On the Radar: When Everyone Had Stoves, But Not Ovens

In Le Val-d’Ajol, Vosges, France, 1934.

Called a four banal (common oven, sometimes called four à pain), the history of this oven’s practice spanned from medieval times until as recently as World War II. French seigneurs provided their serfs with a communal oven, run by a fournier, to meet their baking needs. Every house could build a fire over which they could cook “stove-top,” but this did not allow them to bake the important staple in every Frenchman’s diet–bread. After feudalism came to an end, this practice continued, as the many rural areas of the country did not have the access or necessarily the funds to frequent large boulangeries.

Delivery of bread via bread bags on the door or hung outside the window helped bring this practice to an end, as did an increase in population, public transportation, and further access roads (often as a result of war to help troop movements). Many fours banals still exist, sometimes used during communal celebrations. These ovens also helped reduced the risk of fires in a village by containing one very large portion of cooking to one place removed from the many thatched-roof houses in a town.


Source: Image by Jacques Boyer.

On the Radar: The Optical Phenomenon Behind “The Flying Dutchman”


In a way, the “Flying Dutchman” is real–in the sense that a specific interaction between light and atmospheric conditions causes the human eye to perceive something that’s not actually there. It’s nothing more, nothing less than a “superior mirage,” which occurs when air near the Earth’s surface is colder than the air above it (called temperature inversion–air near Earth’s surface is generally warmer than air above it). This weather condition can cause the formation of an “atmospheric duct,” which refracts light waves, making a ship appear to “fly” over the horizon line. It does not magnify the object, however, as this 19th century engraving erroneously depicts.

This combination of inversion and ducting is also responsible for the “green flash” phenomenon at sunset or sunrise, the mirage of seeing distorted or multiples of astronomical objects like the sun or moon, and the Novaya Zemla effect where the sun appears to rise earlier than it should in polar regions due to differing temperatures across atmospheric strata and the curvature of the Earth. It can also enable individuals to pick up radio signals otherwise too far to reach.


Image source: Stockton, Frank R. Round-About Rambles In Lands of Fact and Fancy. New York. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1872. 1910 ed. Retrieved via Project Gutenberg.

On the Radar: A Story of Two Watches

Image from Wikipedia. Copyright Yevgeny Khaldei.

When the Red Army liberated Berlin, the stage was set for some great Soviet propaganda. So the USSR captured the moment with this photo of a soldier raising the flag atop the Reichstag, looking out over the battered city. The only problem was the man holding him up, who sports two watches–a tell-tale sign of looting (something not unique to Soviet forces, but for which they were well-known in World War II). Before releasing the image, the Soviet government “photoshopped” these watches out of the photograph, and added a little more smoke for dramatic effect.

Sources: Der Spiegel, The Atlantic

On the Radar: Kurokawa’s Takara Beautilion Pavilion at Japan’s EXPO ’70


Famous architect Kisho Kurokawa designed this groovy building for a world’s fair in Osaka called EXPO ’70–the first to be held in Japan. Kurokawa took a great interest in philosophy and idealized, himself, that every culture has two traditions: the visible and the invisible. He focused the majority of his work on Japan’s “invisible” traditions, including the impermanence of structures in the country due to destruction by weather and war. Designing a building for a world’s fair is the height of impermanence since most of those built for these events did not last. The modular design of this particular work speaks to the idea of impermanence since modular structures are meant to recall ideas of an endlessly possible cycle of deconstruction and rebuilding.


Sources: Image from Anton Rauben Weiss, Wikipedia — Kisho Kurokawa

On the Radar: Gerhard Richter’s Emotional Photo-Painting of His Aunt

Tante Marianne, 1965, Copyright Gerhard Richter.

For those familiar with Gerhard Richter, he is often associated with his abstract, colorful “squeegee” works. A large portion of his artistic production, however, consists of photo paintings that include his trademark “blur.” In this particular painting–one of his early works–Richter copied a photo of his Aunt Marianne holding Richter as an infant. His Aunt developed Schizophrenia, spent 21 years in a sanatorium, and was euthanized in 1945 as part of Nazi Germany’s “Aktion T4” program, meant to “cleanse” society of mentally “unfit” individuals. Of the painting, Richter said:

“Idiots can do what I do. When I first started to do this [projecting photos on the canvas and painting them after having them traced in details with a piece of charcoal] in the 60’s, people laughed. I clearly showed that I painted from photographs. It seemed so juvenile. The provocation was purely formal – that I was making paintings like photographs. Nobody asked about what was in the pictures. Nobody asked who my Aunt Marianne was. That didn’t seem to be the point.”

-From Wikipedia

This idea that anyone could do what he did taken in the context of this work reminds one of the idea that “ordinary men” did this to his aunt; average people could have done this, and they did.

Sources: Wikipedia (DE) — Marianne Schönfelder, B.Z. Berlin

On the Radar: NASA’s Infamous “Gimbal Rig”


This image shows NASA’s Gimbal Rig in motion. NASA used this device to test Mercury astronauts’ ability to recover from disorientation that resulted from up to 30 RPM in simultaneous roll, pitch, and yaw. The astronauts had to reset their mock instruments after–and sometimes during–the exercise to prove they could control the craft in tumble conditions greater than they would ever actually experience during flight. According to John Glenn, the Mercury astronauts hated the Gimbal Rig with a passion. Today, astronaut candidates have to go through a centrifuge–but nothing quite like this.


Sources: Image from NASA, NASA article on the Gimbal Rig

Watch a video of the Rig–you may not think it looks disorienting, but remember it’s moving across three planes of motion!

On the Radar: The Massive Soviet Lun-Class “Ekranoplan”


This “Ekranoplan” looks like part-plane, part-ship. In reality, it’s what one would call a “ground effect vehicle,” which uses the ground effect concept to “fly” seriously low over ground or, more commonly, water. Though Russia retired this particular vehicle, the country has plans to develop similar military crafts very soon, armed with cruise missiles.

Watch a video of the Lun Ekranoplan soaring over the seas here.

Image source here.

On the Radar: The First Animation Showing a Horse “Hovers” During Its Run


As recently as the late-1800s, people had no idea how horses ran. To the general public’s astonishment, Eadweard Muybridge revealed that at a point during a single “revolution,” all of a horse’s four legs hover over the ground. This was demonstrated through stop-motion photography, which has been animated here. Muybridge made an animated projection of the idea afterwards, possibly influencing Edison’s invention of the precursor to the motion picture camera.

Source: Wikipedia – Eadweard Muybridge, Wikipedia – Sallie Gardner at a Gallop, UT Austin’s Harry Ransom Center Permanent Collection


On the Radar: Barbecue Back in the Day, North Carolina


Modern methods for making pulled pork did not always exist, of course. Back before large pig roasters and custom-made grills, North Carolinians made do with pots, trenches, some sticks, and some sort of utensil to baste on that glorious BBQ sauce.


Source: State Archives of North Carolina Flickr

Be sure to check out the entire album on NC barbecue on the State Archives Flickr.

On the Radar: The “Acoustic Mirrors” of Denge–a Pre-Radar Warning System


Located along British coastlines, parabolic concrete structures such as these once served as interwar, pre-radar warning systems. They focused and concentrated sounds from the Channel, with the goal of detecting the approach of enemy planes. Image: Wikipedia.

Read more here: Acoustic Mirror – Wikipedia, and the succeeding radar system: Chain Home – Wikipedia

On the Radar: Louis Armstrong serenading his wife on the Giza Plateau, 1961


Want to know more about this iconic photo? Read up on how jazz greats spread American culture to countries across the world as part of a United States’ Cold War ambassadorial mission at:


Vintage Everyday

Or, read a book about it: Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War by Penny M. Von Eschen