Mathew Lippincott’s blog on design and DIY aerospace
May 13th, 2011

scientific, photographic, and person-lifting kites, 1900-1940

Baden F.S. Baden-Powell’s Manlifting Levitor. 1895.  No photos or film I can find.  Was it flat or bowed?

Charles Lamson’s Aerocurve, 1901


Samuel Franklin Cody’s Bat 1901 The best film is actually for a french aerial photography unit in 1917. The Cody kite is still used occasionally for high-wind aerial photography. Turn off the music.

Rudolph Grund’s Self Steering” Meteorological Kites, 1905-1940. They apparently adjusted their bridles to wind speed. There is certainly some rigging trick to learn from this series.


August 18th, 2010

I feel this way a lot

“When sophistication loses content then the only way of keeping in touch with reality is to be crude and superficial.  This is what I intend to be.”
Paul Feyerabend
page 158 “How to Defend Society Against Science”, Scientific Revolutions, Oxford Readings in Philosophy

Feyerabend’s critiques the application of scientific theory to social prescriptions.  But this quotation struck me because it could be re-applied to the contemporary art world so easily.  Sophistication without content.  It is, however, fascinating how crude and superficial attacks on content-less sophistication have been subsumed into a sophisticated discourse.

oh man, venomous attacks against a vague subject like the “art world.”  I must be tired. oh well, POST!

November 20th, 2009

No/Low Tech Magazine

Kris de Decker produces some of the most insightful and well-researched articles on technology anywhere on the internet.  He has a simple premise- novel “high-tech” solutions aren’t always that great.  Don’t give up on established, simple, and efficient solutions to human problems.  He just linked back to me when I pointed him to KMODDL, and I wanted to share some stuff he’s posted, since it’s been sitting in my “to post” folder since August:

Kris often finds works from another age whose techno boosterism is familiar, but whose object is odd to a contemporary reader. From the height of airship mania ( Zeppelin’s commercial air transport service was established a year later) and before airplanes proved themselves in the skies, Airships Past and Present (1908) is a fantastic snapshot of globalized tinkering and ingenious innovations:

In 1792, Uyton de Morveau recieved official instructions from Napoleon to develop military balloons.  Morveau developed a team with chemist Lovoisier and physicist Coutelle,  and together they developed a novel hydrogen generator that used a hot iron with steam passing over it, and a novel means of sealing silk balloons with 5 layers of linseed oil based varnish.  The varnish was particularly effective, holding hydrogen in the balloon for upwards of 2 months, but the recipe is lost to history.  The envelope of a hydrogen balloon capable of carrying 2 passengers to 1600ft  would weigh only 180-200lbs, in line with early 20th century numbers (134).


My favorite balloon of the period, the Parseval-Sigfeld, featured with hard numbers on wind speed (66ft per second).  Parseval invented the “sausage” balloon design that once refined was deployed by Germany, France, and to great effect Belgium in WWI.  But this text is of course from before the war (209, 211, 274).

August 2nd, 2009

A Pattern Language Picnic Table

Our first project in Chimacum was a social one- the farm lacked an outdoor public space.  Beth really wanted a nice central area, so we cleared out storage underneath a cedar grove (the Seven Cedars) and replaced it with a picnic table made from site-harvested cedar.  I’m really happy with this space and with the picnic table we made.


Much thanks to Dan for loaning us Alexander’s A Pattern Language.  We’ve now worked through Notes on the Synthesis of Form, The Production of Houses, and A Pattern Language (we’ll have to read this one a few more times).

Following Alexander, we first identified essential picnic table patterns and then started building.  There’s no drawn plan beyond some scratch paper for numbers, and we were constantly responding to the irregular lumber we had around.   Here are the patterns we identified, some while we worked:


1) Connected Table and Benches
Benches are too narrow to stand alone on uneven ground.  Connecting them to the table makes the table more portable and appropriate for outdoor terrain.  This is a classic picnic table pattern.

2) Unencumbered Leg Space
Many picnic tables have horrible diagonal leg supports that long legged people (me) kick, resulting in unpleasant cursing/bruising/drink spilling.  A good picnic table has none of that.

To solve this we added extra re-enforcement where the legs joined the table.  These also served to ease assembly/disassembly of the finished table (see 7).

3) Standing Entry/Exit
The distance between the bench and the table aught to accommodate human thighs so one may enter and exit the table standing.  Some picnic tables have benches and tables too close.  The result is a seated entry and exit, twisting around on the bench.  This action is disruptive when the table is packed.

We chose a 7″ distance between bench and table.  The result is comfortable but upon completion I think an inch could be shaved off this distance.   A nice unexpected effect of a good distance between table and bench is that when only a few people use the table some may choose to sit straddling the bench and facing inwards, adding to the informality and variable use of the table.

4) Human-Spaced Legs
The legs must be placed at whole-person widths, so the table can be comfortably packed with people without dead space around the legs.

We put 52″ between our legs, which accommodates 3 people comfortably, and 14″ after the legs so someone can sit on the end of the bench.  There is also enough leg space to fairly comfortably add a chair to the edge of the table.  Overall the 7′ table can squeeze ten people plus two in chairs.

5) Human-sized table top
The table top must have enough space between the benches for people to comfortably face each other, fit a spread of food across the middle, and talk across the diagonal of the table.

Our tabletop is roughly 3′ across (see 8) and exactly  7′ long.

6) Comfortable Bench/Table Heights
Thighs and forearms are comfortably kept at roughly 90 degree angles.  26″-31″ is a standard table hight range, and 15-18″ for seating hight.

We went with 30 for the tabletop and 17″ for the benches.  I’m tall and can’t help designing around myself.


7) Easily Moved and Stored

Most furniture will be moved or stored at some point.  Large furniture needs to break down to fit through doors and into sheds and vehicles.  This means a minimum number of connection points easily accessible and with common tools.

Our benches, tabletops, and legs disassemble with only eight 5/16″ bolts.  Coupled with my choice of half-rounded boards for the benches this significantly complicated their construction (see 8).



8) Live Edges
We decided to build with irregular pieces of local wood to provide smooth and beautiful natural edges that fit the aesthetic of the location.

Making a fairly square tabletop out of irregular and completely unsure boards took slightly longer, but aesthetically we decided the result was worth it.  The choice of half-rounded benches caused a significant complication and required coping saw and chisel work that could have been avoided with flat pieces.  Happy as I am with the result I wouldn’t do it again.

May 17th, 2009

What the Butler Saw

In 1894 Herman Casler, a former engineer for Edison, brought to market a motion picture machine that avoided expensive and dangerously flammable nitrate film. Nothing more than a circular flipbook with a gear attached, the Mutoscope was immediately put to use filling bars and arcades with one to two minute doses of penny-per-play peep shows. In England the machine was known by the name of it’s earliest soft-core feature,“What the Butler Saw.” Middle Class Moralizers went bonkers, even though the names were racier than the content.

I saw my first Mutoscope in the fall of 2007, when Janine and I visited the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. I loved the machine for a mechanical elegance directly embodying the process of animation. In a film machine the photo medium and the motion mechanism are separate, but the Mutoscope relies on the picture medium itself for the motion mechanics. In an age of bits, I was enthralled by the ambiguous line between player and content found in the Mutoscope.

Now I’m building an unusually large one for Fernando Renes. When I first went into his studio and saw stacks of 13,000 page-animations all watercolored onto 11″x 13″ paper I knew they needed a more appropriate container than some home-burned DVD. It took a year to get the project going, but now it is. I’ll post more as I work. My machine owes it’s origins to the card design of the Kinora, and the innovations of a mid-century pinball mogul. More on that later.


Fernando loves making home movies, so the Kinora is appropriate place to start, being the first truly affordable home movie machine ever sold. In 1909 a Kinora home camera that printed directly onto punch paper monoprint reels was released. Although I’ve found no evidence, I bet the Butler saw a whole lot more than made it into wide distribution.  Two things sell video players- porn, and the promise of a better golf swing.

Read more on motion portraiture and advances in flipbook technology in this article I copied from History of Photography Volume 13 Number 1, January/March 1989. Stephen Hebert wrote it, he’s definitely the expert on this topic.

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