Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mount Holly Mansion - After the Fire

Mount Holly, on the pleasant shore of Lake Washington, in Foote, Mississippi, is one of those impossibly grand mansions of which many examples were built in the 1800s in various parts of the Mississippi Delta. The 30-room Mount Holly was completed in 1856 of brick with 2-ft-thick walls. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In the 1990s or early 2000s, it had been used as a bed-and-breakfast, but had sat empty for many years. As usual, ownership was unclear. And, as so often tragically happens to neglected buildings, the mansion suffered a disastrous fire on June 17, 2015. I have not yet read an account of who was responsible, but the forlorn walls sit upright in their misery.
I took these photographs in December of 2015. There was no sign of any restoration or activity at all. What happens next? For some pre-fire photographs, please see my April 2011 blog post and read the interesting comments. Preservation Mississippi had an excellent 2010 article on Mount Holly.

Photographs taken with Kodak BW400CN film in a Leica M2 rangefinder camera. The BW400CN is sharp and fine-grain, but does not have the look of traditional silver negative films. I scanned the negatives with a Plustek 7600i scanner using Silverfast software and resized the files with ACDSee Pro 2.5 software.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Another Rural Gymnasium: Edwards, Mississippi

On January 26, 2016, Suzassippi wrote about Rural Gymnasiums in the Preservation Mississippi blog. Here is another example to add to the list.
This gymnasium is at the corner of Magnolia Street and old US 80 in the town of Edwards. From what I can tell, the building has been closed for years, but it has been secured. All doors were locked.
I was not familiar with the National Youth Administration. The Mississippi department of Archives and History has a web page with photographs of NYA projects. They were lucky to complete this building in 1941 because once the World War II started, much civilian construction was interrupted or cancelled. According  to Preservation Mississippi, the gymnasium was designed by architect James Manly Spain in the Art Moderne style.

Photographs taken with Kodak BW400CN film in a Leica M2 rangefinder camera and 50mm f/2.0 Summicron lens. I scanned the negatives with a Plustek 7600i scanner using Silverfast Ai software and resized with ACDSee Pro.

Update May 31, 2016: The interesting blog, Preservation Mississippi wrote a more detailed description of the gymnasium.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Forgotten Drafting and Engineering Equipment

Recently I retired from a technical job at a laboratory. Cleaning out my desk and file cabinet drawers was a walk down memory lane as I put rulers, protractors, graded pencils, and other old tools in a cardboard box. We recently hired many new MS. and Ph.D. students. They are all sharp and incredibly energetic (unlike me), but we old-timers have noted that all they have ever used in their work is computer equipment. I was surprised that many had never used India ink pens or other drafting equipment. Some were amazed that we used to contour seafloor bathymetry and draw maps by hand. We even plotted the depth measurements on the maps by hand. 

This blog usually deals with urban decay, so let's expand it to engineering decay.
These are slide rules, which are manual computing devices. Logarithmic scales are engraved on plastic or aluminum. The scales can be slid back and forth relative to one another to multiply, divide, and calculate trigonometric functions. The yellow unit is a log/log Pickett, made in USA from aluminum. I bought it in high school (yes, I am that ancient). The problem with aluminum is you needed to lubricate the slide to prevent binding, and still it was jerky to move. The best slide rules were bamboo base with plastic covering because the bamboo slid smoothly along the grain with no need for a lubricant. Mahogany was second best. 
This is an Aristo from Germany, made of plastic, complete with a box, metric ruler, and a sheet with many conversions. My dad bought this around 1960 but rarely used it.
The books that accompanied slide rules were full of examples on how to use the scales - many quite challenging. Users of slide rules needed to learn how to place the decimal point and how many decimal places were valid in a calculation. I learned how to use a slide rule from Isaac Asimov's An Easy Introduction to the Slide Rule, still available from Amazon. Many recent technical types just punch numbers into an electronic calculator and write down the numbers that appear, without thinking about the accuracy. That is why you often see invalid conversions such as "the distance was 1 mile or 1.60934 km". Well, no, the best you can say in this example is 2 km (but most would accept 1.6 km).
At the top is a primitive form of slide rule, a metric conversion device. As I recall, Gerald Ford wanted us to convert to totally metric units by the end of the 1970s, but it did not fully happen. The ruler at the bottom is for reading distances directly from maps, with scales of 1" = 1000' or 1" = 2000'.
These are triangular rulers with various units. Some of the US Standard rulers had scales with 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 units/foot (as compared to the 12 units/foot, or inches, that are common on casual rulers). The scales were used to measure dimensions directly from engineering drawings or maps.
This is a Nestler's Schola compass set, used to draw circles of various diameters with ink or pencil. I rarely see compass sets here, but in Switzerland last summer, I saw that many bookstores had such sets. Swiss students may still learn traditional geometry with manual tools. The rods on the lower right are ink nibs. The tip was dipped into a bottle of India ink, which remained between the steel tips by capillary action.
The spring-tip pens were messy, so most draftspersons after World War II used technical pens, such as these Rapidografs. They were available with various width tips and made a precise line. They were messy, too, and needed to be cleaned with distilled water to keep the tips from gumming up. For use with plotting machines, you could buy Rapidografs with tungsten or jeweled tips, intended to not wear out when drawing on abrasive drafting film. I still use a Rotring 0.18 mm pen to write on photographic film negatives.

The aluminum device is an eraser guide (for precise erasing, what else?).
These are lettering guides, each one for a specific width technical pen.
The protractors are for measuring angle in degrees from engineering drawings or maps. But in the new computerized world, I think few people use protractors any more.
Finally, we have a fountain pen, in this example, the famous Parker 75 Sterling Cicelé from 1964. I have always used a fountain pen but find less and less opportunity to write with one because most contemporary paper is unsuitable and the ink bleeds. Luxury fountain pens have enjoyed a revival (similar to top-end mechanical watches), and some pens sell for $ thousands. 
As you write and push down on the paper, the tip flexes and ink flows along the two halves to the tip, which is a combination of metals such as ruthenium, tungsten and rhenium. Traditionally, the best nibs were 18-karat-gold because the soft metal flexes and gently flows over the paper. Steel and lower grades of gold were scratchy, but now specialty steels may have solved that problem.

This has been a short survey of some of the contents in my desk. There were many other drafting tools in use before the 1980s such as Leroy Lettering Sets, pantographs, rub-on letters and textures, and pencils of various hardness. Will an archaeologist 100 years from  now know how they were used? (Will a college graduate 2 years from now know how they were used?).

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Time Warp: Hong Kong in 1950

Dear Readers, I recently scanned some of the family negatives and slides. To continue with the Hong Kong theme of the last two articles, here are some scenes from 1950.

A short history will help set the stage. During World War II, Japanese Imperial forces occupied Hong Kong. The occupation was brutal, and, due to starvation, emigration, and mass killings, the population dropped from 1.2 million pre-war to only 600,000 by 1945. Because of its strategic position in the South China Sea, Britain reoccupied Hong Kong after the war, even though most European powers were slowly divesting themselves of their colonial possessions. From 1945-1949, Hong Kong was a rather sleepy outpost of the Empire. But in 1949, Mao Zedong's communist forces occupied all of the mainland, forcing Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang government to flee to Formosa (now Taiwan). Soon, huge numbers of Chinese fled to Hong Kong. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 by Barbara W. Tuchman (1972) provides an excellent background to our difficult relations with China in the pre-war and WWII era.
The photograph above shows Victoria Harbour in 1950 with American aircraft carriers at anchor. Kowloon is across the water on the peninsula. The American fleet was likely intended to send a message to Mao to not dare mess with Hong Kong. This picture may have been taken from Peak Tower, which can be reached with a tram that ascends the mountain.
This is approximately the same scene in 2014. But Hong Kong is no longer a sleepy outpost!
Back to 1950, when the streets were relatively quiet and the buildings mostly less than 4 floors high. This may be the Tsim Sha Tsui residential area. Note the Art Deco design elements. My Hong Kong friend said it is interesting that the sign says "Cuba Dance School."
This may be Lai Chi Kok, at the terminus of bus line 6.
My friend noted the signs which say "Shanghai tailors," "Shanghai herbal doctors," etc. This might be North Point, where many Shanghinese gathered in the 1950's. Notice the cars drove on the left, a legacy of the British development of the road network. That is still true today, while on the mainland, cars drive on the right (as in USA and most of Europe).
This is the Tsim Sha Tsui sports field in Kowloon. The famous clock tower is in the distance on the right.
Repulse Bay is on the south side of Hong Kong Island.
This may be Po Chong Wan, a narrow waterway between Ap Lei Chou Island and the main Hong Kong Island. Today, there are yachts, pleasure craft, and shipyards here.
An early-style selfie. Note the necktie and the British-style knee socks, all very proper for a tropical climate. Recall, once upon a time, travelers dressed well for touring. Even I recall wearing a jacket and necktie in London, Vienna, Moscow, and other capitals.
Jump ahead 64 years, and selfies are still popular. She even has an appropriate tropical hat.

The 1950 colour photograph was taken on Kodachrome film with a Leica IIIC camera and 5cm ƒ/2.0 Summitar lens (still in use 65 years later). The black and white frames were taken on Kodak Panatomic-X film with a Canon IIB rangefinder camera and its 50mm ƒ/1.9 Serenar lens. The Canon was one of the early products of the Japanese industrial recovery after World War II. My dad took these photographs during a long trip from Guam to New York, via Hong Kong, India, Egypt, and Europe.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Come to the Supermarket (in old Wan Chai)

Dear Readers, as you know, I love smells, sounds, colors, and activity of produce/meat markets. You may recall I wrote about the Asan Chowk in Kathmandu in 2011 and the amazing Thiri Mingler in Rangoon in 2014. The Wan Chai market (Chinese: 灣仔街市) in Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island, is a similar sensory overload. Hong Kong is a much more modern city, so the Wan Chai market is less earthy than the Chowk or the Thiri Mingler, but there is still plenty to see, smell, and sample.
The Wan Chai area is crowded, streets are narrow, and towering apartments and office buildings loom up over the streets. But this is where thousands of families come to shop for groceries. The Wan Chai wet market itself was built in 1937 and was in use for 6 decades. The market has been moved to a new building, while the 1937 building has been converted to a galleria with smart shops.
Wander about through the crowds, and enjoy the views. Find the fish mongers. I can't identify these morsels, but am sure I ate some of them already cooked. From Cole Porter's Aladdin:

They have: sunflow'r cakes, moonbeam cakes,
Gizzard cakes, lizard cakes,

Pickled eels, pickle snakes,

Fit for any king,

You don't want fish or eels? Well, how about a chicken? You can even meet her first, and make friends.
Ah ha, you are a carnivore. Plenty of vendors to supply your needs. I did not see a snake vendor, but I am sure they exist.
A well-lit ground floor area had numerous vegetable and fish vendors.
If you need more protein in your diet, here is a good source.
Dried herbs? Anything you want is available.
Incense is another popular product. People buy incense before they go to temples or cemeteries. The bundles in the lower photograph are used to ask for wealth blessings in temples. The Chinese characters on the packages, 旺財, mean prosperity.
This is a Chinese dried goods store. The bottles mostly contain dried sea food: abalone, scallop, fish stomach (fish maw), sea urchins, shrimp, cuttle fish, conch, kelp, and more. They are all delicious when cooked properly and are good for you (of course). The tan flat objects hanging from the ceilings are fish maw. My Hong Kong friend said the total value of the products in this photograph represents millions of HK$.
Finally, if you overindulged, a dispensary can probably sell you some bicarbonate.
When we were in town in October of 2014, street protests, known as the Umbrella Revolution, were still ongoing. This is in front of the Sogo Department Store on Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay. The bus and tram routes were disrupted for months, and local merchants lost business because their shops were blocked or their customers were frightened. Conditions were pretty calm when we were there, but there was significant violence later in the year.

Hong Kong is fun but maybe a bit overwhelming if you are not used to major urban areas. This was my first visit to HK since 1958 - yes, I'm that old. My friends Irene and Philip were gracious and generous hosts.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera or Nexus 4 phone.