Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pottery, it's like magic for the easily impressed.

I majored in ceramics in college and got my BFA in it. My second major was History, I added History as the practical option just in case the whole 'artist thing' didn't pan out for me. Then I'd just 'eff this' and be a Historian.

Are you laughing yet?

I make poor life choices. It's funny. I actually graduated with 210+ credits. My degree called for 140. Basic math says that I could have cashed in those 70 credits for a third major, and would have been 3/4ths the way to a 4th major. Then they took away my financial aid and forced me to graduate. So, I've since been living vicariously through this blog and my local library. (libraries rule!)

But, back to the point. Ceramics. Several of my history teachers made the point that the spread of human civilization can be traced back to one very important invention, the Pottery Wheel. With the food surplus, early human civilizations needed a place to store that food and protect from the elements and any scavengers that might scurry in.

You can also use the products of the pottery wheel to hold food temporarily while transferring it to your face.

Clay is a wonderful substance. It comes from the Earth in abundance and can be used for so many purposes beyond teapots and vases for old people. It can be formed it into any shape and has numerous use. Properly engineered, clay can be used to make both weapons and armor. You can turn it into building materials, the stuff of fortresses.

But none of these processes are either easy or obvious. The pottery trade has been around for millenia, but it still boggles my mind how human beings ever managed to discover so much about the chemistry of working in clay. Clay itself is a mixture of different minerals, as are the glazes that cover the surface. Ceramics is a lot like cooking in some respects, but even more so. If you don't have the correct ingredients in the proper amounts, who knows what your end product will be. Add to that the firing process itself - >

Firing ceramics usually requires a kiln, which itself requires some clever engineering. The most basic kiln is just a hold dug in the earth and filled with fuel and pottery. It is rude and crude, as are the end products. A good kiln needs to be built to withstand temperatures that range up to a couple thousand degrees. They need to be insulated to retain said heat. They need a vent to allow the potter to control the mixture of the internal atmosphere – some stages require that you limit the flow of oxygen in the kiln to get certain effects in the glazes. Kilns are usually fashioned out of special bricks. Building one might take weeks.

I doubt that pottery will be nearly as important for early generations after the Crash. We have mastered Plastic injection technology, which has lead to a plethora of vessels that are excellent for a great many purposes. They can be made airtight in a snap and are lightweight and difficult to break. They never seem to decay and will last forever. Sadly, plastic is a lot harder to manufacture than clay goods, and the raw materials are difficult to lay your hands on. A plastic house is a lot less stout than a brick one. And for food storage, rats and mice can chew their way through the walls of a plastic bin given time. Fired clay, though brittle, is hard as rock, keeping rodents at bay.

Ceramics, they're your friend.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Getting high on jet fuel.

You know, it might be fun to learn how to fly. An aircraft. Learning to fly without one would be one million times more awesome. And one million times less likely. It's like the difference between finding a dollar on the street and winning the lotto.

Well, I think I have a decent grasp of odds, so I shall take what I can get. I think that an aircraft is a bit more in my reach. Though not by much.

With about as much money as it costs to buy a decent motorcycle you can purchase an Ultra Light Aircraft. This is a bare bones vehicle that is some what earthbound and slow compared to say a jumbo-jet. But who the hell cares? $8000 is all it takes to start flying! - This of course is usually for a kit, some assembly required and all that. The full ride will run you twice that, about the price of a compact car.

Now, that's what the actual equipment will run you. Lessons, and storage and fees for using the field. Fuel? That's always expensive. But the costs will all add up. I'm guessing that this is an expensive hobby. I imagine it's a rush. For people who aren't afraid of heights and can pony up the bucks.

For those of you who are poor (or don't like to risk dying) – well I have a partial answer – Flight simulators. Practice, without moving. What's up my lazy brothers and sisters. You can even pretend to get into huge battles against other lazy/poor folk. And then do it all over again. You know how many times the Red Baron shot my ass down? Doesn't matter, cause I got him in the end! It was like 241. But hey, I lived to fly another day, all because I never got into a real plane.

All for the cost of a decent computer, a joystick and the software. I'll assume that most people who may be reading this at least have the first. If you run Linux, you can get the third for free. Leaving a joystick as about the only add on. Hell, the basic level of x-plane will run you around $30.00, and it looks pretty damned amazing. They have incorporated the real world into the game – almost all of the terrain between the Arctic and Antarctic circles. In addition to what seems like a large variety of planes to fly and real world physics.

Inexpensive comes at a cost, and this is in pure practical experience. How do you read the dials? What does actually flying feel like. And any lessons learned from doing stupid shit, might not be taken to heart without the near disaster to hammer them home. - Like many things in life, it can be likened unto sex and masturbation. I'll leave you to fill in the blanks in the comparison.

Then again, you can get away with making really really stupid mistakes.

You all know what flying means. Getting from New York to LA in a few hours instead of a few days. Jumping over the traffic. No greasy diners or skeezy hotel rooms in fly-over country! Well, this all holds for the post-apocalyptic world too. Fast travel when other methods might take a heavy toll on lives.

Navigation will be a challenge. Go a degree or two off course, at 300 mph, and after a couple hours you're hundreds of miles from where you intended to be. When your car runs out of gas, you roll to a stop and then get out and walk. As you've guessed, running out of fuel in an aircraft involves a lot less annoyed rolling and very much more screaming and plummeting. I'm not really a fan of heights or falling quickly to earth. I'll need to look into this, from a distance. Problem two, when you've sorted the fuel issue out, is finding a proper place to land. For now, airports dot the

A way to get around the landing issue, is of course to magic-up yourself a helicopter. They're fast and powerful and can take off and land vertically. Which means you can land on roof tops and forest clearings and the like. Sweet! Oh wait? What will this cost? Well, helicopters are expensive. A used model will run you about as much as a 3 bedroom house, unless you live in Detroit, then ten houses. Helicopters are extremely complex machines that require a ton of maintenance. If you fail in that, keep in mind that they lack any sort of real gliding capability. - Add that to the fact that Helicopters seem to be difficult to learn how to fly – and you have yourself a specialty aircraft.

A nice mix? The Auto-gyro. Technology from the early XXth century, which involves a unpowered rotor blade al la the Helicopter, that spins as the vehicle is pushed or pulled forward, this creating lift. And if the engine goes out? Then you have a glider. It seems to be a simple machine when compared to it's compatriots, making it easy to build and maintain – and though it isn't VTOL like the helicopter, it doesn't need nearly as much space to take off and land. And you think that isn't cool enough? Well, keep in mind that James Bond used one in You Only Live Twice. Sean Connery/James Bond's seal of approval.

Go out and buy one today!

Where does all this jibber-jabber apply to the real world? Or at least how we imagine the real world to look after the Flash? What better way to avoid wastelands inhabited by blood thirsty warlords and hordes of brain-hungry zombies than by flying right over it? An aircraft allows for maximum mobility. With a plane you can get to places that would be impossible to assail in any other manner, all by jumping over the impeding terrain. People use small planes all the time when flying around the bush in Alaska, to reach remote villages or lodges.

And as Mad Max's creepy looking companion taught us. Re-taught us, the first two World Wars already hammered in the lessons for most people. But the lesson is, air-superiority can be essential to defeating foes. Taking the high ground is strategically and tactically important. Only space is higher than the sky, and we'll get to building and launching a death satellite later on.

I mean really, when the aliens arrive and sweep aside our military like so many angry ants, they're going to need talented, or at least skilled, or at least willing pilots to step up and go on the next suicide run. If the world is going to die, I want to do so going mach 2 as my missiles explode and my guns click empty.

So yeah, time to pick up that flight sim and watch Independence Day.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tourism, and how to find the places you want to see!

It's been a while since I've done one of these. A pity, they can be so much fun to write. I hope you folks enjoy reading them as much.

Navigation. The ability to plot a course and get from point A to point B. This has become a lost art over the last few years with the rise of GPS devices. Reading a map? Who does that any more? Now you have the nice friendly voice that comes out of the little glowy box to tell you that you need to take the next exit and turn left. GPS is the equivalent of using a calculator to do simple math problems, it makes the job easier but it also tends to rot* your brain.

It is highly probable, that after the end, you might wish to get out and travel the world. Maybe as a tourist to see the wrecked monuments of our civilization's failed past. Or perhaps you just want to leave your old and difficult life behind by finding the hidden paradise that is Lost Vegas. Plenty of Food! Booze! And hot cocktail waitresses! And not a flesh-eating mutant in sight! All with entertaining shows by today's headliners? What's not to want?

I don't know the specifics of the GPS grid. Though I did read a while back that our GPS satellites are beginning to fail. This being said, I don't know how much interaction with the ground control that they require to continue to function properly. I would guess that the satellites are all rather autonomous with all the hardware that they need built right in. But I cannot say for sure.

Anyhow, the grid was only built to last for 20 or 30 years survival in the harsh environment that is space. We have not begun to replace the aging grid. We're closing on the minimum number of points necessary to keep the system going. And unless the government or industry gets off it's ass soon, we're borked. (Don't worry, Europe or China will probably step up as we - the USA- sink into obscurity).

Fun times.

Then comes the 'Pocalypse!

I'm going to assume that even if the world shattering event, the majority of road signs will have survived. After all, the ex-college students will have more important things too fill their time than collecting that super sweet stop sign for their lair. With a map and road signs, getting to where you want to go, technically, is a snap. Sure you might run into some romantic biker gangs with a little sweet old fashioned rape on their minds. And the cities are probably all infested with flesh-eating zombies. But hey, that's the price you pay for convenience.

Don't want to get your holes violated and, if you're lucky**, left for dead on the side of the road? Well, cross-country travel it is. Which is slightly trickier, but I can see that it doesn't bother you!

Human beings have been navigating the world for nearly a thousand years using simple tools such as the compass. The Empires of Europe managed to learn how to cross huge stretches of empty and desolate ocean using a clock, a compass and a sextant. The ocean all looks the same, and landmarks are few and far between – and yet people can accurately

Of course this requires a decent map as well as the other tools. You also need to know the difference between longitude and latitude on the grid. Don't know them? Well honestly, neither do I. Even after taking several geography classes I still can't keep them straight. But I'm easily confused. Just look at the Stalagmite-Stalactite, Gary Buesy-Nick Nolte, Butter-I Can't Believe It's Not Butter – conundrums. Which one's which? I don't know.

Longitude – East or West. The harder of the two to pin down. It wasn't until a highly complex watch/clock was invented that determining latitude accurately was possible. On board ship, one clock was used to keep track of time back on the Prime Meridian, and the other clock is set to local time – which itself is ascertained by carefully monitoring the path of the sun. Time zones are important here. You compare noon in your current location to what your London clock says, calculate the difference in hours and minutes and you have your general location compared to London. Just make absolutely sure that first clock is always accurate, or you'll be lost.

Latitude – North or South. Rather the north and south lines from the Equator – which represents 0 degrees. They go up to 90 at the Poles. Fairly easy to ascertain by calculating the angle of the sun. Well, not easy, but possible to do on the fly. Combine A and B, and you can find position on any point in the world. No GPS.

With over-land travel, you'll hopefully have a vague series of landmarks, like cities and roads. Even if you avoid direct contact with the roads and their rape-minded cannibalistic citizens, you'll still be able to see them from afar and thus get your bearings. With those landmarks, a compass and an atlas, you should be golden.

This is of course assuming that the world hasn't been consumed in a nuclear fire. Or covered in ten feet of volcanic ash. Or... Well if that's the case, fuck traveling and just stay home in your bunker. I think next time we'll discuss putting together a kick ass harem for the purposes of repopulating*** the world.

* Perhaps Atrophy is better than Rot here – you stop using your brain and the skills that you need to perform these tasks. This leads to you getting 'rusty'

** The unlucky ones are kept by the rape gangs for long term fun.

*** Woohoo Sex!