Sunday, December 31, 2017

Postblogging Technology, November 1947, I: Warmongering


Dear Sir:

You'll pardon me if I'm not my usual, chatty self, as I've just had the news that Mr. Rank's problems (which I notice are not in today's press, but will turn up next time) are somehow our problems. Or, my problems! And I am to fly across the Atlantic as soon as class is out to go up to Marleybone and rescue the money that we only spent in the first place because of the silver opportunity? It's just so silly. I'm not even sure it's the money so much as the legal rights to your grandfather's "story" (As interpreted by S.R.)
Is this offensive or camp?

I know you had nothing to do with this. I have it from my Dad, and even he is apologetic, so I can guess that my Mom is behind it, and the fact that it came out the day after we had our talk about me going back to Chicago for Christmas pretty much seals the deal. She was all on about how A. could stay at the house now that he was my fiancé and all, and it was all I could do to tell her that if she liked the man so much, she could marry him. (Except that she's so taken by the idea of having an admiral's grandson in the family that she probably would. I've tried to explain that he's a Texan, but he's learning to fake an "public school" accent with the best of them, and apparently that washes the Texan right off of you.)

I had so wanted to spend Christmas in Santa Clara with everyone, and now I get to spend it. . . Well, I can't fight my parents, so another holiday season down, another horrid flight across the Atlantic. I hve only one request from you, and it's a small thing. I don't want to fly British this time. Please, please, take an interest with whoever is arranging this, and see that I have a Pan Am booking, preferably a Constellation. I would talk to Uncle George, but then it would . . . Well, anyway, I'm looking to you to be my white knight in this, just as Mr. R. ended up being last year. 

Yrs in desperation,

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, IV: Harness Racing, Equestrianship, Oxhide Ingots and Coins

Olives are the definition of the Mediterranean diet. They also need to be cured in salt or lye. This isn't very relevant to this post, but it is your weekly reminder of the importance of the primordial chemical industry to subsistence agriculture during the EIA.
So my Christmas-New Years schedule is up, and when I started this post, I had some writing time during the down weeks at the store where I am currently working, which serves the UBC community. That took some pressure off in regards to long posts, leaving me to do a progress report towards this "Sacred Spring" series, this week.

Now, of course, I do not. On the bright side, my employer has conceded that it mishandled the process of reallocating employees from two stores that have been closed for renovations. I'm sure you don't want to hear the details, and I will draw a veil over the whole embarrassing exercise by pointing at one of our competitors --a major national corporation, which paid its CEO $8.5 million in 2015-- CEOs with buyouts of $15 million and $25 million paid in the millions-- defending itself on charges by blaming middle management, and fixing the price of bread for the last decade and more by offering everyone a free $25 gift card. It's not that I don't believe that middle management at Loblaws/Weston Bread didn't realise that price coordination is wrong. That seems par for the course in an industry that can take a week and a half to realise that no stores are ordering cranberries at Christmas because of a software issue, and not because it's  a wacky thing that's happening for no reason at all that no-one can fix. It's that I no longer have five days off after New Years to write. And while the company now owes me three weeks off with pay, I have no idea when that's going to happen, or what that means for my writing "schedule."

This would be a good time to nail down the horse problem, at least.

Prevalent from 1500-1200, disappearing after 1000, and cast to be easily carried in a pack saddle. Interesting. By Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Technical Appendix to Postblogging, October, II, with Segue to the Early Iron Age Rebirth of the State: Axial Compressors, Smelting and Bullion

In October of 1947, the owners of one of the first industrial axial compressors ever built, donated it to the Science Museum, Kensington, London. After a long and honourable career smelting lead, beginning in 1909, it would have an afterlife enlightening museum visitors on, uhm, axial compressing. 

 This is another axial compressor application, the Bristol Olympus, as used in the Avro Vulcan V and the Aerospatiale Concorde :

CC BY-SA 3.0,
If, like me, you waste valuable morning writing hours dallying on the Internet, you may have encountered Stumbling and Mumbling's discussion of "technological regress," the opposite of technological progress. It uses the Concorde as one example of this regress. You may have also encountered the commentators arguing that it isn't really technological regress, since Concorde was expensive, and now flying is cheap. This, of course, would be a perfectly plausible argument were the Olympus and Concorde incapable of improvement. Which I guess they are! Certainly, we can't afford the R&D and capital investment effort to improve them, so we'll have to settle for being able to use our personal entertainment centre during our twenty hour flights to Asia.

At risk of indulging my worst habits of digression and irrelevance, I want to quote now from a forgettable space opera by the high-powered 50s duo of Frederick Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth, called Search the Sky. It's up at Project Gutenberg if you want to read the rest of it. 
Ross stood on the traders’ ramp, overlooking the Yards, and the word kept bobbing to the top of his mind.
. . . .
About all of Halsey’s Planet there was the imperceptible reek of decay. The clean, big, bustling, efficient spaceport only made the sensation stronger. From where he stood on the height of the Ramp, he could see the Yards, the spires of Halsey City ten kilometers away—and the tumble-down gray acres of Ghost Town between.
Ross wrinkled his nose. He wasn’t a man given to brooding, but the scent of decay had saturated his nostrils that morning. He had tossed and turned all the night, wrestling with a decision. And he had got up early, so early that the only thing that made sense was to walk to work.
And that meant walking through Ghost Town. He hadn’t done that in a long time, not since childhood. Ghost Town was a wonderful place to play. “Tag,” “Follow My Fuehrer,” “Senators and President”—all the ancient games took on new life when you could dodge and turn among crumbling ruins, dart down unmarked lanes, gallop through sagging shacks where you might stir out a screeching, unexpected recluse.
But it was clear that—in the fifteen years between childhood games and a troubled man’s walk to work—Ghost Town had grown.
2Everybody knew that! Ask the right specialists, and they’d tell you how much and how fast. An acre a year, a street a month, a block a week, the specialists would twinkle at you, convinced that the acre, street, block was under control, since they could measure it.
Ask the right specialists and they would tell you why it was happening. One answer per specialist, with an ironclad guarantee that there would be no overlapping of replies. “A purely psychological phenomenon, Mr. Ross. A vibration of the pendulum toward greater municipal compactness, a huddling, a mature recognition of the facts of interdependence, basically a step forward....”
“A purely biological phenomenon, Mr. Ross. Falling birth rate due to biochemical deficiency of trace elements processed out of our planetary diet. Fortunately the situation has been recognized in time and my bill before the Chamber will provide....”
“A purely technological problem, Mr. Ross. Maintenance of a sprawling city is inevitably less efficient than that of a compact unit. Inevitably there has been a drift back to the central areas and the convenience of air-conditioned walkways, winterized plazas....”
Yes. It was a purely psychological-biological-technological-educational-demographic problem, and it was basically a step forward.
Ross wondered how many Ghost Towns lay corpselike on the surface of Halsey’s Planet. Decay, he thought. Decay.
But it had nothing to do with his problem, the problem that had kept him awake all the night, the problem that blighted the view before him now
I have no idea where Pohl and Kornbluth stole the nightmare of the abandoned blocks of the Ghost Town of Halsey City from, although Fortune's big, wartime articles on "urban blight" come to mind, ahead of the expressways and housing projects that, as it turns out, made it all worse. It's the special miracle of juvenile readings that they stick with you for life, and I am often reminded of the glib specialists of Halsey's Planets when I read that:

 "Concorde was never the future. It was always the last gasp of an outdated conception of blue-riband travel reserved for the elite (which lives on in the space travel dreams of Branson and Musk). Progress in aviation has meant democratisation - more people being able to fly - which has required significant technological progress, just not the sort focused on raw speed or "elegance". 
(Although the rest of his points have merit.)

I am also reminded that there is nothing more normal than for an archaic state to fail. The extraordinary thing about the Late Bronze Age failure of the state and the /Early Iron Age revival, is that the state roared back with a vengeance, on the strength of a dazzling array of innovations. Until I am persuaded otherwise, I am taking iron, and the related/necessary exploitation of temperate, wet forestland, as the key innovation, but that is not the one I am talking about today!  

Archaic Corinthian stater, so old that it spells the city's name with a "Q," as they did back in the day. That is, key point, well before the electrum Lydian issue of Alyattes II that still gets pride of place as the "first" coinage.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Postblogging Technology, October 1947, II: Queen of the Seas

R_. C_.,

Dear Sir:

I've sent along a thank you note through the post, but I that's not enough for such a beautiful present. Vivian and Carole almost died with jealousy when I tried it on for them, not that I noticed such things! If I were not the best dressed girl on campus before, well. . . .

I should also thank you for the chance to wear it out! I doubt A. could have got us invitations there. I don't know what it says that you can be in San Francisco for my 21st, and my parents can't! But you have already heard me out so patiently that I won't bother you again. Nor will I bother you again about what you talked about with A. after dinner. Spy stuff? Don't worry about talking in front of me, I am very discrete, and have almost no friends named Ivan or Katyusha!

Further on spy stuff, Mrs. C. is upset that she has been called back part-time to cover wiretaps of a certain unnamed "institution that is concerned with Pacific affairs at a university whose nickname starts with B." I do not think she is committed in her heart to official secrecy, not that I blame her given that she is being torn away from her baby to type out banal, English conversations. At least, she says, they could find a Russian or Chinese spy to spy back on.

If they have any, she adds, glaring at A. My fiancĂ© shrugs his shoulders at that, and just says, "Washington." No one cares about it now, but if the President's rise in the polls continues through next November, expect to see this stuff back in the news, he says.  

Yrs Sincerely,

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, III: Folk of Bronze and Iron

Kaywoodie Pipes, by S. P. Franks. This link has more details, at least as long as it lasts.
Call this an evidence-marshalling post, collecting up material that will eventually be given a more coherent form in a recap post in, oh, say, 2020, along with any of my wild conjectures that do not turn out to be  hopelessly extravagant and ill-informed. (The others will be silently forgotten, of course.)

Also, call it a concession to reality: there's no way I'm getting my last techblogging post for November ready this week. Evidence-marshalling requires a light editorial hand, so this will be a brief exercise, after which I should be back at sea in no time! 
Before I go, all cryptic-like, below the fold, the evidence here will be archaeological, except insofar as I engage with an extremely bold essay on the Iguvine Tablets by John Wilkins in Malone and Stoddart, eds., Territory, Time and State. Thus this will be a discussion of sites rather than sweeping conclusions, except insofar as I succumb to the temptation to find and highlight evidence to support my notions. And, of course, since he so boldly goes out on so many limbs, of  

The three associated Final Bronze Age sites of Frattesina di Rovigo, Mariconda and Montagnana in Venetia;
The "establishment" at Mailhac in Aude (pdf);
The "proto-historic oppidum" of Roque-de-Viou;
The alpine valley of Gubbio in Umbria, Italy, which last is documented in the already-cited collection, so no convenient links. 

Also, setting himself on fire in public doesn't seem to have attracted the world's attention to Dr. Wilkins, so no handy link there.