Dear Readers (whatever handful you may be),

I have realized that my intentions to keep this as a blog of small musings and essays, while well intentioned, might not be the best use of the platform. Rather, I have found that my own rovings and explorations of the internet – in particular regarding culture and historic preservation – and thoughts on things I have found might be better conveyed (rather than just posting links on facebook to stuff I find neat, or slapping them up on AIM – yes, I am still an avid fan of the service). I will still try to provide small essays, op-eds, and musings at about the same, irregular and long frequency, so they won’t be missed. I hope that this change is appreciated, and will be of use, education, or entertainment to those who come here,

T. Morgan Riley


In the rush to declare the waning days of the printed media (be it newspapers, books, or paperwork), many commentators or advertisers exclaim that a switch to digital media will help save innocent trees from the slaughter. That argument is logically equivalent in many ways to saying that one can save a cow by eating fewer hamburgers, save sugarfields by eating less sugar, save cornfields and wheatfields by eating less corn and wheat, and save pitiful carrots from being torn up by the roots by avoiding vegetable medleys. Namely, the trees are in many cases actually agricultural (technically, forestry or silvicultural) products – and further that without the demand for such wood products, those forests might not exist as such in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

[Editor’s Note: This was meant to go out several months ago]

As one of the most iconic pieces of technology in human history, the steam locomotive died a relatively rapid death in the middle of the 20th century, lingering on behind the Iron Curtain and in pre-industrialized countries until there too it was phased out. The reasons for such take up whole volumes, varying by railroad and country. Yet a few locomotive designers continued on, most notably the late L.D. Porta of Argentina, applying a scientific approach to the task, and designing new improvements (with particular focus on efficiency) working to push the designs past where it had abruptly ended, in some cases successfully testing them out.

Now, a solitary new locomotive is born from the island nation which first breathed fire into one almost 200 years ago. Not a small theme-park style one (there are makers of those), rather a full-service capable powerhorse of a machine adapted from one of the more succesful late-era designs, one which in terms of speed and power could outdo many of today’s diesels.

Hopefully this bodes well for another project, headed by several of Porta’s disciples, to built a new engine, based on the half-century or so years of improvements since the untimely decline of mainstream steam traction.

To “pulp-tech” /”diesel-punk”/ vintage-tech fans, this post will either be exciting or old-hat. Enjoy!

For many years I have enjoyed watching The Shadow, a 1994 film based on the proto-superhero from classic radio show and pulp magazines of the 1930’s and 40’s (in particular this, amongst others) While incredibly “pulpy” in style and substance (to the point where it wasn’t widely appreciated by modern audiences, like many similar films (the Rocketeer, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, etc. – I will try to defend those all later), it was relatively historically accurate (at least enough to give it mounds of the vintage flair that the film thrives on). The film also highlights two obscure and mostly obsolete (but once common) pieces of technology and one still very extant one that was before its time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Having missed it on the Gregorian calendar (Nov. 30th), I wanted to wish Andrea Palladio, Venetian architect of the Italian Renaissance and author of architectural treatises that are still stocked in any decent sized book store and public library, who counted among his admirers Wren, Inigo Jones, and Jefferson, a happy 500th birthday on the Julian calendar (as best as I can calculate). Given that he was born on Nov 30th old style, we might as well celebrate it again – he’s important enough for that.

If you are unaware of who this great man of the Renaissance was, check it out.

Having resisted the desire to write here whatsoever during the final stretch of the US campaign season, in part because it was so bitter during the middle of it, that anything I wrote likely would have been a desperate plea of pragmatic reason for the guy who got elected (and thus no desire for angry or wild letters), and out of laziness and attentions elsewhere. If an explanation is ever demanded of me, then do so. ; )

Now free from it all, with a new, hopeful course for the United States and the world, we can again look at the future with optimism and awe for what is yet to come, as we once could easily do at the beginning of the century, before all this mess. Some snippets of news from around the world these past seven days have helped a good deal.

First, while just as likely to be a “what ever happened to that idea?” two years from now, there was the announcement of plans for a true flying car – perhaps this one will finally work [the design is very sci-fi like, with wings that look as effective as a penguin’s]. As for why the designers chose as Ferrari and not a DeLorian, I don’t know – but regardless if they do get it working by 2015, I will be elated. If one can fly in it Los Angeles in 2019 while listening to Vangelis, I will be even more ecstatic.

Second in our tour of the future, the discovery of a massive crystal cave reminiscent in some ways of the fictional planet Krypton or various other fantasy and sci-fi locations, albeit deep beneath the surface. As if something from Verne’s Journey to the center of the Earth, it demonstrates that there are things of awe and magnificence on our own dusty sphere remain to be discovered in an era when everything seems “been-there, done that”.

And finally, news in regards to our travels beyond – even if only within our system. The Register (amongst others) reports on the belief in the theoretical effectiveness of what could be acurately characterized and romanticized as “starship ion & radiation deflector shields.” For witty thoughts, see the article.

“Water is Life”

September 3, 2008

ARRAKEEN – The Guardian reports on an ambitious terraformation project by “dry-land ecologists” involving combination desalination evaporator/condensers and greenhouses to provide water, crops, and help counter deserts and desertification in North Africa. Information on the technology can be found at the Seawater Greenhouse website. [I cannot help but call the people who would work there “moisture farmers”].

Read the rest of this entry »