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Building a Telegraph Using Only Stone Age Materials

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the from-scratch dept.

Hardware Hacking 238

MMBK writes "It's the ultimate salvagepunk experiment, building a telegraph out of things found in the woods. From the article: 'During the summer of 2009, artist Jamie O’Shea of the organization Substitute Materials set out to test whether or not electronic communication could have been built at any time in history with the proper knowledge, and with only tools and materials found in the wilderness of New Jersey.'"

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Disappointing Video (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33968810)

This video is a big let down: all he's doing is showing that it's possible to smelt iron & copper and construct an organic battery. This is not news...

Furthermore, he uses stone tools and tries (and fails) to start a fire with a friction bow drill.

For building a telegraph (or any electronic communications medium), the challenge lies in the miles of wire that are needed. The scale of manufacturing for this task is huge and is a long project -- not something you'd set out to do in the wilderness with your stone axe.

If civilization collapsed and needed to be rebuilt with only stored knowledge and what can be found outside, don't you think we'd start by finding flint and making knives & axes? You know, like humans did thousands of years ago... Not to mention the fact that other needs, like shelter/water/food would take priority -- and once you've met those needs efficiently and adequately, you'll probably already have a nice collection of tools, machines, and furnaces that will let you get started on higher technology.

I was expecting, and would be much more interested, in seeing documentation on how to build a telegraph using basic midievil technology (i.e. assuming the existence of metal tools, furnaces, and animal/water-powered machines)

Re:Disappointing Video (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33968918)

"If civilization collapsed and needed to be rebuilt with only stored knowledge and what can be found outside", what we'd find outside would be a whole shit-ton of wrecked infrastructure waiting to be salvaged. Anyone considering primitive tech without aluminum-age wreckage is already so far removed from any practical hypotheticals, they may as well be on mythbusters (no offense, Mr. President).

So for me, that they started from stone-age vs. bronze or better tech is not particularly disappointing, just mildly amusing.

Re:Disappointing Video (2, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969010)

If civilization collapsed we would not bother with flint. We have lots of metal all around us.

Besides making steel is not that hard, even if he failed to start a fire using an old method.

Re:Disappointing Video (4, Insightful)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969078)

Precisely. Even if all the rundown Walmarts had their inventories depleted, *someone* will be selling a used hammer on the market for some food. We have over produced so much crap in the last 50 years alone, we don't need to be making more of basic items such as common hand tools and PVC pipe found in a Home Depot.

Don't forget. We're also very good at scavenging for resources as well. You think human beings are bad at recycling? In such a scenario, that's all we would be doing. Path of least resistance and all that...

Re:Disappointing Video (2, Informative)

Jukeman (1522147) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969896)

Making steel is very hard to do using primitive tools, what you will make, if lucky is pig iron or cast iron, neither of which is steel.

Re:Disappointing Video (2, Funny)

DamienRBlack (1165691) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969056)

I was expecting, and would be much more interested, in seeing documentation on how to build a telegraph using basic midievil technology (i.e. assuming the existence of metal tools, furnaces, and animal/water-powered machines)

You're right, midi was evil. I sincerely hope no human ever has to return to evil midi technology to make anything.

Re:Disappointing Video (2, Informative)

RealGrouchy (943109) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969170)

I was expecting, and would be much more interested, in seeing documentation on how to build a telegraph using basic medieval technology (i.e. assuming the existence of metal tools, furnaces, and animal/water-powered machines)

Is 1684 [wikipedia.org] close enough for you?

- RG>

Re:Disappointing Video (4, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969242)

"If civilization collapsed..."

Interesting as a premise as that is, it isn't the concept behind what he was doing. This wasn't a DIY hard hack demonstration in the sense that those usually show up on /. This was a conceptual activity, intended to explore an idea. Think "art" not "science". His idea was that this example of technology could be built from nature without any preceding technology at hand, just the knowledge of how to do it. He wanted to to stand on the shoulders of the giants who'd come before him, but not take along any of their tools.

The fact that ultimately he did use one of those tools (a lighter) is why (IMHO) this exercise failed. I understand his reasoning: He could have started the fire without the lighter, and on previous occasions he had started fires without it. But once he made that argument, he could say that he could have have built a battery, and on another occasion he did, so he used a prefab one... and you might at well just leave it as a thought experiment. The performance itself was incomplete, and all that was left was a proof of concept rather than the execution of a concept.

Making Fire Is HARD (4, Interesting)

Iskender (1040286) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969552)

The fact that ultimately he did use one of those tools (a lighter) is why (IMHO) this exercise failed. I understand his reasoning: He could have started the fire without the lighter, and on previous occasions he had started fires without it. But once he made that argument, he could say that he could have have built a battery, and on another occasion he did, so he used a prefab one... and you might at well just leave it as a thought experiment. The performance itself was incomplete, and all that was left was a proof of concept rather than the execution of a concept.

Your first paragraph about this being more art than it was many other things was very good, and I almost moderated you up. But I decided to reply to this paragraph instead.

This isn't the first time I've heard someone being unimpressed when someone else fails to light a fire using only plant parts. I can see where this comes from, but since I've seen attempts myself it instantly becomes different.

There are many, many problems with doing this. A basic problem is that of most friction: how do you get the most friction? By rubbing wood against wood. However, that way you very quickly bore into the wood because you're using so much force, and then the point of most friction has no oxygen. This is of course assuming nothing else breaks from the huge stresses on all parts of the device.

Smoke is reasonably easy to produce and it's even possible to burn oneself. But fire, that takes a totally disproportionate amount of skill. I wouldn't be surprised if building a hut to live in year round is an easier challenge.

So my take-away message is this: there's one disproportionately hard task involved among many others which make the point quite well too. He basically showed that if you have fire you can jump straight to the iron age. Personally I thought any kind of iron production required a sealed furnace of some sort.

Re:Making Fire Is HARD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969806)

Actually, if you're making lots of smoke, you're there. All it takes is collecting all that hot dust and giving it a little air to get a nice coal going. Making fire is really not that hard, it just takes a decent setup and a little bit of practice. Think 2 hours or less.

Re:Making Fire Is HARD (5, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969828)

I know it's hard to start a fire like this. I've tried and tried and tried it unsuccessfully. But as soon as he skipped that step, he was no longer doing what he set out to do: creating dits and dahs without using any post-stone-age gear.

If I set out to walk across the country, but take a bus from Pittsburgh to Toledo because it's raining, and I know that I could walk between them, I haven't actually walked across the country, have I?

Re:Making Fire Is HARD (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33970178)

But if you want to prove it's possible to walk across country and take a bus from Pittsburgh to Toledo, you can point at other people who have walked from Pittsburgh to Toledo to prove your point. I think he proved his point even if he had to cheat, and diminished the "glory" by not having done it all from scratch himself.

Knowledge (5, Informative)

diablovision (83618) | more than 3 years ago | (#33970138)

It doesn't take that much "skill" to make a fire with a bowdrill, honestly. My brother was into this kind of thing. It turns out that the choice of wood, string, and a decent bow make a _huge_ difference. E.g. I saw him get a glowing ember from his drill setup in less than a minute, and in less than 90 seconds had a handful of flames. Impressed by how easy it looked, I traipsed into the woods, found some sticks of various sizes, with no thought whatsoever to their suitability, made a rough bow, carved out a notch, got a rock and started going at it. Half a day later, I could barely get smoke. I didn't know why. He let me use his setup, and within two minutes I too had an ember.

You need a wood that grows straight, has little resin, and is somewhat dry for the drill, and a flexible but stiff wood for the bow. A soft maple is excellent. It needs to be dead and dry, not green (obviously). You want a good solid leather string that will grip the drill nicely. You want a good amount of tension in the bow, but not too much. The drill should be between 2 and 3 cm wide, around 15 to 20 cm long. For the base you want a somewhat harder wood with a little more resin. Oak is good. Gather good kindling to catch, often by peeling bark into super thin strips and making a little nest of them. The glowing ember will come from the dust of the drill being worn down and getting hot. For the top you want a rock not much bigger than the palm of your hand, so that you can get a good grip on it and put some weight to keep the whole system stable. You want to get a nice point on the drill on the rock side and if possible scratch a bit of a hole into the rock so the point from the drill fits. If you can find some lubrication of some sort for the top that helps.

After the notch in the base gets worn in and the friction part of your drill gets worn into the appropriate shape, it is not actually that hard to make a fire in less than a few minutes. I've done it.

Re:Disappointing Video (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969288)

If Civilization collapsed I would be more worried about Creepers than telecommunications.

Re:Disappointing Video (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969330)

For building a telegraph (or any electronic communications medium), the challenge lies in the miles of wire that are needed.

There's also the 'hindsight is 20/20' factor. Once the basics are understood, the 'technology' needed to construct something like that isn't a BFD. Back to the Future III was far more interesting.

Re:Disappointing Video (1)

timlyg (266415) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969342)

if we pretend the volt meter is not there...I'm lost as to where that beep beep sound came from?

Re:Disappointing Video (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969438)

If civilization collapsed, everyone in an urban area would starve to the point of violence in about 5-7 days (see Hurricane Katrina), near the time that all food that could be fought over (domestic pets, dog food, etc) was gone (45 days at most), most urban folks would fan out into the surrounding rural areas, but would have no way to survive or support themselves. Rural folks would have to put them down in order to defend themselves. It'd take about 2-3 weeks after that for cannabilism to set in among urban survivors who remained in the urban centers.

Once the death and chaos, quite literally, died down, the rural folks would reestablish civilization with only a minor fuss. Not even much of a challenge given the existing books and tools they have lying about their residences and the knowledge of basic skills necessary to operate and maintain equipment with little or no external resources. Welding, skinning, preserving, brewing, etc are not terribly complex if you already have experience or good trainers. Apprenticeships existed for such a long time, and continue to exist, because they are highly effective. Some of the high-tech "luxuries" might have an extended break, but much of the "high technology" stuff has low complexity alternatives that would easily carry them through.

Civilization as we know it is precarious at best, and our urban centers far are less prepared to deal with real catastrophe than Easter Islanders, the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Egyptians, or any of the other major civilizations that basically evaporated leaving behind little more than village farmers and large monuments.

Re:Disappointing Video (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969572)

"Rural folks would have to put them down in order to defend themselves."

LOL.

You like rural folks don't you? Even in your twited anti-city mindscape, they'd be quickly overwhelmed by urban zombies.

Re:Disappointing Video (1, Insightful)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969634)

Thankfully, in my preparation for the ACTUAL zombie apocalypse, I have accumulated enough 5.56mm to handle quite a few urban ones.

Re:Disappointing Video (2, Funny)

Nursie (632944) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969888)

Street Gangs vs. Angry Farmers.

I'd pay to see that movie!

Re:Disappointing Video (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969906)

Love the juxtaposition of your comment and username...

Ghandi 2.0 -- New and improved!
Now with less gum-chewing, more ass-kicking!

Re:Disappointing Video (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969628)

Besides which, wouldn't it be easier to salvage copper wire from the wreckage of civilization rather than pull new wire?

Next up: a computer (1)

mozumder (178398) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968826)

I've always wanted to create an instruction manual/website/makefile on how to make a computer if you were suddenly stranded in a desert island.

Re:Next up: a computer (2, Funny)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968936)

$ make -f computer.mak
bash: make: command not found

D'OH!

Re:Next up: a computer (2, Funny)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968968)

Re:Next up: a computer (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969282)

On a similar note, there's a bundled computer in each copy of Knuth's TAOCP (see Vol.1 , p.126, 3rd Ed.)

Re:Next up: a computer (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969068)

Re:Next up: a computer (1)

kingturkey (930819) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969520)

Man that doesn't even give credit to the (awesome) creator. www.qwantz.com

Re:Next up: a computer (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969548)

Yes I forgot about that. Unfortunately gizmodo is high up on the google search page.

Re:Next up: a computer (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969070)

I've always wanted to create an instruction manual/website/makefile on how to make a computer if you were suddenly stranded in a desert island.

They already did that. It's called Gilligan's Island. Try something more original man.

Cave-talk. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33968846)

Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble create the Internet.

Re:Cave-talk. (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969076)

That show is still on here and I noticed that they never explain how TV works. Unlike the car where you push it with your legs.

"Wilderness of New Jersey" (1)

gnetwerker (526997) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968848)

The "wilderness of New Jersey"? I mean, the Pine Barrens are unpopulated and all, but I'm not sure I'd call it "wilderness". Are they going to build it entirely out of gangster bones and toxic waste?

Re:"Wilderness of New Jersey" (1)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968924)

Well, I suppose he could track down a thrown away washing machine and unwind the motor coils.

And... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33968850)

If someone created such a device in those times they probably would have been promptly stoned or clubbed to death for being a witch, demon or other evil spirit.

Another misleading title.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33968882)

He used a lighter to make the fire. I'm not even going to bother looking up his "functional time machine."

Re:Another misleading title.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969000)

Everybody alive has a functional (limited) time machine.

You just take a seat and watch the time go by... sorry, forwards only for now, but speed is variable with appropriate additives. Just don't hit "stop", since it's mighty hard to pick up where you left off.

Can't watch video (5, Insightful)

guspasho (941623) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968894)

I really hate being referred to a video in a story. I am never interested in enough to sit through it. So how did they find copper? And a power source?

Re:Can't watch video (5, Informative)

Alsn (911813) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968998)

Watched the video. He basically made a small furnace out of clay where he got copper and iron out of ores found in the area(malachite for copper, no idea about the iron, don't remember).

Basically, the video is just a proof of concept of how you would make a battery to use as a telegraph using only stone age materials combined with knowledge. The video ends after he uses a voltmeter to measure his "battery" made out of clay and the aforementioned iron/copper(he gets like 1V out of it or something).

So.... (0, Troll)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968904)

They managed to make a telegraph out of hypodermic needles and used condoms.

I'm not *that* impressed.

Obligatory XKCD (1, Redundant)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968910)

http://xkcd.com/505/ [xkcd.com]

Information revolution requires dirt surface, and rocks.

Re:Obligatory XKCD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969476)

http://xkcd.com/505/ [xkcd.com] Information revolution requires dirt surface, and rocks.

Remember Mods: "Obligatory" is another word for "Redundant".

Re:Obligatory XKCD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969970)

And "Anonymous Coward" is usually also another word for Douchebag. Oh shi-... self-referential comment.

Related: POW radio (5, Interesting)

Pinckney (1098477) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968914)

There is a fascinating account [zerobeat.net] of building a radio in a Japanese POW camp during WWII virtually from scratch.

So we hit upon the idea of taking some tin foil or aluminum foil from the lining of the tea chest from which the Japanese supplied with the rice rations, then by the well known equations for calculating capacity and the relationship of the surface area and spacing of the plates, we built a capacitor or, at least, I built a capacitor which according to calculations should have been about ".01 microfarad."

Re:Related: POW radio (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969034)

And now imagine that radio would have been digital back then ...

Re:Related: POW radio (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969296)

And now imagine that radio would have been digital back then ...

Yeah I worry about future post holocaust scenarios. All the information you need is on wikipedia but you don't have access to it anymore. Maybe there won't be many new books at all.

Re:Related: POW radio (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969116)

Ha! They actually used bits of string.

Re:Related: POW radio (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969642)

There is a long and glorious history of making Cat's Whisker Rectifiers [wikipedia.org] out of a bit of wire and a rusty razor blade, or a chunk of pyrite or galena, to build crystal radios that required no external source of power. These were the first semiconductor devices, and were responsible for much if not most of radio receivers from 1900 until the late 1930's, and were regularly constructed in foxholes out of found materials throughout WWII and the Korean war.

Time machine (1)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968916)

Well, he says in the video he's built a time machine. Can't he just send back a few shortwave radios?

Re:Time machine (3, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969016)

Well, probably his time machine has the same restrictions as the time machine I've once built: You can only go into the future, and that only at a speed of one second per second.

Re:Time machine (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969216)

If you move it real fast, you can get it to move forward at 0.999999999...9999 seconds per second.

Re:Time machine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969312)

Well, he says in the video he's built a time machine. Can't he just send back a few shortwave radios?

That's artist speak for I had an idea for creating a way to make people connect past events with the present, but it didn't really work out that well. Thankfully nobody really understood what I was trying to do so I cloaked it in aesthetics to appeal to the people who pretend to appreciate my work and put it on display.

Well I guess (1)

ignavus (213578) | more than 3 years ago | (#33968934)

Well I guess you could easily make the telegraph poles out of something you find in the wilderness.

Re:Well I guess (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969820)

Yep, put one with a little platform on every hill and use torches during the night or flags during the day, like the ancient Greeks and Romans, no electronics needed.
Even Napoleon still used similar things.
Heck, even the discworld has clacks.

That ain't shit. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33968996)

I can communicate outside the universe by flipping a coin.

God says...
Hearken one disclaimers deceivers save majesty introduced
beholding extricate gathered ordained Milanese recognises
household penitent use bibber Revenue neglect stretched
SAINT companions gratuitously lulled att counselled distill
committing Living scarcely

ObSpock (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969012)

"I am endeavoring, ma'am, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit, using stone knives and bearskins." -- Spock, City on the Edge of Forever

All ads and popups. (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969042)

All I got was some site that played video ads, tried to set Flash cookies, and displayed popups. Is this a spam article?

Jules Verne wrote about this in one of his novels (5, Interesting)

Traf-O-Data-Hater (858971) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969088)

In Jules Verne's 'Mysterious Island' he writes about how his castaways build a civilisation on a remote pacific island. One of the things they build is a telegraph from scratch. They also build paddle wheels, make guncotton, determine the latitude and longitude of their island, make a secure house out of a cave behind a waterfall, grow wheat from a single husk and a lot of other things. And as a bonus, it has the return of one of Verne's most famous characters (read it and find out who!). This is one of my favourite books, I can definately recommend it to the whole slashdot crowd.

Re:Jules Verne wrote about this in one of his nove (1)

Flambergius (55153) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969510)

I read that ages ago; I remember being most impressed by them making glass. It just seemed useful and fitting, while some other stuff felt superfluous.

Really good teen read anyways.

Project Gutenberg: Jules Verne's Mysterious Island (5, Informative)

count0 (28810) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969682)

Like the title says, thought I'd check out the parent's book recommendation: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8993 [gutenberg.org]

Re:Jules Verne wrote about this in one of his nove (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969712)

hmm.. sounds a lot like Gilligan's Island.

Of course that came afterwords so I guess there may have been some influence.

I'd go wireless (4, Insightful)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969130)

Spinning mirrors possibly. Maybe a strobe of some sort.

True it is line of sight, but probably good enough.

One thing I would not do is smelt miles of copper wire.

Inventions happen when they are timely (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969152)

Inventions happen when the two things come together:
1 - The technology develops enough to make them relatively easy to implement
2 - There is a need for the invention

The interplay between the two conditions is variable. If something becomes easy to do it will be done even if there isn't much use for it. If something is very needed, it will be done even though it is very hard to do.

Consider Babbage's 'computer'. It was close to being practical to build but nobody really felt the need for it, so it wasn't built. There wasn't enough need to justify the effort.

After gunnery had advanced to a point where gunnery tables had become sophisticated and required more computing than could easily be done by a room full of people doing the calculations, then mechanical analog computers (difference engines) were built to generate the tables. The mechanical technique had become more reliable and the need was present.

What would it have benefited the ancients to have electric communication. They had optical communication, flags, smoke signals and fires. It wasn't until we had railroads that it was advantageous to have the telegraph. Before then, there were a bunch of inventions to transmit information by electricity. The ones I have seen had one wire per letter. They would have been very expensive to implement.

By the time Morse came along, the telegraph itself was a trivial development. More complex devices existed. The thing that made the telegraph practical was Morse's invention of the Morse code. Now a relatively cheap device could be used to transmit information. There was the right combination of technical readiness and need.

If civilization *really* collapses... (4, Insightful)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969176)

This is a cool project and all, but I have to challenge the premise that civilization can collapse to a level where all technology is gone but detailed technical knowledge survives.

Several tens if not hundreds of thousands of people graduate from college with engineering degrees every year in the US alone. This has been going on for many decades, which means that in the US alone, there are literally millions if not tens of millions of scientists and engineers, many with decades of experience in their professional lives as well as bits and pieces of technical know-how picked up from hobbies and idle curiosity. These people don't all live within one lethal radius. They're spread out all over a big-ass country. Their tools (lathes, mills, computers, smelters, furnaces, etc) are also spread out over a big-ass country. And that's just "post-industrial" America I'm talking about. People with technical know-how and technology and machinery are spread out all over the planet.

Any end to civilization that takes out *all* technological capability would have to be a planet-wide event that would necessarily take out the geeks as well. Otherwise, if a giant meteor takes out North America, European, Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian engineers would just move in and do the rebuilding with Brazilian or Indian or Chinese or European-made equipment.

Re:If civilization *really* collapses... (1)

tmosley (996283) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969422)

What, you've never fallen through a dimensional gateway into a primitive planet, or into the distant past?

Re:If civilization *really* collapses... (1)

grantek (979387) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969918)

What, you've never fallen through a dimensional gateway into a primitive planet, or into the distant past?

I have, and it sucked - I went to all that effort to build a telegraph, but once I got it working I realised there was no one to talk to...

Re:If civilization *really* collapses... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969616)

Zombies like brains. Who do you think they would rather eat and engineer or a fast food worker?

Re:If civilization *really* collapses... (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969794)

I'm not sure his premise was "if civilization collapsed". It's more like a if they had the knowledge, could they have done it. In other words, it's a mental examination of what would have been necessary for advancements that didn't come until relatively late in Human History even though the possibilities/capabilities of them were there.

What this should make you think about is, what hurdles laid in the way that took so long for the concept of the telegraph to become established to a point it was actually invented. Sort of a why did it take so long when it could have been possible in stone age times. I posit that communications was the largest hurdle as most modern advances didn't come until stable communications and the recording and dissemination of learned information backed up by a significant validation process came along. In case that doesn't sound right, what I mean is actually collecting knowledge to a point that it can be verified and passed on to others in a somewhat structured way that built off of preexisting knowledge instead of repeating what was already known like what is possible the scientific method and schools, most likely public schools.

A cave man could have made a telegraph. He didn't because the knowledge wasn't there (probably the need was missing too).

It's just a battery, not a telegraph (4, Interesting)

time961 (618278) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969178)

What he built is a proof of concept for a BATTERY. Not a telegraph.

He's an artist, not an engineer. Rigor is clearly not his strong point. But it's an interesting idea. And making pig iron--even a little bit--in an afternoon is a pretty good accomplishment. Copper is a lot easier, since it smelts easily and has a much lower melting point.

And it's not implausible: after all, there is evidence that better batteries [wikimedia.org] were known in ancient times, and he's certainly right that a Voltaic pile can be constructed from primitive materials. He could have smelted some zinc, too.

But as others have pointed out, miles of wire is the real challenge. Could that be done under the circumstances? Sure: copper smelting was known in prehistory, and drawing copper into wires just requires hardened clay dies. But it would be a LOT of work. You'd probably have to be an inspiring leader with oodles of acolytes to carry out the grunt work. You'd need some insulated wire for the coils, but that's just an application of fabric, and not too hard.

A better idea might have been an optical telegraph, like those that were all over Europe in the early 19th century. Make lenses out of ice in clay molds and use it only in the winter, if you don't want to make glass and grind it.

Re:It's just a battery, not a telegraph (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969260)

I thought also you could look into generating power from wind or water generators. And given the expense of making wire, a crude radio transmitter and receiver might be feasible.

Missing a Component (4, Insightful)

pgn674 (995941) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969180)

He made a battery in the woods, and that's cool. I hadn't realized that copper and iron were that easy to get without digging much. And, I can see how he could get at least some distance of copper wire. However, he did not tackle sensing the voltage that's turning on and off and communicating that to the user at the other end of the wire. At least not in this video. Does anyone have an idea of how to do that?

Re:Missing a Component (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969204)

Stick out your tongue and plot tingliness-vs-time in the sand with a stick.

Re:Missing a Component (3, Informative)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969240)

If you've got copper or iron you can make an electromagnet. The electromagnet pulls on something ferrous and makes it click against something else. That's how telegraphs worked.

The real problem would be smelting the tens or hundreds of miles of copper wire needed to make this thing even remotely useful. Not to mention building a battery big enough to put a useful signal through that much crappy copper wire.

Re:Missing a Component (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969858)

No need for a battery- just get yourself a kite and a really big capacitor.

Re:Missing a Component (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969504)

How about building a spark gap transmitter. Should negate the distance of copper wire.

Re:Missing a Component (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969574)

Yes though range isn't good. I did it with my electronics kit, receiving with an AM radio. An oscillating relay gave me the spark. A 30 metre vertical antenna gave me 30 metres of horizontal range.

Re:Missing a Component (1)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | more than 3 years ago | (#33970114)

What's the rule? The antenna has to be 1/4 the wavelength of light at the oscillator's frequency? So you either smelt more metal to make a bigger antenna or you smelt yourself a vacuum pump to make a vacuum tube oscillator/amplifier :-)

Re:Missing a Component (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969690)

He made a battery in the woods, and that's cool. I hadn't realized that copper and iron were that easy to get without digging much. And, I can see how he could get at least some distance of copper wire. However, he did not tackle sensing the voltage that's turning on and off and communicating that to the user at the other end of the wire. At least not in this video. Does anyone have an idea of how to do that?

The first telegraphs were made with galvanometer detectors. In fact, one of the first designs used 5 wires and an array of galvanometers that essentially demultiplexed to point at letters -- a sort of ASCII display. Here's a picture [wikipedia.org] of a cooke & wheatstone five-needle display. (and in case you wonder, yes, this is THE Wheatstone who invented the Wheatstone Bridge quad resistor sensor.) The galvanometers were essentially magnetic needles suspended by silk threads with electromagnets at one end, so a milliamp current flow from the closed key, many km away, would visibly deflect the magnetic needle.

Reminds me of a PBS TV series called Rough Science (3, Informative)

shoor (33382) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969186)

This was years ago, and probably it was originally a BBC series since most of the scientists seemed to British, judging by their accents, but I saw it on a local PBS station in the USA. In the various episodes scientists were taken away from their high tech infrastructure and challenged to do things that normally required fairly high tech equipment, like receive radio messages or determine their latitude and longitude.

Re:Reminds me of a PBS TV series called Rough Scie (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969366)

It was the Open University in the UK: http://www.open2.net/roughscience1/index.html

Re:Reminds me of a PBS TV series called Rough Scie (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969560)

determine their latitude and longitude

You only need eyes for that, assuming that you understand the shape of the earth and the position of the stars.

Re:Reminds me of a PBS TV series called Rough Scie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969720)

And *time*. That's the sticky wicket. You need to know the position of the stars at a particular point in *time*. If you happen to be wearing a quarts wrist watch (i.e. "Chronometer") you'd be all right. However, if you don't happen to have any of that "new-fangled" technology, then you'd be forced to build some sort of angle-measuring device and (perhaps) measure the angle between the moon and sun (which could give you an exact time for a given moon phase) and then use *THAT* time to calculate one LOP (Line Of Position) for that particular time. and then do the same thing again in a few hours. In any case certainly a non-trivial task.

Re:Reminds me of a PBS TV series called Rough Scie (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969780)

then you'd be forced to build some sort of angle-measuring device and (perhaps) measure the angle between the moon and sun

Yeah thats it. A sextant can be made out of timber. Should be good enough for one agree accuracy.

duh (4, Funny)

formfeed (703859) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969220)

materials found in the wilderness of New Jersey

The keyword here is New Jersey
You could probably build a nuclear reactor out of "materials found in the wilderness of New Jersey".

What? (1)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969224)

"wilderness of New Jersey..."

Um, what? This is a joke, right?

Re:What? (1)

froggymana (1896008) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969514)

You know, out in the vast concrete jungles filled with all sorts of apes and crazy organisms fighting to the death to live?

Idle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969270)

It's your specialty Sammy. Stay there...

Semaphore towers (2, Informative)

Freddybear (1805256) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969310)

At least as far back as ancient Greece, a few troops stationed on a hilltop ready to light a fire, or wave torches to signal "the enemy's coming".
And in Napoleonic France, a quite sophisticated optical semaphore line covered the country

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semaphore_line [wikipedia.org]

Re:Semaphore towers (2, Interesting)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969730)

I was just thinking the same thing. Take a look at this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_semaphore [wikipedia.org]

In the stone age, you can have fire. So with a little animal grease or wood, you can have torches. SO far, so good, right? Now, make up a good semaphore code and easily to transmit numbers. Maybe you'd need to use three torches instead of two. Hey, with a little rope, wood you could make a mechanism to make the torches spell binary. (Up: One, Down: Zero. Perhaps you need a "ground" torch to show the zero signal).

So what happens when you can easily transmit numbers over a certain distance? Assume you have enough friends with semaphore towers. You could transmit numbers over a really long distance.

But let's not stop there. Assign each tower a unique number and certain flags for "give me your id", "acknowledge", etc. Now you got a fucking protocol.

Now invent some signs to tell the operator to give the message to a certain tower's id. Now give the operator a series of tables (you can provide them stone tablets or something) telling which towers can send a message to which towers. Congratulations, you just invented routing.

Given enough operators and towers, and train the operators to handle the protocols, and congratulations! YOU JUST INVENTED THE FUCKING INTERNET.

How's that for stone age?

Re:Semaphore towers (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 3 years ago | (#33970024)

The Romans also had an extensive network of wooden semaphore towers. Roman legions were so well organised they could put up a temporary wooden fort big enough to hold 1000 men in under 12 hours, starting with nothing but trees and some hand tools. The completed fort would be surrounded by a 2 meter trench and a 3 meter wooden wall, it also contained several huts and a 3 storey semaphore tower. They could easily have put up 50km of semaphore towers in the time it would take most of us to light a fire with two sticks.

Don't try this at home kids (5, Interesting)

ghostdoc (1235612) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969344)

Having actually smelted iron from iron ore in a living history re-enactment, I call bullshit on this entire thing (well, ok, given the metal disks, the root battery might work).

You need a *serious* air feed to the base of the smelter to get the temperatures high enough to melt the ore. A single bag bellows feeding into the top of a simple depression in the ground with almost no fuel stock just won't do it. We had two bag bellows constantly manned pumping into the base of a big stack of charcoal and only just got the temperatures high enough.
Oh, and put that kind of heat anywhere near a clay crucible that hasn't completely dried out (at least a day or so of drying using a small fire) and the whole thing will go bang in your face as the residual water in the clay turns to steam and explosively releases.

And once you've got your iron from the base of the smelt, you can't just bang it with a rock to get it to a usable disk. It comes out of the smelter as a rough mass of iron flakes (called a 'bloom'). You need to very carefully forgeweld it into a whole. Hitting it with a hammer causes the bloom to fall apart immediately into an unusable mess of rust flakes. I know, I made this mistake and we had to start again.

I can't speak for smelting copper. I believe the process is similar but easier because of lower temperatures.

And charcoal doesn't come for free. There's a whole involved process for making charcoal, requiring *lots* of wood (and preferably hardwood which burns hotter but is much harder to cut down). It takes about 4 days (plus wood-chopping time, which you just can't do with just a single stone hand-axe and one person) to make charcoal from scratch, and it's a very tricky process requiring a lot of practice.

There's a reason we spent thousands of years in the bronze age before we started using iron. It's not because we didn't know about iron ores.

Re:Don't try this at home kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969446)

I always figured we spent so much time using copper/bronze instead of iron because iron sucked compared to bronze, and we could make enough bronze to easily support our population with no need for iron...

What materials are available now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33969380)

that were not available or could not be created at other points in time, given enough knowledge? Seems to me there isn't one. This looks like a pointless study.

Minecraft (1)

Dood77 (1773214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969398)

All he needed was to dig deep enough to find some redstone ore...

Stuff from the Jersey wilderness?! Bah! (1, Troll)

SlappyBastard (961143) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969414)

Do you have any idea how much copper can be found in your average 1950s refrigerator thrown away in the Jersey wilderness?

I call bullshit (2, Funny)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969490)

the wilderness of New Jersey

We all know there is no such place.

Stone Age Materials, but Modern Age Knowledge (1)

registrations_suck (1075251) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969648)

It would not be possible to build such a device during the Stone Age, regardless of the materials available, because the requisite knowledge did not exist at the time. Materials without knowledge on how to use them are not going to get much - sort of like using service provided by AT&T.

Telegraph. Meh. (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969668)

Make a set of jungle drums or semaphore flags.

Re:Telegraph. Meh. (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 3 years ago | (#33969876)

Kill two birds with one stone and play the drums with the flags- it should double your bandwidth.

No so imressive (1)

Starfleet Command (936772) | more than 3 years ago | (#33970062)

I would be more impressed if he were to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone-knives and bear-skins.
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