The Banana Bat

https://www.google.com/patents/US430388

This would have livened things up: In 1890 inventor Emile Kinst promoted an “improved ball-bat” that he said would set baseballs spinning: “The object of my invention is to provide a ball-bat which shall produce a rotary or spinning motion of the ball in its flight to a higher degree than is possible with any present known form of ball-bat, and thus to make it more difficult to catch the ball, or if caught, to hold it.” It would also enable hitters to drive the ball more easily to every part of the field.

“Owing to the peculiar form of my bat, the game becomes more difficult to play, and therefore much more interesting and exciting, because the innings will not be so easily attained, and consequently the time of the game will also be shortened.” The Major League Rules Committee said no.

BTW, in recent weeks I’ve come across two sources that say that Ted Williams once returned a set of bats to the manufacturer with a note saying, “Grip doesn’t feel just right.” The bats were found to be 0.005″ thinner than he had ordered. I don’t know whether it’s true. The sources are Spike Carlsen’s A Splintered History of Wood and Dan Gutman’s Banana Bats & Ding-Dong Balls: A Century of Unique Baseball Inventions (where I found the bat above).

Things to Come

In 1899, preparing for festivities in Lyon marking the new century, French toy manufacturer Armand Gervais commissioned a set of 50 color engravings from freelance artist Jean-Marc Côté depicting the world as it might exist in the year 2000.

The set itself has a precarious history. Gervais died suddenly in 1899, when only a few sets had been run off the press in his basement. “The factory was shuttered, and the contents of that basement remained hidden for the next twenty-five years,” writes James Gleick in Time Travel. “A Parisian antiques dealer stumbled upon the Gervais inventory in the twenties and bought the lot, including a single proof set of Côté’s cards in pristine condition. He had them for fifty years, finally selling them in 1978 to Christopher Hyde, a Canadian writer who came across his shop on rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie.”

Hyde showed them to Isaac Asimov, who published them in 1986 as Futuredays, with a gentle commentary on what Côté had got right (widespread automation) and wrong (clothing styles). But maybe some of these visions are still ahead of us:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

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Wikimedia Commons has the full set.

Pictures of Motion

joinville soldier walking

In 1883, in his studies of the human gait, French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey asked a soldier to walk past a camera with an open shutter. Before the lens Marey had placed a rotating disk in which he’d cut slots at regular intervals. As the soldier walked, the slots permitted successive images to register on the same photographic plate, producing a “chronophotograph” — a portrait of human movement in time and space.

This opened a new window into the representation of motion — among other things, it helped to inspire Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 Nude Descending a Staircase:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Duchamp_-_Nude_Descending_a_Staircase.jpg

Duchamp said, “The idea of describing the movement of a nude coming downstairs while still retaining static visual means to do this, particularly interested me. … My aim was a static representation of movement, a static composition of indications of various positions taken by a form in movement.”

hovey chronophotograph

Engineer Frank Gilbreth, who made a science of optimizing human movement, at one point used a similar technique to study the swing of Connecticut golf champion Roger Hovey. He was surprised to find that the path of Hovey’s upswing varied from that of the downswing by more than 12 inches, and his head moved more than a foot. Intrigued, he studied Gilbert Nicholls, and later Francis Ouimet and Jim Barnes. All varied their swings, and all moved their heads.

When Gilbreth showed these results to a friend in London, “his only comment was to the effect that he had previously suspected that we didn’t know much about golf in America. Which only goes to show.”

Peace and Quiet

https://www.google.com/patents/US208672

Ohio inventor Philip Clover came up with a dramatic way to discourage body snatchers in 1878: a “coffin torpedo.” Basically a live cartridge is attached to the body by hidden wires so that “any attempt to remove the body after burial will cause the … injury or death of the desecrator of the grave”:

The trigger-wires are secured to the arms, legs, or other portion of the body of the corpse in such manner as to induce to the tripping of the trigger should any attempt be made to withdraw the body from the casket. The torpedo is loaded … just prior to the final closing of the casket.

“The torpedo may be placed in variable positions within the casket, and properly concealed by the trimmings of the casket or the apparel of the corpse.” Clover points out that there’s no need to protect the weapon from the elements — by the time it ceases to work, “the body would be of no use to robbers.”

Paint by Number

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:First_Image_from_Mariner_4_-_GPN-2003-00060.jpg

When Mariner 4 flew past Mars in summer 1965, NASA scientists were eager to get their first close look at another planet. So rather than wait for their computers to render the probe’s data into a proper photograph, the employees in the agency’s telecommunications group mounted printed strips of data in a display panel and colored them by hand to create a rough visualization.

The hand-colored vista became the first image of Mars based on data collected by an interplanetary probe. They framed the finished image and presented it to agency director William H. Pickering.

https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA14033

From Beyond

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Graphophone1901.jpg

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, via the Ohio Law Reporter, Aug. 17, 1908: During a dispute over a will in Vienna, a phonograph record was introduced into evidence so that the dead woman herself could explain her intentions, which she’d recorded during her lifetime:

Prof. Sulzer stated that he had a phonographic record that would settle beyond question the point in dispute and asked the court’s permission to introduce it as evidence. The permission was granted and Mme. Blaci, the decedent, told in her own voice of her affection for her brother and his family and announced her intention of providing before her death so that her nephew, Heinrich, would be well cared for after she had passed away.

Heinrich testified that the record was made on the twenty-first anniversary of his birth. Mme. Blaci, he told the judge, had said at the time that she wanted the words she had spoken to her brother, Heinrich’s father, put on record as a souvenir of her affection that could be handed down to her nephew.

“After hearing the record, the court immediately awarded Heinrich $120,000 as his share of the estate, which was the full amount claimed by him.”

Parting Words

https://www.google.com/patents/US7089495

Inventor Robert Barrows thought up a high-tech memorial in 2005: a hollowed-out headstone equipped with a weatherproofed computer monitor.

“I envision being able to walk through a cemetery using a remote control, clicking on graves and what all the people buried there have to say,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “They can say all the things they didn’t have the opportunity or guts to say when they were alive.”

He estimated that a “video-enhanced grave marker” might add $4,000 to the cost of a high-end $4,000 tombstone. If they really take off we’ll need wireless headsets to keep down the racket at the cemetery:

https://www.google.com/patents/US7089495

05/09/2017 They’re already doing this in Slovenia. (Thanks, Dan.)

Tech Talk

In 1944 British graduate student John Hellins Quick published a description of the “turbo-encabulator,” a marvelously sophisticated device whose workings are understandable only by engineers:

The original machine had a base-plate of prefabulated aluminite, surmounted by a malleable logarithmic casing in such a way that the two main spurving bearings were in a direct line with the pentametric fan. The latter consisted simply of six hydrocoptic marzelvanes, so fitted to the ambifacient lunar waneshaft that side fumbling was effectively prevented. The main winding was of the normal lotus-o-delta type placed in panendermic semi-bovoid slots in the stator, every seventh conductor being connected by a nonreversible tremie pipe to the differential girdle spring on the ‘up’ end of the grammeters.

General Electric, Chrysler, and Rockwell Automation have all sung the device’s praises, even if no one can quite explain what it does. Actor Bud Haggart shot the video above in 1977 after completing an industrial training film for General Motors.

The rest of us will just have to take its wonders on faith. When Time magazine published the description in 1946, one reader wrote, “My husband says it sounds like a new motor; I say it sounds like a dictionary that has been struck by lightning.”

Overheard

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Sepoy_revolt_at_Meerut.jpg

On May 10, 1857, the Indian troops of the East India Company’s army started an uprising against the British soldiers in the garrison town of Meerut.

Lord Canning, the Governor-General, first heard of the Mutiny in a curious fashion. The Lieutenant-Governor of Agra passed on to him a copy of a private telegram which had been sent by the British postmaster at Meerut before the line was cut. The postmaster’s aunt was in Agra and had planned to visit him. He wired that the cavalry had risen, houses were on fire and Europeans were being killed. ‘If aunt intend starting tomorrow evening please detain her.’ It was several days before the Governor-General of India could learn more than this of what had taken place in Meerut. Only gradually did the news of what had happened and what was happening in northern India seep out to the rest of the world.

That’s from Byron Farwell, Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, 1973. Related: On Sept. 1, 1939, English journalist Clare Hollingworth called the British embassy in Warsaw to report that Germany had invaded Poland. The secretary told her this was impossible, as Britain and Germany were still negotiating. “So I hung the telephone receiver out of the window,” she later recalled, “so he could listen to the Germans invading.” Hers was the first report that the British Foreign Office received of the invasion — later described as “the scoop of the century.”