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What Ancient Tech Do You Do? 308

neonfrog asks: "Before silicon, before electricity even, what the heck did those of us with geek brains do? Our brains have not evolved appreciably in half an eon (at least mine hasn't, but I may be descended from turtles). What would today's programmers have been doing centuries before the invention of the keyboard? What would an electrical engineer be doing a millennia or three before the concept of resistors and capacitors? What piqued their curiosity? Were their skills esoteric or exotic? They can't all have been Leonardo Da Vincis or court 'magicians', right? Summer's starting and, for some, it's hobby time. I bet the Slashdot community harbors quite a few Journeyman, or even Masters. I know a lot of geeks are beer-makers (and I do so appreciate you folk ... urp!) so there's no danger of that knowledge getting lost. What other ancient tech do you indulge in and keep alive? What are some good resources?"
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What Ancient Tech Do You Do?

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  • my hobbies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bluelip ( 123578 ) on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:24PM (#12869192) Homepage Journal
    hunt, homebrew beer/wine, tan animal hides.... you know.... the red-blooded american things.
    • Make mead. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by numbski ( 515011 ) * <(ten.revliskh) (ta) (iksbmun)> on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:39PM (#12869264) Homepage Journal
      Amen to this.

      I wanted to make my own cider, and despite my love for Cider, my new first love is Mead, and its near cousins, melomels, cysers....mmmmm

      My first 1 gallon batch of mead recently hit its stride finally. Dear GAWD is that stuff good.

      I swear, if you ever get a good mead, you'll never drink beer again. I'm not kidding, I'm dead serious. I have 5 gallons of strawberry melomel going right now, and another 5 gallons of some dark cider that has been going since mid-october. Both are far superior to their off-the-shelf alternatives, and these are just my first tries!


      The BrewBoard []

      and if you wish to take my advice on the mead specifically:

      The Compleat Meadmaker by Ken Schramm []

      That second link *is* an Amazon link, but not a referral link, so I'm not whoring.

      Oh, and yes, I did spell "compleat" correctly. Took me forever to find the book the first time. Oops.
      • Re:Make mead. (Score:3, Informative)

        by Muhammar ( 659468 )
        "I swear, if you ever get a good mead, you'll never drink beer again. I'm not kidding"

        Good cool mead taste masks the incredible quantity of sugar that you are actualy drinking. Sugars compete with alcohol for dehydrogenase and overworked alcohol dehydrogenase is the cause of the hungover.

        I swear, if you ever get a good mead hungover, you'll never want to drink again.
        • Re:Make mead. (Score:3, Informative)

          by rossifer ( 581396 ) *
          Good cool mead taste masks the incredible quantity of sugar that you are actualy drinking.

          Not sure what you mean by "cool mead", but your statements are only true for what I've typically heard called a "sack" or sweet mead, which is much easier to make, but not as delicious as the dry recipies (IMHO). A dry mead is more my style, and has an amazing spectrum of flavors that really do justice to the layman's description, "honey wine".

          The citric acid is important to conceal the alcohol flavor in a dry mead
      • Re:Make mead. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dbIII ( 701233 )
        Make mead
        Funny thing is that a mead recipe if the first thing I ever got from USENET some time around 1990.

        I made it in PET bottles: when half the plastic had gone white with craze cracking from the pressure and the bottle had stretched by about one fifth it was time to drink it.

      • and its near cousins, melomels, cysers...
        ...LSD, DNA, Telomere, Meta-amphetamine...

        Sorry, I have no idea what those words are :)
      • Re:Make mead. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:03AM (#12872250) Homepage Journal
        That second link *is* an Amazon link, but not a referral link, so I'm not whoring.

        Well, for Pete's sake, put a referrer link in there next time. I mean, you're providing us with useful information and it's not like I'm going to save money if you don't put a referrer link in there - Amazon is simply going to keep the profit.

        Now, who would I rather see the money go to, Amazon or Numbski? That's easy.

        If you were selling your book there might be a conflict of interest, but Amazon has nearly every book in existence so this is just a matter of who gets the money, and contrary to the comments of some on Slashdot, there's nothing wrong with making money for your work.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Before silicon, before electricity even, what the heck did those of us with geek brains do? Oh, the geeks have only recently been truly free:
      Archimedes, the father of calculus, has his ancient texts bleached and written over with religious mumbo jumbo. Over 1800 years passed before Newton 're-discovered' calculus.
      Galileo proclaimed that the earth wasn't the center of it all. Then the Catholic church made him recant (this was the time of the Inquisition which killed a friend of his just a few years befor
  • by pizza_milkshake ( 580452 ) on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:25PM (#12869193)
    probably just typing on a rock
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What would today's programmers have been doing centuries before the invention of the keyboard?

    I can't say for sure, but it would probably only require one hand.

  • Intaglio printmaking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:33PM (#12869231) Homepage
    Because art is nifty, and because it's a massive leap to go from tweaking stuff with keyboard and mouse to actually scratching stuff onto a copper surface with an etching needle. Because it's fun squishing stuff under the thousands of pounds of pressure in the printing press. Because there is a bit of a puzzle figuring out how to get proper textures with aquatint, mezzoting, engraving, or drypoint, or stippling.... Nifty stuff, really.
  • not really ancient (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bodhidharma ( 22913 ) <jimliedeka&gmail,com> on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:35PM (#12869241)
    I roast my own coffee beans. Coffee has been around since the Dark ages and known in the West since the Renaissance so it's not really ancient. Besides, everyone roasted coffee until the late 19th century. It didn't come in cans until then. Still, it predates electronics and such. (As far as we know ...)

    • I'm another that followed my caffeine addiction to an absurd conclusion.

      Over the last few years I've gathered an extremely large collection of super low tech, and a few high tech pieces of coffee roasting and preparation equipment.

      I also have a passion for cooking, and I've started learning techniques from all over the world.

      My wife is only tolerant of the coffee geekery, but she's utterly devoted to my amateur chef pursuits.

      There's also something extremely meditative I find about fishing. Gear, techniq
  • Blacksmithing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by digitect ( 217483 ) <`digitect' `at' `'> on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:35PM (#12869242)

    I was fortunate enough to work at an 18th century living history museum many summers, weekends, and holidays as a blacksmith. Nearly twenty years later, I am still impressed at how much can be done with steel and fire. The technology of tempering is ancient, and the same metalurgical chemistry is used everywhere today in instrument sharpening, oxidization resistiveness, and high strength/weight component design such as in an F1 racecar (when they choose to drive them).

    You can set up your own blacksmith shop now for not much more than some fireclay, an old hairdryer blower, some coal fuel, an short piece of railroad track turned upside down for an anvil (always used a forged metal, never cast) and a hammer. Although if I did it these days, I would be more disciplined about wearing hearing protection.

    • Re:Blacksmithing (Score:4, Informative)

      by retostamm ( 91978 ) on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:50PM (#12869318) Homepage
      I got a set of books on "How to build your own Metal Workshop" [] from here [].

      It looks promising, but I have not started yet (mainly because the landlord does not appreciate foundry equipment in the appartment).

      Their catalog is really cool, they have reprints of documents from 1900, 1800 and before, all obsolete by now, of course, but that's how the Golden Gate and the Titanic were built.

      They also have an electrical section, for example, how to make an analog amplifier in a Jar from a speaker and a carbon microphone. Really neat stuff, and I wish I could tinker with it some more.

      • by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @01:41AM (#12869797)
        all obsolete by now, of course, but that's how the Golden Gate and the Titanic were built

        One of those is perhaps not the greatest example. :)
        • It is important to point out that those old books are the old knowledge, but old knowledge wasn't better than ours today. Those books will teach you how to do things that have strong odds of killing you. Every reminder of safety is important, particularly when your instructions ignore them, so you have to consider it all of yourself.

          There is something wrong with the geek who doesn't love that catalog and buy books from them once in a while. Always something interesting, even if you never build the p

    • one more for blacksmithing, i took a class at the local community college, and rented all the books at the library, and now have my own forge. its pretty cheap to setup. harbor freight has usable anvils for under 5o bucks, and the forge itself is propane mixed with air tossed into a box made of refractory brick or something similar. carefull, its HOT!!!!
      • Re:Blacksmithing (Score:4, Informative)

        by Seraphim_72 ( 622457 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @03:27AM (#12870117)

        Trust me - Harbor Frieght sells a terrible anvil. Wait till you get to use a good one and then you will appreciate the difference. I work pt (for fun) at Arms and Armor [] I shudder to think of what it would cost to rebuy our forging equipment (especially the stakes) and we have a couple nice anvils and one that looks like we put it under a surface grinder daily - flat smooth - nice. As for doing the Gingery books - I highly recommend trying the casting ones, but as for the rest - it is a lot like 'roll your own linux' very educational, kinda fun, but man alive - your time is also worth something - try Grizzley [] tools.They are still junky tiawan/chinese tools - but they are considered the best of the low/pro-sumer tools. Sorry this was so long - meh.


  • Well that's easy. I would have been a pirate.
  • by TheCamper ( 827137 ) <SporkMasterSpork AT gmail DOT com> on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:38PM (#12869258) Homepage
    Many geeks would have probably been monks; it's a structured environment where personality quirks wouldn't be a problem.

    Many would perhaps be smiths; blacksmiths, armorsmiths, glassworkers, etc. All types of smithing requires an advanced knowledge of the craft, with nuances more intricate than any xfree86 config file. What makes geeks tick is not sci-fi itself, or computers themselves, it's systems. Geeks love systems. Systems of numbers, systems of logic, computer systems, pen and paper games rules systems, computer language systems. Even non-geeks like systems. Physical Sports are systems; they are self consistent rule-based constructions. Geeks are merely overly obsessed with certain systems, such as the stars, or physics, or computer languages, much like an autistic person could be obsessed with anything, but he chooses a certain something. So perhaps any intricate systematic smithing craft would appeal to the ancient geek.
    • with nuances more intricate than any xfree86 config file

      Wow. You have no idea how much you've raised my respect for these things. Cognitive dissonance...what a feeling.
  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:39PM (#12869262)
    Probably a failed Leonardo. I've always loved taking things apart, figuring out how they work, then trying to put them back together... and then imagining how to improve them despite my failure to reassemble the original design.

    I'd have been the peasant who starved because he was so busy trying to figure out how to get his ox to plow more field when all he had to do to survive was plant a small garden with his hands.

    Good thing I'm alive today and didn't live in centuries past.
  • But the hero in an Ant's life is certainly a geek.

    Then there were the unsung geeks who invented fire, the spear, the flint tip for same, the wheel, the bow and arrow, camoflaged big hole in ground, etc.

    More recent-ish, before Henry Ford came along, most auto owners had to be (or hire...) geeks to keep those !@#$! things on the road.

    On a slight tangent, one college professor of mine talked about how, in some "primitive" cultures, homosexuals had roles as things like helpers in child rearing. More directl
  • Blacksmithing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nrlightfoot ( 607666 ) on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:41PM (#12869273) Homepage
    I always thought that blacksmithing was kind of interesting, and it has some similarities with computer work.

    1) swinging a hammer all day can give you a repetetive motion injury like using a keyboard.

    2) When making complex things you have to pay attention to details and have an idea of what your working towards.

    3) You can undo mistakes fairly easily, just heat it up and pound out the error.

    4) There are lots of technical things to remember like metal compostions, metalworking techniques, and different ways to heat treat metals to give them different properties.

    5) It's rather a skilled job compared to being a farmer, and I suppose the pay might not have been too bad.

    Plus you can make your own swords and armor for D&D.
    • by QMO ( 836285 )
      "5) It's rather a skilled job compared to being a farmer"

      I can see how a smith would need different skills than a farmer, but not how a good smith would need more skill than a good farmer.
  • Sailing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by southern ( 22565 ) on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:41PM (#12869277) Homepage
    I try to get out sailing after work everyday in the summer. Yes there is a navigation computer on board, but basics haven't change since humans took to the sea.
    • Re:Sailing (Score:3, Insightful)

      by g-san ( 93038 )
      I'd agree. Take the basics of knots for example. You have knots that slip, knots that don't slip, knots that come undone easy under a load, knots you can trust for a few hours and knots you can trust for months, and those knots that you never tie because they don't hold or are known to get stuck. Knots that are functional, knots that are pretty and knots that are both. Those knots have been in use for hundreds of years, and there is a reason... they work.

      It's also very fuzzy and analog. The wind changes d
  • Gardening... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:42PM (#12869284)

    Yes. Gardening.

    Its geeky, in its own way.

    Not only do you have layout, planting times, and organic methods, but there are loads of experimentation available.

    Do you want to use the French-Intensive method of gardening? How about the traditional method? Blocks or rows?

    This year, I'm experimenting with rooting suckers from tomato plants and seeing if the new plants are worthwhile producers. I'm also trying to plant late corn in between flowering beans. (I like to maximize my yeild from a small space.) Next year, I'm going to try interplanting lettuce and tomatoes, hoping that the tomatoes will keep the lettuce cool enough to extend the growing season. I'll also try more mulch next year, I think.

    • ...And Farming (Score:3, Interesting)

      by breadbot ( 147896 )

      There is no end to the invention you can pour into growing plants and taking care of animals.

      Being not very far descended from farmers, I have to say that agriculture of any kind is a great target for creativity. And a couple of centuries ago, a heck of a lot of the world's population was subsistence farming.

      You have to plan for the seasons, account for risks (weather, sickness), do more with less effort, take care of your tools and your land, preserve foods, try to maintain nutrition through a long wi

    • Seconded!

      I'm a gardening geek myself, and I think I'd be doing that if there were no computers around. There are a lot of geekly things you can do with gardening, and I don't think there are many gardeners who are masters of all of them.

      There's plant identification (so controversial at the time - identifying by plant's private parts!), propagation, grafting (had an uncle who was big on this, and it can help you grow plants in different climates than they were bred for), growing edible plants, growing sp

  • Not so ancient, but I have been spending a lot of time with my TIG welder lately. Built an entertainment center out of aluminum and oak ply.

    I started by making a welding bench out of steel and have kept doing more and more projects with it.
  • by LordEd ( 840443 ) on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:46PM (#12869304)
    ... would you like fries with that?

    +1 sarcastic
  • by josepha48 ( 13953 ) on Monday June 20, 2005 @11:53PM (#12869331) Journal
    .. probably most geeks would be dead, with our bad eyesight, and all, only a few really smart ones would be saved ..
  • I'm building my 30x50' garage- except for the slab, I'm framing, roofing, wiring the whole thing myself. I'm what I guess "they" call an experienced DIY'er. My money making background is in remote data collection, so all this stuff I just sort of forge ahead and go for it. I rely heavily on the advice of friends and an amazing brother in law, but in the end, I'm the one that has to redo my mistakes and live with what I build.

    I think tinkering with wood would be a great alternative to coding.

    For resourc
  • I listened to this set of lectures on the History of Science [] and thought that I'd probably be some kind of priest, predicting solar eclipses and calculating best paths for Aequaducts etc.

    But thinking about it, I found that I'd probably be way too stupid for it - you can't simulate anything. Pretty amazing what these folks did.

    • Perhaps, but then again it's amazing what you can achieve if you feel the pressure to figure something out. It's something I've been experiencing since I left college, personally. It hasn't been particularly hard to figure out most things in IT. My brain has stopped trying to figure out unique, systemic ways to solve problems and instead immediately starts telling me to search google for someone else's answer.

      It troubles me.

  • Get your old PC up again @ [] :)

    Some of us LIKE playing with pre-pentium machines ;)
  • Printmaking (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dibson ( 723948 )

    I've just begun doing some printmaking at home. Doing linocuts [] and printing them by hand on paper. Just looking up information, I found Escher did this as well []. Certainly an artistic figure many geek-types have taken to.

    It's not difficult or expensive to do (all you need is the linoleum [], some blades [], a brayer and ink), but I find that many traits good coders have apply well to it (like everything, right? Also think design/typography). I find it a satisfying after a day of programming.

  • Musician (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:01AM (#12869372) Journal
    It's not tech, but I bet a lot of geek minds that are attracted to programming languages are also attracted to the languages of music.

    Also designing and building musical instruments would be pretty geeky even in the 16th century.

  • Bee Keeping (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cpuffer_hammer ( 31542 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:04AM (#12869390) Homepage
    It is not so different,
    Boxes with cards, become supers with frames.
    It is in some ways the an early nano-tech with thousands of simple machines carrying out tasks that create something much larger than any of them will understand.
    There are even bugs like Varroa Destructor that can make your hive crash.
    There is even over clocking, some people build hives with two queens (colonies of bees) in the same box, or would that be multi-processing.
    It is a bit like the free software community there is more to be gained by sharing idea with other bee keepers than can ever be gained by keeping ideas to your self.

    Well it is fun and you get sweet stuff to share with people.
  • Sailing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by magefile ( 776388 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:05AM (#12869393)
    Lots of room there for tinkering if you want. Adjust/add/remove/replace pulleys, change how tight the outhaul and other ropes are, sand or otherwise modify your centerboard or daggerboard ... all sortsa fun stuff!
  • ...I've been learning the use (though not the spelling) of abacus and slide rule - true archaotech. Slide rules are likely to go the way of the dodo Real Soon Now (TM). As a math nerd, I'm also learning the theory - I can build one better than I can use one. A computerized emulator (ironic, no?) is available at: t&task=view&id=86&Itemid=114&limit=1&limitstart=3 []

    I've done duty occasionally as an accountant/treasurer for various organiza
  • by bursch-X ( 458146 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:15AM (#12869432)
    I'm pretty sure many would get into clocks, clockworks, automats and mechanical toys.

    There's been a long geek tradition with making automats and mechanical toys, and funny enough the Japanese in the Edo period (1600 onwards) were really good at that stuff, because "inventions" were not allowed in that era. The feudal lords were afraid "inventions" could be used against them, so only fun automats ("karakuri ningyo" etc.) were considered harmless enough, that people were allowed to "invent" if it was for mechanical toys and automats. This started a real boom of the production of ever more amazing geek gadgets.
  • SCA of course (Score:4, Informative)

    by obeythefist ( 719316 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:30AM (#12869492) Journal
    A lot of "geeks" I know are all members of the SCA. SCA arts and sciences encompass a wide range of reasonably geeky activities, including but not limited to brewing beer, smithing armour and weapons, leatherworking, costuming, fighting in armour, archery and so on.

    A large amount of effort and detail is put into the crafting of authentic armour and weaponry, and the enthusiasm and energy dedicated to these tasks often exclude the demands of a more normal, healthy lifestyle, thus making these a small part of larger geekdom.
  • by dutky ( 20510 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @12:36AM (#12869508) Homepage Journal
    Both engineering and mathematics are ancient disciplines, with origins dating back almost as far as written history itself. The ancient Babylonians, Sumerians and Egyptians were aware of mathematics to the extent that they were able to contruct mathematical proofs for the same geometric theorems that we all learned in high school. These same cultures obviously had a superb understanding of engineering in order to be able to build monumental architechture that stood for millenia, all without the benefit algebra or decimal arithmetic (much less, calculus).

    There is no reason to think that the sorts of folks that became engineers or mathematicians 5000 years ago were, tempermentally, any differnt from the sorts of folks that become engineers or mathematicians today.

    There were, no doubt, other highly skilled and technical professions that would have attracted ancient geeks: other's have mentioned smithing, scribing is another possability (just being literate enough to read and write was analogous to the general level of education of most geeks today), as is accountancy (conducting simple arithmetic without the benefit of decimal numbers must have required great patience and dedication). In the far east, at least since about 200 B.C., there was a good chance that anyone with reasonable education would have become a government functionary under the Confucian civil service system. I also suspect that, in other times, when people's conception of the world was very different from ours, many geeks may have gone into fields that would seem highly esoteric by modern standards: ancient geeks may have become musicians, artists, poets or monks as a means of persuing the life of the mind.

    Finally, we should recognize the uncomfortable fact that most ancient geeks probably never got the opportunity to persue any career whatsoever. Throughout most of history, most people, no matter what their personal interests or inate abilities, were destined to be peasant farmers, servants, slaves or other bondsmen, like their fathers and grandfathers and so on. The idea that people, no matter what their station by birth, should be able (or even required) to choose their path in life, is a thoroughly modern concept.

    • You would seem to be implying that planting things requires no systemic knowledge of the natural world. Just stick it in the dirt, eh? Agriculture and the esoterics of planting are intensely geeky - and Druids among the more popular-culture ladder-toppers in this area. Agriculture is the root system science of a wide range of other engineering disciplines.

    • All very true (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @03:20AM (#12870101) Homepage Journal
      "Classical Education" (based on Greek ideas, reinvented during the reneissance) follows the idea of mixing arts and sciences, and it is from such a system that we let Leonardo Da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton (a concert pianist, alchemist, and inventer of the cat flap), and others.

      These people, in Renessance times, were typically sponsored by rich patrons, who took care of the mundane needs whilst they got on with inventing or whatever. It made for a society that evolved culturally and technologically faster than anything that had preceeded it.

      Geeks would likely also have been explorers - it is very likely that St. Brenden "The Navigator" (who sailed from Ireland to Newfoundland in about 600 AD in a leather dinghy) was a geek at heart. There was a lot to discover, and required a mind agile at problem-solving along with fantastic patience, as they would be doing a great deal of nothing much.

      You find hints of geekdom in gnostic and hellenistic thought and religion, suggesting early geeks may have been heavy into religion. Again, no great surprise - geeks love answering things, and for a long time, those were the best answers anyone could devise.

      Cave painters may well have been geeks, too. One set of cave paintings in England would have been a few hundred feet under an ice sheet at the time they were painted. Someone shimmied down an ice crevice for the sole purpose of dawbing animals that couldn't possibly have existed there on the walls. That guy was NOT normal.

      Brewers, throughout history, have experimented with different sources of sugars, flavours, etc. Since wild yeast can take many forms, and since many ingredients would have been expensive, they would undoubtably have researched methods of sustaining the active ingredient in much the same way that modern kids brew their own "ginger beer plants" by splitting bottles and topping up with fresh ingredients to keep the yeast alive.

      The vertical loom and tablet weaving, both parts of Norse tradition, involved some highly complex thought and engineering on the part of their inventers and practicioners. Even the Viking longships - which would slide up beaches and could then be used to carry cargo from raids by reversing the oars - show considerable evidence of highly creative thought.

      I think it safe to say that geeks throughout history have been much as they are today, excpet maybe more influential, as many of the trades I've mentioned have had considerable status and power in their times.

  • Railroading... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Pig Hogger ( 10379 )
    Between my first job and my second job, I spent a summer in a railroad museum in Vermont, where I touched to many rail trades, from painting old cars to firing a steam engine. If ever I was sent 100 years in the past, I'll go working on the railroad...

  • Learn precision drawing on paper with the old tools (T-squares, pencils, compasses - it's techno-Zen) and/or the ability to effectively express a physical thing/abstract concept with a simple hand-drawn sketch. These skills are being lost.
  • If you were lucky, you'd find yourself apprenticed to a craftsman and learning a trade. You might also choose to join the church. Those would be the only categories of "employment" where you might stretch your brain; aside from that, you'd probably become a soldier or a farmer.
  • Pillars of the Earth (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hlee ( 518174 )
    Recently read "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follet. Fantastic story, not to mention a wealth of detail on the architecture and building of cathedrals in 12th century England.

    If you think you life is tough now, this book will open your eyes on how hard life used to be the past few thousand years.
  • A hundred or a thousand years ago, large portions of the population didn't have time to sit at their desks and play around with "hobbies". If your entire waking life is spent trying to scrape a living out of semi-fertile ground on one leg because you lost the other one to infection after dropping a rock on your toe, your options for being a geek are limited. SCA fantasies notwithstanding, if you lived in the middle ages it didn't matter how smart or creative you were if you were born to the wrong parents. I
  • I search for gold, other metals, and gemstones, as well as fossils and artifacts. I've done quite well at it, in fact. And even though I use modern tools, the basic tools are hundreds of years old: muscle-powered shovel, pick, pan, and sluice. And, of course, the power of observation.


    The Field Guide to Alaska Rocks and Minerals []

  • I play stringed instruments. The guitar has passed through a well funded techno arms race since the early 50s but is still based on the older technology. The sitar stabilized technologically around 300 years ago.

    Some linguist has a theory that music was used to teach counting, counting used to lead while taking aim at dinner with a spear.

    Whether music has been improved by technology is OT but if someone wants a rant on that get in touch (Short Answer: yes and no)
  • MORTICIAN: Must be a king.
    CUSTOMER: Why?
    MORTICIAN: He hasn't got shit all over him.

    We all would have been what our fathers were.

  • I am going to buy small hotel or guest house somewhere in Latgale (east of Latvia). This is more interesting business (I hope) than typing on keyboard all day long.
  • by crazyphilman ( 609923 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:24AM (#12869941) Journal
    Ok, this is from a thousand-year old Roman engineering textbook I perused many years ago.

    One of the first things a Roman engineer would do on any building site is locate a spring to supply him with water. In order to do this, the engineer would get up before sunrise and lie down on the top of a hill, facing downhill. As the sun rose, tendrils of mist would appear in certain places on the ground. The engineer would note their location, and he would dig in those spots to produce a water supply.

    The reason this works? The mist appears where the water table is closer to the surface. By digging, you go below the water table, and the hole will naturally fill up with water over time. This water can be filtered and used.

    Isn't that neat?

  • by Muhammar ( 659468 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @02:33AM (#12869971)
    A galon of a good-quality milk + few spoons of good powdered or condenzed milk is heated close to boil (without actualy boiling it), the mix is cooled to amibient temperature, a favorite joghurt (few spoons) is stirred in and the mix is left under lose lid in a warm quiet place without disturbance for several days until ready.

    Basicaly it's as simple as making your own kids but less fun.
  • Lots of stuff (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wjeff ( 161644 )
    Traditional boat building (in several forms), traditional boat sailing while using non-electronically aided navigation techniques, blacksmithing, leatherwork, sewing and furniture making. These are skills I probably could have made a living with in an earlier age. Probably would have been relatively happy doing it too.
  • What were engineers doing over 2k years ago? How about building the Antikythera Mechanism [] (web copy of a June 1959 Scientific American article, p60-7)

    An amazingly complex, intricate, and accurate mechanical astronomical calculation device from 80 BC. Found in a shipwreck in 1900, and not fully reverse engineered until 1973, there are no other examples of this level technology in the ancient world.

    "It is hard to exaggerate the singularity of this device, or its importance in forcing a complete re-evaluation of what had been believed about technology in the ancient world. For this box contained some 32 [brass] gears, assembled into a mechanism that accurately reproduced the motion of the sun and the moon against the background of fixed stars, with a differential [gear] giving their relative position and hence the phases of the moon."

    You can see a reconstructed version of the Antikythera Mechanism here []. Another article detailing the probable creation date of the device based on the construction of the gears can be found here []" was more sophisticated than anything like it until the Eighteenth Century, nearly two thousand years later!"

    Another article [] makes the conjecture that ancient navigators could have used the Antikythera Mechanism to determine longitude via the position of the moon (1800 years before longitude calculation was perfected [] in England)

    Ben in DC
    • It is amazing what technology and social progress the Greeks had advanced to in their time, right before the fall of their civilization... Steam power, complex mechanical design, philosophy, democracy, calculus, electricity, atomic theory, and more ! They were due an Industrial Revolution of their own very soon, I think.
  • ...and I spend a LOT of time in the machine shop working metal into precision components for my experiments. While the machines themselves are mostly 1950's, the techniques go way back - for example, lathe turning predates metalworking. And I find it incredibly satisfying!
  • What would an electrical engineer be doing a millennia or three before the concept of resistors and capacitors?

    S/he would be working in the fields all day long. If they were very lucky, they might be semi-free and would only have to worry about covering the rent whilst actually growing enough to live on. Most of them would be worrying whether their owner would decide that he had a few too many peasants and so decide to sell a few off or use them for sword practice.
  • by PGillingwater ( 72739 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @05:05AM (#12870380) Homepage
    Choosing the right wood, shaping it, fletching the arrows. This is "ancient tech" which can be learned today, and is its own reward. Why, there are even courses in this available!

    It's amazing how effective a recurve bow with 40lbs strain is in the right hands....
  • Metalcasting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @05:40AM (#12870480) Homepage Journal
    I'm melting Aluminum @ 1400 degrees F (ish) in a steel bucket lined with concrete to make sailing hardware. Oh, and I build my own wooden boats (another exercise in mathematics and logic). Both have been practiced for thousands of years, although I think they cast iron more often than aluminum "back in the day".
  • Specifically, I spend my time making little metal masses go really fast and studying trajectories, sonic effects, and impact patterns. If you don't want to call it "potting away at the gun range..."

    Aside from that, I enjoy studying basic physio-chemical effects of complex carbohydrate distillates on the human body, and piecing together the hormonal puzzle of the effect of the female of the species in really short skirts on drunken guy^H^H^Hscientists.
  • When I see those mechanical clocks, and all those machines, music boxes and early mechanical robots (playing piano etc.), I feel those people are our geeky ancestors. Those were the first programmable machinery, and a vital step towards computing. Even today, a clock is still the center of a computer.
  • In addition to being a geek and spending most of my life in front of a monitor, I am also a SCA []dian. I brew beer, I know how to shoot a bow and swing a weapon, and if I can't make a living at any of that, there's always hard labor.
  • by Cheeze ( 12756 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @08:06AM (#12870941) Homepage
    Don't all good engineers start out in Tech support??

    tech: Hello sir, how may I help you?
    caveman: fire, BAD!!!
    tech: I understand your frustration, you'll need to restart your fire by hitting two stones together.
    caveman: FIRE, BAD!!!!!
    tech: Sir, you're going to have to work with me here.
    caveman: fire.........good?
    tech: Yes sir. Is there anything else I can do for you?
    caveman: UNF!

  • What would today's programmers have been doing centuries before the invention of the keyboard?
    Being eaten by a cave bear ?
  • I recently discovered I have a knack for woodworking. I have always had a knack for construction in general I suppose. Legos ya know!

    I suppose before the light bulb (which in turn brought the vac tube, and the transistor)...I probably would have been attracted to a profession that involved building things.
  • If I lived in a time before computers and electronics, I would have probably persued a career in my other love, porn, err, my OTHER other love, meteorology. Before Luke Howard gave us the nomenclature and the basic hydrology of clouds, meteorology was mostly cataloguing the weather and making (somewhat) educated guesses based on patterns. An ancient greek weather forcast: A high chance of either sun or rain!
  • When I'm not working on computers I'm usually playing video games. Does that count?
  • Try a diptych... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ferralis ( 736358 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @09:24AM (#12871431) Homepage Journal
    I'm working on building a replica of a medieval diptych... not the booklet style painting, but the medieval version of the PDA. Folded in half, these were often apparently the size of a palmtop. Using a string as a "gnomon" they make a pretty fair sundial too. With wax on the inside, suddenly they make a handy place to write important notes, etc. Given the properties of sundials, it's possible to approximate the date if you hold the thing level... and there are any number of games you can play with a pen and paper, stylus and wax work for them too. So, in short, a diptych ( []) is definitely the sort of thing a medieval geek would have to have... I can see the articles now: "Tic-tac-toe, the next killer app?"
  • the mods have been promoting mostly answers that start with "if I were living X hundred years ago" and "the geeks of yore did W and Z". [and they are mostly interesting answers, I admit]. But the question is what DO you do?
    In fact, if you are an orthodox greenie or you are convinced that petroleum resources will dry up in the next decade, you SHOULD be DOING some low-tech nerdwork right now.
    Some things I do:
    • design passive solar heated housing: no electronics but some mechanical or hydraulic feed bac
    • We should be going to solar regardless of any fear of fossil fuel depletion. It's more accurate to say the supply of "sweet light" crude will decline in the next ten years, but of course there's plenty of other harder-to-process fossil fuel, enough for two centuries or more even at current rates of growth (ewwwww). In a pinch a hemispherical solar concentrator is good enough, but in the event The End of All Civilization comes you'll have plenty of parabolic dishes laying around, just pick those satellite
  • No doubt about it.
  • Let's be realistic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TomorrowPlusX ( 571956 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @10:30AM (#12871981)
    It seems -- and this may be somewhat cynical of me -- that an ancient geek would have had a life approximately like thus ( where the timeline is from pre-history up to, say, the 17th or 18th century:

    1) Born into violence, filth, and disease.
    2) Eek out a life of scavenging or farming, paying taxes to your lord, having some children, most of whom will die before a couple years old, until:
    3) war, or some other tribal/religious/cultural dispute.
    4) death at 20.

    This hypothetical geek from BCE 5000 or AD 1600 might have been the next Einstein, or Stephen Hawking, or anything we can imagine. But he'd never have had the time, opportunity or resources to do anything with it.

    We're NOT smarter than previous humans, we just have an *unprecendented* level of peace and prosperity. We have developed a culture where people have the opportunity *not* to toil and die at an early age.

    Finally, this success isn't evenly distributed, yet. A fair amount of humanity still lives the way our ancestors did centuries ago.
  • The real answer... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday June 21, 2005 @11:36AM (#12872589) Homepage Journal
    They where blacksmiths, wheelwrights, coopers, or maybe weavers. I have read about people in the old west making sail wagons to try to ride across the plains. Put a sail on an old wagon? What a cool hack. Barbed wire or a mechanical reaper? Also way cool hacks. Even the Wright Brothers first plane was in effect a way cool hack.
    Back in the day you had to do cool hacks to survive. Hackers are not the descendants of court wizards. We are descendants of farmers that when one of his tools broke he would fix it with what he had on hand or make a different tool out of it.
  • Caveman Chemistry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SteeldrivingJon ( 842919 ) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @12:51PM (#12882023) Homepage Journal
    Here's the site to check out:Caveman Chemistry []

    Projects from making charcoal, mead, and ceramics to casting metals and glass, and making plastic (making and drawing polyester fiber).
  • by SteeldrivingJon ( 842919 ) on Wednesday June 22, 2005 @01:02PM (#12882104) Homepage Journal
    Back in the medieval period, the educated people were the clerics, some ordained, some not.

    Problem was, there weren't enough good jobs for the educated class. There were many underemployed people with time on their hands and limited prospects.

    So they did what came naturally. Like we hack technology, they hacked theology.

    Much 'black magic' was based on the standard Catholic rite of exorcism. In the rite, the priest commands demons or the devil to leave, in the name of the father, son, and holy ghost, perhaps with other holy names thrown in for good measure.

    Some clerk must have seen that, and thought "What a waste! If you can command them, why not tell them to do something useful?"

    Thus, the idea that a sorceror could follow a similar ritual, and use the influence of the holy powers to command the spirits to bring wealth, or sex, or knowledge.

    Sort of like hacking a CueCat.

The wages of sin are high but you get your money's worth.