What Is This Place?

The top image is from the SONO Switch Tower Museum. A treat little place to visit in South Norwalk CT. I occasionally volunteer there from time to time.

I think that I need to update the sticky post. And add some rules.  First the rules.

Comments are very much welcomed. .  If you choose to remain anonymous you MUST provide a actual email address and a real, not Tor IP.  I want to talk to real people who have real personalities. If you want to not have your comment posted just say so and it will never escape moderation. If you want to find me offline my linked in profile is in the “about” post.

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Frames Of Reference

When people first started to fly, an important question emerged.  The question was “which way was up?” That seems like and easy question to answer, but when you are flying around in an airplane in a fog, it becomes more complicated. Here’s what aircraft in the early days of flight looked like.


Here’s an early instrument panel.  At this time, the only way of knowing which way was up was a spirit level that is in the middle of the panel. Which is fine if you can see the ground or don’t roll too far.  The problem with a spirt level as a roll indicator was that force other than gravity could affect it.  Since an aircraft in a turn encounters centripetal forces this was a large issue as aircraft performance increased during WW1. Also while a level could show roll, it couldn’t show pitch witch could be a bad thing when you are forced to fly by the seat of your pants and can’t see the ground.



A bit later instruments started toward a true artificial horizon. This was possible due to Lawrence Sperry’s realization that a gyroscope could be used to maintain a straight line regardless of the motion of the aircraft around it. This that if you attached a indicator to the gyro it could be used to represent the horizon.  This amazingly simple concept was one of the keys to allowing aircraft to fly in all weathers and safely, even at night.  The Artificial horizon hasn’t changed very much in function since it was invented.


Here’s an early artificial horizon from the Smithsonian.  Surprisingly it’s instantly recognizable and could probably be fitted and used as intended.


Here’s a bunch more links that I found about artificial horizons.







In the late 1950’s a new problem emerged.  There was a big move to get off the planets surface and into space.  The thing is that when you go into space there is no horizon at all.  For a ballistic missile this isn’t a problem because an inertial guidance system can tell the missile where it is by measuring the changes in velocity and attitude.

For spacecraft that orbit the earth or move beyond Earth’s orbit the frame of reference question reasserts itself.  solving that issue was key to getting men on the moon and beyond .


Of course once you get into space “up” becomes a frame of reference question. If everything is moving, how do choose the frame of reference. At first the idea was to have a globe repeat where you were over the earth and telescope to look down.  That proved to be useless for a variety of reasons and after Glenn’s Mercury flight the telescope and “earth path indicator” were removed and replaced with an attitude indicator that more or less behaved the same way as an artificial horizon.  Still the earth path indicator is an elegant little machine. Here’s a link to the Smithsonian’s Earth Path Indicator.


This NASA report show the Mercury Attitude Indicator that was later replaced.


Here’s some pictures of various spacecraft dashboards.


And some more stuff on the attitude indicators and gyroscopes.



The definition of a frame of reference is an important part of knowing where you are going. So while the “up” is arbitrary you need an “up.” The gyroscope gives vehicles that have no fixed direction that “up.” Which is why it’s one of most important technologies of aerospace.


The First Instance Of Caisson Disease

Caisson disease, better known as compression Sickness or the bends became widely known with the construction of the deep piers of the Eads Bridge in St Louis. Caisson disease, not actually a disease. What happens is that the deeper you into the water the more you compresss.  If you are on breath hold like most of the divers in the 19th Century your lungs compress with the rest of you and there’s not really any possibility of nitrogen bubbling into the blood stream under compression.


Hard hat diving had been around since the early 19th Century, but I couldn’t find much on the internet about decompression sickness from 19th Century hard hat divers.  I suspect that much of the reason for that is that hard hat diving is strenuous enough that bottom times are fairly short and the ascents are slow, so the possibility of the bends is mitigated somewhat.


For the people working in the caissons it was a different story. They were spending 12 hour days in the caisson and then exiting right from compressed air to one atmosphere. Which made cases of the bends inevitable.  I suspect that only the general health of the workers kept the situation from becoming a total disaster.


Things might have gone easier if the engineers on the Eads bridge had known about what happened to the crews of this early submarine.

Then Delgado found a New York Times article dated 1866 that outlined an event that happened on a New York river.  According to the article, Julius Kroehl, who was a German-American who invented one of the first submarines that could be fully submerged and travel under water, had been testing out his ship in the river when it sunk.  If this story is true, the sunken submarine is Kroehl’s Sub Marine Explorer.

But if the sunken submarine was Kroehl’s, then why would it be in Panama if it was only tested in a New York river? After more research, Delgado found out that the first trial was actually successful; that the submarine was then taken to Panama to be used for collecting pearls.  It is said that the submarine actually lasted a few weeks while collecting pearls, however, something must have gone terribly wrong to leave it rusted out in the middle of an ocean.

The submarine managed to harvest pearls successfully for a while.  In 1869 another New York Times article stated that one of the pearl-harvesting missions brought up almost 10 tons of oysters and pearls which estimated about $2,000.  However, all men who had been on the submarine contacted fever and decompression sickness; the vessel was condemned as harmful to the crewmembers’ health.  A year after the submarine arrived in Panama, Kroehl himself died from decompression sickness from diving in the submarine.  The sub was then taken to the island where it has remained beached ever since.  Delgado found it nearly 130 years later.

Sub Marine Explorer is a submersible built between 1863 and 1866 by Julius H. Kroehl and Ariel Patterson in Brooklyn, New York for the Pacific Pearl Company. It was hand powered and had an interconnected system of a high-pressure air chamber or compartment, a pressurized working chamber for the crew, and water ballast tanks. Problems with decompression sickness and overfishing of the pearl beds led to the abandonment of Sub Marine Explorer in Panama in 1869 despite publicized plans to shift the craft to the pearl beds of Baja California.

Sub Marine Explorer had an external high air pressure chamber which was filled with compressed air at a pressure of up to 200 pounds per square inch (1,400 kPa) by a steam pump mounted on an external support vessel. Water ballast tanks were flooded to make the vessel submerge. Pressurized air was then released into the vessel to build up enough pressure so it would be possible to open two hatches on the underside, while keeping water out. This meant that air pressure inside the submarine had to equal water pressure at diving depth, exposing the crew to high pressure, making them susceptible to decompression sickness, which was unknown at the time. To surface, more of the pressurized air was used to empty the ballast tanks of water.

contemporary (August 1869) newspaper account of dives in Sub Marine Explorer off Panama documents 11 days of diving to 103 feet (31 m), spending four hours per dive, and ascending with a quick release of the pressure to ambient (sea level) pressure. Modern reconstruction of Explorer’s systems suggests an ascension rate of 1 foot per second (0.30 m/s), or a rise to the surface in just under two minutes. The problems of decompression do not appear to have been clearly understood; the contemporary reference notes that at the conclusion of the dives, “all the men were again down with fever; and, it being impossible to continue working with the same men for some time, it was decided, the experiment having proved a complete success, to lay the machine up in an adjacent cove….”(The New York Times, August 29, 1869)



Apparently a large number of the crewmembers suffered from the bend and that caused the submarine use to be ended.  Which was actually reported in the papers.  The reasons were not understood and so the bend would continue to ravage bridge and tunnel projects until the 1890’s or so.  Those were brave times.

Tech Stuff 32

This is a sort of search and discover newsletter of my findings of things that may relate to technology in one way or another.  It might be the latest gosh wow tech, it might be something as old of humanity.  It might relate to science large or small.  It might be art for art’s sake.  Or somebody just doing something funky. Because I think that technology is just the representation of human creativity and breaking boundaries.  So I’m certainly not going to place boundaries here except that it won’t be the same old, same old.  So almost no gadgets or yacking about the latest phone or whatever, unless of course it involves taking them apart or destroying them in unusual ways.  Or putting them to work in imaginative ways that most people won’t even think of.  So buckle up, it’s going to be a fun ride.

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The Kiss of Death

This third one in a row of good stuff. Thanks Sarah. What happens when industries die? It happens slow and all too often the people in the middle never see what’s coming. They go on doing the same thing they always did as shop after shop closes the doors. Traditional publishing has been on this path that I’ve seen, watching from the sidelines, since the mid 1990’s, long before ebooks. Bit by bit they’ve been cutting back and killing backlists and then wondering where the customers went.

According To Hoyt

As someone who is now past fifty, I have like many of you been witness to lingering deaths.  In fact, thanks to modern medicine most deaths are now lingering deaths.  Even when the tumor/disease is found too late and we’re assured the person is not long for this world, the death drags on.  Actually for a while it often seems as though it’s not death at all, as though the person will recover, as though everything is going to be fine.

Death, the final process, the final blow, tends to happen in a devastating, sudden conflagration so that even if the person had been dying for years, you truly don’t expect it. So it’s a shock, even when it isn’t.

Institutions and industries, particularly those that have been helpful and useful for years have the same “death process” at least from everything I can discover in history.

Let’s say something…

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Another Of CT’s Economic Problems

This is typical of state politics. It’s called, let’s keep the state from growing under any circumstances.


This is a classic case.  A small group of homeowners stopping needed infrastructure improvements regardless of the consequences to the rest of the state.  I know that many states have NIMBY problems, but Connecticut takes those problems to a whole new level. At this point it is virtually impossible to get vitally needed infrastructure improvements started, let alone completed. This has been a trend here in CT since the early 1980’s or so. Small groups of politically connected very vocal  citizens block a highway, pipeline, power plant, large store or other development or infrastructure improvement strictly on narrow self interest.  About 1/2 mile from me a quickly created “citizens group” was formed to “protect the Merritt Parkway” blocked a badly need interchange improvement.  It turned that this “conservation” group was the creation of a lawyer who owned a building next to the interchange who would have had cars passing a few feet closer to his building. Never mind the fact that the parkway was built in the 1930’s as a make work project and that the interchange desperately needs improvement if for no other reason than to prevent accidents.

This is not an untypical case.  The state is littered with highway stubs and empty lots that were businesses that, for whatever reason, never got off the ground.  All too frequently that reason was a “concerned” whatever looking out for their narrow self interest over the potential growth of the state.

In many ways the state is still stuck in the 1980’s economy without the 1980’s economics. Or for that matter the 1980’s tax base.  Some of this was masked by the Fairfield County Hedge fund and corporate headquarter boom from that time, but in my lifetime I’ve seen much of the old industries close and go away, leaving the state ever more dependent on fewer and fewer businesses for revenue. Meanwhile, the strong NIMBY attitudes on the Shoreline and the Gold Coast along with the compliant lawmakers in Hartford are happy with the way things are at the ongoing moment. with proper improvements like an income tax, of course


What’s happened over the last thirty years has been a slow and measured decline in the various high tech, high value companies that used to make Connecticut the treasure that it was.  These companies have not only been driven out by the high taxes. The creaky 1970’s highway system, the dead rail system, high energy costs and high space rental costs because no modern space has been added for twenty years all contribute to the problem.

The failure if Connecticut can be measured in the things we don’t have as much as the dead economy.  In previous economic bad times Connecticut was always one of the first to recover as the state created new jobs building the next round of innovative tools for the next generation of new technologies.  That’s seemingly gone now and that can only hurt the states prospects. Certainly our politicians don’t seem to realize what they are doing.

Courageous left-wing media beats stuffing out of Straw Puppy

Is this the end of the Hugos? Probably. But at least the puppies tried. The puppies tried to play rules and make changes that have been needed for a long time. For that we were hit with every slam and insult in the Progressive lexicon. Then they wonder why the awards are going to be irrelevant.

Brad R. Torgersen

Speaking of Social Justice Zealots, it’s not shocking to see a woman like Amanda Marcotte jump on the anti-Puppy bandwagon. Salon is, after all, the publisher of such intellectual giants as Arthur Chu, who (you may recall) cast this author’s family in the unenviable role of human shields. With robust journalism like that, it’s small wonder why Salon Media Group’s stock has completely tanked over the past ten years. I know it’s a matter of rote gospel (for the Left) that the proles of the world must be led by the ear to the Truth, and if the proles aren’t having any, well it’s their own damned fault for being ignorant, racist, cisnormative scumbags — daring to have independent ideas. But there must come a time when even the Left starts to realize that the current progressive voice boxes are preaching an increasingly strident, tone-deaf, self-referential, closed-system mantra of…

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