Monday, August 21, 2006

A 1904 Diary, "Holy Cats!", and The Radium Dance

[many pages have small drawings at the bottom]

[Willy was an amateur photographer, pasting small portraits on many pages of the journal]

While reading the Something Awful forums, I came upon this thread. "Chaoskitty" collects old, abandoned journals and photographs on Ebay. She has begun scanning and posting pages from a 1904 diary written by William L. "Willy" Tuttle, an eighteen-year-old railroad worker in Boston. Response to the SA thread was so positive that she began a blog about the diary and other historical ephermera that she collects: Holy Cats! takes its name from one of Willy's pet expressions.

The thread itself is worth looking at, as other contributors supply music clips of Dance Hall music referenced in the diary, and unearth census records that give a glimpse of what happened to Willy in the years after the diary. I was driven to locate a collection of Scot Joplin songs as a result of reading this...Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


[Some sort of sports team - soccer? - mascot]

A riveting set of photos take in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, arguably one of the worst places on earth in which to live. These photos were taken by a Russian citizen, and feed my slow-traffic-past-the-horrible-highway-accident fascination I have with the DPRK. I'm not sure what interests me about the place; not so much the 1950s time-warp look of the place, but more that it seems like a huge theatrical set. All of the people are playing their assigned parts:

[a traffic policewoman, directing non-existent traffic congestion]

[The tomb-like husk of the Ryugyong hotel]

[The Juche Tower lit at night; with no object to provide human scale, it looks particularly evil in this photo]

[North Korean citizens looking at the photographer: he explains in the forum posted above that they hadn't seen any Caucasian people before him. ]

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


One of my favorite books when I was six or seven was Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, a book about a pig family who drive across a pseudo-European landscape on a family trip. One of the pages featured an eclectic array of military vehicles cavorting on a beach. As I grew older and commenced my adolescent war-nerd reading, I discovered that the cars in Scarry's drawing were based upon real vehicles, such as the Austin armored car, the Kettenkrad and the A7V.

One vehicle that I never found out the origin of was a small jeep-like car carrying a quartet of foxes; I recently discovered that this car is real also, and is called the Haflinger:

These cars are quite small, have 2-cylinder air-cooled gasoline engines, and aren't geared fast enough for highway travel. They were made in the 60s and 70s by Steyr Daimler Puch, a company known better in the US for their mopeds.

The car's namesake, a small, sturdy horse:

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Private Submarines

"This Whiskey Class Submarine was decommission in 1991. This submarine is open to many possibilities, including adventure tourism or active military service. It was rated to a depth of 200 meters or 650 Feet. VESSEL IDENTIFIER: PI12
Price: U.S. $550,000.00"
The idea of a private submarine is appealing, but I wonder how much it would cost to actually staff and maintain a diesel-electric sub like this. One would have to hire at least a few trained professionals - mechanics, engineers, and people who had spent years operating these vehicles in the military. Also, one would likely have to spend vast amounts of money on maintenance and parts - I expect that specialized parts for an aging 1950s Soviet vessel would be hard to find and expensive to manufacture. One couldn't skimp on maintenance costs, as the price of cutting corners might be catastrophic.

Even taking all this into account, the risk of operating this thing seems ghastly. Think of it this way: a boat, or ship, will float even if it's engine stops, rudder and steering gear breaks, or if all of the on-board electronics fail. Its "default state" is to float and drift - not a desirable situation, and possibly dangerous in a storm on a lee shore, but not immediately deadly. A submarine, on the other hand, uses its machinery and motive power to operate on or between the surface of the ocean and its "crush depth" - the depth at which its pressure hull can no longer withstand the force of the ocean pressing in on it. I can imagine any number of failures that could send a sub careening beneath this 'operating envelope' of safety, and of course this has happened before.

An ocean-going ship needs its machinery to move and communicate. A submarine needs its machinery to function in order for it to avoid being destroyed. Nevertheless, here is a company, or at least a front for a company, that proposes to build "luxury submarines". This seems about as good an idea as those thousands of private commuter helicopters that were predicted in the 1950s.

(Let me qualify this by saying I know nothing about this subject except what I have read in a couple of books. )

NOTE: apparently this sub has been posted for sale before, and is of Soviet design and manufacture.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

More of these photos...

No plastic, no antibiotics.

Even the idea of sending soldiers to a war with no armor but a steel helmet and a wool tunic has begun to seem primitive...Posted by Picasa

"Old, far-off, unhappy things": French color photographs from the First World War

These photos have appeared on the internet a few months ago, but I just came across them again while looking for a book title for L. They depict soldiers of the French army during the 1914-1918 war, and are genuine color photographs, not tinted or colorized prints.

Some background on early color photos can be found here, as well as many more of these photographs here.

There is something arresting and spooky about the immediacy of these pictures, like poring over the ghastly photos of Jonestown from 1978. The traditional black and white photos of The Great War have a distant, iconic look to them; they don't pull the viewer in, or cause as much of a reptile-brain response in the viewer.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006


[The guileless Octavia and her mother, the Leona Helmsley-like Atia]

Lisa and I have been watching the 12 episodes of the first season of "Rome", series shown in the United States on HBO. It reminds me of "Six Feet Under" or "The Sopranos", although it has more sex and violence than the latter.

I can't judge how historically accurate "Rome" is, but it made a better impression on me than "Gladiator". The series's attempt to recreate the seedy reality of Roman life is illustrated in the title sequence, during which the camera darts through crowded city streets, glimpsing animated graffiti scrawled on the walls - some of it grotesque or pornographic, like the real Graffiti found on the walls of Pompey.

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Toshio Iwai's "Tenori-On" is meant to be a musical instrument for non-musicians. When I first saw mention of it on a Something Awful thread, I thought "Ok, yea...". A video demonstration of the Tenori-On here, however, is most impressive. A description can't do it justice, except to say that the device allows one to assemble minimalist-style music with the multiple layers and fugue effects one expects to hear in pieces by Steve Reich and John Adams. I want one.  Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pepsi Can Stove / Soda Can Stove

"The Pepsi Can stove is composed of four parts: three pieces made from soda cans and some foil tape. Two soda can bottoms are the exterior pieces. The upper can is turned upside down and fits over the lower can. The center "bowl" of the upper can is cut out making a large hole for easy fuel filling and lighting. Small burner holes are made around the perimeter of the top section. A cylinder made from the wall of a third soda can serves as an interior wall to the stove, thus the stove has a hollow double wall construction like the Trangia. Heat resistant foil tape holds the two exterior pieces together and prevents flame leaks."

There are several versions of this stove posted online, each made of the bottoms of a pair of aluminum cans filled with Perlite and pressed together into a capsule shape. According to the reviews, they work well using alcohol as fuel. I will make one of these soon. Pictures and updates to follow.

I haven't written much here in the last six months; the reason has been, I think, the disease of perfectionism. I'll try lazy-but-more-often blogging instead. The perfectionism was my '1' wing peeking out...that will be explained presently. Posted by Picasa

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