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2014-12-09

Decoding a hallmark

A hallmark is a set of marks made on a piece of precious metal to indicate it's quality, as verified by a particular assay office.
The hallmark normally contains - an indication of the controlling assay office (a national body, or a local one for a city or region) - the type and quality of the metal - the manufacturer - and frequently an indication of the date of manufacture. Naturally this information is of great interest to the  dealer in antiques and jewellery. Naturally therefore they are also prone to being forged. For a long time then, the stamps used to make these marks were very fine pieces of the metalworker's art, to discourage copying by unauthorised people. Again, this makes them a target for forgery.

I have been examining a ring which I brought from a jewllers as Oksana's engagement ring. I got the size drastically wrong - it was the first ring I ever brought - and it has long needed to be rebuilt to fit her much smaller fingers. And in the process, I've been examining the hallmarks.
Well, I can get something out of that :
- the 4th character is a 5-petaled Yorkshire rose - which is the symbol for the Sheffield assay office.
- the boxed "375" is the gold count in parts per thousand. 375/1000  is 3 parts in 8, or 9-carat.

The rest of the symbols - I need to take a closer photo (and the ring is currently at the jewellers), or get the sketchbook and loupe out.

2014-08-11

Basket Katz

"Basket Katz" (Mikki) is a friend's cat. In Bavaria.
 The reason for his nickname is fairly obvious.

2014-05-20

A human side to a giant

A Neil Armstrong Anecdote

I like my science fiction, so some years ago I made a strategic decision : one of the proven routes for a novice SF author to get known, and to get experience in writing, is to write short stories and get them published in a magazine. So I took out a subscription to Fantasy and Science Fiction - not necessarily the highest in the pantheon, but they were in danger of going under, so I thought - that's a decent punt.
I'm getting what I expected : some great stories, some poor ones, some tedious editorial (I do not need to read about yet another bloody werewolf-vampire romance!) and some great editorial. Though to be honest, I'm less than diligent about reading them when they arrive - I tend to chuck them into corner of the bookshelf and take them to the rig for bedtime reading.
So, I rip open an un-opened envelope on the plane to Gabon here ... and it's the Nov/Dec 2012 edition. Been laying on the bookshelf since just after we moved. Oops.
And there's a great little anecdote in the editorial about the (then recently deceased) first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong.
Now, there's a lot of hagiography about the man. First Man on the Moon ; the Right Stuff ; fluffed his lines on the biggest outside broadcast in the history of humanity. But there's not a lot about the man himself - after he retired from NASA, he didn't do a lot of public stuff, retiring into the background. His second-in-command, Buzz Aldrin, has been more famous in recent decades, if only for punching out the lights of a Moon Landing Conspiracy whackjob. Way to go, Buzz! and give him one in the nuts from me!
But back to the Neil Armstrong anecdote. The editorial, as befits the last number for the year, looks back at major events of that year, including, unsurprisingly Neil Armstrong's death. Gordon van Gelder, the F&SF editor, then recounts the following anecdote of a more human Neil Armstrong, ascribing it to one Lucius Shepard, though it doesn't appear on Sheperd's website.
I kinda met Neil Armstrong once back in the late '70s. My brother-in-law and I ran a T-shirt company and we had a couple of lines we sold to museum shops and at science fiction cons and like that. We were coming back from a sales trip, driving through rural Ohio, when we spotted a sign advertising the Neil Armstrong Museum in some little town. What the hell, we said. Maybe we can dump some shirts, so when we got to the museum we sat down with the curator, who was also the buyer for the gift shop, and pitched the shirts. We had a kids' shirt that resembled the body of a NASA space suit and the guy bought about 7, 8 dozen of those, along with shirts that had maps of the moon and Mars, the big red spot on Jupiter, etc. I don't recall how the subject came up, but I asked the curator if Neil ever came around the museum and the curator said, "Oh, sure. He's here all the time. I think he's here now." I asked if we could meet him and he said that Neil wasn't big on meeting new people and besides, he was probably sleeping. "He likes to sleep in the lander," he said. "He spends a lot of time in there."
"The moon lander?" I asked.
"It's a replica," the curator said. "It's up in the Moon Room, on the second floor. You can go on up if you'd like. Maybe you'll see him."
We went up to the second floor. There was a walkway that ran across the building, a bridge of sorts, then a gap that separated us from the Moon Room, which was a display of a life-sized lander sitting on some pumice-like material, and in the distance some painted crater walls, lunar mountains, and a black sky with stars. It probably looked fairly real when the lights were off, but the lights were on full and it looked pretty fake.
We hung out for around five minutes and then gave up on the idea of seeing Neil.
We went back downstairs, finished some paperwork and had a cup of coffee with the curator. I said I thought it struck me as weird, Neil Armstrong sleeping in the moon lander. The curator said maybe so, he'd never given it much thought.
Before we left we ran back up to the Moon Room to try and catch sight of Neil...and there he was. He was standing on the ladder leading up to the hatch. A guy with buzz-cut hair was all I could make out. We waved at him and after a second or two he waved back. I had a feeling he'd been on the verge of leaving the lander, but after that one wave he ascended the ladder and closed the hatch behind him.
That's all there is. Not much of an encounter. I used to think I'd write a story about seeing him, but it never came to anything. I liked thinking about Armstrong sleeping in the lander, though, the kind of dreams he had there and all. It made him seem a lot more real than that BS one small step for mankind quote that someone wrote for him. And it makes his death go down smoother to imagine him curled up in that cramped space on his padded couch, on his way to somewhere no one else has ever been.
 Well, yeah. That's nice. Different to the run of the mill. I'm really going to have to make more of an effort to read things when they are new.
(There are some good stories in that number of F&SF. You can get a copy, or a subscription, from their orders page.)

2014-03-28

Skye, June, 2010

A couple of years ago I had a great  break on Skye, doing some archaeology, some walking, a bit of wildlife photographing, and just generally having a good time.
I posted a photo album about it on FaceJerkOff at the time, but since I've been getting increasingly distrustful of their policies since ... well, since they existed, to be honest, I've been taking my content off there in fits and starts, and I guess now is the time to move that album off too.

Uamh an Ard Achadh - "Cave of the High Pastures", or "Tin Can Alley" in times gone by (the current farmers are much more appreciative of it than previous ones, who just considered it a trap for their beasts). A natural limestone cave which appears to have been used as some sort of ritual site in the Mesolothic to early Iron Age, with modification of the cave entrance by dry-stone dyking, probably ploughing (ritual? - earliest agriculture in the area?) and the deliberate (or at least, non-accidental) burial of valuable artefacts.
It's a bit hard to see (this is not a site report!) but the meandering path of the deeply incised entrance runs away towards the dig which is in material piled up behind dry-stone dyking at the downstream end of the entrance passage.

The area is just plain beautiful.

 That's a nice view to wake up to in the morning.
 The fluffy highland coo. About as natural to the area as humans are, and probably imported from central Europe with the "Neolithic Revolution" around 5000 years ago. but they've settled in well.
 On Saturday and Sunday, the professional archaeologists have days of rest, so I did the same and took a boat trip around the islands of the Inner Minch - the so-called "Small Isles". A sea-stack with very evident columnar jointing - basaltic volcanism.
 Sea fidos. Gurt wet slobbering blobs.
 Arf!
 Puffins - they hardly look as if they can take off, and it's a huge performance.
 Basking shark. Big shark, no teeth.
 From the "behind the wall" deposits. It needs conserving properly, but it's an iron spear head. In it's day, this was your Porsche, crossed with an Exocet missile. Or something broadly equivalent. We may not know what was the process of thought was that led to it being positively buried behind a stone wall in a modified ritual site (which had probably been in use for a couple of THOUSAND years by this point), but we do know that it was not an accidental loss.
 Archaeologists often complain about being presented with finds "out of context". This is what they mean by "context" : each of those little white tags labels a "context" - a bed of sediment whose relative date (compared to other contexts) can be determined by the "A-overlays-B" and "C-cuts-across-D" arguments of stratigraphy. It's bread and butter work to an archaeologist (and I'm up to the eyeballs in the same sort of work drilling my oil wells), but it's absolutely essential to getting a proper understanding of a site (or oil well). And with it, we can do things like this :
 These are wooden fragments, possibly from a turned or carved bowl, taken from one of the "contexts in the image above. They're large enough to probably give a good carbon date to the context from which they come. AND thereby, they constrain the possible dates for many of the other contexts on the site.
Then along comes some creationist dipshit and dismisses this sort of work with "the archaeologists are lieing bastards who are blinded by their science to the power of our great sky fairy". Well, fuck you, god-squaddies - you plainly do not understand just how much hard, painstaking, detailed work you are casually brushing aside just to make yourselves feel less insignificant than you are.
These dingbats really do make me seethe.



To de-seethe, another bit of Skye's improbable scenery. The Old Man of Storr. See it before it falls over!
 There's a famous fossil site near the Old Man. It's a "no hammer" zone, but that doesn't preclude one finding excellent fossils in the beach debris. However ... when the site says "check the tide tables", it means "do not turn up on a whim without the slightest idea of the state of the tide". consider yourselves warned.
Lybster oil drilling site. There's an oil well of considerable weirdness being drilled there. The interest and amusement are pretty esoteric though.