Friday, 31 October 2014

Men of Yore: Richard Buckminster Fuller

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Richard Buckminster Fuller standing infront of one of his geodesic domes - the Montreal Biosphere.

Richard Buckminster Fuller, 1895 - 1983.
Born in Milton, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1895, Richard Buckminster Fuller belonged to a family noted for producing strong individualists inclined toward activism and public service. "Bucky," as he came to be called, developed an early understanding of nature during family excursions to Bear Island, Maine, where he also became familiar with the principles of boat maintenance and construction.

Fuller entered Harvard University in 1913, but he was expelled after excessively socializing and missing his midterm exams. Following his expulsion, he worked at a mill in Canada, where he took a strong interest in machinery and learned to modify and improve the manufacturing equipment. Fuller returned to Harvard in the autumn of 1915 but was again dismissed.

From 1917 until 1919, Fuller served in the U.S. Navy, where he demonstrated his aptitude for engineering by inventing a winch for rescue boats that could remove downed airplanes from the water in time to save the lives of pilots.

As a result of the invention, Fuller was nominated to receive officer training at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he further developed his ability to study problems comprehensively. In 1926, when Fuller's father-in-law, James Monroe Hewlett, developed a new method of producing reinforced concrete buildings, he and Fuller patented the invention, earning Fuller the first of his 25 patents.
In 1927, after the construction company failed, Fuller was unemployed and contemplated suicide, but he had a remarkable realization. Deciding that he had no right to end his own life, he concluded that he had a responsibility to use his experiences and intellect in the service of others. As a consequence, he spent nearly two years as a recluse, deep in contemplation about the universe and how he could best contribute to humanity.

One of Fuller's lifelong interests was using technology to revolutionize construction and improve human housing. In 1927, after inventing an easily built, air-delivered, modular apartment building, he designed the Dymaxion™ House, an inexpensive, mass-produced home that could be airlifted to its location. Originally called the 4D House, it was later renamed by a department store that displayed a model of the house. The word "dymaxion" was coined by store advertisers and trademarked in Fuller's name. Based on the words "dynamic," "maximum," and "ion," it became a part of the name of many of Fuller's subsequent inventions. The word became synonymous with his design philosophy of "doing more with less," a phrase he later coined to reflect his growing recognition of the accelerating global trend toward the development of more efficient technology.

These inventions included the Dymaxion Car, a streamlined, three-wheeled automobile that could make extraordinarily sharp turns; a compact, prefabricated, easily installed Dymaxion Bathroom; and Dymaxion Deployment Units (DDUs), mass-produced houses based on circular grain bins. While DDUs never became popular for civilian housing, they were used during World War II to shelter radar crews in remote locations with severe climates, and they led to additional round housing designs by Fuller.

After 1947, one invention dominated Fuller's life and career: the geodesic dome. Lightweight, cost-effective, and easy to assemble, geodesic domes enclose more space without intrusive supporting columns than any other structure; they efficiently distribute stress; and they can withstand extremely harsh conditions. Based on Fuller's "synergetic geometry," his lifelong exploration of nature's principles of design, the geodesic dome was the result of his revolutionary discoveries about balancing compression and tension forces in building.

Fuller applied for a patent for the geodesic dome in 1951 and received it in 1954. In 1953 he designed his first commercial dome for the Ford Motor Company headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. The U.S. military became one of his biggest clients, using lightweight domes to cover radar stations at installations around the Arctic Circle. According to the Buckminster Fuller Institute, today there are more than 300,000 geodesic domes around the world, ranging from shelters in California and Africa to radar stations in remote locations, as well as geodesic structures on countless chidren's playgrounds.

Fuller was a pioneering global thinker. In 1927, at the beginning of his career, he made a now-prophetic sketch of the total earth which depicted his concept for transporting cargo by air "over the pole" to Europe. He entitled the sketch "a one-town world." In 1946, Fuller received a patent for another breakthrough invention: the Dymaxion Map, which depicted the entire planet on a single flat map without visible distortion of the relative shapes and sizes of the continents. The map, which can be reconfigured to put different regions at the center, was intended to help humanity better address the world's problems by prompting people to think comprehensively about the planet. In the early 1950's he coined the now familiar phrase "spaceship earth" to describe the integral nature of Earth's "living system." Beginning In the late 1960s, Fuller was especially involved in creating World Game®, a large-scale simulation and series of workshops he designed that used a large-scale Dymaxion Map to help humanity better understand, benefit from, and more efficiently utilize the world's resources.

Throughout his life, Fuller found numerous outlets for his innovative ideas. During the early 1930s he published Shelter magazine, and from 1938 until 1940 he was science and technology consultant for Fortune magazine. During the 1940s he began to teach and lecture at universities, including Harvard and MIT, and in the late 1950s he became a professor at Southern Illinois University (SIU), where he and his wife lived in a geodesic dome when he was in residence. In 1972 he was named World Fellow in Residence to a consortium of universities in Philadelphia, including the University of Pennsylvania. He retained his connection with both SIU and the University of Pennsylvania until his death. He was the author of nearly 30 books, and he spent much of his life traveling the world lecturing and discussing his ideas with thousands of audiences. Some of Fuller's many honors highlight his eclectic reputation: For example, because he sometimes expressed complex ideas in verse to make them more understandable, in 1961 he received a one-year appointment to the prestigious Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry at Harvard. After being spurned early in his career by the architecture and construction establishments, Fuller was later recognized with many major architectural, scientific, industrial, and design awards, both in the United States and abroad, and he received 47 honorary doctorate degrees. In 1983, shortly before his death, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, with a citation acknowledging that his "contributions as a geometrician, educator, and architect-designer are benchmarks of accomplishment in their fields."

After Fullers death, when chemists discovered that the atoms of a recently discovered carbon molecule were arrayed in a structure similar to a geodesic dome, they named the molecule "buckminsterfullerene."

R. Buckminster Fuller died in Los Angeles on July 1, 1983.


A man who was expelled from top-dog university Harvard, twice!  Whoever says that universities are the sole source and judge of genius are sorely mistaken, because Harvard clearly made a mistake when they expelled Fuller.

It's also interesting to note that he worked in stereotypical working-class jobs during his twenties, despite his high intellect (he was educated at Harvard, and from 1979-1983 was the president of MENSA).

Lastly he wasn't averse to making his views well known to the public.  This is always a good quality and attitude to have when trying to introduce something new (be it a tangible product or an intangible idea) to the world.  After all it's no good finding the cure to cancer only to write about it in some obscure language in some obscure academic journal that very few people will ever read.  If you've got a good idea, and you know that it's a good idea, then proclaim it!


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

"Doomed, Doomed We're All Doomed!"

Private Frazer from Dad's Army, with his famous catchphrase.

It's quite vogue these days to say that the West is doomed; doomed to follow the same pattern of the Roman Empire, doomed to misery and squalor and final 'invasion by the barbarian hordes from the East'.  Various bloggers around the androsphere are happy to promulgate this view that the West will follow a the strict pattern of Empire that Glubb proscribed in his book The Fate Of Empires and Search for Survival, which ends in doom and gloom for the natives of the West.  Of course this, unsurprisingly, provokes different people to react in two different ways:
- one camp is fatalistic and accept that decline is inevitable ergo you should 'enjoy the decline', and enjoy the fruits of civilisation but don't lift a finger to save it.  cf. Captain Capitalism, Heartiste for bloggers in this camp.
- another camp is reactionary and refuses to accept that the decline is inevitable, ergo you should fight it tooth and nail!  cf. Vox Day (Breaking the chains, winning the games, and saving Western Civilization) and the various neoreactionaries for bloggers in this camp.

Thankfully though not everyone falls into these two knee-jerk, reactionary camps, because not everyone takes Glubbs predictions (and they are only predictions not truths) as gospel.  Glubb, like Oswald Spengler (author of the Decline of the West), like Will Durant (penned the famous quote 'Empires are destroyed from within before they are destroyed from without'), was over-focussed on pessimism and cycles.  You could say that Glubb's worldview was dominated by cycles.  Because Glubb allowed his mind to be dominated by this one view of the world (the view of cycles) he was blind to the fact, the empirically provable fact, that there are cultures, civilisations, that don't fall into his pattern of Empires.  There are and have been cultures which have different end-game scenarios to the doom-and-gloom one that occured to the Roman Empire.  This is the point that I'm trying to stress: just because one academic observed one culture (the Roman Empire) succumbing and dying in an ignominous way doesn't mean that your culture, ergo you, will succumb to the same fate; you have more than one option available to you, and you have the ability to choose any one of those options.

Fatalistic preaching is immoral.  God gave you Willfulness, God gave you Freedoms beyond what petty-minded fatalists could even conceive of.  He gave you every thing that he had, and then he gave you the ability to do whatever you want.  That's what God gave you.  He gave you freedom, not fatalism.  So the next time you read someone preaching 100% fatalism, denying you the ability to choose another way, know that they are preaching the doctrine of perpetual misery; know that they are wrong.

Finally, to illustrate the point that cultures do not always follow the same pattern that Glubb wrote about we will look at some lesser quoted/referenced cultures throughout time and space (or history and the world, if you prefer to phrase it differently) and see how they ended, if indeed they did end:

Phrygian Empire (1200 - 700 BCE)
- The place of the famous King Midas (as in the phrase 'the Midas touch').  It went out with a bang!  There capital city was burnt to the ground by Cimmerians.  They didn't succumb to cultural decay or immigration, it was just plain and simple destruction.

Hellenic Empire (323 - 31 BCE)
- The numerous city-states continued as a province of the Roman Empire rather than being destroyed.  They continued on with cultural excellence, well, until the Christians decided to close down the Academy where Plato, Aristotle and others had taught.  Christianity eh, where would we be without it?!

- It's had various ruling dynasties over the millenia, quite often transitioning peacefully proving that strife between new and old rulers is not inevitable.  It's culture (confuscianism) and population (Han Chinese) are still going strong.  So strong in fact that there are ~1.4 billion of them.  Hardly the same cultural decay and population decline that Glubb predicted.

Napoleonic Empire (1804 - 1815)
- It was destroyed by war. After conquering most of Europe he thought that Russia would be easy enough. How wrong he was. After failing to capture Moscow and then losing 500,000 men (when feminists claim that 'men had it easier than women') on the long march back to Paris.Defeat at the hands of the Germans and English at Waterloo shortly after in 1812 led to the destruction of the Empire. It wasn't invading barbarians or cultural degradation as Glubb predicted.

Soviet Empire (1917 - 1991)
- It ran out of money after the arms race during the Reagan Era, and then Gorbachev reformed the government basically allowing the provinces to govern themselves.  It certainly didn't suffer from a gluttonous, un-fertile proletariat in the same manner as the Roman Empire did.  Nor did it suffer from immigration, population displacement or invading hordes, it just fell apart.

So as you can see, it's not all fixed and pre-determined like Glubb would have you believe, there are more than one options available to you.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Men of Yore: Nikolai Benardos

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Nikolai Benardos
Benardos, Nikolai Nikolaevich

Born June 26 (July 8), 1842, in the village of Benardosovka, Kherson Province; died Sept. 8 (21), 1905, in Fastov, Kiev Province. Russian inventor, originator of electric arc welding.

Benardos studied at the University of Kiev and at the Petrov Agricultural and Forestry Academy in Moscow. Beginning in 1865 he made and, in part, patented in Russia and abroad more than 100 inventions in the most varied areas (agriculture, transportation, and others). In 1882 he proposed a procedure for “connecting and disconnecting metals by the direct action of an electric current” (which he named “elektrogefest”). In 1885 he patented his invention in Germany, France, Russia, Italy, England, the USA, Belgium, and other countries. The characteristic feature of this method was the utilization of the electric arc arising between a carbon electrode or one of another conductive substance and the articles processed. “Elektrogefest” was immediately used in Russia as well as abroad (in railroad workshops and in machine-building and metallurgical plants). Benardos built a special type of electrical storage battery to supply the continuous high current necessary for welding.

Benardos was also the first to invent welding with an indirect arc, welding in a gas stream, arc cutting both in ordinary conditions and under water, and the electrolytic method of coating large metal surfaces with copper. Among Benardos’ other inventions was a thermal method for electrical soldering. He created carbon electrodes of the most varied forms and electrodes made of a combination of carbon and metal. He offered one of the first designs for an alternating current hydroelectric power plant on the Neva River (1892). At the Fourth Electrical Exhibit in St. Petersburg in 1892, Benardos was awarded the highest award of the Russian Technical Society, the gold medal, for the successful utilization of the arc in his electrical welding invention. In 1899 the Electrical Engineering Institute in St. Petersburg awarded him the title of honorary electrical engineer.

Amongst 100 or more other inventions, Nikolai Bernados is credited with developing is arc-welding; a relatively un-exciting process whereby two pieces of metal are joined together.  But when you think of all the structures that you come into physical contact with on a day-to-day basis (cars, bridges, sky-scrapers etc) that have been arc-welded together then it's importance becomes much more apparent.  Even more so when you take a mental step-back and think of all the ships, rail locomotives, lorries, buildings, machinery and innumerable other devices that sustain civilisation (and the people that live in it) that have been welded together.

Making discoveries like this isn't gonna make you popular with the 'in crowd' or hipsters or girls or the chattering classes, they aren't interested in either the science & technology (unless it's trendy to be a techie) or the possibilities that it could bring (like increased productivity and freedom and human self-expression/creativity).  They are only concerned with the fruits of yours, or someone elses, labour, and they often see these fruits as impersonal 'things'/'objects' rather than as personal discoveries/creations, which causes them to have little respect for the fruit or the inventor/person who created it.  But these people aren't important.  What is important is that you're enjoying what you do, like the inventors did, like Nikolai did; that you're enjoying your work, you're work that you've engrossed yourself in (whatever it may be).  That's all that matters.  That's what inventors and innovators and other such men of science and industry do: they do what they enjoy doing and we can see what great things they resulted because of that love.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Alternative Lyrics to Well Known Songs 31 - Ebola

(Based on the song 'Blockbuster' by The Sweet).

This 'alternative lyrics' post is a parody of the scaremongering about Ebola that is going on in the SM (and some 'alternative news outlets' presently.

Fear-mongering is something that the MSM get up to every time a new virus hits the global scene.  Think back a few years to Swine Flue, then Bird/Avian Flu, and so on.  All of these scare-mongering stories about 'imminent viral pandemics' that have popped up over the years have amounted to nothing.  Not the next Spanish flu, not the next Black Death, not anything major to get stressed/anxious about.  If anything it's shown that all that the MSM seem to care about is finding the latest, newest (trendiest ?!) virus and claiming that it might 'go global' and cause umpteen gazillion blood-curdlingy nasty deaths around the world; ergo, you should be afraid!  Fear which should drive you to keep watching their news!  It does nothing but cause more panic, unthoughtful panic, which is no good thing.  And frankly there's enough doomer-style global-scale fear-mongering going on around that is already unjustified: colony collapse disorder, killer bees, shoe bombs, and lord knows what else.  All that these stories do is cause you to be fearful and/or pessimistic that 'the end of the world is nigh'; and we, as men, don't really need any more of that.  We've got enough mental stress as it is! (Stress is one of the contributing factors to heart problems which men suffer from more than women.)  We don't need any more stress thank you very much.  Enough with the pessimism and the fear-mongering; especially those who are sensitive and easily effected by pessimistic stories.

So whenever you encounter one of these fear-mongering stories that emphasise 'terrible things that MIGHT happen', just roll your eyes and shake your head at them and the people who peddle them, because they're not worth your attention.

Oh, and finally, the lyrics in this song themselves are written from the perspective of the newsreader.  Just imagine a familiar newsreader reading them out in an absurd comedic fear-mongering way and it should have the desired effect.  The comedy element also ties in with the light-hearted comedic music - which is 1970's glam-rock!  Check out that eye-liner and psychadelic colours!  Yikes!

Play the music video above and sing along using the alternative lyrics given below.

# Ebola #You'd better beware, you'd better take care.
You'd better avoid people from Lib-e-ria!
Don't use your mind, obey government line.
You'd better not fly on any airlines!

Listen to our noise, for we are wise,
even if it contradicts what you-see with your eyes.
Only we know, where Ebola goes,
it could strike any neighbourhood including your own!

We spoke to an expert today, here's what he did say:
"We just haven't got a clue what to do!"
Anyone should be scared, are you dear viewer scared?
Of Ebola!

Reporters are out, their squaking about
The global-wide pandemic that is imminent:
"It's gotta be caught, or it's gonna be fraught.
'Cause it's gonna kill more people than all world wars have wrought."

We spoke to an expert today, here's what he did say:
"We just haven't got a...  Ah-h!"
Anyone should be scared, are you dear viewer scared?
Of Ebola!

We spoke to an expert today, here's what he did say:
"We just haven't got a clue what to do!"
Anyone should be scared, are you dear viewer scared?
Of Ebola!

Bola, bola, Ebola.
Bola, bola, Ebola.
Bola, bola, Ebola.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Short Story: You Just Can't Get the Staff These Days

[Foreword: This is a story about what happens to two low-tier criminals when they try to pull off a hi-jack cum robbery, and one of the duo has been educated in a failing society with a stupefying education system and low-quality parenting (sound familar…?!) and so isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. The dim-witted criminal also happens to be black. This isn’t a racial sleight but merely a comedy gimmick which makes light of stereotypes. Other races, genders, and socio-economic groups have ‘dim-witted’ stereotypes, e.g. the dim-witted English aristocrat (cf. George in Blackadder), the peasant (cf. Baldrick in Blackadder), the working-class man from USA (cf. Homer Simpson), and also every ‘dumb-blond’ joke you’ve ever heard.

As with the other short stories on this blog, the setting is the science-fiction computer game world Frontier:Elite, but the details aren't important and the story can be read and understood without knowing anything about the game. It's just an environment to experiment with different ideas, like a proverbial 'sandbox world'.  A sandbox world is one that anyone can express themselves in without any consequences.]

You Just Can't Get the Staff These Days..

Location: A crater somewhere on Planet Williams, Sigma Draconis (An Independent System)
Date: August 3229

    "What the fuck an I doing 'ere?" Karl Crook (who looked un-cannily like Jason Statham) asked to no-one in particular.
    "Here I am, sat in a crater, on an bleak airless world, in a grubby second-hand space-suit, sat next to a numpty, waiting for Tiger Trader to fly over head so we can shoot it down and rob it. I should be sipping sambucas in the summer, sun-kissed, Seychelles by now. I should be wealthy. I should be tanned. I should be relaxed. And most importantly I should be retired."
    He was exasperated; it was the third attempted freighter robbery in nine months. Note the use of the word 'attempted'. Attempted and failed, all because of the incompetence of his partner in crime.

    The drop in quality of parenting and schooling in the Federation over the past generation had had a disastrous effect on the quality of the whole labour-force throughout the Federation owned planets. It wasn't just honest businesses like hospitals and engineering firms that had difficulty finding quality staff these days. Oh no. The criminal world was also suffering from a lack of competent employees. All of the criminal gangs were going under, not for want of goods to steal, because there was plenty of booty out there to rob (lots of gemstones, precious metals, fancy artwork, fashionable drugs; you name it, all ripe for the picking) their problem was that you just couldn't employ the quality of staff to do the job. It was nothing like the 'good old days' when criminals were expected to be motivated, computer literate, and skilled with a las-gun. The labour-force just didn't have the aptitude or attitude needed to commit any kind of crimes above the level of 'opportunist robber'. This wasn't a problem confined to 'big time' MAFIA organisations: Karl, a small time crook, was having this problem as well: He had to make do with an incompetent man, Blacky (named because he was..), as his partner in crime, until he could find someone with more skills and brains. That was something that didn't look like it would happen any time soon. So until then, Karl would have to make do with second-rate tools and second-rate people. C'est la vie.

    "What the fuck an I doing here?" Karl asked again to no-one in particular.
    "I ask myself that same question every mornin'". Blacky replied in a chipper voice.
    "I doubt that." Karl said in a drole tone.
    "Wotchoo mean by that man?"
    "Simple: you ain't got two brain cells to rub together."
    "Dat's harsh man. Harsh." Replied Blacky, slightly wounded.
    "Oh quit whining. And check the scanner again. Tell me what the ETA is on the freighter."
    Blacky shook his head in hurt. Then pushes a few buttons on a hand held scanner which displayed the whereabouts of nearby space-ships. "It's about two minutes."
    "Two minutes. Right." Karl exhaled. He picked up the SAM launcher that he would use to destroy the main thruster on the ship. The plan was to disable the ships electronics system with the ECM, and then destroy the main thruster with the SAM, which would cause the ship to crash-land somewhere nearby.
    Karl tightened his grip around twin-pistol grips of the triple-barreled SAM launcher, and looked down the scope into the horizon.
    "So, why you so harsh on me man? Wot's yo' beef wiv me?"
    "You're a dumb nigger. About the dumbest nigger I've ever had the misfortune of encountering. And I have to have you as a partner. A partner in a complex shipping heist when the best physiological apparatus you could need are brains; which you, my dear friend, do not have. You're about as much use as a chocolate fireguard; and twice as ugly."
    Blacky got defensive. "Oh fuck you man. Why d'you got to be racist on me for?"
    "Because you're thick. You're so thick that even the Black Nationalists on New Nigeria wouldn't complain about me calling you Nigger. And I've traded with them. Freely. I don't have a problem with race. I have a problem with 'wilful' morons. Which is exactly what you fucking are. Wilfully stupid. So don't you go call me a mother-fucking racist, 'cause that shit won't wash with me boy."
    "And why do I listen to you? I don't need to take yo' shit."
    "Oh yes you do. You need the money." Karl said matter-of-factly.
    "Fuck you I need the money." Retorted Blacky, still twitchy.
    "Yes you do. If you don't get it then you won't be able to pay your landlord, then you 'n' your sis' will be out on the street. She'll be hookin’ her fat-ass out for fifty cents a go, and snorting 'angel dust' on the side, and you'll be dealin' that shit out to every under age kid you can find. All because you can't run a simple household budget like a regular human being."
    "Dat ain't true man. I've been makin' some investments, and I think they're startin' to pay off. You could say dat my finances are lookin’ up." He said the last sentence in a chirpy optimistic tone.
    Karl burst his optimism like a pin to a rubber balloon. "Like fuck they are. You're idea of 'investments' is going down the bookies and using your 'system' to win at dog-racing. Which is why you're broke. You're neck-deep in the shit, and you know it. This here job is the silver spoon to get you out. So just keep your little brain in gear and focus on the job."
    "Dang man, you gotta put a downa' on everything all the time."
    "Oh, shut up." Karl said like a husband to a complaining wife.
    He looked through the scope on the SAM launcher. "Wait a minute. Something's coming over the horizon. This is it. This is what we've been waiting for. Get ready to disable their ECM when it get's within 10km. You can count to ten can't you Blacky? You don't have to take your socks off for that one.."
    "Fuckin' cracker bitch." He muttered under his breath as he punched some buttons on the ECM unit.
    Karl made a sly grin.
    The Tiger Trader ship approached over the horizon, and got closer to their position. It was travelling quite slow for a merchants space-ship, which was uncustomary.
    When it got within range, Blacky engaged the ECM which sent an electromagnetic wave which overloaded the computer systems on the Tiger, disabling it's electronics, and importantly it's defensive shielding.
    With the ship now vulnerable to attack, Karl targeted the SAM launcher at the main thruster on the Tiger trader and launched two of the missiles. They burst out of the SAM launcher and hurtled towards the ship.
    "Strike." Karl said.
    Without the main thruster to keep the ship in the air, the Tiger headed downward, ready to make an emergency crash landing. Without the main thruster in working condition, there was no chance that the Tiger could make a getaway.
    Everything was going to plan, so far. Now all they had to do was get to the crash site, and enter the next stage of the operation.
    "Right Blacky, forget the ECM, we don't have time for that now. We'll recover it on the return journey. Get in the back of the truck."
    Blacky did as he was told, and Karl got in the drivers seat of the second-hand cross-country truck, activated the motor of the vehicle and set off at a steady velocity towards the crash site.

    After a few minutes of driving, they had got within a hundred metres of the crashed Tiger. Karl stopped the truck just in a small meteorite crater, out of sight from the Freighter ship. The two of them got out of the truck. Karl took an assault rifle from the passenger seat, and an RC mosquito-drone unit from the foot-well. To stay out of sight, they got on their bellies and crawled up the side of the crater until they could see the rear end of the Tiger Trader.
    "Pay day's here at last." Karl said to himself. "You got that scanner Blacky?"
    "Uh-huh." Blacky dragged it up until it was infront of his face.
    "Great. Let's see where the crew-men are."
    Karl punched a few buttons on the scanner, and saw where the heat signatures of the human crew were.
    "Looks like they haven't moved from the cockpit yet. Damned handy."
    He opened the case to the mosquito-drone which he would use to deliver a dose of tranquilising gas into the ships cabin.
    The drone flew over the rocky surface of the planet to the side of the freighter, landed, and then bored a microscopic hole into it.
    "Hey man.." asked Blacky "won't they know that the drone is drillin' into their ship?"
    "No mate. The ECM should've disabled their radar and other sensors. They shouldn't be able to get them back online until the drone has done it's work."
    Blacky nodded.
    The drone finished drilling the hole, and injected the tranquilising agent into the ship. The agent quickly dissipated throughout the cabin and into the lungs of the three unsuspecting crewmen.
    "Bingo. Now it should be a matter of waiting for the drugs to work their magic, and then we can begin working ours."
    Blacky looked up at Karl, then back at the ship.
    Karl piloted the drone back to there position. Then packed it back away in it's case.
    After a few minutes, Karl checked the scanner. He saw three figures slumped on the floor, presumably unconscious from the gas.
    "They're out for the count. Should be snoozing for twelve hours, which will be long enough to load their cargo into our truck and make a getaway. Get in the truck and drive it over to the cargo doors of the ship. I'll crack 'em open and see what's what."
    Karl got up, picked up the assault rifle and made his way to the Tiger Trader.
    Blacky began pacing back to the truck.
    Karl stopped for a second and turned around.
    "Oi!" he shouted out. "Don't forget the scanner you dopey sod."
    Blacky stopped, turned around and shuffled back to pick it up.
    "I paid a hundred and fifty creds for that shit! So make sure you take good fuckin' care of it."
    He picked up the scanner.
    Karl stood with one hand on his hips. "And the drone box!"
    Blacky turned his head back. Looked down at the box, walked over to it and picked it up.
    "Fuck me!" He shook his head in disbelief. "You are a dopey son of a bitch."
    "Shut up cracker." Blacky said cuttingly.
    Karl shook his head and continued walking to the Tiger.
    He arrived at the Tiger's cargo door control panel. Pulled a lock pick device from one of his pockets and placed it on the control panel. After loading up the appropriate programme, it started to work. A visual interface showed the progress of the lock-picking in glorious technicolour.
    The truck trundled over towards the Tiger and stopped about 10 metres from it. Blacky got out and walked over to Karl.
    "You ready yet, cracker?"
    The visual interface on the lock pick turned orange; 50% completed.
    "And knock it off with that 'cracker' shit. Unless you wanna take a 'b-i-i-i-g' fucking pay cut."
    The lock-pick display turned yellow; 75% completed.
    "Capiche." Blacky begrudgingly said.
    The lock-pick display turned green; 100% complete. Lock picked.
    The doors hissed as some air escaped from within.
    "Open say's me."
    Karl took the lock pick off and put it back in one of his pockets.
    The doors slid open, showing the Tiger's capacious cargo hold.
    Blacky leaned over, and peered inside the dim space.
    "Let's see if Aladin's got the goods we came 'ere for."
    Karl picked up his assault rifle and brace it against his shoudler, in a ready position. He wasn't entirely sure that the cargo hold was empty. Better safe than sorry, so they saying goes.
    "Switch on your space-suit's ambient lighting, and you're helmets image enhancer. You wanna see where you're going don't ya?"
     "Oh yeah, yeah, right." Blacky pushed a button on his wrist, causing a few of the working light bulbs on his suit to fire into life.
     After walking in the cargo hold, and looking around it quickly became evident that the crates are not the type of rough 'n' ready precious metals crates that they expected them to be.
     "Shit." Cursed Karl.
     "What's up man?"
     Karl rested his assault rifle up against one of the crates, kneeled down and wiped some dust off of the ID tag on the crate.
    "This doesn't look like the goods we were expecting."
    Karl took a PDA out of one of his pockets and punched a few buttons on it. He loaded up a copy of a cargo manifest that he had stolen from the nearby Starport Customs Bureau.
    The cargo manifest had a list of the goods that he expected to be on this ship. This particular Tiger Trader. It was the reason that he had targeted it, because it had high value goods on it: Lithium, magnesium and other precious metals that he could find a blackmarket buyer for with relative ease. Metals were easier to sell on the blackmarket than finished goods, because they were harder to trace. You can't really trace a lump of magnesium if it's been melted down and reforged again. But you can track down DIVA Droids due to the VIN numbers they have dotted around inside them.
It had taken Karl three standard months looking, waiting, for the 'right' quarry to rob: The right ship to rob. And, alas, 'this' ship was not 'their' ship. It did not have 'their' cargo in it.
    "Shit. This is not good."
    "What's up boss?"
    "We've got the wrong fucking ship. That's fucking what. We've shot down the wrong fucking ship. That is not good. How the fuck could that happen?"
    He knelt down again and wiped off more dust from the crate ID tag, and began punching it's numbers into his PDA.
    Blacky looked at a computer console.
    "Hey boss, why don't we boot up their computer and see what their files say.
    "Because, my mentally challenged friend, the ECM you used disabled their electronics."
    "But we could..."
    "It would take an age to boot up their systems again, which is an age we do not have." He continued furtively punching away at his PDA.
    "So what're we gonna do?"
    "Do? We, I mean I, am going to contact my friend, Rex Merchant, who is an insider at the local starport, where 'this' ship probably came from, and see if he can tell me what is in 'these' crates we're looking at."
    Blacky frowned. "Why don't we just gedda crow-bar and open 'em up?"
    "They are designed to survive the perils of deep space." He pushed 'send' on his email message. "I don't think a crow-bar and several newton-metres of force are going to open them, do you?"
    "Now it's just a matter of wait thirty minutes and see."
    Karl sat down and leaned his back against one of the crates. Blacky followed suit.
    A few minutes of silence passed.
    'flash flash. flash flash.'  His PDA indicated a message had arrived.
    "That was quick." Remarked Erhl. He read the message, it was from Rex: 'Do NOT steal the crates under any circumstances. They contain Federation-Military artificial-organs for super-soldiers. The Fed will be on to you ASAP. Get out, NOW.'
    He cursed quietly. "Fuck."
     Blacky turned his head. "What's up?"
    "My fucking blood pressure that's fucking what." Karl hastily picked up his rifle and paced toward the cargo hold. Blacky followed suit.
    "Wadda you say?"
    "I said we need to get the fuck out of here right now. 'This ship' is an unmarked Federation Military vessel."
     Blacky's eyebrows shot up to the top of his head.
    "Yes my little negro friend, even 'you' can figure out this is 'not' good."
    "Oh shee-it!"
    "Let's get in the truck and get the ECM and get the fuck out of here."
    "I'm witchoo on that man."
    They made a run for it, not bothering to shut the cargo doors behind them.
    Jumping into the truck's cabin, they closed it's doors and made a bee-line back to the ECM as fast as the second-rate truck would take them.


* * *


    After they'd arrived back at the ECM and had finished loading it and the SAM launcher into the back of the truck, they noticed a Tiger Trader lazily flying over head. Puzzled, Karl looked at Blacky and Blacky looked at Karl. Then they both looked back at the ship, flying off into the horizon.
    "Is that what I think it is?"
    "I don't know what it is man."
    The Tiger continued off into the distance.
    A thought occurred to Karl.
    "Is that 'our' fucking ship?"
    "I said, is that 'our' fucking ship?"
    Karl, turned to directly face Blacky. "Hang on a minute. Did you double check the Registration number on the Tiger before you ECM'd it?"
    "Oh fuck." Karl sighed and shook his head. "You are one thick piece of shit Blacky. You know that?" He said in a frustrated tone.
    "Hey man!" His voice rose in defensive tones. "How was I ta know? Dem registration numbers all look the same ta me!"
    "I don't believe this! This is insane! Check a bog standard registration number, that's all you had to do! How hard can it be?!" Karl pointed at Blacky. "You're a complete fucking idiot!"
    Karl took one final look toward the Tiger Trader. He saw it drop over the horizon and disappear out of view, taking with it their hopes of a successful heist.
    Karl looked back at his partner, and was overcome by a wave of incredulity: 'How can a career-criminal be so stupid!?'.
    I'd love to ditch this guy and employ someone else, someone with skills and brains, someone who could actually pull off a successful heist. Wouldn't that be bliss? Wouldn't that be marvellous?! Just imagine it: a successful couple of heists, some cash in the bank, and then I can retire to the Seychelles for sun, surf, and Sambucas. But you know what? That ain't gonna happen. I'm never gonna be able to retire by 40; and do you know why? Because...
    You just can't get the staff these days.


Saturday, 11 October 2014

Men of Yore: Joseph Aspdin

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Joseph Aspdin

Aspdin, Joseph (bap. 1778, d. 1855), cement maker, was baptized on 25 December 1778 in Hunslet, Leeds, the eldest in the family of five sons and one daughter of Thomas Aspdin, bricklayer of Hunslet, and his wife, Mary. Aspdin followed his father's trade of bricklayer and builder at Briggate, Leeds. On 21 May 1811 he married Mary Fotherby at Hunslet. They had two sons and five daughters, two of whom died in infancy.

Aspdin's experiments with cement making led him to apply for a patent, which was granted in June 1824, for ‘An improvement in the modes of producing an artificial stone’—the first patent to be granted which used the term ‘portland cement’.

Cement is the term in common use for a powder which hardens when mixed with water and is used to bind together aggregates of gravel and stone to produce concrete. In the second half of the nineteenth century portland became the most popular type of cement and it has been used in vast quantities for building and construction in all parts of the world. In Aspdin's day cement manufacture was undergoing relatively rapid development and many experimenters were working in the field. Aspdin took the name for his patent material from portland stone, which had a high reputation and provided a standard with which artificial products would naturally be compared. To produce the high strengths associated with modern portland cement it was necessary to burn at high temperatures finely pulverized lime with clay in certain proportions, and grind the product. It is uncertain when Aspdin made this breakthrough. He may have used a glasshouse kiln, which would be more likely to reach the high temperatures required for successful burning of portland cement than the lime-burning kiln used by his competitors. There was a glassworks at Hunslet at this time and a glassworks and foundries at Wakefield.

Aspdin set up a partnership in 1824 with a neighbour, William Beverley, as ‘patent portland cement manufacturers’, operating from Leeds and Wakefield, to where Aspdin moved, and later expanded to an agency at Liverpool. The partnership ended in 1837, and Aspdin recommenced manufacture with his two sons, James and William, at a nearby site in Kirkgate, Wakefield, and took James into partnership three years later. When Aspdin retired in 1844, James continued the business.

William Aspdin moved to London in 1841, forming a succession of partnerships to make portland cement at Rotherhithe, Northfleet, and Gateshead upon Tyne in England, and Hamburg in Germany. It appears that his father deliberately excluded him from the family business, but despite this William was an enthusiastic advocate, often with exaggeration, of the superior qualities of portland cement.

Aspdin died at his home in Hansons Terrace, Wakefield, on 20 March 1855 and was buried in St John's churchyard, Wakefield. A tablet to his memory was unveiled in Leeds town hall in 1924. 

Concrete is often derided as a building material because of the poorly designed and un-aesthetic buildings that have been built out of from the 1950s onwards (both in the tower blocks of the Communist East and the shopping centres of the Capitalist West).  However that is not the fault of concrete, or the men who conceived it, but rather the architects who made poor use of it.  It is an outstanding and versatile building material as we can see practically everywhere, both indoors and outdoors.  It can be manufactured easily (Aspdin made the first Portland cement in his kitchen), shaped easily to suit many many purposes easily, and easily recyclable when it's lifecycle has ended.  You can't ask for much more than that from a building material!

It should also be noted that while Aspdin is credited with being the inventor of Portland Cement he is one link in a long chain of men who made their own unique innovations (as personal, individual discoveries) and thus contributions to the development of cement, men who lived before Aspdin and came after him as well, one link in an important chain that stretches on to this day and potentially in to the future.