Quotulatiousness

January 21, 2017

Proof that we are living in a wonderful time

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:28

Published on 14 Oct 2016

Easily cook up to 6-strips of regular or thick cut bacon in minutes with the Bacon Express! Vertical cooking drains away grease for healthier bacon! Removable non-stick cooking plate and insulated door liners make for easy cleanup. Making bacon is easier than ever!

H/T to Georgia Reams for the link.

QotD: 1815’s other triumph

Filed under: Britain, Economics, History, Quotations, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[In] 1815, George Stephenson, a humble, self-taught engine-wright with an impenetrable Geordie accent (to which he probably gave the name), put together all the key inventions that — at last — made steam locomotion practicable: the smooth wheels, counter-intuitively less likely to slip if heavily laden; the steam-blast into the chimney to accelerate the draught over the coals; the vertical cylinders connecting directly with the wheels; the connecting rods between the wheels. A year later came his redesign of rails themselves, then later his multi-tubular boiler.

As his biographer, Samuel Smiles, put it:

    “Thus, in the year 1815, Mr Stephenson, by dint of patient and persevering labour … had succeeded in manufacturing an engine which … as a mechanical contrivance, contained the germ of all that has since been effected. It may in fact be regarded as the type of the present locomotive engine.”

Suddenly the movement of goods and people fast and cheaply over long distances became possible for the first time.

Not content with that, in 1815 Stephenson also invented the miner’s safety lamp (though snobbish London grandees, unable to conceive that such a humble man could have done so, gave and have continued to this day to give the credit to Sir Humphry Davy). The year of Waterloo was an annus mirabilis of the industrial revolution, putting Britain on course to dominate and transform the world, whether we beat Boney or not. Steam, followed by its offspring internal combustion and electricity, would catapult humankind into prosperity.

Incidentally, there is a tenuous connection between Napoleon and Stephenson. If Bonaparte’s conquests and the corn laws had not driven up the price of corn, then horse feed would have been cheaper and the coal owners who employed Stephenson would not have risked so much money in letting him build a machine to try to find a less expensive way to pull wagons of coals from the pithead in Killingworth to the staithes on the Tyne.

Matt Ridley, “Waterloo or railways”, Matt Ridley Online, 2015-06-18.

January 18, 2017

QotD: The original “spinsters”

Filed under: Economics, History, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Whether they were captives in ancient Crete, orphans in the Florentine Ospedale degli Innocenti, widows in South India or country wives in Georgian England, women through the centuries spent their lives spinning, especially after water wheels freed up time previously devoted to grinding grain. Turning fibre into thread was a time-consuming, highly skilled craft, requiring dexterity and care. Even after the spread of the spinning wheel in the Middle Ages, the finest, most consistent yarn, as well as strong warp threads in general, still came from the most ancient of techniques: drop spinning, using a hooked or notched stick with a weight as a flywheel.

Spinning was the major bottleneck in making cloth. In the late 18th century, the thriving worsted industry in Norwich in the east of England employed 12,000 looms but 10 times as many spinners producing fine wool thread. The demand for spinning was so high, estimates the economic historian Craig Muldrew, that it employed more than a million married women in an English workforce of 4 million, providing about a third of the income of poorer families.

A spinster is a woman who spins. Unmarried women with no children and few domestic chores could work longer hours without distraction, earning as much as male day-labourers and, Muldrew suggests, possibly delaying or even avoiding marriage. Spinning also gave poor girls a more lucrative option than domestic service, leading to complaints of a servant shortage. With labour short and wages high, the eve of the Industrial Revolution was a great time to be a spinster.

But a bottleneck is a problem waiting to be solved, and inventors started looking for ways to get more thread with less labour. Like self-driving cars or cheap, clean energy today, spinning machines seemed obviously desirable. In 1760, Britain’s Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce offered prizes for ‘a Machine that will spin Six Threads of Wool, Flax, Cotton, or Silk at one time, and that will require but one Person to work it’.

Nobody won, but within a few years the northern English carpenter James Hargreaves introduced the spinning jenny. It was, writes the economic historian Beverly Lemire in Cotton (2011), ‘the first robust machine that could consistently produce multiple spindles of thread from the effort of a single spinster’. Soon after, his fellow Lancastrian inventor Richard Arkwright refined mechanical spinning with water-powered innovations that improved thread quality and integrated carding and roving (twisting fibres to prepare them for spinning) into a single process. Arkwright’s mills decisively moved thread production from the cottage to the factory.

It was suddenly a bad time to be a spinster, or a family whose household income depended in part on spinning.

Virginia Postrel, “Losing the Thread: Older than bronze and as new as nanowires, textiles are technology — and they have remade our world time and again”, Aeon, 2015-06-05.

November 27, 2016

QotD: Fabric as technology

Filed under: History, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In February 1939, Vogue ran a major feature on the fashions of the future. Inspired by the soon-to-open New York World’s Fair, the magazine asked nine industrial designers to imagine what the people of ‘a far Tomorrow’ might wear and why. (The editors deemed fashion designers too of-the-moment for such speculations.) A mock‑up of each outfit was manufactured and photographed for a lavish nine-page colour spread.

You might have seen some of the results online: an evening dress with a see-through net top and strategically placed swirls of gold braid, for instance, or a baggy men’s jumpsuit with a utility belt and halo antenna. Bloggers periodically rediscover a British newsreel of models demonstrating the outfits while a campy narrator (‘Oh, swish!’) makes laboured jokes. The silly get‑ups are always good for self-satisfied smirks. What dopes those old-time prognosticators were!

The ridicule is unfair. Anticipating climate-controlled interiors, greater nudity, more athleticism, more travel and simpler wardrobes, the designers actually got a lot of trends right. Besides, the mock‑ups don’t reveal what really made the predicted fashions futuristic. Looking only at the pictures, you can’t detect the most prominent technological theme.

‘The important improvements and innovations in clothes for the World of Tomorrow will be in the fabrics themselves,’ declared Raymond Loewy, one of the Vogue contributors. His fellow visionaries agreed. Every single one talked about textile advances. Many of their designs specified yet-to-be-invented materials that could adjust to temperature, change colour or be crushed into suitcases without wrinkling. Without exception, everyone foretelling the ‘World of Tomorrow’ believed that an exciting future meant innovative new fabrics.

They all understood something we’ve largely forgotten: that textiles are technology, more ancient than bronze and as contemporary as nanowires. We hairless apes co-evolved with our apparel. But, to reverse Arthur C Clarke’s adage, any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable from nature. It seems intuitive, obvious – so woven into the fabric of our lives that we take it for granted.

Virginia Postrel, “Losing the Thread: Older than bronze and as new as nanowires, textiles are technology — and they have remade our world time and again”, Aeon, 2015-06-05.

November 13, 2016

Olympic Games 1916 – Reaction To Tanks – Barbed Wire I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 12 Nov 2016

It’s time for another exciting episode of Out Of The Trenches. This week we talk about the Olympic Games 1916, how the Germans reacted to the first tanks and about barbed wire.

November 4, 2016

Blend your own favourite wines right at your kitchen table

Filed under: Technology, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Economist, a look at a very different kind of wine appliance:

vinfusion-machineTo create a new wine the customer manipulates three sliders on a touch screen attached to the machine. One moves between the extremes of “light” and “full-bodied”. A second runs from “soft”, via “mellow” to “fiery”. The third goes from “sweet” to “dry”. No confusing descriptions like “strawberry notes with a nutty aftertaste” are needed.

The desired glass is then mixed from tanks of each of the four primaries, hidden inside the machine’s plinth. The requisite quantities are pumped into a transparent cone-shaped mixing vessel on top of the plinth. Added air bubbles ensure a good, swirling mix and flashing light-emitting diodes give a suitably theatrical display.

Traditionalists may be appalled by all this, but they should not be. In Mr Wimalaratne’s mind, the function of the Vinfusion system is in principle little different from the blending of grape varieties that goes on in many vineyards, to produce wines more interesting than those based on a single variety. Moreover, if Vinfusion works as intended, it will let people experiment with oenological flavours in a way that is currently impossible and which lets them discover what appeals. A decent sommelier ought then to be able to recommend wines vinified in the conventional way that will taste similar.

In the longer run, recording and collating the requests made to a group of Vinfusion machines might even help restaurants and bars stock bottles that people will like, rather than merely tolerate. And if all this happens, the snobbery and mystique surrounding wine—whether blended in the vineyard or the restaurant—may disappear for good.

The selected “component” wines are chosen for their vintage-to-vintage consistency, so that there’s a lower variability in the wines used to blend your personal selection. This almost certainly wouldn’t work as well with wines from cool climate areas (like Ontario).

October 23, 2016

Technical vs. Tactical Innovation – German Officers in the Ottoman Army I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 22 Oct 2016

Start your free trial of the Great Courses Plus at: http://ow.ly/KUvh30491YZ

Indy is sitting int he chair of wisdom again and answers all your questions about the First World War. This week we talk about technical and tactical innovation, pals battalions and the German officers in the Ottoman Army.

September 17, 2016

A contrarian view of the introduction of the tank

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Samizdata, Patrick Crozier gets all contrarian about the tank in a post he titles “Haig’s greatest mistake”:

On 15 September 1916 tanks made their debut at Flers-Courcelette, one of the many engagements which took place during the Battle of the Somme.

The battle marked the beginning of a sorry chapter in British military history because the truth – a truth that to this day few seem prepared to acknowledge – is that the First World War tank was useless.

The list of its failings is lengthy. It was slow, it was unreliable, it had no suspension and it was horrible to operate. The temperature inside was typically over 100°F and as exhaust gases built up so crew effectiveness collapsed. It was also highly vulnerable. Field artillery could take it out easily. Even rifle ammunition could be effective against it. While normal bullets might not be able to penetrate the armour they could knock off small pieces of metal from the inside – known as spall – which then whizzed round the interior wounding all and sundry.

That the tank was the brainchild of Winston Churchill from his days as head of the Admiralty should have alerted senior commanders to the possibility that it was yet another of his crackpot schemes. But they persisted. For his part, Haig being a technophile put a huge amount of faith in the new invention. His diary is littered with references to the tank and he seems to have made great efforts to secure ever more of them. In consequence, huge amounts of effort went into a technological dead end when it would have been far better spent on guns, shells and fuzes.

Not that such efforts were ever likely to satisfy the snake-oil salesmen who made up the ranks of the tank enthusiasts. In the face of tank failure after tank failure they simply claimed that their beloved weapon just wasn’t being used properly.

September 16, 2016

Beasts of Steel – The First Tanks On The Battlefield I THE GREAT WAR Week 112

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 15 Sep 2016

For years the British had developed the idea of the “landship” or tank and now it was finally ready for the first deployment during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. And even though technical problems plagued the new invention, the British leadership was confident that this new weapon would break the stalemate at the Western Front for good. In the meantime Germany was focusing all offensive efforts on the Romanian front to mercilessly crush the new enemy.

September 13, 2016

Tank Development in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 12 Sep 2016

The idea for an armoured vehicle that could withstand fire and travel across battlefields was already developed in 1914 after the Race to the Sea. The British “Landship Committee” developed the tank weapon in secrecy. The French were also trying out different designs at the same time. Learn all about the development and the invention of the tank in our special episode.

April 17, 2016

QotD: “Thought collectives” in science

Filed under: Quotations, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In a 2015 paper titled Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?, a team of scholars at the National Bureau of Economic Research sought an empirical basis for a remark made by the physicist Max Planck: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

The researchers identified more than 12,000 “elite” scientists from different fields. The criteria for elite status included funding, number of publications, and whether they were members of the National Academies of Science or the Institute of Medicine. Searching obituaries, the team found 452 who had died before retirement. They then looked to see what happened to the fields from which these celebrated scientists had unexpectedly departed, by analysing publishing patterns.

What they found confirmed the truth of Planck’s maxim. Junior researchers who had worked closely with the elite scientists, authoring papers with them, published less. At the same time, there was a marked increase in papers by newcomers to the field, who were less likely to cite the work of the deceased eminence. The articles by these newcomers were substantive and influential, attracting a high number of citations. They moved the whole field along.

A scientist is part of what the Polish philosopher of science Ludwik Fleck called a “thought collective”: a group of people exchanging ideas in a mutually comprehensible idiom. The group, suggested Fleck, inevitably develops a mind of its own, as the individuals in it converge on a way of communicating, thinking and feeling.

This makes scientific inquiry prone to the eternal rules of human social life: deference to the charismatic, herding towards majority opinion, punishment for deviance, and intense discomfort with admitting to error. Of course, such tendencies are precisely what the scientific method was invented to correct for, and over the long run, it does a good job of it. In the long run, however, we’re all dead, quite possibly sooner than we would be if we hadn’t been following a diet based on poor advice.

Ian Leslie, “The sugar conspiracy”, Guardian, 2016-04-07.

April 4, 2016

Inventions That Changed the World – The Gun

Filed under: History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

March 3, 2016

The economic consequences of sustained cheap oil

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Tim Harford explains why cheaper oil is generally speaking good for the economy:

After years in which $100 oil was the norm, the price of Brent crude is now around a third of that. Assume for a moment that Russia and Saudi Arabia fail in their efforts to get the price back up. Will $30 oil change the world? The answer is yes, of course. Everything is connected to everything else in economics, and that is particularly true when it comes to oil. For all the talk of the weightless economy, we’re not quite so post-industrial as to be able to ignore the cost of energy. Because oil is versatile and easy to transport, it remains the lubricant for the world’s energy system.

The rule of thumb has always been that while low oil prices are bad for the planet, they’re good for the economy. Last year a report from PwC estimated that a permanent fall in the price of oil by $50 would boost the size of the UK economy by about 1 per cent over five years, since the benefits — to most sectors but particularly to heavy industry, agriculture and air travel — would outweigh the costs to the oil production industry itself.

That represents the conventional wisdom, as well as historical experience. Oil was cheap throughout America’s halcyon years of the 1950s and 1960s; the oil shocks of the 1970s came alongside serious economic pain. The boom of the 1990s was usually credited to the world wide web but oil prices were very low and they soared to record levels in the run-up to the great recession. We can debate how important the oil price fluctuations were but the link between good times and cheap oil is not a coincidence.

Here’s a piece of back-of-the-envelope economics. The world consumes nearly 100 million barrels a day of oil, which is $10bn a day — or $3.5tn a year — at the $100 price to which we’ve become accustomed. A sustained collapse in the oil price would slice more than $2tn off that bill — set against a world economic output of around $80tn, that’s far from trivial. It is a huge transfer from the wallets of oil producers to those of oil consumers.

February 25, 2016

Soldier Salary, Flying Aces And WW1 Inventions I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 22 Feb 2016

It’s chair of wisdom time again. This time Indy is talking about the salary of a soldier, the flying aces of the other fronts next to the Western Front and important inventions of World War 1 that you use every day.

February 12, 2016

QotD: Military developments from 1870 onwards

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The period of Colonial expansion coincided with three major developments in weapon-power: the general adoption of the small-bore magazine rifle, firing smokeless powder; the perfection of the machine gun; and the introduction of quick-firing artillery.

By 1871, the single-shot breech-loading rifle had reached so high a standard of efficiency that the next step was to convert it into a repeating, or magazine, rifle. Although the idea was an old one, it was not fully practicable until the adoption of the all-metal cartridge case, which reduced jamming in the breech. The first European power to introduce the magazine rifle was Germany who, in 1884, converted her 1871 pattern Mauser rifle to the magazine system; the magazine was of the tube type inserted in the fore-end under the barrel, it held eight cartridges. In 1885, France adopted a somewhat similar rifle, the Lebel, which fired smokeless powder — an enormous advantage. Next, in 1886, the Austrians introduced the Mannlicher with a box magazine in front of the trigger guard and below the entrance to the breech. And two years later the British adopted the .303 calibre Lee-Metford with a box magazine of eight cartridges, later increased to ten. By 1900 all armies had magazine rifles approximately of equal efficiency, and of calibres varying from .315 to .256; all were bolt operated, fired smokeless powder, and were sighted to 2,000 yards or metres.

Simultaneously with the development of the magazine rifle proceeded the development of the machine gun — another very old idea. Many types were experimented with and some adopted, such as the improved Gatling, Nordenfeldt (1873), Hotchkiss (1875), Gardner (1876), Browning (1889) and Colt (1895). The crucial year in their development was 1884, when Hiram S. Maxim patented a one barrel gun which loaded and fired itself by the force of its recoil. The original model weighed 40lb., was water cooled and belt fed, and 2,000 rounds could be fired from it in three minutes. It was adopted by the British army in 1889, and was destined to revolutionize infantry tactics.

The introduction of quick-firing artillery arose out of proposals made in 1891 by General Wille in Germany and Colonel Langlois in France. They held that increased rate of fire was impossible unless recoil on firing was absorbed. This led to much experimental work on shock absorption, and to the eventual introduction of a non-recoiling carriage, which permitted of a bullet-proof shield being attached to it to protect the gun crew. Until this improvement in artillery was introduced, the magazine rifle had been the dominant weapon, now it was challenged by the quick-firing gun, which not only outranged it and could be fired with almost equal rapidity, but could be rendered invisible by indirect laying.

J.F.C. Fuller, The Conduct of War, 1789-1961, 1961.

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