Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tucson Typecast, Part 1

Tubac, Arizona

Tucson Typecast, Part 1

Post-Script: Yes, thank you to all of you who might be tempted to remind me that Tucson is spelled like "tuck son", not Tuscany. I only noticed the typos after having photographed the typing under the light of a table lamp at night, ISO800, then imported into FilterStorm for some processing; too late to change, and the results a bit less clean than using the flatbed scanner, but much more portable on the road.

Speaking of which, tomorrow takes us to Bisbee. See you then, from on the road.

PPS: Typecast via Royal Mercury, our travel companion typewriter.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Fingers Upon Keys

P1150631a Underwood Universal


P1150637a Olivetti Underwood 21


P1150633a Olivetti Lettera 22


P1150636a Royal Mercury


Post-Script: I didn't post an image of the Corona 4-bank, as I mangled an essential detail of the shot (several of the keys were stuck in the up position), so I'll find another opportunity at a later date.

As for typecasting, this one used the Lumix G1 images imported to my desktop PC, and the typewritten pages scanned on the flatbed. The old PC (it's only, what, 4 years old?) is getting slower and slower, making my alternative workflow of iPad2 much more efficient and streamlined - except with the iPad2 I have to photograph the typed sheets, rather than scan them.

My typing, it's not perfect; sometimes I run out of room on the right for necessary punctuation, and my spelling isn't always perfect either. I do use an old collegiate dictionary to proof my spelling prior to typing.

Typecasting is an anachronism; the amount of memory used for one JPEG image of a typewritten page is much, much larger than the comparable amount of memory the same words would occupy as a text file. But it's about the appearance of ink on paper, capturing the essence of these finger-operated micro-printing presses.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In With the Old - And the New!

(Typecast via Underwood Universal; images via Lumix G1, iPad2 and Cameramatic app)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle

P1150441a (MK-17, the first gravity-dropped thermonuclear weapon)

You cannot un-discover knowledge, not easily; not without burning whatever version of the Alexandrian Library happens to be the repository of your culture’s knowledge base, and also not without destroying the culture itself.

P1150516a (Early laboratory physics experiment)

There are some arcane technologies, known within past human history, that have been lost to antiquity, that historians and archeologists have done their best to recreate, but with little or limited success, despite their best efforts and most sophisticated computerized tools. The over-confidence evident in our own era’s technical cleverness aside, there are many things which earlier eras knew that we’ve simply forgotten, perhaps lost forever. While I subscribe in large measure to Kevin Kelly’s theory of the Technium (a construct that supposes an all-encompassing, ever-expanding, self-aware sphere of human technology) there is the basic fact that civilizations depend upon their histories to survive, and that a civilization that has lost its heritage, language and culture - and technology - is doomed. Libraries and museums have served for millennia as repositories for a culture’s knowledge-base; destroy the library and you destroy the civilization.

P1150459a (Detail of Titan II I.C.B.M. engine nozzle)

Within the myriads of technical specialties evident today is a field of knowledge which in the 1940s went under the arcane term ”exploding metals”, whose research and development efforts were conducted through the labor of tens thousands of scientists and technicians, by various nations that would (not coincidentally) later form the core of the United Nations Security Counsel, across the span of thirty or more years time, to consume billions of billions of dollars of national treasure, the fruits of which, in large measure, today rest as rusting carcasses upon arcane museum grounds.

P1150394a (Mockup of the Trinity Gadget)

I am referring, of course, to the field of nuclear weapons, the end result of these various research and development efforts being that centerpiece of the Cold War, the nuclear arsenals of the super-power nations; who at best estimate still maintain their global stockpiles at nearly 10,000 warheads in various states of readiness even today, and who continue stockpile maintenance and minimal weapons development at a time when the world’s attention is no longer upon the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation by the super-power nations but rather upon regional conflicts in the Near East.

P1150493a (Titan II missile transporter)

I was born in Albuquerque in 1957, at the height of the Cold War and at a time when enormous thermonuclear weapons were being ignited within the atmosphere by the various super-power nations of the world. Albuquerque was at the center of this weapons research, and every local school-aged kid knew, through word-of-mouth, of the (supposedly) secret arsenal of H-bombs hidden under the mountain, just southeast of town. We were also reminded, the first Tuesday of each month, of the necessity to continue unabated further weapons research (and that put bread upon many of the local family dinner tables, ours included), through the periodic air-raid siren tests that would howl their eerie doomsday cry across town, else the imminent threat of annihilation by the evil communist Soviet empire come to fruition. Now, such fears seem to play out as theatrical melodrama, fueling the scripts of late-night B-grade cinema. But in 1957, and throughout much of the Cold War, such threats loomed all too real.

P1150409a (B-83 thermonuclear megaton-yield gravity bomb, still in active inventory)

Despite the thawing of the Cold War, the rise of nuclear-armed secondary states continues unabated today, despite much effort through international treaty and monitoring agencies to the contrary, and of whose exclusive Nuclear Club the super-power states wish no new members join, though they themselves have not found the political courage to walk the talk and themselves completely disarm. The world, it would seem, is still a dangerous place, too dangerous to beat all of our remaining swords back into plowshares.

P1150437a (MK-53 megaton-yield thermonuclear gravity bomb)

If wishful thinking mattered, it would be a simple matter of wishing the nuclear genie back into the bottle. If pigs could fly, it would be a simple matter of civilization losing all record of the science of nuclear physics and the knowledge gained of how matter and energy function, of how the world around us operates at its most fundamental level. But that is not who we are. As a species, we possess an insatiable appetite for knowledge (and also power, the fruit of the tree of knowledge), to see in ways that are only possible with our own eyes and our own brains, even if in such a search for knowledge (and power) it means that we might come close to destroying ourselves in the process.

P1150478a ("Peacekeeper" I.C.B.M.)

And so the fact remains that humankind will not soon forget how to fashion a nuclear explosive device, the size of a sofa or car, that can destroy a city, despite the best efforts of the Nuclear Club to keep such knowledge sequestered within the friendly confines of the Judeo-Christian, western-European, pro-American camp, even if it becomes an inconvenient fact of history, not deserving of ignorance, that the Russias and the Chinas and the North Koreas and the Indias and the Pakistans and (probably) the Israels of the world are anything but necessarily pro-U.S. in their national intent; nor is it deserving of ignorance that about a dozen other nations, despite having sworn by international treaty to the contrary, possess the technical capability to pursue a nuclear weapons program of their own, including Japan, Brazil, Germany, South Africa and Sweden. (Parenthetically, South Africa is the only nation known to have developed a nuclear weapons arsenal and completely disarmed itself entirely voluntarily, something the United States of America has yet to do.)

P1150474a (M.I.R.V. I.C.B.M. re-entry vehicles)

Yet, reality being stranger than fiction, it is no small irony to consider that, among the many bones and relics from earlier eras found in dusty museums, one could wander in off the street, across from that Mecca of consumer excess known as Costco, and find waiting for one’s perusal the bones and dusty relics of the Cold War, in a place known as the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, in Albuquerque.

P1150427a (B-52 engine nacelles)

I first visited the museum back in the mid-1970s, when it was called the National Atomic Museum and was located on the grounds of Kirtland Air Force Base, directly across the street from the military’s inter-service nuclear weapons school, when it's mission was focused more directly on the notion that the American people deserved, in return for their many years of faithful tax-paying, a history of the nuclear weapons that their government created to (ostensibly) keep them safe. Now, it’s been dumbed-down a bit, its focus more broadly based than the mere military application of nuclear energy that sounds, to the modern ear, so Doctor Strangelove-ish.

P1150465a (Birds have made their nest in the structure of a Titan II I.C.B.M.)

Yet the museum in its newest incarnation, having been moved off-base since 9/11, offers along with its fellow museums at Los Alamos and several other locations around the country a unique opportunity to view close-up some of the hardware of the Cold War that would otherwise remain mere abstract names and nomenclatures in history books.

P1150458a (Titan II first stage liquid-fueled engines)

One is reminded, as you saunter across the museum’s dirt-strewn outdoor display area, of the massive and immensely heavy payloads these early nuclear weapons represented, which required the parallel development of equally massive and powerful bombers and space rockets to deliver toward their intended targets on some other (most likely Asian) continent.

P1150507a (W80 thermonuclear warhead, still in active inventory)

One is also reminded by these museum displays of the rhetoric surrounding the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and the historic fact that it required of the super-power nations the expenditure of decades of subsequent developmental effort after WWII, and billions of dollars, to miniaturize their first-generation weapons sufficiently to permit their deployment as tactical weapons upon virtually every military platform available.

P1150438a (MK-17 megaton-yield thermonuclear gravity bomb)

One is reminded by these museum displays that, in practical terms, an Iranian nuclear weapon equivalent to the WWII-era Fat Man is simply undeliverable as a practical modern weapon and represents little strategic threat to Israel, though we also know that much political hay would be (and is being) made over such a development by our leaders. Though Iran lacks a fleet of B-52-like bombers (although civilian airliners could serve appropriately enough as surrogate delivery platforms for a primitive, heavy nuke, but would also be too easy to fend off by conventional Israeli anti-air defense systems), and although 9,000-pound, WWII-era nuclear weapons require orbital space rocket capabilities to hoist more than a few hundred miles distance, such threats serve to keep the sheep in alarm and more importantly serve to guarantee the continued employment of the ever-expanding state security apparatus. Fear and the threat of war are, in blunt terms, big business.

P1150422a (B-29 nuclear delivery bomber)

The power of nuclear weapons have always resided in the threat of their eventual use more so than the power of their actual nuclear yield, to be held over the heads of a potential enemy as a threat of Doomsday rather than the actual fact of global suicide. Their political theatrics serve the Iranian (and North Korean) causes as much now as a bargaining ploy as it did our own selfish interests back in the era of the Cold War. Nuclear weapons, it would seem, are most powerful when employed as tools of state-sponsored terrorism, a fact we in America conveniently forget in our smug, post-9/11 righteousness, of which museums such as this serve us well as a reminder.

P1150496a (M.I.R.V. I.C.B.M. re-entry vehicle)

It is no small wonder that (so-called) civilian space flight (and ultimately the Apollo lunar missions themselves) could have happened at all without there first having been these ICBM rockets developed to hoist their massive H-bomb payloads half-way across the world; history proves once again that mankind’s grandest achievement is weaponry and the technology of warfare, another lesson museums such as this offer its patrons who are willing to get past the happy-fluffy, science-is-fun displays that are seemingly all too common in public science-based exhibits as of late (and which propagandize it's patrons with the promise of good, high-tech jobs in the future if you would but do well in school and study real hard).

P1150396a (The Cold War, from the American perspective)

Sometimes the lessons of history, that would do us well to not forget, are not comforting lessons of humankind’s finest achievements; and often we find in those same lessons more questions than answers. We could question whether nuclear weapons were at all an inevitable outcome of western scientific thought, or whether space exploration could have happened at all without having first ridden the coattails of military rocket development. We could question the billions and billions of spent dollars, representing the sweat and toil by millions of citizens over decades of time, as we gaze across the dry, dusty landscape at these rusting carcasses of now-obsolete missiles, aircraft and weapons, wondering for what good they were spent, wondering if they were at all necessary, wondering if they were more dangerous to possess than not; understanding the appeal of other regimes to now possess similar weapons of such concentrated power yet not knowing whether their goal is, like the doctrine of Mutually-Assured-Destruction, a mad quest for unlimited power or mere bargaining chip in some eventual global end-game.

P1150480a ("Peacekeeper" I.C.B.M.)

I wonder if the genie can ever be put back into the bottle, as I wander the displays and eventually leave it all behind as I shake the dust off my feet and return once again to my more mundane life. We lack, as a culture, one grand museum dedicated to the historic fact of the Cold War, which still simmers like some dormant volcano on the back burner, is still too immediately in our past event-horizon to warrant a grander view of, and of whose political tactics our current leaders seem all too eager to retain and employ in ever-creative methods of empire-building. In lieu of such a National Cold War Museum, this one will have to do instead, but any lessons learned will require a more careful introspection and deeper thought than that required of the typical reality-based T.V. show. The museum will wait for yet another return visit, to offer the possibility for more answers, along with a few more questions, because that is what all good museums do.

Post-Script: The complete set of images can be viewed in this Flickr slideshow.

(Text written in iWriter using the iPad 2, photos made with the Lumix G1.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Recognizable Shapes

(The shape of the G1 is distorted by the flatbed scanner, yet the lens remains round. Hmm...)

A warm Sunday afternoon after a light dusting of snow the night before, high clouds filtering the light, the first sunny day we've had for several days. Restlessness, the sense of spring in the air, daylight savings time once again. I took a drive over to the Central Avenue district of Albuquerque, with Lumix G1 digital camera in tow, mounted to its lens adapter the recently acquired Vivitar 24mm in Minolta mount, a melding of the new and the old.

Manual aperture and focus adjustments, just like in my formative years of film photography, decades ago: a photo trek of memorable proportions, dusting off rusty skills and foggy memories, lurking these streets of abandoned motels, strip malls and crime walls, evidence of some tragic-but-now-forgotten economic disaster happening slow-motion-like, so slow as to be virtually ignored except by those with a more long-term memory, those life-long residents like myself with memories longer than our shadows in the day's fading light.

Thought experiment: parachute yourself, blindfolded, into any urban area of America, with little foreknowledge of geography. If you happen to land on or near one of those countless boulevards of commercial sprawl, populated with endless storefronts and parking lots and signs declaring McDonald's and Wendy's and Burger King and KFC and Taco Bell and Walmart and Staples and Home Depot and Target and Kohl's and Olive Garden and gas stations and motels and countless other icons of American commerce, you could hardly tell what city or state you were in, just an endless miasma of blandness masquerading as the Great American Experiment in economics.

What seems to distinguish one geography from another are the local dialects and eccentricities, and this includes the failed experiments in economics, the local micro-disasters that seldom make the evening news. These regional areas of economic failure are what, in large measure, transform the otherwise global commercial blandness into recognizable shapes that we call our local community, with all of its faults and eyesores.

Imagine a person in pursuit of images of such areas in their own community, capturing the tragic decline before it, too, gets plowed up and paved over by more of the same homogenizing commercial sprawl. History isolated to frozen moments, like discarded postcards in some attic-bound shoebox. This is my town, these are my postcards, a glimpse into my shoebox of memories, captured this afternoon but even now fading into a less-discernible past.










Wednesday, March 07, 2012


He sits back in the comfort of the driver's seat's lumbar snuggle, hands on steering wheel at the proscribed ten and two position, NPR radio playing in the background. It is early enough that the sun has just risen above the mountains to the east. The early morning commute has already begun, someone in a large pickup truck tailgating him, then impatiently blasting past at fifteen or twenty above the speed limit, barely making it through a yellow light to recede in the distance in a haze of OPEC fumes.

There is no justice in the world, he thinks. Where're the cops when you need them? On the other hand, they only seem to show up when it's him that's found violating the traffic laws, never the idiots in SUVs and big trucks.

He's headed south, down Eubank (down being synonymous for south, thanks to the conventions of the Mercator projection, another consequence of global empire-building), the sun to his left, shadows of trees and buildings producing a strobe-like effect in his left eye, a staccato light-dark-light-dark-light rhythm, while the right eye remains in shadow, no strobe-like effect, the dissimilarity between the left eye's strobing glare and the right eye's more serene view making him wonder if there might be some hidden physiological response involved, like the way some epileptics can be put into a seizure by flashing lights, wondering about the left eye's strobe's affect upon the right brain, the hemisphere that's supposed to involve creativity. Perhaps this left eye strobe will induce some abnormally strong creative inspiration this cool, Wednesday morning before he has to return to work, leaving the more rational left hemisphere to wallow in its still half-wakened state, before the carbs and the caffeine kick in from the breakfast he's headed toward.

The large truck is nowhere to be seen, its driver probably a Republican right-winger, as are most of the cops in town. They seem to protect their own, instead going after small foreign cars that are more likely to be piloted by the liberally-inclined, of which he's not, really; more libertarian than liberal, yet still a registered Republican, just to confuse the pollsters and throw them off the scent. Yesterday was Super Tuesday, a notable date on the election season calendar.

He's had this theory of political partisanship that asserts both major parties are two sides of the same coin, their overt divisions over specific hot-button issues mere window dressing to obscure their more fundamental similarities, after the cameras have been shut off and the talking heads go home and the politicians of either ilk can continue taking their back-room graft from corporate shills. His theory furthermore asserts that, to maximize the democratic affect, a voter should register, during a midterm election, in the minority party, thereby granting him the maximum degree of choice; the most important concept being not to get too hung up on party names and superficial labels. The best democracy money can buy, he thinks, as he rows the shifter through another intersection on the way to breakfast.

He now sits in the coffee shop at a small table beside the east-facing window, bright morning light streaming in, surrounded by potted plants on the bay window's shelf, his right eye now in the sun's full glare, his left eye shaded by the room's gentle morning light. There are no gnats this time of year, it being too soon for the pesky insects to infect the shop's potted plants. On the other side of the glass barrier, seated at a sidewalk table, is the street lady that people call Cherokee. She's wrapped in her usual blanket, drinking a to-go cup of coffee, doing the crossword puzzle and reading the paper. The barrier that separates him on the inside from her on the outside is much thicker than the window's mere quarter-inch thickness of glass. Cherokee has the year-round complexion of a street person, well-tanned and sun-wrinkled, and exudes the odor of the unwashed. Yet, appearances can be deceiving. Through the window, he can see that she reads the paper with relish, and does the crossword with an ease that reveals some literate, middle-class background. Another mystery yet to be unveiled, he thinks.

Another man exits the coffee shop, hands Cherokee a rolled-up five dollar bill, then heads to the VW van parked at the curb and drives off, the head of his large yellow Labrador Retriever hanging out the passenger-side window, perusing the sidewalk cafe setting that fades into the distance.

The man is done with his breakfast, heads out the rear exit to the back parking lot where his car awaits in the free parking that's all too hard to find, and retrieves his camera. He checks the various settings on the rear screen, making sure the ISO is set to 100, and attaches the manual focus film lens to the camera's adapter ring.

Manual focus. An anachronism in this age of auto-everything, of which he's consciously aware. One just can't place the camera hurriedly up to one's face and snap a picture while relying on the camera's automation to properly determine the plane of focus. Camera's aren't intelligent, contrary to what the adverts might state; they don't know your creative intent, where you'd wish to place the plane of best focus within the image field. Hence one reason why he prefers to manually focus the lens himself. His other lenses, the autofocus ones that came with the camera, have a manual focus override, but it's not a direct focusing of the mechanics of the lens, more like fly-by-wire, similar to the way modern aircraft are controlled, with an intrinsic delay and lack of direct mechanical feedback. No, this manual-focus lens has a real distance scale, a real mechanically-coupled focus ring, and a manually adjustable aperture ring that click-click-clicks in discrete little elegantly mechanical steps, that he can look down at and tell what setting it's at before he ever places the camera up to his face. There is no poking around at electronic screens to control these camera settings, more like the physicality of a real tool. Maybe that's it, the realness of it. Or maybe he's a control freak, he thinks, as if his favoring of manual camera controls is an overt symptom of some hidden psychological condition, which he'd rather not think about right now, because right now the late-winter's morning light is perfect, and the weather is balmy enough for a light jacket, and there are images to find and capture.

It's an hour later, and he's wandered the side streets and alleys of the city in search of that elusive image that might have escaped his grasp during the many previous camera walks he's taken on these same streets. He's sitting in another coffee shop, half a mile up the street from breakfast, a bit more upscale, the price for a cup a dollar higher. Traffic passes by outside the window, while affluent middle-class patrons chat over breakfast or stare into their computer screens. There's roadside construction going on the street outside, workers in hardhats and work boots dragging hoses and manning shovels, while pedestrians walk back and forth to who-knows-where, and large red city buses, along with numerous smaller cars, pass left and right, busy on their way to wherever it is they're going, as if a city were merely an assemblage of destinations to be pursued, as if people could not possibly stand still for very long, as if being in-transit were some permanent mental state.

His coffee cup is empty and stomach satisfied and so he, too, picks up his things and heads out the door, in-transit to who-knows-where, in search of another illusive image.

(Written on AlphaSmart Neo, photo via Lumix G1 with manual-focus Minolta MD 28mm lens attached)

Monday, March 05, 2012

Losing Control

(Typecast via Olivetti Lettera 22, photo via Lumix G1 w/ 14-45 Lumix lens)