Friday, 24 September 2021

An old ipad mini

Way back in 2019, I bought myself an old iPad Mini, which I outfitted with a discounted bluetooth keyboard.

I originally envisaged using it as a note taker, and certainly the form factor was right - about the size of a Moleskine notebook, but I never truly warmed to it, the keyboard feeling cramped.

which was a pity, because it certainly still has the Apple niceness despite being incredibly underpowered by today's standards.

Recently however, I've revised my opinion. 

What with lockdowns and so on, and then the gradual lifting of restrictions it's come into its own.

Grab a coffee, sit at an outside table, and turn on your personal hotspot if you are out of wifi range you can work researching things, or simply depress yourself by reading the news.

Like the dogfood tablet, the small form factor makes the device supremely portable, meaning it can be crammed into a small backpack or shoulder bag alongside hand sanitizer, an umbrella, and a paper notebook. And while the keyboard is cramped, you do get used to it in time.

Like the original EeePC, the small form factor makes it supremely portable, something you appreciate when perched on a socially distanced park bench.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Cats, polecats and good ideas

 Here on the east coast of Australia we still have a native predator called a quoll.

They're not very common but they can be found in remote areas in east Gippsland and on the edges of the Snowies.

In the nineteenth century the early settlers sometimes called them native cats, just in the same way wombats were sometimes called native badgers - due to wombats excavating large burrows like badger setts than any physical resemblance.

But quolls?

Well they don't really look like cats, more like European polecats.

European polecats are also pretty rare these days, but when I worked at the Field Centre in mid Wales, there was a guy trying to work out how many were left, and he had a couple in a cage that had been hit by cars.

So not only have I seen the pictures, I've seen live polecats and can confirm that they really do have a marked odour.

So, were the early settlers thinking about polecats when they called quolls native cats?

The answer's probably unknowable, but if we had more references to native polecats in the first have of the nineteenth century and more to native cats in the latter half we could say maybe with some justification.

So, using Tim Sherrat's querypic to search for the phrase native polecat what do we see?

Looks promising, with the phrase being more common earlier on.

But if we search for native cat we see something similar

which is not quite what  I expected. In fact if you graph the two queries together you find that native cat has always been a much more common usage

so, it was a good idea, but one that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Incidentally if you graph native cat against quoll you see something quite similar

with the phrase native cat predominating over quoll.

The Trove corpus of digitised newspapers only goes as far as 1950, so this means that the name quoll only came into common use sometime after 1950, which is exactly what you would expect, given that it was not until the 1960's that David Fleay campaigned successfully for the name quoll to be used in place of the older colonial name of native cat ...

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Wm Docker and straw hats

 In our collection at Dow's we have glass bottle embossed Wm. Docker Sun Brand

which looks like a late nineteenth century or early twentieth century medicine bottle. I'm not alone in this, the WA Museum has a similar item in its collection - but unfortunately, no image:

which is fine, except for the fact that William Docker was known as a varnish and lacquer manufacturer, which begs the question as to why a bottle from a varnish maker was in a pharmacy.

When I documented it back in 2018, my best guess, and it was only a guess, was that the bottle had originally contained linseed oil, which is not only used in varnish manufacture, but was sometimes used as dietary supplement and also in in animal husbandry - in fact you can still buy linseed oil capsules today.

But I now have another idea. The bottle originally held dye for straw hats. 

And for that hypothesis I have to thank ebay.

As I've written elsewhere, ebay can be a useful research resource, as collectors and bottle hunters often advertise old bottles and ceramic pots for sale, although often unprovenanced.

Well I was idly surfing ebay and I came across these two items, which were described as straw hat dye bottles:

and they clearly the same as the Dow's bottle.

Hat dye for straw hats makes sense as it allowed one to add a little colour to one's outfit.

So did William Docker make hat dye?

Well google was completely unhelpful, wanting to sell me a straw hat, including those by a certain well known manufacturer of men's apparel, but Trove came up trumps, including this advert from the early 1920's

So, while on one level it's all hand waving - after all there's no label or evidence to connect 'our' bottle directly to hat dye - circumstantially it fits, and a country pharmacy might well be where one might go to buy hat dye ...