Thursday, 30 December 2021

Getting the news of Trafalgar out

 The battle of Trafalgar took place on the 21st of October 1805.

No one in London knew this until late on the 5th  or possibly early on the 6th of November when Lapenotiere reported to the secretary of the Admiralty Board Sir, we have gained a great victory. But we have lost Lord Nelson.

So, how soon was the news public knowledge?

Remarkably quickly, it seems. The official government gazette in London published news of the victory on the morning of sixth and  by the eighth the Cambrian newspaper in Swansea was reprinting the official announcement

(The full text can be found on Welsh Newspapers Online)

meaning that the news had managed to reach Swansea in around two days - quite impressive when the fastest thing was a mail coach, which with autumn rains and mud could probably only average 5mph.

While newspapers were not common in 1805, we can guess that the news spread at around the same speed across Britain, meaning that most of the newspaper reading gentry, like William Holland, would have known of the victory by the middle of November.

And certainly by December 1st the minister of Airlie and Eassie parish in rural Angus not only knew of the victory but that he was also expected to hold an official service of thanksgiving on the 5th of December.

But what of Australia?

Well, at the time of Trafalgar there was only one newspaper, the quasi official Sydney Gazette, which makes it fairly simple to estimate when the news reached Sydney - on or about 27 July 1806,

or roughly nine months after the battle, considerably longer than the roughly six months it took for news of the death of George III to reach Sydney (George died at the end of January 1820, and the news did not reach Sydney until mid-July).

or indeed twenty years later,  the roughly three moths it took for news of Victoria's accession to reach Sydney.

Essentially it shows just how isolated Sydney was in the early days of the colony, and both Norfolk Island and Hobart even more so ...

Sunday, 19 December 2021

Of iron gall ink and re-enactors

 Earlier today I posted the following tweet

Over the years I've posted quite a few posts about iron gall ink - after all it was the dominant ink used Europe (and by extension European settlements overseas) between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Relatively waterproof, permanent, and easy to use with a dip pen, it was ideal. In fact some jurisdictions still require its use for signatures on legal documents, and it was only with the development in the nineteenth century of alternatives such as Stephen's Endorsing Ink, that its use declined - that and the fact it didn't play nicely with these new fangled fountain pens.

The great drawback to iron gall ink, and the bane of archivists, that it was acidic and slowly corroded the paper was not a problem to the original clerks who wrote out the documents, after all they didn't care whether their document would be legible in two hundred and fifty years time, only that it was correct and ready for use.

But when reading about making iron gall ink I had an epiphany - the ingredients are easy enough to obtain, especially in a medieval Europe covered  in oak trees, and while its preparation needs a bit of skill, it's not that much more difficult than making jam or a tomato relish - ie an individual clerk could make his own if need be.

And that's not something we would know unless people had had a go at making it in their kitchens.

And, in a chain of consequence that reminded me of what Lucy Worsley said about re-enactors a few years ago, about how you have to try things out to find how they worked, as with the iron gall ink.

And that encapsulates what I feel about re-enactors - some people just like dress-ups as a bit of light relief - nothing wrong with that - but others do it to find out how things were done - as I discovered when talking to a member of the Ermine Street Guard nearly thirty years when he described just how it was to sit in a Roman four pommel saddle without stirrups-  almost as secure as using a contemporary western style saddle apparently. Again something that no one would know unless they tried.

Now we can't all ride horses, but we can experiment, be it making iron gall ink or making Georgian puddings and pies, and at best it gives us an insight into how the past worked, and if nothing else a bit of fun trying.

Even simple experiences can be valuable - once, years ago in Thailand, I borrowed a single speed sit up and beg bike - the riding position was different, and the way the bike handled was different, and the speed was slower and gentler, yet the machine was supremely practical, making one realise just what an enabling technology the safety bicycle was ...

Saturday, 18 December 2021

Technology and me - 2021

 Almost every year, round about this time, I've done a blog post on my personal use of information technology over the past twelve months.

This year past has seemed at times like Groundhog Day with repeated lockdowns, but the good news was that the project to document the contents of Dow's Pharmacy restarted in April. Lockdowns and even an earthquake caused some delays meaning that I've probably managed only half the amount of work I would normally have managed, but it's certainly way better than 2020 when we shut down at the end of March for what turned out to be a twelve month hiatus.

The methodology and equipment remain the same, more or less. The methodology works well and the only major, but very successful innovation was the use of a wheelie box to move my gear.

At home there's been rather more in the way of changes - my seven year old chromebook finally died on me, and at the same time I bid farewell to my old 32bit linux netbooks. In fact, I seem to have lost the need for linux in my life - obviously I need a project to revive my interest.

My Huawei mediapad continues to function well, it's amazing how useful having a second device on which to look things up while working on something is, While most of my work is on my Lenovo laptop I'm still giving deskspace to my 2008 vintage iMac, purely because of its large screen when looking at scans of old documents.

Also still getting deskspace is my old Thinkpad Yoga I bought second hand, It was originally supposed to replace my MacBook Air, but in practice turned out to be just that little bit too heavy to carry around.

However it has a valuable role as a second machine, and once I set up a little work area in the corner of the old garage - which is also destined to become Judi's art studio - it will probably move in there.

The MacBook Air continues to soldier on, but has finally been replaced as a travel computer by one of these eMMC based lightweight computers, which has proved more of a success than I expected - light, responsive, good battery life. It's obviously a lighter built machine than the Air and will probably have shorter working life, but even so I'm amazed at how good a sub $300 machine is.

The Air itself, even though it is out of operating updates continues to work well and run a recent version of chrome. It did have a bit of a glitch earlier this year when sometimes it wouldn't charge. I bought a third party power supply which seemed, for a month or three to solve the problem until it developed the dreaded blinking green light. This could suggest something serious or just a dud charger, The cheapest solution was to buy a  refurbished charger to see if it solved the problem, which so far, it seems to have.

The old iPad mini I bought a year or two ago and tricked out with a keyboard finally came into its own as a note taker, but the real tablet success was the dogfood tablet, using a cheap, in fact the cheapest seven inch Android tablet I could find as an ereader for Gutenberg epubs, and digitised books from Google Books, plus pdf's of research papers - simple, lightweight, and with good battery life it's proved genuinely useful.

However, the real star of 2021 is the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential  that I bought more or less on a whim.

I had a whole lot of Telstra plus points that I'd accumulated over the years that I'd never used, and Telstra were offering the basic smart clock to Telstra plus members for not a lot of points. Cynically, I suspected they were trying on unload old stock, but we needed a new bedside clock in the bedroom, so I reckoned that even if we never used the voice activated features it would tell the time well enough.

I'm personally a little bit suspicious of voice activated assistants ever since I saw a non-disclosure presentation of one of the early assistants back in the nineties - picky on accent and pronunciation, and prone to give downright weird responses, but I've got to say I'm impressed at how well the assistant copes with my Australian by way of Edinburgh accent as well as Judi's posh end of Melbourne with a bit of London accent. The only glitch is that it seems to have decided that we live in Wooragee (a 100m or so lower) rather than Beechworth.

Sound reproduction from the speaker is pretty good - ABC Jazz sounds as good as it does on our internet radio, and of course it can access your Spotify account and playlists.

Basically, it's pretty good. In fact, I'm so impressed by it I've just bough a second one for Judi's studio to use as clock cum smart speaker so she can play music while painting without covering usb sticks and cd's with paint and pastel dust ...

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Using the minimal windows machine

 A few months ago I bought myself one of these minimal eMMC based Celeron computers from Lenovo.

The intent was to use this in place of my old MacBook Air which I've used for travel for years.

Well, lockdowns and disruptions have meant that I've not actually gone anywhere, which of course means I've never actually tested it for real.

However, last week we went down to Yanakie for a few days R&R followed by a trip to the city and I took the Lenovo with me for email, blogging and web searches. (Yes sad to say, even holidays chez Moncur involve the internet  these days.)

I havn't done anything weird to it - it runs a vanilla install of Windows 10 Home, along with Chrome and Thunderbird plus some antivirus software. Given the small size of the internal storage adding a linux partition probably isn't a good idea.

I used it over a mixture of a complimentary wireless NBN connection at our rental unit and our Huawei 4G portable router when we visited the city.

Performance was absolutely fine.

Despite its limited power and storage, performance was almost indistinguishable from my old ThinkPad Yoga.

I'm sold.

While obviously performance is constrained, it's an excellent lightweight device for travel ...

[update 15/12/2021]

... and it continues to impress.

I've just been back down to  Melbourne for a couple of days and the machine performed excellently for a bit of blogging, general writing and photo editing.

Like the Air it doesn't have an SD card slot, but the same €3 minimalist SD card reader I bought for the Air in an airport somewhere in Europe a few years ago worked just as well ...

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

omicron and omega

 A couple of days ago I happened across a tweet that gave me a complete 'course it bloody does' goldfish moment:

A moment of thought and I suddenly realised that not only did omega mean big o, but that in all probablity the lower case omega, ω was simply a stylised double ο ...