Industrial Pencil Sharpeners

In the olden days pencil sharpeners where heavy machines made from metal not plastic.

The A. W. Faber № 52/20 is a beautiful machine utilising a hand-cranked planetary sharpener.

A. W. Faber № 52/20 from above

A. W. Faber № 52/20 from the side

The Guhl & Harbeck Jupiter 2 is a heavy machine with a cast iron base for added weight and holes to screw it to a table. It uses reversible rotary cutter-disks for sharpening pencils.

Jupiter 2 Guhl & Harbeck

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The civilization of physical respect for housewives

Recently I had the pleasure to read a book by the seven-time Italian prime minister Senator Giulio Andreotti and would like to share the following quote, representative of the insightful observations and the distinguished prose of its author:

“Our concierge, Laurina Volpi, was a good-natured woman from the Marche region who hadn’t been subject to the rigors of compulsory education as a child and every so often she would come upstairs to have my mother read her the letters she received from relatives who had emigrated to Pennsylvania. […] Both reader and listener became ecstatic, involving me as well in their feelings of admiration, when they learned, for example that the laundry over there was washed in machines which eliminated those cracks inflicted upon the hands of my mother and of the kind doorkeeper by the European way of doing the “wash”. Fifty years later when I heard people criticize consumerism and household appliances in general I was careful to remain aloof precisely on account of my childhood memories. America for me was the civilization of physical respect for housewives.”

Giulio Andreotti, The USA Up Close: From the Atlantic Pact to Bush, New York University Press 1993, p. 1.

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New Headquarters of the European Central Bank (2)

Nine months after my first post it is time to revisit the building site. During the last months the new building has grown considerably. These pictures were taken during the last couple of days before and after work.

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Had Leyland only got it together…

Old adverts have the tendency to become satire and this is no exception. It is, however, easy to ridicule the Leyland Princess (as the 18-22 Series was re-named shortly after its launch). The car probably never had it all together, but it was certainly different. It featured an in-line six-cylinder engine transversely mounted in the front driving the front wheels. This unusual layout was made possible by the fact that the transmission of the E-Series engine is placed in the sump underneath rather than on the end of the engine block, making it more compact than normal configurations. The Hydragas suspension system invented by Dr. Alex Moulton gave it a comfy ride and was in its day only rivaled by Citroën’s exquisite Hydropneumatic. Its Tardis-like interior was bigger on the inside than you would guess. And not least Dirk Gently drives one in his recent TV-incarnation, giving the Princess the credit as a classic she deserves. Had Leyland only got it together… it would have been a superb rival for its continental competitors.

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More Technical Items

This truly remarkable edition of Austin-Rover’s Service News program features a service fix for Maestro and Montego door seals and what to do in cases of light throttle surge on multi-point injected cars. The introduction by the show’s host is a fine example of thorough market research and attention to customer demand that went into the company’s products:

“The service news team recently visited the dealer network to ask your opinion on video in general and in particular what you wanted to see in future service news programs. The overwhelming answer was: ‘More technical items’. So here we are a program packed with up-to-date hints and tips.”

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The Dead Hand

David E. Hoffman’s “The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy” is a chilling account of the last years of the Cold War. The book takes its title from a Soviet doomsday device of the same name (the official designation was Система «Периметр», Systema “Perimetr”). The system should have retaliated automatically with what was left of the Soviet arsenal of nuclear missiles, even if a first strike had wiped out the Politburo and regular command structure was knocked out. The existence of “Perimetr” was (and is still) officially a secret. Which is ironic as the “whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret”, as Dr Strangelove put it.

Hoffman also gives an account of what he calls the “dark underside of the arms race”: the secret decision by the Soviet government to turn biological germs and toxins into weapons, despite signing a treaty banning these weapons at the same time. The book reveals some details and lesser known facts now available after documents have come to light and personnel working on these projects started to give information.

Insightful are also accounts of encounters on the political stage (like the 1985 Geneva Summit) and military blunders (like the shooting down of Korean Airlines Flight 007). The reader gets the impression of how decisions that could have wiped out millions of people depended on beliefs, suspicions and gut feelings about the other side or superiors rather than reasoning. It is revealed that often enough even the facts that would support such reasoning were wrong or missing entirely.

Having lived in this period as a child and teenager Hofmann’s book brings back memories — mostly from TV. News items and films like War Games, The Day After and Z For Zachariah come to mind. It reminds me of a time when these stories were the ordinary background of an upbringing (not only mine). Recalling from today I feel a strange longing. There is regret of having missed the (what seemed then) very real chance of fulfilling every boys dream of never having to grow up. The eerie sense one gets when walking on the edge of an abyss and the cynical cold one has after having done so for a long time.

David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, 2009, ISBN 978-0385524377

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New Headquarters of the European Central Bank

European Central Bank, 12.10.2011


Construction work at the new headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) is currently making good progress. It is located on the grounds of the former central wholesale market (Großmarkt) of Frankfurt. Part of the historical building known as the Großmarkthalle will be preserved and included in the new complex.

European Central Bank, 14.10.2011


Work on the building site had begun as early as Spring 2008 but was stopped after no general contractor could be found. After this the tendering procedure was redrafted allowing bidders to make offers for individual lots rather than the whole project. Also different market conditions brought about by the global financial crisis may have helped the ECB to get companies aboard which previously were not interested. Projects in the Middle East and further abroad that offered better profitability were by then charged with higher risks or business opportunities had evaporated entirely.

European Central Bank, 25.10.2011


In February 2010 construction work was resumed and the former Großmarkthalle was partially torn down to make room for the new structure that is to cut through the original landmark building, but will preserve some of the historical structure. Some of the torn down parts had already suffered damages in the Second World War and were rebuilt thereafter.

European Central Bank, 27.10.2011


The photos on this page we conveniently taken by me on trips to work on the nearby Hanauer Landstraße.

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Getting Symfony2 to run under PLESK

I had a bit of trouble getting Symfony 2 setup properly under PLESK (10.2.0).

I first created a subdomain using the “web” directory of Symfony 2 as document root for the vhost.

However, I seemed to could not get rid of the errors calling config.php telling me, that app/cache and app/logs were not writeable by the server. After searching the web top to bottom and having a look at the output of php_info() I identified the culprit. PLESK sets open_basedir (the topmost directory that is accessible by your web server) to the document root:

open_basedir var/www/vhosts/<YOURDOMAIN>/ <SUBDOMAINHTTPDOCS>/Symfony/web/:/tmp/

To remedy this place a file called “vhost.conf” under /var/www/vhost/<YOURDOMAIN>/subdomains/ <SUBDOMAIN>/conf containing directives overriding PLESK’s settings, e.g.:

<Directory /var/www/vhosts/YOURDOMAIN/DOCUMENTROOT/Symfony/web>

<IfModule mod_php4.c>
php_admin_flag engine on
php_admin_flag safe_mode off
php_admin_value open_basedir /var/www/vhosts/YOURDOMAIN/SUBDOMAINHTTPDOCS/:/tmp/:

<IfModule mod_php5.c>
php_admin_flag engine on
php_admin_flag safe_mode off
php_admin_value open_basedir /var/www/vhosts/YOURDOMAIN/SUBDOMAINHTTPDOCS/:/tmp/:


Now to get the settings into the system run as root:

/usr/local/psa/admin/bin/httpdmng --reconfigure-all

Then restart Apache:

apache2ctl restart

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Which OS are you?

I first took this a long time ago…

You are Palm OS. Punctual, straightforward and very useful.  Your mother wants you to do more with your life like your cousin Wince, but you're happy with who you are.

Which OS are You?

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Happy New Year 2009!



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