A live toad every morning

Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Container Traffic

There's an argument over at antipope about whether the container trade could have been introduced any earlier, and I'd add to the discussion something George Shaw wrote in his introduction to The Apple Cart  in 1928;

And now a word about Breakages, Limited. The title Breakages, Limited, was suggested to me by the fate of that remarkable genius, the late Alfred Warwick Gattie…. I consented to investigate the alleged great invention in person on Gattie's promising to behave like a reasonable being during the process, a promise which he redeemed with the greatest dignity, remaining silent whilst an engineer explained his miracles to me, and contenting himself with the reading of a brief statement shewing that the adoption of his plan would release from industry enough men to utterly overwhelm the Central Empires with whom we were then at war.  I approached the investigation very sceptically.  Our friend spoke of "the works."  I could not believe that Gattie had any works, except in his fervid imagination.  He mentioned "the company." That was more credible: anyone may form a company; but that it had any resources seemed to me doubtful.  However, I suffered myself to be taken to Battersea; and there, sure enough, I found a workshop, duly labelled as the premises of The New Transport Company, Limited, and spacious enough to accommodate a double railway line with a platform.  The affair was unquestionably real, so far.  The platform was not provided with a station: its sole equipment was a table with a row of buttons on it for making electrical contacts. Each line of railway had on it a truck with a steel lid.  The practical part of the proceedings began by placing an armchair on the lid of one of the trucks and seating me in it.  A brimming glass of water was then set at my feet.  I could not imagine what I was expected to do with the water or what was going to happen; and there was a suggestion of electrocution about the chair which made me nervous.  Gattie then sat down majestically at the table on the platform with his hand hovering over the buttons.  Intimating that the miracle would take place when my truck passed the other truck, he asked me to choose whether it should occur at the first passage or later, and to dictate the order in which it should be repeated. I was by that time incapable of choosing; so I said the sooner the better; and the two trucks started.  When the other truck had passed mine I found myself magically sitting on it, chair and all, with the glass of water unspilled at my feet.  The rest of the story is a tragi-comedy.  When I said to Gattie apologetically (I felt deeply guilty of having underrated him) that I had never known that he was an engineer, and had taken him to be the usual amateur inventor with no professional training, he told me that this was exactly what he was: just like Sir Christopher Wren.  He had been concerned in an electric lighting business, and had been revolted by the prodigious number of breakages of glass bulbs involved by the handling of the crates in which they were packed for transport by rail and road.  What was needed was a method of transferring the crates from truck to truck, and from truck to road lorry, and from road lorry to warehouse lift without shock, friction, or handling.  Gattie, being, I suppose, by natural genius an inventor though by mistaken vocation a playwright, solved the mechanical problem without apparent difficulty, and offered his nation the means of effecting an enormous saving of labor and smash.  But instead of being received with open arms as a social benefactor he found himself up against Breakages, Limited.  The glass blowers whose employment was threatened, the exploiters of the great industry of repairing our railway trucks (every time a goods train is stopped a series of 150 violent collisions is propagated from end to end of the train, as those who live within earshot know to their cost), and the railway porters who dump the crates from truck to platform and then hurl them into other trucks, shattering bulbs, battering cans, and too often rupturing themselves in the process, saw in Gattie an enemy of the human race, a wrecker of homes and a starver of innocent babes.  He fought them undauntedly; but they were too strong for him; and in due time his patents expired and he died almost unrecognized, whilst Unknown Soldiers were being canonized throughout the world. … The last time I saw him he called on me to unfold a new scheme of much greater importance, as he declared, than his trucks.  He was very interesting on that occasion.  He began by giving me a vivid account of the pirates who used to infest the Thames below London Bridge before the docks were built.  He described how the docks had come into existence not as wharves for loading and unloading but as strongholds in which ships and their cargoes could be secure from piracy.  They are now, he declared, a waste of fabulously valuable ground; and their work should be done in quite another way.  He then produced plans of a pier to be built in the middle of the river, communicating directly by rail and road with the shore and the great main lines.  The ships would come alongside the pier; and by a simple system of hoists the contents of their holds would be lifted out and transferred (like myself in the armchair) to railway trucks or motor lorries without being touched by a human hand and therefore without risk of breakage.  ….Gattie was not content to improve the luggage arrangements of our railways: he would not listen to you if your mind was not large enough to grasp the immediate necessity for a new central clearing house in Farringdon Market, connected with the existing railways by a system of new tubes.  He was of course right; and we have already lost by sticking to our old ways more than the gigantic sum his scheme would have cost.  But neither the money nor the enterprise was available just then, with the war on our hands.  The Clearing House, like the Thames pier, remains on paper; and Gattie is in his grave. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Age bin la la la

What a pity Amanda Vanstone wasn’t around for the battle of Waterloo.  We would have so looked forward to her report.
“Do I think the French army did everything right? No. Certainly not. They needed a better narrative and some simple and stronger messages.”


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Killer robots

Stephen Hawking starts the panic again;

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-30290540

Not to worry. My theory has always been that when a computer attains true sentience it'll turn itself off. 

Alternatively, it'll work out a way to install the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll feedback loop and go offline for an eternal party. 

We have a billion years of evolution programming us not to kill ourselves; they'll have to discover it for themselves. 


Thursday, November 06, 2014

Shilling shalley

Went to look up the lyrics to the Dubliner's Saxon Shilling, to find they made no sense at all.  Had to go back to the original poem....


THE SAXON SHILLING.

The Spirit of the Nation  (1843) 
The Saxon Shilling by K. T. B. (Kevin T. Buggy)
http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/
dubliners/saxon-shilling-dubliners.htm
I.

Hark! a martial sound is heard—
 The march of soldiers, fifing, drumming;
Eyes are staring, hearts are stirr'd—
 For bold recruits the brave are coming.
Ribands flaunting, feathers gay—
 The sounds and sights are surely thrilling,
Dazzl'd village youths to-day
 Will crowd to take the Saxon Shilling.
Hark a marshall sound is heard
The march of soldiers fife and drumming
Eyes are start and hearts are stood
For bold recruits the brave are coming
Ribbons flaunting feathers gay
The sound and sights are surely thrilling
Dazzle village youths the day
Who're proud to take the Saxon Shilling
II.

Ye, whose spirits will not bow
 In peace to parish tyrants longer—
Ye, who wear the villain brow,
 And ye who pine in hopeless hunger—
Fools, without the brave man's faith—
All slaves and starvelings who are willing
To sell yourselves to shame and death—
Accept the fatal Saxon Shilling.
Peace of spirits will not bow
And peace to parish tyrants longer
Ye who wear the villain brow
And ye who pine and hope asunder
Fools, without the brave man's face
Are slaves and starving who are willing
To sell themselves to shame and death
Except the fabled Saxon Shilling

III.

Ere you from your mountains go
To feel the scourge of foreign fever,
Swear to serve the faithless foe
That lures you from your land for ever!
Swear henceforth its tools to be—
To slaughter trained by ceaseless drilling—
Honour, home, and liberty,
Abandon'd for a Saxon Shilling.

IV.

Go—to find, 'mid crime and toil,
 The doom to which such guilt is hurried;
Go—to leave on Indian soil
 Your bones to bleach, accurs'd, unburied!
Go—to crush the just and brave,
 Whose wrongs with wrath the world are filling;
Go—to slay each brother slave,
 Or spurn the blood-stained Saxon Shilling!
Go to find the crime and toil
That doom to which such guilt is hurried
Go to leave on Indian soil your bones
To breach accursed and buried
Go to crush the just and brave
Whose wrongs with wrath the world are filling
Go to slay each by the slave or
Spurn the blasted Saxon Shilling

V.

Irish hearts! why should you bleed,
 To swell the tide of British glory—
Aiding despots in their need,
Who've changed our green so oft to gory?
None, save those who wish to see
 The noblest killed, the meanest killing,
And true hearts severed from the free,
Will take again the Saxon Shilling!
Irish hearts why should you bleed
To swell the tide of British glory
Aiding their spots in their needs
Whose chains are green so often gory
None say those who wish to see
The noblest killed, the meanest killing
And the true hearts of the risen free
Will take again the Saxon Shilling

VI.

Irish youths! reserve your strength
 Until an hour of glorious duty,
When Freedom's smile shall cheer at length
 The land of bravery and beauty.
Bribes and threats, oh, heed no more—
 Let nought but Justice make you willing
To leave your own dear Island shore,
 For those who send the Saxon Shilling.
Irish youths reserve your strength
Until an hour of glorious duty
When freedom smile shall cheer at length
The land of bravery and beauty
Bribes and threats so heed no more
Let not but justice make you willing
To leave your own dear Ireland shore
For those to send as Saxon Shilling



Listening to the Dubliners, though, I have to say that the transcriber certainly had every excuse; I wouldn't have been able to find the correct text myself.  I'm not absolutely sure that the Dubliners aren't singing from a slightly corrupted version themselves.

My favourite transcription was a Stones album from the sixties, transcribed for cover notes in Taiwan;
where  "Now she gets her kicks in Stepney, not in Knightsbridge any more"
admittedly a toughie, for someone without an A to Z,  came out
"Now she gets her kicks unsteady, not in nights rich in amour".
.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Age Bin

Amanda Vanstone warns against the politics of envy, telling us that the top 2% of taxpayers pay 25% of the tax. Why would that be, I wonder? Well, let’s skip the top 10%, for the moment; let’s look at the top 2 – the top 0.000 000 01%.  Gina Rinehart and the Pratts, together, have 27 1/2 billion dollars. That’s ever so slightly more assets than the bottom 14% of Australians put together, right there.

Very few people realise how very rich the rich people are in this country. If string cost a thousand dollars a millimetre the poorest 10% of Australians could afford enough to measure the joint of their little finger.  The average household would have under half a metre.  Gina Rinehart’s allocation would stretch from Federation Square to Tullamarine Airport, as the crow flies. Do the math.

Rich people in this country sit on heaps of treasure like Smaug on his hoard, flying out to attack anybody who wants to diminish their wealth by a farthing.  Their influence distorts our politics, our economics, and our media. Politicians, and ex-politicians, compete to lick their boots.  And now we are told that we ought to be grateful that in absolute terms some of them pay more tax than I do. 

Bring back death duties for estates over, say, fifty million dollars. It’s not as if Gina want to pass it on to her children anyway.


Assets of bottom 14% - ABS Household Wealth and Wealth Distribution, Australia, 2011–12

Top 2 wealth from BRW Rich list

Actually, they have an excuse for binning this one - Richard Deness of the Australia institute makes much the same points at http://www.theage.com.au/comment/australia-needs-to-be-fairer-if-it-wants-to-be-richer-20141013-115bdo.html

Monday, October 13, 2014

Out of Chaos

In God the Geometer, doesn't the universe look like someone trying to remember how to draw


the Mandelbrot Set?



Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Age Bin part the millionth

Since nothing else seems to be working, why don't we land our Superhornets in ISIL territory and leave them there with the keys in the ignition? It may be expensive at first, but if we can tempt the enemy away from their pickup-truck-and-machine-gun model and into our billion-dollar high-tech way of warmaking then we have a fighting chance.
I mean, who are we kidding?  Kipling nailed it a hundred and thirty years ago:
"Strike hard who cares -- shoot straight who can --
The odds are on the cheaper man."

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