Marking time on technology
Preparing to visit Africa
It has has been quite a year. Let’s hope the new year brings more delights than the old one. 2018 is shaping up well, with some interesting travels on the program—including a couple of weeks in Africa, a continent I have not set foot on (apart from the time I stepped ashore at Suez in 1966). The prospect of a trip turns my mind to the question of what to bring.
Specifying colours exactly
The postman delivered a new book today, The anatomy of colour: the story of heritage paints and pigments by Patrick Baty. I have just had time for a quick flip through—enough to see that it is full of wonderful detail, as I have come to expect from reading the author’s blog.
Baty opens a chapter on colour systems and standards with this quote from a 1907 book by A S Jennings:
If half-a-dozen practical painters, experienced in colour mixing, were asked seperately to mix a given colour; say a sea green, it is almost certain that when the six colours were compared there would be no two alike.
Baty goes on to discuss the colour system developed by Albert Munsell and set out in his important book A color notation, published in 1905:
Munsell began his book with a lengthy quotation from Robert Louis Stevenson that perfectly summed up the kind of dilemma that anyone working with colour might still encounter. Writing from Samoa on 8 October 1892 to Sidney Colvin in London, Stevenson proposed:
“Perhaps in the same way it might amuse you to send us any pattern of wall paper that might strike you as cheap, pretty and suitable for a room in a hot and extremely bright climate. It should be borne in mind that our climate can be extremely dark, too. Our sitting room is to be varnished in wood. The room I have particularly in mind is a sort of bed and sitting room, pretty large, lit on three sides, and the colour in favour of its proprietor at present is a topazy yellow. But then with what colour to relieve it? For a little workroom of my own at the back, I should rather like to see some patterns of unglossy—well, I’ll be hanged if I can describe this red—it’s not Turkish and it’s not Roman and it’s not Indian, but it seems to partake of the two last, and yet it can’t be either of them because it ought to be able to go with vermilion. Ah what a tangled web we weave—anyway, with what brains you have left, choose me and send me some—many—patterns of this exact shade.”
New technology and the wrecking trade
It used to be, along some hazardous sea coasts, that people could make good money by helping themselves to valuable goods and materials from wrecked ships. But in the nineteenth century the supply of shipwrecks dried up, as more lighthouses were built and lighthouse technology improved.
Wreckers were numerous at Bermuda before my lighthouse was put there; since its establishment and good maintenance the wreckers have been compelled to change their occupation. They now are engaged principally in cultivating oranges.
—Alexander Gordon, Circular relating to lighthouses, lightships, buoys, and beacons (London, 1862).
A Swiss alpine locomotive
Another piece has joined my collection of oddly pleasing carte-de-visite photographs. It shows a little steam locomotive whose boiler is shaped like a claret bottle. The boiler is tipped forward about ten degrees, suggesting that this engine was built for hill climbing.
I put on my anorak, did some research, and found that the engine in the photo was built for the Vitznau–Rigi Bahn, the first mountain rack railway in Europe. The line opened in 1871 and this is the earliest type of engine used on it. The carte-de-visite is not marked with a date or the photographer’s name, but there is a good chance it was taken by Adolphe Braun in the early 1870s.
This happy find has sent me on a search for more alpine travellers’ ephemera.
Benjamin Disraeli, flipped
I have often admired some portrait photographs of Benjamin Disraeli, the British politician, wearing a natty velvet jacket. The pictures were taken in 1868 by William and Daniel Downey and published in various formats and by various processes.
I was pleased to add one of these to my collection. It’s a fine Woodburytype carte-de-visite, published by John Murdoch with proper acknowledgement of, and probably payment to, the original photographers. I mention these niceties because pirate copying of celebrity portraits was rife in the Victorian period.
Barcaldine and the Artesian breakthrough
Just posted on the John Oxley Library blog—a piece by Thom Blake—17th December 1887—a significant day for Queensland, in which he tells the story of the first government-sponsored artesian well in Queensland.
That well was sunk at Barcaldine, one of my favourite country towns, and was a big factor in the success of the town—an early success that is still marked by a magnificent set of pubs, their shady verandahs lined up along the southern side of the main street. Their names record their old associations: the Union, the Railway, the Commercial, the Shakespeare*, the Globe—and the Artesian.
Etymology of a microphone
As I was reading about the technicalities of sound recording, I wondered where the lavalier microphone got its name—(a lavalier is the little microphone you sometimes see clipped to peoples’ shirts when they are interviewed on TV). I did some digging and here’s what I found.
What’s in a ballet shoe
Dancers and makers talk about pointe shoes, in this fascinating documentary.
In Sheffield (once the great centre of cutlery manufacture) the person who assembles and adjusts scissors is called a putter-together, sometimes putter-togetherer, often shortened to putter. It takes years to develop the skill and judgment to do this job really well.
In this video we see Cliff Denton at work. He is a putter at Ernest Wright & Sons Ltd, one of the few Sheffield businesses that still makes high quality scissors in the traditional way.
I have been at the Woodford Folk Festival for a couple of days, giving a little presentation about researching environmental issues.
Instead of the usual bring-your-own-tent arrangement, I stayed in Tent City. This is an area where somebody else has already put up the tents before you arrive, and has put comfortable beds in them. There is also a communal tent with a cold room, tables, chairs, and boiling water on tap—and a table with mains power where campers can charge their phones. When I looked, the table was covered with a mess of Apple iPhones, and very few other types.
Moon signals at Bustard Head
I found this in the Queensland Figaro newspaper, 24 September 1903. The same story also ran in the Launceston Examiner, the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, the Melbourne Argus, the Hobart Mercury, the Zeehan & Dundas Herald, and the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin:
It was while locum tenens at the rectory of Gladstone, Queensland (says a writer in Chambers’ Journal for August) that I became aware that moon-signals could be used in the same way as those of the sun. It was my duty to go to Bustard Head Lighthouse every few months to hold service and visit the Sunday-school and people of the station. I usually went by land, and rode 30 miles to Turkey Station; and as soon as I arrived Miss Maud Worthington, the daughter of the station owner, would at once heliograph the news of my arrival at Bustard Head, and enquire by use of an 8 in looking glass at what time a horse could be sent to meet me on the other side of the swampy ground, over which it was wiser to walk. There I was met by Mr Rookesby and his wife, who piloted me to the lighthouse station. Mr Rookesby is a well-known inventor in Queensland. He erected the heliograph between Turkey Station and the lighthouse, but failed to make communication with Gladstone, 84 miles off, either because an 8 in mirror was too small, or because of other conditions peculiar to the lie of the country. He then experimented with signalling by moonlight, and discovered that—notwithstanding the feeble light of the moon as compared with sunlight—owing to the darkness of the night, the moon’s reflections were quite powerful enough to carry the intervening 10 miles between the two stations.
A severe blow
A while ago in Dunedin I visited the Otago Settlers Museum, an institution founded in 1898, the 50th anniversary of the first Scottish settlement of Otago. In the beginning the museum focused on the earliest European arrivals—from 1848 until 1861 when the gold rush started. The focus gradually widened to acknowledge more recent arrivals and, eventually, the Māori people who had been there all along. In 2012 the museum was renamed Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. Toitū is the Māori name of a stream that once flowed near the site, and the word carries other connotations, as the museum website explains.
In the museum is an ‘early colonists’ gallery, purpose-built in the early 1900s. In this large square room, lit by lantern windows at the top of the hipped ceiling, there are hundreds of framed photographs stacked six rows high. It’s very impressive, and gives the impression that anybody who can’t point to an ancestor on the wall is a newcomer.
Making rasps and rifflers
I have some cabinetmaker’s rasps in my kit, but they are the common machine-made kind. I have never used a hand-made rasp. Perhaps I should.
Rasps and rifflers are still made by hand in the old way by a few small manufacturers, like Forge de Saint Juery. The video below shows how much skilled handwork goes into making these tools, which explains why they are rather expensive. To justify the cost, it is claimed that hand stitched rasps work better and cut smoother than the machine made ones, as Chris Schwarz explains»more»
Some work I’m doing at Cape Moreton Lighthouse prompted me to do just one more search for historical photographs and drawings online. At the National Archives I found something new—this drawing (item 1717447), signed by W Wilkins, lighthouse engineer of Long Acre, London, of a proposal for Cape Moreton lighthouse, the first lighthouse in Queensland and the only one built of stone.»more»
Kodak in collapse
The news that Kodak has filed for bankruptcy in the US prompts me to think about this company, which dominated the commercial and technical aspects of photography throughout the twentieth century. Among the many Kodak products I have used, I fondly remember my first two cameras, the Carousel projector, Kodachrome film, the 100 mm Wide Field Ektar lens on my first 4x5 camera, and countless Austral postcards.
In 1888, with the introduction of the first Kodak camera George Eastman changed photography by allowing ordinary people to take photos without needing their own darkroom. The camera was sold loaded with a roll of film that could take 100 pictures. Owners sent the camera back to the Kodak factory for processing, printing and reloading. Hence Kodak’s slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.”
This was a social transformation as great, in its time, as the introduction of the mobile phone camera.
I haven’t shot any Kodachrome for years, but I feel a slight sadness knowing that I’ll never be able to do so again. Kodak stopped selling the film a year ago, and the last Kodachrome lab in the world (Dwayne’s Photo Service, in Kansas) will stop processing the film in the next few days. This marks the end of a long run—since 1935—for a film that was noted for its sharpness, colour fidelity and archival stability.»more»
Gentle reader, if you know where this photograph was taken, please send me a message. The picture shows a small town gasworks, newly built or under construction. In front of the camera is the gas holder with five blokes sitting or standing on the empty vessel. Behind on the left is a shed (for storing feed stock?) and in the centre a brick building (the retort house?). No chimneys are visible (odd?). The style of the photographic print suggests a date in the 1870s, ’80s or ’90s. The name of the photographer suggests the place shown may be one of the 61 former gasworks sites in New South Wales. Any ideas?
Bill Blair, trug maker
I was in New Zealand last week studying Oamaru’s wonderful Victorian limestone buildings. Beside the harbour I found Bill Blair. In an old tin shed he makes wooden rakes, pitch forks, grain shovels, firewood carriers and other products of woodland hand craft. His best-selling item is the Sussex trug, a type of wooden basket which he makes in a range of sizes. I bought one as a gift for my long-suffering partner Margie, who I had left holding the fort while I enjoyed this solo sabbatical.»more»
On 24 August 1942 R A Cook, wheelwright and blacksmith of Goondiwindi, wrote a note on his printed invoice paper. I can’t be sure of the name of the recipient, but the note went like this:
Just a line to ask you if you can supply me with some river oak billets for bullock yokes. They want to be 4ft 11 long by 6 x 6. If you can, let me know what price for same. I require (15) Fifteen and I want them quick.
Found on Wikipedia Commons, this beautiful woodcut of Japanese sawyers cutting some heroic planks. Neither of the sawyers, nor the saw doctor, have time to enjoy the view of Mount Fuji, but their lady companions might. I recommend following the link to the high resolution version.»more»
Keeping up appearances
My old push bike has started to look daggy parked outside the polished granite foyers of city offices. It rides well, but the frame is rusty and the back tyre is balding. Time for a makeover and spoke-polishing.»more»
Timber and iron in the smart colony
Yesterday I gave a talk at the Queensland Museum, part of a series called Queensland Connections. In this series, speakers about cultural heritage subjects are teamed with Queensland Museum staffers who talk about natural environment subjects. The result is short talks and odd double-bills.»more»
Chinese furniture joints
I’m grateful to Curtis Evarts for the information about classical Chinese furniture on his website, including some animated images showing how joints were assembled.»more»
Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology have been studying Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884. Their research paper describes their work—here’s the abstract:
George Seurat first employed his divisionist painting technique on A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884 beginning in October 1885. Painting with pigments representing colors seen in the visible spectrum that were minimally mixed on the palette and using divided brushstrokes, he aimed to impart luminosity to the surface and to explore 19th century ideas of color theory, such as simultaneous contrast. Pigment analysis has disclosed that the brushwork containing zinc yellow has darkened significantly: Yellow, green-yellow, and orange brushstrokes have become brown, olive-green, and reddish brown, respectively. Additionally, the painting has further darkened due to the natural aging of the oil medium. By performing spectral reflectance measurements in-situ on darkened areas of the painting and on paint-outs of comparable unaltered colors, using Kubelka-Munk turbid media theory, imaging the painting with colormanaged digital photography, and image editing with Adobe Photoshop, a digital version of the original, more luminous appearance of La Grande Jatte was simulated.»more»
On sewerhistory.org you’ll find writings and images illustrating the history of sewerage systems. It’s based on the work of Jon Schladweiler, historian of the Arizona Water & Pollution Control Association. (Thanks to Pruned for pointing this out.)»more»
Health versus Roads
A Sydney newspaper article reveals a piece of single-minded planning.»more»
Discussion of the ingredients of cutler’s resin continued on the oldtools list today. Steven Longley has turned up an American supplier of pine resin, also called brewer’s pitch. You can buy it from Jas Townsend & Son, Inc.
Daniel E L Yurwit added this to the exchange:
FWIW, the Apache also made jugs woven from plant fiber (a “tuss”) to carry water, and coated them heavily with pine tar resin to waterproof them. Some still work effectively 100+ years later.»more»
Pardon me, as I jot down a recipe. Cutler’s resin is 8 oz pine pitch, 1/4 cup carnauba wax and 4 oz of beeswax, melted together in a double boiler and used hot. Mark Marsay wrote on the oldtools mailing list:»more»
The way we do business in the military
From a mailing list message from an American soldier in Afghanistan:
Technology has changed the way we do business in the military. It does seem somewhat bizarre to have unfettered internet access in the middle of nowhere. I can sit in my tent with my ThinkPad and email, IM, and browse the internet the same as if I was sitting in my living room back in Georgia. Myself and 39 other buddies purchased a satellite system from an outfit out of India. The ISP is actually in Germany and we get just about T1 bandwidth which is split up 40 ways if everyone is on (which doesn’t occur due to different work shifts). We “beam” it out via Wi-Fi to the different tents. Even our aircraft (I’m in a CH-47 Chinook unit) are on an intranet of sorts. The system called Blue Force Tracker allows secure tracking of all the different aircraft (and ground elements) within the theater real time. We can email between aircraft and to our headquarters during flight…all with satellite technology. I’ve hardly sent a snail mail letter since I’ve been here.
Scaling the underground
Thanks to Jason Kottke for pointing out a collection of maps of subway systems of the world, presented on the same scale.»more»
If you don’t have easy access to Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie you might like to know it is being published on the web by the University of Chicago. This is from the website introduction:»more»
Crocodiles in space
From a Queensland government media release dated 11 December 2003: Environment Minister Dean Wells today launched a new Environmental Protection Agency website to highlight research involving the tracking by satellite of six large estuarine crocodiles as part of a world-first research project.»more»
iTunes for Windows
‘Hell froze over’ said the image behind Steve Jobs at the launch of iTunes for Windows the other week. It’s a free download from Apple. Kiri Te Kanawa is singing to me now. Rejoice!»more»
Mobiles and the appropriation of place
Cultural anthropolist Mizuko Ito has written an article about the way mobile phones are changing the experience of being together for young Japanese people:»more»
Stopping the Kodak Carousel
I have seen this message posted to various internet mailing lists:
Eastman Kodak Company has confirmed plans to discontinue the manufacture and sales of slide projection products and accessories in June of 2004. This early disclosure is being made to key user groups in order to allow time for adoption of a replacement technology or purchase of backup slide projector products.
Melting metal in a microwave oven
David Reid has been working on this new method.
Research is nearing completion on a system that will allow the melting and casting of bronze, silver, gold, and even cast iron, using an unmodified domestic microwave oven as the energy source. A potential foundry in every kitchen !!
Adam Stubblefield, an intern with Microsoft Research, thought that our ability to tell ourselves unique stories about inkblots might be a secret key to a strong digital lock—the online password. [from research.microsoft.com via kottke.org].»more»
Too much bamboo
Yes Jeremy, there is such a thing as too much bamboo.
Outside my study window, on the other side of the road, is a stand of bamboo. It grows intermixed with Bougainvillea and brings me pleasure as it waves in the breeze.»more»
Digital Gutenberg bibles II»more»
The computer in front of me is my ninth. Its predecessors averaged less than two years on my desk. The superseded computers have trickled down to other people, then been sold or given away. When last seen, all of them worked well but couldn’t manage the latest software — practical proof of Parkinson’s law of data. Here’s the list of PCs and where I last saw them:»more»
More online exhibitions: The Science Museum puts neat little exhiblets on its website. Like Blockmaking, eight pages about machines from the Royal Navy block factory, set up in 1805. The factory pioneered mechanised production of large numbers of identical widgets. Lots of blocks (which sailors never call pulleys) were needed on sailing ships — the exhiblet tells us that a seventy-four gun ship needs 922 of them. So the ship’s block was a good candidate for factory production.»more»
Briarpress.org has a delicious online museum. Dozens of virtual printing presses are here, richly linked and organised, displayed with other tools of the trade. And there is an illustrated glossary of letterpress terms—handy if you don’t know your frisket from your tympan. I admire the clarity of words, pictures and navigation. My congratulations to Eric Nevin and the other authors.»more»
The Morse Telegraph Club is a group of enthusiasts interested in any topic concerned with Morse code and telegraphy. Probably the biggest constituency in the club is retired landline Morse operators. Each year, the various chapters around the country meet on Professor Morse’s birthday to remember the good old days of landline telegraphy and the heyday of the railroads. In addition, keys and sounders are dusted off and telegraph circuits are established with other chapters around the country. Morse code is soon heard clicking from sounders and greetings are received from friends in other chapters.
Read how it is done, with modems and phone lines.»more»
As old trades fade, amateurs take up some of them and support the market for all sorts of obscure stuff. Dr Rudolf Dick sells tools and materials for cabinet and musical instrument makers from a shop in Metten, Germany.»more»
James Surowiecki has written a history lesson about technological standardisation for Wired. He claims that standards have had large economic and technological effects. OK, I agree. But he gives too much credit to just one man, William Sellers, who he calls a legend and the finest tool builder of his time.»more»
Digital Domesday Book fails
It was meant to be a showcase for Britain’s electronic prowess—a computer-based, multimedia version of the Domesday Book. But 16 years after it was created, the £2.5 million BBC Domesday Project has achieved an unexpected and unwelcome status: it is now unreadable. From an article in The Observer.
Digital Gutenberg bibles
In March 2000, ten researchers and technical experts from Keio University in Tokyo and from NTT spent two weeks in The British Library creating digital images of the two [Gutenberg] Bibles and the other related items.»more»
Why a Strad sounds so good
Dr Joseph Nagyvary attributes the brilliant sound of Antonio Stradivari’s violins to borax and alum, used as insecticides.»more»
Lumberjacks in wetsuits
The Superior Water-Logged Lumber Co., Inc. of Ashland, Wisconsin, makes a business of pulling sunken logs out of lakes and rivers. Some of this old-growth birch, oak and maple escaped from log rafts and sank more than a hundred years ago. The company promotes the timber for making musical instruments, because of its colour and density, and because of the effects of its long immersion:»more»
Yesterday’s score from Archives Fine Books in Brisbane: A Diderot pictorial encyclopedia of trades and industries: 485 plates selected from “L’Encyclopédie” of Denis Diderot (2 vols, Dover, 1959).»more»