Sure, the Amazon Kindle might have dynamic font adjustments, and it can hold thousands of books, but can it do this? Printed in the late 16th century this small book from the National Library of Sweden is an example of sixfold dos-à-dos binding, where six books are conjoined into a single publication but can be read individually with the help of six perfectly placed clasps. This particular book was printed in Germany and like almost all books at the time is a religious devotional text. The National Library of Sweden has a fantastic photo collection of historical and rare books where you can find many more gems like this, and this, and this.
Update: And if you really like amazing old book discoveries, you should be following Erik Kwakkel, the Medieval book historian at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who originally unearthed this story. (via Neatorama)
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In the mid-1920s cinema technician, filmmaker, and cinematographer Claude Friese-Greene traveled across the UK with a new color film camera to create his famous collection of films, The Open Road. The filmmaker’s trip culminated in London with scenes that captured the daily life of Londoners as well as several iconic cityscapes. The films were restored in 2005 by the BFI and circulated widely online.
Fast forward 86 years later. Starting early last year filmmaker Simon Smith, armed with his own camera, traversed the footsteps of Friese-Greene to make his own film. The result is uncanny. Smith matched the original films shot by shot, mimicking the timing and angle almost perfectly for nearly 6 minutes of footage. While the differences between London of 1926 and 2013 are easy to spot when viewing the films side-by-side, what’s more amazing are the similarities. While clothing styles and car designs changed a bit, it’s almost impossible to tell some of these shots apart if it weren’t for the quality of the film. Watch it and see. (via Stellar)
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Buried in the pages of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous 15th century notebooks, amongst the sketches of flying machines, parachutes, diving suits, and armored tanks, was a curious idea for a musical instrument that merged the harpsichord and cello. The Italian Renaissance polymath referred to it as the viola organista. The general idea for the instrument was to correlate keyboard fingerwork with the sustained sound of a stringed instrument, but among the dozens of ideas pursued by the gifted artist and inventor, this was one he never explored further. Nearly 100 years would pass before an organist in Nuremberg would build the first functional bowed keyboard instrument, and many others would try throughout history to realize Da Vinci’s vision with various levels of success.
Now, after an estimated 5,000 hours of work over three years and nearly $10,000 invested in the project, Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki has unveiled his own version of the viola organista. Not only is the new instrument gorgeous, it’s fully functional and Zubrzycki demonstrated it in public for the first time at the 5th International Royal Krakow Piano Festival a few weeks ago. Above is a video of that performance where you can hear how beautiful the strange instrument sounds. Via the Hindustan Times:
The flat bed of its interior is lined with golden spruce. Sixty-one gleaming steel strings run across it, similar to the inside of a baby grand. Each one is connected to the keyboard complete with smaller black keys for sharp and flat notes. But unlike a piano, it has no hammered dulcimers.Instead, there are four spinning wheels wrapped in horse tail hair, like violin bows. To turn them, Zubrzycki pumps a peddle below the keyboard connected to a crankshaft.
As he tinkles the keys, they press the strings down onto the wheels emitting rich, sonorous tones reminiscent of a cello, an organ and even an accordion. The effect is a sound that da Vinci dreamt of, but never heard; there are no historical records suggesting he or anyone else of his time built the instrument he designed.
Here’s an additional interview with Zubrzycki, where you can see the instrument up close (click the “CC” icon for English captions):
You can learn more about Zubrzycki and the history of the viola organista over at the History Blog.
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This Programmable 6,000-Part Drawing Boy Automata is Arguably the First Computer and It Was Built 240 Years Ago
The Writer was built in the 1770s using 6,000 moving parts by Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot
Designed in the late 1770s this incredible little robot called simply The Writer, was designed and built by Swiss-born watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz with help from his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot. Jaquet-Droz was one of the greatest automata designers to ever live and The Writer is considered his pièce de résistance. On the outside the device is deceptively simple. A small, barefoot boy perched at a wooden desk holding a quill, easily mistaken for a toy doll. But crammed inside is an engineering marvel: 6,000 custom made components work in concert to create a fully self-contained programmable writing machine that some consider to be the oldest example of a computer.
In my youth the “automata” of choice was either a Tomy Omnibot or a demonic Teddy Ruxpin, cheaply manufactured plastic robots, both which played cassette tapes and were destined to break within a few weeks (if you lost or broke the remote control to the Omnibot it was effectively useless). Not to suggest the machines above were mass-produced as children’s toys, but it’s amazing to think such incredibly crafted machines like the Writer and the Swan were built in the eighteenth century around the time of the American Revolutionary War, the age of James Cook, and the invention of the steam engine. (via Colossal Submissions)
In this clip from BBC Four’s documentary Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams hosted by Professor Simon Schaffer, we go behind the scenes to learn just how this remarkably complex 240-year-old device was designed and constructed. Here’s another bit about Merlin’s gorgeous silver swan automata:
Update: Some also argue that the 2,100-year-old Antikythera mechanism used to calculate astronomical positions is a contender for the first analog computer. (thnx, Elliot)
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In 1578 word spread of the discovery in Rome of a network of underground tombs containing the remains of thousands of early Christian martyrs. Many skeletons of these supposed saints were soon removed from their resting place and sent to Catholic churches in Europe to replace holy relics that were destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. Once in place the skeletons were then carefully reassembled and enshrined in costumes, wigs, jewels, crowns, gold lace, and armor as a physical reminder of the heavenly treasures that awaited in the afterlife.
Over the past few years photographer Paul Koudounaris who specializes in the photography of skeletal reliquaries, mummies and other aspects of death, managed to gain unprecedented access to various religious institutions to photograph many of these beautifully macabre shrines for the first time in history. The photos have been collected into a book titled Heavenly Bodies released by Thames & Hudson early next month. (via Hyperallergic)
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155 Years Before the First Animated Gif, Joseph Plateau Set Images in Motion with the Phenakistoscope
Nearly 155 years before CompuServe debuted the first animated gif in 1987, Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau unveiled an invention called the Phenakistoscope, a device that is largely considered to be the first mechanism for true animation. The simple gadget relied on the persistence of vision principle to display the illusion of images in motion. Via Juxtapoz:
The phenakistoscope used a spinning disc attached vertically to a handle. Arrayed around the disc’s center were a series of drawings showing phases of the animation, and cut through it were a series of equally spaced radial slits. The user would spin the disc and look through the moving slits at the disc’s reflection in a mirror. The scanning of the slits across the reflected images kept them from simply blurring together, so that the user would see a rapid succession of images that appeared to be a single moving picture.
Though Plateau is credited with inventing the device, there were numerous other mathematicians and physicists who were working on similar ideas around the same time, and even they were building on the works of Greek mathematician Euclid and Sir Isaac Newton who had also identified principles behind the phenakistoscope.
So what kinds of things did people want to see animated as they peered into these curious motion devices? Lions eating people. Women morphing into witches. And some other pretty wild and psychedelic imagery, not unlike animated gifs today. Included here is a random selection of some of the first animated images, several of which are courtesy The Richard Balzer Collection who has been painstakingly digitizing old phenakistoscopes over on their Tumblr. (via Juxtapoz, 2headedsnake, thanks Brian!)
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Editor's Picks: History
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