Sunday, March 29, 2020

Modeling a Homestead in 1869

Cover image on Harper's Weekly, February 13, 1869
Vince and I have been having an ongoing discussion into whether any aspect of the sub-hobby of making miniature buildings for model railroads has any folk art roots - it came up again in a discussion about Samurai Crafts. Folk art miniature buildings isn't an established category, and I must admit to basing my thoughts about this on a single book, American Folk Art Buildings: Collection of Steven Burke & Randy Campbell, which isn't a good thing to do, but I find they make a compelling argument, and it's a good starting point for some investigation.

In the Burke & Campbell book they mention a story that appeared on the cover of the February 13, 1869 issue of Harper's Weekly. The magazine's cover shows a picture of man, surrounded by his family, making a model of a house. Under the picture it says, MODELING A HOMESTEAD - [See Page 105.]. It turns out that 151 years later, page 105 can be found in Google Books. I was hoping to find some instructions on how to build the little model, maybe giving some fodder for the folk art argument, but here's what I found,

The group represented on our first page is very suggestive. During the long winter evenings what occupation can be more interesting to the family gathered about the fireside than that of "modeling a homestead?" The first question with birds - the first problem they set about solving - is that of nest-building. With every frugal lords, or shall we build for ourselves, and upon our own plans, such as our several necessities and our tastes suggest?

The freedom from thraldom of rent is in itself a great end to be secured. But this is by no means all. The homestead, which is the outward and material symbol of the spiritual significance of home, should become ours no simply by legal possession; it should be an outgrowth from our own souls, stamped with the impress of our own thoughts. The robin can not build a nest for the swallow; and why should Mr. Boodle or Mr. Coddle build a homestead for you or me? 

Of course we may need to consult those who are more experienced than ourselves as to materials best adapted to certain ends, as to cost, or as to the practicability of our plans, considering the means at our disposal. But every good housewife knows exactly what sort of kitchen or pantry would suit her best. Every family can agree as to what would be the nicest kind of parlour for itself, or what kind of sitting-room would precisely meet its ideas of comfort and cheerfulness. Even the hall can have a sort of individuality impress upon it, so that the first entrance of a stranger would disclose some hint as the taste of the occupants. The size of the bedrooms and the character of their finishing; the convenience and abundance of closet-room; the number, arrangement and shape of the windows; the style of portico or piazza; every thing, in fact, from the floor of the cellar to the chimney-top is a subject for mature deliberation, and the exercise of individual tastes. The house we live in, not less than the garments we wear, should furnish some indication of our predilections.

The first thing is the determination to build; such a purpose will furnish an additional motive to economy and thrift. The comes the planning - the delicious occupation of many pleasant hours spent in family consultation. Even the youngest members of the household are interested, and may participate in the work.

The outlined sketches of plans on paper are by no means satisfactory. Therefore our group in the illustration prefers modelling. This may be done either by the use of wooden blocks or of cardboard; the latter being more convenient, because more easily managed. In this way a perfect model can be shaped of the future homestead. It is a happy little fireside company, which we recommend to our readers. Let us hop that the house will not only be modeled but built, and that it will shelter those who will always be as ready to co-operate with and help each other as they do now in this "modeling of a homestead."

So, I'd say this was more about trying out a planning activity that was used by architects - the architect T. A. Richardson published a book 10 years earlier in 1859 called The Art of Architectural Modelling in Paper that gave instructions and advocated paper models as planning and promotional tools - than engaging in a hobby or art. I don't think this advances the folk art argument, but it does imply the making of miniature buildings was not considered outside the realm of possibility for middle class people who might read a mainstream publication like Harper's Weekly, although I suspect it was harder to get a good result than is breathlessly implied by the story and the cover picture.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Samurai on the Rocks

Samurai this and Samurai that got me thinking about the 1/24 scale Suzuki Samurai kit by Fujimi I built many years ago. When it was done I took it with me on a country trip to get some outdoor photos in natural light.

The Foundations of Samurai Aerodynamics

In Samurai Crafts I mentioned that Kuethe and Chow's book, Foundations of Aerodynamics, has a minor role in Helen DeWitt's novel, The Last Samurai. That was surprising to me because besides the rarity of the mathematics of aerodynamics being discussed, however briefly, in any literary novel, K&C's textbook was the one used in the introduction to aerodynamics course I took when I was an undergrad. The only difference being the edition mentioned in TLS was the 1986 one, and my class used the previous one from 1976. The first edition was published in 1950. The book was one of the best in the field, and maybe still is.

Ludo, the child prodigy and TLS's main character, receives a copy of an aerodynamics textbook from Sibylla, his mother, for his birthday; I think from the story's chronology it was his 7th, maybe 8th. I, on the other hand, didn't buy a copy of K&C until I was 20 or so. When I was 7 or 8 I couldn't spell aerodynamics let alone deal with its mathematics. At this point in the story the book's title isn't mentioned, and Sibylla buys it on the strength of the perceived humour in the passage about calculating the manoeuvrability of a grebe in water by approximating its body with an appropriately sized sphere, and on its use of classic 18th and 19th century math, which she thinks shouldn't be that difficult for her son to grasp.

It seems to me though that he does find it hard to grasp. There are several passages where Ludo picks up the text and tries to make headway, but soon puts it down in favour of some other book. It isn't until much later in the novel that Ludo confesses,

I put down Scientific American and picked up my book on aerodynamics. Sometimes I thought I understood it and sometimes it was hard to follow, and when it was hard to follow it wasn't easy to tell what would help; the thing that would really help would be to be able to ask someone who didn't sum up the mathematics required as 18th 19th century stuff. Any idiot can learn a language, all you have to do is keep going and sooner or later it all makes sense, but with mathematics you have to understand one thing to understand another, and you can't always tell what the first thing is that you have to understand. And even then either you see it or you don't. You can waste a lot of time trying to work out what you need to known and a lot more time just trying to see it.

When I read that a wave of deja vu and sympathy washed over me.

I'm an aerodynamicist by training, but I had a hard time with my first encounter with the subject. My introductory class seemed to me to approach the subject from a purely mathematical standpoint, and it wasn't clear why certain methods and assumptions were applied. The instruction had a strong air of 'that stuff should be quite self-evident' about it. I should note that the class wasn't taught to the K&C book; it turned out the book was only used as a reference. It took me a long time to dig into the experiments and observations of the early pioneers to finally appreciate why certain mathematical approaches were used. So, to be candid, it didn't help me that experts well versed in the mathematics of the subject were teaching it. What I needed was pre-mathematical insight into the physical nature of what was going on.

Back then I did a lot of reading into aerodynamics' early experimenters and writers. I eventually figured out that many of the fundamental physical insights and observations came from Fredrick W. Lanchester, and were discussed in his 1907 book Aerodynamics. I don't have a copy, but I borrowed it many times from the university library back in the day. The mathematical edifice Ludo encountered didn't exist when it was written, and it turns out it was the work that allowed practical mathematical approaches to be developed. I only mention this old thing because this pioneering work is a great combination of words and pictures, and that's what I think should be the first approach into the subject. 

You don't need to seek out Lanchester's book as there are later ones that will give you a physical sense of the field and are light on the math, but don't talk down to you. I haven't practiced in the field for a very long time, so I'm not up-to-date on good recent books, but there are a couple of old ones that I like. One is The Science of Flight by O. G. Sutton. It was first published in 1949 and updated in 1955. It's a charming Pelican Book, and includes reprints of a number of the more crucial pages from Lanchester's book. Another choice is Aerodynamics: Selected Topics in the Light of Their Historical Development by Theodore Von Karman. It was first published in 1954, but Dover published the second 1957 version in 2004. A somewhat more modern choice is The Simple Science of Flight: From Insects to Jumbo Jets by Henk Tennekes. It was published by the MIT Press in 1997.

I guess from our vantage point 113 years after the publication of Lanchester's book, maybe aerodynamic flight does seem like a simple science, but I continue to think of it as The Beautiful Science. Flow visualization, along with physical observation, have been key to its development as has mathematical insight. I've found that triumvirate fascinating, and have often thought of aerodynamics as a form of sculpture, where what is being sculpted is the air around a moving body.

When I was Ludo's age there was a period when my father would sometimes take me to a local hill to fly a windup toy airplane. It was small and very forgiving in a crash, so it was easy to try and launch it over and over, making small adjustments, until we got a few nice flights. Even for an adult, if aerodynamics and flight is something you want to learn, that's where to start.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A beautiful spring day

Regardless of viruses and lockdowns and isolation, the natural world goes on. It was a beautiful spring day. +12C on the back porch, so no model building, just soaking up the sun.

Abandonment - Part 1

Here in Ottawa most places are closed down to help prevent the transmission of coronavirus and people are self-isolating. Do what you should to slow the spread and take care. In the meantime, being at home and all, I thought I'd finish some writing I started back in December and travel back to the weird, electric streets of New Toronto :-) Join me now for some new pulse-pounding adventures of mayhem and streetcars ....

"What makes you think you're dead?"

"For one thing I'm here talking to you, and you jumped in front of a subway car right in front of my eyes."

Talk about fronts. I was putting on a brave one. Yeah, here I was sitting on a nice couch, and across from me, sitting on an equally nice couch, was Zachariah Adams. The same Zachariah Adams who jumped on the track at the Crombie subway station just as the train was pulling in. The same Zachariah Adams who I'm told was scraped off every surface and traumatized me and the driver and all those poor souls on the platform who witnessed his departure. 

"Well, yes, but I'm feelin' better now."

"And you're talking funny. You never used to use contractions. You were strictly a full pronunciation man as I recall."

"I've mellowed."

"Mellowed? Are they adding marijuana smoke to the ventilation system down here?"

"Down here? You think you're dead and in hell too? These are pleasant couches, not boiling cauldrons of sulphur."

Adams shifted his weight a bit and plumped a nearby cushion.

"You're the one who committed suicide and I'm sitting here talking to you. The signs don't look too good to me."

Things in general were starting to look not so good to me.

Things were starting to go dark. 

I had this odd feeling of no longer fully inhabiting my body. I felt like I was contracting into a sphere just behind my eyes and was simply pulling some strings to make my arms and legs move. I was now a puppet master and my body was the puppet.

Way off in the distance I heard a woman scream my name.

She continued with,"Stay with me! You're not leaving me!"

I was confused.

"Adams, your voice is a lot higher than it used to be," I mumbled to the other couch. His deep, Vaderian voice was the first thing I noticed about him when we met. His little body didn't seem like it could produce anything so commanding. It seemed weird that now he sounded like a woman.

"I'm not Adams. He's dead. I'm Leslie."

Leslie? I tried getting up from my couch using all my puppet master skills. Trying to move my arms and legs seemed to help push back the darkness. Why did I think I was lounging on a couch? My clearing eyesight told me I was lying on my back in the middle of some road. The ground was cold. It was night. I could see flashing red, blue and yellow lights nearby. I could hear sirens and honking horns and shouts. My head hurt.

I turned my head to the left and saw Leslie kneeling beside me on the pavement.

I turned my head to the right and saw Adams standing by my side. He looked down at me and said, "You'll be fine. I've a job I need you to do."

I turned my head back to the left and saw that a uniformed man was now kneeling beside Leslie. He looked me in the eye and said, "Sir, I'm with emergency services. May I help you?" I think I said yes.

I turned my head to the right again. Adams was gone.



My first attempt at a streetcar / model railroading / '30s-'40s noir pulp novella was Light Ray Blues, which I started back in the fall of 2012, and finished in late summer 2013. Until the E. L. Moore series got going it was the most hit series of posts here at 30Squares. 

There were a lot ideas I wanted to play with in Light Ray Blues, which included: how a single, unforeseen event in a person's hum-drum existence could permanently change their direction in life; show that day-to-day life in a world with more-or-less completely electrified transportation would still be full of crime, deceit, selfishness, and all the usual vices; connect model streetcar layouts with storytelling. And, most importantly, I wanted to have some fun with Chandler-esque dialogue, weird streetcar aficionados, inventing places in New Toronto, and concocting a strange, alternative electrified Canada.

Light Ray Blues, Series 2 didn't get started until the spring of 2015. There was a long publication gap between June 2015 and September 2016 when I picked up the series again and finally finished. 

I'm layout building again and feeling the strange pull back to New Toronto. I don't know where this will go - although I've got 10 instalments in the bag that set up Ed and Leslie in a direction for new adventures - but I figured I couldn't resist the ride.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Street painting prep

After building and installing the streetcar apron in the west end module, it looks like Ocean Boulevard is ready for painting.

I've been taking some time to study my street photos in an attempt to get the colours right - or as close to rights as I can. One thing that made itself quite clear though is that there is a surprising amount of detail in and around a street. For example, in one King St. photo I noted 6 manhole covers in just one intersection, as well as a considerable number and variety of street markings. So, I think this might take a while to get to an acceptable state. But, that's the fun of it :-)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Samurai Crafts

I recently finished reading Helen DeWitt's book The Last Samurai. I've heard about it for a long time, and some reviewers were claiming it to be the best novel published so far in the 21st century. Be that as it may, I kept putting it off. 

Being at home and having time on my hands I finally decided to give it a go. However, it was with some apprehension as I thought it might be a struggle to get into as say Infinite Jest was, which took me at least 50 pages before it started to click, and I required a long break when I was about half through. I was dead wrong about TLS. I was engrossed right from the beginning, and surprised myself that in 6 days I'd finished it. 

I'm not going to get into a detailed discussion about the main themes and plot, just note a couple of sub-themes that hit home: hobbyist magazines, and Kuethe and Chow's textbook Foundations of Aerodynamics.

The story centres around child prodigy, Ludo, and his mother Sibylla.  Part of Sibylla's backstory is that she lost her place at Oxford, then took a job as a secretary at a small publisher to forestall returning to the US, then lost that job when her mentor left the company. Luckily, to further postpone leaving England, Sibylla's mentor provided her an opportunity to type articles from various popular hobby magazines into a database that the publisher was building as part of a project on 20th century language. On the upside, Sibylla could work from home, but on the downside the job only paid £ 5.50 / hour and she's a single mother with a child to support; a child who we'd commonly think of as a prodigy. Although, one of the main themes investigated in the story is whether prodigies are simply children who are given the opportunities they need when they need them, whereas so-called normal children are those who, for whatever reason, are not provided with opportunities or resources they need when they need them that would make them better and happier. Stated a little more crudely, is it nature or nurture that makes the difference.

Throughout the book, Sibylla's work on transcribing articles from hobby magazines is cast as a scathing commentary on what constitutes normal interests and reading material in contrast to her ongoing attempts to continue to live an intellectual life regardless of her situation. We're treated to some wry commentary as she types in articles from mid-20th century magazines with these titles,

Melody Maker
Advanced Angling
Pig Fancier's Monthly
Weaseller's Companion
Mother and Child
You and Your Garden
British Home Decorator
Horn & Hound
The Poodle Breeder
Practical Caravanning
The Modern Knitter
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
Magazine of the Parrot Society
International Cricketer
Sportsboat and Waterski International
British Ostrichkeeper

Are any real? Are they all just made-up? Some are eye-rolling: British Ostrichkeeper, Carpworld, Weaseller's Companion, Pig Fancier's Monthly ! Some have an uncanny reality: International Cricketer, Mother and Child, Tropical Fish Hobbyist. It hardly matters which are real and which aren't as Sibylla's point is that this material - what we'd refer to today as 'content' - is a waste of our precious life compared to spending time with the world's intellectual riches. Throughout she implies that this has happened because our childhood education and development has been squandered, and we don't know any better than to overly concern ourselves with practical diversions as exemplified by our banal recreational reading material. Although, the skewering is funny, and I particularly liked this passage on Practical Caravanning,

PRACTICAL CARAVANNING said Sibylla. What in God's name is practical about caravanning and why in God's name should the word 'Practical' be thought to add appeal to the activity am I yet again in the market of one? Impractical Caravanning. Impractical Boating. Impractical Knitting. I would buy any of the above and I have not the slightest interest in knitting, boating or, God help me, caravanning.

Let me add: Impractical Model Railroading, Impractical Scale Modelling, Impractical Scale Model Streetcars. I have more than a slight interest in them and I'd buy any of those :-)

All this cuts close to home as I spend a lot of time with this type of material, and have even gone as far as suggesting some of it forms a literature, and at one time, and maybe still does, a folk art :-) 

It's interesting to note what sorts of hobby magazines haven't be satirized: those that at one time in the 20th century covered what were then referred to as the mechanical hobbies. Miniature and model airplanes, boats, cars, trains, clocks, engines, and so on. Magazines that taught skills, presented how-tos, reported on news, contests and products, ran ads, showed off projects, and told stories. At times the material was what we might call STEM-oriented in that it was hoped to provide a training ground for future engineers and technologists. At other times the material was simply for hobbyists and enthusiasts. I'd also argue that some of the material was old folk art practices migrating into the consumerizing world. The best of them combined thought and handwork that allowed readers to improve their chosen craft; the worst merely acted as conduits to sell loads of ready-to-use products to acquisitive and passive consumers. But, one major failing, one that still exists today in many venues, is understanding and recognizing the history and development of the various fields, as well as the threads into other aspects of thought and life.

I'd counter Sibylla's critique that as far as craft, and its attendant magazines and journals, is concerned - and we're not talking about modern-day, touchy-feely therapeutic pastimes, but the more traditional ones - developing skills that interweave thought and handwork, at whatever age, is a long, deeply human, and honourable activity. Not completely intellectual, not rote, but involving and thoughtful. Should one engage in craft? Which ones? What is the right age to start? I'll agree with Sibylla on this though, I don't think we live in a society that knows or cares.

After writing this and thinking about it a bit more I can see I need to understand more about definitions, similarities, differences and popular concepts of arts and crafts and hobbies.

And what about Foundations of Aerodynamics? I've gone on too long and I'll leave that for another time.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Starting a new highrise

I thought I'd get out of puttering-around mode and start a new highrise. I'm finding them to be challenging, but that helps take my mind off things. I might try laying out several at the same time to keep things interesting. The pieces shown above are for the highrise to the left of the Canadian Press building shown below. Although these two aren't Toronto landmarks, their facades are fascinating: one has a very '60s / '70s vibe with its strong vertical elements, and the other has that great wall of square windows that will allow for interesting scene staging. 
And yes, a streetcar does go by, so these two could be classified as lineside structures :-)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Paving the western end of Ocean Boulevard

You may have noticed in the United Transit Twins video that some road work had been done on the new Ocean Boulevard module that leads into Ocean Park. I've used various thicknesses of sheet styrene to build up areas for buildings, sidewalks, and the roadway up to the edge of the rail. To complete I need to add in the streetcar apron over the tracks.

I also played around with some building placement to see how the scene might come together.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Hanging a beach on the wall

I disconnected the Ocean Park module from the layout and hung it up on a basement wall to store it away for awhile as my inaugural run party plans have changed, what with the end of the world going on and all :-)

Last Christmas I didn't have the layout ready for running, or even gawking at, so I decided that I'd have it running, and the workshop more-or-less presentable, by the end of February. That part went ok. The next part was to have the layout ready for an 'inaugural run' party by the end of March, which would be the kick-off to many leisurely months preparing for a Christmas streetcar blowout :-)

We're holed up here doing our part to help stop the spread, which meant cancelling the end of month get together. Not a loss of any consequence considering all that's going on. Anyway, the Ocean Park module was designed to hang on a wall since I don't have enough room to leave the layout assembled all the time. It might be a little trickier to store it this way once it's scenicked, but any buildings will be removable, and the scenes will be low-slung fields and beaches, so not much will stick out.