Archive for February, 2011

27 Feb 2011

Posted by under Book Review

You say you want a revolution…

In this case, the industrial revolution. Like most, maybe all, revolutions, the industrial revolution began uncertainly, proceeded unsteadily and eventually changed the world unreservedly.

The Industrial RevolutionariesThe Industrial Revolutionaries: The Making of the Modern World 1776-1914 by Gavin Weightman (ISBN 978-0-8021-1899-8), 2007, Grove Press
This fairly hefty 400+ page book is less of a comprehensive history of the immense changes of the industrial revolution than it is a collection of essays, flying in loose formation. The 21 chapters proceed in rough chronological order from the roots of modern industrialism in the mid-18th century England to the dawn of the modern era signaled by the Great War. Each essay addresses a particular aspect of the changing technologies, political fortunes, industrial processes or cultural imperatives sparked by the enlightenment that moved the world from it’s dependence upon wood, stone and animals towards something new – steam and electricity, steel and iron.

The arc of the movement of industrialization through history is a fascinating look at mankind’s simultaneous penchant for amazing, insightful creativity and astounding, obstinate unwillingness to change. Yet change comes regardless, often times through the exertions of individuals seeking only to better their own situation rather than through some desire to improve society at large. The industrial revolution was not driven by grand political movements, but by the sum of the efforts of hundreds and thousands of scientists, tradesmen, engineers, businessmen and entrepreneurs. To be sure, the politics of empires and colonies, grand navies and wars, industry and agriculture all shaped the progress and pace of the industrial revolution. Yet the concept that shines through is that of the individual seeing and then seeking opportunity in the new-found technological marvels that the industrial revolution both created and consumed.

Not surprisingly, the pace of industrialism varied widely – advanced by insightfulness and systematic encouragement by industry or government then retarded by protectionism and legal roadblocks. In America, for example, the petroleum industry sprang out of obscurity very rapidly when oil-men, used to digging for oil with picks and shovels, thought to engage the services of salt-well drillers to drill for oil. Soon the availability of oil led to the development of the internal combustion engine and eventually the automobile. However, America’s entry into the automotive industry was delayed for over 20 years by the existence of an absurd patent application held by one man who effectively blocked all progress until Henry Ford eventually won a lengthy legal battle contesting the patent.

Weightman’s book is a worthwhile read for anyone with a curiosity to understand more about the dramatic changes that became the foundation of the modern age. The style is a little elliptical and it can be a challenge to keep the names of the key figures straight as they interweave with each other through the narrative, but overall I found it to be an engaging and informative work.

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19 Feb 2011

Posted by under Dave's Thoughts,Family,Mr. FixIt


It’s been a while since the last post (especially if you missed the 1-day Robbie Burns Day item) so I’ve got a gallimaufry of topics that I’ll lump together here. It’s a cold miserable day – again. Brenda is so mad about the groundhog’s prediction at the beginning of the month that there will be 6 more months of winter that she appears to have hunted down poor old Balzac Billy and made a nice vest for herself…

Maybe you’ve wondered where our Sinterklaas post was for this Christmas season (OK, maybe not); well, we were busy welcoming our newest nephew into the family at the beginning of December.  As a result, we held Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet off by a month and had the annual Langendoen Christmas gathering on the first weekend of January after the new year.  We all met at Ronny and Carla’s place outside of Rocky Mountain House and had a great weekend with all of the cousins having a fine time skating and sledding and eating far too many treats that Oma picked up at the Dutch store.  We had a fun weekend and, despite the serious blizzard that swept across southern Alberta that weekend, none of us had any trouble on the roads. Anyway, here are a few pictures:

During one of the cold snaps that we keep having this winter, I noticed that I’d start the van (2002 Mazda MPV) up and the radiator fan would immediately start running on high, even if it was -28°C out. A few days after that, the fan started randomly running on high at any old time. A little trouble-shooting and googling uncovered the fact that the fan control module was the likely culprit and that it was the subject of a recall to replace it. So I took it to a Mazda dealer only to find out that it had already been replaced on our van. So I shelled out $100 for a new one and then waited 2 weeks for a day nice enough to do the repair outside.

It’s not too bad of a job, but I had to pull the battery and the battery tray out to gain access to the three wiring connections. All three were a pain to disconnect – 5 years of accumulated grit always makes separating under-hood connectors difficult. Once that was done the swap was pretty simple. The new module has a different part number than the old one, so I hope it’s improved.

One trick that I’d heard about when disconnecting a car battery is to use an automotive “settings keeper” to preserve the vehicles computer settings and radio presets. This prevents the computer from forgetting the various bits of data that it uses to optimize settings for fuel economy and performance and maybe saves a bit of gas for the few weeks after the repair. I couldn’t find one locally, so I made my own. Sadly, it didn’t work. After the repair was done the radio presets were lost. I think that the 9V battery couldn’t keep up in the cold. Next time, I think I’ll try wiring a 12V wall-wart transformer to the cigarette lighter adapter, rather than the battery.

The kids have this coming week off school, so we are hoping for a bit of a chinook and maybe we can take the opportunity to have a family outing – maybe a day in Banff? Or at least an afternoon matinee in a nice warm movie theater if the weather won’t cooperate.

…it seems that miserable groundhog got what he deserved…

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