Thursday, December 29, 2016

Postblogging Technology, November 1946, II: To the Moon in '48!

R_. C._, 

Dear Father:

You will be glad to know that I  have approved both Miss M. and Miss J. It would have been most inconvenient to everyone if I had packed them back off on the train to Montreal! They seem compatible with the local nurses and with Fanny, and have given me a combined brief on the course of therapy for Vickie. Miss M. in particular is firmly confident that Vickie will grow up fully normal. I could not help thanking merciful Heaven at that, and got the queerest look. She is a very bright woman, and I wonder if she has guessed the nature of the household into which she has arrived? It would be a very difficult thing to keep secret from an inquisitive soul, short of throwing the tarps back over the floors in the main hall and the Whale Man. 

Speaking of family obligations, with the nursery sorted out, we attended the Big Game against Berkeley with "Miss V.C." and Lieutenant A. this last weekend. One team or another won, and Fat Wong was able to meet discreetly with "Miss Ch." and receive a package, which I have forwarded to Father. I am informed that several Soong couriers have passed through the airport on their way east since the election, and I was sorely tempted to demand drastic action. The least they could do is fly via Europe!

You've asked about investments. This month's news leaves me feeling vindicated about steel and aircraft. The aviation industry is clearly stepping back from their more ambitious plans. There will be no sales of the Constitution, and it is beginning to look as though the Rainbow is in trouble as well. (Although look for that to change if the Army really does send a rocket to the Moon. 

Uncle Henry was with us at the game, and soon rather grandly invited James and Uncle George off to whet their whistle and talk about how one or the other of Berkeley or the junior college placed the porkskin in the forks, as they say in football. But, really, he wanted to pester them about about magnesium.   

With autos, you will have heard about the scandal over the disposal of the Chicago Aircraft Engine plant. With Willow Run in the hands of our family con artist, someone at the War Assets Administration found another one to take on that white elephant. It is certainly not good news for the machine tool industry that the big auto firms are scaling back. It is even worse when entire buildings full of new capital equipment are going for a song. 

There's more. What this person did not know is that Wilson Wyatt already had plans for the plant. Specifically, he wants it for building prefabricated homes. I assume that this will mean metal buildings rather than concrete, wood, plastic, or viscose or asbestos or whatever else, and so will absorb some of the machine tools already installed there. 

That seems like an invitation to jump back into steel and light metals, but James thinks that, attractive as the idea of replacing our vast home construction industry with efficient, factory-made products is, it is just not on. How do you keep a metal house heated? How do you keep it from rusting? Yes, I know, aluminum and magnesium do not rust. They do catch fire, though! The point is, whatever happens at Chicago Dodge, it is not likely to include an enormous plant turning metal sheets into houses.

And I say that without even noticing that, after striking out (they do that in football, do they not?) with James and Uncle George, Uncle Henry pestered me about magnesium and autos. Only to give it a feminine touch, he talked about how light a magnesium perambulator would be.

Worst. Baby. Stroller. Ever.

Uncle Henry's antics aside, I think Uncle George continues to be right. Electronics is where we need to concentrate. The sky really is the limit, and I do not just mean radio stations on the Moon!  Where the more traditional sectors cannot possibly absorb much more capital equipment, all of the new FM and television stations will have to be completely equipped, and there is the tantalising possibility of region-, or even nationwide rebroadcasting facilities for the television networks. If that does not come true, then there is all the more prospect for magnetic tape recording. James says that the Philco board is ecstatic about the success of Uncle George's friend's new show, and the wider potential of tape distribution of recorded shows. Replacing live radio is one thing; taped soap operas are quite another.


If pre-recording means that Bing can go off speed, he might actually be able to sit down and enjoy some music.

Friday, December 23, 2016

An Agro-Technical Appendix, III: The American System

David Hounshell is the David M. Roderick Professor at Carnegie-Mellon and the author of  From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States [1985]. You should read one copy and buy two.
I started this series with a discussion that rambled on about farming, tractors, and ended with a discussion of the strategic consequences of human resources shortfalls on the Eastern Front. To some extent, that was a petulance. 

All honour to the mighty Red Army of Workers and Peasants!

Anyone can get irritated by fanboy enthusiasm. Talking about the deep operational art of Soviet forces, equipped with the world’s best tank, winning WWII while the Allies footled about out west  sure beats getting excited about the way that the superior fighting qualities of the Waffen SS reflect its racial purity! It does have consequences, however. The first, a dead issue now, is the idea of an unstoppable Red Army rolling over NATO to reach the Channel in three days. In the dead politics of the 1980s, such talk had consequences, even if those seem pretty harmless in retrospect. 
Maybe it helped get Thatcher elected? Although even that doesn't do much for the thesis considering that the Russians lost.

What's not important is the permanent misunderstanding that basically asserts that “Asiatic” or “Eastern” countries are exempt from the basic arithmetic of demographics because reasons. (Cloning tanks?) If Russia only had so many working age men and women, how did they keep the Army up to strength while manufacturing tanks and growing food? The answer is, first, that it didn’t, and, second, Allied aid. Throwing up either answer, seems to require being realistic about demographics and economics, and since that might lead us to uncomfortable places, well, why not talk about the Russian steamroller, instead?

Take America: Just today, Amazon was trhing to sell me another book about Pearl Harbour, with a subtitle something like “Awakening the Sleeping Giant.” [?] This is, of course, a perfectly clear account of exactly what happened. That 's why Admiral Yamamoto might have said it! The issue is, what made America a “sleeping giant?” Because if the answer is demographic –that America in 1941 had a population of 137 millions compared with Japan’s 73 (not counting Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria), then why is the comparison not: “Japan picks on a country that is a little less than twice as powerful as it, but, then, one that also had to fight Germany (and Italy, if it counts, and then all those Balkan countries and Finland, so there’s that, and, besides, Thailand was allied to Japan, so, wait, why the heck not, maybe China counted for more than you’d think?”)

The answer, as far as Japan goes (besides China --"March of the Volunteers" link) is that being a “giant” counts for more than population. America had a higher GDP/person, reflecting higher individual productivity. I’m told that economists of the day then explained this in terms of a higher ratio of capital investment to labour, but, if so, the advanced thinking of economists hadn’t percolated to all sectors of informed opinion, because your average Fortune editorial writer was aware that American productivity/person had been rising steadily since at least 1870, and did not always correlate with changes in capital investment rates. They would talk about the higher natural endowment of land and resources enjoyed by American workers, and also invention and technology, puzzles then as now.

This is not the place to answer profound questions about technological change, innovation and productivity increases. I mean, everybody is answering those questions these days! Maybe, though, it's a good place to ask those questions. Eventually, such an exercise might even be useful for those who prefer answering to questioning.*

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Postblogging Technology, November, 1946, I: Thirty Miles of Coal Smoke


Dear Father:

Again, thank you for all that you have done. In your reply to my telegraph, you ask why I veto Miss B., but am fine with Miss M. Yes, Miss M. is an eccentric. I know that a man isn't expected to notice these things, but If you look closely at the photograph, you will see that her "odd" dress is actually a safety-pinned window curtain! It would be one thing if her shoes were not so expensive, but as they are, I'm left to conclude that she thinks that she is being "creative." Which you could read between the lines in her letters of recommendation, anyway.

I'm sorry, I can't  explain, but my instincts are warning me about Miss B., while Miss M. strikes me as perfectly satisfactory as a physiotherapist. We're not hiring her as a lady's  maid! (Although she'd be much more economical if we did. Hmm. . . No, never mind.) Actually, I am confident that she is the best of the lot --even better than the highly recommended Miss J. I look forward to meeting them both at the train on Wednesday.

Vickie is doing well. She longs for more of her mother's touch than the iron lung will allow, although it is a very nice iron lung (something I need to remind myself of, whenever I fume about Uncle Henry's latest adventures), with room enough for me to crawl in with her for short periods. Fanny, with her girlish figure, is positively comfortable in there.

You write that you have been getting nowhere in the matter of Mr. and Mrs. Easton, and neither has the Earl. We simply must do better than that. Perhaps the civil war is all over but the shouting, but I cannot for the life of me believe that anything the Soongs put their hand to would ever turn out so well. If and when the Communists do advance across the Yang-tse, the Eastons must be able to enter Hong Kong, and I cannot believe that we have not made enough money for that side of the family for them not to bend on this matter.

If Uncle George reads this, do please find some way of reminding him that he is only human. He has been so full of himself about his friend and Philco!



PS: Speaking of, Uncle George is off to the new Western capital of sin for a weekend in the company of his friend --and to have a look at this matter of the hotel.

Las Vegas has no idea how to advertise itself. Fishing? Cowboys? Girls? (Gambling?)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

No Other Eye: A Recovering From the Flu Extra

1040 Marine Drive is one of "30 homes listed for sale in Port Alice [British Columbia]" at this website.

If it seems a little charmless, it's probably in this visual field:

Asserted copyright, Wild Blue Crusing Blog, 2010
The front of the house looks so bare because there's not much gardening being done. Port Alice is, or was, a beautifully leafy town, but with the population that has fallen by half since I left to go to university in 1982, there's no-one there to do the work.

So, yes, I thought I'd share my recovery of personal continence by talking about holography, and, specifically, Sean Johnston's "The Parallax View: The Military Origins of Holography," currently up on Academia. edu.

Monday, December 5, 2016

An Agro-Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, October 1946, II: Bad Food, Bad Land, Bad People

"The greatest thing since sliced bread."
I'm going to reprise a bit from last week. I still can't get over the fact that when people in 1946 got nostalgic for the Nineties, in their frame of reference, they were looking back at 1926.

Margie some more. Please ignore the central plot and enjoy the music, instead while contemplating your life, only with the 2000s as the Great Depression, and the Obama Administration as World War II. 

Last time, I repurposed that as comfort to the country that's about to be "run" by a narcissist for two years, maybe three, tops. Things have been worse! (Also worse, the Thirty Years War, Late Bronze Age Collapse, the Younger Dryas.) This time, it is to drill home the point that the Great Depression was a living, recent memory in 1946. This, too, you will have heard, especially if you're my age. You will have heard endless lectures about how people learned not to waste things in the Depression, about all the lessons that it apparently takes 25% unemployment, people dying of starvation, and a follow-on world war to learn

The old folk talked and talked about it. It's almost like they were traumatised by it all. One day, it's all relentless progress: Continental Baking is releasing its miraculous new, sliced bread nationally. The next, people are starving in the streets, out in public. (As opposed to starving in tar paper shacks up the holler.) Worse, there were all these experts popping up and saying that it was all unavoidable, and systemic, and that it would never end.  The best you could hope for in the future was a job in the Works Reliefs Administration, because the implication of an excess of savings over investment possibilities was the slow retreat of the economy via deflation into --well, into something. Back to the Stone Age. maybe?

 Instead, as we know, it ended with a world war, austerity, a global famine --and then, somehow, through it and beyond it, the best fed, richest consuming public ever.  Even more strikiingly, in the mid-1960s, Europe became a net grain exporter.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Postblogging Technology, October, 1946, II: Spring is Coming

Time needs to be more careful with its copy. You might almost read this as implying that these two pinkos are having an affair.  On the other hand, if you did read it that way, well, no slander is truly wrong when it fights the relentless advance of  world communism.


Dear Father:

I just want to say at the first how much I regret the tone I took in our telephone conversation on Thursday. I've had a chance to calm down. James sat me down and firmly explained the hardships you've taken on yourself in your flying trip to Montreal. I apologise.

I am not going to succumb to some kind of ill-placed faith in quacks and miracle cures. But as James says, good physiotherapy will be vital if Vickie is to grow up straight and healthy. I have a fine pediatrician, and both Uncle Henry and Dr. Rivers have approached me about taking on a physiotherapist. I shall say more about Uncle Henry's latest scheme, but I do have faith that Dr. Rivers will hire the best man he can. The difficulty is that physiotherapy is a woman's practice, so the best man will be a woman, and it is so very hard to find a career-minded woman. As well, physiotherapy is advancing by leaps and bounds. Even if Vickie finds first-class care in San Francisco now, how long before London or New York is ahead again? I dread the idea of entering social circles I cannot manage; therefore, as you say, we must put our therapist here into contact with the most advanced circles.

If you are thinking that I am being awfully level-headed for a mother in my predicament, then it is also because I have good news. We have Vickie back with us. The new iron lung is installed in the nursery. I showed it to Bill and David when they were here with Alex to discuss incorporation. They are always keen on gadgets, and, of course, were instantly trying to improve it with some electrics here and there. 
Tokyo toy store, 21 March 1947. (AP/Charles Gorry.)

I am afraid I put my foot down quite firmly. I do hope they were not offended. 

Speaking of people who annoy me and whom I cannot be cross with, Uncle Henry continues to be inspired by Vickie's condition, as well as much else. That's to be read as an implication that he is getting awfully close to the woman who takes care of the business side of his medical insurance sideline, by the way. Her official title is "head administrative nurse," but the hand that punches the postage meter rules the world, as no-one but me has probably ever said. 

I'm sorry, I wander again, and into obnoxioius gossip, at that. So, Uncle Henry has decided to take this "managed care" corporation seriously, and, predictably, for him, "seriously" means a grandiose project. He has been showing me sketches and plans of a new hospital for the Bay Area, to be built in the salubrious surroundings (that means that it is high up) of Walnut Creek. 

This new hospital is to have all sorts of bells and whistles, and he is busy trying to persuade me to move into one of the private suites it will have, so that mothers of means can sleep right next to their darlings as they undergo the most modern and scientific treatments. I gently reminded him that we have an iron lung at home, and that he helped us find it at short notice, and that I really was grateful. Oh, no, he said. I mean pneumatic hammers, he said. He went on to explain a process which uses air hammers to smash the nerve endings in the limbs of polio victims, on the theory that this will cause them to sprout new fibres, and re-enervate the atrophied lumb. Fortunately, I vaguely recalled reading about it, so I didn't laugh --otherwise, it would have sounded exactly like one of those morbid "iron lung" jokes that are going around. No, I told him firmly, we will not be smashing Vickie's flesh with an air gun to see what  happens next. I even tried to suggest that perhaps he shouldn't be draining away the profits of his new enterprise into a grand new hospital, but got exactly nowhere. 

I have a feeling we will be fighting over the Nagasaki trust fund again, especially since it looks like it may be trust for ten years or more a the current rate of progress. So why not look for something feasible in the shorter term? "Hawaii is so nice at this time of year," I said. "Why not look there for real estate possibilities?" Fat chance of that, though. It looks as though this will be another enthusiasm to ride out. 


*Still a long way off for Bill and David, I am sad to say. In happier news, Alex will finally ship a "tape machine" to Uncle George's friend's recording studio late next fall, which will finally make two-coast radio delay broadcast feasible, and take a little pressure off the man before he ends up pouring himself into a bottle and never coming out.