A New Outlook

Sculptor Anna Coleman Ladd found an unusual application for her artistry during World War I, creating prostheses for the dramatic injuries produced by machine guns and heavy artillery. After reading about artist Francis Derwent Wood’s “Tin Noses Shop” in London, she moved to London and opened a “Studio for Portrait-Masks.”

Her copper and silver masks, 1/32″ thick and weighing 4-9 ounces, were founded on facial casts and painted to match the precise skin tone of each patient. Held in place by eyeglasses, many included realistic mustaches, eyebrows, and eyelashes. By the end of 1919 Ladd had created 185 of them, charging $18 for each and donating her own services. The Red Cross called them “miracles,” and in 1932 France made her a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

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

Command Performance

This mechanism, recently restored by Michael Start of the House of Automata, was probably fashioned by Blaise Bontems in Paris around 1890.

It’s an example of a lost art, the “singing bird box,” an early variety of automaton introduced by Pierre Jaquet-Droz in Geneva in 1784. The song is produced by a bellows, a whistle, and a system of cams; many of these devices added a mechanical bird that would flap its wings and open and shut its beak while the sound was produced.

Jaquet-Droz also created a stunning mechanical boy who writes custom texts with a quill pen; that unit, which still works, is made up of some 6,000 pieces.

Child’s Play

https://patents.google.com/patent/US6368227B1/en

In 2002 a 7-year-old boy, Steven Olson, patented a “method of swinging on a swing”:

The method comprises the steps of: a) positioning a user on the seat; and b) having the user pull alternately on one chain to induce movement of the user and the swing toward one side, and then on the other chain to induce movement of the user and the swing toward the other side, to create side-to-side motion.

Steven’s father, Peter, a patent attorney, wanted to show him how the system works. Steven’s submission was approved at first (the patent office said that its technical definition of obviousness “is not necessarily the conventional definition”) but later reconsidered and invalidated, perhaps due to criticism.

A year earlier, to test the workability of a new national patent system, an Australian man had patented the wheel.

The Flettner Rotor

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Buckau_Flettner_Rotor_Ship_LOC_37764u.jpg

Canvas sails had been used for thousands of years when German engineer Anton Flettner realized that rotating cylinders might work as well: The spin produces a difference in pressure on opposite sides of the cylinder, and this can propel a ship through the water.

The idea made a splash when it was introduced in the 1920s, and an experimental vessel crossed the Atlantic in 1926, but the rotating drums consumed a discouraging amount of power and Flettner moved on to other projects. The principle has been revived lately, though, in hopes of increasing the fuel efficiency of conventionally powered ships.

Technique

MIT astrophysicist Walter Lewin became renowned for his ability to draw dotted lines on a blackboard.

“The idea is that the chalk should not be too short,” he explained. “You have to push on the board, and if you don’t push too hard, it will jump. If you go a little faster, then you’re in business.”

He explains it further below:

Wave

The world’s largest anamorphic illusion is this startling display in Seoul’s Gangnam District. Measuring 80 meters by 20, it runs for 18 hours a day, the creation of design firm d’strict.

Below is another project by the same creators: the “infinity wall” in the lobby of Nexen Tire’s Central Research Institute, also in Seoul.

Moving Parts

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Detroit_FordMuseum_01.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich., contains an “exploded” 1924 Model T touring car, its parts arrayed in the order of their assembly, echoing the component diagrams in the vehicle’s manuals.

Ford’s assembly line was inspired by the “disassembly line” that engineer William Klann observed in a Chicago slaughterhouse, in which one worker at a conveyor belt performed the same task repeatedly without himself moving. Ford’s line divided his car’s assembly into 45 steps, producing each unit in 93 minutes.

Boom Town

In 1757 Ben Franklin revealed “How to make a Striking Sundial, by which not only a Man’s own Family, but all his Neighbours for ten Miles round, may know what o’Clock it is, when the Sun shines, without seeing the Dial”:

Chuse an open Place in your Yard or Garden, on which the Sun may shine all Day without any Impediment from Trees or Buildings. On the Ground mark out your Hour Lines, as for a horizontal Dial, according to Art, taking Room enough for the Guns. On the Line for One o’Clock, place one Gun; on the Two o’Clock Line two Guns, and so of the rest. The Guns must all be charged with Powder, but Ball is unnecessary. Your Gnomon or Style must have twelve burning Glasses annex’d to it, and be so placed as that the Sun shining through the Glasses, one after the other, shall cause the Focus or burning Spot to fall on the Hour Line of One for Example, at one a Clock, and there kindle a Train of Gunpowder that shall fire one Gun. At Two a Clock, a Focus shall fall on the Hour Line of Two, and kindle another Train that shall discharge two Guns successively; and so of the rest.

Note, There must be 78 Guns in all. Thirty-two Pounders will be best for this Use; but 18 Pounders may do, and will cost less, as well as use less Powder, for nine Pounds of Powder will do for one Charge of each eighteen Pounder, whereas the Thirty-two Pounders would require for each Gun 16 Pounds.

Note also, That the chief Expence will be the Powder, for the Cannon once bought, will, with Care, last 100 Years.

Note moreover, That there will be a great Saving of Powder in cloudy Days.

(From Poor Richard Improved. He was mocking a class of overambitious amateur experimenters called virtuosi. “Kind Reader, Methinks I hear thee say, That it is indeed a good Thing to know how the Time passes, but this Kind of Dial, notwithstanding the mentioned Savings, would be very expensive; and the Cost greater than the Advantage. Thou art wise, my Friend, to be so considerate beforehand; some Fools would not have found out so much, till they had made the Dial and try’d it. Let all such learn that many a private and many a publick Project, are like this Striking Dial, great Cost for little Profit.”)