Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Postblogging Technology, January, II: Newer, Better Bombs

Mr. R_. C_.,
Chateau Laurier,
Ottawa, Canada.

Dearest Father:

First things first: you asked to hear at the earliest date, about my appointment with Dr. Rivers. Since we are sending this on, via yourself, with the courier carrying the material for the General, this is the earliest date. So, rest assured that I am quite fully recovered, and cleared to resume all my normal activities. I can climb hills, ride horse, and, of course, sit at my desk and write. I can also clean house, not that I wanted to be cleared for that, but there is no help for it, with my girl back in college, and Fanny and Judith with their hands full.

If you miss your son, you may jump to the bottom, where my husband attaches a personal note.

So, that urgent matter taken care of, let me be more conventional, and say that I hope this letter finds you well. Or more than conventional, since you have my most profound and solicitous concern over your cough. Please, please say that it is on the mend! Being called across the continent so, and on a fool's errand, at that, is, well, when King and Country calls . . But still! I had so hoped to have you through the Lunar New Year, and now instead you must be off in Ottawa holding the hands of nervous civil servants who do not understand radioactivity.

If it is any consolation, "Mrs. Chow" says that the FBI's own live lead seems to be falling apart in their hands. They have more than a hundred named Red agents to follow, a number of them named by multiple sources, and none have been caught out yet. The Bureau is still optimistic, but Mrs. Chow has flatly told her "handler" that there is a leak, somewhere. (She says that it reminds her of the hunt for "Lucy.") Please, please let it be Hoover!

No, too much to hope for. Unless the Russians do not keep track of their cipher clerks, they  must be aware that their North American networks are compromised, and who knows who might be connected with whom?

On the matter of radioactivity, I pass on some information from Ensign Wong. The Americans have found more isotopes in New Mexico and Japan, and are increasingly confident that they may be able to reconstruct any Russian atom bomb from the isotope ratios --at least after the imminent trials in the South Seas. Just tell the Canadians to make sure that Chalk River doesn't vent into the air. It seems as though it would be good atomic hygiene, atomic spying or no.  

"Mrs. Chow" is resisting some pressure to move to Virginia. She is enjoying teaching, and is not sure that her connections would pass a background check. Besides, does the Bureau, or the Army and Navy really want to admit that they are taking pointers from the old enemy, no matter how well sanitised? And besides some more, with Queenie's translation work still coming in, there is the hope that whatever combined military intelligence bureau emerges in Washington, it will operate West Coast intercept stations. It would help if the Russians take up with the Chinese communists, though. 

We have a letter from your youngest, who reports that he is lonely at MIT. I am not quite sure what to make of it --I know that you will take it as a secret message to "Miss V.C.," but I remain unconvinced. She, for her part, has thrown herself into the archives. I had her along to lunch with the Fathers the other day, and she put searching questions to the old men about the Oregon Scandal. I wonder what she has in mind? I could ask her, of course, but it is more fun, for now, to speculate. 

Your son has an invitation to L.A. to show Uncle George's friend the finished product, again. Our show for the network went amazingly well --a full hour-and-a-half of recorded material, as good as from a disc. Whether it had any effect on the outcome or not, the friend has settled with Columbia. He will come back to his show for the last half of the season, and then be shut of his contract and free to move on. The new show will be pre-recorded. That being settled, the means of recording it counts for less, although he has insisted on taking a financial interest. Now he has money in tape-recorders and frozen orange juice. It is like he truly is a family friend! The point is, you can now assure the Earl that we will get the money sunk into magnetic tape recorders back, with every chance of good profits on top. Better than if we had invested in Fontana!


Friday, February 19, 2016

Postblogging Technology, January 1946, I: No Pessimism, Please. We're British

A fortunate 1946 to all!

My Lord:

The seasons have come  around again, at least insofar as they do in Santa Clara. (It is not hot, so it must be winter!) Now it is orange harvest. As I sit in the study, overlooking the guest house and the back, Michael yells hoarse orders in Spanish, the smell of boiling  marmalade is everywhere, and the sound of hammers on packing crates makes it very hard to read dry, boring technical journals. Fortunately, as I have learned from the Luce press, when you are not in a mood to produce serious copy, you can write a rambly introduction full of purple prose and references to the turning seasons. (If you are wondering, and care, your allotment of marmalade is coming by sea, via Montreal, in March.) 

With orange boxes rattling away to Chinese groceries on bare-tired Model Ts. one's mind turns to preparations for Lunar New Year, and the sad moment when we must say goodbye to my step-mother. Father has been called away to Ottawa to explain once again that nothing the Russians can detect from their embassy there will tell them anything about what is going on at Chalk River. Everyone is archly mysterious about it all, but I gather that a secretary from the embassy has sought protection from the Canadians, and has passed on some information to the effect of nefarious Red spies ferreting out secrets entrusted to Canada by London and Washington. We are informed that a parallel case is progressing in Washington, and there is a fever in Virginia to have the sense wrung out of the Russian ciphers. 

We will be celebrating with Uncle Henry this year. Aunt Beth's condition is progressing rapidly, and her doctors will not be able to keep her comfortable for much longer. She had a heart attack in October, which, I am told, is a common symptom if her condition, as is her increasing confusion. So her son is bringing his wife, and his little daughter. This means that we will celebrate it as a "Late Robbie Burns Day," in tribute to Great-Grandfather's little joke.  What Mrs. Edgar will make of it all, I can scarcely guess. She is aware that she is not to talk about Aunt Beth's side of the family, but, hopefully, supposes it to be about the touch of the sagebrush and, behind it, the hint of assorted land scandals.  A family bound in secrets is a family united. One hopes. 

Speaking of old secrets, I have now made my rather sticky visit to the "Junior College." Donald was down-at-mouth at the idea of owing us a favour, but our condition was met, and "Miss V.C." will be permitted unrestricted access to the library and university archives, ostensibly to get a headstart on her senior thesis. Donald tells me that much of the money will be used as an investment, to support a "West Coast research institute," which will in turn support the university with its profits. I tried to talk him out of the idea --he frankly sounds like a confidence artist's dupe on the subject-- and the conversation ended in some heat. 
Forties tie!

Still, we have what we came for. Hopefully it will not all be rendered moot when we are allowed to buy the entire archives as scrap paper in the liquidation sale! As to what, exactly, "Miss V.C." is to find, that is another matter. Whatever dark secrets might have been suppressed, as between Bancroft's agents and Great-Grandfather's, they are hardly actionable today! But Grace is convinced that there would not have been so much effort spent on keeping them secret if they did not still matter. 

I did not task Donald with keeping the arrangement secret from the Engineer, as I did not expect him to honour the agreement even before harsh words were uttered on the chances of the university making good on something Lockheed has already given up on. Consequently, while I expect difficult moments with him when I see him next, at least he will not be under the impression that I was trying to keep secrets from him. (Just trying to implicate him in the Oregon Land Scanndal. That is so much better!) 

Ah, well. The Engineer is hardly happy anyway unless he is in a state of priggish outrage. At least with respect to his bastard, how far the apple falls from the tree! What I fear  is that he will throw over punctiliousness and secure the assistance of Koumintang assassins. I hope we have protected ourselves enough that I do not have to worry about a White Russian psychopath dismembering "Miss V.C." in the bath. The poor girl has been down-at-mouth enough since my brother left  (could it be?), and I do not want to be the one telling her that Wong Lee must accompany her to campus. Not to mention that Wong Lee has quite enough to do keeping up his business and his family life, especially with a granddaughter under foot, and now another child on the way. 

Pardon me, I do not wish to be indiscreet, but I thought, after dire talk of torso murders, that it would be better to end on a positive note, of new beginnings and good fortune at the turn of the Year of the Dog. I wish you and yours, therefore, luck and prosperity in the year to come.

Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant,


Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Bishop's Sea: Valhalla

Samosas --from Lovely's Kitchen

Deep-fried nuggets of joy. The historian of the Columbian Exchange chooses to emphasise the potatoes which often fill a samosa, and the sunflower or peanut oil in which they might be fried. If you go to the linked video, though, it will be the spicing that gets the priority. Because it's Indian cooking, and I thought I should mention what the actual cook thinks is important.  

You know, in the way of a little pause before I resume diving down my own navel.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Cosmically Aware Technical Appendix

I honestly don't know how I came to the idea that cosmic rays were boring. It's a tribute to an undergraduate education, maybe? High energy photons are emitted from your mundane spinning galactic cores, supernovas, and the odd black hole, impact the Earth's atmosphere, lock free some subatomic particles, including a few with goofy names like "muon" and "meson," which kind of have to be fake, considering that there are guns in Traveller that shoot them, and that, anyway, you don't need to know about for chemistry class. (Or Physics 420, come to that.)

And then there's this:

 I don't know if you're following Agent Carter  or not. I mean, Bench Grass obviously isn't. Like the back pages of Whittaker Chamber's Time, we may seem unusually interested in physical culturalists and Gypsy Rose Lee, but, in fact, we concern ourselves with Great Art and Fine Literature. However, we hear that it is a fun television show. 

More importantly, the premise is that, in the summer of 1947, defence contractor Isodyne has done its own run of atomic bomb testing (as if), and, unexpectedly, discovered a goopy, black stuff that recalls episodes of Agents of Shield and characters such as Darkstar and Cloak and Dagger. Instead of calling it "the dark force," though, because that would be silly, they're calling it "zero matter," and it is something with enormous potential to blah blah. Cloak, notably, uses his dark stuff to teleport, which could be a link with Agents of Shield. Someone who watches that show might find out. And have age-inappropriate reactions to Chloe Bennett. 

And now for a completely irrelevant thumbnail photo to illustrate the post before the jump.