Sunday, October 28, 2018

Postblogging Technology, August 1948, II: Fall Is Coming

R_. C_.,
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_.,

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.