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Posts Tagged ‘da Vinci

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at”*…


A proposed cross-section of the Minnesota Experimental City

The future had arrived, and it looked nothing like what city planners expected. It was the early 1960s, and despite economic prosperity, American urban centers were plagued by pollution, poverty, the violence of segregation and crumbling infrastructure. As the federal highway system expanded, young professionals fled for the suburbs, exacerbating the decay…

One man had a revolutionary idea, a plan so all-encompassing it could tackle each and every one of the social issues at once: An entirely new experimental city, built from scratch with the latest technology, entirely free of pollution and waste, and home to a community of life-long learners.

The Minnesota Experimental City and its original creator, Athelstan Spilhaus, are the subjects of a new documentary directed by Chad Freidrichs of Unicorn Stencil Documentary Films. The Experimental City tells the story of the tremendous rise and abrupt fall of an urban vision that nearly came to fruition. At one point, the Minnesota Experimental City had the support of NASA engineers, Civil Rights leaders, media moguls, famed architect Buckminster Fuller and even vice president Hubert Humphrey. Many were drawn to the plan by Spilhaus’ background as well as his rhapsodic conviction for the necessity of such a city.

“The urban mess is due to unplanned growth—too many students for the schools, too much sludge for the sewers, too many cars for the highways, too many sick for the hospitals, too much crime for the police, too many commuters for the transport system, too many fumes for the atmosphere to bear, too many chemicals for the water to carry,” Spilhaus wrote in his 1967 proposal for an experimental city. “The immediate threat must be met as we would meet the threat of war—by the mobilization of people, industry, and government.”…

Creator of the comic “Our New Age,” which featured new science and technology in easy-to-digest fashion (including inventions he wanted to feature in his experimental city), Spilhaus had worked in the fields of mechanical engineering, cartography, oceanography, meteorology and urban planning. He initiated the Sea Grant College Program (a network of colleges and universities that conduct research and training related to oceans and the Great Lakes), helped invent the bathythermograph (a water temperature and depth gauge used in submarine warfare), and designed the science expo for the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. But above all, the longtime dean of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Technology was a futurist, and the experimental city was his brainchild that combined his many passions…


The Quixotic tale in toto at “How a $10 Billion Experimental City Nearly Got Built in Rural Minnesota.”

But the Modern Utopia must not be static but kinetic, must shape not as a permanent state but as a hopeful stage, leading to a long ascent of stages. Nowadays we do not resist and overcome the great stream of things, but rather float upon it. We build now not citadels, but ships of state.
― H.G. Wells

* Oscar Wilde


As we’re careful what we wish for, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist, chemist, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci.  Quite possibly the greatest genius of the last Millennium, he was born on this date in 1452.

Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512-15 [source]





Written by LW

April 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis”*…


Da Vinci would carry around a notebook, where he would write and draw anything that moved him. “It is useful,” Leonardo once wrote, to “constantly observe, note, and consider.” Buried in one of these books, dating back to around the 1490s, is a to-do list. And what a to-do list…

Check it out (if not off) at “Leonardo Da Vinci’s To Do List (Circa 1490) Is Much Cooler Than Yours.”

* Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose


As we prioritize prioritization, we might spare a thought for Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger; he died on this date in 1961.  A physicist best remembered in his field for his contributions to the development of quantum mechanics (e.g., the Schrödinger equation), and more generally for his “Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment– a critique of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics– he also wrote on philosophy and theoretical biology.  Indeed, both James Watson, and independently, Francis Crick, co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, credited Schrödinger’s What is Life? (1944), with its theoretical description of how the storage of genetic information might work, as an inspiration.

It seems plain and self-evident, yet it needs to be said: the isolated knowledge obtained by a group of specialists in a narrow field has in itself no value whatsoever, but only in its synthesis with all the rest of knowledge and only inasmuch as it really contributes in this synthesis toward answering the demand, “Who are we?”

– from Science and Humanism, 1951


Written by LW

January 4, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Today’s greatest labor-saving device is tomorrow”*…


Kitchen work was time-consuming labor in the home of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, in the late 15th century.  Anxious to cut costs, Sforza allowed Leonardo da Vinci to employ some of his new inventions.  The results were a culinary catastrophe of epic proportion…

Master Leonardo da Vinci’s kitchen is a bedlam. Lord Ludovico Sforza has told me that the effort of the last months had been to economize upon human labor, but now, instead of the twenty cooks the kitchens did once employ, there are closer to two hundred persons milling in the area, and none that I could see cooking but all attending to the great devices that crowded up the floors and walls—and none of which seemed behaving in any manner useful or for which it was created.

At one end of the premise, a great waterwheel, driven by a raging waterfall over it, spewed and spattered forth its waters over all who passed beneath and made the floor a lake. Giant bellows, each twelve feet long, were suspended from the ceilings, hissing and roaring with intent to clear the fire smoke, but all they did accomplish was to fan the flames to the detriment of all who needed to negotiate by the fires—so fierce the wandering flames that a constant stream of men with buckets was employed in trying to quell them, even though other waters spouted forth on all from every corner of the ceilings.

And throughout this stricken area wandered horses and oxen, the function of which seemed to be no more than to go around and round, the others dragging Master Leonardo’s floor-cleaning devices—performing their tasks valiantly, but also followed by another great army of men to clean the horses’ messes. Elsewhere I saw the great cow grinder broken down with half a cow still stuck out of it, and men with levers essaying to move it out.

– Sabba da Castiglione [Via Lapham’s Quarterly]

* Woodrow Wilson


As we turn on the coffee maker, we might wish a fresh-and-clean-smelling Happy Birthday to Frederick Louis Maytag; he was born on this date in 1857.  In 1893, Maytag, his two brothers-in-law, and George W. Parsons founded Parsons Band-Cutter & Self Feeder Company, a farm implements manufacturer that produced threshing machines, band-cutters, and self-feeder attachments invented by Parsons.  But in 1909, Maytag took control, renamed the company (eponymously), and concentrated on washing machines (which were not as seasonal as farm equipment).  By 1927, Maytag was selling more than twice as many washers as its nearest competitor.

“F..L,” as he was known, was devoted to his employees; he often greeted employees with a question that has entered the vernacular: “is everybody happy?” And his employees returned the affection– an estimated 10,000 factory workers and salesmen attended his 1937 funeral.

Lest we doubt the social importance of Maytag’s accomplishments, readers might consult global health guru (and stat maven) Han Rosling‘s TED Talk, “The Magic Washing Machine.” (Spoiler alert:  the washer– and thus Maytag– have done more for reading than Oprah has.)


Written by LW

July 14, 2015 at 1:01 am

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”*…


From the good folks at Chrome Experiments, a wonderfully-informative interactive map of the stars in our corner of the universe.  Readers can zoom around our galaxy at “100,000 Stars.”

* Oscar Wilde


As we pause to celebrate the birth of the archetypical “Renaissance man,” quite possibly the greatest genius of the last millennium, Leornardo da Vinci (born on this date in 1452), we might also send starry-eyed birthday greetings to Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve; he was born on this date in 1793.  A renowned astronomer, Struve is known both as the founder of the modern study of binary (double) stars, and as the second in a five-generation-long dynasty of great astronomers: he was the son of the son of Jacob Struve, the father of Otto Wilhelm von Struve, the grandfather of Hermann Struve, the great-grandfather of Otto Struve.





Written by LW

April 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Your library is your paradise”*…


(R)D has featured some of the most beautiful libraries in the world, some of most important in history, some of the best fictional libraires— even some of the world’s most unusual (and beautiful) bookshops.  Today, the work of French photographer J.F. Rauzier, who has crafted a series of “Ideal Libraries” by layering photo on photo…

Visit Rauzier’s Bibliothèques Idéales for larger (and navigable) version of these and many more extraordinary pictures.

[TotH to Trendland]

* Erasmus


As we lose ourselves in the stacks, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist, chemist, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci.  Quite possibly the greatest genius of the last Millennium, he was born on this date in 1452.

Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512-15



Written by LW

April 15, 2013 at 1:01 am

A Matter of Some Gravity…


I’ve been noticing gravity since I was very young.
-Cameron Diaz

Isaac Newton first proposed a universal law of gravitation, where every massive body in the universe was attracted to every other one. This simple law proved extremely powerful, able to explain the orbits of planets and the reason the apocryphal apple fell on his head. However, Newton was never able to explain why gravity worked or what exactly it was. Two hundred plus years later, Albert Einstein was able to offer a more complete description of gravity—one where Newton’s laws are a limited case. According to Einstein, gravity was due to the warpage of spacetime by mass and energy; all objects followed straight paths, just on curved spaces.

With the advent of quantum theory over the past 100 years, scientists have been able to develop an elegant mathematical framework capable of uniting three of the four fundamental forces that are thought to exist in the universe. The fourth, gravity, still remains the fly in the ointment, and has resisted unification to this point. Early last year, Dutch theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde published a manuscript to the arXiv that purports to explain why science cannot reconcile all four fundamental forces. According to him, it is simple: “gravity doesn’t exist.”

Read the full story (SPOILER ALERT: it relates to Leonard Susskind‘s “holographic principle,” suggesting in effect that gravity isn’t a fundamental force, but an “entropic” result of information imbalances between the bodies/regions in question) in Ars Technica (recapping Physical Review D, 2011. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevD.83.021502).

As we sit more confidently beneath apple trees, we might wish a polymathic Happy Birthday to the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci; he was born on this date in 1452.

Self-portrait in Red Chalk (source)

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