Friday, October 21, 2016

Music Mechanics Series - Tracker Organ

The organ is a fascinating mechanical contraption. Along with the clock, it was considered one of the most complex human-made mechanical creations before the Industrial Revolution. The instrument traces its history as far back as at least the 3rd Century B.C. and uses wind moving through pipes to produce sounds.

Since the 16th century, pipe organs have used various materials for pipes, which can vary widely in timbre and volume. The pipes are divided into ranks and controlled by the use of hand stops and combination pistons.

The Mechanics
Below are an assortment of diagrams (one is even animated), all created to help illustrate the mechanics of how an organ works...

Tracker Organ

A Tracker organ uses tracker action -  a term to indicate a mechanical linkage between keys or pedals pressed by the organist and the valve that allows air to flow into pipe(s) of the corresponding note. This is in contrast to (1) direct electric action which connect the key to the valve through an electrical link or (2) electro-pneumatic action  which connect the key to an electrically assisted pneumatic system respectively, or (3) tubular-pneumatic action which utilizes a change of pressure within lead tubing which connects the key to the valve pneumatic.

Did You Know?

  • The loudest organ stop in the world is the Grand Ophicleide located in the Right Pedal division of the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ (see link below). It is described as having "a pure trumpet note of ear-splitting volume, more than six times the volume of the loudest locomotive whistle." The Grand Ophicleide produces up to 130 decibels at a distance of 1 meter. A former organ curator warned the stagehands when the Grand Ophicleide was going to be used, because of the volume.
  • The air needed for the pipes to speak (usually called the "wind" by organ builders) used to be produced by people treading on or pumping up down on a lever to force wind into huge bellows on a side chamber of the organ. Today a blower worked by a huge electric motor has taken over this job, but the principle remains the same. Today a blower worked by a huge electric motor has taken over this job, but the principle remains the same.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Cameron's Line

Did you know that New England was not always part of the North American continent? Slices of land known as terranes collided with North America ages ago. In geological terms, a terranes is a fault-bounded area or surface over which a particular rock or group of rocks is prevalent. As these collisions occurred, the terranes were squeezed, crumpled, deformed and intensely metamorphosed. This has made for some rather complex geology in the New England area.

A proto-continent ripped open during the Late Proterozoic era 700 million years ago, giving birth to an ocean named Iapetus. Then Iapetus's edges came together again essentially squeezing the sea out of existence.

Huge tectonic plates drifted and collided in a series of stages, eventually merging into the land mass of Northeastern U.S. as we know it today. The Roxbury Land Trust has an excellent illustrated guide (PDF) about the geological history of New England replete with details on the tectonic plates movements:
Source: Roxbury Land Trust (Geology)
The final merging and naming of all these terranes is a complicated saga, more thoroughly explained and illustrated on this site: “Exotic Terranes: the making of New England

Cameron’s Line in west Connecticut is a major thrust fault that separates (1) rocks that were originally part of the ancient Iapetus Ocean (deep ocean metasedimentary rocks) from (2) metamorphic rocks derived from the previous continental shelf and slope deposits to the west.
This line marks an abrupt change in the earth’s crust that resulted from a collision between North America and a European-African land mass 400 million years ago.
Weir Farm Geologic Resources Inventory Report

Monday, September 5, 2016

Visual Quick Study - Fracking in New York State

Much of western New York sits atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale, the same formation that has made neighboring Pennsylvania one of the country’s largest natural gas producers because of high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations. The Marcellus shale, stretching from Tennessee to New York, is estimated to contain about 84 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas, up to 9 trillion of which is in the Empire State.

Did You Know?
December 22nd, 2014 - New York State became the first energy-rich state to ban the method of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to extract natural gas found in underground shale formations. The ban came at about the same time that the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick officials said they’d prevent shale gas development, too.

New York State Fracking Maps

Shale Gas Deposits in the Northeast

Fracking Map

Each dot on the map below represents one natural gas well. Most existing wells were drilled using conventional drilling methods. 


Fracking Bans and Moratoria

Friday, July 8, 2016

Music Mechanics Series - Mellotron


The Mellotron was originally developed and built in Birmingham, England, in 1963. The original models were designed to be used in the home, and contained a variety of sounds, including automatic accompaniments! Adopted by the Moody Blues, Genesis and King Crimson, it became a notable instrument in progressive rock. Production of the Mellotron ceased in 1986.
A diagram illustrating the internal operations of a Mellotron

How it Worked

Pressing a key (1), caused two screws (2) to connect a pressure pad (3) with the tape head (5), and the pinch wheel (4) with the continuously rotating capstan (6). Tape was pulled by the capstan at a gradual speed controlled by a tension spring (8–10) and stored temporarily in a storage bin (7) until the key was released.

Interesting Facts:

  • Noted cellist Reginald Kirby refused to downtune his cello to cover the lower range of the Mellotron, and so the bottom notes are actually performed on a double bass.
  • Pressing a key harder allows the head to come into contact under greater pressure, so to an extent,  the Mellotron responds to aftertouch.
  • Among the early Mellotron owners were Princess Margaret Peter Sellers, King Hussein of Jordan and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard!
  • The Skellotron (2005) was a Meelotron in a transparent glass case. Only one was made!

Article > 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Newfoundland - Interesting Facts

Did you know?

  • Newfoundland was a British dominion from 1907 to 1949. It did not join Canada until 1949
  • Newfoundland is the world's 16th-largest island
  • Gulf of Saint Lawrence is the world's largest estuary
  • Newfoundland lost about one-quarter of its young men in World War One
  • The island is a likely location of Vinland

L'Anse aux Meadows

Google Map >

In 1960, the archaeological remains of a Norse village were discovered in Newfoundland by two Norwegians, the explorer Helge Ingstad and the archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad (husband and wife).Dating to around the year 1000, L'Anse aux Meadows is widely accepted as evidence of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact. It is notable for its possible connection with the attempted colony of Vinland established by Leif Erikson around the same period or, more broadly, with Norse exploration of the Americas.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Yugoslavian Mess

I recently took this book out of the library and the details of the Balkan genocides during World War Two absolutely shocked me into posting this.

The infamous Nazi concentration camps, the Holocaust and Stalin’s Gulags are well-known tragic gruesome facts of history but the brutality of the Croatian Ustaše and other mass murders in the Balkans during World War Two are sadly not as publicized.

Deep Divisions

Historically, Yugoslav lands have been located in the "fracture zone" between East and West. Christianity vs. Islam, Catholic vs. Orthodox -- the rivalries and tensions ran deep.

Following centuries in which the territories had been divided between the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia came into existence after World War I under the name of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918. It was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929 and was invaded by the Axis powers in 1941.

After World War II, in 1946, Yugoslavia was renamed the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia when a communist government was established. After Tito's death in 1980, ethnic tensions grew in Yugoslavia.

In the 1990s, the country disintegrated into full scale internal war which culminated in the Siege of Sarajevo and the tragic Srebrenica massacre. From 1992 to 1996, Sarajevo suffered the longest siege of a city in the history of modern warfare (1,425 days long) during the Bosnian War. The Srebrenica massacre was the genocidal killing, in July 1995, of more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks, mainly men and boys, in and around the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War.

This post will focus primarily on the period during World War Two when the region was divvied up between Axis powers and the mind-boggling huge volume of mass murders and ethnic cleansing that took place.

World War Two

In 1941, the territory of Yugoslavia was swiftly conquered by Axis forces and partitioned between Germany, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria and client regimes. From this point on it gets complicated. Not only were the "locals" involved in fighting their occupiers, simultaneously they were involved in fighting each other...

After the partition of the region by the Axis powers, a guerrilla liberation war was fought against the Axis occupying forces and their locally established puppet regimes, including the Independent State of Croatia and the Government of National Salvation in Serbia, by the Communist-led republican Yugoslav Partisans.

Simultaneously, a multi-side civil war was waged between the Partisans, the Serbian royalist Chetniks, Croatian nationalist Ustaše and Home Guard, as well as Slovene Home Guard troops.

Mass Murder and Genocide

The human cost of the war was enormous. The number of war victims is still in dispute, but is generally agreed to have been at least one million. Non-combat victims included the majority of the country's Jewish population, many of whom perished in concentration and extermination camps.

  • The Croatian Ustaše regime committed genocide against local Serbs, Jews, and Roma. 
  • The Chetniks pursued ethnic cleansing against Muslims and Croats 
  • The Italian occupation authorities pursued against Slovenes. 
  • Partisans carried terror and executions against families of Chetnik fighters and "Class enemies".
  • German troops carried out mass executions of civilians in retaliation for resistance activity 

Croatia and the Ustaše

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has estimated that Ustaša authorities murdered between 320,000 and 340,000 ethnic Serb residents of Croatia and Bosnia between 1941 and 1945 (the period of Ustaše rule), of whom between 45,000 and 52,000 were murdered at the Jasenovac concentration camp alone.

The scale of the atrocities shocked even German and Italian occupying forces. The Ustaše considered any "undesirables" were subject to mass murder.  The strategy to achieve their goal was:
  • One third of the Serbs were to be killed
  • One third of the Serbs were to be expelled
  • One third of the Serbs were to be forcibly converted to Catholicism

The Jasenovac Concentration camps
These mass-executions took place at various locations. At the "Granik" camp, internees were hung by a crane, had their intestines and necks slashed, then were thrown into the river after being hit by blunt tools in the head. Later, inmates were tied in pairs, slashed in the stomach and thrown into the river while still alive.

At a ceremony on October 9th, 1942, Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić, the commander-in-chief of all the Croatian camps, announced the great "efficiency" of the Jasenovac camp. During the banquet which followed, he bragged: "We have slaughtered here at Jasenovac more people than the Ottoman Empire was able to do during its occupation of Europe.”

The exact number of victims is not known but by the end of WWII, it is estimated the Ustaše, exterminated 30,000 Jews, about 29,000 Gypsies, and between 300,000 and 600,000 Serbs.

Serbian Aspirations

Greater Serbia is the ideology to unite all Serbs (or all territory historically ruled or populated by Serbs) into one state, claiming, depending on the version, different areas of many surrounding countries. Greater Serbia would incorporate all regions of traditional significance to Serbs, including regions outside Serbia that are populated by Serbs.

During the World War II Axis occupation, the Serbs were divided into two factions, (1) the resistance was mainly made by the Chetniks, who defended the restoration of the Monarchy, and (2) the Partisans, who supported the creation of a communist Yugoslav state.

During the World War II, the Serbian royalist Yugoslav Army attempted to define its vision of a postwar future creating an even larger “Homogenous Greater Serbia”, incorporating not only Bosnia and much of Croatia but also chunks of Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Hungary in areas where Serbs don't represent a significant minority.
In the territories under their military control, Chetniks applied a policy of ethnic cleansing and terror tactics against ethnic Croats and Bosniaks. These terror tactics took various forms, including killing of the civilian population, burning of villages, assassinations and destruction of property. The terror tactics used by the Chetniks against the Croats were a reaction to the terror carried out by the Ustaše, but Croats and Bosniaks living in areas that were intended to be part of Greater Serbia were cleansed of non-Serbs regardless…

Throughout the war, the Chetnik movement remained mostly inactive against the occupation forces, and increasingly collaborated with the Axis, eventually losing its international recognition as the Yugoslav resistance force. After the fall of Belgrade to Soviet and Partisan troops in 1944, there was little hope of the Chetniks surviving as a legitimate fighting force in Yugoslavia and in 1945, the victorious Partisans took possession of the country's territory.

Bleiburg Repatriations
The Bleiburg repatriations were a series of events that took place after the end of World War II, when tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians associated with the Axis fleeing Yugoslavia were repatriated to that country. Thousands were murdered or subjected to forced labor camps.

The modern-day consensus is that the number of deaths of the forced marches and in death camps rose to tens of thousands, and included civilians. The exact number of those who met their death in Bleiburg is impossible to ascertain accurately. The number of victims has been inflated by pro-Ustaša sources for propaganda purposes, while communist sources have been diminishing it for similar reasons.

The remainder of the Ustaše, and their supporters in the Croatian diaspora, used Bleiburg as their central myth and used as a tool for historical revisionism  The number of victims were artificially inflated...
David Bruce MacDonald wrote:
“Inflating the numbers of dead at Bleiburg had several layers of significance. Firstly, it gave the Croats their own massacre at the hands of Serbs and/or Communists, which allowed them to counter the Serbs' Jasenovac genocide with one of their own”

Hatred and Resentment

A seemingly impossible hodgepodge of various ethnic groups make up the Yugoslavia region.

The deep-rooted distrust between these various ethnic groups and its history of violence and genocide inevitably led to the conflicts and continued mass murders that took place in the 1990s.