A Dutch Treat
The Dutch are, without a doubt, the most impressive hydrological engineers on the planet.
You really have to be when much of your country lies below sea level and is vulnerable to floods. I could spend blog post after blog post talking about how impressive the Dutch are at what they do, and I might just do so at some point. For now, though, I'm exploring one of the most innovative pieces of hydrological engineering they created: the Dutch Water Line.
The Dutch Water Line was a series of defenses built to flood huge chunks of the Netherlands (then Holland) if invading forces threatened. Engineers first dreamed up the idea in the early seventeenth century and built it quickly afterward.
The idea didn't appear from thin air (or, er, shallow water). The Dutch eighty-year war of independence against Spain featured several instances of flooding used as a defense. Yet, building out this new concept—to cut off all of Holland was a much larger and more ambitious step forward. The Dutch finished the line in just a few short years. Which brings us to the early 1630s.
Less than four decades later, strategists first tested Dutch Water Line during the Franco-Dutch War, also known as the Third Anglo-Dutch War. (Keeping track of European wars is an exhausting and unrewarding task that I've never bothered to pursue, except in reference to more interesting parts of history.)
The Dutch Water Line managed to keep the French armies out, while the Dutch somehow managed to defeat the terrifying English navy at sea.
The Dutch Water Line was used several more times throughout its history, to mixed success. Waiting for the body to freeze over—in order to cross—was an entirely viable strategy.
Modern bombers and missiles have largely rendered the defensive line useless. Instead, the Dutch now often use those drained lowlands of the water line for bicycle and hiking trails. And today, we’ll find many natures reserves along and around the line.
Swords into plowshares.
The Yard Ramp Guy®: Material Strength
This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy measures the strength of steel and looks at possible innovations in the industry. (Nice shout out to vibranium!)
Check out his terrific post HERE.
Or: A Cup of Java is Good for Us
Fun fact: We have coffee to thank for economics, geology, and countless other scientific and intellectual advancements.
Seventeenth century Scotland was a nasty place in many ways, filled with poverty, disease, and chronic alcoholism—in great part because the water wasn't safe to drink. Raids from highland clans were also a fact of life.
By the eighteenth century, however, things had changed radically. The highland clans were defeated, the economy was looking up, and things were just improving all around.
And then coffee showed up.
All of a sudden, you had something to drink that would neither make you sick, like the water, or drunk, like the ale.
Intellectuals started gathering in social clubs and became massively more productive. Among those intellectuals were Adam Smith, the father of modern economics; James Hutton, the father of modern geology; Robert Burns, one of the greatest English language poets of all time (as well as Scots language poets); Joseph Black, the chemist who discovered magnesium and carbon dioxide; philosopher David Hume; and many more.
What's more, they weren't operating alone. They largely all knew one another. Joseph Black, James Hutton, and Adam Smith were all incredibly close friends.
This was a movement focused on empiricism and reason, and it came to be known as the Scottish Enlightenment.
These changes weren't just limited to Scotland, either. Everywhere coffee traveled, there tended to be increases in productivity, intellectual development, and general economic well-being of a nation (though not necessarily for individual members of a nation.)
Coffee is by no means an unadulterated good in history, especially not at the growing end of the supply chain, but it did radically change history wherever it arrived.
Pretty impressive for a beverage.
The Yard Ramp Guy®: The Year in People and Forklifts
This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy sums up 2018 and, with typical humbleness, shows why integrity is the keystone to a successful business.
Check out his magnificent year-ending post HERE.
Bunking in Bunkers
In the 1960s and 70s, Maoist China constructed a massive series of fallout shelters underneath their cities for fear of nuclear war. Beijing had 10,000 such bunkers, with many more constructed across the nation. Now, however, that the Cold War has ended and fear of nuclear war has receded, those bunkers are seeing new life.
Every night, more than a million inhabitants of Beijing bed down inside these underground bunkers. They're largely migrant workers and poor rural students, and the conditions they live in are often quite harsh. The bunkers have been subdivided into countless micro-apartments, and people are crammed into these spaces like stacked logs.
While laws dictate a minimum size for the micro-apartments, they're often ignored. It's not uncommon to find an entire family living in a room only large enough for a bed. Mold is common, and the lack of sunlight and ventilation certainly isn't healthy.
Despite government efforts to clean up the bunkers, there isn't anywhere else for these people to go. Housing and rental prices in Beijing have skyrocketed to utterly unsupportable levels.
This isn't even remotely an uncommon phenomenon, either: across the globe, cities have rampant housing crises as the global population increasingly urbanizes. It's happening here in America, as well. New York, for instance, is famous for having the highest density of poor artists per apartment of any major developed city. (If there's not at least two musicians and a cartoonist in your closet, you're not using your space correctly.)
Unfortunately, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. In New York much of the problem comes from issues like the ultra-wealthy buying multiple luxury residences and leaving them unoccupied. The problem is completely different in China, where rural populations are abandoning their traditional ways of life en masse.
Cities and governments across the world are facing this problem, and how they respond is absolutely critical.
Me? I fantasize about finding a cabin out in the country with no neighbors for miles. People are too much trouble most of the time.
The Yard Ramp Guy®: GeoBusiness Plate Tectonics
This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy explores geopolitics plate tectonics and its effect on steel. He calls it GeoBusiness plate tectonics, and I'm always up for a new meme.
Check out his terrific post HERE.
Or: Kitty Litter Paleontology
We usually think of fossils in the context of museums, but you might be surprised to hear that they're probably in your home without you knowing.
The first way this happens is pretty obvious: if you've got limestone as part of the construction of your house. Limestone is almost universally fossil-bearing. In fact, many types of limestone are almost entirely made up of fossils. So, if you have limestone in your house, you've probably got fossils.
Of course, fossils can be found in other rocks as well, such as certain sandstones and mudstones, though limestone is the most common fossil-bearing rock used in construction.
Next is in kitty litter. Bentonite clays are used in countless industrial settings, but they also have one extremely common use inside the home—as the main ingredient of most kitty litter products. Bentonite clay is highly absorbent, making it ideal for this purpose.
Another thing bentonite clay is famous for? Occurring near fossil formations. The Morrison Formation, the geological formation where Dinosaur National Monument is found, is also heavily mined for bentonite clay. There have also been plenty of reports of kitty litter mining companies in Canada knowingly destroying fossil beds for more profit. So... your cat might be doing its business in dinosaur bits.
Third is diatomaceous earth. This fine white powder is frequently used as a cleaning product in the home. Applications of it can kill many types of insect infestations. The actual mechanism by which it does so is a little complicated, but it essentially dehydrates the insects to death. (Sometimes it's also used in kitty litter.) Diatomaceous earth is a sedimentary rock composed entirely of fossilized diatoms, a type of ocean-going microorganism that grows a silica-based shell.
Finally, there's good old-fashioned chalk. Chalk is simply an accumulation of the shells of tiny marine microorganisms, just like diatomaceous earth. Instead of being formed of silica-shelled organisms, however, it's formed out of calcite-shelled organisms known as coccolithophores. (Interestingly, the Cretaceous is actually named after the fact that more chalk was deposited around the world than during any other geological era—not, as you might expect, due to anything to do with dinosaurs.)
So, whenever your kids are drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, they're drawing with fossils.
The Yard Ramp Guy®: Honoring Industry Partners
This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy discusses a gaggle of types of "sand pads" and then settles on one in particular that's part of his inventory. It's a fascinating read.
Check out his blog HERE.