Author Archive: Will

Barbed wire served as telephone line for early homesteaders

Usually barbed wire (aka the Devil’s Rope) is decried as what divided up the West and brought an end to the vast open prairies.  In at least one case, we can see how it brought people together.

Early telephone companies found connecting rural homesteads too expensive so the farmers took matters into their own hands and used barbed wire to connect telephone services into their houses.  This resulted in Party Line style connection where everyone could hear whoever was on the line.  This was bad when you needed to have a private conversation, but useful to spread news, weather reports or the price of crops.  Sometimes it just helped people be less lonely.

The details are in this fascinating article.


First video posted

Where does precision come from? I dig into the history and a bit of how-to for where the dimensions that are everywhere around us come from.  I also introduce my first project – a recreation of the James Watt Micrometer which is possibly the first device used for measuring material at high precision.

Trans-Arabian Pipeline – 1947

It’s 1947. War is over, people want oil and Saudi Arabia is almost nothing but a giant empty desert. But there’s oil. Lots of it.

Sending ships around the gulf takes about 3,500 miles… but if you built a pipeline to the Mediterranian it would be about 1000 miles and could operate more or less continuously.

Enter the largest American civil engineering company – Bechtel.  This video (courtesy of them, so take it for what it’s worth) documents their remarkable feat. From literally an empty desert they bootstrap and build all of the necessary machinery and goods to get the job done.  The straight sections through the desert are fairly smooth sailing (though fascinating) but once you get closer to the Medetrain the terrain changes – not only physically but the political situations in various countries forces changes in plan, and even a CIA-sponsored coup in Syria.  I’m sure it’s an oversight Betchtel forgets to mention that part.

If you were an oil consumer in America or northern Europe from 1950 through about 1976 you likely, at least sometimes, used oil that came through that line.

Amazingly, copies of their almost monthly magazine are online.


The Debit Card Cometh – BBC 1969

This remarkable 1969 BBC video documents the forthcoming horror of electronic debit cards – or specifically the problems we will face by putting many tellers and the personnel to reconcile accounts out of work.   While surely impactful for those directly affected by the computers which put them out of work, I think most would agree on balance we are better for the higher efficiency of electronic banking.  Witness smoking in offices and the suggestion of vandalism for non-acceptance of checks.


1930s Auto manufactoring

If you can get past the poor title, irrelevant thumbnail and soundtrack that will numb your ears after a while, a wonderful look into auto manufacturing in the 1930s.  An impressive survey of the many skills and processes involved. You’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere such beautiful shots of asbestos dust or men putting their arms or entire bodies inbetween rapidly moving heavy machinery.


Machine Thinking

“In 1828 … [t]he Faust legend obsessed artists and writers; in dozens of works they told the story of the modern predicament: in gaining the power of industry, the world was sacrificing its soul. It was not the new machines themselves they feared – there were not yet many – it was machine thinking.”
 – Jonathan Hale, The Old Way of Seeing
Through my projects and other media I will highlight here I hope to capture some of those moments where our thinking changed because what we have changed.  Or, like in the quote, our response to what we can imagine but it yet to come.
One lens to look at us through is that we are the sum of our tools.  Put a computer in your pocket, or have your power go out, and you’re a different person.
Those intersections and moments are what fascinate me – as do the machines themselves. I’m not a machinist or scholar so much of this is new to me, too, but I hope you’ll join with me on my journey.