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Archive for May 5th, 2010

Trilinear DiagramPart I of this essay described and analyzed Charles Lallemand’s L’Abaque Triomphe, the first published example of a graphical computer called a hexagonal chart. Here we discuss the mathematical principles behind hexagonal charts and provide examples of these charts from the literature of the time. The related development of triangular coordinate systems is also covered in this second part. Trilinear diagrams, a simpler offshoot of triangular coordinate systems, are still seen today in fields such as geology, physical chemistry and metallurgy (as shown to the left). A list of references is provided as well. As always, a printer-friendly Word/PDF version with more detailed images is linked at the end, with a hexagonal overlay in the appendix that can be used to exercise these charts.

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L'Abaque TriompheIn 1885, Charles Lallemand, director general of the geodetic measurement of altitudes throughout France, published a graphical calculator for determining compass course corrections for the ship, Le Triomphe. It is a stunning piece of work, combining measured values of magnetic variation around the world with eight magnetic parameters of the ship also measured experimentally, all into a very complicated formula for magnetic deviation calculable with a single diagram plus a transparent overlay. This chart has appeared in a number of works as an archetype of graphic design (e.g., The Handbook of Data Visualization) or as the quintessential example of a little-known graphical technique that preceded and influenced d’Ocagne’s invention of nomograms—the hexagonal chart invented by Lallemand himself. Here we will have a look at the use and design of this interesting piece of mathematics history, as well as its natural extension to graphical calculators based on triangular coordinate systems. Part I of this essay covers Lallemand’s L’Abaque Triomphe, while Part II covers the general theory of hexagonal charts and triangular coordinate systems. As always, a printer-friendly Word/PDF version with more detailed images is linked at the end of the essay.

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