Friday, March 19, 2010

Searching For Balance On A Canal Towpath And Discovering Thermodynamics

I have this grand dream : I will simplify my life by consolidating all my blogging activity into one super-blog. It will be the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young of Blogs, the Three Tenors of on-line journalism. Some days it will feature photographs, other days it will rely on the usual fare of circuitous ramblings that I call writing. It will incorporate my efforts on Theme Thursdays and Sepia Saturdays and serve up the whole thing accompanied by a glass or two of my meditations on beer and brewing. But if it is going to work I need to master the art of balance : when featuring images, for example, I need to know when to stop wittering on and let the images do the talking. 


I was musing on this problem yesterday whilst I took Amy The Dog for a springtime walk along the banks of the Calder and Hebble Navigation Canal just down the road in Brighouse. The canal is a grand old piece of industrial archeology, over 250 years old and brimming with history. The stone markers (above) that record the distance to the next lock deserve to be preserved behind a glass case in a museum, but - I am glad to say - are not.


Every time you come to a bridge you can trace where centuries of wear by the heavy ropes - used by horses to pull barges - have carved their story into the stone. You could sit a class of children around such stones and design a week's learning project on almost every aspect of science, history and art.


And there is the sheer tranquility of a place where a rich vein of nature intrudes into the original testbed of the industrial revolution. My third picture shows the lock-keepers cottage at Ganny Lock a few miles east of Brighouse. In the background you can just make out a featureless concrete warehouse defiling the rustic romance of the scene. 

But hold on a moment. When the great eighteenth century civil engineer John Smeaton, designed the canal his proposals represented the very latest thing in technology. His plans were opposed by many a land-owner who believed his stone-lined cut would ruin forever their slice of nature. But Smeaton was a modernist who worshiped at the altar of progress. Not only did he build canals, bridges, harbours and lighthouses, he was also a noted physicist. Did you know, for example, that old John Smeaton was responsible for some of the most important developments in the theory of thermodynamics in the eighteenth century. Without his work it is unlikely that the Wright Brothers would ever have managed top get their plane to fly. It all revolves around what is known as the Smeaton Coefficient (k) in the equation L=kV2ACl, where L is ....... Alright, I will stop right there. I don't want to lose my balance do I? Especially when I am walking along a canal towpath.

28 comments:

  1. Great post Alan. It has it all. History, scenery, a sense of the outdoors. Oh, but then you mentioned the word, coefficient. One of my son-in-law's favourites. I suspect there is a tie-up here somewhere. Your wonderful canal and his career in naval architecture.

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  2. Martin : My other dream is that one day I will write a blog post that ties-in everything, a kind of Encyclopedia Blogannia.

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  3. "Encyclopedia Blogannia" - YES!! Purrfect! :)

    Seriously tho, how lucky you are to live close to such a tranquil, lovely slice of history, and yes, those yards markers should be behind glass in a museum.

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  4. JamaGenie : Yes, on mature reflection I think I might copyright that Encyclopedia Blogannia idea. As for the yard marker, I hate to tell you what Amy The Dog did with it!!

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  5. And I really MUST go and measure our boat to see if between me and people we can swap the electric motor for one made by Bill and his firm to see if his is really better than ours... I think it will be from his data, he's not sure - and he's the engineer!

    I must be mad. When our boat works so well I'd far rather not tamper...

    But if you don't try, you don't know.... I hate not knowing.

    Mind you, I know categorically towing by horse (or even by me) woud be more efficient. Funny subject, physics.

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  6. What a beautiful place to take a stroll, Alan, and what a great way to get a little bit of history in your day. I only hope Amy was impressed with her surroundings.

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  7. I suspect your blogging will grow and change with moods; structure can be an inhibitor as well as enabler. I remember doing thermodynamics during my aircrew training many years ago; it's all gone up in smoke since then.

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  8. Edwin : Are you really going to change the engine in your boat? For good, or just as part of an experiment? One is reminded of those tug-of-war trials conducted by the Admiralty back in the 1840s between a paddle driven boat and a propeller driven boat.

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  9. PattyF : Amy is rarely impressed by her visual surroundings - its the smells she likes.
    John : Yes I am an unstructured person who permanently dreams of structure being the answer to all my problems.

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  10. Hi Alan. Your blog today has certainly brought me a sense of balance - enough history and detail to satisfy my latent curiosity, and some beautiful pictures to instil a nice sense of calm... Marvellous.

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  11. You have Balance already Alan (Im trying to work out which one of CSN&Y you would be!? David Crosby maybe?)
    I havent been to Brighouse for ages.I used to work a little in Raistrick.but that was many moons ago.Have they knocked-down Sugdens Mill (Flour-Power!)I understand a big new swimming pool is being built on the site.
    Do you know the Witherpoons in Brighouse?It has an interesting history
    I like the sound of Ganny Lock.I dont think I have be there.I must visit the town again soon.I wonder if that (Polish named) Cheese & Wine Shop is still doing business?

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  12. Tony : David Crosby - is he the one with the funny mustache? Sugdens Mill is still there (empty) the site has long been bogged down in a planning dispute. The swimming pool is being built on the other side of town. Yes I am quite fond of the pub - the Richard Oastler - and very fond of Czerwiks and its Single Malt collection : the shop goes from strength to strength. Next time we meet up let us meet in Briggy.

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  13. tripped over your blog on my way to the internet this morning and must say I love it. I am now your newest, most devoted follower and I am looking forward to more of your musings.

    I too live close to an old barge canal and often walk along what was the towpath -- very restorative. You've inspired me and perhaps I shall even blog about it. Thanks for a lovely read

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  14. Alan: I have to disagree that without wossisface the Wright brothers wouldn't have taken off. It's a fact of life that while one may get the glory, several are working on the same problem simultaneously. I have no doubt that the coefficient you name would have risen from one of these collective minds within a short space of time had wossisname not been the first. It would never have remained hidden.

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  15. Beautiful images, Alan! I love the marks of the rope on the stone. And the mile marker reminds me of finding just one such on an abandoned farm near us -- all grown up in brambles and trees but a major thoroughfare had once passed that way. These things bring the past to life in a most vivid way.

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  16. Great post, Alan! But then again, I'm a sucker for photos of things made of stone.

    We don't have canals in these parts, nor where I grew up in Maryland. But both places have abandoned railroad tracks, and those are also great places for a leisurely, philosophical hike, and photographic opportunities galore.

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  17. Good day, Alan!
    "It will be the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young of Blogs.." would be a great thing. Loved this line so much...

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  18. Pinkpackrat : That is really very kind of you.
    Chairman B : Oh all right then. I am sure you are right but to have admitted it would have been to destroy a finely balanced sentence.

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  19. Alan, wherever you post, be it one giant blog or lots of little ones, I'll be there. Great post, wonderful photographs, marvellous trip through nature, history, physics!
    Tina
    xx

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  20. The blogapalooza of all blogs!
    I really like the photo of the cottage on the Lock. What keeps catching my eye is the tree in the foreground. On the left side it looks like the profile of a man's face. I can see the nose and the mouth is open with what looks like a bird's nest in it. Maybe I need to have a pint to clear my eyes : )

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  21. LadyCat : Looking at it again I see what you mean. Mind you I did have a pint of Copper Dragon Golden Pippin (the chances are they don't have that over your way- they don't even have it in Lancashire) at lunchtime so I am tending to see things a little.

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  22. Awesome post as usual, sir. I would love to hear more about this canal...

    Happy weekend!

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  23. First, what a great place to take a walk. My dog would want to test the water or chase a squirrel down in with me following. I wonder how many of the markers are sitting in homes or museums. They are very clear and concise in design. I always enjoy any of your writings so continue on, in any format you please. Take care.

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  24. Alan, I don't know how you manage to pack so much into one blogpost! That marker stone is lovely. I'm about to feature a not dissimilar stone - but I don't really know what mine is.

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  25. I like your consolidation idea. It does symplify things (and that way I'd never miss and Amy or a Postcard, or a Potables post).
    That third photo is positively idyllic - very LOTR!

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  26. this is a terrific post Alan!
    I love the photos.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Super-blog! HA!

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  27. Wow this takes me back. We used to ride horses along the canal paths during day treks when I was a kid. Fantastic things they are and locks fascinate me. We have nothing like it here. Interesting that what we now consider beautiful and picturesque they considered a modern eyesore. . although I can't see some of the skyscrapers and warehouses of the 21st century being regarded as historic icons of beauty can you?

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  28. HAHAH! Super-blog away!

    The bit about the rope wear brought to mind the ropes the Greeks stole from the Persians when they engineered that bridge across the Dardanelles. I've no idea why I thought of that... I'm just crazy, I suppose.

    And, I must admit, I was completely unaware of John Smeaton. Will rectify that.

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