Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, September 1949, II: Ferrite Age

That's the spirit. Now for something whitebread. CBC Radio's old time stable of local Can-Con did a Christmas album together! 

Christmas is a time for being nostalgic and remembering old-timey things. The problem here is that British Columbia is such a young province, that, apart from some generic big-band music, I'm digging into the Nineties here. Does that even count for nostalgia yet? If it does, Canada's Metal Queen  has some seasonal stuff. "Peace on Earth," And, yes, Michael Buble has a Christmas album, because of course he does. I'd honestly rather a tribute to the ancient concrete barn to which I will say goodbye on 16 January:

A Youtube search for a "Vancouver Christmas" does turn up something. It's tongue-in-cheek, but it is this year's Christmas in Vancouver.

(Bike lanes are funny.)

Speaking of old-time British Columbia, here's the picture I've been pushing down the page with gratuitous video inserts so that I can post it in its glorious original size. 
This is the Kemano high-voltage ("high-tension") line. It runs from Kemano Powe House 75 kilometers to the Alcan plant in Kitimat, British Columbia.  Kemano generates 890 MW from eight turbines that receive water from the twenty-six and a half million acre foot Nechako Reservoir on the high upper reaches of the Fraser River. The water is diverted through a 16km tunnel carved through  the Coastal Range, falling 800m from the heights of the Interior Plateau to sea level. Built from 1951 to 1954 by the province and Alcan, working together, because the provincial government could not be persuaded that such a project was feasible in such a small and remote province, the power lines are less interesting than most other aspects of the project. Nevertheless, the twin 300kV lines carried fully 35% of the power generated in the province in 1956. (And a super-imposed telephone voice channel, if you remember that bit of mid-century technology from earlier installments.)

Kemano I would not have been built without Alcan. There was no point in generating electricity so far from a major market. It would also not have been built for a plant at Kitimat much earlier than it was. Even a 75 mile high voltage (tension) line would have been too much. Nowadays, the Kemano project is controversial because Alcan would like to go through with Phase II, which is controversial both because of environmental reasons and because Alcan is suspected of wanting to shut the aluminum smelter down and selling all the power into the continental grid.

That's where this digression gets me to Engineering this month, and a vague awareness that we are getting an opening-night ticket to the Ferrite Age. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Iodised Salt and the Problem of Money in Science: A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, September 1949

Where I got this. (Not exactly the source, but fair's fair.)

So I was pretty gobsmacked when I discovered that a lobby of salt manufacturers were holding up salt iodisation in the United States in 1949 (and for a long time after that!) on the grounds that it amounted to "medication by legislation." I got a lot more gobsmacked when I learned just what the scale of the problem was, and one more time when I learned that salt iodisation still isn't mandatory in the United States. I guess I shouldn't have been, given that I grew up during the tobacco industry's rear guard fight, and am facing, like the rest of the world, the consequences of global warming denialism today. 

The actual issues involving the "medicalisation" of iodine have little to do with the tragic death of Little Nell, although iodine tinctures were important to the revolution in public health that prevented many tragic Victorian-era deaths. Here's a link to documents on sickness in the Royal Navy related to "Malta disease," which, in the literature, is actually brucellosis, against which the zealous application of tincture of iodine to all cuts and scrapes is a preventative, but not the cure-all the Granny thought it was.  I could have used actual images of goitre and cretinism as this post's thumbnail, but they're usually horrifying. I guess I'm complicit in sanitising the health risks of iodine deficiency, too. (Attention, salt industry, I want my Bjorn Lomberg money!)

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Postblogging Technology, September, 1949, II: The End of the Great Siege

(When Suzy was due to come back from pregnancy leave in '53, her boss told her that "they'd decided to go in a different direction," and that's how Frosty's career was born.)

R_. C_.,
Lahore, Pakistan

Dear Father:

I hope this finds you well after your long flight. We have a telegraph from Rangoon. Wong Lee is going on to Shigatse, while Mrs. C. remains in seclusion at the Benevolent Association for coordination until we decide how to move a white woman across the frontier. A Sakya guide is being sought. You will be coordinating things at your end, but, if not, Wong Lee thinks he may have a way of getting you across the border in Ladakh. It's a formality by now, but we have definitive confirmation that the new American Oriental secret service fund is prepared to pay out if the Panchen Lama does not go to Shigatse. We are working on an angle where challenging Lhasa is "objectively" anti-communist. I have no idea how we're going to sell that, but I sure will be impressed when we do! Nothing like a share of seventy-five million dollars to get the blood flowing!

As for San Francisco, well, it's boring by comparison, that's all I can say. I'm enjoying law school and we took the Jeep up into Sonoma over the weekend, which was great fun. But driving a Jeep, even  a brand new Jeep around in tamed American hills isn't nearly as exciting as visiting the Tashilhunpo Monastery on yak-back. (They do ride yaks, don't they?) 

Yours Sincerely,

It's not Christmas music, but I don't care. 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Postblogging Technology, September 1949, I: Viscount Ordered

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

First week of law school, all that I hoped for! Reggie's getting a car! A Jeep, actually. I'm talking like a telegraph, because of a sudden we're helping Mrs. C. with the babies due to Fat Chow being called away to India and points beyond! (News from Lhasa re. Red Hats versus Yellow Hats Not Good.) Driving up to San Francisco for the weekend as soon as I mail this! Sally coming with to read me case files from the front seat of my luxurious new convertible, top down, beautiful Bay day, etc.  

Yours Sincerely,

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XXI: Silver and the State

My schedule briefly had me working an overtime shift next week, so as long as that prospect was before me, I was working on September of 1949. (Avro 707!) But I've also been nibbling at the edges of the early money problem, so when the totally unnecessary shift was struck from my schedule, I had something to blog about. Also, a chance to highlight the work of some fine young female scholars who are a lot more deserving of tenure than some I can think of. 

Courtesy Ephraim Stern
We are once again delivered into the hands of Biblical archaeologists. In 1995, a team excavating in "southern Phoenicia/northern Israel" found an amphora containing 20lbs of silver. Conditions weren't particularly kind to this collection of pieces, deposited in linen money bags and long since agglomerated by oxidation. The Ein Hoffetz hoard, discovered last year, is a bit prettier:

 It's still hack silver and ingots, but the taphonomy is at least clear. It's not coinage, that's for sure. (For the purposes of the elaborate archaeometallurgical analysis, it is, in fact, important that the Dor hoard be recycled jewelry, it turns out. Otherwise, it's got too much gold alloying the silver.) These collections have achieved some notoriety for the usual, discouraging reasons. The Bible describes joint expeditions to "Tarshish," sponsored by Hiram of Tyre and King Solomon, and the traditional Biblical chronology would place these in the 900s, rather too early by the conventional narrative, which would push Phoenician-Tartessian interactions down closer to 700BC. Does cutting edge science vindicate the Biblical narrative and therefore etc? (I don't want to get into it, but the ideological goal of the research is obvious enough.)

Maybe. Lead isotope analysis (about which more below) shows the silver in the three recently discovered southern Phoenician hoards are sourced to the Taurus mountains of central Anatolia, the interior of Sardinia, and Iberia. The Phoenicians were obtaining silver from Sardinia from about 950BC and from Iberia before 800. Other considerations lead the authors to conclude that the Phoenicians introduced the cupellation method of producing silver in the west. And, incidentally, whoever the technicians were, they were better at it than the ones refining the Taurus ores. 

The westward quest for metals is back on! And, converging with modern archaeology's distaste fort he traditional colonialist narrative, it is notable that the timeline puts the Phoenician presence in the west well ahead the earliest Phoenician colonies.  

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, 20: Green Mountain Boys

Modern Cyrene is a complex of archaeological tourist traps on the outskirts of Shahat, Libya, although you can't see that clearly here due to my increasing the scale to get Marsa Sousa in the picture.

Given Libya's current difficulties, it isn't clear to me just how many tourists the tourist traps trap, but Shahat does have an international airport. Oil, wishful thinking, archaeotourists --I have no idea. Marsa Sousa is at the other end of what's probably a fairly spectacular road, given that it climbs from sea level to 300m in fifteen kilometers. For a modern traveller, the old town is nestled in the final switchback on the way to Shahat.

The fact that the back country road goes through Shahat rather than Cyrene makes me uncomfortable in calling old Cyrene a crossroads town, but it does seem to have been quite something. The area around the ancient ruins is graced by numerous sanctuaries and a necropolis of overwhelming scope (40,000 tombs before various modern depredations). The necropolis is a bit of a focus due to its victory over various feeble systematisation efforts of a series of archaeological investigators. There's a sense that we could learn  a lot about it if we could just grapple with its sheer scale. All credit due to the sketch work of some of these guys, though! And to the modern Polish mission to Ptolemais, which has produced a major monograph summarising a century-and-a-half of half-ass efforts to cope with an overwhelming site, written by Monika Rekowska and translated by Anna Kijak. (There's a Libyan Studies?)

Modern Marj, and the old town that  may or may not be Classical
Barca. (By Smiley.toerist -
Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The issue here is that Cyrene is the dominant city of the ancient Cyrenaican federal league, a distinction the site hasn't enjoyed since, inasmuch as the port city of Benghazi is so obviously the better candidate. As an upland town characteristic of periods of "managed collapse" of Mediterranean world systems, I asked last time just when and how Cyrene came to be, and what its history tells us about the Iron Age transition. This post is the result of that investigation.

Before I go to the cut, I'll note that in one sense, Cyrene is not unique. There's a very similar city, and it is in Cyrenaica, too. Barca and Ptolemaishave formed a similar pairing to Apollonia (Marsa Sousa) and Cyrene. One might be unique, but two is a pattern!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Postblogging Technology, August 1949, II: Axis of the World

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

Well, here it is, another summer over. No matter for me, for I am a daring naval aviator now, but Ronnie is on to law school and the legendary rigours of First Year Law, which, in a single year, determines whether you will sit on the Supreme Court or chase ambulances. Horror stories are told of the "Socratic method," which apparently involves professors humiliating their students one after another in class. Ronnnie is looking forward to  it. 

I know, I'm frightened, too. But I did rent a truck and move Ronnie down to Palo Alto! Moving, it seems to me, is a big part of this whole thing. She only has to study, while I have to double clutch. Also, I have to be seen dead in Palo Alto, something I feel keenly even though I have difficulty explaining to anyone just why I find it so offensive. (It's got Herbert Hoover, that's why.) 

Your Loving Son,

(A portrait of Harvard Law roughly seventeen years after Ronnie's first year. My fond memories are of watching the tv series on Showtime while attending Okanogan College It's been many years, but I still remember the theme music. I might have been a bit naive about the university experience.)

Friday, November 8, 2019

Postblogging Technology, August 1949, I: The Great Comet of '49

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

It's hard to believe that it's the second week of August already! Even though the Navy hasn't decided what to do with us in the Fall, Ronnie and I have agreed that she will take over the letters in the Fall, as she has already been warned that she will be living in the library for first year. I will either be around to help, or I won't be. I've mentioned rumours that we're to ship off to Formosa to interpose our planely-bodies between Communist and Nationalist. It seems like a terrible idea to me, but the British are already on the verge at shooting at the Koumintang, and having Americans on hand might turn out for the best, and not the worst. 

On the other hand, it's just a rumour, and the Navy is also getting ready to receive the snorkel GUPPYs, and they'll need someone to play hide-and-seek with. We'll see. 

I'm sorry to hear about Uncle George. Ronnie and I would be glad to meet him at the airport and drive him down to Santa Clara, although I guess it will be Wong Lee. It's tragic to think that he'd have his attack on his first visit to London in ten years, but at least he got to see the Earl before he was incapacitated. I hope the fact that the doctors let him fly means that it isn't as serious as we thought. 

Uncle Henry seems to be bearing up well, and as far as I can tell, Aunt Bessie will linger for years yet. Ronnie says Edgar isn't worried about his parents so much as he is about the company. Not much  I can do about that.

Your Loving Son,

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, 19: Scheidel Versus Soap

"Sacred Spring" is a thesis about cleanliness being next to godliness. The Bronze Age was the age of wool, not of metal, and the Iron Age that followed it is when soap production caught up with wool.

Walter Scheidel doesn't seem to believe in clean underwear. Today, I'm going to try to focus the thesis and engage with The Great Leveler. 

The Bronze Age increase in wool production occurred  from very low levels, and was closely linked to long-distance exchange. This required a store of value in the form of metals. The Late Bronze Age Collapse resulted from a collapse in the value of metal which spread out from the centre, as surplus stocks were dumped on backwards communities on the periphery, culminating in the failure of the Atlantic Interaction Sphere around 850BC.

Depending on the region, this was a more-or-less "successful" collapse into much more egalitarian communities engaging in significantly less long-distance trade. The Scheidel argument is that such societies do not produce investment surplusses. I guess that makes great economic theory, but I think it is pretty clear that the Iron Age was not like that, that a drastic reduction in social inequality coincided with rapid economic growth. That said, the growth phase may have been significantly retarded, since it can be dated with some confidence to the 850/800 period, while the first wave of the Late Bronze Age collapse hit the Aegean at the onset of the Late Helladic IIIC strata, fairly rigorously dated to 1190BC, with a target bracket of 1230--1130BC. 

Silver smelting pretty firmly nails the beginning of the Iron Age expansion. It may not be the first. It is part of a new complex of forest industries, of which ironmaking at least has a very gradual and early birth, while only the earliest signs of cavalry warfare appear in the record so early. Dyemaking has a well known c. 800 horizon from the literary sources, but these are also now archaeologically bolstered. Glass manufacture seems to track these dates as well. As already implied, the 800BC horizon, is also that of the "EIA reemergence of the state." That is, of course, a poor formulation, since the states I want to talk about are new ones in the western Mediterranean lagoons, notably at Rome, Carthage, Syracuse, in the Camargue, and in western Andalusia. But what are you going to do? However, all these new states remain within the Koppen Csa zone (Hot Summer Mediterranean), that birthed the earliest urban civilisations of the Middle East. Looking a little deeper into the continental interior, we find persistent experiments with state-ordered societies in temperate Europe,the subcontinent and possibly the Sahel. None of the experiments took off before the Principate, admittedly a controversial claim for South Asia and a bit outlandish for Africa, but my point is that they were a persistent object of experiment, and not a viable lifestyle. 

Thus: Wealth inequality led to excess saving and an investment bubble. The collapse of stored value, which led to social collapse, in turn led to a period of economic growth, which led to economic change, which led to the revival or new creation of the state.

The reader may recognise this as a response to the trauma of 2008 and the collapse of the neo-Liberal order --same as Scheidel, but with a technological point of departure. Taking the lead between my teeth, I have proposed the High Priest of Amun at Karnak in Thebes as the central banker of the Late Bronze Age, sterilising currency flows until the rate of burial could not keep up with the inflow of bronze, then stimulating a post-Collapse western Eurasia until, at last, the corpse rose and walked. Hey, if Scheidel can give us ten millennia of the Gini coefficient, I don't see why I can't play this game! 

Friday, October 25, 2019

Big Science and Big Bombs: A Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, July 1949, II;

UPDATE: I don't usually fix these off-week posts. They're hurried for a reason. On the other hand, blah blah work schedule here I am with some free time Monday morning, and this one is particularly egregious and easy to fix.

 Operation Grapple
At this point, I feel an overwhelming urge to indulge my inner Geoff Crowther and blame the Atlee Government for blowing up Christmas. Yes, it was the Conservatives who carried out the 1957/8 Christmas Island tests, and the Conservatives who authorised Short Granite and Orange Herald. Short Granite was a hydrogen fizzle, which was perhaps not unexpected, because Orange Herald was ready in reserve. Orange Herald popped off at 800 kT. This qualified Britain for membership in the Megaton Club, and allowed it to hold up its head high at Security Council meetings and sneer at the French. Although this seems like rewriting the rules of the H-Bomb Club to me, because Orange Herald was a regular old fission bomb. Whatever. I'm not on the Security Council, and an 800kt fission bomb is a bravura performance in itself, and the Grapple X test, a year later, demonstrated some remarkable weapons design that Norman Dombey and Eric Groves probably know more about than they're allowed to say.

Notwithstanding being a cool design, any 800kT fission weapon is going to be dangerously susceptible to "multi-kiloton events," and the major safety mechanism on the descendant Violet Club is some real Cold War dark humour. These monsters theoretically armed the V-bomber force for a few years in small numbers, although no V-bomber ever took off with one, the RAF having more sense than whoever it was in the decision chain that signed off on Violet Club. Presumably, any crash-landing related "events" would be reserved for WWIII, when public opinion would be jaded by more pressing concerns like rampaging atomic zombies.  

As for blaming the Atlee Government, we can get there by arguing that the insanely accelerated British programme wouldn't have been necessary if the Atlee Government had launched a "Super" programme when the Truman Administration announced that it was going to develop an H-bomb, back in January of 1950. It makes for a kinder treatment of late-Fifties Conservative defence policy than dwelling on the fact that the upshot of Grapple diplomacy was that the British got access to American designs, pretty much ending independent British  atomic weapons development, which is the kind of thing you expect the core Conservative voter to support.

Oh, wait, no, that probably means no tax cut. Never mind.

By this point, I'm getting a few months ahead of myself in terms of postblogging. What I want to talk about is the 1949 Nuffield Foundation grants. Presumably all of the stuff that these grants facilitated is now ancient news after decades of work at Los Alamos, Scandia, Oakridge, Livermore and the Aldermaston in the years since, but the public doesn't always know anything about that except for what indiscreet persons such as the President of Russia might have let slip.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Postblogging Technology, July 1949, II: Swift is the Hunter

R_. C_.,
c/o Painter's Lodge,
Campbell River,

Dear Father:

I'm sorry to hear about the lodge. But not that sorry, since I never quite saw the point of fishing, and I know I take after my Dad in that. If you're asking me, I say, bulldoze away. If the contractor says that we can't save it, we can't save it. We can remember Grandfather plenty of other places and ways than pretending to enjoy torturing fish off Campbell River. 

Down here in San Francisco we've got the word that the Secretary doesn't want us dropping atom bombs on "strategic" targets --Fortunately, there's still "tactical" ones. You will have heard about the Constitution's latest refit. It isn't good for anything else, so we're making it a radar command post for picking up all the Communist attackers that don't exist yet, so we can trace them back and atom bomb all those Soviet light cruisers into oblivion. I was briefly worried that I was going to be put aboard, since it's my thing. I'm not. They're leaving me to fly my Neptunes. I'm not sure why, but something is up around Livermore. The Great Man was here again the other day. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the Navy --in fact, he was here with the AEC, FBI and once with the infamous Edward Teller. If you're wondering what makes him infamous, I don't' know, and I can't tell. Hint. What do you get when you put two hydrogen atoms together? Teller thinks he knows. I have no idea why or how, but I'm just an engineer, and what do I know about quantum physics? (That's the math of very small particles, like protons and neutrons.) I do know he had a screaming argument right on the tarmac with two of his followers. Maybe he wants to put a ray gun in a Navy ship! When you see the Air Force Aviation Medicine people talking about flying to Mars, you start to forget what's science fiction and what's not. 

If you know your son, you know that seeing Ronnie starting to get ready for first year law school has me thinking about more school. I don't think the Navy would be happy with me if I tried to stretch my education into graduate school without doing an active duty tour or two first. They're already bending over backwards to let me play the tinker up here at Livermore! At some point they're going to make me do something a bit more boring and patrol aviation-y. There's talk that we need to go see the Europeans chase fast submarines after VERITY, and the situation off China is getting very, very spicy. If Washington doesn't figure out which way the wind blows, we're eventually going to see the Koumintang shooting at the RN. And what do we do then?

Well, I'll leave it at that, as I have been dragooned to drive down to the city to fill a book list.

Your Loving Son,

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Postblogging Technology, July 1949, I: A Gem of an Engine

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

This reaches you from my almost luxurious pen, as I am now an "officer and a gentleman" on active duty, which I find to be very much less work than being an engineering student at the Institute. Ronnie, a working woman for the moment, cannot say the same, though I think that she is driven by as much ambition as anything else. I feel a bit of a failure to be driving her car, instead of mine. Perhaps I should try to win Uncle's approval harder? A nice new Jeep would be the pride of Livermore! 

Two ads with psychoanalyst gags equals a trend.
That thought is brought to mind this lazy morning by the afterglow of a dinner party at the Professor K.'s. Miss K. was there, and brought her beau of the summer, clearly on his way out. As for why he was at that point still Miss K.'s beau, well, your guess is as good as mine, and probably better than Uncle George's! (He has one thing on his mind!)  Anyway, it all worked out. For there I was, seething over the fat lip I was talked out of giving him in August, when he made the mistake of going on about  Levi-Strauss, psychoanalysis and "semiology." Ronnie proceeded to take him apart in the most low-key and politely hilarious way until I was about to crack up and he announced that he was coming down with something and departed leaving Miss K. to find her own way home. Yes, she was at dinner with her parents, but still! Honest, I think up to that point Ma and Pa K. liked him more than Miss K. did. 

So good food and a humiliation richly deserved and a long time coming. That's entertainment! Now if I can just wrap my head around Ronnie's explanation of "structuralisim."

Your Loving Son,

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, 18: Apocalypse As Driving Force (Speculation)

This picture is Art, and therefore the performers do not need to be named. I thought slavery was illegal now, but what do I know? Shame, Guardian, shame. 
Arguably, the real speculation around here is what my work schedule will look like next week, and whether I'll need my Saturday off to start work on postblogging July. I don't think I'd better spend any more time around here than this, and I do want to double down on the idea of the Bank of Thebes carrying out fiscal easing operations by looting New Kingdom tombs and injecting bronze and precious-metal-liquidity into the Mediterranean basin economy, with immediate and gratifying effect.

Tearing my eyes away from the Mediterranean coast of France and its tantalising proximity (on the same continent, anyway) with Oppidum Heueneburg, perhaps Herodotus's "Pyrene," there is a first pristine new state of the Iron Age that by rights claims priority of attention. Dido's Carthage is incomparably the greatest foundation of the era "around 800." In fact, notwithstanding Virgil, who needs several centuries between Aeneas and Romulus, archaeology is increasingly clear on the approximate reliability of the traditional 813BC founding date. In fact, we might be close to getting rid of the "approximately." From carbon dates to a mass of pottery that can be correlated with the incredibly precise Aegean sequence, we can certainly say that it occurred sometime between 830 and 800. It's the very model of the Early Iron Age revival of the state. Unfortunately, that raises a bit of a problem, which I guess I've already "solved" with my introduction.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, 17: "Boiled in alkalis and then laid out in the sun and wind to bleach:"

 Thus F. H. Bramwell, who begins his very brief discussion of the "chlorine bleaching powder industry" (F. H. Bramwell, "Mechanical Engineering in the Chemical Industry," Engineering, 24 June 1949: 597--600, for those coming in late) with the observation that in the vague, early times before the chemical industry, crofters used to boil cloth in alkalis, than lay them out to bleach. "Chlorine was found to expedite the process," and "chlorine stills" were developed for the home production of chlorine. He goes on to describe the Weldon still, which doesn't seem very homemade to me, and says that it worked by the oxidation of hydrochloric acid with manganese dioxide.I assume that manganese dioxide was a common industrial earth, and that people were burning salt in sulphates to produce hydrochloric acid. Which, as these things go, is actually a reasonably safe thing to do.

Or perhaps that's just the sort of thing that Professor Bramwell had learned to say about doings on Britain's blasted heaths. 

Fresh from war work at "the X Site,"  just outside Rhydymwyn, Flintshire, or perhaps just from investigating it, the erstwhile Major Bramwell knew from wild chemistry on wild moors. (Which is to say, I am not giving this trivia up.)

Professor Bramwell explains that Weldon still was assembled of locally-available flagstones, boiled in tar if of porous stone, with seams closed by more tar, hemp cords, and external ties. The aqueous acid was collected as it dripped out of the still. Making bleaching powder involves some extra steps, of which the most hair-raising involves men with handkerchiefs tied over their mouths, raking a powder of hydrated lime laid on the floor of the insufferably hot still until it was deemed sufficiently saturated for sale.

Just in case the imagery I'm invoking isn't explicit enough already:

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Postblogging Technology, June 1949, II: She'll Have Fun


Dear Father:

Not much to report except that we're still flying, but not as much now that the Navy has decided it is going to trump the Air Force with rain barrel-atom bomb detection instead of planes. Still, we are officially pushing ahead with atom-bombing with Neptunes, and we keep seeing Ernest Lawrence around Livermore, which is making everyone curious about what's going on. One theory is that he's on the hunt for a "thin" bomb that's better than Little Boy. There's definitely something going on about a "super bomb." Everyone is guessing that someone has figured out a practical way of making hydrogen go boom, and maybe the rumours start with someone who has. 

Another story is more boring. Maybe he's looking for a summer  home nearby. Wouldn't be my choice, but I'm not a Nobel-winning experimental physicist. 

Ronnie and I went out for lunch with Fat Chow and Mrs. Ch. the other day. Is this story about Lhasa true? We sure would miss him around here if he had to go back to International Man of Mystery work! I don't know how he does it -he seemed green about the gills at the way Ronnie was taking the corners on the way up here. 

You know who else is green about the gills? Uncle Henry, over the Tucker indictments. He's suddenly so keen on good publicity that he offered me a car. I had to say no, because i) I don't need one, and ii),  James told me very, very firmly that it would be an awful "look" on a young naval aviator. So no new car for me. At least, no Kaiser-Fraser. 

Your Loving Son,

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging, June 1949, I: Need for Speed

It's coming for you! Not unlike three schedule changes in five days. Blah blah can't finish the postblogging installment blah. Fortunately, I have a technological appendix up my sleeve that seems doable in good time before I have to start getting ready for the afternoon shift that I've had since 11:30 yesterday morning. 

I'll start with the observation that BEA has uncancelled the Vickers Viscount purchase because advancing ground control technique has unsnarled the horrendous "stacking" issues of 1947. I've had Reggie comment on that, but I'm not Reggie, and I'm not exactly expecting people to hang on to every word in the postblogging posts. That's why the pictures are there! It is very much worth pointing out again, right here, how rapid improvements in air traffic control practice during the Berlin Airlift advanced the cause of commercial jet aviation over the summer and winter of 1948.

Or maybe it is the Airspeed Ambassador's wing problems, which seem to have disappeared down the memory hole except for references to the disappointing performance of its NACA-profile laminar flow wing. There's probably something to be said here about the overselling of the P-51's wing profile, and about Airspeed's unseemingly ambitions, as well as about the final failure of the civil Centaurus. 

But mainly this is about the huge favour that Uncle Joe has done the world by starting this fun little Cold War thing. More to come in --checks the calendar, can't believe it-- a year when we finally get around to the Korean War. Fast planes, like the world communist revolution, are literally just around the corner. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Postblogging Technology, June 1949, I: Class of '49

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

I hope this finds you well after your recent scare. Please take care of your ticker! 

Here in the Greater Bay Area, Ronnie and I live two lives. Uncle Henry has decided not to wait until September, so she's driving her brand new Kaiser De Luxe to all the shows. I'm flattened, I'm gobsmacked. She's so beautiful, the car's so fine.

Meanwhile, me? Most of the time, I'm up at Livermore, which is the wackiest corner of the Bay, if you ask me, and it's not exactly short of wackiness. There's a whiff of Mary Jane in the air, and the "Beat Generation" is everywhere, living under the canvas backs of their war surplus Jeeps. Fortune says the Class of '49  is boring, but it doesn't know the half of it! 

If you're wondering, the Administration put a burr under the Air Force's saddle in the spring, so they're now flying radiation sampling flights officially and regularly. The Navy can't match the range and endurance of Air Force B-29s, so it's official position is to poo-poo it all. Fleet says they'll know the Russians have tested an atom bomb from rainwater samples, never mind high altitude recon flights over the Bering Strait! Which is probably true, but doesn't change the fact that we've got all the hush-hush top secret flying that we're also doing, mainly trying to pick up Russian air defence radar emissions. It's not really practical in itself, but it'll be important when we're chasing their cruisers at sea. Ernest Lawrence has bestirred himself to extend his interest from all the top secret atom smashing stuff to a bit of radio work, and we've seen His Eminence a few times around the field, although usually his presence is felt through eager graduate students driving up from Berkeley. 

We're also doing a little, here and there, with interception. Down below, you'll see Aviation Week blowing the lid off the new English Electric bomber. Near as I can figure, if it can carry an atom bomb --it has the same problem as the Neptune, bomb bay's too small-- it's the first practical atom bomber. It just needs bases close enough to Russia. And better bombs. The Neptune will take the Hiroshima bomb, which the Navy is now selling as a submarine pen-buster, since it's tough enough to drop through a few feet of concrete. Of course, that takes some very precise dropping, and we're not exactly sure how to do that. The Air Force sure can't! 

So that's our news. See you on the Third!

Your Loving Son,

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Wehem Meset: Letters From the Apocalypse

(America is to the left. This is quite a pedal.)
Edgar Dewdney's bid for an 1861 contract to link (Fort) Hope with Fort Steele (Cranbrook) via a 720km road running over the Allison Summit to join gold strikes along the Similkameen, at Rock Creek, and in the East Kootenays, amounted to less than $100,000 all found. It was completed in five years (by a subcontractor --I would bet that there is more to Dewdney's story than the official narrative suggests), and required a crew of fewer than 70 men.

Now, things were different, one era from another. The trail was specified as 1.5m, and, with the beginning of the Iron Age in mind in this post, it is worth noting that it was built with iron tools and intended for mule trains.

Dewdney's team built up Anarchist Mountain, so that they could strike down from the top towards Rock Creek on the Kettle while avoiding the United States, which starts roughly at that ridge to the left in this picture. I doubt that the mules thanked them for their service to the Crown. Masochistic bicyclists, on the other hand, are grateful.

Speaking of, in preparation for tackling the Anarchist, I took last Wednesday off, about which in general I will say no more except that Keremeos is a nice town; Osoyoos Taxi is good people; and the Adriatic Motel needs better internet. However, the motel is nicely located for a quick tour of the beaches on the west side of Osoyoos Lake, and I do need to say this: There are a fuck of a lot of people on the  beaches of the Okanagan as I write. They will be returning tomorrow for the new school year. Due to the way that our landlord is tearing up all road access to the Oakridge Mall to reroute the stream that the builders of 1959 saw fit to erect the mall over, it is not clear how many of the returning hoards will be shopping at my labour-starved store, but it is not unreasonable to fear a retail apocalypse, beginning this afternoon. 

So, anyway,trade, trails, iron, apocalypses: Welcome to the 19th year of Ramesses XI (r. 1107-- 1077.) 

A chatty and communicative ruler, Ramesses has a great deal to share with us, which seems like an unusual hobby for a Dark Age. Hence, letters from the apocalypse. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Pyramids and Migrating Genes: A Holiday Diversion

In a spirit of pure academic inquiry, I am going to note here that I rode up Anarchist Summit Thursday morning with my bike badly out of whack for various reasons. It was in much the same condition on Monday when I summitted the Alison Pass on the Hope-Princeton less the last hill before Sunshine Valley. All of this is important research, and in no way humble bragging. 

In the same spirit of data collection, a shout out to the Alpine Motel of Keremeos for having good internet and pretty much good everything considering that it is a family-run small motel, your only option in the other Windy City. Ramada Inns are also nice, although you'd expect that. At the price, any complaints I have about the Boundary Creek in Greenwood have to be set aside considering the effort the new owners are putting into it. It must be something to show up to do a painting contract and end up owning a motel, instead. On the other hand, one thumb down to the Adriatic in Osoyoos, which could have viable Internet at the price, but which is in a late stage of dissolution due to the decrepitude of the owners, and two down for the Manning Park Lodge, which hasn't a shadow of an excuse. 

So Alex turns us up an Independent article on ongoing excavations at the islet of Dhaskalio in the Cyclades, which turns out to be a semi-retirement project for the indomitable Colin Renfrew. The Independent makes the point, not brought out in at least the extract of the World Archaeology article, that a monumental building phase at Dhaskalio, a so-called Greek pyramid, in fact rising tiers of marble buildings on a pyramid-shaped islet, occurred within a century of the Pyramids, Stonehenge, "first Mesopotamian kingdoms," and the cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation. I have reservations about the Mesopotamian angle and can't even begin with the IVC, but they do seem to buttress a case that checks out for Stonehenge, the Pyramids and Dhaskalio. 

Since Renfrew has a monopoly on explanation/interpretation of the site, I'll start with Dhaskalio, w he adduces a two-stage history. In the first, about 2700BC, people began travelling to Dhaskalio's parent islet of Keros and depositing broken statuary and other durable artefacts at what was probably then an isthmus between Keros and Dhaskalio. Renfrew's account rests heavily on the presumed lack of everyday reason to travel to these barren islets, at which I bristle slightly. I assume that archaeozoology has ruled out a nesting area or a seal rookery, but would like that confirmed somewhere. Beginning slightly later, copper ore was brought to a windblasted beach on Dhaskalio for smelting, and about 2500 the political landscape of tiered marble buildings had emerged, while deposit activity at the isthmus tailed off and came to an end. 

There are obvious parallels to the Stonehenge 3, II stage besides the Independent calling our attention to it. (If you'r wondering, I am absolutely begging off any attempt to delve into the Giza site. That's way too much work for the ninety minutes I have to kill before it is time to start getting ready for the road again.) Deposit activity doesn't come to an end, nor does building begin in 3, II; but the scale of the latter is immensely increased. 

Synchronicity across vast distances speaks to something more than coincidence, and, of course, the Stone Age/Bronze Age has been an important transition between eras for as long as we've had eras. I know that it is fashionable to denounce it as an artefact, but it is such an enduring explanatory mechanism that I am inclined to promote it to the status of Something That Actually Happened. Maybe that's just the prejudice of the historian of technology, but I think I have more than insulated myself from accusations of androcentric focus by singling out the role of jewelry, detergents, textiles,. You know. Girl stuff. 

So let's specific some kind of techno-cultural transformation that's sweeping the planet. (Wool textiles, I say.) Where do we go from here? Well, to the eve-of-Brexit anxiety that is sweeping the new field of genetic archaeology, with a "population replacement" model of social and cultural change taking hold of efforts to explain the British scene. 

The dominant picture of Europe's genetic history (Y-group) is that everyone looks more-or-less like their neighbours, and the Scandinavians look a bit inbred. 
More detail only refines that.  However, if you look at the scanty remains of ancient Britons (and, to be fair, we have a lot of them. It's not like basing the "Ancient North Eurasian" ancestry that can be traced from Ireland to South America, and, so far as I know, Chad as well, on a single boy who died near Lake Baikal 24,000 years ago.) it turns out that some kind of population replacement, to include genocide perpetuated by trans-Channel foreigners, occurred in Britain at both the beginning of the Neolithic and of the Bronze Age. 

For the purposes of this post, that means that incoming "Beaker" people arrived, exterminated (not really; the share of Neolithic ancestry rises over time, indicating that a population survived and intermixed gradually, but don't tell Nigel! [pdf]), took over Stonehenge, and promptly dressed the place up a bit --in a way that seems pretty respectful of existing henge and cursus traditions. From tumuli to roundabouts, the Brits seem to love their circles. If that's not weird enough, the cattle barbecued at the adjacent work/party site of Durrington Wells includes a significant number of animals --pigs as well as cattle-- from the Scottish Highlands.

Skepticism about long distance trade and transhumant pastoralism aside, this is pretty striking evidence of the power of cult to unite the island of Britain, and of the ability of incomers to assimilate into and improve upon existing cultural practices.

Ain't no politics round here any more than there's tourism promotion. Try the steak next time you're in the Thyme And Plate in Grand Forks, B.C.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Postblogging Technology, May 1949, II: Wedding Bells for Lili Marlene

R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy, Vancouver,

Dear Father:

The makeup dinner with Ronnie went well. Thanks again for your advice. I just sut up and listened to stories about being a for-real junior buyer and focussed on not saying anything about being a better fit for her than law. Not that that's true, anyway. She's sharp on patents, and the first to admit that she needs to learn it like a lawyer, which is good, because it calms my fears that she'll shoot off her mouth before she's ready. The New Look is dead, baby!

I'm not sure about the stinger about thinking about my career before I open my mouth. I'll be cursing your name when Wallace doesn't make me Chief of the Naval Staff in '53!

Okay, okay, shut up, discretion, valour. Speaking of, as you know, my first appointment is as a liaison with a reserve squadron that's somehow flying Neptunes. The real story is that we're working on flying with the "physics package." It turns out to be a lot more complicated than delivering a regular bomb. First of all, the packages are very, very cranky, and that's just the ones we are practicing with now, which have been used before. (Word to the wise.) The Neptunes are too small to drop regular physics packages, and we don't want to keep using the old ones. So new packages are likely to be even more cranky. 

Wow! You probably have no idea what I'm talking about. Probably for the best. Ahem. We need bombs that produce a lot more neutrons per unit weight, and the ideas for producing it tend to involve doctoring the atom bomb in flight. We're not actually worried about that right now, because it is all moonshine, but we are worried about "drop on discretion." It's a bit much to ask patrol bombers to press their attack against a fast carrier task force, and in practice the exercises we've flown have tended to produce early drops. It's hard to beat human nature, so instead we're looking at beating bomb nature by persuading them to cooperate with being dropped from angles and elevations that aren't fixed right into the firing mechanism. "Fuze," I guess you'd say, although there I go, committing treason again. (They're not actually fuzes.) 

So, anyway, for privacy's sake, we're flying out of Livermore Naval Air Station, which would practically be in the backyard if Grace were talking to me. I've seen a furtive James a few times, and, of course, Uncle George comes and goes as he bloody well pleases. Do you know what Uncle Henry is going to give Ronnie for her birthday? Spoiled! I've brought the old Indian out of the garage, although, frankly, it runs less than a turbocompound.   And leaks oil, too. Where are those silicon rubber gaskets now! (Oops, forgot to mention that in the Engineering roundup. Oh, well, old news, anyway.) 

Your Loving Son,

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Simulating the World: A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, May 1949, I

I'm on vacation in the third week of August, because that's what vacation is for. The schedule of my life therefore calls for the second part of postblogging May this week, followed by some harvesting of low-hanging fruit via the Technological Appendix series over the rest of the month, any book-writing being additional to a long-anticipated bike tour of the Kettle Valley railway right of way, now the Trans-Canada Designated Trans-Canada Bike Holiday For That-Kind-Of-Middle-Class-Person Route. I brunch, therefore I am. Own my authentic self, I say. 

Unfortunately, all of this rational planning reckoned without my employer's grand plan to deal with the fallout of its mass buyout of "high cost" labour. After twenty-one years of complete failure of "low cost" labour to materialise, it might be a bit much to expect trends to change during the worst labour shortage yet, but . . . Well, let's let Wile E. demonstrate:

Other jokes about my employer's labour situation involve the "everything's fine" dog, cars driving off cliffs, General Custer and the Titanic. The upshot is that, because our dairy manager decided to betray the company by having a baby this week, I'll be doing his job tonight and making the big overtime money instead of, I don't know, writing. 

Or sleeping. Sleeping's good, too. So here's some low-hanging fruit., beginning with HMS Amethyst, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Since this post is about Wassily Leontif's Project SCOOP and IBM's SSEC, that is, two obscure bits of the early history of computing that could benefit from a bit of light, talking about the Yangzi Incident is a bit of a stretch. Not, however, an impossible one, because there is some early computing history to the Black Swan-class, too, and also something to be said about communist revolutions and Fortune deciding to publish Louis Ridenour in May of 1949.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Postblogging Technology, May 1949, I: Scuttled


Dear Father:

Well, here I am, back at the epitomiser's desk, substituting for Ronnie because she has to do real work, and I am now just a full-time Navy flyboy, trying out the gadgets on the P2V, including a dust trap that we're hoping to scoop the Air Force with, when Ivan drops his bomb this summer. (At least, we assume that it'll be this summer. It's cold for bomb dropping in Russia in the winter!)

I have been told not to drop any bombs of my own in this letter. I hope that I have been obedient to my instructions, but my blood is boiling over Taft-Hartley repeal. It doesn't help that the business press has been doing a victory lap over it! I've tried telling Ronnie that this is what we get for electing Truman over Wallace, but she has been quite cool to that and perhaps I am pushing my luck. It's hard to believe that business is riding so high in the saddle, and even more so that it is being supported by the Southern bloc. It used to be that you could count on the Klan to at least have no time for Big Business! But now, it turns out that if you're going to fight civil rights, and you have to jettison the Popular Cause to do it, it is okay, because there is a better and higher Popular Cause called, "Keeping the Negro Down." Only they don't say "Negro."

Well, perhaps I should keep myself to myself for as long as I wear Air Force blue, says Ronnie. Given the career I've lined up for myself, it's thirty years out a captain, unless Navy air goes land-based.

Uncle George says that this is fine, because, as much money as the family has made on land already, there will be new vistas in the 1970s. San Francisco will need commuter suburbs on a new scale by then, and why not the West Side? Our alfalfa lands, covered with houses filled with industrious white-collar workers commuting over the mountains by high speed trains? What a vision!

My own vision, meanwhile, consists of the Navy accepting that aircraft carriers are dangerous and impractical contraptions that don't accomplish anything that patrol aviation can't do better. Which is why, perhaps with the optimisim of youth, I am not ruling out a flag in my future.

Your Loving Son,

(Looking in the wrong direction, Reggie)

Friday, July 26, 2019

Tinplate: An Inquiry for a Vacation Week

I should have taken a landscape portrait,
but it was before breakfast. 

Five weeks ago I went to visit my sister's family in Kamloops, and the familiar landscape of the Okanagan-Shushwap inspired me to respond to a reposting at Brad Delong's joint of some material from Pamela Crone's batshit  "Hagarism" controversy.

I can't say that the sources of ancient tin  have the same personal resonance for me, but the subject did come up over at Delong's, and I do feel that I have to issue a defence and expansion. I do not, personally, have strong opinions about where the ancients got their tin, but scholars I respect have arguments that are not getting their due. And given that the conversation is at an economical history blog, the fact that Niall Sharples ties tin to a "general glut" argument is germane, and ought to earn him some attention. 

It won't, of course, because he wrote a scholarly monograph about Social Relations in Later Prehistory and not some attention grabbing work of debatable generalisation, but all you can do is put it out there and hope it gets some attention.    

As you can see, a solid chunk of cassiterite is conspicuous and valuable in
its own right. By CarlesMillan - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,