminals looks at individual facial features.

“The whole system of the ‘portrait parler’ is a process of elimination,” explained Capt. Faurot. “It is on that basis we are to reorganize the Rogues’ Gallery. We will be able to divide the number of portraits to be searched on a given case by three if we know the type of nose, by two again if we know the height, by three if we know the type of ear, and so on till we have only a small, narrow group to examine.”

I imagine identifying a criminal in the portrait parler is something like playing Guess Who?

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Written by David

September 9th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Electric Machine To Tell Guilt Of Criminals

From September 10, 1911

ELECTRIC MACHINE TO TELL GUILT OF CRIMINALS

ELECTRIC MACHINE TO TELL GUILT OF CRIMINALS: If It Is Perfected So As to Be Infallible It Will Make Expert Testimony Unnecessary and May Eliminate Juries in Trials. (PDF)

The “psychometer” described in this article works in the same way as modern polygraph machines. As the article puts it, “the human body’s resistance to an electrical current increased with the increase of the motions.” Skin conductivity, along with blood pressure, pulse, and respiration, can all be indicators that a person is lying.

But the technology is still far from being “perfected so as to be infallible.” You needn’t look hard to find harsh criticism of lie detectors including tips on how to beat one. In an episode of Penn & Teller’s Showtime program Bullshit, they talked to “people whose lives were ruined by faulty lie detector results.”

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Written by David

September 7th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Martians Build Two Immense Canals In Two Years

From August 27, 1911

MARTIANS BUILD TWO IMMENSE CANALS IN TWO YEARS

MARTIANS BUILD TWO IMMENSE CANALS IN TWO YEARS: Vast Engineering Works Accomplished in an Incredibly Short Time by Our Planetary Neighbors — Wonders of the September Sky. (PDF)

Percival Lowell was a smart astronomer. He was the first person to build his observatory in a remote location away from city lights, at the top of a high mountain. Lowell picked Flagstaff, Arizona as the location for his observatory. I lived in Flagstaff for four years in college and the observatory is one of Flagstaff’s really big claims to fame because Pluto was discovered there in 1930 (14 years after Lowell’s death).

Anyway, Lowell was a smart guy. He also believed there was life on Mars. He was convinced that lines on the planet’s surface were canals, and when he observed some changes in the appearance of these canals, he concluded that somehow the martians had quickly built these enormous canals 20 miles wide and a thousand miles long.

Mary Proctor wrote this article summarizing Lowell’s findings, and also describing some of the planets people might see in the sky in September.

I love that this stuff appeared in the New York Times Magazine.

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Written by David

August 25th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Nature,Science

Activity Of Modern Woman A Racial Problem

From August 13, 1911

ACTIVITY OF MODERN WOMAN A RACIAL PROBLEM

ACTIVITY OF MODERN WOMAN A RACIAL PROBLEM: Dr. Max G. Schlapp, Specialist in Mental Diseases, Believes that Present Conditions Tend Toward Increase in Insanity, Divorce, Race Suicide. (PDF)

Taking the evidence as it comes to him from records of daily experience which are written into the public documents of all countries, [Dr Schlapp] finds unmistakable evidence of deterioration in the human race. This does not mean that men and women to-day are not physically and mentally as well endowed as ever they were, but that there are more abnormal men, women, and children now than at any time since the establishment of the present civilization.

There are more insane, more criminals, more divorced people, and fewer children born to each one thousand of population, and this he traces directly to modern conditions. All civilizations that have gone before have had precisely the same experience that the world is passing through now, and for precisely that reason Dr. Schlapp believes that this civilization will go the way they have gone until the point of exhaustion is reached. Then there will be a resting period, and the human family will begin to advance once more.

The energetic, enterprising woman, he says, is not at all new. The suffragist or suffragette is as old as organized government. When the Grecian Empire was at its highest stages of development its advanced women were clamoring for the right of suffrage, and so it was in Rome before its fall, and Dr. Schlapp, who calls attention to this by way of illustration, has no doubt that the same condition existed in Egypt in some form or other about the time Egypt passed into the darkness.

If I understand the argument correctly, Dr. Schlapp is saying that when a civilization reaches a point where women begin to seek more duties outside the home, it suffers in other ways: fewer children, more divorces, and more insane people. If Dr. Schlapp can show a causal relationship, then it raises more questions: is it better to have a civilization where women are relegated to the home and have no authority but there are more traditional households, or one where women have more freedom, rights, and responsibilities, but there’s a higher number of divorces and fewer kids?

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Written by David

August 9th, 2011 at 10:00 am

A French Scientist Of The Sorbonne Attacks Darwinism

From August 6, 1911

A FRENCH SCIENTIST OF THE SORBONNE ATTACKS DARWINISM

A FRENCH SCIENTIST OF THE SORBONNE ATTACKS DARWINISM: Gaston Bonnier Declares that the Great English natrualist Was Imaginative and Careless In His Observations. (PDF)

To say that Gaston Bonnier “attacks” Darwinism in this article is a bit of a stretch. Today we think of such attacks as coming from a religious point of view, but here it is one scientist taking issue with certain assumptions and observations of another scientist. He doesn’t argue theology. He argues science. Societally, I’d much prefer we get back to that kind of discussion.

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Written by David

August 5th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Debate,Science

A Stove To Cool The House Instead Of Heating It

From July 30, 1911

A STOVE TO COOL THE HOUSE INSTEAD OF HEATING IT

A STOVE TO COOL THE HOUSE INSTEAD OF HEATING IT: Alexander Graham Bell Invents an “Ice Stove” Which Makes His Rooms Cold in Summer, Just as a Coal Stove Would Make Them Hot in Winter. (PDF)

Not content to just invent the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell went on to invent other useful things, like a primitive air conditioner that blows air over blocks of ice to cool down the room. “The invention is what, for want of a better name, has been termed an ‘ice stove.'”

That’s the gist of the article, which is a pretty good read.

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Written by David

July 26th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Keeping Track Of The Criminal By His Finger Prints

From July 30, 1911

KEEPING TRACK OF THE CRIMINAL BY HIS FINGER PRINTS

KEEPING TRACK OF THE CRIMINAL BY HIS FINGER PRINTS: The Wonderful Art, Long Used in China, Rapidly Being Adopted by the Police of This Country, with the New York Force Leading. (PDF)

I love articles like this one.

Over in Jersey City awaiting his trial is the man who marked each successful burglary by a note defying the police and jeering at their methods. He has not been proved guilty, but the police are certain he is their man. He was caught by the finger prints which never lie.

He was much too clever a burglar to do his work with bare hands. He always wore white lisle gloves, like a village undertaker. But one night in taking out a pane of glass he cut his finger, and had to take off his glove. And there on the glass was left the tell-tale finger print. The detective who was sent out from the New York office saw it with his naked eye.

He dusted a bit of chemist’s gray powder from a tube in his pocket over the glass and photographed the prints to which the powder stuck, bringing out every ridge and whorl. Back in the New York Bureau of Identification the photograph was carefully measured and classified according to these whorls and arches. And in the files, among the 60,000 finger prints was found its duplicate. The man’s photograph was in the Bertillon department next door, and he was quietly arrested.

The criminal who leaves his finger marks behind him is doomed, provided anywhere in the world he has been “finger-printed,” or if he is ever caught in another offense, no matter how trivial. In ten minutes the expert of any police department receiving his finger prints and a request for information can look him up and forward description, photograph and record. There is no possibility of mistake, for nowhere in the 60,000 records in the New York Department is there a single duplicate. The thousands in the other American cities which have adopted the system show none. Not one has been found in the fifteen years that the English detective department at Scotland Yard has used this means of tracking criminals. And for 2,000 years Chinas has been affixing a thumb print to a passport as a means of identification. No two have ever been found alike.

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Written by David

July 25th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Have You Ever Seen A Blue Rose? A Horticultural Problem

From July 30, 1911

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A BLUE ROSE? A HORTICULTURAL PROBLEM

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A BLUE ROSE? A HORTICULTURAL PROBLEM: Many Varieties of the Queen of Flowers Created in a Century, but Blue Roses Still Elusive. (PDF)

This article gives a nice background on the history of roses as a coveted flower, and then gets into the matter of a blue rose.

A blue rose is held to be about the hardest thing in the flower-growing world to attain…

It can’t be done by any chemical process, of course. Any one rose can easily be made blue, but there is no known way of treating the soil in which a bush grows so as to change the color of all its flowers, and even if there were such a way the progeny of the roses would revert to the ancestral type. The blue rose is to be obtained — if it ever is attained — by combining roses of different colors and using the most promising as parents for a newer and bluer race.

There has been a pale lavenderish-blue rose produced by a German grower, but it is not by any means a true blue.

Well, that problem vexed growers for another 100 years until a Japanese company proclaimed that after twenty years of research and three billion yen, they genetically engineered a blue rose. Well, I guess it’s sort of blue. To me it looks like a pale lavenderish-blue, not by any means a true blue.

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Written by David

July 25th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Nature,Science

How To Overcome Gravity By Hertzian Air Waves

From July 16, 1911

HOW TO OVERCOME GRAVITY BY HERTZIAN AIR WAVES

HOW TO OVERCOME GRAVITY BY HERTZIAN AIR WAVES: New York Engineer and Inventor Thinks He Has Discovered a Secret of Science on Which He Began Work at West Point Nearly 40 Years Ago. (PDF)

Levitation. It holds such promise. But this machine doesn’t make things levitate. It just makes them weigh less. The article describes some possible uses of such an anti-gravity machine:

If a 12-ton girder was to be raised to the top of a skyscraper with a derrick of 10 tons capacity, the mechanism would obliterate the two tons of weight.

The element of gravitation in any object being overcome to the extent of one-sixth or a greater degree, it would be possible to make the human body so “light” that it could be propelled with a very small fraction of present effort.

Steamships could ride more lightly on the sea in the same way. The speed of railroad trains could be increased by the contrivance reducing the friction of the wheels on the tracks.

An aeroplane caught high in air with a broken engine could be made to float there indefinitely by turning a button and starting the “concentrating dynamo.”

Farrow never filed a patent for his device, and no construction plans have been found. The book The Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers says:

Observers watched as the indicated weight of the book dropped by three ounces, or one-fifth. “This is revolutionary — even sensation,” marveled one of the editors invited to see the invention in action. It almost certainly wasn’t antigravity, though, not in the sense Farrow intended… Modern speculation has accepted that it was based around electromagnets.

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Written by David

July 11th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Science,Technology

The American Student Acquiring A Uniform Face

From July 9, 1911

THE AMERICAN STUDENT ACQUIRING A UNIFORM FACE

THE AMERICAN STUDENT ACQUIRING A UNIFORM FACE: Mayor Gaynor’s Statement to That Effect Starts a Discussion — A Distinct American College Type Being Developed, Unlike the European University Man (PDF)

The two faces in the middle of the page are composites of 25 boys and 25 girls, to create the “typical” student face. In modern times, this has been done digitally to interesting effects. I wonder if this is the earliest known example of such a composite.

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Written by David

July 7th, 2011 at 11:30 am

How A Great Invention By Edison Was Lost

From July 9, 1911

HOW A GREAT INVENTION BY EDISON WAS LOST

HOW A GREAT INVENTION BY EDISON WAS LOST: Separated Fiber by a Liquid Compound, But an Assistant Threw the Secret Away (PDF)

And the moral of the story is: backup backup backup.

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Written by David

July 4th, 2011 at 10:06 am

Posted in Science

Scientific Detective Would End Expert Testimony

From July 2, 1911

SCIENTIFIC DETECTIVE WOULD END EXPERT TESTIMONY

SCIENTIFIC DETECTIVE WOULD END EXPERT TESTIMONY: Head of Scotland Yard’s Bureau of Identification Urges Training of Sleuths — What Finger Print System and Blood Study Have Done. (PDF)

Fingerprints and blood are commonly gathered and tested in crime scenes today. But 100 years ago, this was new technology.

…if detectives were only trained scientifically, not merely in logic, so as to reconstruct a crime with proper attention paid to theory and fact, but also in chemistry, physics, and other sciences, there would be less need of expert testimony at criminal trials…

If the article interests you, definitely read Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist, about a New York City murder investigation around the turn of the last century.

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Written by David

June 28th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Sir Hiram Maxim Exposes Spiritualistic Mediums

From June 18, 1911

SIR HIRAM MAXIM EXPOSES SPIRITUALISTIC MEDIUMS

SIR HIRAM MAXIM EXPOSES SPIRITUALISTIC MEDIUMS: Noted Inventor Proves Tomsons, Whom William T. Stead Exploited at Private Seances, Were Merely Clever Tricksters. (PDF)

A great story of debunking fraudsters:

Mr. and Mrs. Tomson were itinerant American music hall artists of comparatively mediocre ability, until taken under the protective wing of William T. Stead, the English editor and journalist. The Tomsons were performing in London when they were first brought to the attention of Mr. Stead by a fellow music hall juggler.

Their act was a fairly clever bit of trickery or sleight of hand, accompanied with all the necessary stage hand assistance. They claimed no mediumistic or supernatural powers for themselves during their early London season, but later they discovered that to be a “spookist” in gullible London meant an augmentation of their financial condition, and added a value to their stage career which in their wildest flights of ambition they had not dreamed of.

[…]

When Sir Hiram Maxim read that his friend William Stead was publicly announcing that he had seen and touched his dead son, Sir Hiram called on Mr. Stead. Their conversation was as follows:

Sir Hiram — Look here, Stead, those spookists are fooling you. You’re too trusting and sincere for those clever rascals.

Mr. Stead — But, Sir Hiram, they showed me my son. Don’t you think I would know Willie?

Sir Hiram — See here, Stead, old fellows like you and Sir Oliver Lodge and myself have no business pronouncing this kind of people genuine. We ought to pass that up to school boys who are full of tricks themselves, or to Americans like the Tomsons, who know more tricks in ten minutes than we do in eight generations…

Mr. Stead — I tell you I saw my son.

Sir Hiram — Swank! You are too honest to catch those tricksters.

Mr. Stead — Then suppose you try.

Sir Hiram — Done! And I’ll make a good job of it, too.

I’ll leave it to you to read how Hiram Maxim exposed the frauds on more than one occasion. Predictably, the Tomsins excuse was that “although the medium really had the power… she could not do so at all times, and sometimes had to ‘fake’ a séance.” This is the same kind of excuse given by so-called psychics today when they are found to be using trickery. See for example Uri Geller.

In this case, Hiram Maxim exposed the Tomsons as frauds enough times that they finally confessed they have never had any supernatural powers of any kind.

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Written by David

June 17th, 2011 at 9:30 am

Two New Medicines Discovered In The Tropic Toad

From June 4, 1911

TWO NEW MEDICINES DISCOVERED IN THE TROPIC TOAD

TWO NEW MEDICINES DISCOVERED IN THE TROPIC TOAD: Science Upholds the Ancients in Therapeutic Use o the Toadskin and Powdered Toad, Thus Turning the Laugh on Modern Doctors (PDF)

For more recent information on toads, and the hallucinogenic properties of smoked toads, see the wikipedia entry on psychoactive toads,

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Written by David

June 3rd, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Recreation,Science

Seventeen-Year Locusts Here; Moths Even Worse

From May 28, 1911

SEVENTEEN-YEAR LOCUSTS HERE; MOTHS EVEN WORSE

SEVENTEEN-YEAR LOCUSTS HERE; MOTHS EVEN WORSE: Cicada Army Not the Most Destructive of Our Pests — How, thanks to Ineffective Laws, We Yearly Import Creatures That Cost Us Millions — Despite All Efforts Moths Steadily Increase. (PDF)

I don’t have time to write more comments on this article because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 26th, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Nature,Science

A Great Sixty-Inch Reflector Which Photographs The Stars

From May 21, 1911

A GREAT SIXTY-INCH REFLECTOR WHICH PHOTOGRAPHS THE STARS

A GREAT SIXTY-INCH REFLECTOR WHICH PHOTOGRAPHS THE STARS: Wonderful Instrument Erectred by the Carnegie Institution at Mount Wilson, California. (PDF)

The rest of this post is unwritten because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 17th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Nature,Science

Mrs. Belmont Training Girls To Be Agriculturists

From May 14, 1911

MRS. BELMONT TRAINING GIRLS TO BE AGRICULTURISTS

MRS. BELMONT TRAINING GIRLS TO BE AGRICULTURISTS: Nine of Them in Overalls Learning ‘How to Become Farmers and Landscape Gardeners on Her Estate at Hempstead, and They Are Only the Advance Guard. (PDF)

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Written by David

May 10th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Civilization Came From Africa, Not Asia, Says Mosso

From May 7, 1911

CIVILIZATION CAME FROM AFRICA, NOT ASIA, SAYS MOSSO

CIVILIZATION CAME FROM AFRICA, NOT ASIA, SAYS MOSSO: In His Work on “The Dawn of Mediterranean Civilization” He Gives the Aryan Theory a Hard Blow. (PDF)

The poor old Aryan theory, which broughtu s up to believe that all we know came originally from the Orient, has just had another blow. It was so tottering before that it could hardly stand and now Angelo Mosso in a work on “The Dawn of Mediterranean Civilization” gives it another rap.

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Written by David

May 4th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Life,Nature,Science

Centenary Of Maker Of First Portrait Photograph

From April 30, 1911

CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH

CENTENARY OF MAKER OF FIRST PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPH: New York University Will Honor the Memory of Prof John William Draper, Who Took the First Human Likeness When Daguerre Failed to Do It. (PDF)

I’m a photographer professionally, so articles like this are especially interesting to me. This one celebrates the 100th birthday of John William Draper, credited with taking the first portrait photo, an image of his sister Dorothy.

Back then, photos required long exposures, so the subjects needed to sit extremely still. Draper experimented with putting white powder on people’s faces to lighten them up a bit for the picture. And he also realized that if a person sits still for a 30 second exposure, they can feel free to blink during that time without worrying about ruining the image. But any other movement must be considered and eliminated:

“The hands should never rest upon the chest, for the motion of respiration disturbs them so much as to make them have a thick, clumsy appearance, destroying also the representation of the veins on the back, which, if they are held motionless, are copied with surprising beauty.”

Here’s some more of Draper’s advice for a portrait sitting:

“It has already been stated that pictorial advantages attend an arrangement in which the light is thrown upon the face at a small angle. This also allows us to get rid entirely of the shadow on the background or to compose it more gracefully in the picture. For this it is well that the chair should be brought forward from the background from three to six feet.

“Those who undertake daguerreotype portraiture will, of course, arrange the background of their pictures according to their own tastes. When one that is quite uniform is desired, a blanket or a cloth of drab color, properly suspended, will be found to answer very well.”

While Draper took the first formal portrait, Louis Daguerre actually took the first photo of a person. He captured a photo looking out over a street in Paris. It was a long exposure, so people moving through the frame were not captured. But one person stood still long enough to register in the image while he was getting his shoe shined. But the figure is tiny and silhouetted, so it could hardly be called a portrait.

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Written by David

April 29th, 2011 at 11:00 am