Monday, August 20, 2012

Nomography… Ever Heard of It?

…me neither… until I ran across it at this site run by a fellow named Ron Doerfler who is interested in "the lost art of nomography.":

According to Wikipedia, a nomogram or nomograph "is a graphical calculating device, a two-dimensional diagram designed to allow the approximate graphical computation of a function… Like a slide rule, a nomogram is a graphical analog computation device, and like the slide rule, its accuracy is limited by the precision with which physical markings can be drawn, reproduced, viewed, and aligned. Most nomograms are used in applications where an approximate answer is appropriate and useful."

According to Doerfler, his blog "... 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 trig 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 records 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

Comments on the posts are appreciated! A forum has also been added for discussing anything related to lost art in the mathematical sciences at Also, feel free to use the Contact link to send me general comments or any ideas for new topics."
His posts aren't very frequent, but you might find some of them of interest.
(He also has a homepage here: )

Speaking of things I'd never heard of, Joselle, at "Mathematics Rising" had a recent piece on "Anosognosia" which is interesting though only of tangential mathematical interest:

Toward the end she writes:
" I would suggest, however, that the conceptual grounding of modern mathematics shares something with Edelman’s ideas about the power of ambiguity in language, when the structure and range of mathematics’ applicability was enhanced with its very broad generalizations.  For Edelman, associativity and metaphors start things off and then computation is applied.  But mathematics occurs in both.  And I would agree with Dyson.  I also prefer 'to live in a universe full of inexhaustible mysteries, and to belong to a species destined for inexhaustible intellectual growth.'  I often see mathematics as the evidence for, as well as the access to, these inexhaustible mysteries."

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