Saturday, October 13, 2018

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

R_. C_.,

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,

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.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Postblogging Technology, July 1948, II: Bearing Down

The Oriental Club,

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,

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,

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,

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,
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.)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Half and Half Appendix to Postblogging Technology, June 1948: From the Oder to the Spree

It's time to catch up on a few things.

UBC's copy, or at least the copy in my hands, comes from the library of Dr. J. S. Milsum, who seems like an interesting guy in his own right. 
Given a choice of which numbers of The Engineer and Engineering I was going to epitomise last week, I ended up choosing the ones that didn't have reviews of James, Nicholls and Philips, Theory of Servomechanisms (Internet archive entry), which came out, as Number 25 in the Radar Handbook series from the MIT Radiation Laboratory, in June of 1948. It's in the 18 June issue of Engineering, which means that it's not up as a pdf yet at Grace's Guide,  so you'll have to trust me that it's quite a nice notice. 

You will have noted that all three of the British technical periodicals I follow, have notices about the upcoming summer schools on the theory of servomechanisms, to be held around the North. (No comment needed.) It has now been a year since the Institution of Electrical Engineers' special session on a"automatic regulators and servo mechanisms," which was held in May of 1947. As far as I can put a finger on it, it would be the publication of the proceedings of that conference in the Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, as much as anything, that inspired the summer schools. These are huge developments in the history of information technology; the problem is that our received history of same is so shallow and episodic, that I might be the lone voice in the wilderness of history of science who is even aware that the conference happened. I don't blame the profession. It's just too small to cover this enormous subject. I do blame the people making policy based on bad history, but I say that every week, and I haven't changed the world yet. 

Also to be caught up on here are the intersection of race and natural disaster at Vanport, Washington, and the Berlin Blockade. The latter is pretty closely connected to the history of servomechanisms via the problems of air navigation, while the former . . . is not. 

Black soldiers on flood control at Vanport, 1948, from the files of the Oregon History Project

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,

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,

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_.,

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,

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,

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,

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,

Strange question in 1948.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XIV: Geoffrey Crowther's Take

"Cottonopolis." Probably a factory, not a tenement, not 1930s construction. I just liked the name.

It's not uncommon for me to find myself a little behind in writing a Postblogging Technology update at this point in the month; it's also common enough for me to find myself inspired by my reading. That is, after all, why I'm doing it!

This is not going to be a post about soapmaking, however. It's relevant, and also something that I can't get into the postblogging series, since it comes from a 21 May 1948 leading article in The Economist, and comments on an article in the previous issue. Well, I guess I could choose a different format . . . 

Anyway, point is, the leader writer, who may or may not actually be Henry Luce's favourite "stout" boy, has a take on the dark old days of the 1930s. That old fuddy-duddy, Keynes, did much to illuminate the problems of a general glut, The Economist concedes, and was useful in the way he focussed on oversaving as a cause of the terrible economic privations of the 1930s. 

Now, however, the Voice of Neoliberalism points out, in the light of last week's article on "the capital budget," it is time to focus on a different issue. Overspending, it points out, is only an issue when there is no commensurate investment, and it must now be acknowledged that there was a terrible lack of capital investment in the Thirties, with the exception of residential spending and electricity. 

Bam! Substitute IT for the building of the National Grid, and you've got ancestral voices speaking ancient truths to us moderns. Indeed, much of the argument against the secular stagnation thesis turns on that IT spending. Something, usually AI, now that Big Data has proven disappointing, will very soon now, unleash a new era of technological progress. Self-driving trucks was the thing, as from a few years ago, and the recent travails of Uber, Google and Tesla haven't penetrated the trailing edge of our thinkfluencers. 

Never mind that, what about the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age transition? No new insights today, just some thoughts, all rather tenuously grounded in archaeology that might reverse itself tomorrow.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XIII: A Midsummer's Night Update

I hope that you've had a restful June. I have, with the family visits and the vast amount of standing around involved in closing a grocery store. (Sigh.) I also hope you've learned new things. I have!

By Cliff from Arlington, Virginia, USA - Barley (Hordeum vulgare), CC BY 2.0,
For example, did you know that Hordeum vulgare counts as a marginal halophyte due to its ability to tolerate up to 5 g/litre of salt in water, compared with the 1-3 g/litre tolerance of other cereal and legume crops? That's why it is so widely planted on irrigated land, and, in particular, on the alluvium of southern Iraq ("Sumer and Akkad.") That fact might have slipped into an earlier post in this series, and appears in J. G. Manning's intellectual armature, as of The Open Sea, a monograph already noted here, although one that I took some time to get my brain around due to a certain lack of patience for wheels spinning. It's also something that I learned at 53, thanks to following links on Wikipedia, once again underlining the sheer intellectual dilettance of agrarian history.

Admittedly, technical dilettance is an occupational hazard for the historian in general. Take, for example, a blog post based on three monographs that pretends to develop the state of the art at the end of the Iron Age. Oh, well. Three books isn't much by the standards of comps reading, but I didn't have a fulltime job in those days, either. (We'll pass over the time I was able to spend at work, reading, last week, in silence.)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Meta-Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, April, 1948: The Two Secrets of the Fiscal 1948-9 British Budget

So this started out as a smartass answer over at Quora to the question, "What did Britain lose in World War II?" The expected answer is, of course, "the Empire, which was awesome," so you can see why my push back was "Houses. Everything else was upside."
It might also not surprise that the post has not elicited any great number of positive responses. Whatever: The first important point is that I'm off to 100 Mile House for my niece's birthday this week, I wanted to post something light, and the first part of this post, which is about the budget presented by Stafford Cripps in April of 1948, is something that deserves to be shoved out into the Zeitgeist. It's pretty much set-in-stone wisdom that Britain "bankrupted itself fighting the Second World War, and that narrative goes on to shape our understanding of the consequences of running up a large, public-sector deficit to address an existential emergency.

Which is an important point for these days. Global warming and all that, you know.

The second important point is that my purely rhetorical codicil about how Britain was unexpectedly innovative in the 1950s, turns out to be far more cohesive than I realised. Picking three exemplars of British innovation at random, and then exploring an alternative to the over-worked third one, I discover that it's all linked, due to the then-secret British atomic weapons programme.
Which also brings in 100 Mile House, thanks to Leonard Cheshire, part time giant-bomb dropping specialist, part-time cultist, full-time humanitarian. 

Pictured: Not the modern descendants of the Emissaries of Divine Light, down in 100 Mile's suburb (I know, I know!) of
Exeter, whatever you hear around here. However, the girl on the left is my man Brandon Konoval's sister. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Postblogging Technology, April 1948, II: Accidents Will Happen Is Not An Excuse

R_. C_.

Dear Father:

I'm dashing this off before my Philosophy exam because my house sisters have told me that I'm not going to be allowed back in here after I'm done. Junior year is done! Give or take some German Romantic Idealists, and perhaps a dash of the Nietzsche and Heidegger for extra credit. So, in spite of my promises to catch you up on the gossip, all I can fit in (The screed below went on a bit, thus the cramped brushwork --why am I wasting space for apologies?), is this. You can tell that I'm excited. My digressions have digressions! So, to catch you up, I have found rooms for the  summer in the city. I will be living with Miss K., who has decided that she needs a room of her own, for reasons I will be interested in nosing out. (Cherchez l'homme!)  She won't be cutting the apron strings entirely, as her mother owns the building. It turns out that whatever you make of Ishi, he is good for the pocketbook!

This letter, as you know, is my last until October, as Reggie will be taking over for the summer. As he says, the only thing he'll be doing this summer is teaching a dog (FIDO) new tricks. Which is another way of saying, if he hasn't told you already, that he will be at Arcata, practicing ILS in a C-54. He's a bit disgruntled about flying a gooney bird, but glad there's room for extra fire extinguishers.

Far too much of this newsletter would be about politics this week, if I let it. Besides Stassen's win in Nebraska, Time and Newsweek are both at nerves' end over the Italian elections at press time. It all seems a bit distant now, although, who knows, perhaps the next Italian elections really will see the Red Menace sweep to the Channel. Stassen's "Paul Revere" riders look a lot like the GOP's version of Wallace supporters on the Democratic side, and are probably as clear a sign as any that Warren will not somehow take the Republican nomination, not that I ever expected that to happen.

Now, a little more about that. Newsweek's Moley had an interesting back page column about "dark horse" candidates in American politics, pointing out that no dark horse has ever won a second term, and that the last, Harding, was the worst of all, suggesting a downwards trend. The idea that Warren will sweep out of nowhere in July and take the Republican party in a progressive direction is actively a problem for the California progressives. (Not that the rise of men like Representative Nixon doesn't show that those days are behind it, whatever Grace thinks.) But! Warren isn't even the talk of the dark horse enthusiasts. That would be Vandenberg and, recently, Martin, especially after that recent stunt "settling" the coal strike. Polls show that both men have no base at all within the Republican party or the nation. Stassen is the progressive's best hope, and an illusory one. The Paul Revere Riders are just projecting their hopes on him, just as are Wallace's followers, although you mustn't tell Reggie I said so. The simple, boring reality is that if you want a progressive outcome in November, you have to back the President.

I know! I know! For a girl who cares not a penny for politics, I sure come off strong on this!

Of course Henry Kaiser pioneered aluminum siding. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Postblogging Technology, April 1948, I: Blockades and the Revenge of Money


Dear Father:

Between exams and work, I am in a tearing hurry, and I'm down in the dumps because Reggie is in the same boat, and we only put $30 in Ma Bell's pocket last night. I promise to catch you up next week!

Yours Sincerely,

If you don't mind me repeating an observation in the body, it's strange that the Berlin Airlift has started, and  no-one has noticed. We still have to wait two months for the official start. Which, just to bring the threads together, will be triggered by the introduction of the Deutschmark. I did not know that.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XII: The Queen of May

Most publicity shots from Duel in the Sun feature Jane Russell's boobs against a backdrop of hay. Jennifer Jones is this blog's Queen of May for 2018. (Thanks to all the gals who came out: Also, if it comes up, the blog's choice is distinct from the author's.)

And this image of a British wildflower meadow is cheerfully scraped from a "How to" article in the Daily Telegraph explaining how to go about creating your own wildflower meadow on a few hectares of your land for which you can't think of any other use. But setting my clumsy attempt to start class warfare aside (we're all in this together, you know!), let's just stop and meditate on spring and flowers and fertility and the mysterious way in which they're connected, deep in the human psyche.  

Done? Enough meditation! What about scythes?
Er, yeah. No, I mean like this,

as it turns out that haymowing re-enactors are seriously a thing these days. The idea of dueling with scythes isn't completely preposterous, given that the fifty-centimeter-plus long scythe is the second largest Iron Age toolblade after the sword, and your typical scythe saw fan order of magnitude more use during its lifetime than your typical sword. That quietly and unobtrusively puts it in position to claim the title of apex technology for hand blacksmithing, which makes it all the more remarkable that its history is so obscure. I do have some results to report, or I would be talking about my recent correspondence with Dietrich Eckhardt, but I want to be brief, since, in pursuing the subject, I was sidetracked into buying Manning's "major new history of economic life in the Mediterranean in the Iron Age," and Marc van de Mierop's Philosophy before Greece, and may eventually have something to report. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Bishop's Sea: Nanook

The Nanook, or Tanfield Valley, site, has appeared in these pages before. Lying along the southeastern coast of Baffin Island, it is a fairly prominent site of prehistoric settlement. Michigan anthropologist Moreau Maxwell excavated here from the 1960s to the 1980s, apparently informed of ancient relics by a local informant.

As for "Nanook" itself, I'm reminded of Henry Collins' excited description of the Sadlermiut site, published in a 1954 National Geographic, and inspiring generations of speculation that appear to end, sadly, in concluding that there is no there, there. I'm obviously very impressed by the fact that the population of the high Arctic did not exceed 5000 people at any point in prehistory, because I repeated it twice in two paragraphs in my last "Nanook" post. It remains, I think a fair point that any site with eighty house ruins, several hundred graves, and hundreds of meat caches is going to bulk very, very large in the human story of the high Arctic. Something significant happened here. The  disappointing thing about Sadlermiut is that it happened too recently to be romantic. Nanook is another matter.

Unfortunately, it is not similar to Sadlermiut in having numerous ruins. The far southwest of Baffin Island is resource-rich, for the High Arctic, and had a high prehistoric population, and within the region, the Tansfield Valley stands out  as what pioneering investigator, Moreau Maxwell, called an oasis. Although tending to damp in the summer, it is an obvious camp ground. The problem was the lack of obvious ruins, although that can be explained by the absence of good building stone, and alternatives such as ivory, sea mammal bone, and caribou antlers, all unavailable for various reasons. Instead, Moreau concluded, structures in the area would be cut from sod, a scarce resource in the area, in general, but copiously available here.

Maxwell's excavations justified the hypothesis. In particular,  he was struck by ruins that could be interpreted as the foundation walls of a (Norse-style) sod longhouse, although many other explanations have been put forward. Along with the exciting discovery of muskoxen fur, analogous to the bison, muskox and brown bear hair found at the famed "Farm Beneath the Sands," the prospect beckoned of larger exchange networks uniting the farthest northern reaches of the High Arctic with the Canadian boreal forests, and perhaps beyond.

This attracted Canadian Museum of Civilisation (now "History") archaeologist, Patricia Sutherland,  and her Helluland Project, with the usual (or "highly controversial," choose your preferred modifier) agenda of looking for Norse, which she tentatively concluded she had found. As is equally usual, in the absence of anything signed in authentic, contemporary handwriting, nothing definitive was found, and killjoy DNA studies soon revealed that the supposed exotic hairs were nothing of the kind. Good thing hair analysis was never relied on for anything important! The problem is that the carbon dates have yielded Medieval, that is, pre-Norse carbon dates. Since we seem (for now) to have moved beyond dismissing paradigm-upsetting carbon dates as Bad Science, it is at least worth considering what that might mean. Sutherland is willing to go for "early Medieval" seafarers, and points to the new, early dates for the settlement of the Faeroes and the situation in Iceland as a license for going halfway towards full "Wayfarer-"dom. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Postblogging Technology, March, 1948, II: Necessity is to Invention As . . .

R_. C_.,
Vancouver, Canada

Dear Father:

I hope this finds you well, as I'm personally a bit frazzled, having been up to the city again, this time to look for a place to stay, as it would be a scandal if I moved into with Queenie or the Cs. I've even resorted to the 'Ks.", so if I end  up staying in an (indoor) tipi, you will know why!

Not only to the city but to Oakland, as Mother made a flying visit to her sister's nurses. (Who were a bit mystified by  the origins of her authority, or why she looked like her sister.) My presence was commanded, so that Mother could snub me --although she relented when I asked whether I had had rubella far enough to promise to send me my medical records. A nurse dismissed for the crime of getting too close to Uncle Henry, she was off to Chicago, cool and distant as ever, and me to work.

I have decided that I do not like work. I  hope lawyering is nothing like it.

Yours Sincerely,

Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Postblogging Technology, March 1948, I: The City and the Stars

R. C.,

Dear Father:

You were right to tell me not to worry about Magnin's, and for the good of my ego I will not question the way you put it. "I shall give them another call if I have to," means that some of my natural charm was not lost on them, after all!

The disadvantage of sealing the deal is that I my little course on how to be a shop assistant required me to drive up to San Francisco through fog and rain, and then down again, at which point the old Lincoln was so ungallant as to be a regular John Lewis, although it turns out that it was striking for a new distributor, and not portal-to-portal pay. And so much for fetching bacon and eggs for a week on the morning shift. Speaking of which, I need to get this done, as Andy Chu must be getting tired of sitting out in his car for me to bring it down to him. Can you imagine the scandal if I invited him up to wait in the living room with the beaus? I have no idea how I will summon up a smile if Mr. Straight is there again tomorrow, and I must, because so much for a week's pay!
Yes, it's anachronistic. That's why I softened you up at the head! This post isn't late because I had to drive somewhere, but it is late for work reasons. 

So, yes, I was having second thoughts about giving up the life of a spoiled heiress --until Reggie called to see why I'd missed my call, which is because I was stranded by the roadside outside Redwood City. As for Andy cooling his heels outside now, and at the Benevolent Association all yesterday, part of that is down to me being on the phone too long --but as you pay Reggie's bills, you will know that anyway.

Perhaps I'll back Andy's stake the next time he has to spend a day playing penny-stakes mah jongg while he waits for me to finish. No. . . I should probably have to claim it on my income tax.

Yours Sincerely,

Sacred Spring, indeed.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XI: Ancestral Voices

As a city gradually dissolves under the pressure of a labour shortage About-Which-Nothing-Can-Be Done-And-I'm-Sorry-There-Are-Too-Many-Employers-For-"Monopsony"-To-Be-An-Explanation, this ends up being a truncated and slapped-together post; but at least there is some interesting scholarship to report. Part of it veers close to a new version of linguistic determinism that I'm dubbing "Calligraphic Determinism. (Basically it's about how speculative thinking within a knowledge community requires a script that can support new concepts by generating new words. You can compound them all you like; they need to generate spoken words, and that means some kind of rules of grammar? I think?

This might suggest to you the direction of a post put together all too quickly under pressure of loss of free time to overtime pay, coffee intoxication, and some scholarship about Sumerian and the emergence of the Mediterranean oecumene. But first, in due deference to the stimulative effects of morning coffee on top of all-too-little-sleep, a digression about sibyls.

They're the ancestral voices prophesying war, by the way. First, "ancestral." I continue to be struck by Niall Sharples' picture of Early Iron Age Wessex reviving the pre-Bronze Age tradition of ancestors of whom they in fact knew exactly nothing, and who were probably not their ancestors at all. (Since the current hot take is that the Beaker People replaced Neolithic Britons in the Early Bronze Age. Colour me skeptical, but the Beaker People did gussy up Stonehenge. Maybe they were appropriating the ancestors, too?) Second, "prophesy," because, in spite of what seems obvious about oracles and sibyls, sibyls don't do prophecy. Something much, much more interesting is happening. I guess that should be obvious from the fact that sibyls have been a big thing in literature ever since Virgil made the Cumaean Sibyl into Aeneas' guide to the underworld. That Sibyl admittedly did then predict the rise of the prototypical early Iron Age state, the Rome of the monarchy, but that is where literature differs from reality, and that distinction is possibly even at least glimpsed in Iron Age writing.  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Iron Age/ Industrial Revolution Origins, Plus Housekeeping

By Stone Monki - 100_9866.jpg.ok.jpg, CC BY 3.0,
So Chile's Bernardo O'Higgins Research Base was inaugurated on 16 February, 1948, by President Gabriel Videla, "the first head of state to visit Antarctica." It is officially the capital of Antarctic Commune, and the way things are going, will probably be the northernmost inhabitable place on the planet in fifty years or so. The Wiki article  says that Chile began to perform acts of sovereignty in the Antarctic the year before. 

Either someone's been Google Translating out of the Spanish, or this might belong on Pornhub. 

President Videla and some Wehrmacht cosplayers enjoy an old time Antarctic summer. (Enjoy some Chilean goose-stepping here. It's oddly compelling, I have to say.)
The Economist does not mention that the Chilean Antarctic Expedition was a response to Operation Tabarin, and the islands in question were actually the South Shetlands, and specifically, Greenwich Island, on which Chilean "Base Arturo Pratt" is located. My bad! As for The Economist, it is not clear that President Videla was ever on Greenwich, and it is certainly not clear why it would be trying to start a war with the southern cone of Latin America over possession of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Maybe there's coal there?  

In other news, the prototypes of the Neo-Assyrian Royal Annals might be epic literature, with an "Epic of Sargon" predating and informing the more famous Epic of Gilgamesh? I don't know that this gets us anywhere: We've reached the point where writing about technology is batting its wings against the same cage as writing itself. Ancient scribes aren't up to anything as ambitious as a year-chronicle, so they're not up to telling us how iron was made. 

Okay: Enough of that. I started this post with the idea that I was going to recap my explanation of the origins of the British Industrial Revolution. (Spoiler: It happened because of export subsidies, high taxes, especially revenue-raising tariffs on imports, and persistent, large, state deficits. If you're wondering why I decided to talk about that this week; Yeah, me, too. Kidding! Before the week turned out to be about porn stars, there was a stir on the tariff front. If I were postblogging Monday --and I'm frankly beginning to think that someone needs to make that project happen-- you'd know what I mean.)

Unexpectedly, the post did not develop in the direction of recapping state spending on wars, generating foreign exchange for the use of, and export bounties/tariffs. Recall that I jumped aboard a project of reinterpreting the beginnings of the Iron Age because I'm all about the relationship of early iron production to woodland management. At first the connection seemed obvious. Iron axes are good for woodland clearance; charcoal is necessary for making iron; more woodland clearance makes for more charcoal. Positive feedback! (Or, "hysteresis,"  if you're an economist and want to show off your Latin, rather than a former physics undergrad, and want to show off your Introduction to Partial Differential Equations scars.) It was only recently that the revelation that salt, soda and potash are made from charcoal as well, impinged. Soda, being a primordial industrial component (and substituable for potash) leads to glass and detergents. The latter, in turn, leads to the production of "luxury," that is, clean and dyed, cloth.

Okay, well, my postblogging has directed attention to British exports of coal, and natural resource exports have also been in the news of late. Rather than directing you to the political side of the Kinder Morgan question, here's a link to a recent post by Liveo di Matteo at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. So what about coal and the origins of the Industrial Revolution? A scorching hot take would be that, if "Dutch Disease" were real, British exports of coal ought to have retarded industrial development. Certainly the old time English were obsessed with the idea that exporting raw yarn was like exporting jobs and revenues!(In the stone age of economics, people thought that a combination of tariff barriers and subsidies could be used to promote industrialisation and national prosperity. Nowadays, we've turned economics into a science, and can resolve such questions by simply inputting some data series into one of those computer models I hear so much about every time we ask at work why computers can't order carrot juice.*)

On the other hand, English exports of coal were subsidised. One way of understanding that is that by undercutting competitive fuels, coal might have made those competitors cheaper, and promoted growth in other industries. Since charcoal and firewood make salt, soap and glass,there's a valid line of inquiry here. In Iron Age or even Industrial Revolution studies, it's hard to get at soap, and even hard to get at salt, but glass is pretty robust. What might turn up if one pursued that line of inquiry?
Vann Copse, Waverley, Surrey. It's the local government area that includes Godalming, if you were wondering, and it is in the Weald, as probably doesn't surprise you at all.