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See Inside Scientific American Volume 308, Issue 6

150 Years Ago: Camera before Film

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American



SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, VOL. VIII, NO. 23; JUNE 6, 1863

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June 1963

Intro to Exoplanets
“A planet-sized ‘dark companion’ has been discovered revolving around a dim star some six light-years distant in the direction of the constellation of Ophiuchus. The ‘sun’ of this solar system is Barnard's star, otherwise known chiefly for having the largest motion across the sky of any star. The planet is 50 percent more massive than Jupiter; it has been named Barnard's star B by its discoverer, Peter van de Kamp of Swarthmore College. Van de Kamp pointed out that although Barnard's star and its companion are the third known ‘solar system’ outside our own, they constitute the first such pair in which the companion is small enough to be classified confidently as a planet.”

Post-Babel
“Machine translation of Chinese would seem to offer the only realistic hope of giving the West ready access to the manners, achievements and aspirations of a fourth of the human race. The Indo-Chinese group of nations, with a population of about 750 million, is currently publishing in newspapers, journals and books about three billion words a year. Less than 1 per cent of this vast output is now being translated and republished in English, French or German (undoubtedly a larger percentage is being translated into Russian). Automatic translation is needed because human translators cannot handle the volume or hope to acquire the special technical vocabulary needed.”

June 1913

Submarine Communication
“The Navy Department has adopted a ‘submarine violin’ for the transmission of messages between submarine torpedo boats and shore stations or other vessels. The mechanism is an adaptation of the violin. From one side of the submarine project two steel stays. From the ends of these is stretched taut a piano wire. Touching the wire is the roughened rim of a wheel which, when it revolves, sets up vibrations in the wire. An ordinary Morse key is used, and dots and dashes are hummed on the wire. The experiments at Hampton Roads, Va., showed that the vibrations may be heard clearly at a distance of five miles.”

For a slide show on submarines and ships, see www.ScientificAmerican.com/jun2013/ships

Parachute Flaw
“That parachutes are not an absolute provision against accidents which may prove fatal, is shown by the harrowing experience of Arthur Lapham at the Aeronautical Society's flying carnival on Staten Island. With the Stevens pack [after A. Leo Stevens, a parachute pioneer] upon his back, Lapham was to drop a mile from a Wright biplane. At a height of a few hundred feet—three hundred, according to some spectators—Lapham slid from his seat and shot down. The parachute did not open, probably because the drop was too short. Fortunately for Lapham, he landed without injury on the marshy salt meadow flats near Prince's Bay. He was buried up to his armpits in mud and had to be dug out.”

June 1863

Camera before Film
“A very valuable aid to artistic culture of the hand and eye is found in the ‘camera obscura.’ The object to be depicted is reflected through the lens onto the mirrors and then onto the white paper or canvas below [where it can be traced or drawn]. The artist's hand is introduced through the side opening covered by the curtain. The newly patented model combines desirable qualities with an elegant exterior. Our illustration shows a perspective view of the device and a student depicting the City Hall of New York.”

Horsepower
“The experiments with steam-powered navigation on the Erie Canal are said to have proved unsatisfactory. One firm has taken the engines out of its boats and is having the vessels converted into horse-towing boats.”

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