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)