Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
September 26, 2006


So Billmon is back into blogging hibernation. No wonder I woke up at two in the morning, about when he posted. Something felt just wrong.

While Billmon was on a roll, I had scaled back from posting here (the last days I didnĀ“t even read all comments - which was a first in more than two years).

The sum of the parts here is much too valuable to lose it. So while Billmon is mute, I'll be back to a post per day, starting with this caffeine induced rambling.

While pausing here, I was happy to give in to the urging of a dear friend. Lukas had asked to build a crane - a BIG crane.

Here he is testing one of the first working iterations.

(The basic construction is a Liebherr LR 1750, scale about 1:50, self erecting, drives and swings under load, 10 lego motors, about 6'6'' high (we are still aiming for 8'+) - bigger pic)

To assemble a big crane, a fleet of transporters is needed plus a smaller crane to move the various parts for the boom and the counterweights. This weekend we completed those designs.

(The yellow one is modeled after an unique original, nicknamed the Traumschiff - a custom combination of an extended MAN cassis and a Liebherr LTM 1070 upper carriage - bigger pic)

Building such stuff, big or small, is a form of meditation to me. Intuition and a peaceful mind are needed to succeed and are gained in the process. So while figuring out some gearing or design detail, I catch myself reciting mantras. Like sand mandalas these models get finished only to be destroyed - no addictions :-).

The building process is quite comparable to my original trade of building IT-organisations. It starts off modulizing the thing planed. Prototyping the functional elements is followed by fitting a decent design around them - which of course never works on the first try. So it is a back and forth between those two phases. Then, when both seem balanced and finished, the inevitable real test is done. The inherent overlooked flaws begin to show, the thing cracks and one inevitably returns to "Go" and constructs a hopefully better solution.

It is all about balance. The big crane negotiates the forces between the load on the hook and the suspended ballast at the rear in a big half-circle. The cables, the luffing fly jib, the boom, derrick and the various bracings look important, but they are only the support between the two sides of the scale and the ground.

If in balance, there is a pure vertical force on the central slewing and only if in balance, the crane, and life, will turn properly. In other restrains, there are only so many different parts both can be build from and each of the many modules is restricted to certain manageable dimensions.

Sometimes posting at the blog feels like a heavy load on the hook. The frame starts cracking and the bearing comes apart. Then again, writing is a welcome counterweight.

But to change the basic construction, to reconfigure the boom, to repair the crawlers or to add new features, the load and the counterweight need to be lowered to the ground.

Building those cranes was a much needed phase of reconfiguration to me. Now it's back to enjoying your comments. To read, write and think through and beyond the foggy spin of wars, politics and greedy machinations.

Stay tuned ...

Posted by b on September 26, 2006 at 6:37 UTC | Permalink


visualizing you creating those models puts a smile on my face. i'm not sure why.

Stay tuned ...

for you b, absolutely

no addictions:-)

"The thirty spokes unite in the one hub;
But it is on the empty hole in the hub that the use of the wheel depends.
Clay is fashioned into vessels;
But it is on their empty space that their use depends.
The door and windows are cut out of the walls to form an apartment;
But it is on the open space, that their use depends.
Therefore, that which has a physical existence can be adapted,
But the useful is potential without a physical existence ."

the serendipity way

Posted by: annie | Sep 26 2006 8:51 utc | 1

Cool models. I wish I had that much patience sometimes.

At least Billmon is explicitly taking a break this time rather than anything else.

Posted by: Colman | Sep 26 2006 9:14 utc | 2

Aaaaauuuugggggghhhhhh!!! No More Billmon.
The best writer on the net goes back into hibernation...I'm bereft.

Posted by: waldo | Sep 26 2006 9:57 utc | 3

@ Annie

The thirty spokes unite in the one hub;
But it is on the empty hole in the hub that the use of the wheel depends.
Clay is fashioned into vessels;
But it is on their empty space that their use depends.

I had that running through my head last night...

From>Tang Shi--300 Tang Poems:

The northeastern border of China was dark with smoke and dust. To repel the savage invaders, our generals, leaving their families, Strode forth together, looking as heroes should look; And having received from the Emperor his most gracious favour, They marched to the beat of gong and drum through the Elm Pass. They circled the Stone Tablet with a line of waving flags, Till their captains over the Sea of Sand were twanging feathered orders. The Tartar chieftain's hunting-fires glimmered along Wolf Mountain, And heights and rivers were cold and bleak there at the outer border; But soon the barbarians' horses were plunging through wind and rain. Half of our men at the front were killed, but the other half are living, And still at the camp beautiful girls dance for them and sing. ...As autumn ends in the grey sand, with the grasses all withered, The few surviving watchers by the lonely wall at sunset, Serving in a good cause, hold life and the foeman lightly. And yet, for all that they have done, Elm Pass is still unsafe. Still at the front, iron armour is worn and battered thin, And here at home food-sticks are made of jade tears. Still in this southern city young wives' hearts are breaking, While soldiers at the northern border vainly look toward home. The fury of the wind cuts our men's advance In a place of death and blue void, with nothingness ahead. Three times a day a cloud of slaughter rises over the camp; And all night long the hour-drums shake their chilly booming, Until white swords can be seen again, spattered with red blood. ...When death becomes a duty, who stops to think of fame? Yet in speaking of the rigours of warfare on the desert We name to this day Li, the great General, who lived long ago.

Posted by: Argh | Sep 26 2006 10:10 utc | 4

very greatful to you b...

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Sep 26 2006 10:12 utc | 5

As someone who spent over 20 years designing cranes, including some very large offshore cranes (3000+ tonne capacity), I fully understand your attraction to those amazing machines. Of course, we used steel, not Legos, but the idea is the same. Enjoy!

Posted by: Joe F | Sep 26 2006 12:21 utc | 6

...and also, Bernhard, it seems that you have conquered English. There is not the slightest hint in this offering that English isn't your native language.

Posted by: emereton | Sep 26 2006 12:22 utc | 7

Of course, we used steel, not Legos, but the idea is the same.

I would love to use steel too. But that would be a bit balky in the living room.

@emerton - Bernhard, it seems that you have conquered English. There is not the slightest hint in this offering that English isn't your native language. NOW you see me proud! It took a while and I am not sure I will be able to write "clean" every day, but I will strive to do so.
(One hint is left in the post. The electric outlets in the first picture look German to me :-).

Posted by: b | Sep 26 2006 13:11 utc | 8

thanks, b. from another perspective, the posts at moa provide a counterbalance to the propaganda factories. great post. thanks for sharing more of your wit(s) and wisdom.

Posted by: conchita | Sep 26 2006 14:44 utc | 9

also - way cool. i would love to have a crane in my living room!

Posted by: conchita | Sep 26 2006 14:46 utc | 10

argh, thank you for turning me on to a great site.
it is way to easy for me to get sidetracked(b's fault of course)w/ taoist teachings. my slight balance google kept me up half the night w/lao tzu. today i have work to do. turning chaos into order. onward.

Posted by: annie | Sep 26 2006 17:08 utc | 11

More small crane pics:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

The numbers in pic 5 show the operator controls:
1 - hook up/down
2 - telescopic boom extension
3 - pneumatic pump for boom lift
4 - boomlift up/down switch
5 - slew 360 degrees
The supports have to be extended "by hand"

Posted by: b | Sep 26 2006 17:11 utc | 12

Take your time, Billmon. We'll still read you.

Posted by: Lennonist | Sep 26 2006 17:16 utc | 13

they are gorgeous b. there is a special place in my heart for legos. every christmas my son would get new legos. the majority of the day would be him and his father erecting creations in front of the tree. time and rainy days.

Posted by: annie | Sep 26 2006 18:08 utc | 14

Balance. Thanks b.

Posted by: beq | Sep 26 2006 18:42 utc | 15

Take as long as you need Billmon.

Posted by: VAdem | Sep 26 2006 19:52 utc | 16

Welcome back, b :)
Don't post any more than you're comfortable w/... If you're busy, leaving an OT would be fine...

Can you build us a crane to take us to another planet/solar system :)

Posted by: jj | Sep 26 2006 20:12 utc | 17

Waldo wrote:

Aaaaauuuugggggghhhhhh!!! No More Billmon.
The best writer on the net goes back into hibernation...I'm bereft.

Err...what Waldo said.

My head tells me we cannot begrudge Billmon the demands of his personal life. Still, it's proving a hard sell to my heart.

Anyway, I'm glad you're sticking around Bernhard. I don't know any place that has the same calibre of regulars as MoA.

Posted by: Lexington | Sep 26 2006 22:39 utc | 18

also: fine looking young man.

Posted by: beq | Sep 27 2006 0:36 utc | 19

Thanks for this, Bernhard.

It's funny, I was digging in the yard the last week or so to put in a garden shed. Hard work, digging up boulders and gravel. Best fun I've had in ages -- simple work, mindless labor. Measurable progress. Sounds like the same thing you are talking about with the mechanical problem solving.

I think to a certain extent we are evolved for certain types of work, I also enjoy the repetitive actions that are required to write and debug code, slowly building within a mental framework that is also evolving. I would imagine these are similar tasks to building, farming, creating crafts. I wonder if the artists amongst us would care to comment.

Posted by: jonku | Sep 27 2006 4:57 utc | 20

jonku, just came from a bath where i was wondering something similar. how do others here create balance in their lives? how do they find time to get everything done, keep employers/ees happy, care for families and pets, read and comment here, etc. what are the various counterbalances in their lives?

Posted by: conchita | Sep 27 2006 5:08 utc | 21

"I wonder if the artists amongst us would care to comment."

Art is more than just seeking balance for me. It's a place where I go. I can't afford to travel much and the day job just sustains me in as much as it provides for food and shelter and not a lot of frills/thrills so art is what fulfills.

"Simple work, mindless labor, measurable progress...": In the same way as jonku's digging, I enjoy getting out the bamboo rake and clearing the leaves in the fall. I get to do plenty of that. :)

Posted by: beq | Sep 27 2006 11:34 utc | 22


as our petit japonais sd, balance

i am a man so clumsy in matter such as what you are doing with the cranes - i think is wonderful

& i know our rage, if turned in on ourselves does terrible damage physically

since what passed as childhood for me it was always books & more books & i find now even in my dotage & even with the concerns of work & sickness i read more & in a more varied way & when the 'world goes wrong' i force that variation

i have always admire those with a delicacy of touch, of feeling & the only good that ever came from my hands was boxing whioch i was very good at for a short period of my life - but even there & implicitly taught by the great liston & ali - balance - as firm & open as any buddha

& i also respect that absence of ego that mandala making for example exudes - but i am not yet capable of that humility tho posting - is a path there

we are nourished here

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Sep 27 2006 21:01 utc | 23

There semms to be an imperative hanging over all of us and that is to 'solve the problem' and it always begins with the first step. Each step after that comes with a large element of surprise. That's what's so interesting about it.

Posted by: pb | Sep 27 2006 22:41 utc | 24

Meccano! Love it.

Not to bring the whole thing down, but this story about recent crane collapse in South London (two dead) got me wondering if yet another side-effect of global warming is going to be added difficulty to building work if average wind speeds increase (which they seem to be doing, and which Robert Fisk says he has talked to airline pilots about - they are having to fly at lower altitudes because of it) - will more cranes fall?

Also, I hope you are not going to burn out, Bernhard, taking up the slack during Billmon's sabbatical.

Posted by: Dismal Science | Sep 28 2006 12:53 utc | 25

Love the lego.

Dismal Science,
I would say that all technology we use are adapted to our climate (as well as culture and other stuff) which is something we are going to learn the hard way.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Sep 28 2006 16:07 utc | 26

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