Last Two Issues








Last Two Issues











Last Two Issues









Last Two Issues









Last Two Issues








Last Two Issues










Last Two Issues












Last Two Issues












Last Two Issues





"History is just people doing things"


                 ISSN 1087-2302   Online Edition Number 305......May 2021

Published since 1985 for clients and contacts of 
ABQ Communications Corporation, the fuzzy focus

of The ABQ Correspondent is "the impact of new 
technology on society." If you'd like to receive email 
notification when each monthly issue is posted, please 
let us know.   correspo at swcp dot com



The Correspo has touched more than once over the decades on systems designed to extract drinking water from the atmosphere (no, this isn’t “rainmaking”). While none of those systems appears to be in practical use, here’s another of interest. A report on work by a team at from the National University of Singapore says that a team there has developed a passive system that requires no input of energy to drive it. They have created an “aerogel” of special material that just sits there, and pulls whatever water there is out of the atmosphere. Aerogels are really interesting materials with about two-tenths of one percent consisting of solid material, and the other 99.8% being air. Plenty of room for gases to drift through it, but surprisingly strong. (See a picture of a slice of it supporting a brick in an entertaining article in the publication AZoM which deals with Materials Science.) The Singapore team comments that “In a humid environment, one kilogramme of it will produce 17 litres of water a day.” That’s a lot of water, almost 4.5 gallons, but one supposes that’s a lot of humidity, too. Here in the high desert of Albuquerque, it might be difficult to coax much drinking water out of the air. At 80°F and relative humidity just over 8%, the dew point would be 66 degrees lower. Recently the humidity has actually been as low as 2%. Sorta dry. That’s extreme, and the system would produce water most of the time, but it would take a lot of aerogel. Even that’s not a huge obstacle…the kilogram of it that produced 17 liters a day would be only about 1.33 cubic meters in size…say a block about 3 x 3 x 5 feet…not unimaginable. Encouraging in a small way.

Homer and Jethro reported what one caravan

camel said to another while trudging through

the desert: “Ah don’t keer what they say,

ah’m thirsty.”



I was indelibly impressed as a kid by the news that glass is not a “solid” as we commonly think of it, but a very viscous liquid, as demonstrated by glass vases that, after sitting on shelves in pharaonic tombs for thousands of years, have flowed into the slightly irregular surfaces of the stone on which they sit, detectably taking on their forms. When intruding archaeologists move these artifacts to other surfaces in museums or desk drawers, they will over the millennia flow into those surfaces, assuming that the museum or desk is safely buried under a protective landslide or some such. Alas, some technical wet blanket has recently soiled this poetic vision by explaining that glass isn’t really quite like that. Aw.

Even more recently, however, comes word that a team at the University of Freiburg has developed a system for injection-molding glass into a huge variety of useful objects like plastic products currently produced …while using significantly less energy. Remarkably, the glass is (or at least can be) clear…just regular glass…with controllable characteristics suitable to its application. Do look at the video, with its helpful subtitles.) The fellows are big on producing lenses for spectacles this way…though my injection-molded polycarbonate lenses have for some years been a relief from the heavier, more fragile, polished glass lenses that routinely slid down my nose.    

The key to the process seems to be that they have found a way to put glass powder into a liquid that can be injection-molded to an object at relatively lower temperature, producing a opaque product, then heat-treating that object in a furnace, again, at relatively low, energy-saving temperature. The glass particles are sintered, becoming clear, uniform quartz glass. It isn’t clear whether the material in which the glass particles were suspended is driven off or becomes part of the finished product…but the process seems to work.    

Indeed, It’s striking that the team is not just painstakingly making a few items for demo, but is producing a bunch of items quickly in a commercial injection molding machine. All of the necessary processes have already been commercialized, and it appears that the whole world needn’t change to make use of the new approach. It fits with relatively little fuss into what people are already doing. The website of their commercial spinoff company Glassomer (not a bad portmanteau of glass and polymer) reveals a little bit more, but most usefully gives you a contact with somebody to talk to.





The discussion of injection molding above recalls a long-ago report from Bob Leeman (who was lead tech at the gun end of the two-mile SLAC linear accelerator during its construction back in the day) that he had once worked as a night janitor in an injection molding factory. He was sweeping his way along a great big machine of some sort when it began a quiet whining sound that increased steadily and worryingly as he approached the end of the machine. When he arrived there, the whine climaxed, and the machine startled him by coughing out a large plastic laundry basket, and beginning the low whine once again. Never mind atom smashers, this laundry basket may have been the most impressive personal demonstration of modern technology Bob ever saw. 



The Correspo commented last month on the special tires/wheels that can recover from being deformed dramatically as they roll over jagged, uneven surfaces on places like the Moon or Mars. (Someone pointed out that nitinol metal tires may not wear as well as good old rubber, but for the time being the boffin are talking about driving perhaps a few score miles, not tens of thousands.) Another group is taking a different approach to novel wheels that solve different problems. Worth a look; think origami.



It’s hard to know quite what to make of this speculative work by a team at Cornell (as it is for most basic experimentation, probably), but it keeps tugging at the imagination.




Recollection of these items from September and

October 2005 was not triggered by anything in

recent news, but by strolling through old files

while wondering if anything has changed.

Item: [

The term “linoleum” tends to be used generically (at least by many of us who remember real linoleum) to refer to any slick, plastic-like floor covering, the same way “Kleenex” is used to refer to any “facial tissue.” One has wondered recently if anybody still sells real linoleum. As a matter of fact, it is enjoying somewhat of a comeback, partly on environmentalist grounds. It’s a “natural” product, made of linseed oil, pigments, pine rosin and pine flour, so it decays into something more acceptable to worried people than vinyl does, (One has a feeling it decays faster, too, which is why other materials have been preferred for a long time.) “Linoleum” comes from the Latin word, linum, which means flax, and oleum, which means oil, and was invented by a chap named Frederick Walton in 1863...or by Fredrick Walton in 1860 (depending on your source). Another fellow, named Michael Nairn, improved the product soon after, introducing inlaid patterning. My dad wrote ads for Armstrong Cork company in the 1940's, promoting their linoleum, and later did some work for outgrowth of old Michael’s firm, that seems to survive in some form yet today. Yes, we can still buy linoleum. That’s nice, I guess.


Last month’s report on the survival of real linoleum in society prompted Jim Mitchell to suggest a hard-hitting expose on real oilcloth, another item from the Good Old Days of our youth. (Indeed, I can still see the surface of the oilcloth peeling at worn spots on my grandmother’s table, and recall the faint smell of the stuff.) A quick search on the web shows that real oilcloth is still available, with marketing directed especially to people who hate plastic. Many manufacturers offer what they call oilcloth, but is really fabric coated with vinyl...less expensive and just as practical as a moisture-proof, colorful, protective table covering, but not the real stuff, thank you very much. Somewhat surprisingly, real oilcloth seems to be just thinner linoleum, with layers of linseed oil applied to a fabric substrate. One or more layers of white clay provide a surface for printing colorful patterns, which are then protected with more oil. Who’d have thought?

Almost sixteen years later an online search does not

turn up any suppliers of “real” oilcloth, only some

who produce the plastic-bonded-to-a-cloth-backing

product, which most of them unabashedly call

 “oilcloth,” one of whom must have been criticized

for using the term and became defensive, sneering

(probably properly) at the real thing as unwholesome

and not very durable. One supplier, The Vermont

Country Store, does comment graciously on the matter.

(Please buy your polymer oilcloth from them.)

The plastic product backed with fabric is indeed

attractive and practical, lacking only the whiff of

nostalgia along with the whiff of linseed. In this

case the nostalgia includes the memory of bread.

Recall the need to work to “put bread on the table.”

In Milwaukee in those days there was always a

plate holding three stacks of sliced bread, one

white, one whole wheat, and one rye, among the

flaxen fumes.

BUT, there’s a site that provides instruction on


with lots of informative suggestions from people

who have tried it. This is not a hobby I’m inclined

to take up…writing about it is enough…but it’s

reassuring to discover a handful of oilcloth devotees.


Nobody is a nobody.


After some years of working and reworking, this has become a real book, via Lulu Publishing. The blurb on the back (under a picture of the author looking unnaturally cheerful) says:

 “This book is Nels Winkless’s wry look at his half-century-and-more as a “professional outsider” writing, editing, interpreting, presenting new ideas, and serving as a sounding board for interesting people who have influenced some of the major technical developments of the era. While fascinated by the dazzling advance of technology, he’s most intrigued by the savage resistance people have to every sort of change, making technical progress virtually miraculous, and he suggests an explanation for this puzzling conflict.
   His recollections of the work and people are often funny, sometimes painful, and usually surprising.


ISBN: 978-0-557-05785-6                        Review(s)               Available at


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