It’s tempting to consider information visualization a relatively new field that rose in response to the demands of the Internet generation. “But,” argues Manual Lima in The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge, “as with any domain of knowledge, visualizing is built on a prolonged succession of efforts and events.”
While it’s tempting to look at the recent work, it’s critical we understand the long history. Lima’s stunning book helps, covering the fascinating 800-year history of the seemingly simple tree diagram.
Trees are some of the oldest living things in the world. The sequoias in Northern California, for example, can reach a height of nearly 400 feet, with a trunk diameter of 26 feet and live to more than 3,500 years. “These grandiose, mesmerizing lifeforms are a remarkable example of longevity and stability and, ultimately, are the crowning embodiment of the powerful qualities humans have always associated with trees.”
Such an important part of natural life on earth, tree metaphors have become deeply embedded in the English language, as in the “root” of the problem or “branches” of knowledge. In the Renaissance, the philosophers Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes, for example, used tree diagrams to describe dense classification arrangements. As we shall see, trees really became popular as a method of communicating and changing minds with Charles Darwin…
More on the highly-recommended Farnum Street blog.
* Rodney Dangerfield
As we look to our roots, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955 that Capitol Records released what it claimed to be (and what surely was) the shortest “song” ever recorded. Earlier in the year, Les Paul and Mary Ford has released a single, “Magic Melody,” that concluded with the well-known “shave and a hair cut” musical phrase– sans the traditional “two bits” sting. Disc jockeys around the country complained that the track ended too abruptly, that it left the listener hanging. So Les Paul went back into the studio to record “Magic Melody- Part 2″– which consisted solely of the two “missing” notes. It ran for about one second.
“When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign: that the dunces are all in confederacy against him”*…
Genius follows its own law of gravity. It migrates in ever greater numbers to where it thrives. Hence places like Silicon Valley – and attempts to replicate it elsewhere, like London’s Silicon Roundabout. The phenomenon is older than the microchip, of course…
Watch the centers of creative gravity migrate through Europe, from 1400 to 1950, at “The Geography of Genius.”
* Jonathan Swift (the inspiration for John Kennedy Toole)
As we put on our sailin’ shoes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1853 that Steinway & Sons sold its first piano in the United States. The company had been founded in March of that year by Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, who’d started making pianos in his native Germany in 1935 (and who didn’t officially change his name to “Steinway” until 1864). Working in a loft on Varrick Street in Manhattan, he called his first U.S. piano “Number 483″ as he’d built 482 pianos before immigrating. It was sold to a New York family for $500. Over the next thirty years, Henry and his sons, C. F. Theodore, Charles, Henry Jr., William, and Albert, developed the modern piano; almost half of the company’s 127 patented inventions were developed during this period.
* Jonathan Swift
What if Michael Bay– the director of the Transformers franchise, Armageddon, and a host of other explosive blockbusters– had directed Up ?
* “Norma Desmond” (Gloria Swanson) in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard
As we shield our eyes from lens flashes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1954 that the iconic sequence of Marilyn Monroe, laughing as her skirt is blown up by the blast from a subway vent, was shot, during the filming of Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch. One can only imagine how Michael Bay might have handled it…
“…theoretical considerations require that what is to-day the object of a phobia must at one time in the past have been the source of a high degree of pleasure”*…
In 1955, in the wake of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency investigation into the corrupting influence of comic books (and the now largely-discredited but then damning testimony of Frederic Wertham), E.C. Comics, which had been singled out as an offender, inaugurated an “educational” series, “New Direction,” with the series Psychoanalysis. Each issue, drawn by Jack Kamen (whose earlier work had included Tales from the Crypt), narrated the clinical experiences of three patients in analysis…
The series– realistically recounting the sessions of patients, each cured by their therapists– bewildered retailers and readers alike. It was cancelled after four issues. Within 5 years EC publisher William Gaines had shifted his attention completely to what was, in 1955, a nascent side project for Harvey Kurtzman: Mad.
Read more about Psychoanalysis– see more covers, find precis of the storylines– at “Curious ‘Psychoanalysis’ comics from the 1950s.”
* Sigmund Freud, The Sexual Enlightenment of Children
As we’re gently informed that our time is up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that neuropsychiatrist Walter Freeman and his friend and colleague, the neurosurgeon, James W. Watts performed the first pre-frontal lobotomy in the U.S. Freeman and Watts had learned of the technique from it’s “inventor,” Egas Moniz, a Portuguese surgeon who’d performed the very first lobotomy (or “leucotomy” as it’s also known) earlier that same year. Now out of favor and largely out of practice, Freeman and Watts developed a method that was the basis for procedures– an estimated 40,000 in the U.S.– conducted until around 1960, when the practice effectively ceased. But in headier days, lobotomies were the rage: Moniz shared the 1949 Nobel Prize for Medicine “for his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses.”
In fact, some schoolchildren do have to work really hard for their educations…
More perilous paths at “25 Of The Most Dangerous And Unusual Journeys To School In The World.”
Lest we wonder if it’s worth it, we might spare a memorial moment for Michel Eyquem de Montaigne; he died on this date in 1592. Best known during his lifetime as a statesman, Montaigne is remembered for popularizing the essay as a literary form. His effortless merger of serious intellectual exercises with casual anecdotes and autobiography– and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as “Attempts” or “Trials”)– contain what are, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written. Montaigne had a powerful influence on writers ever after, from Descartes, Pascal, and Rousseau, through Hazlitt, Emerson, and Nietzsche, to Zweig, Hoffer, and Asimov. Indeed, he’s believed to have been an influence on the later works of Shakespeare.
In 1898, the American government allowed private postcards to be sent with one cent stamps. Cheaper than the prevailing letter rate, this began the widespread use of postcards by the public– and the equally widespread use of postcards as an advertising tool by civic boosters.
From the 1930s through the 1950s, tourists taking their first road trips in their newfangled automobiles would frequently stop along the way to pick up a few colorful postcards to mail to the folks back home. The most popular form of eat-your-heart-out greeting was the large-letter postcard, which had been around since the first part of the 20th century but whose heyday was during what we know today as the linen-postcard era. Made of textured paper rather than actual cloth, linen postcards were printed by companies such as Curt Teich & Company of Chicago, Tichnor Brothers and Colourpicture of Boston, E.C. Kropp of Milwaukee, Beals Litho & Printing of Des Moines, and Dexter Press of Pearl River, New York, among many others. Their souvenir postcards for states, cities, military bases, and tourist attractions were usually heralded at the top by the words “Greetings From,” below which were large, blocky, dimensional letters filled in with illustrations or photographs of the destination’s most scenic or noteworthy sights.
Since 2009, the primary resource for fans of this popular postcard genre has been “Large Letter Postcards: The Definitive Guide, 1930s to 1950s,” written by Fred Tenney and Kevin Hilbert. Published by Schiffer, “Large Letter Postcards” features more than 2,200 examples, from several dozen versions of Atlantic City cards (Curt Teich’s first linen large-letter) to cards for Coney Island, Niagara Falls, and Death Valley. Also included are several examples of how large-letter postcards were created, from the card’s initial sketch to its final design, courtesy of materials loaned to the authors by the Curt Teich Postcard Archives…
Read more, find more wonderful examples and links to still more at “When Postcards Made Every Town Seem Glamorous, From Asbury Park to Zanesville.”
As we pack our bags, we might recall that it was on this date in 1910 that the first American-born female police officer was sworn in, as Alice Stebbins Wells became a full member of the Los Angeles Police Department. (Marie Owens, born in Canada, was the first female police officer in the United States, hired in 1891 in Chicago.) Prior to this time, women were employed as non-commissioned personnel to oversee the care of female prisoners. Two years after Wells joined the force, two other female officers were sworn in; sixteen other cities and several foreign countries hired female police officers as a direct result of Wells’ activities by 1915, when Wells created the International Policewomen’s Association. The University of California created the first course dedicated to the work of female police officers in 1918, and Wells was made the first president of the Women’s Peace Officers Association of California in 1928.
For centuries, salmon have made their way upstream to spawn, (literally) overcoming extraordinary obstacles to reach their spawning grounds.
But the advent of hydroelectric power, while it has manifest benefits in reducing the greenhouse gases otherwise associated with electricity generation, has wreaked havoc on the salmon’s annual pilgrimage. Dams have eliminated their routes…
“Fish ladders” have been introduced in an attempt to give the salmon an alternative route.
But they don’t work very well: too few fish are strong enough– or lucky enough to get through the other hazards created by dams– to make it.
To the rescue: Whooshh Innovations and their Salmon Cannon.
Originally used for transporting fruit gently (and accurately) over large distances, these pneumatic tubes were recently applied to fish, with astoundingly successful results. As the Vice President of Whooshh Innovations, Todd Deligan, said,
At a talk at the National Hydropower Association, I hit play on the video and the first fish goes flying out, and the audience is dying. I had to say, ‘It’s okay to laugh, this is utterly ridiculous.’ Then people start talking and they say, ‘Holy cow, why hadn’t we thought of something like this before?’”
That was five years ago. Now in September, the first Salmon Cannons (yes, they are actually called Salmon Cannons) were successfully tested this past June at Washington’s Roza Dam, and are poised to rocket salmon onto trucks where they will be taken farther upstream than they’ve naturally been in a long time. If this, too, proves to be successful, the Salmon Cannon could be exactly what’s needed to restore the fish of the Columbia River to their natural, original runs!
* Eramsus, who was probably riffing on Hippocrates, who said (in his Aphorisms), “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restriction, are most suitable.”
As we prepare for takeoff, we might recall that it was on this date in 1999 that killer bees– Africanized honey bees– claimed their first victim in California. Virgil Foster, an 83-year-old bee-keeper, was mowing his lawn in Los Angeles County when he was stung at least 50 times by the highly aggressive bees. Foster’s three hives had been taken over by wild Africanized honey bees. Originally hybridized in Brazil in the 1950s in attempt to increase honey production, the killer bees had migrated north through Mexico.