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Modern Wonders

Something of a recurring theme I thought I would take this opportunity to bring it up to date. At least as far as I can presently.

1985, seems like only yesterday so it is unpleasant to discover it is significantly over 10 years ago, where have they gone, what have I done? Not watching the clock obviously.

I like the theme and I imagine Hollywood accountants would agree that endlessly re-hashing good ideas to the point of cliche is a good business move. So I am afraid you are going to have to play the role of overweight policeman with a few days to retirement and I am going to be a wild maverick with a mysterious and troubled past but deep down really a traditional fellow looking for the same love everyone else seems to enjoy. An outsider too tough to come in from the cold for fear the warmth would burn him alive. Every so often eat a twinkie bar (whatever that is) and shake your head and say 'Franklyn your one mad son-of-a-bitch' and then grin just to show you love me really.

Methods of destruction are back on the cards

Anyway before I lose the plot totally. This set is something of a hybrid. It is in the trade card section although it is probably better served in the cigarette card section but as they were issued in cigars I do not really consider them cigarette cards. Whatever happens they are usually classified as 'moderns' whatever that means now.

The set I am examining is 'Wonders of the Modern World.' Just like Churchman, Modern Wonders[1938] only more modern.

The set is a series of 30 cards.

The set kicks of with the concept of speed and the JPS Lotus Formula 1 Car. Those with quicker minds than mine (98% of you, must try harder 2%) will have made the connection. Remember those sleak black cars that hurtled so successfully around the race tracks in the 1970's. JPS standing for John Player Special, mighty successful tobacco advertising.

By card two you begin to realise the 'modern' world does not move as swiftly as you would expect as it is the Bullet train shown, first run in 1964, card three is the hovercraft, 1955. Which is described as the most revolutionary new form of transport since the Wright brothers first flew in 1903.

Flight makes an appearance on card 8 with Concorde, described as the first successful supersonic airliner. Quite what the measure of success is I am not sure because as far as I know in one of the most amazing examples of twin development the Russians just beat us to it with what was dubbed Concordski. An aircraft so similar to Concorde you would think they had been peeping at the plans. So not quite the first, although it did stay in the air during the air show which is something the Russian's failed to do. As for commercial success Concorde could hardly be described as that. What it did mean though was you could fly from the UK to the US and get there before you left which is always great fun if you want to celebrate New Years Day twice etc and worth a few seconds on the news every year one way or another.

Methods of destruction are back on the cards, the Polaris subs and rockets such as the sea-cat get a mention.

Card 9, Sea harrier, 'Harrier jump jet'. You can argue about the success of Concorde but would have trouble saying V/STOL (Vertical and Short take-off landing) is anything other than a wild success.

Card 10 has the 'Blackbird' Spy Plane. Now this thing has to be a modern wonder. So radical in appearance it is still more science fiction than fact in many minds. I got up close to one of these once and it was childhood dream stuff. Built of titanium to withstand the incredible heat generated by flying that fast, it was the first aircraft I heard about that stretched due to heating whilst in flight.

The Blackbird skipped on the very edge of space by all accounts but card 11 and 12 are things which belong in space. This being the space shuttle and the space back pack. Although the space walk has been about for a good many years and gets a mention on a good number of trade card sets it seems it took until 7 Feb 1984 before a fellow floated completely free in space.

A few months later the Solar Max (card 14) was repaired after failing ten months after launch in Feb 1980. Designed to examine the sun the card notes it is one of several thousand artificial satellites circling the Earth. This is pretty scary stuff when you stop to think about it because that number will have only been increasing since the date of the card. No wonder they consider space debris to be a significant planning risk.

Card 13 shows the Gossamer Albatross, the first flying machine to be propelled by human effort across the English Channel which happened in June 1979. An amazing feat of engineering with a wing span of 28.65 metres but weighing 34 kilogrammes.

By card 16 we are celebrating the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine which is the biggest hole in the ground. This hole began in 1906 and up to the issue of the card 4000 million tonnes of rock have been extracted. Amounting to 15% of the USA annual output of crude copper.

Well it has made a lot of money presumably, it also must have caused massive environmental impact and when all is said and done it is a big hole in the ground which took years to build. You can probably guess it would not be in my set of modern wonders.

Big holes in the ground might not but the Alaska Oil Pipeline would, now this is engineering wonder, 1300 km long, half buried in permanently frozen ground.

Details from Card 27
Microchips
Four microchips perch on a matchstick - yet each has the capacity of a room-sized computer of only 20 years ago. Nowadays thousands of transistors occupy an area of just a few square millimetres and 100,000 transistors packed on a chip form the brain of a small computer. The world's first electronic computer was built in 1946. It weighed 30 tonnes, contained 18,000 valves and burning as much electricity as a hundred lighthouses, and performed a mere 5000 calculations a second. Today a typical microprocessor uses less power than a 15 watt light built, performs 1,000,000 calculations a second - and costs several thousand times less.
The chip's circuit is designed on a very large scale, resembling a map of a vast crowded city. It is then reduced photographically and reproduced as a multi-layer sandwich of thin silicon wafers.

Incredibly the movement of oil through the pipe causes enough friction for the surrounding soil to melt which would cause the pipe to move and split. For this reason pipes carrying refrigerated brine is buried alongside the pipe to keep the ground frozen. The pipe is 1.22m in diameter and the welds were checked by workers travelling on special carts which rode inside the pipe.

Another engineering wonder is card 20, the Thames Flood Barrier, massively expensive it was built to ensure a tidal surge would not flood the Capital. The idea being the barrier could be closed and the water could flood Essex and Kent instead. A good few years ago we all got into our heads that London was going to flood at any moment as the tide rose.

The real news though is London's water table is rising as water is no longer extracted as it once was for industry. In fact the water table is rising at an alarming rate, certain underground stations having trouble pumping the stuff out. So perhaps the barrier will double as a dam at some stage and become useful after all.

Shifting over to the other side of the globe card 23 has got the Sydney Opera house. This obviously is a Modern Wonder because enough people point at it and say it is. It never really captured my imagination I must admit. One thing I did not know though was it was being built before the design was finalised as the original roof design proved to radical to construct and had to be altered sharpish.

Someone told me it looks like a pair of shoes from some angle. Costing over 100 million Australian dollars it is the sort of building you are glad exists but that some other tax payers were footing the bill, unlike our Millennium Dome, the sort of building you are not sure needs to be built anywhere in the first place.

There might be examples of other buildings being constructed with no clear idea of what purpose they were going to have, quite what was going to go into them and despite huge expense no real idea what they were going to do with them once whatever temporary use they were put to ended. It's the sort of building only tax payers money can build, as long as they are not asked too much that is.

Many of the cards within the set centre around the 'old' concept of wonder, fastest, tallest, biggest, heaviest. It is towards the end of the set you begin to get a glimpse at the modern wonders of the future is you like.

Card 26, Robot Hand, a pretty clumsy looking thing holding a wine glass although how it picked it up and how it is going to put it down is something of a mystery. The card does have the decency to suggest the household robot is still in the future. Realistic but somehow depressing the idea has been almost given up on after forty odd years of it being just around the corner.

Everything is about reduction now and card 28 the scanning electron microscope has opened up a world to us that only existed in theory at the start of the century. At the time it could magnify things up to six million times (which is just the sort of magnification my bank balance could do with.)

The microchips might have been pretty impressive but card 30 shows just how far things have progressed. It deals with computer graphics. I leave you with 'an outstanding example of computer graphics produced by a sophisticated modern imaging system.' Perhaps 1985 was a long time ago afterall.