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Are We on the Brink of Utopia?

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clouds.jpgPerhaps the time when we can take a moment and look up is closer than we think. Even though there is much evil going on in the world, are we in the First World finally moving towards a point where our lives will not be filled to overflowing with work, but we will be able to have more free time than we ever dreamed of – time to ponder greater questions? READ MORE

Happy Independence Day Finland!

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320px-Flag_of_Finland.svg1917 – The Russians have a revolution and Finland takes the opportunity to declare independence.

Well , the story is a bit more complicated than that. From Wikipedia:

From the 12th until the start of the 19th century, Finland was a part of Sweden. It then became an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire until the Russian Revolution. This prompted the Finnish Declaration of Independence, which was followed by a civil war where the pro-Bolshevik “Reds” were defeated by the pro-conservative “Whites” with support from the German Empire. After a brief attempt to establish a monarchy in the country, Finland became a republic. Finland’s experience of World War II involved three separate conflicts: the Winter War (1939–1940) and Continuation War (1941–1944) against the Soviet Union and the Lapland War (1944–1945) against Nazi Germany. Following the end of the war, Finland joined the United Nations in 1955, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1969, the European Union in 1995, and the eurozone at its inception in 1999. During this time, it built an extensive Nordic-style welfare state.

Finland was a relative latecomer to industrialisation, remaining a largely agrarian country until the 1950s. Thereafter, economic development was rapid, such that today, Finland has a nominal per-capita income of over $46,000 (2012).According to some measures,Finland has the best educational system in Europe and has recently been ranked as one of the world’s most peaceful and economically competitive countries. It has also been ranked as one of the world’s countries with the highest quality of life.

Windless and Windlass

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Windless and windlass are very close in spelling, but worlds apart in meaning.

Windless simply means without wind or calm. It is more often used to describe a lack of wind when some wind would be helpful. Sailing vessels must use auxiliary power on windless days, such as oars, poles or a motor.

Comparison of a differential pulley or chain hoist (left) and a differential windlass or Chinese windlass (right). The rope of the windlass is depicted as spirals for clarity, but more likely helices with axes perpendicular to the image.

Comparison of a differential pulley or chain hoist (left) and a differential windlass or Chinese windlass (right). The rope of the windlass is depicted as spirals for clarity, but more likely helices with axes perpendicular to the image. (Wikipedia)

A windlass is similar to a winch and provides lifting or pulling power by turning a rope or chain around a horizontal drum, converting rotary power into linear motion. Such devices can be found in car repair shops and are called motor or engine hoists. These are called differential windlasses and use two drums (as in the picture above). The main point of a windlass is to create a geared lifting or pulling device which enables the lifting of heavy objects by hand, or by using motors. 

It was by the use of windlasses that heavy stones were lifted into place onto medieval church spires and heavy anchors were lifted back onto the deck of a ship. Simpler windlasses with a single drum made lifting the water bucket from the well much easier.

Word of the Day – Arcade

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An arcade in LondonPhoto copyright: Malcolm Pemberton 2012

An arcade in London
Photo copyright: Malcolm Pemberton 2012

An arcade is fundamentally a covered walkway, often lined with retail shops and, according to Wikipedia, the first one on record was the Passage du Caire in Paris, which was constructed in 1798. Considering the era, it is not surprising that someone came up with this kind of solution, as the problems were many. For example, back then, there were no flush toilets or sewers and often the ‘night bucket’ was emptied the easy way by hurling, from an upstairs window,  its contents out onto the cobbled or even unsurfaced  street below.  Another street hazard was the then ubiquitous horse and cart, which could splash walkers with mud, or worse; the cart was a pretty ‘green’ vehicle, but the horse was not exactly emissions free.

Place Saint Louis - A medieval archade in Metz.Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Place Saint Louis – A medieval arcade in Metz.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.

At that time, the connection between urine, poop and other biological waste and disease was not understood. If at all dangerous, such hazard was only connected to the terrible smells, the ‘bad air’, which was part and parcel of city life. Butchers, without the aid of refrigerators, brought the live animals directly to their shops where they were then slaughtered. All the blood and unwanted fluids were just swilled out into the street with a bucket of water. Unwanted solids would, at best, be taken by wheelbarrow to a common dump, with many a piece falling off onto the road on the way.

Then, of course, whilst stepping oh so very carefully through all that lot on the way to get your groceries, it might also be raining, which would turn the whole street into a slippery, muddy hell. In hotter, sunnier climes, you might be seeking shade from the blazing sun (whilst also enjoying the stench of rotting body parts on the street).

So, a great solution to all this was the arcade. The arcade would generally be a little above street level, paved with cobbles or slabs, and probably not used as a communal dumping ground. Its roof would be supported on, for example, arched pillars, on which also the upper floors of the building could rest. It was already common for upper floors to be wider than the ground floor, and this was to do with building in wood and protecting the ends of the vertical beams from damp.

Another kind of arcade, as shown in the main picture above, spanned an entire street with glass, protecting the shoppers from the rain and, when also closed off with doors at the ends, creating a truly indoor space. So successful has this idea been that many streets in Europe have been covered like this, particularly in the Victorian era when cast iron and glass were all the rage. After that the next step was to purpose build ‘arcades’ in the form of massive covered shopping malls, glassed over to let in the sun and create a light and airy feel.

Arcades continue to be a feature of modern architecture, protecting shoppers from the sun and rain. Some ideas are so good that they come to stay.

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