Saturday, October 13, 2018

Postblogging Technology, August 1948, I: Robots Have No Nerves





R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada

Dear Father:

Well, here we are, back in the good old Western Hemisphere. Or as close to it as Arcata comes. What a strange little town. At least I am doing something useful. As predicted, we ended up installing Bill and Dave's little bit of electronics in a Catalina amphibian. It may not be the most likely plane for the job, but it can land on an airfield, and it has room for the contraption, and for someone to do whatever the heck it is we're doing with it. Distracting me, it seems. But here I am, with a summer job to do with the Navy, and the airlines are in charge of testing out the landing lights. They're in the pocket of "Big Lightbulb," they say, leaving me in the hands of "Big Electronics." The Navy is set on the notion that radar and autopilots and such are the key to better landings, without autolanding. The Air Force's recent embarrassment with their robot C-54 letting down the gear and settling in for the landing, still 70ft above tarmac at Los Angeles, underlines some peoples' claims that you  have to have the human decision maker "in the loop."

Please don't get the idea that I'm taking a position, here. The Brits are pretty sure that autolanding is the way to go, but I can also see the arguments against it. It is pretty hard to see how it could work for a busy airport, because it imposes a five minute delay between landings. Even if you can get that down, you would be doing it with more, expensive machinery, and there are thousands of airports in America. On the other hand again, there's an article about a robot television factory in this issue of Fortune that just blows my mind. Maybe we will all be put out of work by robots next week. 

I handed your package off to Uncle George in San Francisco on the weekend when I was down state visiting Ronnie and the gang and concentrating on not smacking Miss K.'s boyfriend in the face. Well, ex-boyfriend, now, as pretty much everything everyone predicted, happened. Her mother knows, but they're keeping Dad in the dark.

As for Uncle George, he  groused, but agreed that it has to be done. He did draw the line at flying, however, and has booked passage for Nagasaki in September, then on to Davao. We should have something by Thanksgiving --real Thanksgiving, not American. 



Your Loving Son,
Reggie.



Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Technological Preface to Postblogging Technology, August 1948, I: Certain Grand Schemes of Improvement




For reasons having to do with layout and marketing, customers have difficulty finding the "breakfast aisle" at the store at which I usually work. The particular arrangement means that this aisle, adjacent to the bakery at one end of an irregular lozenge, actually contains pancake mix, pancake syrup, diabetic candy (no, I don't know, either), and pretty much every kind of spread. But as far as it goes, when I am working in the high traffic central aisles, I might as well wear a t-shirt that reads, "The peanut butter is in Aisle 13." No other item is so often sought for, and so hard to discover. I have no idea what that says, but I do know that the 3 August, 1948 Engineering covered the same talk on the theme of "How We Are Overcoming the Unexpected Difficulties of the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme" as did The Engineer, along with several other subjects that, it seems to me, deepen and enrich our understanding of the absolutely bonkers issue of Fortune that  I cannot talk about this week for the usual reasons of schedules-altered-on-the-fly. (And, to be fair, my failure to think through the implications of a day-to-night swing that has essentially cost me a weekend day this week, and given me an extra one next week.)

I hope I'm building up anticipation for the August, 1940 issue of Fortune. Bonkers. I promise you. In the mean time, this is pretty much a peanut-butter-and-jelly technological appendix, except it comes before the subject. 

It's also a little timely, given that I am talking about the Tanganyika Groundnuts Scheme, which we're going to need in the next few years as the Tanzania Biofuels Scheme, if we're serious about long term survival as a species.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, July 1948, II: New Light

(Since this happened seven years ago, somehow, a link.)

I was thinking about doing an appendix on the vocoder, which turns out to be a very important technology, but that would be hard, and blind landings and runway lighting are  considerably more pressing. I usually date electronica's invasion of popular music to the Beach Boys, and while I'm sure I'll turn out to be completely wrong about that, it sure hasn't happened by 1948!

So that's the original California Gurl covering Rebecca Black's ironically-enjoyed autotune hit from 2011 as a way of seguing to Arcata, California, the home of the American blind landing. More or less.

pdf


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Postblogging Technology, July 1948, II: Bearing Down



R_.C_.,
The Oriental Club,
London.

Dear Father:

Well! Don't let me tell you that I am not cross with you! Instead of being off in the Lincoln to Arcata, I am sitting here in a rented Cadillac, Wong Lee keeping me safe, waiting for Fat Chow to escort Grace out of the terminal. Don't get me wrong! I'm glad to have Grace and James home and safe! My heart was in my mouth for the entire time they were in Hong Kong. I guess I should admit that I was wrong about Mssrs. Wu and Kwan. Now if only we can make good on the bullion.

I left myself some space so I could finish this letter, which, as you know, did not get off until we had seen James and Grace off to Santa Clara the next afternoon. That left me time to talk to Reggie on the phone. Except for a bit of heat over politics, I'll draw a veil over that, except to say that he is full of enthusiasm for the latest British developments in blind landing, and can't wait to pester his CO about it. I don't suppose it is news that he thinks that Arcata is wasting its time fiddling with lamps when it could be fiddling with cockpit radar --even if he admits that he can't figure out a way of using it.

Bill and David stopped by the apartment immediately that Miss K. left to be with her beau, so that I could pass on your package. I was very carefully not curious at all, although I couldn't help noticing that there is a story in Engineering about the little gadget I carried from London in my luggage. I have a feeling that it doesn't explain what makes it so important to Bill and David!

Also, received yours of last week, no longer cross. Thank you!  No just don't read this letter, change your mind, and send my application in to Hastings College, instead. (Sorry, joke. All will be understood if you read every word to the end, but since when do you do that?)

Yours Sincerely,
Ronnie.


Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Technical Appendix to June/July 1948: Berlin By Night

So here's a technical appendix that looks at radar developments, and a particularly significant aircraft development delay due to problems with the "avionics," as we say now.

It will also not escape attention that it is a "Zombie Day" post, as I've already mentioned. It's because of overtime. On the bright side, my boss has decided to burn three of my accumulated paid days off leading into my holiday at the end of next week, so expect a bit more activity around here in the near future. 

Three years ago, the RAF spent its nights over Berlin in a perverse attempt to hasten an age of peace and love with a wild spasm of violence. This year, seventy years past, they are bombing it with candy. Okay, their ally is: I wanted to work the Candy Bomber and the night offensive into the same paragraph, and it was hard. Also, radar.

In our long, rear-view mirror interpretation of the beginning of the Cold War, stories tend to be shaped to fit. In the final version of the story of the English Electric Canberra

the main stories are Britain's "exhaustion" after WWII, and the Cold War alliance of the NATO powers, which obviously started with the Cold War, which began . . . when it did. Iron Curtain Speech? Berlin? Korea? Let's just say, given that the Cold War is a metaphor, that it can begin when I say it does, and this month, I say it starts with the Berlin Airlift.

Neatly folded into the story is the production triumph of the Canberra. Nine hundred were built in the United Kingdom for the RAF and the RAAF, and an additional 400 at the Martin works in Baltimore, Maryland as the B-57, which is quite an extraordinary thing to happen. The military-industrial complex frowns on producing foreign weapon systems, and for fairly good reasons. 

Since the Canberra had a somewhat late and troubled service entry, a model narrative has Britain "broke," and the United States paying for it, because the Cold War might get hot, in which case the RAF would have to do its part in stopping the Soviet steamroller from reaching the Channel in 48 hours, or whatever. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Postblogging Technology, July 1948, I: Democracy Through Boogie Woogie

Edit: I was going to hold off on fixing the title of this entry until I had the actual "Postblogging II" post done; but that would have required buckling down on getting it done this week, and overtime has made that look a bit ambitious. So look forward to something about early postwar radar in the next few days, and Postblogging II next week.






R_., C_.
The Oriental Club,
London.

Dear Father:

Surprise! Here's the letter I told you that I'd never be able to write in between flying across the Atlantic and buying fall fashion by the gross. (Hope you don't mind the absence of Aviation. I hope that there's enough science, or possibly "science" in Fortune to more than make up for it! On the  other hand, I didn't have the time to find out that I didn't know the name of the President of the New York Stock Exchange, so "Oops" on that one.

You'll have heard from Reggie, so no need to go on for hours about the Berlin Blockade and the airlift. Reggie is not going to be flying in, as it has been decided that he is needed in Arcata. He'll be leaving his ship and escorting  his radar home to be installed in a less strategically vital hack. Bill and David are quite excited about flying over to Germany to do the job. I hope they don't mind "doing the "potato salad" a bit. (That's a joke.)

On the bright side, being just back from Europe gives me a certain cachet. I just wish I'd stopped in Paris, and not Wiesbaden and Frankfurt! Thank you for your package, by the way. Exquisitely chosen, and I can put on an "airplane set" look, even if I had precisely no time to shop.

Uncle George is very intrigued by your suggestion that, if a movie studio works in London, it might also work in Hong Kong. He is even talking about going out himself, which would be very good for him! (I'm worried that he is drinking too much.)

Yours Sincerely,
Ronnie.

P.S. Please no atomic wars until Reggie has had a chance to see me in the red number.

Not a single fashion ad in this coverage, because Forties. 



Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, Sweet Sixteen: Four Key Innovations And a Key Social Context

This building, if erected, on Cornell University's New York City campus, will be the largest passive building in the world. It's hard to argue with the ambition, but, at the same time, I'm reminded of Adam (T.) Smith's impossibly pompous but profound observations about the "political landscape" created by public architecture. This structure won't be in the world, so much as making a new one, by intent. 

By Steve Swayne - File:O Partenon de Atenas.jpg, originally posted to Flickr as The Parthenon Athens, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17065839
The comparison I am aiming for is with that most famous of ancient urban sanctuaries, the Parthenon, a temple to the goddess Athena, likely in her role as patron of virgins and maidens. The inevitable comparison with the Vestal Virgins in Rome would then link it to the city's symbolic hearth, while Joan Breton Connolly proposes an association with a mythic virgin sacrifice that links Athens' patron goddess and democratic ideology to a narrative of female empowerment. There's also plenty of room for it to be about the women's work of textile production. 

Urban sanctuaries are the social context of the title, while the four key innovations are iron, alphabetic writing, equestrianship and money. All these innovations of the Iron Age are clearly significant, just on the basis of what ancient writers said, and sometimes did, with them. The modern approach that takes archaeology before text seems to undermine and complicate the received, literary narrative. And since no historical effort can avoid its contemporary context, one may wonder about the ideological motivation that might have led elite literary practitioners to constructively misunderstand the foundations of the world they lived in --to invert transcendental and substructural concerns and reverse causality, as some mad-eyed ideologue would put it. 

This may ask too much of the interpretative power of archaeology. Or it may not! In the interest of dealing with Haselgrove and Wigg-Wolf's 2000 colloqium on "Iron Age Coinage and Ritual Practices;" the published version of Alexander Mazarakis Ainian's thesis, From Rulers' Dwellings to Temples; another colloqium,ill digested, Santuari mediterranei tra Oriente e OccidenteJorrit Kelder's The Kingdom of MycenaeBakker, Maurer, Pischke and Rauch on "Trade and Growth in the Iron Age;" and, still hanging about the apartment and perhaps somewhat old-fashioned by comparison with the other work, D. W. Harding's Iron Age Hillforts. Some other work is going to get mentioned below. As I type, I notice a certain paucity of writing about writing. As I try to reconstruct how it fits in here, I turn to Kelder, who is, of course, interested in what came before the Iron Age. Still, there's an interesting point to be made. I hope. (tl;dr: The urban sanctuary, with its sacred boundaries, might be necessary for the emergence of these technologies.)