Sunday, November 30, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

'Turf to Tools' Online ?? (the aftermath) / Rant on Connection Speeds

Well - maybe not as effective as hoped.

I think you may be able to still view some portions of the presentation on the internet via:

(This is a bit difficult for me to determine here, as my older system / browser combination and especially my slow transmission speed is less than effective.)

Honestly, I think this whole attempt is more an illustration of differing approaches to a single event - of multiple objectives not meshing as well as they might.

The team at University of Aberdeen appear to be working from two viewpoints, which should compliment each other, but may have resulted in a few aspects being fumbled.
- One group of largely academics is researching the ability of rural communities to engage with each other from remote locations. The principle here is important - that internet communications should allow for even physically separated individuals to combine to share information. A cell phone or Skype connection does not (much) care if you are in the next room or half way across the planet - at least in theory.
A second group is basically composed of techies, people involved in the nuts and bolts of hardware and software. Fair to say those focused on the attempt to bring the grand principle of universal access into practical function.

A third group involved ended up in many ways being like the icing on that two layer cake. That's the people (like myself) who are presenting the actual content. Frankly, I'm not sure how much influence we ended up having over what or how *we* thought information about our work would best be illustrated or presented.  Obviously we were enthusiastic about any situation which would allow us to report to a wider audience about the Turf to Tools project.

The presentation consisted of four primary elements:
- Nuno Sacramento, Director at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop
live, describing the overall Turf to Tools project and its intended objectives
- Eden Jolly, Chief Technician at SSW
live - describing the physical activities of the project (and something on his own background)
- Video of the third smelt shot by Tom Jones, University of Aberdeen
this did include a fairly good description by myself of the process, plus the whole extraction process
- Myself
contributing via Skype from Ontario (using an iPad mini), attempting to answer audience questions.

 There was no specific co-ordination before the event between the individual presenters about their individual content. Although we had all worked together on the project, we had approached the whole sequence from differing viewpoints and expectations. This showed pretty clearly in how we individually spoke about the project.
(In itself not such a bad thing, as it did illustrate something about what had always been intended as a collaborative project. This might have left viewers, unfamiliar with those involved or the the body of work, with a fractured image of the conduct of the project??)

From my side, two things did stand out:

First, the publication of the live streaming itself did not appear particularly effective.
This may or may not have been a concern to the academics or the technicians. I was certainly not able to access what pre-event advertising that might have been made through the University of Aberdeen community (which might have been extensive?). I certainly did not have access to any related advertising materials until early the week of the event. I made some attempts (not necessarily very effective) to notify people via the on line world : Facebook / direct discussion groups / my blog / very limited direct e-mails.
This was rendered ineffective by a last minute change in the actual internet access portal used for the live streaming. I was told of the change in access site less than five hours before the event. Too late to modify the previously published information.

Second, despite some earlier attempts to test the internet communications, there were some significant linkage problems. The use of internet based live streaming inserted a considerable delay between a source voice - and the broadcast of that voice. Roughly 30 seconds by my count. This created a feedback loop effect, with speakers (both live in Aberdeen and me from Ontario) needing to talk over top of their own delayed voice coming back over the audio broadcast.

A more minor problem, at least on my side, was that audience questions were not picked up via a directly held microphone. Trying to pick out the questioner's voice from a general room mike was extremely difficult for me. (That attempt at concentration certainly was clearly visible on my face!)

Although the concept of integrating individuals from widely separated locations into a single broadcast event employing internet based technologies is a good one, the end result of this specific presentation I think illustrates the problems :
- Although the technologies may exist at the 'top end', the limitations and varying capabilities of individual hardware, software and access remains difficult to effectively integrate. Most especially for private individuals (self funded) and for rural locations (reduced access speeds).
- Special consideration needs to be made for the direct limits imposed by the continuing lack of true 'high speed' communication system for rural locations. There is a clear 'divide' between the possibilities of expensive state of the art hardware and software and urban available high speed connections - and the existing realities of rural residents (using older hardware and with only poor connection speeds available).
- Although the internet may be instantaneous, *people* are not! Increasingly there is a paradox between an expectation of fast turn over on information, and how those same fast systems over tax the human limitations. The ability to (theoretically) *do* more and more has created an expectation that somehow we are actually *able* to do vastly more. The real effect is that increasingly, choices to participate in individual events must be made ever further into personal future scheduling.

'The oxen are slow - but the earth is patient'

(The balance is more or less a separate commentary on Rural Access)

I find myself in a unique (?) position to  comment on this specific problem - the internet and the increasing 'urban / rural divide'.
I have been active with the internet from its earlier days, pretty much as long as access was possible via telephone modem here in lower Grey County. In the early 1990's, this was via discussion boards, primarily still in a kind of of 'live chat' format. I was also early involved in personal web sites, the original content for the Wareham Forge was created and posted roughly 1994. (Back then you had to learn and hand write html code.)T
through the late 90's I had been in a position to receive a number of slightly used Macintosh computer main frames, which all came loaded with top end graphics software. The cost of replacement Mac computers, most especially the cost of replacing all that software (!) has resulted in me keeping to older machines and software versions. Right now I am working primarily on a 2005 issue machine (Mac G5) running a 2007 operating system. My email software is Thunderbird (2007) and my browser is Firefox (2010). Presently this machine is 'maxed out' - it is running the latest combination of software that it is able. Fixed at roughly 2007, so seven years from 'current'.
Do note that my extensive web site has largely been created and implemented using entirely 2005 level hardware and software (a good portion using systems older than that even). In terms of everyday business functions, I manage successfully employing systems of the same vintage.  On image processing, the vintage of the hardware and software is much the same (my primary digital camera is a 2006 model). Of all the aspects of my business operations, it is only my limited video processing which would noticeably be improved with the installation of new (faster) computing or software.

My physical location is roughly 5 km off a main highway, a good 15 plus km from the closest (small!) village, and located on the highest ground in Ontario. This combines to greatly limit my potential access to internet connection. I gave up service via on the 1960's era Bell Canada copper wire about 10 years ago. Transmission speeds there were running roughly 5 *kilo* bites per second. (So that is 5 - 30 seconds for a typical e-mail message, roughly 1 - 2 minutes for a standard small sized image. Makes it roughly 20 minutes for a typical digital 'straight out of the camera' image.)
I don't have connection via line of sight to any direct wireless broadcast towers here. This partially geography, but more because the low population density does not deem it profitable to install the towers. (About two years back I did test the wireless hub equipment offered by Bell, Telus and Rodgers. All ensured me that G4 level service was available. In actual fact, none of their equipments would actually connect to the internet here in Wareham.) As raw economics are determining the placement of (admittedly costly) broadcast towers, that situation is never likely to change.
About ten years back, I was pretty much forced to invest in a satellite uplink system. At the time the total investment (hardware and installation) ran me about $1000. Monthly cost then was $50, increased since to $70, that for base level service. This is via the Xplornet system (the only service provider available by the way).  Despite advertising to the contrary, my typical functioning transmission speeds are roughly 300 to maybe at best 500 *kilo* bites per second. I currently can not usually listen to on line transmitted music 'as fast as it plays'. I certainly can not view video (like YouTube) without waiting at least four times longer than the length of the clip for the download. I can manage Skype video chat, but often with breaks in video and even audio. This limit on functional speed is, if anything, likely to be reduced with time - certainly not increased. You share a portion of the available dish volume with all other users, so the more people purchase the service and then attempt ever more complex use, the effective available speed / volume per individual is reduced.

Increasingly, I am finding myself blocked out of portions of the internet.
One reason is the rapid increase in software. As organisations increasingly add more 'whistles and bells' to their web sites, these elements are generated using increasingly later version (or entirely new) software 'widgets'. Facebook, for example, is increasingly annoying for this. As I am not interested in someone's choice of soundtrack or 'dancing pigs' framing, I find my self blocked from information content because of these mere distractions. I have found a number of official Government impossible to use, because they require specific software installation on the part of the user. (I find it particularly offensive that I am being required in install the latest version of Microsoft Windows to communicate with my own government - for registrations they themselves are insisting I need undertake. This is in in result a demand that I need purchase a specific computer type and operating system package - of the Government's choice.)

Individual web sites increasingly use ever more elaborate security features, which create two interlocked blocks to my use. First is again a requirement for newer software, and by extension a newer computer to run that software. (A clear argument can be made that elevated security is to *my* benefit, so I should be making the investment to remain current here.) More significant to this discussion, is the increasing requirement for high speed transmission during the course of 'secure' functions. The machine on the other end, sends out a 'ping' - a simple 'are you still there?'. Increasingly, bu the time my machine, on the other end of the satellite broadcast down, then up again, can not return the 'I'm still here' message. So, for the sake of perceived 'loss of contact', the controlling system just halts the ongoing process. What I get on my end is a 'session terminated' message.
Bare in mind, these blocks are all happening where increasingly, official services are being converted to 'on line only'. Canadian Goods and Services / Harmonised Sales Taxes are only able to be processed via on line communications at this point. Bell Canada and other utilities are now charging extra to issue paper copy invoices, expecting these transactions to use entirely on line processing instead.

As I have absolutely no control over access to the internet itself, as a rural resident I am slowly being excluded from functional parts of the internet. As transmission speeds are directly the result of the installation of major infrastructure systems, and these are dictated by 'cost per user', I can not envision my situation ever significantly improving. (The massive influx of Menonite farmers into my local area over the last five years is not likely to improve the 'users per square kilometer' function.*)

As individuals are increasingly dazzled by the 'latest and greatest', in a society ever obsessed  with novelty over function, I expect the Rural - Urban Divide as applied to the internet to also ever increase. Increasing raw speed has become the driver itself, over any consideration that there is actually any improvement in activity. Your computer might be able to process e-mails at a thousand a minute, but you still can not read them any faster and still only hunt and peck as you type to answer them.
Because you have been convinced that your six month old phone is not adequate any more, or you want to play Total Combat 15 on line, the entire internet is shifting to demand the only effective access is extreme high speed access.

Those of us who are being choked off from these required access speeds, through those same merely profit bottom line restrictions, are being left in the metaphorical dust on the information super highway.

(a good example of human vs internet speeds? This report took me roughly three and a half hours to compose.)

* Curriously enough, one of the related problems of rural life - fluctuations in electrical supply, has actually been greatly improved locally with this same influx of Menonite owners. One of the first signs of Menonite purchase of a property is that the existing Hydro connections are yanked out. In fact local Menonite farms are massive users of electricity, but that power is manufactured individually using large diesel powered generators installed on each farm. The electrical grid around Wareham was installed in the 1950's, and not significantly upgraded since. When I first moved here there were serious problems with brown outs (daily), power surges (weekly) and failures (monthly). I had to invest in a number of 'un-interrupted power supply' systems for all the household electronics. With so many users excluding themselves from the grid, the electrical supply has actually gotten significantly *more* dependable of late.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


On Thursday the 20th of November, as part of the Being Human festival, the dot.rural SIRA STREAMS project will be holding a public event with Scottish Sculpture Workshop about their 'From Turf to Tools' project.
'From Turf to Tools' is an ongoing enquiry into resources, material and landscape. During August 2014, this led to the recreation of an Iron Age smelting process in Lumsden, Aberdeenshire. Join us for the event online to find out more about the project, see video footage of the smelt, see the materials used and produced, and participate in a live Q&A with artist Eden Jolly and Master Blacksmith Darrell Markewitz (joining us remotely from Ontario, Canada). Hear about work being carried out at the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub to share these activities online with remote audiences worldwide.

The event commences at 6.45pm (UK time) - if you wish to participate online please register here for your invitation:​​

Hope to see you there!
Dr. Leanne Townsend
Research Fellow

dot.rural Digital Economy Hub
University of Aberdeen
Kings College

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Last Chance to See (?) Course

(Sorry for this 'shot gun' approach - let me know if you want OFF the general mailing list! Especially if you have *already* taken this program over 2014.)

Did you miss the scheduled 'Introduction to Blacksmithing' courses this year?
Still interested?

Introduction to Blacksmithing
November 22 & 23

'No Kidding - Absolutely LAST Chance This Year' (maybe?)
Saturday & Sunday, working with gas forge only

This is an 16 hour program that stresses a hands on approach, with two full working days in the forge. Only 4 students per session, each with their own work station, means close personal attention. Projects include poker, 'S' hook, wall hook, and at least one small decorative item (more as time permits!). Course fee of $325 (+HST) includes coffee and materials.

For the full list and descriptions see the web site :

Clay & Organics - Furnace Building

 Question from Dan - on Don Fogg's Bladesmith Forum - 'Bloomers & Buttons'

Any advice on smelting furnace materials? Firebrick? Kitty Litter?

As I have mentioned, there is a dance between ore (as the lead) and furnace details. Playing the tune is construction materials on melody and charcoal type sometimes improvising.

Powered potters clay is cheap and very easy to work with - and can be purchased as known types.
Local clay is considerably more work (unless you are one of the lucky ones) and usually will have quite specific (likely unknown) properties.
You can make your own decision if digging, hauling, drying, breaking, cleaning then re-mixing a local clay is worth the roughly $10 - 15 a bag of powdered clay costs.

Working with clay obviously gives you the most flexibility in terms of design. (Making a cylinder using rectangular bricks is sometimes not the easiest.
Remember that the air blast, so the burn pattern, in the furnace will be some variation on a *spherical' volume. You make a square or rectangular furnace and there are going to be corners that are not going to burn / contribute to the reactions. (Japanese Tatara aside, but there the system uses multiple air points to get around the physics.)
Parks Canada / LAM - 2001 (first smelt attempt). You can clearly see that the two corners opposite the tuyere point are not ignited at all.
Like everything else, there is a knack to working with hand mixed clay.
Lee Sauder's  / Owen Bush's  advice of mixing up your clay balls and leaving them to relax is excellent (time / space / manpower allowing)

At this point I don't think any of the successful, multiple smelt workers are using a straight clay (??)

Sand in the mix reduces the way  wall material expands when it heats to operation temperature.
A high sand mix does require considerably more effort on the build. It also requires much more careful drying / baking before the furnace is used.
The result however, with the care needed, is most certainly a more durable furnace.
This is the mix that Lee is using, and he certainly has had an individual furnace re-used dozens of times.
One of Lee's Furnaces (a slightly older version)
Organics added will do three things :
- Pieces remaining in the outer layer of wall act to bind the whole structure together. This action tends to limit potential cracking, and hold the walls together even if cracks form.
- Organics with hollow cross section (ie - straw) allow some place for the expanding steam to go, steam produced when the water in the clay heats. The massive increase in volume as water flashes to steam is the primary source of cracking of the clay walls. (Obviously very careful / long duration drying limits this available water remaining in the walls)
- Pieces remaining in the inner layer of wall will eventually burn away with the high temperatures of an operating furnace. This in effect leaves air spaces, which are insulators. The gross effect is to help limit the loss / spread of heat into the exterior surface of the furnace. (This at least in theory, honestly I doubt anyone has actually tested for this ??)

Obviously differing organic additives will perform differently:
- We tested 'peat moss' - purchased locally as spaugam moss for gardening. The long pieces soaked up excessive water and held it, making mixing a bit of a pain (hard to get consistent mix). Then the drying became a real problem. In the end we got excessive wall cracking - there was just too much water being held by the mix.
I highly expect that what anyone would get locally as 'peat moss' might vary an extreme amount - region to region.
- We have had extremely good results with shredded, dry horse manure. Get last year's pucks, rub them between your palms. What you end up with are very dry lengths of grass, usually about 5 - 10 mm long. Added to clay, these pieces act just like fiberglass bits in car repair 'bondo'. (I learned this technique from Micheal Nissen in Denmark.)
- Our old stand by here is chopped dry straw. Cut the pieces to 5 - 10 cm long with a hatchet or machette. Straw (rather than hay) has the hollow core mentioned above. The net effect is just like adding rebar to concrete. It does make hand mixing a bit of an effort.

Learning from Lee, the normal mix used here at 'Viking Age Central' (Wareham Ontario) is a rough mix by volume :
1/3 powdered clay / 1/3 course sand / 1/3 organic material
Often we will use a higher fire temperature clay (like the EPK suggested) for the part of the furnace around the tuyere level (which suffers the highest temperatures). I have noticed any particular problem mixing different clay types in one furnace.

We are undertaking more experimental archaeology here than production smelting here. For that reason, we are constantly changing details on furnace construction (so building a *lot* of individual furnaces!). To date we have only used one furnace for a total of five smelt events, the average is closer to two smelts per furnace before we build a different model.

After seeing a whole lot of furnaces built, I would suggest the most important factor is :
Take your time and use care in the build - this pays back with less cracking and more durability
The single biggest error people make is not making sure the individual balls / blocks of mixed clay are well fused to each other as you build up the walls. Cracks are almost always along the joint lines of the individual blocks as added.

for images of a whole lot of differing 'Short Shaft' furnaces

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

'Spears of Summer' - at Elora

... or maybe not so much, as I took the piece down on Sunday after its summer exhibited as part of the Elora Sculpture Project - 2014

See the original proposal as drafted :

The completed sculpture as installed proved extremely difficult to get any good images of! The location was just to the east of the main intersection in Elora, but on the side of the street. This made for complete chaos in the background!

In the end the base was encircled with rough stones - mainly as an extra security measure to prevent the un-wary from walking into the pointed terminals.

'From the Fury of the North'

'Deliver us' (plus maker's mark)

It proved too difficult to use the crimping technique to apply the bottom 'barbs' as originally designed. Instead I welded on the sharp triangles remaining from the starting cuts of the end points.

If anyone viewing might be interested, Spears of Summer is available for purchase. The original asking price is $2500. The piece stands about 7 1/2 feet tall. The metal has intentionally been left with its 'out of the forge' fire scale, which is slowly starting to red oxidize naturally as it weathers.


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

COPYRIGHT NOTICE - All posted text and images @ Darrell Markewitz.
No duplication, in whole or in part, is permitted without the author's expressed written permission.
For a detailed copyright statement : go HERE