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20 May 2016 @ 11:07 pm
(Long message warning)

I’ve been following Samuel Pepys’s diary for some time.  Today there was a long disquisition on coinage, which might be boring to most people, but I found it fascinating.  Pepys didn’t have any special mechanical or scientific training, but he was a careful observer, and interested in everything:

Tuesday 19 May 1663

Up pretty betimes, but yet I observe how my dancing and lying a morning or two longer than ordinary for my cold do make me hard to rise as I used to do, or look after my business as I am wont.

To my chamber to make an end of my papers to my father to be sent by the post to-night, and taking copies of them, which was a great work, but I did it this morning, and so to my office, and thence with Sir John Minnes to the Tower; and by Mr. Slingsby, and Mr. Howard, Controller of the Mint, we were shown the method of making this new money, from the beginning to the end, which is so pretty that I did take a note of every part of it and set them down by themselves for my remembrance hereafter. That being done it was dinner time, and so the Controller would have us dine with him and his company, the King giving them a dinner every day. And very merry and good discourse about the business we have been upon, and after dinner went to the Assay Office and there saw the manner of assaying of gold and silver, and how silver melted down with gold do part, just being put into aqua-fortis, the silver turning into water, and the gold lying whole in the very form it was put in, mixed of gold and silver, which is a miracle; and to see no silver at all but turned into water, which they can bring again into itself out of the water. —[Not water — a solution of Silver Oxide. D.W.]—

And here I was made thoroughly to understand the business of the fineness and coarseness of metals, and have put down my lessons with my other observations therein.

At table among other discourse they told us of two cheats, the best I ever heard. One, of a labourer discovered to convey away the bits of silver cut out pence by swallowing them down into his belly, and so they could not find him out, though, of course, they searched all the labourers; but, having reason to doubt him, they did, by threats and promises, get him to confess, and did find 7l. of it in his house at one time.

The other of one that got a way of coyning money as good and passable and large as the true money is, and yet saved fifty per cent. to himself, which was by getting moulds made to stamp groats like old groats, which is done so well, and I did beg two of them which I keep for rarities, that there is not better in the world, and is as good, nay, better than those that commonly go, which was the only thing that they could find out to doubt them by, besides the number that the party do go to put off, and then coming to the Comptroller of the Mint, he could not, I say, find out any other thing to raise any doubt upon, but only their being so truly round or near it, though I should never have doubted the thing neither. He was neither hanged nor burned, —[No! They probably copied his technique. D.W.]— the cheat was thought so ingenious, and being the first time they could ever trap him in it, and so little hurt to any man in it, the money being as good as commonly goes.
Thence to the office till the evening, we sat, and then by water (taking Pembleton with us), over the water to the Halfway House, where we played at ninepins, and there my damned jealousy took fire, he and my wife being of a side and I seeing of him take her by the hand in play, though I now believe he did [it] only in passing and sport. Thence home and being 10 o’clock was forced to land beyond the Custom House, and so walked home and to my office, and having dispatched my great letters by the post to my father, of which I keep copies to show by me and for my future understanding, I went home to supper and bed, being late.

The most observables in the making of money which I observed to-day, is the steps of their doing it.

1       Before they do anything they assay the bullion, which is done, if it be gold, by taking an equal weight of that and of silver, of each a small weight, which they reckon to be six ounces or half a pound troy; this they wrap up in within lead.If it be silver, they put such a quantity of that alone and wrap it up in lead, and then putting them into little earthen cupps made of stuff like tobacco pipes, and put them into a burning hot furnace, where, after a while, the whole body is melted, and at last the lead in both is sunk into the body of the cupp, which carries away all the copper or dross with it, and left the pure gold and silver embodyed together, of that which hath both been put into the cupp together, and the silver alone in these where it was put alone in the leaden case. And to part the silver and the gold in the first experiment, they put the mixed body into a glass of aqua-fortis, which separates them by spitting out the silver into such small parts that you cannot tell what it becomes, but turns into the very water and leaves the gold at the bottom clear of itself, with the silver wholly spit out, and yet the gold in the form that it was doubled together in when it was a mixed body of gold and silver, which is a great mystery; and after all this is done to get the silver together out of the water is as strange.But the nature of the assay is thus: the piece of gold that goes into the furnace twelve ounces, if it comes out again eleven ounces, and the piece of silver which goes in twelve and comes out again eleven and two pennyweight, are just of the alloy of the standard of England. If it comes out, either of them, either the gold above eleven, as very fine will sometimes within very little of what it went in, or the silver above eleven and two pennyweight, as that also will sometimes come out eleven and ten penny weight or more, they are so much above the goodness of the standard, and so they know what proportion of worse gold and silver to put to such a quantity of the bullion to bring it to the exact standard. And on the contrary, [if] it comes out lighter, then such a weight is beneath the standard, and so requires such a proportion of fine metal to be put to the bullion to bring it to the standard, and this is the difference of good and bad, better and worse than the standard, and also the difference of standards, that of Seville being the best and that of Mexico worst, and I think they said none but Seville is better than ours.
2       They melt it into long plates, which, if the mould do take ayre, then the plate is not of an equal heaviness in every part of it, as it often falls out.
3       They draw these plates between rollers to bring them to an even thickness all along and every plate of the same thickness, and it is very strange how the drawing it twice easily between the rollers will make it as hot as fire, yet cannot touch it. —[Many principles of Physics had not yet then been deliniated. D.W.]—
4       They bring it to another pair of rollers, which they call adjusting it, which bring it to a greater exactness in its thickness than the first could be.
5       They cut them into round pieces, which they do with the greatest ease, speed, and exactness in the world.
6       They weigh these, and where they find any to be too heavy they file them, which they call sizeing them; or light, they lay them by, which is very seldom, but they are of a most exact weight, but however, in the melting, all parts by some accident not being close alike, now and then a difference will be, and, this filing being done, there shall not be any imaginable difference almost between the weight of forty of these against another forty chosen by chance out of all their heaps.
7       These round pieces having been cut out of the plates, which in passing the rollers are bent, they are sometimes a little crooked or swelling out or sinking in, and therefore they have a way of clapping 100 or 2 together into an engine, which with a screw presses them so hard that they come out as flat as is possible.
8       They blanch them.
9       They mark the letters on the edges, which is kept as the great secret by Blondeau, who was not in the way, and so I did not speak with him to-day.1
10   They mill them, that is, put on the marks on both sides at once with great exactness and speed, and then the money is perfect.The mill is after this manner: one of the dyes, which has one side of the piece cut, is fastened to a thing fixed below, and the other dye (and they tell me a payre of dyes will last the marking of 10,000l. before it be worn out, they and all other their tools being made of hardened steel, and the Dutchman who makes them is an admirable artist, and has so much by the pound for every pound that is coyned to find a constant supply of dyes) to an engine above, which is moveable by a screw, which is pulled by men; and then a piece being clapped by one sitting below between the two dyes, when they meet the impression is set, and then the man with his finger strikes off the piece and claps another in, and then the other men they pull again and that is marked, and then another and another with great speed.
They say that this way is more charge to the King than the old way, but it is neater, freer from clipping or counterfeiting, the putting of the words upon the edges being not to be done (though counterfeited) without an engine of the charge and noise that no counterfeit will be at or venture upon, and it employs as many men as the old and speedier.
They now coyne between 16l. and 24,000l. in a week.

At dinner they did discourse very finely to us of the probability that there is a vast deal of money hid in the land, from this:—
That in King Charles’s time there was near ten millions of money coyned, besides what was then in being of King James’s and Queene Elizabeth’s, of which there is a good deal at this day in being.

Next, that there was but 750,000l. coyned of the Harp and Crosse money, and of this there was 500,000l. brought in upon its being called in. And from very good arguments they find that there cannot be less of it in Ireland and Scotland than 100,000l.; so that there is but 150,000l. missing; and of that, suppose that there should be not above 650,000 still remaining, either melted down, hid, or lost, or hoarded up in England, there will then be but 100,000l. left to be thought to have been transported.

Now, if 750,000l. in twelve years’ time lost but a 100,000l. in danger of being transported, then within thirty-five years’ time will have lost but 3,888,880l. and odd pounds; and as there is 650,000l. remaining after twelve years’ time in England, so after thirty-five years’ time, which was within this two years, there ought in proportion to have been resting 6,111,120l. or thereabouts, beside King James’s and Queen Elizabeth’s money.

Now that most of this must be hid is evident, as they reckon, because of the dearth of money immediately upon the calling-in of the State’s money, which was 500,000l. that came in; and yet there was not any money to be had in this City, which they say to their own observation and knowledge was so. And therefore, though I can say nothing in it myself, I do not dispute it.
20 May 2016 @ 11:13 am
I just came across the giddily seductive Levenger ad for a Circa notebook for multitaskers, and I was reaching with palsied hand toward my credit cards – the ultimate multipurpose notebook, with all kinds of formats and colors, for only $24! . . . when I realized that I really only have one task to multitask – unitask -- and I can accomplish it with a stack of cheap bond paper. Or an
actual notebook from K-Mart, for 29 cents.
I know in my heart that that simple fact will not keep me from buying the Circa notebook for multitaskers, or any number of other accessories that hold out the promise of making the business of writing easier. But in fact the last high-tech thing that actually improved my production was the cartridge-fueled
fountain pen, which came out in the fifties, I think. And I stopped using them in the seventies, because they were too high-tech for my retrograde sensibilities. God put ink in bottles for a good reason. (But then He forgot why, which is true of many of His best accomplishments.)
The last high-tech thing, you say I said? What about computers? Gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair. If I didn’t have computers to distract me, I might have written as many books as Robert Louis Stevenson, one god-damned inky page at a time!
Calm down. You will find that missing adaptor. You will find one that really works, along with a spell-chequer. Some day there will be one that writes the story for you, and finds the right market, and produces reams of phony good reviews.
24 April 2016 @ 10:47 am
Today is Avram Davidson’s birthday.  A great and funny writer – his story celebrating the IBM Selectric typewriter is one of many classics.  His award-winning short story “ . . . Or All the Seas With Oysters” has to be on anybody’s Top Ten list.  I only met him a few times, a kindly and amusing man.  Wish I had known him well.

22 April 2016 @ 02:52 pm
A beautiful Florida morning here, almost cool enough for a sweater . . .

Wait!  A visitation.  A small eagle or large osprey just drifted down to land in the trees just on the other side of the back fence.  I tiptoed in and got the camera and snapped a picture. 

Then it came closer for a minute, pausing in the branches of one of our backyard trees.  Long enough for me to definitely identify it as a young (scruffy) eagle.  Then it decided we didn’t have a well enough stocked larder, and flew on.  If any of the pictures turn out I’ll send it on.  Very well camouflaged, so it may not show.

(Back to your regularly scheduled feature . . . )

We went out with Chuck and Judy last night for Italian dinner and a show.  It was a Hippodrome presentation of “The Elephant Man,” pretty well done, very disturbing.  And it ran late, so the ice cream shop was closed – which added another dimension of tragedy.  (Actually, though, we found a student place that was open late and had chocolate-chip cookies, sinful enough for me, and thick shakes, good enough for the female side.  Poor Chuck can’t have such sinful fare.)

We saw the play when it opened on Broadway back in the seventies, and I don’t recall it being so disturbing.  It may affect an old person more than a young one.

We saw the movie, too, and it may be that my 40+ year-old memory of the Broadway play is conflated with the movie.  Whatever, my memory of the story is more grotesquely protracted and tragic.  An admirable man, to be able to keep on anything like an even keel in all that emotional and physical complexity.


20 April 2016 @ 08:22 am
The Jungle Book might be a movie that has to be made every now and then to remind us who we are and who we have been.   The current incarnation is technically brilliant; you would probably want to see it even if the story were stupid or offensive. 

And it’s neither.  It does have its cutesy moments – how could it not? – but no cringing ones, and a lot of the animal and human characterization is much more adult and subtle than the story requires.  The animation is breath-taking. 

Kipling was an irreplaceable genius.  Disney reincarnates him well.

(The human character Mowgli fits in so well with the animals that as I was leaving the theater I couldn’t recall whether he was done by a live actor or photorealistic animation.  It was a very live actor, Neel Sethi, who must have the toughest feet and hide in Hollywood, running through jungle brush and then scampering up tree trunks and vines like a shaved spider monkey.)

(“All right, cue the monkey – who’s got the god-damned bananas?”)

The voices are great.  Scarlett Johanssen gives great hiss as the sexiest cartoon snake ever.  Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, and Christopher Walken also inhabit their cartoon characters with sly comic verve.

It doesn’t quite make me homesick for the jungle.  But close.

In fact, I missed the 1967 original since I was out hacking my way through my own jungle at the time, writing my own less entertaining  jungle book.  Loads of gratitude to the current possessors of the Disney crown for a worthy, greatly entertaining, often majestic, incarnation.  I’ll go see it again, and even spring for another movie ticket, although I think I have the DVD as a Writers Guild freebie.

17 April 2016 @ 11:05 am
We had a good model at studio yesterday, but the portrait I drew  is not very accurate.  I put eight or ten years on her face.



This was her first experience modeling, and she did pretty well.  Very still, and she had that ability to project personality.  Her name was Trish.  Seems to me I’ve had several models with that name.  (In a list of the thousand most common American girls’ names, Trisha is #539; plain Trish doesn’t appear.)

After studio we went to the Swallowtail Farm fair, about thirty miles away.   It was okay, good clean fun, nice ice cream and good fat sandwiches on home-made bread, crispy country bacon with fresh sliced tomatoes.  I sat and watched farm girls while Gay went off to look at the animals.

The girls weren’t moving slowly enough to draw – it only occurs to me now that I might have done some quick sketches, but I was still in a kind of “studio” mode – why don’t you just stand still and take your clothes off?

(That was one of my father’s four or five jokes . . . this sailor is sitting on a park bench, checking out the girls.  He asks every pretty one to take off her clothes – and of course every one of them slaps him and storms off.  [My father] asks him why he persists in this fruitless enterprise.  “It’s true,” the sailor says, “that nineteen out of twenty of them slap me and run off, but one out of twenty doesn’t.”  At some level that’s an American koan.)

Little kids had a great time, going crazy and running around.  They had a large inflatable slide.  Interesting that (sticking to the topic) the girls played in the water nude, but the few boys who participated wore bathing suits.  There’s a master’s thesis in there, but unfortunately it would only be one sentence long.

Actually, they were naked, not nude.  Interesting difference.  Everybody’s naked under their clothes, but you’re not nude unless skin is your costume.  Which is almost equivalent to “you’re not nude unless somebody is watching you.”  Even if he’s just a serpent.

Well, it was good clean fun, as I say, especially for the ones who were splashing around.

In the evening we joined Brandy and Christina and another couple for cocktails, which wound up being quite an enterprise, with about twenty bottles of booze of various kinds, and every conceivable mixer.  The kind of party my parents used to throw.  It was kind of fun, but I did drink a little too much, and had a raging thirst this morning.  Okay after breakfast, though.

On the bike and off to work.

14 April 2016 @ 07:25 am
This is forwarded from Sherry Gottleib – “Jefferson on Trump” --
"There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents... The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provisions should be made to prevent its ascendancy."
-- Thomas Jefferson, third US president, architect, and author (13 Apr 1743-1826)
06 April 2016 @ 08:40 am
Yesterday we went to the new Disney feature Zootopia, which was well done if predictable.  A cute young bunny goes to the big city to test her mettle as a cop.  She meets various anthropometric animal characters, some among the best minor characters Disney has ever done.  The sloths who play civil servants are hysterical.  The sex and poop jokes are pretty clever – the one character who is presented as seductive, a night club singer and dancer, is surprisingly erotic.  A slinky mink.  Of course Disney has been studying the abstract representation of sex ever since Steamboat Willy.  Our great-great-grandparents knew that he was referencing forbidden sex.  Uncle Walt has had his grip on our collective dick for more than a century.

05 April 2016 @ 08:49 am
Sorry to see that Justin Leiber has died. Met him at a few conventions in the South and in England.  I didn’t know him well, and wish I had known him better.

I knew his father Fritz Leiber, in fandom, many years before I met Justin.  A legend who looked and acted like a legend.  Justin was also handsome, but he didn’t have his father’s uncanny and somewhat stagey presence.  (Though one never knows how much difference it makes when you know someone is a legend when you meet him.)

Hale fellow well met.  A lot of fun to hang around a con suite with.  Very well-informed (and opinionated) about computer science and AI.  He seemed a lot younger than 77.  An enthusiastic and charming man who apparently idolized his father.  Well, who wouldn’t?

04 April 2016 @ 10:24 am
A very interesting remark in Pepys’s diary: 

. . . Thence going out of White Hall, I met Captain Grove, who did give me a letter directed to myself from himself. I discerned money to be in it, and took it, knowing, as I found it to be, the proceed of the place I have got him to be, the taking up of vessels for Tangier. But I did not open it till I came home to my office, and there I broke it open, not looking into it till all the money was out, that I might say I saw no money in the paper, if ever I should be questioned about it. There was a piece in gold and 4l. in silver.

This is kind of fascinating.  Pepys is a pretty honorable and trustworthy man, and represents himself as such in his diary.  But “I can honestly say that I didn’t see any money in that envelope” profoundly separates the letter from the spirit of the truth!  Do lawyers still employ this kind of literal sophistry?

“Your Honor, I can honestly say that I never opened that envelope.”  (My secretary did.)

He knows that God is watching him.  Does he think that God can be flimflammed this easily?

Then again, what do I know about God?