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.