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).