Saturday, April 30, 2016

Postblogging Technology, March 1946, II: More Work and Better Pay!



Fraternal Brother Liu Chu Wan!

Have received your latest. Please make arrangements have my cousin at the train station in Revelstoke this Wednesday. I will have  driver take him to a boat, which he will hopefully find less distressing than an auto trip to Galena, and from there to the usual place. Hopefully, his stay will be as short as his last. I am attending to the matter of having the other parties released from custody without press coverage. It is not the usual reason that our fraternal brothers approach police reporters, but it is not unprecedented, either. 

Now, as to patching up matters with the neighbour. I should think that it would be better that you approach him. Unless he be blinded by colour, this will be less rich in insult. If it be your mistress, one is reminded of the infidelity. If it be me, it is one rich old man covering up for another. Even another rich old man might find this offensive! As to the offer, I think little harm done to the girl herself, thank Heavens, and that money is not too crass for the circumstance. 

It is her friend, the neighbour's daughter who concerns me. Her reaction is frankly not normal. Shooting at people is rarely normal! Yet, whatever her father's reaction to these revelations, blood is still a bond. He may feel that he needs to support his daughter, however mad.

So what I propose, to put it baldly, is to take charge of her life by finding her a complacent husband while she is away at college. I assume that she is going away to college, and I am going to put Vassar forward. It is perfectly suitable, especially to a social climber like this man, and I have friends there. For the husband, you may assure the father that I have long experience in these matters of finding husbands who can be trusted to do their matrimonial duties as often as required, and otherwise stay well out of the way. If the diplomacy here seems beyond you, I will be in Vancouver by Friday, where I can make the terms clear.  And, I suppose, in the East after that, although this is probably not the place for self-pity. 

Your Loving Elder Brother, Tay Chao She

R_.C_.
Shaugnessy,
Vancouver,
 Canada.

Dear Sir:

I am so very sorry to hear of your recent difficulties, and will write you via G/D, Nakusp soonest. Now that exams are over, your son can be in Vancouver until he has to leave for Bikinni, and for greater convenience, "Miss V.C." has volunteered to drive him up.



"GRACE."


Friday, April 22, 2016

Postblogging Technology, March 1946, I: Tuxedo Park is Melting in the Rain

Mr. R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy, 
Vancouver, Canada

My Dear Father:

I hope that this letter finds your convalescence well advanced. The nerve of the Government, keeping a man of  your age under such strain, so long, and for such absurd reasons! Thanks to your letter, at least I understand the concern better now. The more that I hear about the effects of one of those pedestrian, old-fashioned "regular" atom bombs at Nagasaki, the less I want to know about tritium-boosted "super" bombs. 

But you are released, and all it cost you was being delivered through your front door in a wheelchair. I wonder what your neighbours thought when the Army ambulance pulled up the back lane?

For us here in Santa Clara, it is a moment to be amazed at just how quickly the academic year comes to an end. "Miss V.C." is a sight unseen, up in her rooms at the junior college in Palo Alto, preparing for final examinations. (Or so she says.) Equally little is heard from your son, and that in spite of his work for the Navy, which is apparently extending over a machine shop in New Haven, where Ensign Wong is now seconded from his Alaskan vacation paradise. One delightful by-product of this is that your youngest has seen rather more of "Lieutenant A.," who is  hard on the heels of a supposed Communist spy ring operating at Yale. 

As I mention below, Uncle George has finally resumed an interest in business, and will be your neck of the woods --almost-- over the next week, on a fact-finding tour of the smelter at Trail. It is not the kind of business which engages his interests, but news of the world lead shortage cannot be ignored. He is also gently probing the possible resumption of the "all Red route." The harbour transfers are getting hair-raising, and I would much prefer to see our new clients dropped politely off on some rain-soaked British Columbia dock, if that is possible. If the civil war really does resume next year, we will have more business than we would care to contemplate were it not for the need to keep the Benevolent Associations happy. It is so frustrating. Parents and kin are one thing. It is the old men shopping for spouses for their grandsons who frustrate me. Just get an American girl for your boy, I want to yell at them, but it will do me no good. The New World has a corrupting effect on filial piety, it is firmly and sincerely explained. 

A charts-topping hit of 1959 invites us to reconsider the question of bringing down Western Civilisation. If you want to skip ahead, there is a linked video with a less offensive version, if you have autoplay activated. Otherwise, it's on to Gunther's version. 

So, if we can find a port in British Columbia through which we can move people, it would be good to have the procedures for "midnight baptisms" at the river crossing nailed down.  The Canadians built up all sorts of bases on the coast during the late war. Perhaps there is someone at one or the other of them who would not mind a new stream of business? Then it will only be a matter of arranging road transport through the province to Trail. And there's the price of lead, zinc and copper to consider.

A final word: quite a large expenditure will appear in the accounts, appended. I make no apologies. Housing, never mind actual houses, are dear around San Francisco these days, never mind Berkeley,> It is expensive, I admit, but the loyalties of the Wongs and of Fat Chow, are not, to my mind, a negotiable asset. If there is blame, she said, quick to deflect it, blame our brave warriors, who have done noble work in their recent visits. To put it mildly, Queenie and "Miss v. Q" are not going to be in a position to share an apartment, especially with the littlest Wong walking already.  

Subtle subtext about the role of  a society's demographic profile in maintaining consumer demand is subtle.

"GRACE."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Looking For Alvin: The Debacle

This post leads from a comment I made over at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative to the effect that Canadian rural abandonment had become so severe that entire regions of British Columbia had been depopulated. 

I was kind of talking out of my ass, as commenters do in comment threads. I had the Lardeau Lake country along Highway 31 in mind as something I could point to, but it's a little weak, as the region is basically a string of old copper-boom ghost towns. Semi-abandoned mining towns don't count, except maybe  in Zenna Henderson short stories. So it occurred to me that I might check for something with a little higher impact. What is the closest "abandoned region" to the Greater Vancouver Regional District? You know, "Hollywood North?" Skyrocketing house prices? More than half the population of the province? Place where most of the jobs in Canada are being created now?" (Along with Toronto, but who cares about Toronto? Oddly second-wave British Columbia city, not even imagined when Port Douglas and Yale were being built?

What I found was a bit shocking. Also, something worth contemplating as the precarious staffing at my place of work came undone this week under one irreplaceable sick shift another. When, just for a non-dairy whipped topping, I had to deal with an elderly customer having a cerebral aneurysm and one of our hardest-working, minimum wage kids being crippled by one of the most easily treated chronic medical conditions it's possible to imagine. Since most of these things are related to demographics, it is easy to see them getting worse. It's also easy to imagine it getting worse, much quicker. That is, if I was being Chicken Little last week, I'm extra-crispy Chicken Little this week.

That's the preamble: now, audience participation. "Compare and contrast."

Compare:

Screen Capture from Panoramio, photo by niftynial.
"Generic footage of a German panzer division parading in Paris, 1940."
And contrast.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Postblogging Technology, February, 1946, II: Colour of Money




R._ C_.,
Chateau Laurier,
Ottawa, Canada

Dear Father:

After hanging fire for so long, the Canadian espionage story has finally broken; and, with it, the FBI's tacit admission that it has something. The rumours we hear, and probably you, is that she is a female Washington civil servant of loose morals who used to carry confidential documents for a number of people in President Roosevelt's circle. Including, it is darkly hinted, someone "largely responsible for Bretton Woods." Dark hints of that kind are probably best discouraged. One just does not know whether to kill them with obscurity, or with endless, boring talk. 

Probably obscurity. People seem, to have a limitless appetite for the tedious when it is dressed up with secret agents and national secrets.

Anyway, this is what we hear through the (former) "Miss v. Q.," who is now to go back to Washington with another batch of Naval GRU cipher texts. --which we will be charged with obtaining. I have made it very clear this time that we are not to hear from the Soongs, and that the FBI and the Navy are not to involve the Engineer, accordingly. Whether they respect my wishes is another matter, but if they can find a more readily disavowed burglar than Wong Lee, they are welcome to try. Uncle George tells me that he has some Italian friends. . . 

Proceedings towards Bikini proceed apace. Ensign Wong is already there, setting up shops for some grand new robot scheme. A robot tank was used at the last atomic bomb test, although not very successfully. At this one, they are talking about a robot plane. Your youngest son is competing for a chance to operate one, and your eldest is providing Allied expertise in the matter. He is also keen to get his feet wet with all of this atomic stuff, which, he says, is probably the future of naval propulsion. First, no black gangs. Now, no oil!

You may be glad to hear that Queenie has found accommodations for herself and the baby. "Miss V. C." has decided that she will stay in the city during the summer, pursuing research for her senior thesis, and will be moving into Professor  K.'s anthropological coach house until "Miss v. Q." returns from Virginia. The professor and his wife are pleased, because they think that she is a good influence on young "Miss K.," who is otherwise overly inclined to take refuge in her books and away from society. I am just happy that there will be people around "Miss V.C." while she does her research. Yes, the Oregon scandal was a long time ago, but that does not mean that there are not dangerous secrets. Why, as we learned last year, there are older secrets than that which are not entirely innocent today. (You will notice in the latest news someone poking Uncle George's friend with a stick.) 



"GRACE."




Saturday, April 2, 2016

Gather the Bones, XIX: Another Roadside Attraction

The Roadside Attraction Formerly Known as Bedrock City. Source. I remember reading the memoirs of an old B.C. forester, in which he described walking from Hope to Princeton over the old Dewdney Trail, now the Hope-Princeton Highway segment of Highway 3, in the mid-20s. He was young, and even though it took two-and-a-half days, it was still faster than taking the train through the Fraser Canyon and up to Kamloops, and then down through the Okanagan to his destination of Penticton. Walking. 
In the 21 February, 1946 issue of Newsweek, Our Editors took a break from "news significance" to give (Kentucky) Colonel Fain White King some free publicity in his campaign to sell his "Buried City" roadside attraction just outside the very small town of Wickliffe, Kentucky. (It's officially "part of the Paducah, KY-IN Micropolitan region." Micropolitan.) in the far southwest of the state, just above the delta. 

Currently for sale on Amazon.
And if you're wondering why I'm racing to put a blog post up about a news event in late February, 1946 on a Saturday morning before I leave for work --Actually, when I put it that way, you're not wondering.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Flying Colours: Recapping Research and Development at Mid-Century

Alvin Hansen famously said that one of the reasons that secular stagnation was happening was that technological innovation had stopped.

In 1938. He said that. It seems a little . . . odd. Although no odder than attempting to make the argument that technological change is coming to a halt right now. Don't we live in an era of ever-accelerating technical change, catapulting down the runway?



So that's an experimental gunpowder catapult launch of a Vickers Virginia in 1931.

In case you didn't get a good enough look at it in the video, here's another view of a Vickers Virginia.

High tech, circa 1924! It's got a metal frame, two Napier Lion engines, and can reach 5000ft in only 10 minutes. Technically, the service ceiling is 13,800ft, but it's not like you can expect to be able to bomb German steel plants from such science-fictiony altitudes. I mean, what about low cloud cover? You wouldn't be able to see them! And forget navigating when you can't check your astronomical fixes against ground features and calibrate air to ground speed with drift sights.

Replacing the Vickers Vimy in 1924, the Wikipedia article says that some of the 124 Virginias produced in the 1920s were still in "front line service" in 1938. It appears to  have been predeceased, if anything, by the 97 bomber-freighter-transport variants of Victorias and Valentias. It also says that the Virginia was "somewhat accident-prone, 81 being lost in service." 

You say "accident-prone," I say "widow-maker." Not the plane I'd choose for experiments in catapult-assisted takeoffs. That being said, the job of a "heavy" bomber is to carry more bombs, further, and one of the best ways of doing that is to increase the all-up-weight so that it can carry more fuel and bombs. Catapults are a means to that end. Below the fold, I'm going to talk about the goofy, goofy ways, that people tried to do that in the 1930s so that there could be commercial air service across the Atlantic, and reach for a comparison with the frustratingly long and sorry story of the introduction of colour television. 

It's a comparison that, I think,  has some relevance to the problem of technological innovation and seculary stagnation. Specifically, I am going to compare and contrast a couple of relevant developments in an attempt to show that what's important is not "research and development" taken in isolation, but the broad shoulders of the state, carrying the economy forward, where and when it is willing to be the investor of last resort. Once the research and development problems that could be solved without the state, were solved, all that was left was . . Well. All that's left is everything that still needs to be done in 1939. 

And that's why Alvin Hansen was actually right!

After the jump, some kind of hand gesture in the direction of trying to make the point.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Postblogging Technology, March 1946, I: Baking Alaska



By Kimberly Vardeman from Lubbock, TX, USA - Baked AlaskaUploaded by Willscrlt, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28575136
Mr. R_. C_.,
Chateau Laurier,
Ottawa, Canada.

Dear Father: 

I do not think that anyone imagined that, when you were called to Ottawa, you would be away so long! Well, now Mr. Gouzenko is in the news --although not, alas, due to my self-imposed limits, in this letter, and the fat is well in the fire. Or, the hot syrup is in the cold ice cream if you are cooking like Westinghouse. Hopefully, you will no longer be of use, and you can go  home and guard your gardens from teenagers looking for places to drink.

As you will know from the newspapers, the Russians have said that they received "offers of useless technical information." This might be taken as an admission that they know about the Americans' little "walk-in." Though I do not know if the FBI is conceding defeat yet. Not that anyone besides the Director is surprised! I suppose that now if the Americans want to know about the Presidents' aides who were allegedly involved, they will have to break the Russian one-time-pads, after all. I do not know if the Americans really want to do that, but, if they do, it's just as well that Wong Lee held on to a few of them. 

An innocent mistake, of course. He was distraught about domestic events, and became confused. We shall say. It will be very amusing. Some people are, of course, aware that the Soongs sent people to murder Great Uncle (and me, and my children) that night.

Your youngest is to report to Bikini for the summer; we have word that James' presence there is also expecteds. It will be very interesting, though it means he is not to get his full half-pay period. Your boy is down at mouth, somewhat, as I think he was hoping to spend his summer in a nice staff appointment in San Francisco or Honolulu. I had not the heart to disabuse him of the notion that he would get anything as nice in life as falls in Lieutenant A_'s lap. At least he is not exiled to Alaska, like Ensign Wong! 

As for Lieutenant A_ , he will be in Washington, "Miss V.C." tells us, and points contiguous, searching for hopefully imaginary (as leaving more time for jitterbugging) communists.  



"GRACE."