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Analemma[Please visit the new home for Dead Reckonings: http://www.deadreckonings.com]

This journal attempts to capture my occasional encounters with the technically elegant but nearly forgotten in the mathematical sciences—artistically creative works that strike me as particularly brilliant. These can be small, clever things (say, an algorithm for calculating roots), or they can be ingenious technical inventions of more general application, basically anything that makes me think ‘Wow, that’s neat!’ Think of pendulum clock escapements; of beautiful precision sundials, astrolabes and other antique scientific instruments; of music theory and instrument design; of early, desperate attempts to calculate logarithms and trigonometric values; of stereo photography and linkage mechanisms; of difference engines, trinary arithmetic and slide rules; of old map projections and vacuum tube op-amps.

Posts here are brief or not-so-brief essays of unusual things of this nature that I read or hear about, supplemented with references and some amount of research I typically do on these topics. Any longer papers that emerge (particularly on mental calculation and antique scientific instruments) will be placed in my main website area http://www.myreckonings.com. To avoid printing difficulties with this wide format, there will be a link to a PDF version at the end of each entry.

Comments on the posts are appreciated! A forum has also been added for discussing anything related to lost art in the mathematical sciences at http://www.myreckonings.com/forum. Also, feel free to use the Contact link to send me general comments or any ideas (or text!) for new topics.

Ron Doerfler

(The figure above is from Oronce Fine’s Second Book of Solar Horology, translated with interpretation by Peter Drinkwater)

5 Responses to “Welcome!”
  1. Jagger says:

    Nice - welcome to the blog world 8^)

  2. George & Barb says:

    Very interesting and informative - good job.

  3. liunian says:

    Well, it’s nice.Very good.

    Thanks, Liunian! — Ron

  4. George Michael says:

    Excellent, thanks for these views of mathematics and history.

    You’re quite welcome. I also visited your site (click on George’s name) on the history of computing at LLNL and found it very interesting and well-written. — Ron

  5. Klaus Daube says:

    Ron, it is an excellent idea to revive some lost knowledge.
    In engineering nomograms are still in use - although most of them do not depend on strict formulas, but on empirical facts. I have several (well,pre 1960) books, many from the Eastern Germany aka DDR with large collections of nomograms.
    On http://www.daube.ch/ddd/arbeit07.html you can (if understanding German or get a web-translation of it) see work I did around the millenium: The company Endress + Hauser produces devices to measure flow of liquids, gas, … and they set up a new edition of theyr Flow Handbook. They were more than happy to find a person capable of drawing nomograms - even correcting them. I drew about 20 nomograms and diagrams for E+H for this book using Corel Draw.
    IMHO there is still a place for pencil and ruler methods, as least as a brain training method.
    I will watch You site - also I’m an observer…
    Klaus

    Thanks for your comment, Klaus. It’s good to hear from someone who has experience in designing nomograms for publication. When I read on your site about the previous publication that arbitrarily moved one of the scales to make more room, it reminded me of similar horrors done to sundials that I’ve witnessed. Your comparison of the readability of a network chart to the equivalent nomogram shows the real power of nomograms. You mention empirical nomography, which I’ve realized rather late in the game is a very important part of the field, and linearization techniques to create nomograms from nonlinear data (such as the Lafay anamorphosis) are really intriguing–probably a topic for a future blog post.

    Thanks again for the link to your site–it was really enjoyable to read. I also laughed at your Pocket Consultant gag gift at http://www.daube.ch/opinions/crafts01.html , but not too hard because I’ll be releasing software for a pocket-sized paper organizer very shortly now (and supplying a nomogram to calculate gas mileage on one of the custom pages!). — Ron