November 1, 2012

Recreational trench-building

Filed under: Britain, History, Military, WW1 — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:06

I’ve dug trenches, in my long-past militia days, but I’ve never really thought about doing it as a hobby:

Surrounded by barbed wire, sandbags and mud, this 60ft trench is barely distinguishable from those occupied by British soldiers fighting in the First World War almost a century ago.

The enormous dugout has been painstakingly recreated by an ex-history teacher in his back garden in Surrey, and the dedicated 55-year-old even spent 24 hours living in its confines with a team of volunteers as part of his efforts to experience life as a WWI soldier.

Andrew Robertshaw and 30 helpers spent a month shifting around 200 tonnes of earth to build the enormous three-room trench, which he hopes will teach people more about the horrific living conditions endured by British troops during the Great War.

The only thing that struck me about this and other photos in the article is that the re-enactors look too clean. Digging a trench, then spending more than a short stretch of time therein leaves dirt everywhere:

The American President

Filed under: Government, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:04

David Gewirtz has a thought about the awesome achievement of the American Presidency:

America has almost 3 million active and reserve military personnel. We spend almost $550 billion dollars each year on defense. According to the Federation of American Scientists, America has just about 5,000 nuclear warheads.

The United States Navy has about 300 ships, almost 4,000 aircraft, 71 submarines, and 11 aircraft carriers — each with more firepower than most nations. The United States has close to 9,000 battle-ready tanks. The United States Air Force has nearly 6,000 aircraft, 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and 32 satellites orbiting Earth under its direct control.

In other words, the United States has the most powerful military in the history of mankind.

And yet, every four to eight years, ultimate control of that incredible firepower changes hands — without a single shot being fired.

The art of (bad) customer service

Filed under: Business, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:02

James Lileks had to do the leg work himself to track down a part to fix his stove. After finally getting it, he wanted to express his frustration to the company that sold the stove (but didn’t carry the replacement part he needed):

So. I called Centerpoint, asked to speak to a manager, and had a nice friendly conversation about the fact that I found the part with elementary googling, and I had to pay for it and wait to be reimbursed.

Manager: we have supply channels and have to set up payment contracts and we can’t find anything, and what’s more blah, blah, blah.

To which I said I understood, but the fact of that matter was: I found the part in seconds, which means someone entered the part number into your system, it came up null, and that was it. They’d done their job. They’d checked the box. Move on to the next. So what I get as a customer of your service is that you don’t really look for the part. You search one closet and call it quits. Apparently there’s no leeway for your people to look elsewhere.

She understood my dissatisfaction, of course, but



Lie to me. Lie to me over and over: I understand your dissatisfaction AND I will be adding this company to our database. I understand your dissatisfaction AND I will be sending my boss a letter about expanding our searches and allowing for more individual initiative on the part of the part-procuring people. I understand your dissatisfaction AND apologize you’ll have to carry a $476 charge on your card while we process your request. I don’t care if none of that’s true. Just say it.

I still think they’re going to try to wiggle out of this somehow. I think my wife was right: they don’t want to fix it. They don’t want to pay for it.

All it took for me to be that cynical was a manager invested too deeply in company policy. I would have trusted them more if they’d lied.

The development of personal computing

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:09

At The Register, Tony Smith charts twenty significant items that lead to modern personal computers:

Personal computing. Personal. Computing. We take both aspects so completely for granted these days, it’s almost impossible to think of a time when computing wasn’t personal — or when there was no electronic or mechanical computing.

To get from there to here, we’ve gone from a time when ‘computers’ were people able to do perform complex calculations themselves, through mechanical systems intended to do the work for them and then to powered machines able to automate the process. These led to systems that could be programmed to perform not only mathematical tasks but to store and retrieve other forms of data, taking us right up to desktop devices for a one-on-one interaction with computing power.

Since then, that power has been compressed into smaller, more convenient packages: laptops, tablets and smartphones.

What a trip. In memory of the many people who have help us along, here then are some of the key stages of that journey, represented by the 20 objects that, to us, most embody the steps that brought us to where we are today.

It’s not a comprehensive list — and feel free to comment with the devices you think we should have included — but here are the first ten of our 20 items, from the early days up to the end of the 1970s. Part two will bring us from the 1980s to the present day.

Powered by WordPress