Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Oxen are slow... (10 Lines)

1) The old man trudged behind the water buffalo, labouring to keep the heavy wooden plough in something like a straight line in the marshy soil.

2) His world was defined by the muddy field, the back of the animal, the seemingly endless toil as he moved back and forth in his small plot under the blazing sun.

3) There was a hazy memory, floating like the midges in the early summer heat, of when he first cut a piece of crooked tree branch and roped the buffalo to pull it, so much better than the simple stick that he had used before to plant the grain.

4) After a long, long while, a bronze spike had been added, so much more durable, even if hard to manage to pay for out of the meager surplus remaining even in the best of harvest years.

5) One year the Warlord’s soldiers had come, ‘offering’ a cast iron tip, at the cost of taking a quarter of each harvest, even in those years the rains failed, the crops withered, and his children starved.

6) Eventually he saw the machines shatter the quiet of the fields and belch their foul smoke, but he kept to his oxen, knowing he could repair his simple plough himself, and the ox could survive on the grass remains of his crop.

7) They came with their chemicals and strangely altered seeds, laughing at him as they boasted of high yields, while every year he watched the weeds and insects grow ever resistant, needing more and more chemicals in an endless race, as he still plodded along.

8) The machines came to guide themselves seemingly without human intervention, and once again he and the beast were alone inside the small field where the only ‘web’ he understood was that of Life, defined by soil, sun and rain.

9) Then the day came when the sun suddenly blazed massive in the sky, the machines fell silent, there would be no more wondrous seeds with their supporting chemicals, and the people in their artificial canyons found themselves again isolated, starving, and incapable of simple survival

10) And the old man roped the water buffalo to the simple wooden plough for another day of toil, still trusting to ancient experience, the earth, sun, and sky - with hope that harvest would once again provide enough to fill his bowl.

(Image by Ken Preston : 'Letters from the Road' - used without permission.)

The title here comes from a saying I heard (in the 1983 film ‘High Road to China’) :
“The oxen are slow, but the Earth is patient”

But that was not the starting point.

Increasingly, I have become concerned of the ‘Death of the Expert’ coupled with the increasing diversion of, well, *everything* on to ever more ethereal methods. Books replaced by computer files, with personal records placed onto ‘the cloud’, beyond control of the individual. A cell phone is not a tricorder, especially when the information stored, much less the driving software itself, is all remotely accessed.
The recent collapse of the Canadian Rodgers cell phone system, and the massive chaos in banking, retail, business function, and personal communications should be (yet another) warning sign.

We are only one good solar flare from total information collapse.
At least here in the ‘developed’ West (and realistically, increasingly in Africa and Asia).

All this is hardly a new concept. The idea of ‘point failure’ in technological societies has long been the grist for the Science Fiction mill. I’ll point to James Burke’s 1978 series Connections, especially episode 1 ‘The Trigger Effect’ (dealing with the 1965 North East power black out - which I dimly remember).
I certainly have come to realize the (massively) optimistic vision of re-enactors as some holders of ancient skills (seen in Stirling’s ’Dies the Fire’) is hardly realistic.  But there is a core here about Knowledge, Skills & Experience - a sub topic of concern regular readers have seen  from my hands.

When (not *if* youngsters) the System crashes, no one will even have the self promotion that is YouTube, and all those PDF’s will be unavailable with the last gasp of your batteries.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

'Wave Action' - at Paisley ONT

Location : Paisley Ontario (lower Bruce County)

Queen Street, on the east side, just before Church Street (that's on the north side of the bridge in the centre of town.

Wave Action is a joint project of Kelly Probyn-Smith of Elfworks Studios and myself. It was the first of two sculptures chosen to initiate a new Paisley Sculpture Project, under the Paisley Artscape Society . This is a new work, created specifically for the PSP, and is the first major public art project by Kelly.

The original concept was drafted in conversation with Kelly in fall of 2020, who conceived of a human powered kinetic sculpture, inspired after watching 'Mechanical Marvels - Clockwork Dreams' a 2013 BBC 4 program hosted by Simon Schaffer. She was particularly taken by a specific automata, which included twisted flat bars of glass that rotated to suggest flowing water. 

This project has been some time in the waiting, our original proposal had been tentatively accepted in early 2021, but providing for the required stone block mounting bases took over a year to organize. 

Kelly had imagined a series of flying birds, swimming ducks and leaping fish. These figures were pewter, cast into a series of soapstone molds she carved, then individually painted. 

The last elements were groupings of small plants, each element individually hand forged and collectively making clumps of reeds and grasses set along the river bank. She was influenced here by the work of another artist who was also undertaking a residency at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, during our own time there in 2017

One last larger element was the inclusion of a human figure paddling a canoe (a common activity heading down the Saugeen River from Paisley).

The clip above shows the sculpture in action, with the wheel on the front rotating the set of birds and fish. Simple T handles on either end rotate the twisted bars making up the waves. A simple push / pull lever activates the paddler. 


My contribution here was building the frame and figuring the mechanicals (and the final spray colours on the sides of the main box structure). 

Originally the plan was to use a recycled bicycle main peddle crank for the handle. When the  four by four foot size of the stone mounting block was later established, it was clear that the crank would have to be extended well past the front of the main box, and I was concerned too much torque would be applied if a crank was employed. Fortunately, in the pile of scrounged parts I found a small rubber tired wheel - ideal for use as a means of applying the required motion. Inside the frame a pair of bicycle gear clusters are chain driven off a central main sprocket (other than the chains, all scrounged at the local dump). This cobbled together provides the rotating movement for the diving figures. 

Wave Action will remain in place on the street at Paisley until mid October. 

Come take it for a spin!

I would like to personally thank and recognize EPCOR Utilities, through it's representative : General Manager Mark Egbedeyi-Emmanuel. EPCOR provided funding for the purchase of the elegant cut and dressed stone mounting block seen in the images.

Video of Wave Action in motion shot by Kelly.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

10 Lines : We Knew

Image : S. Getzin / Discover March-April 2022

We Knew… 

1) We embraced ‘Live Better - Electrically!’, burning more and more coal to power our increasing demand, while the sulphur it contained turned more fresh water into sterile lakes of diluted acid. 

2) We watched the chemicals poison Love Canal, and knew it was just a warning for all our drinking water, as the phosphates that we used to make our clothes ‘whiter than white’ bloomed the algae, and choked the fish to death.

3) For years we saw the oil wells starting to run dry despite ever more extreme methods, bemoaning the rising cost of gasoline, all the while driving larger and larger personal vehicles, as if engine size and horsepower were some kind of status symbol. 

4) Our viewing portal to the world shifted to ever smaller and faster electronic gadgets designed for ever shortening life cycles, as if being constantly ‘connected’ was some kind of equivalent to an ability for critical evaluation or true understanding. 

5) Educated viewpoints, even practical experience, was increasingly buried under a massive tide of cell phone image captures and one hundred and forty character text summations, the opinions of anyone spewing content more valued that actual expertise. 

6) We filled our lives with plastics, more and more as disposables, thinking our blue boxes somehow magically made the leavings just disappear, while shipping off our leavings to the third world to become ‘someone else’s problem’. 

7) Our houses could just never be large enough, or filled with enough stuff, or have enough parking so every family member could have their own car (with extras like boats and quad runners and their trailers and additional vehicles just to haul those toys). 

8) All this massive, blind, consumerism bough on credit, ‘why wait for tomorrow when you can enjoy TODAY!’, as if the bill would never, ever, come due. 

9) The weather getting obviously stranger, hotter or wetter or drier, the storms more frequent and so much severe, but of course this was all just some plot by a bunch of Over-educated Leftie Socialists. 

10) And all the while, the little voice in the back of our heads reminding us of what we had suspected and feared might happen, a lifetime ago, all while we sat inside our little ’Social Bubbles’, in reality increasingly physically isolated from all those ‘Friends’ - none of which we actually never really knew. 


Ok - a bit of a diatribe. But pulling together a number of elements that have been pressing on me increasingly of late. Certainly a bit of a cheat on '10 Lines', as the sentences as composed are really strung out through the use of excessive commas.

* I * certainly Knew. Or at least had seen the warning signs, as anyone paying the least bit of attention, growing up through high school into college or university in the 1970's :

  • The effects of Acid Rain became increasingly obvious (and wide spread) in the 1960's, leading to attempts by governments to control emissions like the 1972 Clean Air Act (USA)
  • The Love Canal Disaster was a public outcry in the later 1970's
  • Alvin Toffler published Future Shock in 1970, defining the problem of accelerating rate of technological change on both individuals and societies.  
  • The concept of Peak Oil can be traced back at least as early as 1972, via projections from the oil companies themselves.
  • The first true home computers hit the popular market starting from the later half of the 1970's. The Internet itself, at least for general public access, effectively dates to the first half of the 1990's. The beginnings of the current dominance of cell phones as information portals only dates to 1999.
  • Facebook became available to the general public in 2006, the same year Twitter, with it's limit to 140 characters, was launched.
  • The truly massive impact ocean plastic accumulation has been documented by such highly respected researchers as Jacques Cousteau, and Silvia Earle 
  • The possibility of global climate change through human activities was first suggested by observations going back as early as the late 1800's (!) By the 1990's computer models, using hard data, had indicated not only the direct human causes, but forecast the dire consequences of our actions. 

As for the rest?

I was there at the start. I watched a generation's youthful concern turn into middle aged apathy, excesses and pure greed as seniors. I will not live to see the disaster looming, but fear for you reading who will have to live through it.


O who can stand? O who hath caused this?
O who can answer at the throne of God?
The Kings and Nobles of the Land have done it!
Hear it not, Heaven, thy Ministers have done it!

Loreena Makennitt - Lullaby


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

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