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“You only need two tools in life — WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn’t move and should, use the WD-40. If it shouldn’t move and does, use the duct tape.”*…

The fascinating history of WD-40, a chemical substance with an unusual origin story and a rust-fighting ability that has become a standby of households and workbenches the world over…

In the early years of the 1950s, the Rocket Chemical Company was on a mission. They wanted to make a line of solvents and degreasers that would prevent rust in the aerospace industry.

The first fifty years of the aerospace industry were marked by innovation and change. From the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903 to their 1908 military contract, it picked up interest in a big way. Aircraft played a role in the First World War and prompted an era of evolution and development for the industry. According to The Encyclopedic History of the Aerospace Industry, seven firms built more than 22,500 of the 400-horsepower Liberty engines that eventually laid the foundation of what became an incredibly efficient industry. They were also led by only two companies: Wright Aeronautical Company and Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor…

Most types of metal—including the ones used in the construction of those early aircraft—have a tendency to rust over time (although there are a few that don’t). Painting, maintenance, cleaning, and hangar storage help attenuate rust issues, but they are sometimes difficult to prevent entirely. Exposing the metal to the oxygen in the air around us causes paint to wear off and rust to build up (the process is known as “uniform surface attack”). Other parts of the plane—like the landing gear and engine—can also develop corrosion over time. Then there’s the issue of moisture building up in crevices and eventually causing rust. A rusty plane is not a good thing. Even so, rust-prevention wasn’t a high priority early on for some sectors of the industry. All that changed as the industry evolved.

[In 1953] the Rocket Chemical Company stood on the precipice of that change with their attempt to solve the problem once and for all… After forty attempts to create the formula, they famously came up with the right one on their 40th attempt. The name WD-40 stands for water displacement, formula 40. It’s first application came as a coating for the Atlas missiles made by Convair in the 1950s.

As their product began gaining traction, it exploded in popularity. Everyone loved it. And much like stealing office supplies, employees of the original WD-40 manufacturing plant inevitably snuck some of the stuff out for home use. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that five years after its invention, the miracle substance appeared on the open market in 1958…

The origins– and impact– of America’s most versatile household product: “The Can That Always Can,” from David Buck (@saltyasparagus1) in @readtedium.

* Anonymous

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As we spray it on, we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that Gulf Refining Company opened the first “drive-in filling station” in Pittsburgh. It was the first architect-designed station and the first to distribute free road maps; it also offered tube and tire installation, free water and air, and crankcase services.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 1, 2021 at 1:00 am

“All familiar things can open into strange worlds”*…

Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958; Whitney Museum of Art

A thoughtful consideration of a modern master…

In​  the summer of 1953, after a stint in the army, Jasper Johns, aged 23, moved back to New York City. There, a few months later, he met Robert Rauschenberg. Their artistic and romantic partnership would last until 1961; the company they kept included John Cage and Merce Cunningham. In this heady atmosphere, Johns chose, in autumn 1954, to destroy all his prior work, and to begin the paintings that made his name when they were shown four years later: flags, targets and numbers crafted in encaustic (pigment mixed in hot wax) with collage (often mere newspaper) on canvas…

Johns made an exceptional entrance in early 1958: his first show at the new Leo Castelli Gallery nearly sold out, with three paintings immediately purchased by MoMA, and one piece appearing on the cover of ARTnews. Then 27, he had sized up the New York art world precisely, dominated as it then was by the formalist model of ‘modernist painting’ used by Clement Greenberg to champion Abstract Expressionism, and deftly deflected its discourse towards what Leo Steinberg would term ‘other criteria’.

In a studied phrase Johns spoke of his position as one of ‘shunning statement’. This suggests an aversion to polemics, political as well as artistic, that goes beyond temperament, a fatigue with the heated ideologies of the period (the Korean conflict, the McCarthy hearings, the Cold War). And Johns did muffle his subjects along with his gestures; his large White Flag (1955) is literally whited out. Might this intimate a ‘painting degree zero’ in line with the ‘writing degree zero’ posed by Roland Barthes against Sartrean commitment at around this time? ‘I can’t imagine my work being used to accomplish anything socially,’ Johns said. This is less negation than neutrality à la Barthes, for whom ‘the neutral’ was a way to baffle conceptual binaries, to undo ideological oppositions, to mess with ‘the paradigm’…

On the occasion of the Whitney’s (@whitneymuseum) show (through February 13) “Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror,” Hal Foster‘s “Which red is the real red?,” from @LRB.

* Jasper Johns

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As we look closely, we might spare a thought for Francis Picabia (Francis-Marie Martinez de Picabia); he died on this date in 1953.  A French avant-garde painter, poet and typographist, Picabia experimented with Impressionism and Pointillism before becoming a Cubist. He then became one of the early major figures of the Dada movement in the United States and in France, and was later briefly associated with Surrealism.

See his work at the record of a major retrospective hung at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2017 on their web site.

Francis Picabia, 1919, inside Danse de Saint-Guy

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“The threat of a pandemic is different from that of a nerve agent, in that a disease can spread uncontrollably, long after the first carrier has succumbed”*…

We were, of course, warned. As we do our best to digest the news of emergent new strains of the COVID-19 virus, a look back at Annie Sparrow‘s 2016 New York Review of Books essay on pandemics…

Pandemics—the uncontrolled spread of highly contagious diseases across countries and continents—are a modern phenomenon. The word itself, a neologism from Greek words for “all” and “people,” has been used only since the mid-nineteenth century. Epidemics—localized outbreaks of diseases—have always been part of human history, but pandemics require a minimum density of population and an effective means of transport. Since “Spanish” flu burst from the trenches of World War I in 1918, infecting 20 percent of the world’s population and killing upward of 50 million people, fears of a similar pandemic have preoccupied public health practitioners, politicians, and philanthropists. World War II, in which the German army deliberately caused malaria epidemics and the Japanese experimented with anthrax and plague as biological weapons, created new fears…

According to the doctor, writer, and philanthropist Larry Brilliant, “outbreaks are inevitable, pandemics are optional.”

Much of human history can be seen as a struggle for survival between humans and microbes. Pandemics are microbe offensives; public health measures are human defenses. Water purification, sanitation, and vaccination are crucial to our living longer, better, even taller lives. But these measures of mass salvation are not sexy. While we know prevention is better and considerably cheaper than cure, there is little financial reward or glory in it. Philanthropists prefer to build hospitals rather than pay community health workers. Pharmaceutical companies prefer the Western market to the distant and poor Global South where people cannot afford to buy treatments. Education is a powerful social vaccine against the ignorance that enables pathogens to flourish, but insufficient to overcome the corruption of public goods by private interests. The current enthusiasm for detecting the next panic-inducing pathogen should not divert resources and research from the perennial threats that we already have. We must resist the tendency of familiarity and past failures to encourage contempt and indifference…

An important (and in its time, sadly, prescient) read: “The Awful Diseases on the Way,” from @annie_sparrow in @nybooks.

See also “6 of the Worst Pandemics in History” (source of the image above) and “A history of pandemics.”

[TotH to MK]

Hannah Fry

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As we prioritize preparation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1935 that physicist Erwin Schrödinger published his famous thought experiment– now known as “Schrödinger’s cat“– a paradox that illustrates the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

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“The older I get the more things I gotta leave behind, that’s life.”*…

It’s that time of year…

Worried about your carefully chosen holiday presents languishing on a container ship somewhere? We invite you to consider these select Supply Chain–resistant items, up for bid from the world of Sylvester Stallone!

The exclusive auction event presenting the extraordinary collection of the international superstar and the Golden Globe Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated actor, screenwriter, fitness icon, author, artist and director’s most cherished treasures from his singular life and career, [is] taking place on Sunday, December 5th at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills and live online at juliensauctions.com.

Give a piece of Rocky (or Rambo or Cobra or…): “Slice Through the Clutter of the Holiday Giving Season With a Little Something From the Personal Collection of Sylvester Stallone,” from @JOEMACLEOD666, @tomscocca, and the good folks at @Read_Indignity. Do browse: lots of knives…

* Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa

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As we stock up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that Edwin Land’s Polaroid Land Camera Model 95– the first “instant” camera, producing finished prints in about a minute– went on sale for the first time.  It was priced at a then-lofty $95 (to wit, the model number).

Polaroid originally manufactured sixty units of the camera. Fifty-seven were offered at Boston’s Jordan Marsh department store for the Christmas holiday.  Polaroid’s marketing department reckoned that the camera and film would remain in stock long enough to manufacture a second run based on customer demand.  In the event, all fifty-seven cameras and all of the film were sold on the first day.  Over 1.5 million units were sold over the next few years, before the company introduced new models.

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“The wind has its reasons”*…

For Theo Jansen, it’s all about the wind…

Many of us hit the beach to enjoy some sunshine or catch a wave. But for Dutch artist Theo Jansen it’s all about the wind. Jansen’s been working with this limitless natural resource for 30 years to create a fabulous array of giant beach creatures—brought to life by the wind. With every gust, his wondrous seaside sculptures become more lifelike, ambling along the coast like creatures in their own right…

Jansen started designing them in the 1990s after reading about rising sea levels threatening the low-lying Netherlands—a country famous for the fact that one third of it is below sea level. He had a dream of creating a herd of wind-powered coastal sentinels, perpetually piling sand high onto the dunes to keep the water at bay.

What he ended up building took a different turn, with Jansen developing the idea to explore evolution as the primary creative force behind all life on Earth, capturing people’s imaginations in the process…

An artist’s moving tribute to nature’s powerful resource: “Fantastic Beasts Brought to Life by the Wind,” @HoeveMarie in @NautilusMag on @StrandBeests.

* Haruki Murakami

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As we feel the breeze, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 that Richard StraussAlso sprach Zarathustra (Opus 30) was first performed (in Frankfurt).

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