Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Technical Appendix to January, 1949, II: Machine Tools, 1943 and 1949

According to Ibis World, the British machine tool industry had a projected revenue of £1.1bn, an annual growth rate for the period 2014--2019 of -5.4%, employed 15,181, and involved 1,027 businesses, compared with £30 million and 42,700 in 1948. (And £8.9 million and 22,400 in 1935). The negative growth rate is due to the downturn in commodities (so oil and mining dominate the British scene, I guess.) To frame these numbers, the "red-hot" American scene is projected to buy $8 billion in machine tools in 2019. (Note that I am not adjusting for inflation.)

That reminds me of last week, when I took my bike into the shop for the first time in over two years, and got the usual mechanic's litany of "We had to replace this, and this, and this, and then we discovered that this had to go. Then there was labour, and the GST, but we cut you a little break on that, so," with a pause and an apologetic look, he ended up, "It'll be $450."

If you drive a car, that's the punchline. If you don't, I'm not sure what I can do. My instinct is that bikes are getting cheaper, although some time spent noodling around looking at historic cost of living figures isn't exactly confirming that. The idea here is that, while the machine tool industry has lower employment than in  1949, it's just about as big as it ever was. It's just a bit irrelevant, because making things isn't such a big deal any more.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, January 1949, II: Long Playing

Edit: While I've left an incorrect title stand for a week without the sky falling, correcting it will be helpful to me.


We've been treated to three technology stories worth following up on this last week. The first, which should be the most pressing, is the loss of the third Avro Tudor airliner, which, incredibly, is not the end of the Tudor's time on the cross, with the Llandow disaster still to come. Second, Farnsworth Television has just been caught in a little fib. Somehow, the Fort Wayne, Indiana company has managed to lose money making televisions, and the NYSE takes a dim view of companies that issue stock to cover losses without mentioning the losses in the prospectus.  ITT will buy out Farnsworth in 1951, but, as near as I can tell, the takeover will be put in motion a bit sooner than that. Third, in contrast to the sordid tales of two unrelated business failures, Columbia has just introduced its new 33rpm long-playing vinyl record format, which will soon come to dominate the industry. I wouldn't say that these are related stories, but they do belong in some kind of compare-and-contrast discussion. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Postblogging Technology, January 1949, II: Our Hearts Go Out for Avro

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

Thanks for your kind concern. I am bearing up, I think, considering that I shot a man two weeks ago. Like you said, we tried to bring Mr. A. into the picture, since a foreign sailor found floating in the Bay is a matter for the spybusters, especially after we arranged a "tip" about his Green Tong membership. Unfortunately, the FBI immediately stepped in, with someone coming around to his office to tell him that he better keep his nose out of it, just like in a movie! This wasn't the end of it, because of course A. isn't without his own influence. I'm a little flabbergasted to report that no less than Shirley Temple was invoked. You'll note below that she was in Washington for the Inaugural, and of course she and A.know each other. The really flabbergasting part is that she knows ME! I am frankly beyond words that teenaged-me met Shirley TEMPLE(!!!!!) at a family gathering and didn't realise it! It says something about Temple that she can work a room so slickly.

Ahem. Close encounters with Hollywood stars in incognito aside, the upshot is that A. will be allowed to take over the case as soon as the Hoover Report leaves the front pages, so alphabetically-named agencies can step all over each other's feet again. In the mean time, everyone assumes that if you find a Tong man floating, it's because another Tong man's bullet managed to hit the target. (Insert hilarious joke about Tong men not shooting straight.) 

So, anyway, I mean, it's an urgent matter to me, but I've flowers and an apology wired from Shanghai in my room, which is either a bum steer or something is up. (The girls think they're from Reggie, and are wondering what he could possibly have done.) What could possibly be so sensitive about the Oregon Scandal seventy years on???

In other news, the millionth (okay, third) Avro Tudor to be lost is now history. I hear that James is telling everyone in sight that this is what you get when you let Don Bennett into your business, even though Bennett was out of BSAA well before the loss of Star Ariel. He is, however, creating a stink in the dailies about it being all due to "sabotage." What kind of maniac would sabotage an air liner? The suggestion that it is Avro's incompetence won't do, so I suppose we're all going to settle for blaming the Ministry of Civil Aviation. 

Yours Sincerely,

I'm a little surprised that the Tudor losses in the "Bermuda Triangle" don't get more play in the legend. In the mean time, I'm not going to let you forget some good old Marv Wolfman/Steve Gann goodness. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Austerity, The Barrier Fortresses and the Pretender: Another Visit to 1745

In this modern age of computer-assisted scheduling and twenty-four operations,you can be sure that if you mention that your schedule violates the ten-hour-between-shifts rule (I know the rule; it's just you have to do it to claim overtime), you are likely to get a worse one. I won't trouble you with the gory details, but I've lost most of my days off to a blur of disrupted sleep. If, therefore, this post smacks of a certain economy of effort, well, hey, at least I was able to write a big post last Sunday!

Swedish GDP per capita growth in comparison to world
That being said, there are issues here that deserve addressing ahead of whatever happens next with Brexit, and a measure of resonance with the postblogging.

Last time, we saw The Economist urge Sweden to give up on the inflationary, high-investment programme. As it turns out, that was just plain bad advice, establishing that poorly-informed and partisan pundits really can make a difference. It's even more interesting when you contrast Sweden's Hugh Dalton-ish "trente annes glorieux" with Britain's Stafford Cripps-ish era. Initial budgetary returns reporting in the same number showing revenues disappointing to the low side, spending to the high, might be the first frost of winter.

Might be. After all, Britain did pretty well in the "trente annes glorieux," too. Today's interest lies in another glorious thirty years, the 1713--43 of Cardinal Fleury and Horace Walpole, guarantors of European peace and the Sinking Fund.

The question is whether this might have been a reverse "thirty glorious years?" That is, did the "return to normalcy" in financial affairs during the long peace between the wars throw the earlier economic expansion into reverse? Did the War of Jenkin's Ear save the Industrial Revolution?

That's the speculation, anyway. Let's see how far it can be supported. Warning though. I'm writing this at 5 PM Friday night, I'm a little bleary, and I'm expected at work at 7 tomorrow morning, so don't expect any luxuries like proof-reading here. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Postblogging Technology, January 1949, I: You Know Those French

Ooh la la!
R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

I'm sure that you will have heard from Wong Lee, and thank God for him, as I'd be waiting my turn at the gas chamber at San Quentin if not for him. 

I can't believe I'm still alive, and I owe that to you. I am certainly not the kind of girl to carry an automatic --with a muffler, no less--  around with her, and I certainly wouldn't have been watching for a "tail" if you hadn't pressed the issue. But there he was, and he followed me into the lady's restroom at Happy's, down across from the archives building, and was about to plug me through the stall door when I got him first. (Yes, I used that compact trick, though frankly I never believed that the putty would stick it to the ceiling like you said.) I chose Happy's to clear my tail because it connects through the char woman's closet. 

Wong Lee's man went through the body's pockets before they dumped it in the harbour, and says the shooter is off a Shanghai-registered freighter, and no doubt the police will deem this a Tong matter --true enough. The question is, which Tong. Although the answer to that seems obvious, I thought we had an agreement that they would stay out of California if we stayed out of Shanghai. And, yes, that seems like a poor trade now, but that doesn't mean that they should be trying to edge their way back into the state by shooting me. 

Pardon me, I've got to hyperventilate until I pass out.

Yours Sincerely,

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Bishop's Sea (And, incidentally and Minimally, a Technical Appendix): Coldingham

Since I'm in the very earliest stages of putting together Postblogging Technology, January 1949, I: Uhm, Something Clever I Hope, thanks to Lameen for starting an easily followed hare!

Besides, with Brexit speeding rapidly towards the next thing that happens, what better time to return to the theme of European immigrants overrunning sea-girt Albion?
By Tom1955 - Based on an extract of a small part of the map of Berwickshire in
Philips Handy Administrative Atlas of Scotland, 1900 (out of copyright),
which was then editted and enhanced to show Coldingham.
Previously published: No prior publication, CC BY-SA 3.0,

That's Coldingham, Berwickshire, Scotland, a little off centre courtesy of the Atlas of Hillforts site, via a piece of Microsoft software that's trying to compete with Google Earth. (Which reminds me of a new phrase I learned a few months ago. "Good hustle, Redmond.") It's off-centre because the hillfort in question is at St. Abb's Head, a brisk pre-lunch walk from Coldingham proper.

Britain being Britain, even an unoccupied nature reserve has a Wikipedia page, to which you can refer if you'd like to know a bit more about this bit of scenery. If the world already throws more links than anyone wants to follow at you, I have deployed my snipping tool for a bit more intellectual property theft: 
By Emoscopes - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
St. Aebbe's Head has been associated with St. Aebbe of Coldingham since at least 1200, when an official history of the Palatine Bishopric of Durham claimed that, at the time that a cell of Durham was established at Coldingham proper, there was a cult of St. Aebbe at St. Abb's Head. The Venerable Bede tells us that St. Aebbe, daughter of Aethelfrith of Bernicia and sister of Oswald, King in the North, founded "double monasteries" (monasteries for monks and nuns) at Ebchester and then at a place that he calls Urbs Coludi. Since "Coludi" is a British name, it follows that the "Urbs Coludi" is an antediluvian hillfort, or possibly a spectacular coastal setting similar to Lindisfarne. It is then inferred that the name got tired of the draft and wandered inland a bit to Kirk Hill in Coldingham village, where Coldingham Priory sat until its secularisation during the Reformation. 

This isn't exactly airtight, but it is solidly in line with the information that we do have, and points in various directions, so archaeological confirmation of a Northumbrian-era elite site at Coldingham is a useful contribution to the problem of the plantation of the Atlantic. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

A Technological And Also Social Appendix to Postblogging Technology, December 1948, II: The Optics of Computing

So Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics gets a full page review in the 27 December issue of Time. I'm a bit worried that it'll hit Newsweek mid-January, and we'll miss it, and there's an important point to be made. With President Obama recently in the news warning brain workers that they'll all be out of a job real soon now due to artificial intelligence and stuff like that, I don't want to miss the moment!

"Engines and production machines replace human minds; control machines replace human brains. A thermostat thinks, after a fashion. It acts like a man who decides that the room is too cold and puts more coal on the stove. Modern control mechanisms are much better than that. Gathering information from delicate instruments (strain gauges, voltmeters, [illegible] tubes) they act up --and more quickly and accurately than human beings can. They never get sick or drunk or tired. If such mechanisms are properly designed, they make no mistakes.
When combined in tightly cooperating systems, such machines can run a whole manufacturing process, doing the directing as well as the acting, and leave nothing for human operatives to do. Technologically (if not politically), whole automatic factories are just around the corner. Squads of engineers are excitedly designing mechanisms for them."
 . . . [Modern calculators are] "built chiefly of electron tubes which give a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer when stimulated by means of electrical impulses. This is roughly what the neurons (nerve cells) of the human brain do . . . The modern industrial revolution is . . . bound to devalue the human brain at least in its simpler and routine decisions . . . The human being of mediocre attainments or less [will have] nothing to sell that is worth anyone's money to buy."
The binary "'yes' or 'no'" bit suggests an awareness of digital computing, but in another part of the story, Wiener compares insanity in human brains to instability in machines.

(The bridge is bipolar!)

My takeaway from that is that Wiener is not giving up on his analogy between analog computers and human brains. "Cybernetics" is going to go down with the analog computing ship, clearing the way for many cycles of digital computer enthusiasts warning that "artificial intelligence is going to take your jobs."

With Shockley, Bardeenn and Brattain also in the news this month, it's time for another cut at how that came to  happen, and some social commentary on top.