Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


YESTERDAY, JAMES VINCENT began a review of Dylan Mulvin’s Proxies: The Cultural Work of Standing In. Today in Part 2 we continue with a familiar proxy, the International Prototype Kilogram, and two others less so: Yodaville, Arizona, and the GMax Teapot.

The Standard Kilogram. Vincent writes that the International Prototype Kilogram was “used between 1889 and 2019 to define a standard for the basic unit of weight. The actual IPK is a palm-sized cylinder of platinum-iridium alloy stored in triple-layer bell jars in an underground vault outside Paris. In order to verify this object’s mass and create copies to be used as reference measures around the world, the IPK had to be washed, cleaned and weighed, before being compared to six sibling kilograms. The process, as Mulvin recounts it, is beautifully ritualistic.”

Image of the IPK from Wikipedia.

Ritualistic, it turns out, is a scientific understatement: “The cleaner,” Vincent relates, “must soak a piece of chamois leather in a mixture of ether and ethanol for 48 hours to ensure full absorption, then rub down the IPK before washing it with steam and removing excess water with filter paper. This entire process is repeated several times.”

Vincent continues, “To ensure that no impurities are left on the kilogram’s body (or at least that the same impurities are left each time), every aspect of this sacrament is minutely quantified, from the amount of pressure to be applied with the chamois (10 kPa) to the wattage of the equipment used to generate the steam (350 W) and the distance of the steam nozzle from the kilogram’s body (5 mm).” 

“But as a physical artifact,” Vincent says, “it was unavoidably fallible. All matter must leak and decay, absorb and emit, and the IPK proved no different.”

Goodbye, IPK.  “Towards the end of the 20th century,” Vincent says, “a series of weigh-ins revealed that the IPK was losing mass compared to its six siblings. Not by much—just fifty micrograms, or a millionth of a gram—but enough to raise questions about its metrological sovereignty. So in 2019 it was officially replaced, like the other units of the metric system before it, with a definition derived from fundamental physical constants, sacred numbers of reality such as the speed of light.”

Hello, Yodaville. Vincent writes, “Mulvin—always ready with the right metaphor—describes proxies as ‘canned decisions,’ explaining that their history is full of ‘moments of incarnation,’ where their usefulness for ‘conducting some limited, domain-specific task … leaks out into the wild.’ In his introduction, he gives the example of Yodaville, an artificial city constructed by the US Marine Corps out of shipping containers, used to practise aerial bombing and urban warfare in the Arizona desert.”

Image from Wikipedia.

“The idea,” Vincent relates, “was to shift institutional thinking away from memories of the European towns and villages enshrined in existing training protocols and towards air attacks over new urban environments. As one journalist describes Yodaville, ‘just name a city in one of the world’s trouble spots, and Yodaville can be it.’ “

Above, Yodaville, Arizona, from Google Maps; below, a closer view. I was unable to do a personal view with the little fellow at lower right.

The GMax Teapot. GMax includes a Teapot as one of its Primitive Objects, along with Box, Sphere, Cylinder, Torus, Plane, Cone, Geosphere, and Tube.

The GMax Teapot.

Why a teapot? 

Just as JPEG researches seek images for assessing veracity of digital compression (and chose Playboy centerfold Lena), those involved with computer-aided design and manufacturing include a traditional teapot as a basic shape to be evaluated. “Let’s see your teapot,” they challenge each other. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: