Friday, December 14, 2018

A (Mostly) Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, October 1948, I; Hydraulic Despotism

This was going to be a 100% technological appendix, albeit with a reference to Karl Wittfogel, about this.
Then I scanned the election numbers of Time and Newsweek and decided that I couldn't pass up a bit of digressive cultural look-what-I-foundism.

At an earlier date, it was going to be part II of October postblogging, but my work schedule was massively upended mid-week. I know that this is an old song, but, point is, my writing plan was shot, and that's that. I'll add, again, that the aging Canadian workforce is increasingly a disaster like that 1919 molasses flood that killed 21 people. It doesn't matter if the flood wave is slow as molasses if you don't get out of the fucking way!* Since this is tied to a labour shortage of twenty years standing that isn't eliciting the textbook response (MOAR MONEY), one is left with the conclusion that it is some kind of collective action problem. So, hey, Canada, get with the collective action. 

One more plea for Something To Be Done fired off into the uncaring ether, it's on to the substance of the post. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Postblogging Technology, October 1948, I: Best Laid Plans



R._C._
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada

Dear Father:

Well, here she is, your future daughter-in-law (she said very, very firmly, though all the fires and floods of Hell and a frantic mother bar the way), back in hall for one more year at good old Stanford Junior College, and, yes, it's not called that, and, no, you may not ruin my fun. All the girls are back, and we have a novelty, a genuine English girl, enrolled because her Father is doing something for Mr. Giannini at the bank, and she can't be a continent away from her Mother, no matter that her brother is living high off the hog at Oxford on American dollars. 

We sympathise with each  other, and I am going crazy trying to catch her way of speaking without just imitating her. Classwise, it is all about the senior thesis; and at work, I am having to come down to being a waitress again. Though there's something to be said for working for work, instead of (mostly) learning how to do work, fascinating as fashion buying is. 

Except, that is, when I am called at the last minute to work the morning shift after a night shift, and lose a night's sleep for the sake of work, and end up having to rush my very important letter to my future father in law. (She says, firmly.)


James was in town for something to do with Warren for Vice President (and that Dewey fellow, too), I think is the official name of it, add capitals to suit. We had lunch, and agreed that Grace be none the wiser for it. I got caught up on Santa Clara, and Reggie and I await the Great Thaw. Perhaps after the wedding. Which will be June after next(!!!) 


Yours Sincerely,
Ronnie

 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Talking Around Technology Appendix To Postblogging Technology, September, 1948: Malthus, Soil and Farming


Last time around, I emphasised that there was a "culture-involved talking around technology" issue bound up the discussion of Malthus, ecological collapse, and agricultural productivity in 1948. I could probably frame this in a satisfactorily academic way if I kept up with the literature better, but I'm only human, and, specifically, a human being who worked thirteen of the last fourteen days. Specifically, of course, this is a discussion of agricultural technology. Sorry, no jet fighters. 

"Malthus" here, it seems to me, is, whatever else we make of him as an economic theorist, a way of saying "brown people upset me" without actually saying it. This is a tough thing to say, given that Malthus is also an economic theorist with horse sense to share about what "Hard Times" are, and how they come around. Which is good, considering that there's a tendency in economics to be objectively pro-Hard Times.

"Broke, baby sick and car trouble." By Dorothy Lange

As you might guess, I'm playing with "Hard Times" as a synonym for "a business cycle depression," because I am referencing Stephen Foster's Hard Times Come Again No More. Because I am old, and do not do the Youtube thing very well, it was news to me that  is now the iconic American air. But it is, and I am shoving that amazing fact in the face of fellow old people by embedding the orchestral version from Civilisation VI. Which I will play the moment they get rid of that off-putting, cartoonish art style. 

I do, however, have a faintly logical argument for trying to rehistoricise the concept of a recession, here. After five years of following the business news of the 1940s, it is hardly any surprise that the Malthus/ecological catastrophe nexus that was explored at the American Association for the Advancement of Science is framed by "the Dust Bowl." When the crops failed and the soil flew across a vast area of the southern plains (and not the northern plains, so please try to dissociate "Kansas" and "Dust Bowl") "Hard Times" were forever defined and redefined in the American mind. It was not just the hardships of the actual Dust Bowl. It was also the fact that the  "Okies" fled to California. It is taking all that I have to refrain from embedding either the intro to The Beverley Hillbillies or Al Jolson singing "California Here I Come," ideally in blackface, here. What a conjunction of American myth!

Myth is a powerful tool for integrating the past into a comprehensible narrative. I swear that Conan the Conqueror is a retelling of the 1934 California gubernatorial election, with Xaltotun standing in for Upton Sinclair and Conan for FDR. (Hoover only got to be Kull, which is why Kull is so lame.) I sense that this might be a hard argument to make, but it's something you can do with myth. 


What you should not do with myth is use it as a way of thinking about science.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Partly Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, September, 1948: Peanuts and People

Jute stalks, drying. By Auyon - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16936026
We have a bunch of things going on this month on the technology, science, science and technology related politics, and "culture surrounding technology and stuff that influences technology policy" areas of topical interest. (That last probably needs to be punched up into academese.) First, there's straight science and technology, including alternative heating arrangements, a real whole Earth Catalog kind of field about which we've heard ever so much for our entire lives; and artificial fibres from the pre-petroleum age that seem hopelessly old-fashioned and retro. I grew up in a cellulose pulp mill town, so this makes me sad. 

In politics, we have the ongoing "grand schemes of human improvement" thing, which has fixed itself on Africa and focussed on the global shortage of edible fats, to be addressed by a government-sponsored project to erect a commercial peanut agriculture in the inland highlands of what is now Tanzania; and related to this but reaching far beyond it, plans to improve commercial access to those highlands through rail lines running down to the coast in southern Tanzania and the port towns of the former Italian colony of Eritrea.

In science, we have a seemingly coordinated blitz by "Malthusians"/environmentalists at the British and American annual meetings of the Associations for the Advancement of Science. 

Finally, as always in the fall of an American presidential year, we have a great accretion of cruft related to the campaigns, which is sometimes not always recognisable as cruft, and can have serious consequences. Insofar as we recognise them today, the focus is always on anti-communism and the spy scare.Not to spoil future installments, but this Senator McCarthy fellow is going places. However! One of the problems with politically-crafted stories is that we may fail to recognise them in a way that renders them invisible. America is still coming to terms with race and the '48 campaign, which includes not only the Dixiecrat presidential run, but Palestine. And, by "coming to terms with," I apparently mean, "Ignoring real hard." 

This brief meditation on the politics of 70 years ago brings my attention back around to the question of the allocation of the former Italian colonies. This clearly was a political story, because Dewey made a campaign issue of it. It is also related to the "grand schemes" theme. The question is, is there more to it than that? Joseph Philips, of Newsweek, thought so, pointed to what seemed to him a very clear link between the colony question and the Malthusian blitz. As much as I like to make fun of Newsweek's bylined columnists (except Hazlitt, whom I just staight out  hate), this is solid and interesting reporting, and I am going to follow up below.  

I know I promised peanuts, but jute has come up, with a last minute export credit fix to get the jute crop out of "Pakistan," modern Bangladesh. I'm going with jute rather than peanuts in my thumbnail because whenever the subject turns to population, I am reminded of P. J. O'Rourke's 1995 take on overpopulation. The gist of it is that Bangladesh has the same population density as Fresno, California, but is deemed to be overpopulated because it is full of brown people. (Yes, typhoons threaten Bangladesh due to its low relief; but, then, forest fires, Fresno.) O'Rourke makes a hilarious visit to the Ministry of Jute and comes away thinking that Golden Bengal's problems started when bureaucracy was invented. On the other hand, he's at least fair and honest enough to note that jute doesn't sell the way that it did.

The Wikipedia article is a long and somewhat sad sales pitch for jute fibre. A bast fabric like flax linen, jute is made of long cellulose fibres that form in the outer rind of the stems shown drying into straw, above. Because, unlike cotton, no nitrogenated plant matter is removed from the land, jute has a low demand for fertiliser and it grows on flooding land, making good use of the sacrificial zones that protect the delta's dry ground and paddies. In 1948, vast quantities of jute were delivered to mills in Dundee, Scotland, to be woven mostly into carpet and sackcloth. As the BBC article from which I filched this image says, "tastes have changed," and many of those Dundee mills have closed. It was a problem for Bangladesh in 1995, and it is a problem for it now. Tastes have changed, yes; but, also, plastic.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Postblogging Technology, September 1948, II: Go A-Viking



R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada


Dear Father:

Ronnie emphatically did not miss the Standard Oil strike riot,
but doesn't want Reggie to feel guilty.
Well, here I am! It has been a long summer, full of exciting paper work and two fashion shows, which are something else when you are there as a Real Professional Buyer ('s assistant who is mainly there to fetch coffee). 

But you've heard all about my adventures, and about Miss K., because you have been in town every weekend ferrying mysterious packages (of boring five pound notes). Have I mentioned how honoured I was to fill in for you on the last one? 

In case you are wonder, Wong Lee and I missed the riot squad and the strikers by a good hour or so, although a vagrant wind carried some tear gas to us where we were having lunch. on the Embaradero. 

We would regret the time later, as I scheduled my trip for the last day of our lease, and picked up the last of my things to take them down to Stanford, and I do not know if you have ever moved household with nothing but your own labour, and rather more thanks to Wong Lee, who is such a dear, but it takes a long time, and once again I was on the road after dark, and, once again, the Lincoln developed hurt feelings over my driving on the highway, and, once again, I had the distinct pleasure of being towed into a service station, and after a ridiculous wait while the mechanic was summoned from home --for which, do not get me wrong, I am hugely grateful-- my old car's hurt feelings were relieved by kind words, a gentle hand, and, not to put too much faith in beside manners, a new fuel line. 

I was also relieved of my parting bonus, which has me grumpy. What's worse, and the point of this anecdote, I had my bundle of magazines helpfully located just below the suspected leak in the trunk, covering your little package, because the family business is my business, and we do not want our money to get wet. As a result, two issues of Henry Luce's organ were too soaked to be read, and you are being treated to two issues of Newsweek below. The Lincoln is not being treated to the scrap yard, although men I have never met are coming forward to volunteer the advice that it should be. 

Yours Sincerely,
Ronnie

Too proud to admit to having been put in harm's way, not too proud to hint that she wouldn't mind some help getting a new car. We'll hear more about this, as another uncle steps up. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Postblogging Technology, September 1948, I: First Farnborough

(A little early, but Fortune follows up on the home heating industry this month.)


R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada.

Dear Father:

Bet you didn't expect to hear from me! Don't worry, Ronnie will be back next week. I've been delayed in Arcata for an extra week. The Institute knows that I am on urgent Navy business. 

Now if I could only convince myself! I know that I have to share some of the blame, but this whole landing-with-radar thing is Not Working Out. This last week of flying is simply to find out if the radar can spot torpedo boats inshore, because Admiral Burke has nightmares about Guadalcanal. Whatever. It means I'm out on the field at all hours, making sure that the damn gadget doesn't catch fire from not working for too long. 

Ronnie is back to Stanford this week. She'll be living at the hall again, as she says her budget will just support it, if she can keep up her tips. Last year for her, then we have to figure out law school somehow. I'll be out, but tuition will be tough to scrape up on a lieutenant's pay. There might be scholarship help, or we have to face up to family facts. Somehow. Do not read that as saying that I have any idea how to bring her parents around! 

So, a few more days of flying, and then it is "Gaudemus Igitur" and two more semesters, then goodbye to old college days, and say hello to your son the Dashing Aviator. (I promise, no actual dashing.)

I am sorry I missed you in your flying trip to San Francisco, and look forward to seeing you in Boston next month. 



Your Loving Son,
Reggie.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Bishop's Sea: Brattahlid

This is Tasiusaq, Greenland, from Google Maps. Tasiusaq is a settlement of 90 people, surrounded by three sheep farms, and not exactly full of amateur photographers with Internet access, but  "Monica T.," and her friends went there in 2015, and took some awesome pictures, of which this is one. 

If I had to guess why some outsiders might have been in Tasiusaq, it would be its proximity to Qinngua Valley, about fifteen kilometers away. Qinngua Valley is a 15 km long river valley terminating at Tasersuag Lake, which drains into Tasermuit Ford, and is an honest-to-God Greenland National Forest.
By Th. N. Krabbe, Copenhagen, Photographer - Greenland in the late 19th-early 20th century (Th. N. Krabbe Collection), National Museum of DenmarkUploaded by palnatoke, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34728037
The actual woodland is only a few acres in extent, and not unique in Greenland, as the Wikipedia article claims.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Greenland Norse-era history of the area is unknown, in spite of the weather, agricultural possibilities, and its centrality in the old Eastern Settlement, but there is a large Norse site at the bottom of the valley. I was directed to it by Dr. Dayanna Knight's recent Viking Nations: The Development of Medieval North Atlantic Identitieswhich several times obliquely refers to a contrarian thesis that Erik the Red's Brattahlid was located there, rather than the traditionally accepted Qassiarsuk on Tunulliarfik Fjord.

Repeated, unexplained, oblique references in a monograph derived from a doctoral dissertation inspire me with the suspicion that Knight is keen to tell a story that couldn't get by her committee. My subsequent investigation leaves me less confident of this first assumption, but, what the heck, it is what directed me down this road, and Knight's commitment to "practice theory" archaeology is interesting, if not well engaged below. I have some photos and maps to post, so here we are. Specifically, we are at the page break. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Postblogging Technology, August 1948, II: Fall Is Coming



R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver, Canada.

Dearest Father:

You will perhaps notice the lack of a 16 August Time. A funny story about that --but I don't care to tell it, because, well, Ronnie and I --I know everyone disapproves, but. . .


Your Loving Son, Reggie.

PS: Will call with details.


Monday, October 15, 2018

A Meta-Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, August 1948, I: Productivity, Again



Fortune's August, 1948 article on working in August, which couldn't have been written in August, but might have been inspired by a June heatwave, because the writer and the staff artists threw their heart into it. The results are still a pretty inconsequential story. As far as it is about anything, it is, perhaps, a mild recommendation to not be so liberal with the salt pills. (Remember salt pills?) Or, it is an impressionistic account of air conditioning's ongoing penetration of American life. 

That said, looking back from 2018, it is a reminder that, seventy years ago, they sometimes had to close factories and even offices because it was too hot to work. Distant times! The same issue carries Ala'i's tone-deaf efforts condeming Iran's ongoing dam projects for diverting the "one-tenth" of Iranian agricultural labourers who were  healthy enough to work, and the ongoing "Deutschmark miracle," in which the miraculous recovery of the German economy somehow happens around and behind the miraculous recovery of German agriculture, which provided the key ingredients for a steady rise in the average German caloric intake in the summer of 1948. 

While I am not going to argue Ala'i's public health credentials here, this is perhaps a good place to bear in mind that, in much of the world in 1948, the amount of work done by the hand had a lot to do with the amount of food the economy chose to spare its labour. Heat waves aren't that different from famines in some ways. While offering horse sense on the subject of salt, Fortune is unaware, as most people were, that the body is also quickly depleted of phosphorus and especially potassium. It offers the common, but incorrect, idea that people eat less at very high temperatures as an explanation for the ubiquitous low-grade heat stroke supposedly inflicted by "over-eating" during a hot spell.

Taken together, "laziness" is a great explanation for low productivity if you're using your monopsonic power as an employer to deny your labour force enough food. The coal crisis tended to bring European economies face to face with the limits of this logic. I'm not sure that other people took it on board, and that particularly applies to the United States. 

This is important because, through the Marshall Plan, Americans were in a strong position to dictate terms of aid; and the idea that European socialists were lazy was ubiquitous. It would also be irrelevant, since the class of American business leaders who could be found to express opinions about these things seems to have overlapped fairly strongly with the class of American business leaders who were underemployed due to their extrusion from actual management duties. It is not irrelevant because the theme was taken on board by British thought leaders. The echoes of the theme of perennial low British productivity have been heard on this blog before, but with the formation of the Anglo-American Council of Productivity, they become the story of the day, and invite some investigation. 

. . . And then there's this.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

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





R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada

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,
Reggie.



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.

pdf


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Postblogging Technology, July 1948, II: Bearing Down



R_.C_.,
The Oriental Club,
London.

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,
Ronnie.


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,
London.

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,
Ronnie.

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17065839
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,
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.


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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25486048
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.