Saturday 31 May 2014

Men of Yore: Jacques Piccard

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. 

Jacques Piccard, 1960 (aged 38)

Jacques Piccard was a Swiss oceanographer and engineer. He was born on July 28, 1922 in Brussels, Belgium. His father, Auguste Piccard, was an adventurer who had set two records for reaching the highest altitude in a balloon in 1931 and 1932. Jacques attended school at a private school called École Nouvelle de Suisse Romande in Lausanne, Switzerland. He graduated in 1943 and went to college at the University of Geneva, where he studied physics and economics. He took a year off in 1944 to serve with the French First Army. In 1946 he received his licentiate degree and in 1946 and began teaching. His father was using the buoyancy technique from balloons to develop a deep-sea submersible vehicle known as a bathyscaphe. Jacques worked with his father to improve the bathyscaphe design and prove its potential for deep water dives. They built three bathyscaphes between 1948 and 1955. In 1953 they tested a new vehicle called the Trieste and reached a depth 10,168 feet (3,099 meters) in the Mediterranean near Capri off the coast of Italy. With the successes of the bathyscaphe, Jacques gave up teaching to continue working with his father on improving the vehicle and demonstrating its uses for exploration and research.
In 1956 Jacques Piccard went to the United States to seek funding for further research. At the time, the U.S. Navy was working on submarine designs for underwater research. Piccard demonstrated the capabilities of the bathyscaphe to the Navy. They were impressed with the design and saw its potential for underwater salvage and rescue missions. They purchased the Trieste and hired Piccard as a consultant. At this time the Trieste was capable of reaching depths of up to 24,000 feet (7,315 meters). But Piccard was planning a much more daring dive which would be a literal voyage to the bottom of the sea. On January 23, 1960 Jacques Piccard and Lt. Don Walsh took the Trieste to the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. Their goal was the Challenger Deep, the deepest known place in the world. They descended for nearly five hours and reached a depth of 10,911 feet (35,797 meters). At this incredible depth, they observed fish and shrimp. This discovery shocked the scientific community because scientists were convinced that no life could survive the intense pressure this deep in the ocean. After a 20-minute stay, the Trieste dumped its ballast. The journey back to the surface took a little over three hours. The historic dive captured the imagination of the world. Piccard wrote about the adventure in Seven Miles Down with the help of Robert Dietz, a geologist who had helped to plan the mission. The dive was a success for bragging rights, but had little scientific impact since it was incapable of taking samples or taking photographs. The Trieste was retired in 1961.
After the success of the Challenger Deep mission, Piccard and his father designed a new submersible called a mesoscaphe. The first vehicle to be built was called the Auguste Piccard and was the world's first passenger submarine. It transported more than 33,000 tourists beneath Lake Geneva during the Swiss Exhibition of 1964. A later model called the Ben Franklin was used for scientific research. On July 14, 1969 the Ben Franklin was towed to the center of the Gulf Stream off the coast of Palm Beach Florida. A six-member crew led by Jacques Piccard spent more than four weeks in the vessel studying the currents for the U.S. Navy. They also provided valuable data about long duration travel in confined spaces for the U.S. space program. This data would be useful for the upcoming Apollo and Skylab projects. The crew of the Ben Franklin drifted northeast for 1,444 miles (2,324 km) and surfaced near Nova Scotia. In 1971 Piccard documented the voyage in his book The Sun Beneath the Sea. He spent the next few years as a science consultant for American deep-sea research organizations including Grumman Aircraft. His work with the oceans showed him the dangers posed by human activity. In the 1970s he founded the Foundation for the Study and Protection of Seas and Lakes. In an interview, he stated that the sea can only be saved by dramatic changes in relation to fishing and pollution. He died on November 1, 2008 in La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland. His research and inventions contributed to our understanding of the world's oceans. He loved the sea and believed that "The more people discover the sea, the greater the chance of bringing marine issues into public view and the better off we will all be."

Mars may well be the destination of choice for humankind's future at the moment, the place to colonise and explore, but there is another place much closer to home that has yet to be fully explored and catalogued: the deep seas.  They may offer us much in the way of resources, both food and minerals, that we are unable to generate on the earths surface, as well as a potential location for living quarters, cities even.  If men are able to design and build machines that can transport us to the deep oceans, shape the ocean beds according to our own will, and enable us to thrive there, then we may be able to boost the carrying capacity of the planet to accommodate even more people.  Though before we can achieve any of that men must explore the deep seas and learn more about them.  And that requires pioneering men to go out into them, explore the unknown.  Men like Jacques Piccard, who may well end up being remembered in the same vain as other great intrepid explorers like Christopher Columbus, or Armstrong and Aldrin.


Wednesday 28 May 2014

Havamal Snippets 143: Odin's opinion on Gods, Elves, Dwarves and Giants

This verse seems to be just a list of four of the different races of the Norse Mythology and their ruler.  I'm not sure what to make of it so I'll post the thoughts of the man who runs THIS website again.  (I don't like constantly deferring to others, but as needs must):

You remember that the adjective óðr meansfuriousand that the substantive óðr meansintelligence’. In our civilization, we tend to confusefuriousandangry’. The feelings are certainly similar but anger blinds you while fury enlightens you; for example it will help you to see a truth that someone tries to hide. Poetry and runes are practiced with creative fury, if not they remain style exercises. We can thus carve the runes in an inspired fury, a mystical fury, and even a desperate fury. We then involve our body, our heart and our spirit into the task to be achieved. The other uses of the runes, the games inspired by the runes are at best ineffective.

The word dáinn means eitherimpotentorfilled with wonder, ecstatic’. By giving this name to the first elf carver of runes, Ódhinn shows that he somewhat despises elf magic. For a god of action as Ódhinn, an impotent person (we speak here only of the incapacity to act) is a lower being since he/she is lítt megandi as explained in the comment of stanza 141. The added meaning of being ecstatic as well shows that Ódhinn has little respect for ecstatic people because they are unable to act, and they vaticinate without taking their problems in hand.

The word dvalinn means 'who waddles' or 'who is unable to decide when to act'. Dwarf magic does not interest Ódhinn much more than the one of the elves.

As opposed to this contempt, the name of the giant magician is more intriguing. The word ásviðr (ás-viðr which is read áss-viðr) means “one of the Æsir-tree.” Ódhinn thus exposes his respect for giantsmagic, which carries no surprise, as stanza 140 taught us. This stanza, even in its most prosaic and rational version possible, explicitly states that Ódhinn inherited nine magic songs coming from his maternal uncle. If we recall stanza 138, we understand that this ásviðr strongly evokes Yggdrasill which is “the tree of the gods Æsir,” to which Ódhinn has been hung. Moreover, as an initiator of giantsrunic magic, Ásviðr name qualifies to be his uncle’s one.

In an even more significant way, it shows that runic magic is related to a worship of the tree of world, something left implicit in 138.

Óðinn með ásum
en fyr álfum Dáinn
ok Dvalinn dvergum fyrir
Ásviðr jötnum fyrir
ek reist sjálfr sumar            
Othinn among the gods,
Dainn for the elves
and Dvalinn for the dwarves,
Asvithr for the giants
-- I myself carved some.


Friday 23 May 2014

Men of Yore: Paracelsus

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. 


The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus was one of the most influential medical scientists in early modern Europe.

His real name was Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim and he was the son of a doctor. After a brief period as a medical student in Italy, he travelled all over Europe and beyond as a military surgeon with the Venetian army, visiting Russia, Arabia and Egypt along the way. Mixing with people from many cultures, he gained considerable knowledge of several folk medicine traditions. ‘I have not been ashamed’, he wrote, ‘to learn from tramps, butchers and barbers.’ These influences led him to reject much of university-taught medicine.

He changed his name to Paracelsus (‘equal to Celsus’) to indicate that he wanted to rival ancient medical authorities such as Galen and Celsus. He rejected Galen’s claim that health and disease were controlled by the four humours and told doctors to study nature and develop personal experience through experiment. On the other hand, he continued to subscribe to all kinds of folk beliefs such as gnomes, spirits and fairies.

Paracelsus also had some training in alchemy, from which he picked up the principle that metals were the key elements which made up the universe, and that they were subject to control by God, the ‘great magician’ who created nature.

Paracelsus argued that the body was a chemical system which had to be balanced not only internally, but which also had to be in harmony with its environment. On the basis of this idea, Paracelsus introduced new chemical substances into medicine, for instance the use of the metal mercury for the treatment of syphilis.

In 1526 he was appointed Professor of Medicine at the University of Basel, Switzerland. Paracelsus overthrew convention by publicly burning the books of Ibn Sina and Galen. He also invited ordinary citizens to his lectures, which he gave wearing an alchemist’s leather apron rather than an academic gown. His new methods were very controversial, and in 1538 he was exiled from Basel. He died in 1541 in Austria.

Paracelsus' defining characteristic is that he valued experimentation above unquestioned tradition.  He didn't believe that that cultural norms of the medical community were beyond raproach, regardless of who established those norms or how long they had been around.  Indeed he didn't hold the medical establishment as a whole in particularly high regard as is evidenced by him burning books in public.  Nor did he think much of the medical colleges or the people who inhabited them:
He wrote later that he wondered how “the high colleges managed to produce so many high asses,” a typical Paracelsian jibe.
The cynics among you might think "Colleges produced asses in the medieval period?  How little things have changed!"  Whatever you may think, for me personally reading Paracelus' comments cause me to look at modern-day doctors (or any other 'experts' for that matter) and take them down from the alter where I considered them beyond raproach.  Then look at them more closely, scrutinise them, doubt them, and on the whole begin to see them as fallible people rather than infallible supermen.  People who make mistakes.  People who are prone to ego-ism.  People who are prone to value their opinion above that of the 'uneducated commoner'.  People who don't want to admit that they are sometimes wrong.  A kind of levelling if you like.  Seeing experts as humans rather than as supermen, that's what men like Paracelsus and Thomas Wakley have made me learn.

Another interesting characteristic about Paracelsus is that he wandered widely.  He travelled all over Europe learning a great deal from everywhere that he visited and everyone whom he met.  He learnt from the rich and the poor, the esteemed and the down-trodden.  He learnt from people who had hands on experience with the human body rather than self-professed experts who studied books instead of studying the people that they were supposed to be treating.  That shows a personal willingness to try out new things, to experiment, not to walk down the same beaten path.  This point, that being well travelled causes men to become more knowledgeable of the world, is summed up well in the Havamal in verse and 18:
Verse 18
The one who is mindful and aware,
who far away travels,
and ‘liftsmuch for travelling,
what state of mind
leads such one of the men
who is aware of mindfulness.
Whatever your level of education or knowledge of the medical world, you should always remember that doctors and surgeons and all medical professionals are fallible human beings.  They may be able to bamboozle you with fancy sounding phrases, name disesases in latin, know all sorts of drugs and technologies, and have a well educated appearance, but at the end of the day they are human and can still make mistakes.  Big ones.  Science is a open to change; Paracelsus showed us that hundreds of years ago, and Thomas Wakley did again two hundred years ago.  Doctors, scientists, and other experts are not above you.  They are not superior to you.  They are only helpers or guides.  Value yourself first, and then put others on that same level as you.  That way you won't fall for the mistake of over-valuing fallible human beings at the expense of yourself or the truth.


Wednesday 21 May 2014

Havamal Snippets 142: The runes

Alas, this is another stanza that I can't get my head fully around, so I'll leave the explantion of it to the man who runs THIS website:

This stanza requires three types of explanations: 1.A commentary of some nontraditional qualifiers of the runes, 2. Which features characterize the runes since their creation?   3. An analysis of the role of the three rune creators.

1. How to qualify the runes.

First of all, the second line says that the runes are ráðna, i.e.interpreted, understoodwhat is no more the case nowadays. This implies that the properties of the runes in the following lines and stanzas relate to correctly interpreted and understood runes. When we note the mass of the works where a version of the meaning of each rune is stated (and not discussed, explained… interpreted), we see that this first Ódhinn’s remark, though implicit, is hardly respected.

The third line says that they are stóra, an adjective which carries the meaning of power associated to some ruthlessness. It never should be forgotten that the runes quickly become ruthless. They do not yield to the criteria of compassion andpurelove that our civilization romanticizes.

The fourth line says they are stinna i.e. strong and rigid. The notions of power and strength of the runes crossed the centuries as archetypes while the brutal and stiff runes were slowly forgotten. The last ones were revived by the Nazis who, on the contrary, forgot their power and their strength, which can act with softness. It should be forgotten, no more than their brutality and stiffness. By their ‘stiffness’, I understand that Ódhinn says that they have a clear meaning and that we should not try totwistit to our whims. Our understanding must yield and adapt in front of the stiff strength carried by the runes.

2. On the creation of the runes

The runes were painted/got, made/set up and scratched/hacked.

- the last couple of qualifiers is easy to understand. The “Hroptr of the powers” etches them on wood and needs more strength to put them on metal or stone.

- the couple made/set up clearly states that they were designed/shaped by the ginnregin i.e.the supreme powers’. These supreme powers might be Nature, as seen by dedicated atheists, or their God for the fundamentalists, or the big-bang, for the mystics of astrophysics. In all cases, the majesty of the design of the runes remains practically the same. As the place where the roots of Yggdrasill take their support (stanza 138), the runes belong to the unfathomable mechanisms of the creation of the universe and we cannot say much of their origin… can any shaman visit their birthplace? I doubt it.

- Lastly, how this “wise storyteller” could paint/get them? We have to paint them, color the runes, possibly with the red of our blood, with the aim toactivatethem, as we would say now. We thusgetliving runes that are ready to be used.

3. On the creators of the runes

First of all, the commentators tend to see the same character hidden behind these three names, i.e. Ódhinn. This means that Ódhinn, who is already overloaded with nicknames describing his many functions, should also carry being a fimbulþulr and the ginnregin (a plural noun). As for the ginnregin, anyway, this is opposed to our mythology that describes Ódhinn like born after the formation of the universe, as he says himself in stanza 140. It thus appears much more reasonable to me to acknowledge that the creators of the runes are three different divine entities.

- the fimbulþulr, that is the immense-wise storyteller, is the one who perpetuates the traditions, who transmits knowledge. He collected the knowledge of how activating the runes, and he seems to have received it at the origin of the runes.

- the ginnregin must be the forces that built the runes. They conceived the structure of Futhark, that is the fact that the 24 runes are structured into three ættir (families) and provided in a given ordering. The ginnregin look like the architects who conceived the structure of thehousethey built.

- Hroptr of the powers seems to be indeed Ódhinn owing to the fact that the name Hroptr is often allotted to him. However … as a power reigning over the rögn? Moreover why Ódhinn would need to collect the runes at the Yggdrasill’s foot if he were one of their three creators? Ódhinn is called Hroptatýr, which qualifies it well as an Æsir’s leader but not as one ofthe powers’. Once again, as in the case of the final destiny of Burr and Bestla, without inventing a romantic story, I must call upon the concept of a “lost myth” in order to understand how Ódhinn can be called aherald of the unsaid truths’ according to the translation I propose for Hroptr (or, rather Hróptr). We know practically nothing of the Ódhinn who left Frigg and whose place has been temporarily taken, at Frigg’s side, by Vili and Vé. Ódhinn’s character, such as we know it by later texts, suggests an intelligent god who does not sputter his words. His blood brother, Loki [again, an unknown myth: the one in which took place the ceremony which hallowed their fraternity] plays exactly the same role of a hidden truth discloser (not the one of crier). This role, now degraded in the one of the ragna (king’s) fool, might have been played by Ódhinn with dignity. I thus feel it quite possible that the conjunction of Loki’s crafty and fragile intelligence and Ódhinn’s sincere and powerful one might have led them to tell to the gods unpleasant truths. As an example, think of them explain to the other gods the Norns’ power as a limit to their freedom. Here is the scheme of a possible explanation the meaning I give to this ‘slanderer’ (a meaning carried by the verb hrópa) who dares to put the gods in front of their weaknesses.

As a conclusion, we can as notice that the above three characters cannot integrate Dumézil’s trilogy of the sovereign gods. That drives us to think that the present trilogy corresponds to beliefs older than the Indo-European civilization. The runes could well have not reached their status of written signs before, say, the second century, while they convey a much older knowledge.

Rúnar munt þú finna
ok ráðna stafi
mjök stóra stafi
mjök stinna stafi
er fáði fimbulþulr
ok gørðu ginnregin
ok reist Hroptr rögna          
You can find runes
and meaning staves,
very mighty staves,
very strong staves,
which a mighty sage coloured
and mighty powers made,
and Hroptr of the gods carved.


Friday 16 May 2014

Men of Yore: Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir

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. 
Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir

Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir also known as Jean J. Lenoir (12 January 1822 – 4 August 1900) was a Belgian engineer who developed the internal combustion engine in 1858. Prior designs for such engines were patented as early as 1807, but none were commercially successful. Lenoir's engine was commercialized in sufficient quantities to be considered a success, a first for the internal combustion engine.

He was born in Mussy-la-Ville (then in Luxembourg, part of the Belgian Province of Luxembourg since 1839). By the early 1850s he had emigrated to France, taking up residence in Paris, where he developed an interest in electroplating. His interest in the subject led him to make electrical inventions including an improved electric telegraph.

By 1859 , Lenoir's experimentation without electricity led him to develop the first single-cylinder two-stroke engine which burnt a mixture of coal gas and air ignited by a "jumping sparks" ignition system by Ruhmkorff coil,[1] and which he patented in 1860. The engine differed from more modern two-stroke engines in that the charge was not compressed before ignition (a system invented in 1801 by Lebon D'Humberstein, which was quiet but inefficient),[2] with a power stroke at each end of the cylinder.[3] In 1863 the Hippomobile with a hydrogen gas fuelled one cylinder internal combustion engine made a test drive from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont: top speed about 9 km in ~3 hours.[4]
Lenoir was an engineer at petiene et Cie, who formed companies (Société des Moteurs Lenoir+ more) in Paris in 1859,[2] with a capitalization of two million francs and a factory in the Rue de la Roquette,[2] to develop the engine, and a three-wheeled carriage constructed using it. Although it ran reasonably well, the engine was fuel inefficient, extremely noisy, tended to overheat and, if sufficient cooling water was not applied, seize up. Nevertheless, Scientific American advised in September 1860 the Parisian newspaper Cosmos had pronounced the steam age over,[5] and by 1865, 143 had been sold in Paris alone, and production by Reading Gas Works for Lenoir Gas Engines in London had begun.[1]

In 1863 Lenoir demonstrated a second three-wheeled carriage, little more than a wagon body set atop a tricycle platform.[2] It was powered by a 2543 cc (155 in3; 180×100 mm, 7.1×3.9in)[1] 1.5 hp "liquid hydrocarbon" (petroleum) engine with a primitive carburettor which was patented in 1886.[6] It successfully covered the 11 km (7 mi) from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont and back in about ninety minutes each way, an average speed less than that of a walking man (though doubtless there were breakdowns).[1] This succeeded in attracting the attention of tsar Alexander II, and one was sent to Russia, where it vanished. (Lenoir himself was not pleased, however; in 1863, he sold his patents to Compagnie Parisienne du Gaz and turned to motorboats, instead, building a naptha-fuelled four-cycle in 1888.)[2][1]

Most applications of the Lenoir engine were as a stationary power plant powering printing presses, water pumps, and machine tools. They "proved to be rough and noisy after prolonged use",[1] however. Other engineers, especially Nikolaus Otto, began making improvements in internal combustion technology which soon rendered the Lenoir design obsolete. Less than 500 Lenoir engines of between 6 and 20 hp were built, including some under license in Germany.[2]

It may be fashionable at present to belittle the internal combustion engine for its polluting ways (the greenies certainly don't hold anything back) but there's no doubt that it has served mankind well over it's 130-odd year lifetime.  I don't think anyone would prefer to have a horse-powered carriage or inefficient steam-powered automotive over one powered by an internal combustion engine.  It has served man and continues to serve man throughout all parts of the economy: from the collection of raw materials (in mining trucks and combine harvesters); to transportation (in railway locomotives and container ships); to processing (in small power stations and grain mills); to the retail process (in cars); and also the service industry (like ambulances).  It really has done a lot to improve the lives of billions of people all over the world.  Just think of all the farming, mining, hauling that have freed people from labour-intensive jobs.   If Lenoir hadn't had designed and built the internal combustion engine then the world would still be using the massively energy inefficient steam engine or horse-power to get their work done.  Men like Lenoir make all of our lives more productive, both directly and indirectly, by creating such empowering, inglorious, and unassuming, contraptions.

Another point to note is that Lenoir could communicate, sell, his inventions to other people.  This is an essential attribute of his character, without which his invention would have remained in some dusty workshop somewhere, helping no-one.  Men have vocal cords and lungs for a reason (besides breathing of course!) and that's to communicate good ideas to other men.  It's no good coming up with the cure of all cures (cancer) if you keep it locked away in a laboratory somewhere.  It's no good coming up with the truths of all truths (enlightenment) if you keep it locked away in a cloistered monastery somewhere.  Truths need to be shared.  No matter how below us we may think broadcasting and advertising may be, they do have the essential ability to communicate ideas to the world (even if the ideas that the TV communicates are indeed dross).  If you come up with a good idea, share it!


Wednesday 14 May 2014

Havamal Snippets 141: Odin grows in knowing after gaining knowledge of the Runes

This verse continues Odin's journey gaining knowledge (in the form of the runes) after hanging on the World Tree, Yggdrasil.  It explains how Odin's wisdom grows from humble beginnings to something bigger, very much like a tree grows from a simple fractal pattern to form a mighty & impressive looking tree.  Trees are used as analogs for other things in the world, be they phylogenetic tree, technology trees (from computer games), family tree of Gods, or other things that develops and grows over time.  If you bind yourself to one of these trees, as Odin did with the 'World Tree' Yggdrasil, then you will become a part of it, at one with it, and then you will know what it knows.  In the same way that Buddha gained knowledge of the world by meditating under the Boddhi Tree, which is symbolic of the Buddha gaining knowledge of the world, much like Odin (although they took different paths to this knowledge, one torrid and the other peaceful).  This is what it means to gain knowledge, it means to be at one with something.

Þá nam ek frævask
ok fróðr vera
ok vaxa ok vel hafask
orð mér af orði
orðs leitaði
verk mér af verki
verks leitaði         
Then I began [2] to be
[1] fruitful [2] and wise,
to grow and to flourish;
speech fetched my speech for speech,
action fetched my action for action.


Friday 9 May 2014

Men of Yore: John Wilkinson

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. 

John Wilkinson

John "Iron-Mad" Wilkinson (1728–1808) was an English industrialist who pioneered the use and manufacture of cast iron and cast-iron goods in the Industrial Revolution. He was the inventor of a precision boring machine that could bore cast iron cylinders such as those used in steam engines, which bored for James Watt's engines. His boring machine has been called the first machine tool. He also developed a blowing device for blast furnaces that allowed higher furnace temperatures, increasing their capacity.

Early Life
John Wilkinson was born in Little Clifton, Bridgefoot, Cumberland (now part of Cumbria), the eldest son of Isaac Wilkinson and Mary Johnson. Isaac was then the potfounder at the blast furnace there,[1] one of the first to use coke instead of charcoal, which was pioneered by Abraham Darby.
John and his half-brother William, who was 17 years younger, were raised in a non-conformist Presbyterian family and he was educated at a dissenting academy at Kendal, run by Dr Caleb Rotherham.[2] His sister Mary married another non-conformist, Joseph Priestley in 1762. Priestley also played a role in educating John's younger brother, William.
In 1745, when John was 17, he was apprenticed to a Liverpool merchant for five years and then entered into partnership with his father.[2]

His Enterprises
From 1755 John Wilkinson became as a partner in the Bersham concern and in 1757 with partners, he erected a blast furnace at Willey, near Broseley in Shropshire.[3] Later he [built other factories] at New Willey,[..] Broseley, Snedshill, Hollinswood, Hadley, Hampton Loade, [..] Bradley.  He became known as the Father of the extensive South Staffordshire iron industry with Bilston as the start of the Black Country. In 1761, he took over Bersham Ironworks as well. Bradley became his largest and most successful enterprise, and was the site of extensive experiments in getting raw coal to substitute for coke in the production of cast iron. At its peak, it included a number of blast furnaces, a brick works, potteries, glass works, and rolling mills. The Birmingham Canal was subsequently built near the Bradley works.

His Principle Invention:
- Boring machine for steam engines
James Watt had tried unsuccessfully for several years to obtain accurately bored cylinders for his steam engines, and was forced to used hammered iron, which was out of round and caused leakage past the piston. In 1774 John Wilkinson invented a boring machine in which the shaft that held the cutting tool extended through the cylinder and was supported on both ends, unlike the cantilevered borers then in use. With this machine he was able to bore the cylinder for Boulton & Watt's first commercial engine, and was given an exclusive contract for the provision of cylinders.[7] [..]Wilkinson's achievement was a milestone in the gradual development of boring technology, as its fields of application broadened into engines, pumps, and other industrial uses.

Copper Interests
John Wilkinson made his fortune selling good quality goods made of iron and reached his limit of investment expansion. His expertise proved useful when he invested in many copper interests. In 1761 the Royal Navy clad the hull of the frigate HMS Alarm with copper sheet to reduce the growth of marine biofouling and prevent attack by the Teredo shipworm. The drag from the hull growth cut the speed and the shipworm caused severe hull damage, especially in tropical waters. After the success of this work the Navy decreed that all ships should be clad and this created a large demand for copper that Wilkinson noted during his visits to shipyards. He bought shares in eight Cornish copper mines and met Thomas Williams, the 'Copper King' of the Parys Mountain mines in Anglesey. [..]Wilkinson and Williams worked together on several projects. They were amongst the first to issue trade tokens ('Willys' and 'Druids') to alleviate the shortage of small coins. Jointly they set up the Cornish Metal Company in 1785 as a marketing company for copper. Its aim was to ensure both a good return for the Cornish miners and a stable price for the users of copper. Warehouses were set up in Birmingham, London, Bristol and Liverpool.

To help his business interests and to service his trade tokens, Wilkinson bought into partnerships with banks in Birmingham, Bilston, Bradley, Brymbo and Shrewsbury.

Wilkinson had a good reputation as an employer. Wherever new works were established, cottages were built to accommodate employees and their families. He gave significant financial support to his brother-in-law, Dr Joseph Priestley. He became a church warden in Broseley and was later elected High Sheriff of Denbighshire. In schools that had no slates he was able to provide iron troughs to hold sand for the practice of writing and arithmetic. He provided a cast-iron pulpit for the church at Bilston.

Family life, and death
John married Ann Maudsley in 1759. Her family was wealthy and her dowry helped to pay for a share in the New Willey Company. After the death of Ann, his second marriage, when he was 35, was to Mary Lee, whose money helped him to buy out his partners. When he was in his seventies, his mistress Mary Ann Lewis, a maid at his estate in Brymbo Hall, gave birth to his only children, a boy and two girls.
By 1796, when he was 68, he was producing about one-eighth of Britain's cast iron.[9] He became "a titan" – very wealthy, and somewhat eccentric. His "iron madness" reached a peak in the 1790s, when he had almost everything around him made of iron, even several coffins and a massive obelisk to mark his grave, which still stands in the village of Lindale-in-Cartmel in Lancashire (now part of Cumbria). He was appointed Sheriff of Denbighshire for 1799.[10]
He died on 14 July 1808 at his works in Bradley, probably from diabetes. He was originally buried at his Castlehead estate at Lindale.

He left a very large estate in his will (more than £130,000), to which he intended to make his three children the principal heirs, with executors to manage the estate for them. However his nephew Thomas Jones contested the will in the Court of Chancery. By 1828, the estate had largely been dissipated by lawsuits and poor management. His corpse, in its distinctive iron coffin, was moved several times over the next decades, but is now lost.[11]


John Wilkinson is a man who is responsible for the development of both semi-raw materials (high quality iron & steel) and the machine tools that shaped them.  Machine tools, such as metal-working lathes, that are vital to our modern high-tech industrial economy.  Unlike some of the other industrial tools in our high-tech society these machine tools are based on really simple principles that anyone can understand and explore for themselves.  One way to think of a machine tool, like a metal-working lathe, is to think of it as a potters wheel that is turned through 90 degrees. 
They are both devices that:
1. Hold a raw material (be it a lump of clay or a lump of steel),
2. Rotate this raw material around a single axis (the potters wheel on a vertical axis, the lathe on a horizontal one).
3. Allow the artisan to shape the raw material to whatever shape he wants (be it a clay pot, or a threaded bolt).
It's a really simple principle but provides the opportunity to manufacture a whole range of goods, including semi-finished goods (for other manufacturers), tools (such as drill bits), and finished/consumer goods.  This principle and others like it are what men like Wilkinson leave to posterity.  Posterity that we now are living in and are much better off for it.  While we may not see the direct results of something like a metal working lathe in our everyday lives, we certainly do benefit from it.


Wednesday 7 May 2014

Havamal Snippets 139: Learning truths means temporarily losing yourself to fear

This verse follows on from verse 138 which describes Odin hanging on the World Tree being buffeted by strong winds in a bid to understand more, to learn more, to know more.  Enduring hardships, be they strong winds like Odin, or whatever, seems a fundamental part of learning truths.  The two seem to be intertwined somewhat.  Though why this is so I just don't know.  In the case of Odin he had to endure fear, which caused him to scream out in fright, before gaining knowledge of the Runes.

Við hleifi mik sældu
né við hornigi
nýsta ek niðr
nam ek upp rúnar
œpandi nam
fell ek aptr þaðan               
They cheered me with a loaf
and not with any horn,
I investigated down below,
I took up the runes,
screaming I took them,
and I fell back from there.

P.S. I hit the 'save' button instead of the 'publish' button when I was composing the post, and didn't notice the mistake until today.  Sorry for that.


Tuesday 6 May 2014

Alternative Lyrics to Well Known Songs 25 - Matriarchs Prison

If you read any of the many blogs in the Androsphere for any period of time, then you'll start to notice how much they focus on certain female personality types: the cheating girlfriend, the gold digger, the BDP woman and others.  But one type that I haven't seen mentioned all that often is the controlling/domineering woman.  This weeks edition of 'alternative lyrics' is based on this particular personality type, the woman that controls a mans life.

This song caricatures the female dominated household as a matriarchs prison, because that's effectively what it is: a prison run by a mothering-type woman.  If a man doesn't exert most, or at least some, control over the affairs of the household, then he ceases to be free in it.  No freedom = a prison.  And if that prison is run by a woman, or a mother, then it's a matriarch.  Simple!

Unfortunately, female run housholds seem to be an increasing trend in Western society, notably the USA.  This is an occurance in single-parent households, where single-mothers predominate, as well as household with a husband and wife.  The former is demonstrated by single-parent families (which are mainly female headed), and the latter point is exemplified by the rise of the 'man cave'.  A man cave is effectively a male refuge: a small, unwanted corner of the homested (unwanted by the woman notice), where he can feel free to be himself, to be manly, without the risk of upsetting 'the little woman' or incurring onto any of her territory (territory which seems to expand like urban sprawl into the countryside: first she controlled the kitchen, then it was the bathroom, then it was the bedroom, then it was the hallway etc).  He is free to be himself there, to be manly, without any judgement or complaints from any women.  At first glance this might be seen as a good deal because both parties are happy.  But in reality it's not.  Why?  Because the man has given up his freedom.  The woman control the house, what it looks like on the inside, what it looks like on the outside, what it smells like, who enters it, who leaves it, what goes in it, what goes out of it, everything.  He, the man of the house, has given up control without any protest at all.  It's like he's satisifed to be treated like a child.  It's almost like he's isolated himself on an American-Indian Reservation without so much as a complaint.  And men in the West consider themselves to be free?  Really?!

Well, something's got to change.  Either men are going to take control over the affairs of the household and over the affair's of the country, or they're both going to sink quietly into the night.

Anyhoo, without further ado, here's the song itself.  Based on some Johnny Cash Country and Western for all you folks from the Southern States, who love jeans & stetsons, root beer and quadrilateral dancing (or is it square dancing, I forget!).

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

# Matriarch's Prison #
I hear the hope train comin'
It's rollin' 'round the bend.
And I ain't been optimistic since
I don't know when.
I'm stuck in matriarchs prison,
with no hope at all.
But that train keeps on going
without me aboard.

When I was just a nipper
my father told me "Son,
always be a wise man
don't ever submit to girls."
But I knelt before a woman,
and offered her my life.
When I hear that whistle blowin'
I hang my head and cry.

I bet there's wise men doing what they will
they're probably livin' freely
without a care in the world.
Well I guess I had it comin'
I guess I can't be free.
But that's what you get
for submittin' to girlies.

Well if I broke out of this prison
If I got onto that train
Then I guarantee that I would no longer complain
Far from Matriarchs Prison
that's where I want to be.
And I'd live out my mortal life
with total joy and harmony.


Friday 2 May 2014

Men of Yore: William Henry Perkin

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. 

William Henry Perkin

Early Life
Perkin was born in London in 1838. He was the youngest son of George Fowler Perkin, a builder and contractor, who had apparently decided his son’s future before the latter had discarded his swaddling clothes. Perkin, Jr., was to be an architect.  But Perkin, Jr., had not yet decided for himself. Perhaps it was a street car conductor one day, a prime minister the next, and an engine driver the third. And then again; watching his, father’s carpenters at work, he wished to become a mechanic of some kind; and plans for buildings fired him with the ambition of becoming a painter.

In any case, in his thirteenth year he had an opportunity of watching some experiments on crystallization. It goes without saying that he forhwith decided to be a chemist.

Were it not that about this time Perkin entered the City of London School, and there came in contact with one of the science masters, Mr. Thomas Hall, this latest decision might have been as fleeting as his previous ones.

The City of London School, like all important educational institutions of the day, considered science as an imposter in the curriculum, so that whilst Latin received a considerable slice of the day’s attention, poor little chemistry could be squeezed in only in the interval set aside for lunch.

A few boys, and among them Perkin, were sufficiently interested to forego many of their lunches and watch “Tommy Hall” perform experiments.

Hall’s infectious personality made young Perkin all enthusiastic. He was going to be a chemist, and he was going to the Royal College of Science, of which, and of its renowned chemical professor, Hall had told him much.

Hall’s earnest pleading finally overcame the father’s opposition, and in his fifteenth year Perkin entered the College. “Mr. W. Crookes,” the assistant, was the one immediately in charge.

The head professor was Hofmann, an imported product. So suggestive and illustrative were the great chemist’s lectures that, in the second semester, Perkin begged and obtained permission to hear them once again.

In the laboratory Perkin was put through the routine in qualitative and quantitative chemistry, Bunsen’s gas analysis methods serving as an appendix. This was followed by a research problem on anthracene, carried out under Hofmann’s direction, which yielded negative results, but which paved the way for successful work later. His second problem on naphthylamine proved somewhat more successful, and was subsequently published in the Chemical Journal—the first of more than eighty papers to appear from his pen.

When but seventeen Perkin already had shown his mettle to such an extent that Hofmann appointed him to an assistantship. This otherwise flattering appointment had, however, the handicap that it left Perkin no time for research. To overcome this, the enthusiastic boy fixed up a laboratory in his own home, and there, in the evenings, and in vacation time, the lad tried explorations into unknown regions.

The celebrated experiment which was to give the 17-year-old lad immortality for all time was carried out in the little home laboratory in the Easter vacation of 1856. It arose from some comments by Hofmann on the desirability and the possibility of preparing the alkaloid, quinine, artificially.

Starting first with toluidine, and then, when toluidine gave unsatisfactory results, with aniline—both being products of coal tar—Perkin treated a salt of the latter with bichromate of potash and obtained a dirty black precipitate.

Dirty, slimy precipitates had been obtained before and had, as a rule, been discarded as objectionable by-products. Perkin’s first instinct to throw the “ rubbish “ away was overcome by a second, which urged him to make a more careful examination. And this soon resulted in the isolation of the first dye ever produced from coal tar—the now well-known aniline purple or mauve.

A sample of the dye was sent to Messrs. Pullar, of Perth, with the request that it be tried on silk. “If your discovery does not make the goods too expensive, it is decidedly one of the most valuable that has come out for a long time ...” was the answer. Trials on cotton were not so successful, mainly because suitable mordants were not known. This second result some-what dampened the enthusiasm of our young friend.

Nevertheless, Perkin decided to patent the process, and, if possible, to improve the product, as well as to find improved means of application.

Full of hope and courage, the young lad had decided to stake his future on the success or failure of this enterprise. He was going to leave the Royal College of Science, and with the financial backing of his father—who seems to have had a sublime faith in his son’s ability—he was going to build a factory where the dye could be produced in quantity.

Hofmann was shown the dye and was told of the resolution. The well-meaning professor, who seemed to have had more than a passing fondness for the lad, tried all he could to persuade Perkin against any such undertaking. And let it be added that in that day, to any man with any practical common sense, Perkin’s venture seemed doomed from the start.

A site for the factory was obtained at Greenford Green, near Harrow, and the building commenced in June, 1857.

“At this time,” wrote Perkin years later, “neither I nor my friends had seen the inside of a chemical works, and whatever knowledge I had was obtained from books. This, however, was not so serious a draw-back as at first it might appear to be; as the kind of apparatus required and the character of the operations to be performed were so entirely different from any in use that there was but little to copy from.”

The practical difficulties Perkin had to overcome were such that, in comparison, the actual discovery of the dye seems a small affair. Since most of the apparatus that was required could not be obtained, it had first to be devised, then tested, and finally applied.


Today the most fundamental operations in every dye factory are nitration — the conversion, say, of benzene to nitrobenzene---and reduction—the conversion of nitro-benzene to aniline. The mode of procedure, the technique, the apparatus—all are based on the work of this eighteen-year-old lad. Only those who have attempted to repeat on an industrial scale what has been successfully carried out in the laboratory on a small scale, will appreciate the difficulties to be overcome, and the extraordinary ability that Perkin must have possessed to have overcome them.

Some have described Perkin’s discovery as accidental. Perhaps it was. But consider the way it was perfected and made available; consider with what extraordinary ability every related topic was handled; consider how every move was a new move, with no previous experience to guide him; and who but one endowed with the quality of genius could have overcome all this


In less than six months aniline purple—“Tyrian purple“ it was at first called—was being used for silk dyeing in a Mr. Keith’s dye-house. The demand for it became so great that many other concerns in England, and particularly in France, began its manufacture.  In France it was renamed “mauve,” and “mauve“ it has remained to this day.


Young Perkin had given tremendous impetus to research in pure and applied chemistry. In the preparation of dyes, substances which had, until then, been curiosities, had now become necessities, and methods for their preparation had to be devised. This led to
incalculable research in organic chemistry. In fact, it is hardly too much to say that the basis for most of the development in organic chemistry since 1856 lies in Perkin’s discovery of mauve.

Industry has not been the only benefactor. It will be remembered that using the dye, methylene blue, as a staining agent, Koch discovered the bacilli of tuberculosis and cholera. And coal-tar dyes are today used in every histological and bacteriological laboratory.

So rapid had been the progress of the industry that in 1861, Perkin who, though only 23, was already recognized as the leading English authority, was asked by the Chemical Society to lecture on coloring matters derived from coal-tar, and on this occasion the great Michael Faraday, who was present, warmly congratulated Perkin upon his fine lecture.


In 1866 he was elected to a Fellowship in the Royal Society.


In 1874 Perkin sold his factory, and from henceforth devoted himself exclusively to pure research.[...]  What led him to give up the factory and to devote himself exclusively to pure science was sheer love of the subject. It is the type of love which, when associated with genius, has led to the world’s greatest literary and artistic productions.

After 1874 Perkin moved to a new house in Sudbury, and continued to use the old one as the laboratory.

His research work from now on touched but lightly upon the dye situation. 
These researches culminated in the now classical Perkin’s Synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids- a group reaction which is studied by every student in chemistry today.

In 1870 Perkin was the recipient of the Royal Medal of the Royal Society, the other awards of the year going to Clausius, for his investigation of the Mechanical Theory of Heat, and Lecoq de Boisboudron, for the discovery of the element gallium.

Later Life
In 1881 Perkin turned his attention in an entirely new direction, that of the relationship between the physical properties and the chemical constitution of substances. Gladstone, Bruhl, and others were already busy connecting such physical manifestations as refraction and dispersion with chemical constitution. Perkin now introduced a third physical property, first discovered by Faraday: the power substances possess of rotating the plane of polarisation when placed in a magnetic field.

With this general topic Perkin was engaged to the year of his death. His work has thrown a flood of light upon the constitution of almost every type of organic compound, some, such as acetoacetic ester and benzene, being of extraordinary fascination to every chemist.

There are chemists-and H. E. Armstrong is among them—who regard this phase of Perkin’s life work as his crowning achievement. If it has not received such general recognition as his earlier work, that is to be largely ascribed to a lack of knowledge of physics which prevailed among chemists until quite recently. However, even as far back as 1889 Perkin was presented with the Davy Medal of the Royal Society as a reward for his magnetic studies.

A passage from the Chemical Society's report is worth quoting: " . . . However highly your technical achievements be rated, those who have been intimately associated with you must feel that the example which you have set by your rectitude as well as by your modesty and sincerity of purpose is of chiefest value. That you should have been able, as a very young man, to overcome the extraordinary difficulties incident to the establishment of an entirely novel industry 50 years ago is a clear proof that you were possessed in an unusual degree of courage, independence of character, judgment, and resourcefulness; but even more striking is your return into the fold of scientific workers and the ardor with which you have devoted yourself to the prosecution of abstract physico-chemical inquiries of exceptional difficulty. In the account of your renowned master, Hofmann, you have stated that one of your great fears on entering into technical work was that it might prevent your continuing research work; that you should have felt such regret at such a period is sufficiently remarkable, and it must be a source of enduring satisfaction to you to know that your later scientific work deserves, in the opinion of many, to rank certainly no less than your earlier."

Perkin died on July 14,1907.

Aside from his scientific achievements, Perkin’s life was extremely uneventful. To him his science was his life, and he seems to have had no avocation. We find no romantic dash, no such many-sidedness, as characterised his great countryman, [..] A blameless Christian, a perfect gentleman, a fine type of the old conservative, he lived unobtrusively, worked quietly and intensively, worshipped God, and respected his neighbor. To us, living in days of turmoil and upheaval, such a personage already belongs to an age long past.

Perkin was twice married. His first wife was a daughter of the late Mr. John Lisset. Some years after her death he married a daughter of Mr. Herman Molwo. Mrs. Perkin, three sons, and four daughters, survive him.

His sons are all noted chemists.


Like that other grand Englishman, Darwin, Perkin, the genius, begot Perkins of genius. Not always are the Gods so kind to the
children of geniuses:



To some people the chemical industry and process chemical dyes may not seem like an important or exciting thing to be part of, which is fair enough 'each to his own' and all that, but there's no denying that colours themselves have an impact on human emotion and thought.  Just think of the emotions that you experience, and the thoughts that pop into your head when you see colours in everyday situations (e.g. on clothes, on cars, on packaging for your cornflakes etc).  This shows the influence that colours can have on the way that people feel and think.  There are even studies that show colours have an effect on psychology (read the wikipedia entry on it HERE)

All of this variety in colour would not be possible without men like Perkin, who experimented, he tried things, he had enthusiasm, and had awareness of what he was doing.  The world would be a much duller place, in both visual and emotional terms, and more generally speaking, without chemical dyes and the dyeing industry that was established by William Perkin.