Sunday, March 19, 2023

Gathering the Bones, XXIV: The Gardener's Problem and Smith's History of Virginia


It's been more than two years since I've done a "Gathering the Bones" post, and I can report some progress. I've finished reading Fenimore Cooper's Wyandotte: Or, the Hutted Knoll. It's a really good book, Fenimore Cooper continues to be a fascinating person, and the novel is a lot like Wept of Wish-ton-Wish in that it uses distance from the Leatherstocking Cycle to comment on some of the same themes as Deerslayer while being a bit more willing to admit the crime. (The Wyandotte Patent is assigned to the infant product of a private marriage and baptism and so remains the property of a British general while avoiding confiscation during the Revolution by appearing to belong to a local Dutch New York Patriot family.) On the other hand, the question of mixed marriages is handled even more obliquely than in previous novels, much less being explicitly admitted, as in Wish. The heroine, Maud Meredith (Willoughby) is born to her mother in a British army frontier post in 1758, and so her mother is neither British nor a member of American society, in that she is neither home in the United Kingdom nor in Albany. On the other hand, she has  money. So Maud Yeardley comes out of some kind of irregular circumstances that I'm not going to probe any further here, although obviously she is much better born than Judith Hutter of Deerslayer, and what about all that deerslaying?


Sunday, March 12, 2023

A Technological (With Some Real Science and Hardball Politics) Appendix to Postblogging Technology, November 1952: Ivy Mike


In what I was brought up to call the "Bethe Cycle," but which now requires a whole Wikipedia article to describe the various branchings, a presumed homogenous substrate of deuterium (hydrogen atoms with an atomic mass of 2 due to being composed of one neutron and one proton), combined with two electrons, is fused, after multiple intermediate states and the production of "catalysts" of atomic weight up to oxygen, into an atomic weight 4 helium atoms plus 2 electron neutrons and 7 gamma ray photons, with 26.7 MeV free energy.

The CNO cycle occurs in stars, particularly larger ones. It requires less energy to initiate than the naked fusion of two monoatomic hydrogen atoms (in other words, protons), but is also less efficient. Proton-proton fusions dominate stellar processes in smaller stars, but occur at statistically lower rates, causing these stars to burn less hot than larger stars, where the CNO process predominates. By the late 1930s, these facts were understood in vague outline, although given the fact that the neutrino was still at this point a theoretical particle, and its fundamental properties still obscure, physical science's understanding of the process was obviously still incomplete. Note that this not a question of pure scientific curiosity. Neutrinos can, like neutrons, collide with uranium and plutonium nucleii and initiate atomic fission. This happens at a small fraction of the rate of fission events due to free neutrons in atomic explosions, but given that chain reactions are exponential processes, it is something that a responsible weapon designer might want to keep in mind. Ha ha who are we kidding

In the IVY MIKE test explosion of  1 November, 1952, the American Atomic Energy Commission released 10.4 MT of free energy and a whole lot of radioactive fallout, plus a lot of politics. Considering that the explosion occurred  three days before the 1952 Presidential Election, we might on the one  hand say that the explosion occurred in a period of great political uncertainty, on the other hand note that while the media was invested in the idea of the election outcome being open, everyone expected Eisenhower to win; and on the third acknowledge that in fact the composition of the Senate was very much in question, and that while the GOP took a two seat majority in the voting, the defection of Oregon Senator Wayne Morse to sit as an independent, reduced that majority to a potential single vote, with Vice-President Nixon voting to break the tie.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Postblogging Technology, November 1952, II: The Secretary

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

I don't want to alarm anyone, but we're in the middle of Mamie mania and everyone who doesn't like a straight-cut bob has come to realise that we've had two weeks of Eisenhower, enough to be sure that he was some kind of secret Taftite all along, and now our only hope is winning the midterms in 1954 before the inevitable Nixon/McCarthy ticket of 1960. 

Although by that time apparently the Viet Minh will be advancing from Cupertino into Palo Alto, so I shouldn't be worried that much. 

On a more serious note, I get the feeling from this week's coverage that the servo and magnetic amplifier have lost the battle, and the future belongs to the transistor, even if we're not exactly sure what it will be made of just yet. Gallium? Cadmium? Something exotic! The key point is that just as soon as we can build a recorder using these fancy "transistors," the sooner we will reap the profits when everyone in America has nothing better to do than watch television thanks either to ever increasing prosperity, or the Second Great Depression that will follow us running out of copper. Unless we crack the world open with a hydrogen bomb first!

If you're wondering why all this morbid thinking, I was reading Newsweek and ran into this unlikely ad announcing that a plastic eye-doctor-thing would keep your child safe from eye infections. Of course, the unspoken fear under that is your daughter will need glasses. And then, well, firstly, she will never get a man; and, secondly, you'll have to pay for it. No wonder my generation has gone utterly strange (not just scared) and is lashing out in all directions! 

Your Loving (and not at all paranoid) Daughter,

1:47 The Mamie bob so sexy

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Postblogging Technology, November, 1952, I: Everyone Likes (M)ike

The Transmountain pipeline going in

The Mayflower,
Washington, D.C.

Dear Father:

If this letter gives you the sense that I am feeling a bit out of sorts for reasons that do not need to be spelled out, well, you are right to think that. I am told that all law students cannot wait to be done with third year, so I am normal, even if my situation definitely isn't, and if one more preppy Stanford man offers to open a door for me I shall --! I have shot men before! Several times! (Twice.)

Speaking of shots heard around the world, no-one is allowed to say anything about the hydrogen bomb test, which went ahead before the election --but why am I telling you this? You hear better Service rumours than I do! 

Speaking of rumours, I hear that Mr. Hoover has recently taken out subscriptions to Engineering, Fortune and The Economist. I wonder if he thinks that this is some kind of revenge on me? Shot men for less!

Your Loving (if exasperated!) Daughter,

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XXVII: More From the Shimmering Sky


Nine years ago, so in 2014, some vaguely professional media people up in Nebraska decided that these six young people had something going on, and arranged some venues leading to six (I think?) videos, most with at least slightly wonky sound. No-one watched them, and teenagers grow up quickly, so I assume that these kids quit music, joined a space mission, were exposed to cosmic radiation, gained superpowers, and now fight crime. Or something. 

Probably not that, actually. Anyway, point is, the Youtube algorithm proceeded to sit on these videos for eight years while all this was going on before suddenly pushing it into everyone's feeds, leading to 200,000 views and 2000 upvotes in the last year or so. This being a lot, but not, as the kids say, not a lot of a lot, it's possible that no-one involved in making these videos knows that they have been picking up views. It's algorithm archaeology! Also, it's me sharing a video that I enjoyed. (Speaking of which, I speed read through Martha Wells' Murderbot Diaries this week. Its good!) 

Also some more, Sidestone Press, has launched a new initiative where you can read their books for free online. Like, for example, Lorenzo Zamboni, Manuel Fernandez-Goetz, and Carola Metzner-Nebelsick, Crossing the Alps: Early Urbanism between Northern Italy and Central Europe (900--400BC (Sidestone, 2020)! It's got the latest from the Heuneburg excavations, so I'm not going to argue about the financial viability of their business model, even if I'm pretty sure that "giving stuff away for free" does not work.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, October 1952: Jogging Stroller


Caroline Geoghegan

Having long since covered Mr. Atlee's atom bomb, I definitely want to do a technological appendix for the month that sees two actually Earth-shattering scientific developments: The first reference to a "birth control pill;" and the first reference to using a semiconductor chip to store computer memory. On the other hand, it's really hard to see a throughline from one story to the other, so while I'm going to try because that's the artistic thing to do, I'm not going to apologise if it doesn't work. So there! 

It will be noted that Benjamin Sieve's phosphorylated hesperidin pills aren't "the Pill," and didn't work, and that  J. R. Anderson of Bell Labs is touting "a 1 inch square of barium titanate," and doesn't say anything about integrated circuits. Nevertheless!

Before launching in, I should mention that I captioned the photo as being of Caroline Geoghegan, the author of the blog linked here, but image search shows the photo coming up as stock. Maybe it's a stock photo of Geoghegan? Idk! It's what I came up with when I went looking for a modern picture of a jogging stroller, and it is more photogenic than what I eventually turned up in connection with the baby  pram from Minneapolis that converts from wheels to sleds. And by this time I really can't say that this is "before launching in."

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Postblogging Technology, October 1952, II: Chess, Not Checkers


Dear Father:
So we are now very much in the middle of a genuine school year with class work and also my domestic obligations, and yet somehow these letters still reach you and you should be very grateful because there is nothing more fun than reading about exciting technological developments in the field of cataloguing chemicals and getting rid of vacuum tubes in magnetic amplifiers. Which is to say that I don't see anything too crazy or interesting in the science news this month.

I'm kidding! Obviously the most fun thing we could possibly read about is Richard Nixon crying on television. There is something off about that man, and it is not just because I disagree with his politics. As for the letter, I will admit that I have treated The Engineer lightly, but it is in there. For one thing, for reasons of timing of news stand dates, The Engineer, which is not the paper (as Uncle George would say) that I go to for breaking news, is the first of my magazines to cover the biggest "science and technology" story of the back end of the month at least, "Mr. Churchill's (GRRRR!) bomb." 

So I officially, finally, have all the magazines I had before my diphtheria quarantine, although don't expect me to start hitting myself on the head with Time again on a regular basis. Newsweek might not be a very good news magazine, but it has better pictures.

Your Loving Daughter,


PS: Since I know you don't follow Hollywood gossip, especially gossip printed in Newsweek, which is not where you go for good gossip --if gossip can be good, come on, let me have this one-- but someone, probably  Linda Darnell, is dragging the College Man's boy into her attempts to land a movie. I know he's not our favourite or closest relative, but blood is blood, so maybe someone could have a polite but firm chat with Miss Darnell?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XXVI: A Bronze Age/Iron Age Transition in the Maghreb?


So, three things: i) There is no way that I am not posting this ad, especially the week I read Edith Outland on "the Effingham libels." Man, did Horace Greeley know how to stick in the knife! ii) I'm off on a bonus week of vacation to see my Mom, so I'm looking for a blog post that requires more wandering-around-the-Intenet-at-the-kitchen-table than blasting away at the keyboard whilst surrounded by ancient tomes. iii) Lameen has confirmed that "there was no North African Bronze Age" is something people say. 

I have academic confirmation of the commonplace that makes it a bit less bizarre, but there is a deeper problem in that there seems to be a lack of communication between research silos. Something isn' t right in the prehistory of the Maghreb.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Postblogging Technology, October 1952, I: The Public Interest

"Canon," it turns out, is the Japanese form of Guanyin, Bodhisattva of Mercy. Gung Hey Fat Choy!


Dear Father:

I have now had a month to test the idea that third year law school isn't a very serious affair, and so far the conventional wisdom seems about right. Most of my classmates are looking for jobs with firms which they will hold as "articling students" while they prepare to pass the bar so that they can be real lawyers. So many hurdles to jump over! Once again, I am going to fall behind  my classmates for family reasons, but while it is not fair, it is the life that we wives have signed up for. Although I can't remember actually signing up for something? I must have, though. No-one would just impose these rules on you!

Yes, yes, women complaining. And meanwhile I am telling you how to do your business (developing subdivisions departments.) But there really is just the most interesting article about Levittown in the current Fortune and all the men in the family (but especially Uncle Henry) should read it. 

All that said, I do actually have some homework to do, so I should go do it, signing myself,

Your Loving Daughter,


Saturday, January 14, 2023

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, 1943--1952: Uhm, The Electric Typewriter?


I was going through my folder of ads looking for a typewrite ad specifically when I found this. (Truth in advertising: I was going in alphabetical order, so it didn't exactly take very long to be distracted by an "Atlantic Petroleum" ad.)

The point here, and it is my point, is that it is difficult to pinpoint just when female-friendly ads like this faded away. I thought that the new age of Playboy and male supremacy was going to be signalled by a pickup in cheesecake ads; but while this perception may be influenced by the absence of Fortune from my roundup since the beginning of the pandemic, that hasn't obviously happened, and the main harbinger of the new age has been more editorial, with the increasingly strident anti-communism content of news stories and the McGraw-Hill linewide editorials. 

The one place that women remain prominent and in a leading role in editorial content is in the business machine market, which is  just as prominent on the page as I make it out to be in the postblogging posts. 

NCR might not have made typewriters, but it did spring for colour!

 These do include plenty of typewriter ads, but none as female-centric or as eyecatching as the long series of ads for NCR's accounting machines. The semiotics of the ads vary from all female casts showing off the machine's features to bosses overlooking the operator who can be read as either admiring or patronising --me not being smart enough at that whole "deconstruction" thing to tell the difference-- and this one, which has four vignettes for the price of one. The one male is the white-coated technician, either advising or receiving operator feedback; and so this is the one I went with.

All of this raises the question which has been implicit all along, but which I just twigged to the other day: What about the electric typewriter? We've been hearing a great deal from the frontiers of aviation about the adoption of powered controls, but here is a very old frontier in automation and disintermediation. How did the manual operation of a 120wpm typewriter turn into the operation of an electric appliance at 10 discrete, controlled operations a second? What's the story?

Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Iron Age Revival of the State, XXV, With Bonus Gathering the Bones Content: Shining New City on a Hill


By Jean-Yves Monchambert

Queen Dido of Carthage has come up in this blog in two very different contexts. First, "an urn said to contain the ashes of Dido" appears in the main room of Temple Hall in the hamlet of Templeton on the shores of Glimmerglass, in James Fenimore Cooper's The Pioneers: Or, the Source of the Susquehanna. It is part of a set of enigmatic images in a place where we would expect to see ancestral portraits, and is such a ludicrously obvious CLUE that we really ought to be taking it as a hint that this is a puzzle we're being invited to unravel. In this case, not to drag it out at any length, Dido committed suicide on her own funeral pyre in the Temple of Venus at the summit of the Byrsa citadel of Carthage. This is more than enough references to "Temples" (there are more!) to read the clue as saying that one of the author's grandfathers is not who the genealogists say he was (Richard Fenimore), but rather Benjamin Franklin's illegitimate son, William Temple Franklin. Whether this is true is another matter. 

Dido (click this link for the ear worm song) has also come up in her own right as the mythical Queen of Tyre who fled the oppression of her brother, Pygmalion, and founded the city of Carthage on the Tunisian shore of North Africa in either shortly after the fall of Troy, or, more plausibly, 814BC. This discussion is going to develop the claim that she staged her voyage of colonisation from Cyprus, from which her alternative name, "Elissa" is derived from the name of the Great Goddess of Cyprus, per Marie-Pierre Noel's theory, giving me an excuse to embed a performance that isn't "White Flag" or Purcell's "Dido's Lament:"

This post is brought to you, indirectly, by the algorithm's helpful habit of recommending that I read articles that I'm obviously interested in because I have already read them. There are not, as it happens, any useful articles on the founding of Carthage at the site, as near as I can tell, but a search turned up the fact that  when I tried to find some I found instead that Saro Wallace published a new monograph in 2029, Travelling Through Time: Imagining Movement in the Ancient Aegean World (Amazon link).

This is absolutely my jam. I'm not going to precisely review it  here because anything I say would just shed an uncomfortable light on my totally-not-creepy Saro Wallace bedroom shrine. What I am going to do is work a discussion of it into the Academia algorithm-inspired brief survey of recent work on the foundation of Carthage, with maybe some brief asides about Fenimore Cooper's explanation of the foundation of America as a creole aristocracy that forgot itself.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Postblogging Technology, September 1952, II: Well, When?

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

Well, here I am back in Palo Alto the good, having missed the first two weeks of classes, and definitely not on the Dean's good books until I unleashed all  my feminine wiles and broached the unbroachable. We agreed between us that as the blessed event is not until May, I can finish and graduate on time, and after that it is between me and the California Bar. So that is all that done as long as I can just finish third year, which may or may not be the complete formality my classmates think it is!

Reggie says that he is absolutely fine with everyday squadron service as long as  his home port is somewhere as exciting as Morocco, and that he can't wait for me to join him and help him find out about Moroccan cooking. I will be over before Christmas, but if previous experience is any guide, I won't be up for exotic food!   

Your Loving Daughter,


PS: I notice on rereading that I intimated that there are stories about Justice Douglas. No, I am not repeating them.