Saturday, May 20, 2017

Looking Back at the Siege of Britain, I:Small Boats, Small Ports, Small Coals

"Tree-"class minesweeper HMS Bronington, lying derelict in the Mersey
This post should be "Postblogging Technology, April 1947, I;" but my rotation off night shift was marked by a spell of 11 days working out of 13 (some of them in particularly grueling duties), and I was not feeling the motivation over my last two days off. Arguably, I should have just shook it off

Maybe this will help. Although a weekend in might help more.
but that's not how fatigue works. On the other, hand, I did do some things with my weekend, and while I am perhaps reading too much into my random consumption of popular culture.
The backer's-only "O-Chul" story dropped on Monday night. 

it might be that the time has come for a meditation on fatigue, responsibility, especially managerial responsibility, and diligence. 

World War II's longest and most grinding campaign was Grand Admirals Raeder and Doenitz's attempt to choke off the domestic economy of the United Kingdom by the somewhat indirect expedient of stopping the rest of the (free) world, and, ultimately, they were defeated by the world's middle managers, at a terrific cost paid, above all, by the people of Bengal. HMS Bronington, meanwhile, turns out to have a bit of history, having been the WWII-era minesweeper chosen as the Prince of Wales' command in 1976.  While the flaws of Prince Charles' character do not strike me as falling along the axis of irresponsibility, I can think of other leaders and potential leaders of the Free World who might have benefited from a youthful spell in command of a fishing troller.


Friday, May 12, 2017

God Speed the Plough: Swords Into Ploughshares

Because Superman is based on Moses, and Thor is based on, well, Thor. 
At his Temple of A Million Years at Medinet Habu, Ramesses III (r. 1186--1155 BC) celebrates his victory over an enemy who comes from the midst of the sea. No further details are necessary here, since this isn't a discussion of the Late Bronze Age Collapse. What matters here is that some of them appear to be wearing horned helmets.

This isn't a post about Vikings, either. It isn't even about Gaston Maspero, the Paris-born son of Jews of Italian origin, who, after a youth spend assisting a wealthy dilettante seeking the Aryan roots of Peruvian Indian languages, went on to be the long-lasting Director of Antiquities in Egypt and the author of multi-volume histories of the ancient Near East, as well as of an 1881 article that popularised the idea that there existed such a thing as the "Sea Peoples." It's not even about the regional conflicts in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century France about which Maspero was so clearly actually writing. ("Vikings" are "Normans," and there's a big to-do about there being Normans in northern France and not southern France, which shows that the south's relative economic backwardness isn't about policy favouring the north, but rather about race.)

It's about ploughs.



They  had image scraping in 1947, too! I'm sure that this is the Country Life in question. The image comes from F. G. Payne's 1947 article in The Archaeological Journal, "The Plough in Ancient Britain," which is widely available on the Interwebs as a pdf, not that has helped in the slightest.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Technical Appendix: Apollonian Days

I was going to go with "Apollonian Days of Future Past," but too wordy. I'm still going to keep the image of Old Wolverine getting barbecued, even though I'd need to write an essay in this block to explain why. Source
I'm referring to the Armstrong Whitworth Apollo. Two weeks ago, I thought, "Well, before I make a joke about the way that its original name (the Avon) poaches the Rolls Royce "River" theme, I should find out when the Avon [1947/8, as it happens] appeared --and, for that matter, when the themed naming schemes of postwar British engines were finalised." It turns out that naming a plane "the Avon" was perfectly fine in 1947; and, in any event, the plane's name was changed to the "Apollo" well before Armstrong Whitworth slunk away in shame from the "turboprop feeder airliner" market in 1951, leaving this mess on Farnborough airfield for someone else to clean up.

By RuthAS - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34744239
Before I disappear up my own ass, here's my argument and conclusions:

Given that the United Kingdom had bombed out the only viable competition [which is a story about the American engineering industry that hasn't been well told], there was room for its aviation industry to take advantage of first mover advantage and get an effective monopoly on each of the three main types of commercial gas-turbine engines: the turbojet, turboprop, and turbofan. When I started bouncing around after the full story of the Armstrong Whitworth Apollo, I thought I knew the results of this fleeting advantage. It was thrown away in the case of the turbojet,  seized with impressive sales results in the case of the turboprop, and irrelevant in the case of the turbofan, which came after the British lead had evaporated.

This goes to show how little I know about the subject. In my defence, this is a "technical appendix," that is, a hypothesis about an aspect of the history of technology that surprised me as much as I hoped it will you, and which we should keep an eye on as the postblogging series continues.

The inquiry turned up a planned military transport version of the Vickers Valiant, and a proposed commercial variant. The variant, the Vickers VC7, would have been powered by the first viable turbofan engine, the Rolls-Royce Conway. This would have made it the first turbofan commercial airliner by at least a year or two, but it was cancelled in 1955. Questions were asked in Parliament, and the received opinion discovers a "political decision" entangled in the earlier developments. Maybe it's the last moment when the British aviation industry could have been saved. Maybe not.

What can be said is that this brings the British aviation industry's grade down from a gentleman's D (pity marks for the Comet), to a clear fail. It's to be sent down to find a job in the City, where it can laugh at those poor, mucky manufacturers up at least through to Brexit.

So: Is there a profound lesson here about technology policy? Brendan Flynn thinks so. Arguing with someone named "Professor Geels," who has a sociology-of-science explanation about research sites and networks, Flynn proposes that the missing ingredient is state funding. Can Rachel Summers send Kitty Pryde's mind back to the 1980s to put everything right with the one crucial bit of information that a bit more Keynsianism is needed?

 Is this an accurate picture? At this point, who knows?  I'll state it affirmatively, but with mental reservations. I'm really just laying out a programme of research.