Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scratch

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Sun Yeti
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Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scratch

Post by Sun Yeti » Fri Dec 13, 2013 8:39 pm

So one fine day you are walking along and some supernatural force picks you up and drops you in 10,000 BC, or a parallel universe that looks like 10,000 BC, or whatever. You use you powers of charisma to convince the locals not to kill/eat/enslave you. Things are looking up! You learn their language and after a few years you are getting along fine as a hunter/gatherer. But then you start to think about ice cream and fast cars and you decide it's time to rebuild civilization from the bottom up. You figure as a former inhabitant of the 21st century, you ought to be able to take a lot of shortcuts based on what you know works (skip a LOT of the trial and error that took 12,000 years the first time) and get an industrial base together in no time (OK, maybe a few decades). Then you start to think. 'To build a car I would need steel, plastic, rubber, glass, a lot of high-precision tools... how does that internal combustion engine work again?' Maybe a car is too ambitious. How about a bicycle? Still need rubber and steel and good tools. To make steel, you need iron and and... some industrial process? How do I vulcanize rubber? Even if you knew the answers to these questions, you still couldn't build your bicycle, because to vulcanize rubber, you need to mine and purify sulfur, and build a vulcanizing furnace with pretty good temperature control. To build that furnace, you need other tools. To make those tools, you need other materials and tools.

In other words, our technologies are layered pretty deep. Starting from scratch is really, really hard. But, if you knew you were going to have to make the best go of it you could, what are a few of the 'core' technologies you would want to know to give yourself the most options? You couldn't build computers if you knew these things. You couldn't build cars; probably not even wagons, but you could maybe get out of the Stone Age. Even a medieval or Renaissance level of tech is going to be a lot more fun that the Stone Age.

This is what I have come up with so far on the list of things I would want to know how to do:

The Very Basics (some of these you could probably learn from your new friends)
-make fire/charcoal
-filter/purify water
-knap flint/grind jadeite
-spin fiber/make twine/make rope
-weave fabric/knit
-make paper
-make rubber from latex-bearing plants
-make lye/soap
-brew fermented beverages/vinegar - very important :)

More Advanced (builds on previous list)
-make ceramic vessels/bricks
-make cement/concrete
-make (mine and smelt) copper/bronze
-make (mine and refine) iron (possibly some steel using small-scale Bessemer process)
-make glass from sand
-distill alcohol/vinegar
-make gunpowder

Very Advanced (these would be a real stretch in one lifetime, even if you have a lot of enthusiastic helpers)
-build a lathe (which is the start of a machine shop; see the Gingery books)
-build a double-action steam engine
-vulcanize rubber

I know this is wildly unrealistic, and that's fine. What's the point? Well, bullshitting is what the Internet is for, first of all. Second, it's an interesting way to think about the relative importance of different technologies, for those of us who are into such things (I'm an engineer). Third, and perhaps most important to this forum, in a real long-term disaster situation you won't need to know all of the things on the list, but a random selection of them may come very much in handy, depending on what kind of scraps and leftovers of modern civilization you are missing and need to make from scratch, not just salvage/repurpose.

So what's missing from the list? I know that there are literally tens of millions of pieces of technological know-how that would be useful, but what would you absolutely not want to miss?
I find it uniquely frustrating that so many preppers have their heads in the sand about climate change.

But, I've come to realize there's no point in arguing with someone if there's no possible evidence you could present that would actually change their mind.

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Re: Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scr

Post by gundogs » Sat Dec 14, 2013 9:50 am

Before all that,one needs to eat. By knowing how to grow food one then has time to pursue other improvements.
Hunting & gathering consumes a lot of time,and may not even be a viable option

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Sun Yeti
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Re: Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scr

Post by Sun Yeti » Sat Dec 14, 2013 10:44 am

So, you would focus on developing agriculture? Fair enough. I think that might take a lot longer than one lifetime (selective breeding of animals/plants to domesticate them is a slow process), but you could at least get it started.
I find it uniquely frustrating that so many preppers have their heads in the sand about climate change.

But, I've come to realize there's no point in arguing with someone if there's no possible evidence you could present that would actually change their mind.

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Re: Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scr

Post by angelofwar » Sat Dec 14, 2013 11:01 am

Neat thread Sun Yeti. For others reading this, the best way to learn is to put yer hands on it...to see how something is built, you need to take it apart...first you break everything down to basic components, then you take those components apart. How can you do that? Next time your (insert here) takes a dump, instead of throwing it away, take it apart. Try to fix it if you can. I've repaired my dryer and washer multiple times, and the cost has always been less than $10.

My fancy Kuerig recently took a dump (the half cup problem). After watching some vids on what the problem, I took it apart, unfortunately, that wasn't the problem with mine, I'm guessing the actual computer took a dump. However, I was able to salvage three 12v water pumps, which I will use with my off grid water filter set-up. I also kept the metal water heater cup with a heating element, which can be used to purify water through boiling. I got plenty of extra wire as well, for various projects. My wife was like {"Why don't you just throw it away?". Why? I would just end up buying the wire and water pumps anyways? Yeah, so salvaging is two fold. You learn how things work/are built, and you save money buying parts!

Here's the various pumps:
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Here's a transformer that drops the voltage from 120v to 14.5v
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Some 5mm LED's and Switches that can be extracted:
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More LED's and resistors:
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Pressure switch (bottom), Magnetic switch/sensor (top left) and the regualr main switch (bottom right):
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Some tube couplers and a magnetic sensor:
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I think having an understanding of the basic laws of electricity (Ohms laws, voltage/amperage/wattage) and capacitors will greatly help in OP's said scenario so you can harness electricity. Having an understanding of basic electricmotors/magnets, and how to make batteries from scratch will also greatly help by leaps and bounds. Knowing how to extract metals from the earth will also be a necessity.
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Re: Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scr

Post by KnightoftheRoc » Sat Dec 14, 2013 1:27 pm

I'd have to agree, that focusing on agriculture would be a best first priority. Electricity would be REAL handy, but- assuming for the sake of argument that you have access to the various metal ores required- how long do you think it would take to built your personal tech tree up to the point where you are able to draw copper into wire? We enjoy the tech we have because so many people spent their entire lifetimes pursuing the mysteries that resulted in it. Granted, we have the advantage of already knowing the 'correct' answers to many of the experiments they spent decades figuring out, but there's still the factor of being able to do only just so much in a day as a single person.
Personally, I think that if I managed to get my local group up to the level of say, horse and cart transportation and the use of metals for tools, I could call it a job well done.
silentpoet wrote: My first two warning shots are aimed center of mass. If that don't warn them I fire warning shots at their head until they are warned enough that I am no longer in fear for my life.

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Re: Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scr

Post by kwailo » Sat Dec 14, 2013 1:33 pm

Sanitation, irrigation and education.

Teach them not to crap in the river that they use to water the crops, and you are almost there.

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Re: Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scr

Post by Sun Yeti » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:12 pm

Yes, the privy was an incredibly useful invention, and basically all it requires is digging a hole in the ground. Don't dig it within about 25 feet of a river, throw some of the dirt back in the hole periodically to control the stink, and you've invented a sanitation system that will improve the health of the population significantly. I've also read that teaching people to wash their hands regularly reduces diarrheal diseases by about 25% (that's why I put making lye/soap on the list).

Irrigation is also pretty low hanging fruit (assuming you have something worth irrigating); the only slightly tricky part is raising the level of the water using a lever/bucket or Archimedes' screw (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archimedes%27_screw" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;). There should probably be a short list of the simple machines (lever, wheel, pulley, inclined plane, wedge, screw) you would want to know how to use, as they have a variety of applications. Then again, most people already know how to use those (do they; I'm an engineer, so my idea of basic knowledge may be skewed)? A written language is extremely useful, but I didn't put it on the list because by virtue of being here, we all already know how to read and write.

Extracting metals from the earth is something I had mentally included under my bullet points about making various metals, but I probably should have been more explicit, since mining is really a separate skill from smelting, forging etc.

Electricity is something I was really on the fence about including. You could make a basic battery with a ceramic pot, two dissimilar metals (say iron and copper), and an electrolyte (juice, vinegar, wine etc.). That seems doable, but it's just not that useful. Perhaps you could carbonize a filament and get a really weak, unreliable incandescent light, but an oil lamp would be simpler, easier, and more reliable. With a few dozen of these batteries and a few miles of metal wire (very tough!), you might be able to make a really crappy telegraph, but again, I think smoke signals/heliography would be more practical. On the other hand, something that would actually be very useful (an electric motor/generator) is a quite complex and sophisticated piece of equipment, and I think it would be almost impossible to get that far in one lifetime starting from scratch. But maybe I'm wrong. Is there an electric motor design that's simple enough to build using really rough tools and very limited materials? Or is(are) there some other more awesome application(s) for a very basic battery?

@angelofwar: I agree completely that fixing things is the best way to learn how they work. That's how I learned about bikes. Permanent magnets would have about a million useful applications. Do you know of a simple way to make them? Why capacitors?
I find it uniquely frustrating that so many preppers have their heads in the sand about climate change.

But, I've come to realize there's no point in arguing with someone if there's no possible evidence you could present that would actually change their mind.

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Re: Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scr

Post by furiousjorge » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:27 pm

cool thread.

how do you find the ore to begin the process of smelting? that'd be a huge stumbling block. while refining iron, at least at a crude, small scale, wouldn't be too hard, finding that stuff could take forever.
have you ever been as far as even considered go want to do look more like?

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Re: Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scr

Post by Sun Yeti » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:39 pm

Well, you won't get a lot this way, but iron precipitates from groundwater in a lot of wetlands into little nodules of ore (bog iron).

If you are lucky enough to come across a big meteor, that will keep you in iron for a while. Of course, in the Bronze Age, meteoric iron was valued much higher than gold, so that tells you something about it's availability. For example, King Tut was buried with a meteoric iron dagger.
I find it uniquely frustrating that so many preppers have their heads in the sand about climate change.

But, I've come to realize there's no point in arguing with someone if there's no possible evidence you could present that would actually change their mind.

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Re: Ridiculously Extreme Thought Experiment on Tech From Scr

Post by angelofwar » Sat Dec 14, 2013 3:18 pm

Sun Yeti wrote:@angelofwar: I agree completely that fixing things is the best way to learn how they work. That's how I learned about bikes. Permanent magnets would have about a million useful applications. Do you know of a simple way to make them? Why capacitors?
Imagine building a simple battery, and then using a capacitor (say, out of glass, which can be made rather easily, if not crude) to make, say a stun gun/stick? Or electric fence? Or create and ability to fuse metals together, like welding...you'd be a god! I think if you armed yourself with the old ways of making the basics, you could teach the physics/principles to your new found neandrathals, and I think you could advance rather quickly. It's having that knowledge of the How and Why things work in science that will be key.

A good way to advance the assurance of your survivability for example, would be to explain how things conduct and RETAIN heat, you could build smarter shelter/clothes. Having knowledge of physics and things properties would also get you places fast.

A few other things to consider, would be to teach them CONCEPTS, such as law (crime/punishment), resource management, economics, to ensure you new population is educated, and introduce things like common (or natural) law. These are mental tools that can advance/ensure survival.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts..."
http://www.zombiehunters.org/forum/view ... w#p2141127

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