The Technology of our Ancestors

Another recumbent rider who also blogs on WordPress recently wrote about the pros and cons of using ancient technology in preference to modern.  He makes a good point, and he was careful to moderate it with the phrase “a rule of thumb.”  He wrote, “I have developed a rule of thumb when evaluating if a health claim is true or not; If early humans did it, then it is good, otherwise it is bad.”

I didn’t want to instigate a long, drawn-out argument on his blog about this – mostly because I have no real argument – but I believe the subject does beg discussion, and this blog has been cooking in my mind for a couple of days now.

I have some of the same philosophies about life, though the rules are more complex.  I make every effort to buy local organic produce, for instance, and there are lots of farms here about, but coffee doesn’t grow in northern California, so there’s an exception right there.  And we aren’t giving up our computers.

Some of you know that I’m active in the Society for Creative Anachronisms, and that I have long studied the arts of the sword and the bow.  However, if a crazed rapist were to break into the house, you know I’d reach for the Smith & Wesson.  Even the most enthusiastic SCA-er will remind you that it’s “The middle ages as they should have been.”  Like, no Plague, we wear eye-glasses, and if you try to take away women’s suffrage, we’ll kill you with your own sword.

And, of course, there are some of us who simply wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for 21st Century medicine.

So, can we agree that some modern solutions are better than bronze age ones?

Let’s take a closer look at some ancestral solutions, though.   The first question we have to ask is, “Which ancestors?”  The ones from pre-electric 19th century, or shall we go back as far as Australopithecus?  I’m not running around naked on the African savannah for anybody.  The original blog was about shoes, and the earliest known shoes are from bronze-age Mesopotamia.  That’s still a long ways to go back.

Difficult to pick, huh?

There is a popular television show on NBC called Revolution, and the major premise is that the entire world has been plunged into a permanent black out because all of the electricity has been turned off.  Remember that scene from The Day the Earth Stood Still? (The superb 1951 version, not the bastardized 2008 one.)  Well, it’s not 1951 anymore, and the consequences are even more dire.  Suddenly, we’re back to 19th Century agrarian communities.

Revolution is escapist post-apocalypse fantasy, though certainly not as much so as the book Dies the Fire (one of my absolute fave books, by the way!) Have you ever worked a farm using 19th Century technology?  I have.  It’s fun for about a week.  After that it’s just hard work, and lots of it.  And quite frankly, I don’t believe the current world’s population could be fed that way.

So, where do I stand on this issue?  Well, like almost everything else, it depends on the details.

More musings on this at another time.


There’s got to be a music joke in here somewhere.

Today’s post comes in the form of a question.

Back in the day when garage bands were all the rage, there was this rock and roll group called Theseus’ Ship. However, due to artistic disagreements, the members of the band were fired and replaced frequently until the number of ex-band members outnumbered the current band members and, indeed, none of the original band members were in the current band.  So the ex-band members formed their own group, also calling it Theseus’ Ship, they toured at the same time, and both groups claimed to be the original, legitimate band.

Who was right?

What are You Doing? Twitter is Really Stupid

BJMendelson Just got in to Santa Montica, have to do some paperwork and then if I’m feeling brave, walk over and get some photos of the ocean

This tweet came to me over the cell phone today.  I have no idea who BJMendelson is and never requested to follow his Twitter.  I set my the Twitter account so that I have to specifically request to follow people, but the cell phone’s text message In Box fills up every night with tweets from people I never knew existed.  Except for Wil Wheaton – I know who he is.

I have never held the concept of Twitter in any esteem.  There is not a single person on this planet that I want to know moment to moment details of.  My kids are all adults now, and some things they do are frankly none of my business.

And Dearest Heart, if you are reading this, do not take umbrage.  You know that the feeling is reciprocal.  If you knew what I was doing 24/7, you’d start to wonder why you ever married such a boring person.

I changed my mind about getting a Twitter account when a few of us at Fearless Fitness had the idea of creating an extended support group for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  The idea was that we would all get Twitter accounts, and we would follow each other.  That way, if one of us had an idea for a healthy recipe, or if we needed help staying away from the mid-afternoon munches, we could send a text message, and our compatriots would all get it.

I thought, Okay, this is a good use of Twitter. But I didn’t want the entire world to know when I was struggling with my diet, so I set it up so that only people that I approve could follow me.

So much for good ideas.   I didn’t have that account for five minutes before I had 21 people following me.  TWENTY-ONE!  I had approved NONE of them.  And shortly after that, I found that I was following 18 unknown people and one Wil Wheaton.  I blocked them all, I unfollowed them all.  To no avail.  They were back the very next day.

Some are obviously commercial accounts, and some are selling the World’s Oldest Profession.  Some are news outlets.

So, either A: Some people have been able to hack into the system at Twitter and force their tweets upon innocent people, and thus artificially inflating their following, or B: Some people pay for premium accounts that can’t be blocked.

I should mention that I disliked with a passion Wil Wheaton’s character Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  But I was always able to keep Wil and Wesley, the actor and the character, separate in my mind, and assumed that the actor was a nice enough guy who did the best he could with a character that the creative staff of Star Trek really messed up.

But if Mr. Wheaton has used either A or B mentioned above, then he’s worse than the character.

And users cannot even complain to Twitter about this.  The best you can do is post to a User Forum and hope that somebody else has found the solution.

So I cancelled the Twitter account, and my estimation of them has plummeted even further.

Esperanto, the secret language

I feel compelled to point out that the only substantive objection I have to teaching Esperanto in public schools is that it will no longer be our secret language.

My beloved and I live in a part of the world where there are more spoken languages than there are craters on the moon.  (This is only a slight exaggeration.)  We are also inundated with tourists all year round.    When we go out, we speak Esperanto as our “secret language.”   Why?  Well, of course, so that we can talk about other people without them knowing about it.  

So if you see my beloved and me sitting on a park bench, speaking a language you don’t understand while furtively pointing at people and giggling, you can rest assured that we really are talking about you.

However, if Esperanto is taught in public schools, we’ll have to find some other amusement.

Shakespeare and Esperanto

I dreamed last night that I was teaching Shakespeare.  I should note right off the bat that I have no qualifications what so ever to teach English literature, and the person who hired me in this dream universe must have been very desperate to find somebody for this post, though I felt that trying to explain this to my students would do nothing to endear their hearts to the man’s verse.  I remember thinking that the most difficult part of the job was making the material interesting to low-end students without making it boring to high-end students.  How do I do this job without damaging The Bard’s reputation through my incompetence?  It’s probably best that I didn’t go into teaching as a career.

Okay, how does this relate to Esperanto?  A week or so ago, every American esperantist with an email address received the following email:
I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s a movement of citizens inspired by the presidential campaign who are now submitting ideas for how they think the Obama Administration should change America.  It’s called “Ideas for Change in America.”
One idea is titled: Introduce Esperanto as a foreign language subject in schools. I thought you might be interested in getting involved and I recommend you check it out. 
You can read more and vote for the idea by clicking the following link: 
The top 10 ideas are going to be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day and will be supported by a national lobbying campaign run by, MySpace, and more than a dozen leading nonprofits after the Inauguration.  So each idea has a real chance at becoming policy.

The primary argument for introducing Esperanto into public schools sites several studies which demonstrated that children who were taught Esperanto first went on to learn other foreign languages much more quickly.  The structure of Esperanto obviates the structure of languages in general (at least Western ones) and students can use this as a basis for other languages.  I can personally attest that I learned much more about English from learning Esperanto by way of generalization than I ever did in high school English classes.  

I have mixed feelings about this.  First off, public school curricula is controlled at the state level, not the federal, though certainly the Feds can influence and make suggestions.  But let’s say that the idea found sympathetic ears and the decision was made to teach Esperanto to grade school children across America.

Where are they going to find the qualified teachers?  Will the teachers be learning along with the children?  Esperanto may be the easiest language in the world to learn, but it’s still a language, and is best learned by interaction with experienced speakers.  This may or may not be a big factor, as most esperantists that I know personally taught themselves the language, usually with the help of experienced speakers through snailmail, email, telephone, group meetings and such.  

The second concern I have is: What will happen to Esperanto when it’s subject to disparate school board oversight?  I shudder at this thought.  How long will it be before some well meaning but short sighted bureaucrat thinks, “Hey!  I’ll bed I can improve on this Esperanto thing.  First off, let’s get rid of this annoying accusative case …”


Cooking Popcorn with your Cell Phone

A friend forwarded to me an email with the following link:


My first impression was that this was a pretty kewl trick, and it would be great to be able to do this at parties.  But my second impression was that it seemed rather improbable, and a back-of-the-envelope calculation showed that the energy requirement for popping corn would drain a cell phone’s battery very quickly.

I determined that I would try to reproduce the experiment, and first did some research on the subject.  It didn’t take long to find this:


(Scroll to the bottom to find the part about popcorn.)

It didn’t look good for the popcorn experiment, but I was determined to try to reproduce the results regardless.   I set up four cell phones just like the video shows, called the phones and sat back to await results.

To no avail.

The corn stubbornly refused to pop.  It didn’t even get warm.   So much for my kewl party demonstration.

The most impressive part of this video email, though, is how readily people are willing to believe it just because it reinforces a pre-conceived idea.  The email I received contained these words:

This is enlightening!!!!  This is probably what it does to our brain power – like putting your head in a microwave.  Check this out! And we’re supposed to believe that cell phones are safe?

I am not qualified to determine whether cell phones are safe from radiation.  However, if they aren’t safe, then spreading a story that is so easily demonstrated to be a hoax will not help the situation.  All this email accomplished was to cause me to doubt the objectivity of the sender, coloring all future email correspondence from her concerning issues of public interest in a suspecious light.

Anno Societatis D (Year of the Society 500)

We attended the Dickens’ Faire yesterday and had a great time!  They took a large warehouse and decorated the inside to resemble Christmas time Victorian era London, and a large number of actors and reenactors played characters out of the numerous works of Charles Dickens, and other 19th Century English authors.  For instance, we also met Mr. Phileas Fogg.  

To answer your first question, yes — there was no sign of tuberculosis or air pollution, and there was only oratorical mention of 16 hour work days for the working class.  This was a “feel good” experience, ‘k?

We were given the opportunity to purchase period wares at incredibly inflated prices, but mostly we walked from venue to venue to see the free shows.  (Free if you don’t count the tip jar.)  We especially enjoyed the dancing.

We don’t own any period garb from the 1850’s, and we felt that we missed out on quite a bit because of this.  There was a huge percentage of non-theatricals who were dressed in appropriate garb.  It was a clear instance of participatory theatre.

I have often wondered how historical recreationists of the future, say the year 2500 of the Current Era, will portray our own society.  How will they dress?  How will they act?  What events will they celebrate?  How will they talk?

I suspect that they will use 20th Century literature as a source.  This is, after all, what recreationists do today.  Perhaps they’ll use Jack Kerouac, John SteinbeckErnest Hemingway, perhaps even Mickey Spillane.  And, just as recreationists do today, there will be a mixture of eras and characters who would normally never meet.  For instance, I foresee Beatniks hanging out with flappers, rock stars, migrant farmers, old sailors, hippies, gumshoes and astronauts.  Also, there’s no reason to expect them to restrict themselves to American literature, but I’m not familiar enough with the literature of other cultures to list them.

I anticipate that there will be endless discussions of the meaning of the words “Dude,” “cool” and “like”.  There will be vendors who specialize in creating period garb using denim, zippers and Velcro.  Those who are interested in the martial aspects of our culture will spend a lot of research trying to make M-16’s, Uzi’s and AK-47’s safe for reinactment battles.  I suspect that they won’t reinact My Lai for the same reason we don’t reinact tuberculosis, but maybe they will be a more honest reinactors, so who knows.

What is it about our current society that you think will fascinate the world of 2500 c.e.?  The advent of nuclear power/weapons? The birth of the Space Age?  The rise and fall of Communism?  American Imperialism?  The Century of the Automobile?  Aviation? The wars for oil?  

I would love to hear your thoughts.