HN Theater @HNTheaterMonth

The best talks and videos of Hacker News.

Hacker News Comments on
The ancient 'computer' that simply shouldn't exist - BBC REEL

BBC Reel · Youtube · 307 HN points · 0 HN comments
HN Theater has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention BBC Reel's video "The ancient 'computer' that simply shouldn't exist - BBC REEL".
Youtube Summary
A hundred and twenty years ago, divers discovered a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera in Greece. What they found changed our understanding of human history.

The mysterious Antikythera Mechanism has captured the imagination of archaeologists, mathematicians, and scientists ever since. Now, using the latest 3D x-ray and modelling technology, experts are unravelling the secrets of what this machine may have been capable of.

Video by Harriet Constable

#bbcreel #bbc #bbcnews
HN Theater Rankings

Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this video.
Dec 10, 2021 · 306 points, 266 comments · submitted by justinzollars
I think we tend to underestimate what ancient technology could produce because we forget that in ancient times they often operated on longer timescales than we do.

With our technology for example we could make all the parts for the Antikythera mechanism in a short time. The ancient Greeks definitely had no technology that would have allowed them to do that, so we see the existence of the Antikythera mechanism as a great mystery.

But I don't see any reason to believe that the Greeks built it in a short time. It could easily be the lifework of the builder, or even the lifework of successive generations of a family of builders.

If you need to make a very precise gear in a day you need our technology. If you need to make a very precise gear in 50 years you just need someone with an abrasive that is harder than the material you are making the gear from.

There is also this implicit form of -ism built into it, in that certain groups of people were "obviously" less intelligent so it is unlikely they could ever build something magnificent or intellectually obscure. Whether it is a belief that aliens must have built Mayan or Egyptian Pyramids because of a bias that they were dumb savages, or whether it is dismissal of alternate forms of successful government and social organization in "uncultured" parts of the world.

It is easier to assume something like "this mechanism shouldn't exist" if you (general "you") think a group of people are already beneath you due to your implicit biases.

nobody thinks Einstein was beneath us because he didn't have an iPhone

if something "shouldn't exist" in a time period it has nothing to do with judging those people as inferiors, its simply the timeline of the development of technology (or our misconception thereof)

Einstein is a bad example cause he was very recent also.
For those of us who study culture, this is absolutely a thing. Its called pseudoarchaeology and it has always been very popular with White Supremacists.

Also, Even today white supremacists think Einstein was a fraud:

But that is harder to believe than "Dumb Egyptians couldn't make pyramids, so aliens did it..."

This is a very interesting thought to explore! We have this cultural default to assume that people back then were less smart than us. But we really are exactly the same but we have a better starting point then they did to build interesting things.
> The ancient Greeks definitely had no technology that would have allowed them to do that

Sure they did. Bronze is not that hard to work with. Simple silica (sand) abrasives cut through it quite well. Lapping makes things nice and flat. Accuracy is defined by your skill with tools.

Hand sheet metal layout is a real skill even in the modern world:

Same goes for the perfectly fitted stones in Inkan walls in Peru. They weren't built by aliens or telekinesis, but rather unoccupied workers that rubbed on the stones all day for decades. There is plenty of evidence that these walls and cities were never in a "finished" state, but always in progress, with partially complete stones and scattered pieces not yet near the wall in many sites.
Recently a group finished a stone block of the size in the Egyptian pyramids in just a few days.

Another group hauled a Stonehenge sized block of stone from area the stones came from to the site of Stonehenge in about two weeks.

Estimate is that, using existing tools of the time, 100 stonemasons could have done the Sphinx in about five years.

And we have medieval and classical buildings in Europe where the building methods are fully known and there were no flying saucers or other magical methods.

Do you have a link or more information regarding the pyramid block formation?
Sorry, I don't. I just so it in passing and didn't book mark it.
. . . just saw it in passing . . .


What's remarkable to me is to think about the infrastructure that must have existed, even to support this basic labor. All these stones had to get quarried and moved around. All these workers had to be fed, housed, and clothed. Whatever tools and simple machines they used, would have required constant maintenance.
Then there are projects like Colosseum which took only 7-8 years to build. or Parthenon that took 9 years.
I guess that in modern world, such buildings would not even get paperwork/permits in 7-9 years.
Most things in the ancient Greek world needed to be completed in less than a generation because a generation tended to be the recurring timeframe for wars (funny that).
I agree. To me, the ancient Greeks were an extremely advanced civilization and we don't often comprehend quite how rich their intellectual culture was.

It turns out that Archimedes had actually discovered some of the foundational principles of integral calculus centuries before Newton or Leibniz even considered it [1]. In fact, Eudoxus — another Greek mathematician — had created a "method of exhaustion" which was essentially an informal, geometric method for computing limits (though he tried to make it as rigorous as possible) [2]. And if they don't impress you, then Euclid on his own is an extraordinary mathematician. The Elements is a modern mathematical marvel, with all of its theorems on foundational geometry and algebra stemming from 5 axioms.

Astronomy was a critical part of many ancient cultures, from the Aztecs to the Indians (and of course, the Greeks). After some pondering, it makes sense why they would invest so much time, energy, and innovative zeal into creating a device as intricate as the Antikythera. I wonder how many other inventions and revolutionary ideas created by ancient cultures have been lost to time.



That some things in history took the span of multiple generations to finish was quite the revelation to me. The Cologne Cathedral took over 600 years to finish. As another example, this amusing video [1] tells the story of how King Louis XIV wanted a map of the entirety of his kingdom from Cassini, and how it was apparently Cassini's great grandson (4 generations over 120 years) who finally concluded the project.

For some generations in the middle of such projects, I can imagine that their huge undertaking is just "something they do", essentially just their job, and from their point of view it has always been there, and will always be there to the extent of their lifetime.

Do we still have anything like this?

> Do we still have anything like this?

In The Expanse series of novels, essentially every citizen on Mars is working towards terraforming the surface, something they know will not be achieved in their grandchildren's lifetime. This will probably be a goal very near in the future. Let's just hope it goes better than the novels.

Quantum physics was worked out for the most part within a person's lifespan. We've since slowed down, and it may take a few generations to make another great leap. In the meantime theorists and experimentalists will be formulating hypotheses and collecting data that may not be usable in their lifespan. Just look at how long we had to collect data on Mercury's orbit before we could use it to help prove General Relativity.

"Do we still have anything like this?"

In terms of buildings, the longest one might be

Otherwise I would say science in general.

Oh wow, did not know about that cathedral. Yeah, that definitely qualifies.
Oh yes!

Our cities and mega-structures, including things like roads and fields.

Or more broadly, our terraforming of the planet.

When you look at time lapse videos of human developments it looks pretty similar to watching swarm insects construct big structures over long periods.

We started it a long time ago and it sped up a lot over the last few centuries, and it's still going on.

No need to look at individual pieces opf technology, all you need is to "zoom out" in both space and time to see the human swarm busily at work on a project that not a single individual understands.

If you do want to look at individual smaller pieces, things like the space station or (space/air/road) vehicles in general: We keep tinkering and changing them through space (in parallel across the world) and time (across many generations).

Yeah, but those things are always in flux, made of many individual parts that may often been seen in isolation (I don't think many people except for city planers know which particular "project" a given set of roads belongs to), and have no definitive "completion".

For the space station for example, I'd consider it "completed" the moment it was taken into operation, the rest is building upon it and maintaining. Cathedrals are single objects, though of course I don't know how they were built, and for how many hundred years they may have seemed "complete enough" to the untrained eye.

> Do we still have anything like this?

There are multi-generational scientific experiments e.g. the pitch drop or (hopefully) LTEE.

Most significant archeological sites are multi-generational as well though I don’t know if we can describe them as a single work.

One thing that’ll be interesting if we actually manage more than one generation is the software projects, the early luminaries have been passing for a while, the early architects of still extant software projects are going to start retiring or (sadly) passing en masse pretty soon.

I don’t look forward to the obituary of donald knuth but I do wonder how tex and metafont will carry on.

> There are multi-generational scientific experiments e.g. the pitch drop or (hopefully) LTEE.

Are they building something, especially of scale? The pitch drop experiment in particular is extremely passive as I understand. You essentially wait for the pitch to drop, with occasional maintenance (which I imagine being minor, maybe I'm wrong). LTEE though I think qualifies, because when I watched a documentary about it, I had the impression that it's quite some work.

Even still, an entire Cathedral or traveling through all of France (and organizing people to do so) seems much larger in scope. Though maybe those are just more extreme examples themselves?

> One thing that’ll be interesting if we actually manage more than one generation is the software projects

I'm not entirely sure if there is a common UNIX descendant out there that still even has one original line of code from one of its early ancestors[1], but there's certainly building and maintenance going strong around it.

TeX and Metafont I'm less sure, but there seem to be so many developers of very elaborate packages, that I would be surprised if TeX itself was left rotten.

Generally, it seems that many software projects have changed maintenance teams many times, with no involvement of the original authors anymore... but that's also more maintaining something existing (and building upon it), not something with a clear completion goal several generations down.

[1] Though I would not be surprised if you pointed to, say, some terminal code in a BSD variant and tell me it's from the original BSD.

I am guessing that [1] pointed to this?

I don't see the reference.

Indeed, thanks. I went hunting for the video, but then forgot to paste it in (and am long past the edit window). :/
Haha they’re classic!
The economic structures that incentivises this are also pretty mysterious.

Why does Cassini's child continue a project that they won't finish? why does King Louis XIV's successor continue funding it? Was the payment structure lump sump for 4 generations of work? or simply compelled labor?

the cathedral in Barcelona was the first time thing I toured where I really thought about multi-generational projects.
> Do we still have anything like this?

> "We do need to learn how to conduct missions over these very long timescales if we are ever going to come close to achieving any of the aspirations of interstellar exploration that are so often posed in the popular media," she says.

> To help understand how to deal with the intergenerational nature of this proposed mission, the research team reached out to Janet Vertesi, a sociologist with Princeton University who has studied the organizational aspects of other projects in space.

> ...

> She's led discussions with the researchers to help them sort through this. Astronomer Carey Lisse, who is working on the interstellar probe study, said these sessions were "very blunt and made us think a lot."

> He's done the math. "I will be 75 in 2036 when we launch. That means that I know I'm not going to be on this mission probably for more than 10 years after launch," says Lisse, adding that the need for handovers is just a fact. "This isn't just theory or just talk. It's going to happen multiple times, probably two or three times at least."

> ...

> Ocker, who doesn't even have a Ph.D. yet, points out that she'll be late in her career by the time this probe reaches interstellar space, if NASA decides to support it and if it launches in the 2030s. "I'm very hopeful that this mission will happen. I really hope it does, in which case I'll be very excited to use the data when it does eventually come down," she says.

Previously on HN:

I am curious, is this device as fascinating to the average person as it is to the average HN'er? I suspect not, but I don't really understand why. I myself have read quite a few articles/posts and watched a few videos about it. Every time I re-encounter it, I get sucked back in.

See also:

It seemed like a near-mystical piece of technology when I encountered it as a kid watching The History Channel. Tech-minded people probably self-select here anyway...
For anyone interested, this museum in Thessaloniki Greece: has a lot of very interesting items. If you ever visit the city, worth going there. I was particularly impressed with Syracusia, the giant ship/castle designed by Archimedes
Absolutely invaluable place for every age. A day full of experiences (technology, science, history...).
As a kid I was really into the whole 'ancient mysteries' thing and wrote about the Antikythera mechanism in gushing / awed tones in my English O-level ! Luckily the examiner was kind, but years later I realise it must have come across as all a bit Von Daniken.
Other "out-of-place" artifacts

Anything new in this that isn't in all the many posts from back in March or so?

Lots of discussion:

9 months ago

5 months ago, around the time this video was originally posted

Technology can stay 'inert' even if it is invented, for example the Romans already knew steam machines but didn't find a use for them, probably because they had slaves to do all that cheaper. Until recently solar power tech was the same ...
Romans knew about steam power? Never heard that one before, have a good place to read about it?
The first steam "engine" was the Aeolipile (, but it was more a toy than a useful tool. IIRC there was also a temple somewhere that used steam to open its doors as a cool trick to impress the masses.
Look also at Heron's automatic door, 1st century AD.

Lighting a pyre changed the water pressure in a container, which then used basic hydraulic concepts to open a temple door. It is imagined that it would be used to imitate magic. Light the fire after a sacrifice and suddenly a higher power would open the door to the temple.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"

This is a _bit_ of a myth; the main reason that Roman-era steam engines went nowhere was that they didn't have the metallurgy to make them practical. Like, they had _watermills_; the idea that they were uninterested in mechanical power because they had slaves doesn't really hold up.
Interesting, what metallurgical skills were they missing? Wouldn't even a very crude steam machine be better than animal harness? Maybe the missing part was coal, burning wood would be very inefficient ...
Romans had bloomery-made wrought iron only, which was a hand-made process of uneven quality, and made only in small batches. The role of carbon (and how to introduce it) was only vaguely known, so quality would vary. It would be quite difficult to make a boiler with bloomery iron. The blast furnace only showed up around 1100.

The Romans could certainly have made a Newcomen-style low-pressure steam engine; the first boilers were made of lead and copper (though they quickly switched to iron). However, those are of only mild usefulness. Perhaps they would have found employment in the Roman world in the same place they did historically: de-watering mines. However, it would have to compete with slaves and mules, and there's not a lot of coal in the Mediterranean world, so fuel costs would be substantial, especially for such an inefficient device.

A more useful high-pressure Watt style engine could perhaps be made of bronze, but the cost would be fairly astronomical. The Romans could pay it, of course, if they wanted to; huge quantities of bronze would be used in ship rams and statues. But they didn't know they could, and it's uncertain that they'd want to if they did.

Couldn't there be ceramic boilers? Roman steam-punk legions of amfora-powered siege weapons ...

> Perhaps they would have found employment in the Roman world in the same place they did historically: de-watering mines.

It could be that the coincidence of coal mining and coal being good steam power source was what was required to kickstart it.

Ceramic (and masonry) aren't great in tension, which is the main mode for boilers. And its brittle, so it'll go from okay to exploding pretty fast. So not a great engineering choice. But, I suppose, you can use a lot of it, so you could probably make it work. Won't be terribly portable, though. And don't ask me to stand next to it.
I realize how much I miss the #dislikes for videos like these. The title sounds clickbaity and #dislikes would confirm that. I guess it is not clickbait given that it's on hackernews and by the BBC, but if this context was missing...
Would YT remove comments which posted the dislike count from
Automate it!
The presumption that other people aren't smart enough to do what you can or imagine has a name: bigotry. The "shouldn't exist" is bigotry.

It's also evidence that we see even today that knowledge is fragile and easily lost when it has a large tacit component. Most things technological are highly fragile because half of the knowledge required to create them is tacit.

See also: "FOG BANK".

"Shouldn't exist" simply means that nothing else like it has ever been found, and (almost) nothing like it has even been described in surviving literature.
Presumably you're talking about the classified nuclear material:
It has nothing to do with assumptions about how smart people in the past were, we have every reason to believe they were just as smart as us. In fact we have direct evidence from surviving mathematical texts, treatises on philosophy, etc that they could be highly original and insightful thinkers. Smarts is simply not at all the issue and frankly you describing diligent scholars who clearly have huge appreciation and admiration of the people they study bigots is highly offensive and uncalled for.

The real bigots are the conspiracy nuts who think ancient civilizations we know of couldn't have achieved the many things we evidence of, and think it must have been aliens or other advanced civilizations on implausible magic islands.

The question is simply one of technology. We can't simply assume that people at a certain time had technology we have no evidence for, no accounts of, and no evidence of similar or near precursor technologies. The Antikythera mechanism was a shock because there was no evidence any such thing could exist at that time. We also don't have evidence such things existed in Babylon a thousand years previously, or in Egypt 3,000 years before that. Equally we have no evidence they definitely didn't have them. So should we assume they had such things? We simply make the best estimates we can and adjust when we find wonderful surprises like this one.

I can understand why the op was down voted, but just assuming that a civilization was "not smart" simply because we cannot find evidence feels dumb.

> The real bigots are the conspiracy nuts who think ancient civilizations we know of couldn't have achieved the many things we evidence of, and think it must have been aliens

You are not presenting any evidence that it was otherwise. I am not saying that this device was presented by aliens, but neither you are that it was not.

> So should we assume they had such things? We simply make the best estimates we can and adjust when we find wonderful surprises like this one.

We have evidence that they had it. How they had it is a separate question.

I assume the next "civilization" might not be able to figure out how/what out machines are doing and they would have a similar discussion.

> I can understand why the op was down voted, but just assuming that a civilization was "not smart" simply because we cannot find evidence feels dumb.

As I explained very carefully, this has nothing to do with them being smart or dumb. We already know they were very smart from their written records. I explained how we know that. They just didn’t have our technology. It turns out they had more technology than we previously suspected, that’s all.

> You are not presenting any evidence that it was otherwise.

It’s not possible to prove a negative. The only route to reasonably reliable knowledge is following the evidence and preferring the simplest explanations for things.

If I have to provide evidence it wasn’t aliens to doubt that explanation, do I also have to provide evidence it wasn’t Atlanteans, and evidence that it wasn’t time travelers, and evidence that it wasn’t extra dimensional beings? If I can’t provide that evidence what do we conclude, that it was probably alien time travelling extradimensional beings from Atlantis?

Maybe a good time to do this:

The Antikythera Mechanism - - July 2021 (29 comments)

The Antikythera Mechanism - - July 2021 (3 comments)

Scientists Have Unlocked the Secrets of the Ancient 'Antikythera Mechanism' - - March 2021 (1 comment)

Scientists Have Unlocked the Secrets of the Ancient 'Antikythera Mechanism' - - March 2021 (1 comment)

Scientists solve another piece of the puzzling Antikythera mechanism - - March 2021 (1 comment)

A Model of the Cosmos in the Ancient Greek Antikythera Mechanism - - March 2021 (130 comments)

The Antikythera Mechanism – Evidence of a Lunar Calendar - - Dec 2020 (1 comment)

Antikythera Mechanism: Evidence of a Lunar Calendar - - Dec 2020 (1 comment)

Hacker’s Discovery Changes Understanding of the Antikythera Mechanism - - Dec 2020 (5 comments)

2000 Year Old Analog Computer - Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism - - Aug 2020 (2 comments)

Decoding the Ancient Greek Astronomical Calculator: Antikythera Mechanism - - Oct 2019 (24 comments)

Antikythera Mechanism - - July 2019 (35 comments)

Was the Antikythera Mechanism the world’s first computer? (2007) - - Dec 2018 (56 comments)

Missing piece of Antikythera Mechanism found on Aegean seabed - - Nov 2018 (3 comments)

Missing Piece of Antikythera Mechanism Found on Aegean Seabed - - Nov 2018 (1 comment)

Antikythera Mechanism - - Oct 2018 (3 comments)

Human skeleton found on famed Antikythera shipwreck - - Sept 2016 (6 comments)

The Antikythera mechanism is still revealing its secrets - - June 2016 (66 comments)

The Antikythera Computer, Circa 205 BC - - Nov 2015 (1 comment)

Marine Archaeologists Excavate Greek Antikythera Shipwreck - - Sept 2015 (1 comment)

Divers return to famous Antikythera wreck to hunt for treasures - - Sept 2015 (2 comments)

The 2000 Year-Old Computer – Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism (2012) [video] - - Sept 2015 (5 comments)

Famed Antikythera wreck yields more treasures - - Oct 2014 (8 comments)

Reconstruction of planetary gearwork in the Antikythera Mechanism (2012) - - Sept 2014 (1 comment)

The Two Thousand Year Old Computer - - Dec 2012 (1 comment)

Apple engineer uses Lego to rebuild Antikythera mechanism - - Dec 2010 (42 comments)

Lego Antikythera Mechanism (video) - - Dec 2010 (2 comments)

Antikythera Machine built out of Lego - - Dec 2010 (3 comments)

Lego Antikythera Mechanism (oldest known scientific computer) - - Dec 2010 (1 comment)

The Antikythera Mechanism: Animation and Analysis [video] - - Nov 2010 (1 comment)

Beautiful phyiscal model of the Antikythera Mechanism - - Nov 2010 (3 comments)

Antikythera Reborn – The Hackers of Ancient Greece - - Jan 2008 (2 comments)

The thing that really gets me is just how densely the whole mechanism is packed together. What a masterpiece. The techniques must have been developed incrementally over many revisions of the machine, perhaps over several lifetimes by various machinists and/or designers.

Sadly I read somewhere that the "slop" between the gears (the mechanical imperfections that add or multiply together over many gears) would overwhelm the more complex calculations that some of the machine was intended to perform.

From the Clickspring reconstruction, it seems clear to me that the 'slop' in the gears won't be a problem in the final mechanism.
Add “Antikythera” to the title.
There was a point in time where Ancient Rome had plumbed, running water. And there wouldn’t running water again for 2000 years later. I think people are obsessed with technology but in reality stability counts way more than anything else.
The reason mechanisms like this are so mind blowing is because one simple has no precious artifacts from this time period which would make us aware of the fact that they had the technology to make such objects.

And by technology I don’t mean modern day CNC machines. However we know that sophisticated mechanical work began again in The 1400s with various clock makers.

However these still typically had a variety of tools and measuring instruments. It is not immediate obvious that ancient Greeks would have variety of files, calipers, lathes etc which appropriate techniques developed to use them to make sophisticated machinery.

Jonathan Blow's talk 'Preventing the Collapse of Civilization' goes into detail about how technology can regress, with the Mechanism being one example. This kind of thing is far more common than we think, most would be surprised to learn that Ancient Greece had writing for about 600 years before forgetting it. There was no writing in Greece for over 400 years, until they adopted the Phoenician alphabet around 730 BC.

He compares this situation to the state of software development today. It's a sobering watch.

One of the interesting possibilities for the Fermi Paradox is the fact that we've wiped out the readily accessible deposits of iron, coal, oil, etc. A second go at the industrial revolution would be much harder, if we regressed that far.
I think it might be helpful to consider what happened to the dinosaurs. The same could happen to us if we fail to evolve in time...

Asteroid hits. Wipes out almost all life. A million years later, the biomass around us will have all been converted to a black ooze (oil), covered by millennia of rock, sediment, and tectonic plates. Eventually future civilized beings who plunder the Earth for our biomass that has been converted to oil and coal discover uncanny hard-to-explain remnants of a past civilization of, get this, bipedal animals.

Are you suggesting if the dinosaurs had tried harder to "evolve in time", they could have better survived an asteroid hit? I don't think that's how evolution works. For humans either.
> Are you suggesting if the dinosaurs had tried harder to "evolve in time", they could have better survived an asteroid hit?

Well, yes. It's not fair to the dinosaurs, I admit. They hardly had a chance to develop language and mathematics. They were still too busy ripping each other's faces off. And not having opposable thumbs, of course, really put a damper on technological development. Maybe in a another million years things would have been different, but the asteroid had a different idea.

We, on the other hand, are at least on the precipice of the capability to divert asteroids. Hopefully we don't get an asteroid visit too soon.

I think it's a misconception that we can somehow speed up or direct "evolution", no matter what language and mathematics we have.

Diverting an asteroid, however, is not evolution.

Of course you can speed up and direct evolution, it's called artificial selection and it's how we got dogs, cattle, and almost all crops.
One thing I sometimes wonder is: if there was a dinosaur species which had reached roughly our level of intelligence and society, would they have left enough of a mark on the world that we could even tell?

If they got further than us, tried to capture an asteroid and mine it, could they have wiped themselves out without leaving behind technosignatures that would still be visible?

While our time has been short on geological scales, that's a point in favor of being discovered later. So much has been deposited by us in the geological record in a stunningly short (by future geologists' viewpoint) timescale like plastics, temperature variations, and irradiated patches of land.

To make things worse for a hypothetical advanced dinosaur species, if they were at the point they could capture an asteroid, they would be roughly equivalent or better with us but we could survive an asteroid extinction event just fine. Society as we know it perhaps wouldn't survive but an event that could genuinely end us as a species would need to be exceedingly destructive or long term. Otherwise the remnants will rebuild, give or take a couple 10s of thousands of years, which is basically nothing on the timescales we're thinking about here.

Humans left a ridiculous amount of stone tools which last basically indefinitely in the fossil record (and unlike bone fossils, don't require super special conditions to preserve them). So I think we'd have enough evidence from modern artifacts made of similar types of materials. A car buried under sediment would rust all out, but you'd be left with a big car-shaped bunch of rust as well as chunks of pure metal which better resist corrosion, like stainless bits or the platinum catalytic converter, various bits of glass and ceramic in very artificial looking shapes, etc.
Maybe the archaeologists of the future would weave scholarly narratives as to how these ferrous-based lifeforms lived, what their diet was and how they came to perish.

Film-makers would use stop-motion techniques to depict battles between Fordusprefectops and Chevroletcamaro-Rex whilst their own early ancestors look on, clad in loincloths and bras made from footwell mats.

Like in David Macaulay's "Motel Of The Mysteries".
bmn__ "cars are the dominant species, since so much of our world has been dedicated to them"
This is called the "Silurian hypothesis" and is named after the Doctor Who episode that showed an advanced dinosaur race called the "Silurians" that went into cryo millions of years ago.

Some real geologists explored the idea (someone could find the paper and subsequent news articles) and I think the conclusion was that on geological time periods, there might not be much left for us to find.

Pretty sure all the radioactive ore refining we have done is going to leave a mark for billions of years. Never mind how we’ve displaced large percentages of the readily available rare earths already.

I doubt the dinosaurs shuttled away or buried all their geo-engineering marks.

Schlock Mercenary is a sci-fi webcomic with a fun thread about sapient dinosaurs fleeing Earth pre-impact.

There's no good way to read just those strips, but it starts here:

Yep, the [paper's conclusion]( was just as you said, there'd not be much of a record to find for civs older than 4 Ma. Also, there are past anomalous and abrupt events in the geological record that appear similar to byproducts from our anthropogenic activity. Evidence against is that timing for majority of such anomalous events can be matched to mundane geological activity in the record.

The rate at which we're accumulating change compared to geological record is also a strong argument against, although they argue limitations in current dating methods reducing how much can be said with certainty about prior epochs.

While there is precious little reason and evidence to believe a priori in a previous advanced dino civ, there are studies that could be done on sediment data that'd lend more certainty (such as looking for unusually rapid metal production).

> Anthropocene layer in ocean sediment will be abrupt and multi-variate, consisting of seemingly concurrent-specific peaks in multiple geochemical proxies, biomarkers, elemental composition and mineralogy. It will likely demarcate a clear transition of faunal taxa prior to the event compared with afterwards. Most of the individual markers will not be unique in the context of Earth history as we demonstrate below, but the combination of tracers may be. However, we speculate that some specific tracers that would be unique, specifically persistent synthetic molecules, plastics and (potentially) very long-lived radioactive fallout in the event of nuclear catastrophe. Absent those markers, the uniqueness of the event may well be seen in the multitude of relatively independent fingerprints as opposed to a coherent set of changes associated with a single geophysical cause.

My opinion is this ultimately boils down to how hard human level intelligence is to evolve, which is why the hypothesis is interesting in the context of the Fermi Paradox. Intelligence might be extremely difficult to evolve, it might require an unusual background environment set of condition or just might not be that useful in general.

Humans could most certainly survive an asteroid if the humans worked at the technology and industrial capacity to do so. Including technology and industrial capacity involved in redirecting asteroids:

(To redirect Chixculub would require a MUCH larger capability, probably on the order of 10 million tons in orbit, but that's possible with a fleet of large reusable rockets capable of getting the cost to orbit down to around $10/kg, or equivalent development of in-space resource utilization capacity.)

You assume we would be able to organize the social, political, and financial impetus to take on a task like that in a unified way that has a chance to succeed. Recent events seem to say that we are at least as likely to just fight about it until the asteroid hits.

For greatest success I think there would need to be two but probably not many more than two major efforts going on simulatneously, in much the same way that CMS and ATLAS experiments at CERN were independently looking for the Higgs. If one fails for some unforseen technical reason, the other might not if they took a different approach.

Coal and oil formation would not occur due to lifeforms able to digest trees. It would be extraordinarily difficult to reset to those primordial conditions. I don't think an asteroid hit could do it.
Are you sure about this? I actually looked into this not too long ago and that theory no longer seems well supported.

Oil forms when sea plankton and algae are buried and exposed to high pressures and heat. Coal forms when dead plant material protected somehow from biodegredation (say by mud) forms peat and is then buried, and exposed to high pressures and heat.

I was also surprised to learn that the inabality of fungus and bacteria to degrade lignin is unlikely to have been a key driver of coal formation during the Carboniferous period, instead it was "a unique combination of everwet tropical conditions and extensive depositional systems during the assembly of Pangea".


I'm not sure I buy this. The main driver of the industrial revolution was intellectual: the emergence of science, classical liberalism, mercantilism, and modern economics. All this was in place before anything really took off.

Industrialization without fossil fuels would scale much more slowly with wood being used at first and then probably crops being grown for energy (biofuel). Once we figured out electricity we'd have large scale hydropower and wind power. Then we'd figure out either photovoltaics or nuclear fission, at which point we'd be off to the races. My guess is we'd be almost 100% nuclear and hydro powered right now with use of photovoltaics growing.

Stable power grids would probably take longer to emerge, but we figured out simple rechargeable batteries (lead-acid) fairly early. People would probably have banks of these in their homes to power minimal lighting and things like radios, TVs, etc. at night and run their appliances at specified times when the grid was at high power. You'd probably see a food system less dependent on refrigeration until stable grids emerged.

On extremely long historical timescales I suppose depletion of other elements is possible, but things like iron are incredibly common in Earth's crust. I'd be concerned more about rare elements.

> One of the interesting possibilities for the Fermi Paradox is the fact that we've wiped out the readily accessible deposits of iron, coal, oil, etc. A second go at the industrial revolution would be much harder, if we regressed that far.

It’s odd to me that we don’t see this specific point discussed all that much. Sure, it comes up here and there now and then, but I think it deserves an extended discussion. My understanding, based on what I’ve read about this implication, is that we as a human species only get one chance to evolve beyond the gravity well of our planet. If we fuck this up, and by all accounts it looks like we are, we will be condemned to extinction on Earth.

I doubt that. There's plenty of Iron that doesn't require mining to find, and it naturally accrues in the environment over time:

We stop mining coal when it is no longer economical to do so, not when the mine is entirely depleted. There's a bunch of coal at or near the surface and will be for quite some time.

The same goes for Oil. We extract that which is easiest to extract and fraction into the products we desire, preferring to leave things like the energy intensive and more polluting "Tar Sands" behind.

Japan has very low quality iron ores. Yet they turned out (arguably) the best steel swords in the world.

Constraints don't always lead to bad outcomes.

I thought Japanase steel wasn't all that impressive in absolute terms, rather it was impressive because of the very bad quality ingredients they started with. It also made ownership of a sword (katana) and accompanying paraphernalia only accessible to a small caste of elite warriors. Both the raw materials and the process were hard to come by.

My understanding is that historically the best steels were made in India/Southern-India where wootz steel comes from and that for more than 2000 years the rest of the world was almost bargain tier in comparison. To the degree that samples of wootz steel were brought back to Europe even in the 18th century in an attempt to replicate the process.

I'm only an amateur metalworker though so I hope someone more knowledgeable can correct any errors.

The pre-modern/medieval Japanese iron industry was actually quite massive! We went to a museum in Izumo and there was a nice map showing the are in ancient times and now and the difference was pretty stark - there were just swamp where the Izumo city is today and the local lake Shinji was like twice as big as today.

All the new land and end of the swamps is apparently the result of hundreds of years of iron ore mining in the nearby mountains. So even with primitive means and shitty ore, if you need the material and go at it for centuries, you can achieve substantial results. Not to mention reclaim some land as a result. :)

Also in related (but much more recent development) there were coal mines in Japan mining from under the seabed via tiny islands!

Hashima is the most extreme example, basically a piece of barely dry rock that has been converted to a concrete city housing many thousands of workers and their families:

But there were other such mines, some of the local ones even connected to Hashima via the underground works!

There's a difference between "we have to do more refining to get usable metal" and "there's literally none around unless you go deep underground into a new deposit".
The buried and overgrown remains of any modern junkyard, port, railway depot or rubbish dump would be a decent shallow ore for many metals. During the industrial revolution we have consumed almost all of the shallow fuels, but we haven't consumed any metals, they're right here on the surface and more accessible than before - it's just that they're currently tied up in some products or structures we use.
A sword is a tiny amount of metal compared to, say, a steam engine. Or a battleship.
Japan fielded armies of hundreds of thousands of men, all equipped with swords. I guess if you totalled the weight on metal on them, you could cobble together a battleship. But it's not really about quantity, more quality of the ore.

And the point isn't about that. The point is that the constraint (bad ore quality) forced the Japanese to get better at metalworking. Resource constraints aren't as bad as we think, because we're used to making things without those constraints. But our descendants, having always had those constraints, will find better ways of solving them than we can think of.

Hundreds of thousands? The battles I read about maybe reached tens of thousands, and who knows how many had swords.

Even in Europe, a large part of the armies were peasants with whatever comes to hand. Their resource constraint on metals wasn't the ore, but the availability of the enormous quantities of wood required to process it.

Wikipedia says 400,000 samurai:

Every Samurai had at least two swords. So at least a million swords. Let's say a sword weighs 1Kg, that's 1000 tonnes of steel. So probably not enough for a battleship, but maybe a small destroyer.

> arguably

Experiment: <> (German audio track, machine translated subtitles in English available)

The question is whether this settles the argument or stokes its flames.

They're mostly the best in pop culture. There's this weird view that European swords are heavy and brutish. In reality a Katana doesn't weigh any less than a long sword.
Japan definitely produced some of the most beautiful looking swords, and they are extremely impressive given the quality of iron they are forged out of, but I don't think any sane person would choose one to take into battle given any other option.
I am confused. Are you saying that the quality of the iron makes them shit swords, or that guns are better than swords?
From what I've heard and seen the quality of metal makes them prone to breaking, and you need skill to take full advantage of the razor sharp edge. I have seen a great video showing katana students cutting bamboo and struggling and then a master going clean through that I wish I could have found again. For the record I don't think they are shit swords, just they look really cool and that has lead to various media elevating their superiority to other swords beyond reality.
It would depend a lot on what time period you're talking about. I'm not an expert, but I do a bit of amateur forging and have learned a couple of things just reading about this craft. By the 14 or 1500s, spring steel had been developed in Europe. This would enable a sword to flex rather than break. Japanese swords from the time weren't flexible and were generally more prone to breaking. This had a lot to do with the raw materials that were available. They also tend to have softer mild steel core to help with this problem, with a very hard and sharp edge. If the entire blade were made of the same material as the edge, it would be extremely inflexible and brittle. They're kind of designed in a way where a part of the every hard and brittle edge can crack, but maybe it won't extend all the way up through the blade leaving it somewhat usable. The European longsword from the time might just flex in the same circumstance.

That's not to say that European swords were better than Japanese swords in every way. This is one of many, many factors. And I'm sure there were plenty of crappy longswords at the time (and crappy katans), so you kind of also have to decide if you're comparing the best examples, average examples, or low quality items as well. The skill of the wielder is also important. If you're throwing out a bunch of random soldiers without a ton of training and giving them a sword, you might want to give them something they're less likely to break. My understanding that is there was a period in Japan where only samurai were allowed to carry swords (if my reading is to be believed), who were generally very skilled. They would probably know how to avoid putting their blade in situations where it would be prone to breaking.

And Japanese traditional Japanese sword making techniques are extremely impressive and interesting to read about given the materials that were available at the time.

Friend is a hobbyist blacksmith and he said it really well.

Japan developed their hugely overdone turned-steel technique because the ore they had to work with was so bad: hammering the garbage out was the only way to get the quality of the steel itself into acceptable levels. As a result, Japanese smiths developed something very close to what we'd now call layered steel.

European swordsmiths (think: Toledo) had access to higher-grade ore, and as a result never needed to develop techniques to work around fundamental problems with their source material.

This is my point. Constraints sometimes take us to places where we otherwise wouldn't have gone.

The world is (imho) a better place because Japan has bad iron ore. If that wasn't our reality, we would never have guessed it.

Coal, yes. Iron, wouldn't the iron we moved to the surface be even more accessible? We didn't destroy it, just rearranged and concentrated it?
Stone coal could be, at least partially, substituted by charcoal - and often was in the past, where reachable underground coal reserves were not available.
"So by weight charcoal and anthracite coal have an energy density of about 30 MJ/kg, while poorer kinds of coal range down to half of that." ( However, the density of charcoal is much less than that of coal: 200 kg/m^3 vs 1500 kg/m^3 (for solid anthracite).

Producing 1kg of charcoal requires 3-4kg of wood. (Producing the 900°C for the process is an exercise for the reader.) (

Guess what we do most of our iron smelting with?
Primitive iron smelting was done with charcoal, I believe. Correct me if I'm wrong.
Yeah, I think we switched to coke during the Industrial Revolution not because it's a better fuel than charcoal, but because we were running out of trees.
Coke was Abraham Darby's doing (around 1709-1710), and that was mostly to corner the market for cheap pots and kettles. There was no way for the charcoal crowd to compete on iron, and the bronze bunch - the norm for that sort of thing up to that point - was left forever in the dust.
Yes. Being stuck at that point would be the problem.
Would it? Most new smelting plants today in the US (any built in the last few decades) use a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide as the reducing gases (natural gas primarily as feedstock, but no reason it couldn’t be about 90% hydrogen produced via, say, hydroelectricity or wind).

Coal didn’t overtake charcoal for smelting iron in the US until the latter half of the 19th century, well after the first industrial revolution.

Melting down scrap iron is one of the main sources of steel in the US, and that is done straight with electricity in arc furnaces.

Coal accelerated the second industrial Revolution, but it was not essential. Far more important for enabling the first industrial Revolution was some of the early scientific knowledge about steam and pressure, such as the work of Robert Boyle, a lot of that based on a sort of reaction to the classics that had been revived in the Renaissance. The biggest argument for coal is indirectly in that it helped the viability of British society (after the island had most its tree cut down over the previous 500 years) which played an important role in the Scientific Revolution (Robert Boyle was Anglo-Irish)… although by the time Britain was playing an important role, the scientific Revolution was already underway on the mainland of Europe. As long as our books are not all destroyed, I think we’d have no problem bootstrapping from charcoal the second time around.

(I think a lot about long term data storage… writing in stone or fired clay still seems like one of the best methods for writing that needs to last 10,000 years… it was, after all, preserved Greco-Roman classics that enabled the renaissance and therefore the scientific Revolution.)

Or instead of stone tablets you could simply build a 10,000 year clock.

I think that vastly underestimates the dependency tree in modern society. Storing hydrogen in useful quantities is tough, requiring fairly sophisticated metallurgy and cryogenics.

Finding out we've got a hard to replace left-pad module somewhere far up the tech tree wouldn't be fun.

The dependency tree of 19th Century or early 20th century society is a lot more straightforward, however.

And no, you don't need such sophistication for storing useful amounts of hydrogen. Storing large amounts of hydrogen (in this case, also mixed with poisonous CO) was solved in the beginning of the 19th Century (well, late 18th century) in Britain and Germany by using very large near-atmospheric storage vessels called Gas Holders:

Salt caverns can also be used for greater volumes, i.e. for seasonal storage, as are already used for hydrogen storage in a few places in the US and elsewhere.

That gas holder article says they contained methane or coal gas. Methane's density is 0.657 kg/m³; hydrogen's is 0.08375 kg/m³.
Coal gas is a mix that (by energy) is about half hydrogen, as I said. And hydrogen gas a specific energy of 142MJ/kg vs 55.5MJ/kg for methane.
Except the Iron Age started around 2000 BC, so the world would largely be without iron for a very long time.
> Coal, yes. Iron, wouldn't the iron we moved to the surface be even more accessible? We didn't destroy it, just rearranged and concentrated it?

Might depend how long it takes: because rust is porous and friable, rusting iron should eventually degrade to nothing, and the rust would be difficult to re-concentrate then reduce back to iron.

Would whatever the rust turns into be any less accessible (ignoring availability of coal) than what we started out with though? I don't pretend to know the entire "iron cycle", but it seems like it ought to just be turning back into the same sort of minerals that we originally extracted it from?
Iron rusts over historical timescales, metal deposits form over geological ones.
Am I wrong to think of metal deposits as just "rust mixed with rock"? It doesn't seem like the rock part (i.e. the details of what it is mixed with) should be critical for the extraction process?
> Am I wrong to think of metal deposits as just "rust mixed with rock"?

They're concentrated rust mixed with rocks, otherwise it's not economically viable to extract.

Like, iron is ridiculously common, relatively speaking: on earth as a whole it's more common than oxygen, for the crust it ranks 4th at 5% by mass, meaning if you went at it randomly you'd need to sift through 20kg of materials to get 1kg of iron.

Currently, we exploit formations as low as 15% iron (banded iron formations / taconite), that's the lower limit of the economically feasible, and those results in absolutely enormous amounts of tailings (waste materials).

Pre-industrialisation, unless you had no other choice (e.g. only had ironsands to work with) you really wanted to exploit natural (or "direct-shipping") ores, in the 60~70% range, the extraction is way too much work otherwise.

Sure, if you have a billion years to wait for it to all run through the rock cycle again.
The process that concentrated the iron ore we rely on does not operate anymore.

Fortunately, despite millions of tons of production every year, we are nowhere near using up the ore.

The problem will be a lack concentrated deposits making post-collapse (and new) industrial efforts much harder. A pile of rust from one tractor in someone's back yard is not going to be worth the effort to mine and refine.

Possibly an analogous situation is the history of steel in Japan and their efforts to extract iron from sand, since they don't have significant iron ore to mine on their island.

The pile of rust that use to be a tractor, sure, that's not worth much. The pile of rust that use to be a city though... surely that's more concentrated than the rust mixed with rock (or clay) that we originally extracted it from?
Most likely not:, it's almost 50% iron in the worst case and can be up past 70% in the best case. The geological processes that form this ore in the mantle do a pretty good job of concentrating iron by density but it takes geological scales of time to do so and have it lifted back up through the crust. We might have to excavate a lot of earth to get to the concentrated vein of ore but when we find it it's relatively easy to chase and turn into usable iron once you know a little bit about mining and smelting as a society.

A city decayed to rust is going to be a thin layer of iron spread out over miles with some hot spots like where a building once stood (but presumably without a map of the city in this distant future scenario), but there won't be a vein of concentrated ore. Distributed rust can definitely be turned back into pure iron but the energy requirements are going to be substantially higher to do so since you're going to have to sift through much more material to collect it, more material to separate and concentrate it, more material to smelt off, and your operations will have to be more mobile to retrieve it over a larger area. That's why I think retrieving iron from our society will be more like extracting iron from ironsands (2-20% iron), and it will have similar effects on that subsequent society that sits between us now and some future point where geology has re-supplied it to the surface millions of years from now.

> Most likely not:, it's almost 50% iron in the worst case and can be up past 70% in the best case.

FWIW those are the ratios for the oxides themselves but the formations are not necessarily huge piles of pure oxides, if you go a bit lower to the "sources" section the lowest-concentrated formations viable for exploitation are

> Banded iron formations (BIFs) are sedimentary rocks containing more than 15% iron composed predominantly of thinly bedded iron minerals and silica (as quartz).

However that's only for post-industrial societies, at least if you have alternatives, as it requires churning through ridiculous amounts of materials.

When you don't have alternatives the ironsand article (which would be used in places with no good or accessible ore deposits e.g. japan, famously) quotes

> Sand used for mining typically had anywhere from 19% magnetite to as low as 2%.

though much like gold panning the ironsand would be sluice-separated to a concentration of 30-50% before it was further processed.

Most ironsands deposits are not considered financially exploitable to this day though, with the exception of NZ's where the iconic "black sand" beaches of north island are extremely rich in magnetite (up to 40%).

> how technology can regress

Anyone interested in 'rebooting' society after a major collapse can check out:

> The thirteen chapter book starts off explaining how humanity and civilization works and has come to be and how this could possibly be altered in the event of worldwide disaster — such as avian flu. Leaving us with the essential question of what knowledge would we need to rebuild civilization as we know it, which Dartnell answers by looking at the history of science and technology.

> Dartnell explains and realistically details a 'grace period' in which survivors can salvage food, materials and tools from the ruins of today's society. However, after a certain point this grace period would end, and humanity would have to produce their own food, make their own tools, practice hygiene and fight infection to maintain health, and develop energy stores for a new society to survive the aftermath.

> The book covers topics like agriculture, food and clothing, substances, medicine, and transport. Darnell points out that applying the scientific method to basic knowledge will enable an advanced technological society to reappear within several generations. Along with giving the history of scientific invention and how that applies to humans were they to recreate that, the book also offers anecdotal bits of information in the form of endnotes. Giving facts such as how carrots were originally white but grown orange in honour of the Dutch royal family, and how onions are the leaves of the onion plant.[3]


Full bibliography available if anyone wants to dig into a particular topic:


Same way - the extended 3rd century crisis in the Roman Empire led to a loss of sculpting expertise. No art was commissioned for so long that skills weren't passed on.
An example closer to home, though perhaps not as stark, is the loss of expertise in various industries that have been outsourced. The US is a good example. This is one (of many) arguments against outsourcing your industry just because it's cheaper and increases the profits of the outsourcing company. The tradition and culture that allows a certain industry to flourish is interrupted and destroyed and rebuilding that is no small task.
Yup, this is a massive strategic blunder of historical scale.

While the US and western countries are asleep at the switch and think that they are exploiting cheap Chinese labor, the Chinese have a 100- and 500- year plan and are exploiting our myopia for short-term profits to gain manufacturing expertise and military advantage. It may not be too late to reverse, but it is close.

It is really the result of not thinking ahead and letting the business lobbies have what they want today, instead of putting long-term strategic considerations first. Different incentives, different results, tragedy of the commons all over again.

A 100- and 500- year plan is ludicrous on it's face. They don't even credibly hit their 5 year plans a lot of the time. The idea of planning something so large and complex so far into the future seems like wishful thinking at best.
I'm not sure I agree with that. Misses on short-term plans are a different concern to progress on a multi-century plan. Pig iron production might've missed its forecast for 2020, but it'd undeniable that China is building tremendous expertise in advanced manufacturing - and at a similar rate to that at which the west is shedding it.
Th narrative of "the west doesn't manufacture anything" is greatly oversold. The US makes more steel than it did 40 years ago, for example. Sure, we make fewer hairs and t-shirts, but it's natural for that stuff to chase lower labor costs. We're also an agricultural powerhouse.

Now, for sure we have fallen a bit behind in making chips, but that may change.

So we are the Romans. We can make swords and bread! We'll do great in WWIII!
That's ridiculous. We're churning out new ideas in biotech, medicine, media, finance, automobiles, airplanes, batteries, some solar stuff, and on and on. We have a huge, dynamic economy that does a lot of things really well. We've uncovered some major issues in the last two years but we've done better I think than one might have expected under the circumstances. I think in particular the rapid development and production of multiple vaccines in record time displays our capacity to innovate and manufacture complex goods.

It's impossible to know what's coming in the distant future, but it doesn't feel like any of our problems are insurmountable.

We are actually getting quite behind on some of that stuff that you mentioned. Boeing is a shell of it's former self, having been hollowed out by the financial types, and can't launch a new aircraft without killing hundreds or a new spacecraft without an order of magnitude more time and money vs SpaceX. China absolutely leads the world in solar cell production, and of course most critical microchip production is offshore.

WWII was won largely on American manufacturing prowess. As the war started in Europe, we had a grand total of 39 tanks. But American manufacturing might was focused on the war effort. Liberty ships launched at a rate of two every three days. 25-35K tanks rolled off the US assembly lines every year, while the Germans could produce only 3K, 5K, 11K, and 18K in 1941-44, respectively. Etc., etc, etc.

However, right now, the US produces barely any microchips, which are pretty much critical to every technology.

Worse yet, having a shortage of conventional technology, such as smart weapons shortens the time to the point where the choice becomes to escalate to nukes or lose.

But thank you for providing a fine example of the "it'll be fine" sort of myopia that brought us to this mess -- it always feels nice to look at our advantages and think everything else is a tail risk. But when the tail risk happens, it's over.

It isn't myopia at all to think that near term conventional large-scale nation-state warfare is unlikely. I'm well aware that industrial giants of the last half century aren't as dynamic as they once were, but it hardly matters. We have tons of talent and capacity, it isn't unlikely for newer and better companies to be built.

The only important thing where we seem to be at a serious disadvantage is in chip fab, but there are several companies looking to break ground on new facilities in the US in the next few years.

Trying to hand-wring over an unlikely war seems unproductive. There are two major powers today, and we have an extant model in living memory for how to keep tensions below a critical level. The Chinese plan to compete with the West via the Belt and Road initiative seems unlikely to lead to anything other than economic conflict.

Belt & road, ya, that isn't a big threat yet, but the ongoing relentless expansionism is a real threat. They have never stopped, and barely slowed down.

Sure, continued appeasement can 'keep the peace'. But it will be at the cost of sacrificing Taiwan and everythign in the 9-dashed line to the fate of Tibet, Hong Kong, and the Uyghurs. And then whatever else nearby that they will decide to fabricate a claim for. And so forth, and so forth, and so forth.

That is the bargain that authoritarians always strike - constantly cheating around the edges - what's mine is mine and what's yours is up for grabs.

So, people not thinking strongly or long term can argue that "it's unlikely", "it's not worth a conflict", etc. Meanwhile more territory and people fall under authoritarian control.

If it is unlikely, it is because people want to keep their heads in the sand and appease instead of make current conflict. It's a fools game

When WWIII happens it wont matter how many weapons you have at the start of the war. What will count is how fast you can make more weapons. That's all that matters. The war ends one one side runs out of weapons (or soldiers but China has a bit of a lead there). We can't even make new cars when supply from China is reduced. If you think having aircraft carriers is going to matter then you've not been paying attention. [1] The future is technology. Technology requires chip manufacture. That happens about 100 miles off China's coast, or rather, in China's opinion, on a Chinese owned island 100 miles off the mainland.

Because we hit max depth, I'll respond to your bizarre fever dream about the Millennium Challenge and some hypothetical war with China. The only things that matters in a war between nuclear states is that both sides view it as too terrible to entertain. Nuclear subs mean that the US always has the option to deal a killing blow even if everything else fails. And if it comes to that, nothing else matters anyway, so why worry about it?

They can go on fancifully pretending to plan for 500 years from now, and we'll continue to innovate, live well by comparison, and at the end of the day there's relatively little reason for us to have a major conflict.

>> the end of the day there's relatively little reason for us to have a major conflict. the end of today. <<FTFY

today, there is not, but autocratic regimes create their own reasons to have major conflicts. They are expansionist, and will keep at it until stopped. Moreover, the longer they are allowed to engage in bad behavior, the larger the conflict that will be required to fix the problem. CCP already has a long history with expansionist actions in Tibet, HK, Taiwan, the 9-dash line, is running concentration camps for Uyghurs, and working it's Belt and Road plan to capture poorer nations in debt traps. Yet their rhetoric is all about how the US is being the aggressor when it practices Freedom Of Navigation exercises in international waters, or is "interfering in internal affairs" by working w/Taiwan.

They will not let these topics go until they win, and they will always find new excuses to expand. Their excuses for current expansion are 100% bullsh*t, why would you expect them to not make new ones when convenient? It's their standard mode of operating.

If you think this will somehow end by itself, you make many wrong assumptions about how autocracies work, or you know something that no one else does about how to stop this, and should share it in the interest of world peace.

>> the end of the day there's relatively little reason for us to have a major conflict. the end of today. <<FTFY

today, there is not, but autocratic regimes create their own reasons to have major conflicts. They are expansionist, and will keep at it until stopped. Moreover, the longer they are allowed to engage in bad behavior, the larger the conflict that will be required to fix the problem. CCP already has a long history with expansionist actions in Tibet, HK, Taiwan, the 9-dash line, is running concentration camps for Uyghurs, and working it's Belt and Road plan to capture poorer nations in debt traps. Yet their rhetoric is all about how the US is being the aggressor when it practices Freedom Of Navigation exercises in international waters, or is "interfering in internal affairs" by working w/Taiwan.

If you think this will somehow end by itself, you make many wrong assumptions about how autocracies work.

I mean I think you hit the nail on the head with nuclear, and I hope the war won't go nuclear. But the war will result in the complete impotence of the USA. China will become like the British empire: its influence will be everywhere. The USA will have no influence. In 50 years, at the outside, the USA will have a worse standard of living than China. China will out innovate us. Out sell us. Out market us. Out maneuver us. We've lost the Philippines, but that's ok because its far away. We'll keep saying that until Mexico is part of the Chinese empire.

The point is that the war wont go nuclear. It'll say conventional, and that's why we'll lose. We won't have the bottle to pull the trigger. Think you can bluff the Chinese? Lol. "Oh, we are really sorry that you aircraft carrier got sunk in an amazingly tragic accident involving our hypersonic missile test. That is terrible." "Ok, but this is the fifth time, if it happens again we'll nuke you, we swear."

Really the only conclusion I can form from the USA's willful inaction is that the politicians are already bought and paid for.

>and at the end of the day there's relatively little reason for us to have a major conflict

That's exactly what will be said in the USA. "Well, they've put missile bases on these man-made islands, but that's little reason to go to war." "Well, they've bought and paid for contracts that would previously go to US companies through bribery and corruption (or rather spending more on bribery and corruption than we did), but that's little reason to go to war." "Oh, they sunk a carrier and they're really sorry about it, but that's little reason to go to war".

One day the world will be China's, and the USA will have spent fifty years repeatedly, impotently, drawing lines in the sand.

Put another way: The Soviets had nukes, but by the 1980s we'd beaten them. Products all over the world had Made in USA written on them. US products, US money all over the world, protected by US military technology. Now swap Russia with USA, and USA with China, 1980 with 2040. 2030?

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

"No plan survives the first shot of the battle".

So, sure, the plans will likely not survive in any detail even a decade from now.

But the fact that they are making plans, attempting to understand the considerations of those future generations, understand what strategic goals need to be worked on now to help that, and more — this is critical.

I contrast, western politics and decision making tends to focus on considerations that are at best hot for the next election cycle.

And notice that the US is not now trying to return manufacturing home because of long-term plans, but because the people noticed that the bargain of cheap goods from China doesn't mean much when you exported the job. The fact that China now makes and has access to key components in some key military systems and that needs to be reversed barely enters the mind of the electorate.

> And notice that the US is not now trying to return manufacturing home because of long-term plans, but because the people noticed that the bargain of cheap goods from China doesn't mean much when you exported the job

Most of those jobs outside of a few narrow categories were lost to automation. We make more steel, aircrafts, and cars than ever but with far fewer people.

China's history of planning has led to tons of misallocation of resources, and I'm not sure I'd want to emulate that.

>>Most of those jobs outside of a few narrow categories were lost to automation.

Of course automation plays a part, but it is nothing like the whole story. China now has far greater capabilities to make critical components from chips to solar panels than is located here. Look what happens to our supply chain when supply is just reduced a bit. What do you think would happen to our economy in a conflict?

>>China's history of planning has led to tons of misallocation of resources, and I'm not sure I'd want to emulate that.

Of course we wouldn't want to emulate that; that's a strawman argument.

But to use that argument to avoid planning altogether is foolish. And yes, resources will APPEAR to be wasted. Keeping more than minimal capabilities immediately at hand is "inefficient".

This is the same as exercising and eating right to stay in good physical condition - no one needs to be able to lift weight and run fast for 99.99% of modern jobs. Yet it is a good idea for many reasons. By your argument, why bother to save for emergencies or tough times? That's inefficient - you should enjoy your full income right now - heck, go into debt too!. Also by your argument, we shouldn't plan to avoid technical debt - that's inefficient waste of programmer time - just write the first thing that comes to mind to deploy the feature.

>It is really the result of not thinking ahead and letting the business lobbies have what they want today

There's a tendency in the West to airbrush history, and pretend that the opening to China was just a result of business lobbies. There was an intentional policy decision based on 'liberalization through trade' theory, which managed to be one of the most disastrous theories out there (far more disastrous than 2000-era US WoT policies). This was pushed by politicians and academics, and up until the oughts businesses were more reacting to the policy as creating it.

YES, this is definitely a huge factor that I failed to mention - the concept that economic free(ish) markets are incompatible with authoritarianism and would lead to political freedom.

From a BBC article yesterday [0]:

"Indeed the US trade representative responsible for negotiating China's WTO deal, Charlene Barshefsky, told a Washington International Trade Association panel this week that China's economic model "somewhat disproved" the Western view that "you can't have an innovative society, and political control""

I can sort of see how the idea took hold, as the previous large authoritarian states in USSR and CCP had so dramatically and consistently underperformed (to be polite) the democracies that it would seem that the converse would be true, that economic freedom would force democracy.

So, ya, it would seem like a good hypothesis, but I sure wouldn't bet a lot on it without solid testing.

Yet, the political leaders all turned out to be fools and bet the entire future of democracy itself on that notion.

Then, combine that with the MBA idea that the only thing important is the ideas and management and trifling things like manufacturing can be outsourced to their cheapest locale and that manufacturing know-how, innovation, and supply chain control don't matter, and we've come to the brink of destroying the free world.

Now, we have a historical fight on our hands to recover from these blunders.


Time will tell as to whether it was a blunder or not, but the policies that incentivized outsourcing were implemented under duress, in a sense. The thought was, if we make the world economically interdependent, then it is much less likely to go to war.

It is not unimaginable that the next Great Power war would itself be civilization-ending, due to the use of nuclear weapons. What's the benefit of having a strategic manufacturing capability, then, if by maintaining that capability you increase the likelihood of war (and by implication, nuclear conflict), compared to the alternative?

An important factor here is not so much the business lobbies, but how we reward the decision-makers. CEOs make most of their money from short-term stock price numbers, something that also determines how long they last in their jobs. Combine that with declining CEO tenure [1] and the incentives are really clear: Do anything that will make the numbers look good in the 1-5 year time frame, get maximum money, and GTFO.

A lot of these problems would go away if CEOs were paid a modest amount of cash to live (say, $1m/year) and then the rest of their compensation was in stock that was locked up for at least 20 years.


I had a summer job one year working on space stuff. I was in the clean room and the first day they took me back there, white suit and all, and took some ball bearings off a wire rack. They were maybe a foot in diameter. My job that summer was to test to see which were the least noisy. (Basically, they rotated very slowly, and there was a phono needle resting on the outside with a strip chart measuring the vibration caused when balls hit each other, etc.) The best ones were going up.

They told me to be careful. These were the rejects from another project, but this project was legally required to use only US tech and the US no longer had the ability to manufacture bearings this large, since we had outsourced for some time and everyone who could do it got out of the business. So we needed these exact ones. (This was the late 70's.)

I was just reading an article on a nuclear power plant built (in Norway?) recently that mentioned how it was a considerably more difficult/costly project due to the fact that there was not sufficient expertise left in the West since so few reactors had been built over the past decades....
We had a solution to scurvy in the late 1400s.

And yet it was “lost” (for a variety of reasons) and was still killing people as late as 1911.

I found this to be a compelling counterargument to Blow's alarmism about forgotten knowledge in tech

A related point: numerically there are far more low level developers now than there were in past he idealizes. No such knowledge is being forgotten, it is used and innovated upon regularly. It may be in less frequent use, but is still there if needed.

I've seen that talk but it feels like putting the cart before the horse. The risk isn't in programming, it's in the CPUs themselves.

C and ASM are still some of the most popular languages in the world. But for a modern CPU, there are machines in the production process that only a single company in the world can make.

We're infinitely more likely to lose the capability to make a modern CPU than lose the capability to know how to code in C.

> We're infinitely more likely to lose the capability to make a modern CPU than lose the capability to know how to code in C.

I agree with this. I want to add that I think if the knowledge of modern CPUs is somehow lost, it won't be catastrophic, merely crippling, since there are literally tens of thousands of CS students every year learning how to build a CPU from electronic circuits.

We will revert to slow and bulky CPUs, be able to run C on them, and in due time rediscover and reëngineer miniaturisation, superscalar multithreading, etc.

The machines at the very top are the only ones at the very top, yes. But there are dozens of manufacturers and fabs building useful ICs slightly shy of the bleeding edge. Lots of microcontrollers, general-purpose ICs, and special purpose ICs are still very frequently made on 22nm and 45nm scales.

And most of the hard trial-and-error discovery and experimentation has been done already, so it should not take 50 years to recover 50 years of historical progress. A process from 1970 can be done in the garage with 'just' a microscope and projector (and a lot of skill and hard work!):

I was hoping if I asked my other half who is an academic in the Classics he'd say this is untrue and I could then reply "well ackshully...". Alas it is true.
Technology can regress by idiotic initiatives like banning advanced math

Do we have any contemporaneous record of this mechanism, or have references to the device not survived for some reason?

If such a device was considered advanced or cutting edge or of note back then then wouldn't we expect some reference to the device?

According to Wikipedia similar devices were mentioned for example by Cicero, Archimedes supposedly wrote a now lost manuscript on the construction of devices like the Antikythera mechanism...:
very little from the past survives through to today.

I don't think there is any record of this device existing other than the device itself, and mention of it after its discovery in the early 1900s.

to some that will be proof that it is not truly an ancient device, and I think that is hogwash. most things just don't last that long, especially paper, which is where mention of the device would be found, if it ever is found.

I don’t doubt it’s ancient. I’m not skeptic from that POV. I do find it curious that such an object would be exist but not have some fanfare around it. I’m sure there’s an explanation that eludes me. Could have been developed in some secrecy for example because it have the people who used it some advantage?
I think naikrovek explained it. We have but a few scraps of information from the ancient world. There might very well have been a fanfare; it might have been a huge deal—and we might still have no record of any mention of it.
or maybe it was just a fairly common thing, then?

the math used in the device is not complex, nor is its construction. it is only impressive to us because of what we assume about cultures of that time: that they are dumber than we are, less intelligent.

they were just as smart as us, but they were far fewer in number, and had many more limitations than we have when it comes to the library of technologies and skills they can call on to accomplish their goals.

Thinking of the most elaborate clockwork built today, those quarter million dollar wristwatches, there isn’t much written about them, maybe a youtube sizzle reel at most. Their customer base is small and they have little reason to document the inner-workings.

Could be this mechanism was just an exquisite commission for a wealthy dude to keep on his boat.

Darwin College Lecture Series: Decoding the Heavens: The Antikythera Mechanism by Jo Marchant

"There are quite a few mentions of devices that sound a bit like the Antikythera mechanism"

Jo Marchant is an award-winning science journalist and author of several popular science books including Decoding the Heavens: Solving the mystery of the world’s first computer and the New York Times bestseller Cure: A journey into the science of mind over body (both shortlisted for the Royal Society science books prize). She has a PhD in genetics, and has worked as a senior editor at New Scientist and at Nature.

Not sure if it is a myth, but hadn't we forgotten to build Saturn V engines?
IIRC we have (at least most of) the drawings, but they don't specify tolerances like modern drawings do and were more for reference as parts were developed at specific factories with existing molds. It's more the fabrication knowledge that would need to be rebuilt.
In addition to that, a lot of stuff was crafted by hand with little or no documentation as to what was changed (no 'as-builts').

e: How NASA brought the monstrous F-1 “moon rocket” engine back to life (

Not to mention there being a substantial advancements in engineering that make the F1 engines used by Saturn V basically obsolete.

The Space X Merlins have a much better thrust-to-weight ratio in the same gas generator cycle class, the Russian RD-180 powering the Atlas V is using oxygen rich staged combustion and is much more efficient.

And the current trend seems to be clearly liquid methane and liquid oxygen, covered by the phenomenal Raptor engine from Space X, the BE-4 from Blue origin and many smaller ones.

So hardly any regression on the chemical rocket engine front - pretty much the opposite, thankfully!

On the nuclear thermal rocket front on the other hand - yeah, we really did regress there. :P From almost flight ready NERVA examples in the 60s/70s to basically nothing even remotely flight ready today...

I'd add to his argument, that the problem with software and uptime is that every time we add a layer of abstraction or library, the five 9s factor may apply.

    Math.pow(.99999, 1) - One dependency.
    Math.pow(.99999, 2) - Two dependencies.
    Math.pow(.99999, N) - N dependencies.
And that assumes everyone is aiming for 99.999% uptime. Which isn't true.

There's other factors, but that's the one I'd point out.

Really nice presentation. I think the bottleneck here is that developers creates tool for other developers to simplify their job and few decades later we end up with lots of handy and easy to use tools that just mask the real toughness of the problem. You can see it easily in web development with tools like React or even the CSS which is (IMHO) full of nasty hacks.
Also, I, pencil comes to mind.,_Pencil
Thank you for this talk, this is fantastic
Holy cow, this is absolutely fascinating. Figured it deserves more than just an upvote-- This speaker you linked mentions another fascinating talk within his lecture:

"1177 B.C.: When Civilization Collapsed | Eric Cline"

>most would be surprised to learn that Ancient Greece had writing for about 600 years before forgetting it. There was no writing in Greece for over 400 years, until they adopted the Phoenician alphabet around 730 BC.

[citation needed]

I've been programming since... well... technically since I was a kid in the 1980s and professionally since 1998. I think several areas have regressed quite a bit. The biggest one by far is desktop GUI programming.

From the late 1980s until the mid-2000s GUIs had all kinds of standardized visual cues, context sensitive help, UIs usable by both mouse and keyboard, standard interface designs across apps, data binding, and most of all WYSIWYG GUI design software that worked exceptionally well. We had this on 80286 CPUs with 1MiB of RAM and similarly tiny machines.

Today's desktop UIs are a fucking disaster on both the developer side and the user side.

For developers you have a choice between a hypertext language hacked endlessly into a UI and native UI tooling that's far less intuitive and much uglier than what we had back then. Compare the UI designer (not the language) in Visual Basic in the 1990s to today. You could not only design but data bind a complex app that looked decent in 30 minutes.

For users you have no consistency, no keyboard shortcuts (or different ones for every app), no help or help that only works online, etc.

I miss VB. it was really easy to use. There are tools out there but you have to pay every month for them.
What is preventing you to use VB.NET with WinForms? Still out there.
Yeah. I know VB gets a lot of derision in these parts, but Visual Studio community edition is free, and .NET is free. So it's totally free to write applications with.
Check Lazarus [0] for Free Pascal [1].

Another viable option would be Visual Tcl [2] for Tcl/Tk [3]. Given the event-based nature of Tcl and Tk, I find it matches well for a methodology like VB provided.

And it's far from the only one I remember (although you'll need to do some research here [4]). For example, Komodo IDE used to have a Tk GUI builder that provided for the same kind of methodology, which has been split off in [5].








Is it indeed annoying that every app isn't "cool" unless it attempts to reinvent the user interface.
How comes that circa 2000 VB6 was the most hated and belittled programming language out there? I was there, I remember it. Now it's suddenly part of the golden age of desktop programming? I think you should put your nostalgia glasses off.
The language was crap - the IDE/designer was excellent.

For me - the sweet-spot that I used for all of my own personal projects after outgrowing VB1-6 was... Borland Delphi.

The IDE/designer was at least as good as VB - but the Object Pascal language was so powerful. It was truely object-oriented and if one wanted, one could work at a high level of abstraction. Yet it could also natively drop-down to low-level Windows API's, and handle pointer-based work if necessary.

Unfortunately - for my professional career, Delphi never captured the large-scale Enterprise market - that went to .NET or Java and the rest is history...

(Occasionally I noodle about with FreePascal for the nostalgia factor)

Visual J++ has entered the chat
When the option was between VB 6 or doing COM in raw C++....

Granted we still had MFC, but then the COM lovers at Microsoft started pushing for ATL, and everything that followed from there.

On the other side we had (and still have) Delphi and C++ Builder, but Borland's management killed the indie culture around them.

VB was good at some things (e.g. UI design) and bad at others (e.g. doing complex computation).
It's for much the same reason that BASIC (in general) was maligned and people wax nostalgic for it today. A lot of people cut their teeth on it, may that be learning how to program or embarking upon a career in programming. In other words, they have much to be thankful for.
I think that the most hated part of VB6 was more the BASIC language rather than the GUI design part... but maybe I'm wrong.
I think it had more to do with VB being so easy it attracted lots of inexperienced programmers who didn't care about performance or correctness as long as the job got done. Sort of like a pre-internet PHP ;)
I also remember DLL hell and all the issues to make safely run on every Windows installation a VB6 program and its runtime. But I agree with the other commenters that the IDE and the visual part was really nice (too nice for the average skilled developer of the time, VB6 was the NodeJS of that time)
Because the language itself was terrible. The RAD tooling/UI designer was excellent. There was a product that had those but included a better language -- Borland's Delphi, but Borland and its successors squandered its initial success and didn't invest in improving it.
That's not a problem of the craft however, it's a problem of the culture.

We are perfectly capable of writing native GUIs, and we have powerful tools for it as well. QTDesigner comes to mind as a well known example.

The problem is, about 12 years ago, application design went through a gameification and "toy-i-fication" phase, from which it has yet to recover, because suddenly, everything had to look like it was designed for tablets or gaming consoles. Then the "javascript for everythiiiing!" happened, and suddenly the tools and workflows behind all the bloated, inefficient, low-information-density apps were swept into the desktop world.

But, since the modern definition of an "App" is basically everything that is displayed on a phone ever, and devices got so powerful that no matter how badly devs f* it up it still kinda-ish works (if we ignore the battery screaming for dear life), and this situation has generally been accepted.

The problem is when this culture extends a couple of generations the craft gets lost.
Not really, because there is always a high demand for good software. Just because cookware nowadays is usually made from cheap, industrially pressed sheet metal, doesn't mean high-quality copper and cast-iron cookware is no longer made.
It is a culture problem, but it goes back before phones and Javascript.

Even before that, application design was usually terrible. Apps were almost universally ugly. Developers just aren't very good at it; it's not in their skill sets. They're good at making apps fast and small, but not at making them usable.

Rare companies would hire separate designers, and the apps could be functional and attractive, but they were the exception. It was a lot of money for something generally considered ancillary.

Browser-based apps get to leverage the work done by browser makers, who put in the effort to make toolkits that looked nice by default. They're not small or fast -- though Moore's Law has made them usable anyway. They also favor the things that designers like -- including not overwhelming the user with dense information. You can still use them badly, but by default any programmer can make an app that isn't awful.

There never was a golden age when developers made good, small, fast apps. It was usually a "pick two" situation, except by spending a lot of money. I'm just as happy to let my battery scream and not cringe at every single app that comes up, and so cheaply that they can give it away or cost dollars rather than tens or hundreds. Others disagree, of course, but I think the market tends to show a heavy thumb on one side of that scale.

I wonder where the notion that productivity software should be “attractive” came from. Were whole businesses not built on VisiCalc?

The registers at B&H photo in NYC appear to be some DOS terminal system, but the employees know the keyboard shortcuts by muscle memory and the interface’s reaction time is instantaneous. If that’s not good software I don’t know what is.

I wonder where the notion that productivity software should be “attractive” came from.

From the people who make choices about where to put their money. You can get away with ugly software -- especially if you had something that worked 20 years ago and is still sufficient, and there is no alternative. But if users have the choice of something attractive, they'll pick it.

That depends entirely on the use case and the user.

I have the choice of many many many text editors and IDEs to manage my source code.

What do I use? vim. In a terminal(-emulator).

Why? Because I like my editor to be ready the moment my finger leaves the ENTER key, I like direct interoperability with the terminal, I like that I can hack together even the most absurd things in .vimrc, and I like that I have the same editor with the same settings on all servers I take care of, even when I connect to them via ssh.

I also use vlc for playing audio and video. Are there players that have a more edge UX? Sure. Do they come with builtin-full support for almost all formats, have a tiny memory footprint, can be used to convert stuff, don't spy on me and can be controlled via a terminal (hello ncurses mode!)? Nope.

VLC is bloated. Try mpv from
Thanks, looks like an interesting project, will definitely keep it on my radar.

However, after compiling it and measuring it on an older machine (a Lenovo T430 running Arch) against the out-of-the-box vlc install, I can see no advantage in memory footprint or cpu usage, they are about the same. (I compared mvp running in terminal against vlc running with ncurses interface module)

Since mpv doesn't offer an ncurses interface, and is still in development, I will, for now, stick with vlc.

However, the scripting options definitely seem great, as I said i will keep it on my radar.

Hm. Don't know how to respond to that. Let me explain how my usage began. Somewhen in the days of early Arch long before systemd...don't know how and why exactly I tried it. I mostly used mplayer before. Even with mplayer I've been wondering why I should use VLC over it, because anything I've thrown at mplayer just worked. While VLC had so many options for nothing I'd need. And it was bloated in direct comparison. Maybe that has changed meanwhile by change of toolkit, or whatever. IDK, not touching it. MPV feels like mplayer to me, with the difference of even less hassle for daily usage, and under active development, with the option of embedding it into several popular scripts to download/stream content from popular sites to watch it outside the browser/app or to archive it in the desired format and quality. Either from CLI or via several frontends. Which I have almost no use for. However, for my simple needs for local playing of downloaded stuff it just works for everything I throw at it, be it CLI, or click in some graphical filemanager. Instantly. Sometimes on even older systems than yours. With probably less RAM. Say 8GB, with something booted from USB, running 'live', so only 7GB, no SWAP. I wouldn't want to use VLC on that. If it's on the image, I remove it and exchange it for mpv during remastering.

Maybe you compiled yours with all the bells&whistles which aren't needed for sufficient local playback?

Furthermore I didn't cover (re-)streaming to chromecasts, TVs, or such. Don't have it, don't want it.

> While VLC had so many options for nothing I'd need.

This has next to zero impact on its performance, as the ncurses player talks exactly to the parts of libVLC it has to.

>Instantly. Sometimes on even older systems than yours. With probably less RAM. Say 8GB, with something booted from USB, running 'live', so only 7GB, no SWAP.

The system I tested this on has 4GiB of RAM. And I have used `VLC -I ncurses` from live systems-on-a-stick as well. It runs before my finger leaves the ENTER key, same as mpv.

> Maybe you compiled yours with all the bells&whistles which aren't needed for sufficient local playback?

I'd be happy to repeat the measurement with different settings.

I disagree. Honestly since UI have become the primary domain of designers and "UX" experts they have regressed massively. 15 years ago you opened an application. The feel was consistent. I had a bar at the top which showed me the option in an straightforward manner which allowed to quickly explore and click through to relatively specialized things. Now, every app has it's own UI. And even worse everything is as hidden as possible in the name of being "clean".
>They're good at making apps fast and small, but not at making them usable.

I don't know which apps you are talking about, but I use apps built and designed by developers every day, and they all work great.

My problems start when Apps are NOT designed by developers, but rather people who have seen 100 videos about color theory, and know all the latest fonts their social media du jour is excited about, but very little about hardware, programming, and the difference between localhost and accessing a server over cheap WiFi from somewhere else on the planet.

Because these are the "apps" which do something ridiculously simple, but somehow manage to eat up 2-3GiB of RAM and let the laptops fans spin out of control.

>They're not small or fast -- though Moore's Law has made them usable anyway.

Moores Law is over however, and there is no justification for an app that, say, plays locally stored mp3s to require 2GiB of RAM and 10% CPU. If an application thinks this is justified, it will get to know my good friend `rm -rf`, beacause I have vlc running in ncurses mode right now, playing my entire playlist, and its eating less memory than the terminal emulator it's running in ;-)

The answer to bad software, and overloaded/overused/oversold frameworks is not "built more powerful computers" but "make better software".

>There never was a golden age when developers made good, small, fast apps.

Good != Beautifully designed.

Good means small, fast, portable, reliable, easy to install, easy to learn, easy to remove, does its job.

Another very good related video about the Antikythera mechanism
Is there a good resource explaining the current understanding of how it was working? Wikipedia has some diagrams and text, but at least to me very hard to understand.
It is absolutely not a computer, though. They observed the observable astrological phenomena was cyclical and made a system of gears for their periods to predict it's state. It's interesting, but for context it is centuries younger than the first Greek geared clocks, so it's definitely not something we should be too surprised that existed.
I guess the definition of "computer" you have is "stored program machine", but a lot of other machines were called computers back then.

"Computer" was not limited to machines
Citation needed? First time I'm hearing anyone say that this mechanism is not an anachronism based on current historical timelines.
I had a similar thought and I noticed it wasn’t referred to in the video as a computer, only the title. I’d describe it as a model although I think it fits the common definition of a computer too.
It is absolutely a special–purpose computer. Of course it’s not a general–purpose programmable computer such as the ones we use today, but it is still a computer.
What is your dictionary definition of computer then? Is a sundial a computer because it tells the time? Is an abacus, or a Genaille–Lucas ruler, a computer?
A special–purpose computer is any device which computes an answer to a specific question given some input or initial conditions. An abacus or slide rule is not a computer because they are not designed for a specific question or problem (but they can of course be an aid to computation).

With the Antikythera mechanism, the operator sets the machine to the current date, and then turns the crank to advance the date. The dials on the face would continuously show the positions of several planets, the phase of the moon, the eclipses, and possibly one or two other things.

Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine computed the values of polynomials. The operator would set the coefficients of the polynomial, then turn the crank to compute successive values of that polynomial for successive values of X. He never finished it though.

The firing computer on a WWII destroyer computed the correct elevation of the guns, based on inputs that encoded the position and velocity of the ship, the position and velocity of the target, and several other variables.

General–purpose computers take as input a _program_, and the program specifies the problem to be solved. You could load a program for computing eclipses one minute, and the next minute load a program for computing polynomials or firing solutions, or load one to check your email. The hardware hasn’t changed, only the program and inputs have changed.

Contrast that with the Difference Engine: to make the difference engine compute eclipses or firing solutions, you would have to swap out all of the gears and shafts, and build a different frame to hold them all. It would be turned into a completely different machine.

Right, it is an algorithm, coded in analogue hardware. It can _compute_ certain astronomical outputs for a range of inputs.
"Simply shouldn't exist"

Pyramids were wonders of the ancient world long before the Python web framework.

The condescencion of the modern age toward those who came before use never ceases to amuse.

All they're saying is that the technology represented in this device has no equivalent in the historical record anywhere near that time and that place. It's not to say that it literally cannot exist, rather, our historical understanding of these peoples is clearly incomplete. These are the sorts of findings that change our understanding of history which makes it pretty exciting to me.

The Clickspring series on this mechanism was mentioned elsewhere and is some of the finest content on YouTube, I'd strongly recommend checking it out.

There are actually several descriptions of similar devices in the literature.

And the Antikythera mechanism gave a lot of credibility to those descriptions. Without it, they might well be dismissed as fantasy; Roman and Greek writers, even historians, were generally pretty credulous by modern standards and the literature contains references to all sorts of things which couldn't possibly have been true.
Oh for sure and I think that's an important point: this device didn't pop out of nowhere.

Something of this complexity strongly suggests an existing school/guild/etc which developed the knowledge and crafts around designing and building "clockwork" devices like this. China had discovered the geared wheel centuries previous so gears were known. It's the integration of the basic underlying technologies that is surprising, and I don't think it's a huge leap to presume that there must be more of these devices out there waiting to be discovered!

I think that's gp's point: rather than saying "An ancient computer that we don't understand is making us realise how little we know about the ancient world and challenging our assumptions about ancient technology" the headline is "An ancient computer that shouldn't exist".
> our historical understanding of these peoples is clearly incomplete

That's the point being made.The conventional wisdom lens frames them as inferior, instead of us being the ones who are flawed.

There's a difference between "They couldn't have done that..." and "We didn't realize they could have done it."

I've seen people claimed that, e.g. the polished granite columns common across European palaces and even some cathedrals, could not have been a) polished so well without laser technology, b) could not be moved and then erected without modern engine-powered equipment. So all of it was the work of ancient aliens or something, and the history as we're taught it is completely falsified, for some reason.

Because obviously, if you can't imagine how to do something then it must be impossible.

> Because obviously, if you can't imagine how to do something then it must be impossible.

Yep, this is known as the "argument from incredulity".

That's why I like videos of handtools techniques. People splitting massive rocks. Levers and pivots to manipulate them. Mechanics are not recent.. we just do it faster thanks to modern energy storage and transfer.
Because obviously, if you say impossible, you mean impossible, and it's not a figure of speech (since unless we're talking about 'alien technology' conspiracy theorists, the people calling it "impossible" already know that e.g. the polishing clearly has been done and is thus possible without lasers).
I've worked for people who think anything they can't do themselves is impossible. It's not an uncommon outlook.
I've often wondered if the people making these claims ("you need lasers to make something that flat") are people working in archeology or are actual civil engineers or machinists etc. Talk to a master machinist about how to make a large stone flat with access to ancient technology and I suspect you'll get a handful of plausible answers.
I've seen exactly blue-collars workers arguing for impossibility: it's hard enough to do with modern technology ("I know it first-hand!"), how would you even do it without it?
It's hard only because you don't have hundred of slaves you can put to work 12+ hours until they pass out
That’s perhaps a testament to our dependence on modern machinery, if the skills did exist once.
It's fairly simple to construct a way to see your own face. All you need is a high-grade color LCD or OLED display, a high-resolution digital camera, a power source, a few controls and a logic board. Too bad none of this was available before 2010, those poor ancients must have always wondered what they looked like.
You jest, but I've heard a tale from a local engineering college: they regularly give to the graduating-year students a task to design some system which, after you remove all the fancy wordings, is basically insides of a toilet cistern/tank. Year after year, the students keep producing astonishingly convoluted designs.
I once re-invented the whistling teapot while deeply engrossed in using Arduino for anything and everything. I had only saucepans to boil water with and wished they could alert me once the water reached temp, perhaps optically sensing the turbulance of the surface.

My roommate could not roll their eyes enough.

Well, if you put a lid on a saucepan (and you should, it conserves energy and makes water boil faster) you can detect it clattering when the water starts to boil! So you don't need any optical input, a microphone will suffice ― which is cheaper, too. Filter out the low frequencies of water humming, amplify the rest, and you got a (not-so-nice-sounding, because it rattles, not whistles) boiling point alarm!
This argument can work both ways. Some people claim everything in Egypt could be done with hands, patience (or by forcing someone). But there are many other clues, suggesting that civilization had access to some very sophisticated tools or machinery. Maybe not lasers, but not hand saws either. Check this short clip for example: It describes a sarcophagus was ditched mid-production, because the cut was made in the wrong way. I am not saying that the conclusion is valid, but it's an interesting data point.
"Foundations of Mechanical Accuracy" is the text I see referenced most often in this context. On the pdf at [1], from page 24 onwards it describes the procedure to create a flat surface accurate to single digit micrometers "from scratch" with nothing but a scraping tool and some dye (and a whole lot of patience).


Thank you for posting that, you beat me to it. FOMA is a classic. Here’s a video illustrating the process of creating a microscopically flat surface from three unflat surfaces. It can be done with ancient technology, if you have enough time.

Haven't watched yet, but I always wonder, what would be their reason to do so? I assume it takes huge amount of time and effort. They would get pretty similar effect by stopping much earlier. No need to polish two stone to death, just to fit one onto another. Whats even weirder, many times they seem to care much more about the connecting sides, not the eye-facing one. I don't buy the slavery-argument. Even with access to "free labor" there is no point in over-expending the time and effort.
They wouldn't grind down the stones to micrometer flatness for construction work, just a mm or so.

The type of buildings where you see extremely precise stonework tend to be cathedrals and palaces, where spending insane amounts of labor is kinda the point. It demonstrates to the masses how grand, rich and powerful the inhabitant of the building is. Spending lots of money on a building is a way of showing off.

from one angle, the church spends money for monumental purposes. But I’m not of the opinion that you can just spend your way to those cathedrals: the workmen (freemasons in the original sense) have to believe they are giving glory to god.

Here’s a great video [0][17min] documenting the Met Museum’s commissioning of moroccan mosaics, by the end you can see the craftsmen taking great pride in their work, above and beyond what they’re paid to do, carving “allah” over and over out of religious dedication.

(just want to push back on the notion that religion is all about manipulating people with your power, the crimes of the vatican notwishstanding)


There's nothing _particularly_ surprising about the Pyramids, though; they were fairly obviously possible at the time and made sense in context. The Antikythera device was more surprising; if nothing else, it's the oldest known example of clockwork in that part of the world, by _centuries_.

There's no magic here; it clearly did exist. But it's surprising that it did; it feels out of time in a way that most artifacts don't.

"The condescencion of the modern age toward those who came before use never ceases to amuse."

Well, it's also a bit sad testament to the fact that in general people have very little experience of how far they could go from starting from first principles, instead of just reading a single plausible answer from textbook.

A single human can be quite inventive and achieve quite a lot if they focus their energies.

The bayesian interpretation could be also that "it's pretty easy to progress this far in mechanical computation if you guess the correct route to take".

If a web framework in the Pyramids was discovered, it would defy our understanding of the history of technology and "simply shouldn't exist". It's a dramatic way of putting it, but it's really just saying that our understanding was wrong. It shouldn't exist given our model of the world, so our model is wrong.
They shouldn't exist if the null hypothesis hold true, so this is evidence against the null hypothesis, aka the official history.

This shouldn't surprise you neither, but that depends on your null hypothesis ;)

Taken another way, we're condemning our own current lack of imagination, understanding.
"What they found changed our understanding of human history forever."
Seems like the ancients were much better at making tools than they were at marketing them.

Granted, their market was much smaller to begin with, who needs a calculator when their whole existence consists of farming and having kids.

A small group today could prototype a very advanced set of AR glasses, but if they don't try to sell it, it would never be "discovered" by society. Future archeologists would say "this shouldn't exist".

On that note, there are so many people these days and so much information that the chance of someone else creating the same thing and successfully popularizing it is much higher.

"Please don't pick the most provocative thing in an article and rush to the thread to complain about it. Find something interesting to comment about instead."

8 Ways to Make Your Old Laptop Feel New Again

A good computer is understandably expensive, but it sometimes feels like it isn’t worth the sticker price. After a few years of use, many laptops and PCs start to run slow; typical tasks are no longer as easy as they once were, and you find yourself eyeing the new computers on the market. But before you drop $2,000 on one of Apple’s new MacBook Pros, it’s worth figuring out if you can turn your old computer into a new one. Or at least, one that runs a lot more like a new one.

Because of the backwards things occurring on the other side of the Mediterranean?

Weird standard. Its like a historian researching Iraq in the year 4,050 AD and also finding a ancient semiconductor factory in Austria saying “huh, that shouldn't exist”

On today’s timeless news, group of wandering nomads hopes for religious nation state, more at 11!

Just think abput all the knowledge that was lost over the centuries and millenia of human civilization.

Who are we to think that our technology is the greatest and the most advanced on this planet? We have no conclusive evidence to claim such titles.

Ancient people have drawings of strange creatures and devices that descend from the heavens. Even the Pyramids show signs of advanced engineering, such as deep tunnels and chambers beneath layers of limestone and rocks. These structures were neccessary for survival under the scorching sun during the summer. During winter's cold nights, rocks provided good thermal isolation. We now know of huge chambers and hallways carved deep into the Pyramids. Maybe they were used as gathering places, with many chambers providing shelter and comfort?

Who knows. Only couple of years earlier we thought to know everything about ancient Greece. Then this happened.

This is generally considered a dangerous line of thinking, but I believe society has become too soft. We're so frightened of mystical thinking and being wrong that people aren't willing to entertain "dumb" ideas.

Just don't make the mistake of thinking it's anything more than speculation.

> We're so frightened of mystical thinking and being wrong that people aren't willing to entertain "dumb" ideas.

As the pandemic has showed, quite the contrary we embrace too many "dumb" ideas.

This is what I'm talking about, folks!
Plenty of people were afraid of "dangerous thinking", so we stagnated as a species during the middle ages.

That's why some civilizations were more advanced thusands of years ago than, say, Britain during the 1200's.

Unconventional might be the word you want, more than "dumb".

In a way, despite our general tolerance and diversity of thought, I've come to believe we're an extremely orthodox culture. As a general rule, there is a right way to do something, someone has almost certainly already discovered it, and your job as an artisan, engineer, or anyone else, is to look that correct way up in a book, and do it that way.

Just inventing your own take on something considered settled is thought to be extremely eccentric, possibly even a sign of madness.

Yep. It's ironically very unscientific.
You're aware that it's perfectly possible to live on the surface in Egypt without air conditioning, right? Like you can just go there and put up a tent if you want.
Who is claiming this you fucking idiot?
> Only couple of years earlier we thought to know everything about ancient Greece

I don't think any historian would claim that, or would ever have claimed that. Knowledge of the ancient world is extremely limited and patchy.

In case you have not seen it, there is a very interesting video series by Clickspring about building an Antikythera Mechanism with tools that were abailable at that time.

The tl;dw is that it was possible to build it with tools that were probably available, but some tools are specialized enough to guess that they had already build other similar devices. The final IRL reconstructed device is very nice. It's a long serie (10 episodes of 15 minutes each + some additional videos with even more details in other playlist) but it's worth watching.

Did I miss that he finished the mechanism? From what I've seen he went into hiatus and has been only posting ClickSpring "clips" for a while now?
I saw the videos a long time ago, so I'm probably misremembering. He probably made a good chunk of it that is way more than what I could do [1], and after a few years I got confused.

[1] In the secondary school I made a dice of iron and two hammers (one with a lathe and one with a ¿planer?). My ability is not even close to his.

He hasn’t completely finished his reconstruction, but he hasn’t entirely been on a hiatus either. He co–authored a paper on the calendar ring of the mechanism:

But he hasn’t made many videos the last year or two.

Some of his videos are only available via Patreon.
I support him on Patreon and I don't think that's true. They are just released earlier there.
I was so intrigued by his videos, the story of the mechanism, that I went and saw the actual remains of it when I was overseas and in Athens. Chris tweeted a photo I took of it while I was there.
That series still isn't over. It just got interrupted a couple of times. The first interruption was explained in Episode 10 - that was the discovery that the way one of the wheels was divided in the remaining teeth likely indicated that the mechanism was based on a lunar rather than a solar calendar, and that part needed to wait for the peer review and publication of a paper before the series could continue. The next interruption had more to do with Chris's real passion of watch and clock making - he had access to a couple of decorative engines (a straight-line engine and a rose engine), probably temporarily, since they would in no way both fit into the little closet he has for a shop, and he did some rather impressive guilloché and enamel work with those. When the series picks up (if it does), the hard parts are yet to come, like the planetary dial and its crapload of pointers.

One thing Chris has done that people like Michael Wright didn't was to assume that anyone who was building something like that, with its obvious signs of not being a rough prototype, would have made some sort of jig for some of the parts rather than, say, laboriously walking off tooth spacing for every single gear, and that some sort of lathe, which was known to exist and be used for wood from illustrations both contemporary with and far preceding the device, would have likely been used to make round things out of soft metal.

Dec 01, 2021 · 1 points, 0 comments · submitted by hochmartinez
HN Theater is an independent project and is not operated by Y Combinator or any of the video hosting platforms linked to on this site.
~ [email protected]
;laksdfhjdhksalkfj more things ~ Privacy Policy ~
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.