Monday, March 31, 2014

civilization's starter kit

NYTimes |  I’M an astrobiologist — I study the essential building blocks of life, on this planet and others. But I don’t know how to fix a dripping tap, or what to do when the washing machine goes on the blink. I don’t know how to bake bread, let alone grow wheat. I’m utterly useless with my hands. My father-in-law used to joke that I had three degrees, but didn’t know anything about anything, whereas he graduated summa cum laude from the University of Life. 

It’s not just me. Many purchases today no longer even come with an instruction manual. If something breaks it’s easier to chuck it and buy a new model than to reach for the screwdriver. Over the past generation or two we’ve gone from being producers and tinkerers to consumers. As a result, I think we feel a sense of disconnect between our modern existence and the underlying processes that support our lives. Who has any real understanding of where their last meal came from or how the objects in their pockets were dug out of the earth and transformed into useful materials? What would we do if, in some science-fiction scenario, a global catastrophe collapsed civilization and we were members of a small society of survivors? 

My research has to do with what factors planets need to support life. Recently, I’ve been wondering what factors are needed to support our modern civilization. What key principles of science and technology would be necessary to rebuild our world from scratch? 

The great physicist Richard Feynman once posed a similar question: “If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another.” 

That certainly does encapsulate a huge amount of understanding, but it also wouldn’t be particularly useful, in a practical sense. So, allowing myself to be a little more expansive than a single sentence, I have some suggestions for what someone scrabbling around the ruins of civilization would need to know about basic necessities.


umbrarchist said...

Civilization may collapse due to the flip side of the problem.

If people do not understand the technology then they cannot evaluate what they buy. So corporations can get away manufacturing and selling garbage and the nitwit economists can call it growth.

So this BS has gone on since World War II and the technology has just gotten more complicated. But I have seen two cars where a front wheel had fallen over on its side. I never saw that in the 60s or 70s. And then there are all of the cracked wind shields where the cracks slowly grow across the glass. I didn't see that in the 50s and 60s either.

I watched the decline in construction quality of stereo equipment in the 70s. So when will the collapse come?

CNu said...

Albuquerque police execute homeless man

A large protest in downtown Albuquerque on Sunday meant to call attention to recent police-involved shootings ended with a chaotic confrontation between protesters and police. What sparked the protests? And what role did the hacking collective known as Anonymous (possibly) play? Here’s what you need to know. The protest, which began at noon and stretched into the evening, followed two recent fatal shootings by Albuqerque police.
The Albuquerque police have shot and killed 23 people since the beginning of 2010 (there have also been more than a dozen non-fatal shootings over the same span).

Two of the people shot by Albuquerque police were killed just this month, with the most recent shooting coming hours after a protest sparked by the previous one. While the police-involved shootings stretch back more than four years, it was these latest shootings — and the video footage released from one of them — that appeared to ignite these public demonstrations.

James M. Boyd was shot and killed by an Albuquerque police officer on March 16. Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man, was shot because he was holding knives, according to Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden. But police released helmet camera footage (warning: the footage is graphic) from the shooting last week that showed Boyd turning away from officers just before they opened fire.

In response to the Boyd shooting and the helmet camera footage, a video posted by a group claiming to be Anonymous called on people in Albuquerque to demonstrate on Sunday.

CNu said...

Pay the young gladiators $150K/year and provide them with disability insurance, a pension plan, and collective bargaining. Most "scholar-athletes" would go for that $600K into their pockets guaranteed in preference to the NCAA's no safety-net approach to fleecing them for 4 years for the $$$ benefit of the colleges and universities parasitizing their work.

BigDonOne said...

Modern automotive front ends have upper and lower ball joints supporting the front wheel spindle. This provides much better wheel alignment during travel over irregularities and roughness on the road, compared to the old straight axle/kingpin front ends. Reduces tire wear - much better tire mileage. If ball joints are not inspected and replaced when worn, a ball end can pop out of the socket allowing the wheel to fall over on its side, which is what is seen along the road from time to time (it's always a front wheel). In recent years improved ball joint designs (better materials, seals and lubricants) have reduced occurrence of these failures.

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