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Technology quiz

2009-10-14 15:49:22.562384+00 by Dan Lyke 17 comments

[ related topics: Interactive Drama History ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-14 16:14:29.925341+00 by: meuon

I got 9 out of 10 without googling for a hint. I am technologically useful. :)

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-14 16:16:39.397678+00 by: ebradway

8/10 Correct - I'd be able to advance civilization to the 17th-19th centuries.

Personally, I'd rather travel 20 years or 200 years back, not 2000. That far back, basic chemical and mechanical engineering skills would be most useful. 200 years back, one could make a big splash with just the airfoil. 20 years back, I'd simply take a job at Starbucks and buy into the company stock plan. Hmmm... I think I might have said something to Dan around 20 years ago about doing the same thing at Microsoft....

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-14 17:31:38.324864+00 by: m

2000 years ago the Romans already knew how to make concrete and steel, so two of the questions are not really applicable. Aluminum in society changing quantities would have required a far larger technological base that anyone could have built up in a lifetime.

More useful applications would have been lower tech, and relatively easy to integrate within the existing cultural and technological base of the times. Crop rotation and contour farming. The printing press. Disease free water supplies. Water and steam powered looms. Introduction of calculus and other branches of mathematics. Zero and the decimal system. Microscopy, existence of microorganisms and hygiene as an improvement to medicine, food storage and the infant mortality rate. Public health measures to improve lifespan. Improved communications via radio and telegraphy could be managed via wet battery based technology. Lots more of these items that were within, or not far from the capabilities of the age.

Personally, I would rather make a series of increasing hops at intervals of perhaps 10 years into the future. One of the most bitter pains of death is to not know where science and technology will take us next.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-14 17:57:27.344469+00 by: Dan Lyke

One of the points made in, among other books, the excellent A Farewell To Alms[Wiki] is that technology is not strictly forward motion. Over the millenia there have been all sorts of instances where a technology was lost due to cultural pressures, or just running out of prerequisite resources in the culture where the process was developed.

I don't know what the prerequisites to introducing germ theory into a culture are, but I think one could do basic spherical optics with little more than charcoal and a bellows, and with a microscope and a reasonably stable place to process cultures one could do amazing things with health 2000 years ago. Although maybe there'll just always be incurable STDs...

And, yeah, being a tourist at geologic time scales is a thing I can imagine but not comprehend.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-14 18:00:48.780256+00 by: Dan Lyke

Oh, I'm on the iPhone right now or I'd Google, but did the Romans have concrete, or just mortar? I thought concrete processes, as easy as they seem to be, were still being developed in the late 1800s.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-14 18:04:52.092452+00 by: Dan Lyke

Okay, I googled, concrete is a perfect example of losing a technology.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-14 18:52:04.776175+00 by: JT

I got 8/10 correct with no googling. I was actually surprised I did so well.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-14 18:52:51.951765+00 by: m

Glass, blown and molded, has been around a long time. So the jump to lenses and from there to telescopes and microscopes is more conceptual than technical.

Whereas with aluminum, not only do you need the concepts, but also a great technical bases. Just the tech to produce the power for the bauxite/cryolite furnaces is kind of ferocious. Large hydroelectric generators need fairly exacting mechanical tolerances for the shaft, turbine and bearings, and require a large tool and machining base. Hand filed gears may have sufficed for the antikythera, but such machining wouldn't work for anything near the size of the generators required for aluminum production.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-14 23:49:46.600106+00 by: TheSHAD0W

9/10 cold.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-15 00:47:14.358908+00 by: Dan Lyke

In terms of machining technology, I think the two major challenges are flatness and and cutting the first screw thread. Not that either of those are trivial, but with a decent casting process I think one could bootstrap both of those in a few years. Of course it'd probably take another several decades to scale that up to turbine and generator scales.

Although the easiest material for a modern shop to do that with is aluminum, so one would also have to build metallurgy to the point where you could do the preliminary castings with some sort of tin or zinc alloys instead. And a process for tempering cutters.

In reading the Dave Gingery books, the big steps to the bootstrap, beyond an electric motor which you could replace with a water wheel and belts and pulleys, are a sharp tempered edge for a shaper, a machined flat surface, and our ubiquitous threaded rod that's cheap in any hardware store but would require a lot of refinement to get the first reference.

And, of course, you'd have to convince someone to support you through the R&D process.

But, yeah, there's reasons Aluminum didn't really happen until the twentieth century, whereas tires and refrigeration could have happened earlier.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-15 13:13:37.241505+00 by: m

Dan, you point out the value of screws in technology. Plate rolled, rather than cut, screws would certainly be a low tech possibility. Though I am not sure about female threads which would require a tap.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-15 14:36:11.646594+00 by: DaveP

Huh. 10/10 cold (and hungover). But at least a few of the questions had me wondering how that information would be useful. Aluminum, as folks have pointed out, takes a big base. Yeah, it might be useful, but it wouldn't be my top priority.

Similarly, the airfoil. The airfoil existed before the Wrights, but without compact power-plants, the best you could do would be gliders. Not that they're not useful, but another one I wouldn't tackle first.

Screws - or for that matter, tool steel (for making screws, etc) are one I'd agree that's probably useful. I expected to see something firearms-related on the quiz. Again, tool steel is useful.

Optics - glass would probably be one of the first things I'd tackle, and telescopes would show utility fairly quickly. Cranking out a quick reflector telescope (mirrors are relatively easy to grind) could be the way to get funded for other projects.

Hygiene. Simple matter of survival there. Soap existed in Roman times, but without an idea of why being clean is good....

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-15 16:06:05.670587+00 by: Dan Lyke

m, for the sake of driven carriages on lathes and scrapers and, eventually, milling machines, you could do the female threads with castings of halves. But once you've got a lathe with a thread drive cutting new screws is easy. Tapering that screw is a little harder, but not impossible, especially if your cutting speed is low enough and you're patient, and at that point a tap just needs a linear cut and tempering.

Dave, to firearms, I once did pottery throwing demos at a historical fair across from a gunsmith, and he rifled the barrels of the muskets he made. Aside from better milling and casting techniques (he did all of his work in a smithy), I'd think that the next step there is some sort of assembly line for making composite ammunition for faster reloading.

But, yeah, overall I think I'd start with optics, get a decent microscope going, and then put my attention into microbiology. And try not to get burned at the stake 'cause my community would suddenly be recovering from things that everyone else is dying from.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-15 16:28:45.240747+00 by: Larry Burton

Dan the first thing I would tackle would creating a religion that would support advancing science and technology. That way I'd not have the burning at the stake problem you imagine.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-15 20:44:01.443184+00 by: meuon [edit history]

Larry may have hit the nail on the head. where would we be now if it hadn't been for religious zealots burning the thinkers and scientists.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-15 23:15:01.561913+00 by: ebradway

DaveP: I think you're onto something with the soap. Couldn't imagine just how cruddy I'd feel after a few weeks without it. I should probably learn to make it from animal fat just in case my time machine screws up. Sure, you can drag a Delorean behind a train and hit 88mph - but try it with a brontosaurus!

#Comment Re: made: 2009-10-16 10:46:23.53415+00 by: DaveP

Dan, with firearms, agreed. I know, in theory at least, how to hand-rifle barrels. But you still need tool steel, same as you do for cutting threads for screws. And again, for reloading (at least metallic) cartridges, you need a tool steel to work the brass to get it back into tolerance. I'm not sure when tool steel came along, but that'd be a tweak I'd want to apply to any existing steel technology.

On soap, my point there was that soap actually existed in Roman times, but look how long it took for soap to become commonly used to keep people healthy by getting rid of germs. So yeah, optics both for telescopes (militarily useful - also good for surveying) and microscopes to point out the bugs so people might have an incentive to clean up with the soap.

Making soap is pretty easy though. Take a peek at http://www.teachsoap.com/soapmakingmethods.html to get started. I clearly remember when my step-mom started making soap - first batch had the mixture off a bit, and was way too basic but that was quickly noticed. By the second batch she had the ratio right and all was well.

As for getting your DeLorean up to 88mph with a brontosaurus, just use a third-class lever to turn power into speed.