Sunday, August 19, 2018

Postblogging Technology, June 1948, II: Blockades, Airlifts, Antitrust and Floods


(The surprisingly apropos theme for the Vanport Flood documentary, embedded below.)
R_. C_.
Oriental Club,
London,
U.K.

Dear Father:

I don't know if I've mentioned that Ronnie had a Monday in lieu of the 4th, and that we're flying spares out to the Zone and then turning the planes right around. 

Put two and two together, and here we are in our weekend boudoir in beautiful (not!) Frankfurt. I can't imagine what Ronnie is going to be like at work on Tuesday morning, but, as she says, she's flown the Atlantic more often than I have, and she aims to keep it that way! I'm not sure that that's going to happen. I may be back in Arcata soon. Right now, we have more planes and pilots in Germany than we have landing slots, which is the reason my CO sent me over with his Skymaster. (That and he's probably tired of me complaining about having to land on a Ronson.) The idea is that the Navy's instrument-flying whizkid will suss out the tricks to keep landings up. I'm not sure what ideas I'm supposed to be coming up with, but I will be doing a night flight into Templehof in six hours to see what's what. Then, who knows, I'll probably be in London on my way to Boscombe Down. Perhaps I can drop in and see you, if you're not off to Aldermaston to talk about sniffing for Russian nuclear tests. 

When you do get back home, watch out for trouble from the kin down California way. Uncle George had no sooner got Uncle Henry settled down over the Vanport floods when US Steel got the go-ahead from the Supreme Court to buy into Los Angeles. Uncle Henry can't blame that on us, but he is wall-eyed angry, and testing out the idea that if we'd only invested in Fontana, he'd be strong enough to keep Big Steel out of California. It's gibberish, but it gives  him someone to blame. Meanwhile, Grace and James are off to meet her father in Macao now that a Communist victory is more than a cynical joke. It's an all-the-stars conference on the question of whether we can get back into Hong Kong. The important point is that Grace isn't in California to manage him. I almost wrote "here!" This flying around the world is disorienting! 

And as if that's not bad enough, R. is going through the wringer. He is getting divorced, which is normal enough for the Hollywood types, but which has brought out H. He had this bizarre notion that his youngest son could have followed him into the Presidency, unlike his legitimate sons, with their habit of sticking their hands out. Can be? I doubt it. Divorce, you see. And family drama, because it turns out that H. has been talking to some friends at GE about promoting R., now that his movie career is, uhm, well . . . 

I had a thought in there, but I've lost it now. That's probably a little angel whispering that I should take a nap while Ronnie's out.

Your Son,
Reggie


On the same theme, the music from the documentary on the Berlin Airlift, embedded last week.

The flood occurred on 29 May 1948, and President Truman toured the damage on 11 June, so I guess I can forgive Time for having dropped the story by the June 18th issue. But 39 people died! 



Sunday, August 12, 2018

Postblogging Technology, June 1948, I: If We Don't Believe in the European Recovery, Maybe It Won't Happen


"Peck a hole to see if a redwood's really red"? It's almost like there's a subtext

R_. C_.,
Vancouver,
Canada.

Dear Father:

You will have my postcard announcing my promotion to Lieutenant, which I sent because I am bummed out about Glenn and Ed. The last time I talked to Ed, he was all test pilot bluster until he had three drinks in him, at which point he used some language about the YB-49 and Jack Northrop that was not complimentary at all. Preliminary talk is that they'll pin this one on the pilot. I'm told that he wasn't as easy to like as Glenn, and Northrop isn't about to let reality invade the private room he shares with his flying wings.

Maybe, just maybe, the Air Force will grow the nether appendages needed to cancel the damn plane. Then if it goes infectious,  the Navy gets rid of Fido, too. It's a dream.

I would say more, but as I'm writing, word's come down about Berlin and Ronnie and I are making plans to meet, in case it's the last time we can get together this summer. The CO says there's a good chance I'm going over at some point.




Your Loving Son,
Reggie
Source



Monday, July 30, 2018

A Second Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, May 1948, II: Mr. Smith Goes To Ground

"Heath Row." I probably shouldn't dwell on it as much as I do, but there's something ineffably weird about Britain's inability to decide what to call London's main airport in the first generation of its existence. As the statistics show, it was also a very foggy place in the late 1940s and 1950s, due to all of that low-quality coal being burnt in power generation facilities which really ought to have been retired, but weren't, as electrical demand was growing so quickly. If only those old-timers had grasped just how easy it would turn out to be to stifle demand and stop economic growth in its tracks!

Ah, well, we have to let bygones be bygone, and focus on the important part, which is the development of automatic landing capabilities to the point where, even if the modern Vancouverite can't afford a house, they can afford to fly to Mexico or the Caribbean and back at Christmas, and never for a second think that they might land into the runways at YVR, instead of on them.

From Sir John Charnley, "The RAE Contribution to All-Weather Landing." [msword document]

Along the way, we'll learn a bit more about the coming of the transistor era; and, specifically, why it happened in America. Well, okay, we don't need to learn that. "Military Industrial Complex" and all of that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Technological Appendix to May 1948, II: Somewhat Germane(ium)



(Michel Colombier composition: Somewhat better known than his music for Colossus: The Forbin Project)

So this week we have news of two British computers, clearly described as such. This is pretty damn interesting! Hitherto, I've spent a lot of time emphasising the "prehistory" of computers.

Look! An automatic computing device for engineers! It's like CAD before computers! However, today's first article, which is about the EDSAC, or Delay Storage Automatic Calculator, is clearly identified by The Engineer as being about an "electronic digital computing machine." Yes, we still have qualifications, but the transition from the human computer to the machine that old-time academic historians, immersed as they are in their Kuhnian framework of paradigm shifts, has been made. 
The A. O. Smith automatic frame factory will make all auto-cars for the North American market. The day of the "robot" is at hand! 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Postblogging Technology, May 1948, II: Black Out And Honey Trap




R_. C_.,
The Astoria,
New York

Dear Father:

I hope this letter finds you well, and I hope there's enough money in newsprint to justify those swanky digs!

You asked about the Arcata flying.  I know it's hard to believe, but the FIDO installation and the lights rigs on the runway is about the extent of the  highly advanced not-flying-into-mountains rig-up that the Navy's got going here. There is a war-surplus ILS and also a GCA and a pretty good HF beacon not linked to either, but we're not really testing those so much as giving me access to them in case I can't find the ground for it being on fire. 

So I've been doing a great deal of weird flying instead, since the station also has quite the boneyard, and I can see the difference between landing in the dark in a Jacobs Anson or the amphibian Catalina. (Absolutely the best, since it's already going like it's landed at 1500ft. Though, on the other hand, it floats like it's on water at 50.) I've been lobbying the brass to let me take a trip to Blighty, just to check out the automatic landing talk.

In the mean time, I can't really complain, because this summer's a cushy gig and no-one's stopping me from swinging down by the Bay. I've even pulled the old Indian out of storage (sheepish look at Grace as I go --I hope this thing blows over eventually, 'cuz I miss my Auntie!) so I can tootle around town in style. Ronnie's taken to bringing trousers to the office so that she can change before she swings onboard. Miss K. seems ever so jealous, and there's a joke there given --Well, given. Not that I'm going to say anything about it, considering. I am not going to be the man that breaks her up with her boyfriend.

Her boyfriend, on the other hand . . . 

Not entirely irrelevant, went down around the Bay to see V., whom we last left with a vague promise to do something for. Did you know that he's writing for television, now? Also entertained us with a reading of a bizarre story about magicians with strange names in the last days of the world, a la the end of Time Traveller. Can't see it selling, myself, but Miss K. loved it, if not V. 


Ronnie's been taking up so much of my time that I haven't even had a chance to volunteer for the campaign, which I'm sure you'll be glad to hear. Don't you worry, though, because once Wallace is President, I'm for an Admiral's flag for sure.

Kidding! Obviously the campaign can't expect to win in '48. We have to play the long game, looking forward to '52, when America will be tired enough of Dewey or Taft, or, who knows, Vandenberg, and ready to return to the New Deal.

I think I'll leave it at that, because somehow another weekend's gone, and it's off to fly the fogs of northern California for another week.


Your Son,
Reggie

People pay these guys.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, 15 1/4: Wool And What Came Before

Silver Star, the Valhalla range, and the backs of one of my cousins' families.

Taken half a hip swivel to the left of the first. Humans change alpine landscapes.


The earliest date at which I could expect to finish my next postblogging has receded towards next Tuesday in a gradual way, so I could say that I'm setting out to write a little jeu d'esprit (go France!) The truth is that it was not until Saturday morning, surrounded by my grandfather's books and preparing to climb a mountain on a family occasion, that I thought of something worthwhile to say: a quarter's worth of a legitimate installment in the Sacred Spring series, a very modest contribution to Getting Technology Right. This is a blog about restoring grass to its place at the centre of technological policy; a new horizon was opened up over at Brad Delong's the other day, and there is something to be said here about that.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Postblogging Technology, May 1948, I: Jigging For Subtext

She just wants to be alone!

R_. C_.,
The Waldorf,
New York, New York,
Canada

Dear Father:

Here I am back in California, and you're off to the East again! I understand, though. A Celanese contract would be very sweet. Speaking of the industry, there is also some movement on newsprint pulp in Newfoundland. It is buried deep in my letter, but Labour is backing away from the stringent early limits on newsprint next year. Whether that means the syndicate can salvage the new Newfoundland pulp mill is another question. I'm just a simple flyboy, but it seems to me that a mainland site would be a better idea, anyway. 


Speaking of flying, I've been billeted at Arcanta, but I have a plane, so it is easy to get down to San Francisco. Ronnie and Miss K.'s apartment is nice, if cramped. I don't think Miss K. likes me very much. Well, I don't like her boyfriend, so it's sort-of mutual.

I'm also a little surprised that she has a boyfriend, but what do I know of the ways of the human heart? I would tell you a bit more about the Arcanta flying, but so far I'm less than impressed with the Navy's approach to things. Better runway lights are all very well, but I am aching to try out those British automatic-landing gadgets I read about. And the less said about Fido, the better.  

Your Son,
Reggie

Strange question in 1948.