Containing Multitudes: Laser Safety Edition

Most of you found me as the ridiculous coffee & steins guy. Some think of me as the radiation safety man who knows way too much history and is an embodiment of Institutional Memory (this would definitely be the point of view from the researchers and students I wrangle). To others, I am the crazy coin ranter…who knows way too much history.

But last year, a whole new part of the internet found me and, often, decided they didn’t like what I had to say as I revealed I am the laser safety guy who isn’t a big fan of some aspects of maker & founder culture. I wrote a bit of a rant on a product whose existence I found infuriating as it, from start to finish, embodied those bits of culture that drive me crazy. This also caused the parts of the internet I didn’t piss off to send me a steady stream of things to see if they were bad too or, in most cases, in hopes of raising my blood pressure. I took home some lessons from all this I’d like to share with you:

  1. In the last couple years, something happened that caused a wave of cheap 405nm (deep violet) and 450nm (blue) laser diodes to come onto the market. Since shorter wavelength means more energy per photon, this was what the market has been waiting for to make small, cheap laser cutter/engravers. Cubiio was only one of dozens of different versions of similar systems.
  2. The FDA Center for Device and Radiologic Health (CDRH) are aware of these systems, or at least becomes so as soon as someone tells them. There are so many and they so understaffed that they don’t actively hunt them, merely address those that are directly reported to them or are revealed in the course of an accident investigation. There is some despair of ever getting ahead of the wave at this point. The days of a few large and responsible laser manufacturers to wrangle, who reliably file paperwork before selling products, are long gone.
  3. Amazon and eBay are oh so very complicit in the illegal importation and sale of laser systems that aren’t FDA compliant. Their hosting of third party sales without much (if any) vetting of what is being sold through their marketplace is a gushing pipeline of gray/black market items to America. When told to suspend sale of an item by the CDRH, they will very diligently remove that specific listing from that particular seller. If you heard a bit of sarcastic tone in your head there, good. Nothing prevents a different seller from selling the same item or the original seller for listing a substantially similar one, just different enough to evade the CDRH take down. Since listings are automated and fees are generated by listing and sale, there is no incentive for Amazon & eBay to do so self-policing. And then there’s Alibaba…
  4. USPS/Customs Enforcement stop what they are specifically told to stop. They haven’t been given much direction about lasers and, much like CDRH, they don’t have much hope against the wave. I can personally attest to my two Not At All Okay handheld lasers, purchased via 3rd party seller on Amazon, that were shipped direct from China and sailed through Customs. The Mail Cops’ focus is trying to interdict weapons and illegal drugs, so this is one of those eye-rolling “Sure, yeah, we’ll get right on that in our copious free time” situations.
  5. The intentionally reactive, rather than preventive, nature of control in the sale of laser products means we are way deep into whackadoo laser quackery on the market and have been for a while. It’s reminding me a lot of where we were with radioactive materials and x-rays, circa 1920. As an example, laser physiotherapy treatment, my entire ass. You are quite successfully selling a glorified heat lamp from China at a 100000% markup to overfunded sports programs. That piece of crap shouldn’t cost $100, much less $250k.

So, let me tell you how I got to this point in my life, or rather how I got back to it. Once upon a time, my first job out of college was working at one of the large industrial & scientific laser manufacturers in Silicon Valley. I began in production, building pretty much every laser they had on the market at the time. In short order I moved to service and then, thanks to having picked up all the safety roles for my division out of boredom and no one else wanted them, to the Environmental Health & Safety department when a layoff happened. By attrition, I was eventually the only person left in the EH&S department and I was the corporate laser safety officer (LSO) for the entire company. I was burnt out and desperately wanted out of there as management gave zero shits about their employees. After a particularly bad day at work, I discovered that it was possible to get a job working in Antarctica and submitted a resume.

Two years later, Raytheon Polar Services Corporation hired me to be a cryogenics/science technician to serve as a winterover at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. It was, however, a very last minute hire before deployment. From the time a verbal offer was made to the when a same day FedEx letter with paper contract and plane tickets to Denver to attend fire school arrived at my office was 7 hours. Because it was so late in the day, my boss who I loathed was already gone when it arrived. Which meant that before I finished for the day, I had placed a resignation letter in his box, giving two weeks notice and informing him that the first week would be spent on vacation as I learned to be a firefighter in Colorado. I also cleared out my more important items from my office and locked down all relevant things on my computer. It’s fair to say that I burnt that bridge very effectively and scattered the ashes to the wind.

However, as corporate laser safety officer for this company I’d had a prominent voice in the safety community despite being in my 20s. The collective laser safety officers of the San Francisco Bay Area pushed the issue that we needed to make some kind of certification for our field, that there was a bit of a difference between being the person wrangling the one welding laser in the shop and being responsible for an entire university worth of lasers. And so the Board of Laser Safety was formed and the very first Certified Laser Safety Officer (CLSO) examination was organized for October 12, 2002. By the time this date rolled around though, I’d left my job at $LASER_COMPANY and was no longer a practicing laser safety officer. But, I’d paid the money, so I figured what the hell, take the test and maybe it would be something good for the resume when I got back.

The CLSO exam is supposed to be a three hour exam; I was the first one done in 73 minutes. I know this because the proctor showed me his stopwatch and wanted to make sure I was actually done and didn’t want to take more time checking it over. I said no, walked out of the testing room at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and drove all the way back down to my parents’ hose in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I then finished packing my giant bodybag sized duffles and went to sleep. The next morning my dad drove me to San Jose airport to catch the first leg of my very long and delay prone flight to the South Pole.

Several months later, now trapped at Pole with no escape flights coming for the next nine months, my dad let me know that they’d received a giant envelope from the Board of Laser Safety. I asked him to open it. Inside was this certificate which he sent me a picture of.

My original Board of Laser Safety CLSO certificate.

Note the certification number: G1006. The first five certification numbers, G1001-G1005, were held by the members of the Board of Laser Safety. Because I’d finished the test first, I was the sixth. The members of the Board never revealed to me who Number One was, but I was Number Six. Yes, I have been making Prisoner jokes about this for 15 years.

You will also note there is a renewal date on that certificate of January 1, 2006. I spent most of 2003 at the South Pole where the need for laser knowledge was minimal other than telling people “Don’t stand under the dancing laser speckles on the ice from the Atmospheric Research Observatory’s lasers. That’s actually bad. Try not to go blind, I’ll see you in the bar.” Most of 2004 I was unemployed or temping for the water district doing groundwater flow modeling. 2005 was LLNL and they had no need for my mad phat laser sk33lz (well, that’s not true, my knowledge informed other projects I was doing in interesting ways). And so, without continuing education credits, my CLSO lapsed.

Four years ago, I got tapped by a whole bunch of people affiliated with Burning Man as “Hey, I know a guy that knows something about lasers” in the wake of this incident. It kinda rankled that I had to keep giving the caveat of “I am not a CLSO” as I ran people through how to conduct an accident investigation and create policies for control of lasers in a place that believes in Safety Third. Oh, the fun I have with people who try to bring that mentality to places I’m actually responsible for.

Two years ago, I was asked if I was willing to serve as the deputy LSO for UC Berkeley in addition to my other duties. I said yes and somewhat sarcastically replied “You mean formally, as opposed to what I’ve been doing in the hallways for the last eight years? You finally ready my resume I gather.”

Last year, the tsunami of shitty laser product as discussed earlier hit me. I snapped and decided I needed to re-certify so that I could complain with authority. The weird long BBotE production window in May was because I spent a week in Rochester, NY taking that exam and attending the DOE Laser Safety Conference.

Yesterday, I was contacted directly by the Board of Laser Safety to inform me that I’d passed and was re-certified.

In conclusion…

via GIPHY

Do I Look Like I Have A Plan?

Sometimes you make something you’re proud of and need to keep it handy.

via GIPHY

 

Philippines Barako BBotE Now Available

Reposting the relevant half of a previous post as it is now reality as I have just received a large quantity of Barako. Additionally, BBotE Ambassador service to Brisbane (Australia) is restored, so feel free to drop Dom a line.

1911 Philippines 1 Peso Reverse with Lady Filipinas & a gently smoking Mt. Pinatubo

There is a new BBotE selection now available in the store. This is a continued part of my interest in the historical coffees of colonialism and the part of my coin collection I like to call “These Are Also American Coins”. Years ago, sitting in a cafe in Hilo, I saw the marketing line “America’s Only Domestic Coffees” describing the fine produce of the Big Island. I knew this was wrong because I was familiar with the highland crops in Puerto Rico that had been there for centuries, but then mainlanders do seem to have a problem forgetting that PR is part of America. From a coffee point of view, the problem is that most of the historical coffee plantations in the wider American sphere of influence got torn up and replanted, because United Fruit was clearly a transtemporal corporate conspiracy dedicated to replacing things I love (coffee, pineapples) with things I hate (bananas). One moment, I need to go seed a new thread on abovetopsecret.com…

The Philippines have a longer coffee history than any current or former American possession thanks to being the Pearl of the Pacific. Wave after wave of traders and invaders showed up in the archipelago via the Straits of Malacca, heading for Manila, and all of them agreed that coffee was extremely important. Depending on the century, country of origin, and last port of call where they got cargo determined what strain of arabica coffee got taken to what island and then crossed with the native robustas that were already there. Because of this, the Philippines have an astounding amount of diversity in their coffee. Unfortunately, this also means every disease gets transported to the islands too and a blight in the 19th century almost wiped all of them out. The barako strain, rather than being arabica or robusta, is one of the coffee liberica species which was resistant to the disease, allowing the coffee industry there to continue.

The tricky part is getting it. For reasons I’m not quite clear on, the roasters of the American mainland are far more interested in importing Indonesian coffees rather than the Filipino ones. The doesn’t concern the Philippines much as they have plenty of their own roasteries and are every bit as prideful about “my island’s coffee is the best coffee”, much like the different growing regions of Puerto Rico. Lucky for me, as an extremely white man, I have access to the powerful logistics of the Filipino Cousin Network (FCN). If you have not already experienced the power of the FCN, it goes something like this:

  1. You express an interest in a $THING which is available in the Philippines, usually because your Filipino friend has kindly shared it with you.
  2. Your Filipino friend says “If you want more of $THING, I can get it for you from the islands.”
  3. You ask if they are going to the Philippines soon.
  4. They say no, but their sibling is already there.
  5. Their sibling’s spouse’s cousin has easy access to $THING.
  6. Sibling isn’t coming home soon, but sibling’ spouse’s cousin’s dad is a pilot and can just bring it over on his next leg to the States.
  7. Cousin’s Pilot Dad loves your friend’s grandma’s adobo, so if you can buy the fixings for grandma to make adobo, $THING is yours in the next 48-96 hours.

Your experience of the FCN may vary wildly in levels of complexity but it will be substantially similar in form with this example. A side-effect of the FCN is that there is absolutely no way to keep grandma, any grandma, from knowing absolutely anything she wants to know within the FCN. The grandmas are almost a hive mind, so that joke from Cookie Clicker is frighteningly accurate.

The name of the varietal, barako, is a bit of linguistic appropriation from Spanish. Verraco, Spanish for “wild boar”, became barako with the rough meaning of “stud”, in the animal breeding and machismo senses of the word. It is regarded as bolder than the arabicas and more palatable than robusta, an opinion I’ll agree with. The smell is sharp and the taste is flinty and rich, very much reflecting the fresh, ashy volcanic soils of the island. Not quite slopes of Mt. Pinatubo tephra in flavor, nor Philippine Sea Plate basalt, but a nice mix of the two (forgive me, as the frustrated volcanologist have pulverized and smelled/tasted a lot of different volcanic rocks, particularly from this region). Taking it to my favorite taste testers at St. George Spirits, it apparently mixes with everything they make, and they wiped out the test bottle in very short order. Per Test Subject Shiraz, it smells like eating Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Twitter Invisibility – A Customer Service Tale

I will start with the dispassionate assessment: for a period of no less than 8 days, my @funranium twitter account was functioning in a very limited visibility status and then it returned to full functionality. I have no idea why it happened or why it stopped.

To roll it back to the larger picture, this has been another one of my adventures in customer service failure. I gave my feelings on how customer service is supposed to work, and how it is usually structured badly, in a previous post seven years ago. Now you may say “Phil, we aren’t Twitter’s customers. We’re the product.” and you’d have a good point. The argument that all of social media’s actual customers are ad purchasers, not the users of the services, ignores that we are the audience they are attempting to sell to. If your service causes enough pain that we aren’t there to sell to, your ad purchasers will wander off to more lucrative outlets. In summation, it’s tricky.

This all first rose to my awareness on Monday, March 5th when my Lovely Assistant complained that my threading seemed to be broken as she went to go look at my stupid Alternative Chowder tweets. I dismissed it as [shrug] “sometimes things on Twitter don’t work so good”.

(ASIDE: I cannot consume any animals that come from the water, fresh or salt, other than whales, so clam chowder has always been dead to me. As a small child, I noticed that whenever my dad ordered clam chowder he got oyster crackers, whereas I got normal saltines for my soups. I became convinced that you could *only* get oyster crackers if you ordered chowder, which made stealing them from my dad all the better. I then developed the theory that oyster crackers were what made my dad’s clam chowder, which sure looked like a soup, a “chowder”. BY SIX YEAR OLD PHIL LOGIC, not yet understanding the transitive property, I came to the conclusion that adding oyster crackers to any other soup automatically makes it a chowder. Now, as a grown ass adult, no one can prevent me from adding oyster crackers to whatever I want to exploreAlternative Chowders“)

On Wednesday, two other friends noticed they weren’t getting notifications from me when I made comments. Again, I dismissed it as Twitter being Twitter.

Well, that’s not good. I seem not to exist.

On Friday the 9th, the journalist Nathan Edwards dropped me a line to let me know that I appeared to be shadowbanned. He had used a tool which did a quick search scrape of Twitter to see if a user who wasn’t logged in would be able to find anything from my account. It came up with zilch. Something was limiting my contact and this presented two possible conclusions:

  1. My name had been handed to a Report Brigade for trolls to hammer such that the automated systems at Twitter would defensively limit my reach as someone that was suspect. OR…
  2. Something at Twitter was broken which had somehow impacted my account.

To be clear, Twitter has emphatically stated that it does not do shadowbanning. I am inclined to believe that, but I am also aware that they don’t *quite* have the firmest grasp on the monster they’ve created.  While they might not have built shadowbanning as a feature, I am certainly willing to believe that effects indistinguishable from it have manifested as a bug.

Searching through my collective friends, I found one other person that seemed to be suffering the same problem, Meredith Yayanos. To be honest, I could fully believe she had pissed off enough people to justify Case #1, which is something she would wear with pride. As I help support her work with the the Blood of the Harpy, I was willing to believe I had inherited some guilt by association and been targeted in kind. But almost as soon as I let Mer know that she was subject to the same thing as me, she was returned to full visibility.

Okay, well, that’s weird…

Twitter Support Says “We Had A Problem But It’s Cool We Fixed It”

As a middle aged white man who works in safety with a firm confidence in Systems™, this meant it was time for me to go delve into the customer service of process of Twitter to get the help which I felt I richly deserved and expected to work.

(You may feel free to start snickering into your drink at this point.)

A conversation between Jamais Cascio and I, except I am invisible with “Tweet unavailable”, as captured by @slartibartfart

My experience of the Twitter customer support process may be described as a running into a brick wall as fast as you feel like. It’s always a wall but the question is how much it hurts. The first thing I did was hit the Twitter support functions. I looked at their feed first and found the message to the far right. It appeared that they had a problem but, that as of the 8th, they’d fixed it and everything was fine. [checks calendar] By Friday everything should have been fixed according to them, but I still seemed to be stuck in a corner where no one got notifications from me and all threads I commented in had broken links, as shown in the conversation with Jamais Cascio.

Phil waves jumps up and down trying to get the elephant to see the invisible mouse.

As it was not fixed, I sent a reply to the @TwitterSupport account to let them know that things were not fixed. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the problem, almost by definition, they wouldn’t see anything I posted to them. Since that wouldn’t work, I checked the Twitter Help functions. They recommended that I use the @TwitterSupport direct messages. Okay, sure thing. Will do.

I try to use @TwitterSupport Direct Messages, LOL

Ah, that was a good laugh. At some point in the recent past, @TwitterSupport decided to turn off their direct messages and set an autoreply but they didn’t decide to change their recommendation to pursue this route on the Twitter Help page. Speaking of Twitter Help, I would describe this page as roughly as functional as looping automated answer phone tree. If your question doesn’t quite conform to any of the pre-formulated answers to frequently asked question paths, well, you aren’t going to find any help here, nor an easy way to ask an open question, nor even really a way to make contact other than the @TwitterSupport twitter account. As of the writing of this post, there has been no response from any channel of communication.

The earliest suggestion on how to fix this, or at least get the attention of people who can fix things, came from friends who went to search what shadowbanning was and found this article. To summarize it’s idea, if you talk to the Twitter Ads team, rather than the Support team, as their purpose is to generate revenue they have an interest in getting your problem fixed so that you can pay them. For the price of $20, I was willing to play this experiment to see how the algorithm coped with two conflicting desires: limiting visibility vs. getting paid for visibility. I regret to inform you that the algorithm is capable of holding these two contrary thoughts. Also, Twitter Ads Support is very clear they they are stovepiped and do not  fix, nor will they even discuss, any issues not related to advertising even if this would impact the effectiveness of their work.

Because the Army of the Caffeinated contains several current and former employees of The Good Blue Website, they noticed that I had vanished from their feeds and were a little miffed about this. When they asked me some questions as to what was going on and then looked into this there was a fairly universal “Oh. That’s not good.” In the last year, Twitter has had a lot of turnover without the best/any knowledge transfer. I am fully willing to believe that recent tweaks to the algorithm broke shit they didn’t expect and they’ve been working hard to band-aid things ever since.

And then, just as mysteriously, on March 13th I returned to full visibility. There was no explanation as to why I had returned, much less why it happened in the first place. It just happened, like a capricious god had granted me the gift of being a real boy again. That doesn’t sit particularly well with me. As a safety person, I demand documentation from my researchers for their potential failure modes so that we expect them and know what to do when they occur. When things like this happen, I want to know what went wrong, how they fixed it, and how they intend to prevent it from happening again, not just that they are “conducting an internal review to ensure that this doesn’t happen again”.

Since this seems to be continuing with other users, it isn’t fixed yet and the process, whatever it is, is ongoing. We don’t know what it is and all avenues for direct communication are decidedly blocked off. That is shitty customer service.

Colonies and Gold, Part II

As a holiday and end of year gift, I have finished up Part II of the colonial currency and gold coin rant with all due haste. I’ve got three Dominions to cover here, so it’s a bit long. Take a break after the Raj and have a festive drink or something.

Remember that handy reference guide to predecimalization system of British coinage I shared in the previous post? Well, remember it fondly, as things are about to go a bit funny in the other colonies. The general rules of how coins work holds for the rest of Britain’s colonies, but you may notice some significant differences from the American experience. TL;DR version: I think Britain never really liked America.

The Jewel In The Crown: the East India Company (EIC) and the British Raj

Let’s start with the fact that the EIC and direct rule of India by the the British Crown, the Raj, are different entities. The Raj replaced the EIC after the company was nationalized in the wake of the First War of Indian Independence in 1858 (AKA the Sepoy Rebellion, for those of us who had a more Anglocentric education). While the Raj wasn’t necessarily pretty, it was nicer than the 250 years of company rule that preceded it.

The East India Company was organized in 1600, which puts it about the same vintage as the Charter of the Virginia Company of London that founded Jamestown and they shared some corporate officers. Unlike the CVC, the EIC didn’t go bankrupt, collapse, and revert to the Crown within two decades. Part of the reason for this was a vested government interest in cracking open the tea & spice trade routes to India and the islands of the Indonesian Archipelago, prying them away from the Portuguese and Dutch who were already there obliterating the over 3000 year old Indian Ocean & Silk Road trade networks.

{HOLIDAY ASIDE: for timely history related to the colonial war games, nutmeg was so important that the Dutch were willing to cede New Amsterdam to the British in exchange for remainder of the Banda Islands the spice originated on to secure a nutmeg monopoly in the Treaty of Breda, concluding the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Really, this was everyone admitting the truth on the ground as each colonial power had effectively kicked the other out of these territories. Go enjoy some egg nog or a coquito.}

1600-1601 8 Testern reverse (image courtesy of NGCcoin.com)

Of course, this calls for a new coin. In January 1601, a large silver coin, larger than anything that circulated in England was commissioned called the 8 testern, AKA the Portcullis coins because of the motif on the reverse. What is a testern? Theoretically, one testern was a sixpence, the two testern would’ve been a shilling, which meant the 8 testern was 4 shillings…WHICH EQUATED TO NO OTHER COIN. Five shillings is a half crown, not four. The broken denomination pattern is infuriating but expecting reasonable behavior out of the British government is rank foolishness. Speaking of foolishness, here is a link to a modern reissue of the testern from the extremely tasteless modern luxury brand incarnation of the EIC. Seriously, of all the brands to resurrect I’m having a hard time thinking of one more blood soaked and odius, except maybe the British African Company or the International Association of the Congo.

But why? Remember those Spanish 8 reales coins the Americans are using to the annoyance of their colonial overlords? Well, they’re over here in India too and they’re the standard for silver exchange. The 8 testern was minted with a weight and purity to be comparable with the 8 reales, except with the QE1 on it to make it good and respectable money. To the disappointment of the EIC, the merchants of Bombay & Calcutta gave precisely zero shits about the royal seal on the coin, they just wanted the silver for weight and pointed out, like a patronizing parent, “You guys do know that we do most of our commerce in gold, right? India is fabulously wealthy and you came with Poor People Money.” But it was good enough to establish trading post footholds and the return trips to England with goods made sure the EIC never had to worry about having gold to trade again.

And so, of all the British colonies, for cultural requirements and the sheer amount of gold washing around, they were the first to get gold coins locally minted. I can’t say it was with the blessing of the Crown, but rather as an act of expediency by the EIC to mint it locally in each of the presidencies (independently operated regions that franchisees of the EIC had bought or shot their way into control of). This was for their own needs, meaning there were a lot of mints and thus a lot of different coin patterns and denominations. The ulterior motive of transforming foreign coins into good and proper ones factored into it but, as the EIC was in it for the profit, they worked with locally familiar denominations to facilitate trade. Familiar coins like the rupee are there, but also the anna, mohur, fanam, pagoda, and strange to anglophone ears, the cash. I tried to build a conversion chart from these to the £/s/d system and my brain just gave up. As a physicist, unit conversion is supposed to be a bedrock skill and I just can’t do it. I am ashamed.

Once the reorganization happened in 1858 for direct rule by the Crown, one uniform monetary system was established for the Raj, with the gold rupee at the top of it. Please note, at no point was it questioned that gold coinage would be used and minted in country under either the EIC or the Raj.

The Great White North: The Canadas

At about the same time Britain was trying to kick the Dutch and Portuguese out of India for spices, they were doing about the same to the French in North America to wrestle the fur trade and fishing rights away. Canada, as we know it today, didn’t exist until 1949 when Newfoundland and Labrador finally joined the confederation and, as a whole, Canada didn’t get full sovereignty until 1982. Speaking as a frustrated geologist, dominions and provinces slowly accreted onto The Canadas until it looks like it does today, kinda like the geology that assembled the land itself. The big difference is that the North American craton doesn’t speak French, unlike the people on top of it who very much shaped the colonial experience. Imagine if the 13 American colonies were regularly invading & murdering each other, mostly using local Native American tribes as proxies, rather than somewhat ignoring each other and instead spending their time murdering their local tribes. That’s the difference between Canada and America.

The French had a somewhat enlightened point of view toward money in all their colonies. As the first settlers in the region, with their network of farmers & voyageurs canoeing hither and yon, the deal went like this: bring us furs, and we will pay you in the same currency we use at home. Of course, sous from La France weren’t terribly helpful out in the beaver ravaged lands of the Quebecois frontier, so the trappers preferred to take trade in kind and, of course, blow their cash in the big city of Montreal (pop. ~1000). The local tribes that the French had established good relations with didn’t particularly care about coins either, preferring to receive good steel, gunpowder and muskets instead.

1842 Bank of Montreal Token Obverse, image courtesy of numista.com

1842 Bank of Montreal Token Reverse, image courtesy of numista.com

But to fast forward a bit through a lot of killing, Canada had a monetary & economy problem much like colonial America did. Like many countries before them and after, the answer was to make proxy currency. The various merchants and banks started making tokens that were effectively business cards, but also because the metal and size were right, would get used as pennies. Keeping in mind that Canada wasn’t quite Canada until at least the early 20th Century, the colonies/provinces were each figuring out their own proxy money to maintain internal economy while they were separated from the larger confederation. But, really, when you get down to it, it all comes to the Hudson Bay Company being happy to maintain debt ledger tables in the background of what looks like a pure barter system. They were the broker of good faith that let the fur to blankets and trinkets trade happen as if money was unnecessary. Of all the original Crown chartered colonial companies from the 17th century, the Hudson Bay Company is still kicking around and you may not be remotely surprised about how much they still own in the 21st century.

Once the Acts of Confederation went through and the Dominion of the Canada was established, they got their own currency and they decided to go with a decimalized system like the United States. As I mentioned in the previous post, they were already used to thalers, so dollars made sense. What Canada DID NOT get was permission to mint gold. For reasons I haven’t quite found the answer to, Newfoundland, who didn’t join the confederation, was permitted to have $2 gold coins during Queen Victoria’s reign. The $2 coin also was struck with a value of “200 cents/100 pence” as an early attempt at bridging the conversion to from the £/s/d system to decimalized in one coin.

And then the Klondike Gold Rush happened.

It was felt that processing the proceeds of the Canadian side of the Klondike Gold Rush into local currency might imbalance the Dominion/Home Country power relationship. Having already lost one major colony on the North American continent over issues of money and taxation, they weren’t up for a second. Canada didn’t get permission mint gold coins of their own until 1912 out of paranoia, despite all the gold coming out of the Klondike. But after two years brief years of making the $5 gold coin, Canada had to quit in minting it in 1914 because all that gold was needed to pay for war preparations as World War I broke out. Vimy Ridge wasn’t gonna pay for itself and mere blood wasn’t going to be enough to cover the tab. Much like Gallipoli taught Australia and New Zealand they weren’t just “British but far away”, Vimy taught that to Canada.

Captain Bligh’s Bounty: Australia & New Zealand

Okay, once again, we’re over 1500 words in and I haven’t had a poop joke yet. So let’s jump directly into DUMP COINS. HURHURHUR, dump.

Australia had a bad case of being very far away from Ol’ Blighty, which means the logistics of getting the money all the way there was hard. Considering that Australia was a series of penal colonies, how much effort do think they were willing to expend? Right, zero, go find some rancid whale blubber to chew on, transportee. Of course, even in Australia, an economy did develop, even if it was sheep and blue gum based at first and the sheep isn’t the best medium of exchange (NOTE: the traditional Irish denominations of sheep/cow/wife based currency will disagree with me here).  So, the lazy answer was to go grab the nearest convenient money and re-mint it into proper British coin. Now, would you like to melt down and restrike these coins? Goodness no! Did you forget we’re colonial strivers from Mother England (AKA the Sterling), being lazy out in the colonies “running the place” lest the native born prisoners’ children think they’re in charge?

1813 5 shilling “Holey Dollar”, image courtesy numista.com

1813 15 pence DUMP COIN, image courtesy numista.com

No, the answer was to take an 8 reales coin, punch the center out of it (AKA “the dump”) to strike a new coin out of that, value of 1 shilling and threepence, and do that again to the remaining ring as well (AKA “the Holey Dollar”) with a value of 5 shillings. Because why make things easy? I should note that this creative answer, which Governor Macquarie authorized, was carried out by a convict who had been transported for the crime of forgery. Australia similarly used merchant tokens as proxy currency in the absence of the real stuff. I’m to understand that one mid-19th century Tasmanian draper’s token circulated as a penny well into the 20th. That’s effectively deciding that your dry cleaning claim ticket is good enough to function as money.

1894 Half Sovereign, Melbourne mint, I got this with casino winnings in Auckland, along with a complete set of pre-decimalization NZ coins. All of them. I got really lucky that day.

A bit later, there were several gold rushes which made Australia even more worthwhile to Mother England, except the same very, very far away problem reared it’s head again. It was decided that the prudent course of action was to mint all this bullion into sovereigns before shipping it to the other side of the globe. If you were going to engage in piracy to steal this gold, you were going to have to exert effort to change it into your own coinage. Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney all got to have mints to handle the flux of gold, but little of it actually stayed in Australia.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, they had the structural benefit of not being settled by convicts, but they were even less convenient than Australia. They got the full suite of non-gold British coinage minted for them, just not often. To the New Zealanders reading this, please don’t take this as an insult, but your country is a cultural backwater, much like Alaska and New Hampshire (NH is a goddamn numismatic oddity, I tell you what). As this is a hydrological metaphor, what it means is that things brought to New Zealand somehow don’t leave. Coins that circulated throughout the British Empire just kinda…stopped…when they got to New Zealand and after that only circulated within the islands. What gold coins New Zealand received were all minted in Australia.

Then New Zealand had a gold rush of their own on the South Island. And so, the mint Dunedin was set up to make the largest gold coin the world has ever seen, the Golden Moa, and… sorry, no, I’m lying. Because the Crown had already solved the remote gold rush problem with mints in Australia, all of New Zealand’s gold was shipped to Australia for minting. Australia already had enough sheep, so New Zealand got to keep those.

WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER COLONIES, PHIL?

Frankly, these were the ones that merited special treatment. Hong Kong was a odd in that it had dollars rather than the normal British system or a hybrid with the local traditional coinage. They tried a hybrid for one year before selling the entire mint to the Japanese as their coins didn’t impress the Chinese merchants in Shanghai at all. Shanghai was already used to 8 reales, they were already minting dollars for Canada, so why not do it for Hong Kong too?

South Africa, for the early years, didn’t get any special coins of their own because they were on the way back and forth to India and Australia. The challenge for Cape Town was exchanging back and forth between all the different, but equally valid, coins of the British Empire washing through their port. For the west and east African colonies, the authorities followed the British currency model pretty strictly, with the exception of the guinea entering circulation from the British African Company (BAC) which had taken control of the gold fields of Ghana. The location of the former BAC headquarters in London is what gives the Elephant & Castle underground station it’s name, as the corporate heraldry (and the early guinea coins) featured an elephant and castle.

The Caribbean, as the sugar part of the triangular trade, never had much call to develop an independent economy that deserved its own coinage independent of Britain’s. “Molasses to Rum to Slaves” as the song goes, not much room for coins in that.

Production & Extra Life Announcements

As the denizens of this blog know, Dia de los Muertos is my birthday and, in my family, one’s birthday is a high holy day. It is to be honored and you should enjoy the hell out of that day. While I will be going to visit some of the graves of members of the Donner family of Donner Party cannibalism fame on the actual day, I will be deferring a lot of that fun until the weekend and the following week.

Thomas & Phil, displaying typical behavior, at Flying Frog Production’s DICEFEST.

Some of the nice friends we’ll meet in the mines of Shadows of Brimstone!

This Saturday, I will be joining Test Subject Not-A-Whale Biologist (AKA Thomas White), Test Subject THE WORLD, my Lovely Assistant and Cap’n Seafood Watch for a 24 marathon of my favorite board game, Shadows of Brimstone. Much like when joined in the fun for the Tested.com Oktobercast, I will be joining in for a supporting role for Thomas’s ExtraLife campaign supporting Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. We will be playing this wonderful day of Cowboys & Cthulhus all day with the a whole lot of BBotE and impromptu dance parties to keep us going. Please join us for being very, very silly and help some sick kids because that’s what I want to do with my birthday. 

Speaking of BBotE, the next production window will open up on Saturday but it will be somewhat short stocked as I have some travel scheduled around Veteran’s Day for a long weekend to Baltimore. I’ll ship out as much as I can before I leave next week and fire up the coffee engines again on my return, but obviously none can go out when I’m not in town. Every time I visit DC, I usually remember all the museums near Baltimore that I’ve failed to visit yet again so we’re fixing that this time. I’m pretty excited to make My Lovely Assistant as tired of 12 Monkeys references in Baltimore as she was of Fallout 3 in Washington, DC.

There’s another Idiot’s Holiday coming up too. I, apparently, didn’t learn my lesson from last year’s adventure.

Lastly, THE DECEMBERING will soon be at hand again. If you’re planning your holidays that far out, I kinda envy your preparedness, but start thinking.

 

The 2017 Atomic Heritage Roadtrip, Part 2: What Are You Doing Here, Jeff?

Gonna skip to the oddest bit of trivia I picked up from this trip for Part 2, rather than talk nuclear weapons and atomic ephemera this time. We started with fun in Albuquerque for Part 1 and I’ll get back to fun at the Trinity Open House and the Titan Missile Museum next time for Part 3.

 

No seriously, this is a thing.

Jefferson Davis Highway Trail Marker at the Deming, NM rest stop on westbound I-10

When we left Trinity Test Site, the long drive to Tuscon began. We made a pit stop in Truth or Consequences, NM for refreshments and to wave at the Virgin Galactic spaceport. On a more fictional level, we also waved to their neighbors, the new Tesladyne HQ. Of course, when you get refreshments this guarantees you will soon need to make use of a rest stop for a bathroom. And thus how we came to the Deming, NM rest stop on I-10, where My Lovely Assistant found this. When I came out of the bathroom, she instructed me to go read the marker and my jaw dropped. In disbelief, I asked a bit loudly “ARE WE ON THE EVIL TWIN OF THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY?!?”

The answer is yes, kinda. This is a relic of an early time in American auto culture history. Before interstates and before numbered routes (think Route 66 or US 1, 101, ) there were the Named Highway Auto Trails to try to map out long distance paths on the patchwork of dirt roads, railroad grades, and old wagon trails. The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental route, designated in 1913 and running from New York City to San Francisco. It is important to note that this wasn’t necessarily a paved transcontinental route, merely a marked path so you could know you were still going the right way, but this was way better than the previous nothing. We didn’t achieve a continuously paved long distance highway until Route 66 got that honor in 1938. The Lincoln Highway was a resounding success and spawned dozens of auto trails before they were superseded by the US Numbered Highway System in 1925.

Which is how the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway (JDH) came to pass. The year after the Lincoln Highway was inaugurated, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) proposed a southern coast-to-coast route to honor the man they thought more than Lincoln’s equal. So, they started drawing up maps to pass through every state of the old Confederacy, the Davis plantation, and where he was captured. How could they do this? Before the Highway Act of 1925, all these auto trails were created, promoted, and maintained by organizations who had an interest in doing so, say because they’d like to help drive traffic near their tourist attraction, with government support (or at least tacit approval) usually at the state level. With state governments rather weak in this period and, especially in the South, with more or less no highway agencies, the UDC were free to promote whatever route they wanted, wherever and however they liked.

If you’re geographically inclined, you may notice this itch in the back of your mind which says that a route that goes where the UDC wanted and then goes out to the Pacific Coast is not what one might refer to as “direct”. When the Highway Act went through, there was a rush from all the auto trail organizations to get their pet trail formalized into one of numbered US Routes, which also would come with DOT money to improve those roads, increasing the amount of traffic they’d get. Unfortunately for the UDC, the JDH was such a hodge podge due to the conflicting interests of different UDC affiliated chapters that they had a hard time drawing a single continuous line to say where, exactly, their road went. They couldn’t even answer definitively if the highway’s eastern and western termini were Miami or Washington, DC  for the Atlantic seaboard, or if it was San Diego or Seattle* for the Pacific seaboard. The DOT also couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the road segments the JDH overlapped with other auto trails.

And so, given the big thumbs down, the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway as a transcontinental idea faded into memory, but many of the individual segments maintained that name scattered around the country and the UDC put up plaques to make sure people remembered. As I’ve oft said, once you name something and set a standard they are remarkably persistent through time. A lot of the old auto trail names still persist as local shibboleths where outsiders will call it the name their GPS says, but locals will call it by the name that’s been passed down for a few generations at this point.

To be fair, most of the old auto trails didn’t get outright turned into US Routes either. Even the Lincoln Highway, popular as it was at the time, got carved up into various US Routes and then interstates. It had a bit of resurgence in popularity after it’s 75th birthday and the Lincoln Highway Association resurrected in 1992. President Eisenhower’s absolutely miserable cross-country trek with an Army convoy as a young officer in 1919 was his inspiration for the modern interstate system on the basis of we CAN and WILL do better than that. In his case at least, a long road trip was very character, and infrastructure, building. By contrast, the JDH has no organized central organization caring for it and it depends on the interest and funding levels of the local UDC chapters. One might be inclined to draw some parallels to their respective namesakes…

US 1 segment through Alexandria, VA with its other name clearly visible (map courtesy of Google Maps)

I was later informed by Test Subject Kristobek and Alexandra Petri that they either traveled on or looked out their office directly at the US Route 1 segment which runs right up to the Potomac Bridge, which if you look at Google Maps is quite clearly labeled as the Jefferson Davis Highway. Of all the pieces that have been ignored or sidelined this is the segment that’s perhaps the most traveled, improved, and retains its original name.

For those of you who live in the South and may feel like hunting down your local remnant of the old JDH, as a hint, go look for monuments to Confederate generals. If you’d like some help tracking things down, and to understand why My Lovely Assistant & I always read the plaques, well I have the website Read The Plaque for you. And, if you find one they don’t have, go upload it.

Also, don’t get tricked by the Jefferson Highway; that’s a totally different highway and Jefferson. [shakes an angry fist at New Orleans]

 


*: To explain how Seattle was a potential terminus of the southern transcontinental auto trail, this was to commemorate one of Davis’ last acts as Secretary of War prior the Civil War as he was responsible for commissioning surveys for wagon & train routes to Puget Sound. In 1939 the Washington State Legislature passed legislation to rename US 99 as the Jefferson Davis Highway in their state, making it the last segment of the JDH. Even though the auto trails were dead and gone at that point, the UDC were still quite keen to keep this going. When the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was passed, we started retiring the US Routes but US 99 was popular enough that California, Oregon, and Washington all retained the number designation for their state highway.

Until May 2016 when they finally changed the name, if you were driving on WA-99, you were on the Jefferson Davis Highway, Seattlites.

 

Some Holiday Related Bullshitting I Am Proud Of

[NOTE: This tale is originally occurred before Easter 2009]

At work on Thursday, my co-worker asked me what my holiday plans were for Easter. I told him that I’d be going down to see my folks and eat some delicious ham. A puzzled look crossed his face and he asked, “Phil, why is it considered normal to eat ham on Easter?”

I replied with a completely deadpan delivery, “Because after Jesus was crucified and entombed, his followers went on a rampage and killed the Pharisees with pork legs. This is also why observant Jews consider pork to be unclean.”

He started to nod, followed by the waaaaait-a-minute face, and then glared at me. “People should not be able to spout complete and utter bullshit as well as you do.”

Today, while reprising this gem of bullshit to my friend, I changed it to the idea of God being wroth at the death of his one and only son rained ham down upon the evil-doers of Judea and smote them. It grew to the following:

 

Scene: Jerusalem, early Roman Imperial period. It is dusk.

A very special post-Passover crucifixion extravaganza has taken place, but it is over now. The last of the condemned went in the ground three days ago, but even at this hour the slaves are still cleaning up Golgotha to get it ready for the next event.

The first shooting star crosses the sky. Then another. Then more. Soon comes the first flash and cloud of dust when a building explodes in a Michael Bay-esque manner as a meteor strikes the city. It will not be the last.

The next morning, the shepherds from the outskirts of the city creep in, drawn by the smell of a sumptuous feast but they find no one to greet them as they approach what remains of the walls. Fires are still burning here and there.

They head to the Temple but it is not there. Instead there is only a crater, but there’s something at the bottom. The bravest of the ragged band of shepherds scampers down the still warm crater wall.

At the bottom is a perfectly cooked and honey glazed ham. Its re-entry burn left it juicy and succulent with a perfect caramelized shell. The shepherd cannot resist this perfection and buries his face in it. The other shepherds find hams of their own in other craters.

And thus the first Easter was celebrated.

Money Rant Two & Blood of the Harpy Update

First off, I want to share these updated pictures that I have in the wake of the “Money Rant Two” post from a few weeks back. I got a lot of emails and tweets telling me how much they enjoyed the tale and also amazed that I am unapologetically a coin collector, in public, with no shame about this. Folks, if loving coins and currency, and subjecting people to long Connections-like historical trivia related to cash, is wrong then I don’t wanna be right. This inspired me to take the time to track down the other two North African provisional currency bills, the $1 and $10, and actually get a hold of some of the Hawaii bills for my collection.

Complete Set of “North Africa” Silver Certificate Provisional Currency, SO HAPPY!

I’ve been meaning to complete this set for well over a decade now but never quite got over the “do you REALLY need this?” denial of self-gratification hump. So, thank you for that extra push, everybody.

Meanwhile, on the Blood of the Harpy front, the demand has been, frankly, astonishing. I think a production window only sold out faster when I raised the “HELP LAURIE, BUY GOAT BBOTE” signal. I’m glad people have been enjoying it and the order notes people have left have kept a grin stuck on my face everytime I go to update my production board. Thank you for helping Mer get the HARPYCORPS project off the ground and supporting Paul Komoda’s art. When watching the news and reading the internet is mostly wincing, this has been really gratifying to know that people are enjoying my wares and I get to help a friend make a dream come true. So, thank you. Thank you very much.

At some point in the near future I’ll finish “Herr Direktor Funranium Goes to Chernobyl and Kiev Part 3: Kiev, Hero City” for you to enjoy. In light of recent events, perhaps sooner than later. I feel some rant energy as word propellant building up and that usually accelerates things a bit.

Travel and Stein 666

As quite a few of you have already noticed the order slots for the production window ending Halloween are now up. Fair warning, there aren’t all that many slots for this window because the coffee engines will be winding down for the next week; I’ll be in Atlanta updating my knowledge of laser safety regulations. Not how most people would choose to enjoy themselves in Atlanta, but I do like collecting fresh tales of scientific/industrial horror and thus the regulatory changes they cause.

Now, on to more exciting things that I suspect people really care about. Since the very beginning of Stein of Science production, I’ve been inscribing a serial number inside the base and almost as long people have been asking if they can get specific numbers. My policy on that is “first come first served” and you just get the next number as I don’t actually inscribe them until I make them. I’m sticking by that policy, but Stein #666 has had me thinking if something special is order. I thought of auctioning it off and donating the excess of the normal cost to charity. I thought of skipping the number entirely as there are just as many people not excited about getting Stein 666 as there are people that want it desperately.

For people that’ve following along for the glorious adventures of Funranium Labs over the years, you may remember that I did a giveaway for Steins #200, #400, and #600 of a complimentary 665ml FMJ Stein of Science #201, #401, and #601 respectively. I’ve decided that I’m going to do that again for Stein #666. If you are the lucky person that orders #666, the Stein of the Beast, you’ll also get #667, the Neighbor of the Beast Who Lives Across the Hall. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! You will also receive a handsome, rugged, foam lined carrying case to configure as you see fit as your Tactical Drinking Module, a 750ml bottle of Kona blend BBotE with the Tesladyne Gear Logo “REMAIN CALM, TRUST IN SCIENCE”, Ineffable Mustachio’d Goat of Science BBotE sticker and classic Coffee Volcano BBotE sticker, and a 6000SUX sticker, courtesy of Test Subject IT to Porn, to vandalize the gas guzzling car of your choice. BEHOLD!

Stein #667 and Additional Swag

Stein #667 and Additional Swag

 

 

Now, you can go check here to see what stein types are currently on hand. For the record, as of October 16th at 11am the stein count is in the 650s, so it might not be all that long until we hit #666.