Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Technical Appendix for June, 1945: Printing Time

In 1681, a young gentleman of Bologna, Luigi Fernando, Count Marsigli (Imperial Free Counts are a dime a dozen in northern Italy) secured a place in the suite of the Venetian ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Or, as you were allowed to say without a trace of irony back in the day, the Sublime Porte. The appointment did not last very long, for reasons having more to do with high politics than anything Marsigli did. (Given his biography, he probably did a lot of cruising, but he didn't get into trouble over his private life until he was, like, totally old and gross, so who cares?) In the course of looking for his next job, Marsigli happened to drop a remarkable manuscript on the desk of the then-Emperor (His Sacred Imperial Majesty Caesar, by the Grace of God, Elect Roman Emperor, King of the Germans, Archduke of Austria, etc, etc), Leopold I. It was the Stato Militare dell'Impero Ottomano, and although not the up-to-date, ripped-from-the-archives report on the Ottoman army that it purported to be, it was some first class espionage, and got Marsigli that job, and the rest was history. Weird, eccentric, overwrought history, but history. 

But that's not what's important right now, because I'm talking about the report, which became a book: a profusely illustrated, magnificent volume, photostatically reproduced in the mid-70s as much for its beauty as the historical value of its contents. On the page reproduced above, text and graphics are combined by direct engraving on the copperplate by a master artisan, probably Dutch, in 1730. The reproduction is by the magic of Xerox, as mediated by digital camera work, transmitted through the Intertubes as an ASCII file, and so, from Windows 10 to Blogger to you.

That is printing then, printing now. It's amazing that printing images has gone from a high skilled job (engraving) to a low-skilled one (photocopying) and back to a high skilled one. (Coding. Although anyone can blunder along with the help of a high level blogging app.)

Maybe it's all magic?



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Technical Appendix for June, 1947: Hermione Giffard Says, "Cool Your Jets!"


I feel very, very old to know that someone named "Hermione" is a postdoc at Utrecht with a very, very good University of Chicago Press book to her name. Dr. Giffard's Making Jet Engines in World War II isn't just an excellent treatment of the early days of jet production. It is also a meditation on the relationship between invention, development and production. In a neat little turn of phrase, she asks whether Allison's move to press forward with producing its own jet engine design might show that it is "Hard to do development without production," flipping what I would take to be still the controversial and out-there position that "It is hard to do production without development," that is, innovating-by-doing, on its head.

That said, I have a bit more on my plate here. Various Great Minds of the last age said that "God is dead," either hopefully or not, with the notion that it was time to prod the world into a post-Christian morality of some or another kind. Nietzsche and Beckett are my exemplars here, because Nietzsche's prophet is the overman, and who doesn't want to identify with an "overman," and because Waiting for Godot is so ludicrously appropriate.

Because we're waiting for Google.


Whatever you think of my potted literary criticism, at least it serves to frame my mad claim that technological innovation is dead.


The Aeroplane, some time in the middle of July, 1939. Yes, I should keep better notes. The top secret gas turbines are being unboxed by private industry in the far right hand corner, while the Mosquito is trying to get its nose in the door on the bottom left.