Tag Archives: history

Putting the pot in Mesopotamia

Sumerian pots 4,500 bc

“Clay is a form of soil made up of very small particles of aluminum silicate created by the chemical weathering of rock.”

In the mountains of Turkey, melting snow turned to water that coursed over granite rocks and wore away at them. Teeny-tiny mineral particles were carried by the water down, down from the mountains and eventually into river- and stream-beds in the Tigris-Euphates valley. Over a long time, those particles became clay. You can dig clay out of the ground and make stuff from it, like pots. Clay is what they call plastic: you can form it into different shapes. Clay can be fired—heated at a really high temperature—to become hard and impervious to water. When they dig up ancient sites where people lived, archæologists find pieces of pottery that is thousands of years old.

https://sciencing.com/how-is-clay-soil-formed-13406937.htmlhttp://www.pottery-on-the-wheel.com/what-is-clay.htmlhttps://www.infoplease.com/culture-entertainment/art-architecture/clay-and-pottery

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How to start up a civilization

Sumer, in the ancient Middle East, was the very beginning of Western Civilization.

Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers (I put in modern place names so you can find this on a bigger map).

A civilization means a big group of people with a government and laws; an economy; technology; religion; and a language and writing system. The Sumerians had all that. They were located in between the Tigris (TEE- gris) and Euphrates (EH-you-FRAH-tays) Rivers—a valley that extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.* It’s a friendly place to farm: melting snow from mountains in Turkey feeds the rivers which flood regularly. When the rivers recede they leave behind a sludge of decayed plants, dead bugs and fish bones. That sludge, or silt, is fantastic for growing plants in. The Sumerians learned to control the flood. They built levees and dug canals and reservoirs so they could bring water wherever and whenever it was needed.
https://science.howstuffworks.com/engineering/structural/levee.htm

Remember that farming for food turned out to be easier than hunting or gathering it. Levees and canals made farming easier still. That meant not everybody had to work on a farm. People could have other jobs, like priests or scribes. Some people built houses and towers. Some people ran the government. This is how a civilization gets started.

Mesopotamia: from Greek words— ‘meso’ means between; ‘potamia’ means rivers.

* Yes, I know, I’m a pronunciation geek.

https://www.penfield.edu/webpages/jgiotto/onlinetextbook.cfm?subpage=1525827

The Sumerians


https://mesopotamia.mrdonn.org/inventions.html

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Back in caveman days

Many hairy returns

Way, way back—I mean 2.5 million years ago—nobody read anything, because nobody wrote anything down. If you wanted to say ‘happy birthday’ to your uncle who lived in the next county, you’d have to walk there and tell him yourself. There weren’t any birthday cards, or paper, or pencils—and no alphabet, so you couldn’t even write ‘many happy returns’ (whatever that means).

On the other hand, one thing you have to say about us human beings is: we like stories. Not only that, we like stories with pictures. So prehistoric human beings did the best they could with the resources at hand. They painted gorgeous, inspiring hunting scenes on the inside of caves where they lived. For paint, they used ash, chalk, colored minerals, even blood. These scenes tell the story of triumphant hunters, or maybe they hoped their mural would convince their gods to grant them a successful hunt.

https://www.ancient.eu/Lascaux_Cave/
https://www.history.com/news/prehistoric-ages-timeline
https://www.inrap.fr/en/periods
https://naturalearthpaint.com/blog/natural-earth-paint-through-the-ages-the-prehistoric-era/

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The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing

Okay, gang, here we go! I’m starting up another Western Civ User’s Guide. This time around we’re looking at reading and writing. If you’re a loyal follower, you know we’re all about the history of ideas here at Western Civ User’s Guide world headquarters. In this book I want to explore 2 themes. One, how an ancient invention—the alphabet—was so essential that it’s endured down to our own time. Two, that the history of Western Civ can be seen as a series of culture-changing transfers of power from privileged elites (usually played in the movies by the late Alan Rickman) to the broader population (regular shmoes). For example, the alphabet and later moveable type brought literacy to huge amounts of people; the printing press and later the internet increased the distribution of information.

In case anyone’s fuzzy about what exactly Western Civilization is, here are links to a couple of brilliant explanations:

https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/what-is-a-civilization/
https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/where-in-the-world-is-western-civilization/

As usual, there will be lousy gags and badly-drawn cartoons squeezed in between bits of actual history. This is interactive—chime in if you have information to share. I heartily thank you weirdos for following. See you next post!

It’s the end of Time and Space

So that’s it—with the exception of a few odds & ends that didn’t fit into the story, that’s all I got for Time and Space. I’ll tell you, this was even more fun than I thought it would be. I hope you learned a few things. I sure did.

We started with Sumerians, their Base Sixty counting and 24-hour days; Egyptian sundials and waterclocks; Greek units of distance; the Roman calendar; the hourglass; the geocentric universe; the Mideastern astrolabe; the Silk Road; the Chinese compass and Venetian trade routes; Columbus’ discovery of the New World; the race to find longitude; pendulum clocks, chronometers, steam engines, internal combustion engines, the quartz crystal movement, atomic clocks, GPS; and ended with Einstein’s theories. Whew!

What’s next? So many things! I want to turn this series of blog posts into a book. I’m thinking of doing one of those Kickstarter campaigns. The book version of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space will have the same feel as the blog: lots of bits of information crammed in with lots of lame gags and cartoons. My rough pencil sketches will become finished illustrations. There will be QR codes so you can access links to sources and music while you read it.

Aaaaaaand—in the next couple of weeks I’ll be starting a new Western Civ User’s Guide with a different topic.

Thanks for following this, you weirdos. I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am somebody actually reads these posts.

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Feedback loop

A cesium atom oscillates 9,192,631,770 times every second. That never changes.

What does change is the atoms’ energy state. The excited cesium atoms bounce off the detector every time the microwaves hit the same frequency as the atoms’ oscillations. The detector sends a signal to the microwave resonator, so that the microwave frequency is adjusted to sync better with the atoms. This is called a feedback loop. The detector sends a signal, the signal adjusts the microwave frequency, the microwaves excite the atoms, the atoms bounce off the detector, the detector sends a signal, the signal adjusts the microwave frequency, the microwaves excite the atoms…over and over and over. The time between each signal is exactly one second. No gears, no moving parts to oil, nothing mechanical.

That’s it! That’s how the atomic clock works. Thanks for sticking with me for an entire week on this. Finally, we can get on with our lives!

As with my explanation of the liquid crystal display, this is a simplification. I left out a lot of stuff. It’s the idea, the principle, that I was interested in explaining. Luckily for you, here are links to click on if you’d like more exact, in-depth info about atomic clocks.

https://www.livescience.com/32660-how-does-an-atomic-clock-work.html
https://www.timeanddate.com/time/how-do-atomic-clocks-work.html
https://www.gps.gov/applications/timing/


https://science.howstuffworks.com/question40.htm
https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/resources-you-radiation-emitting-products/microwave-oven-radiation
https://science.howstuffworks.com/atomic-clock3.htm
https://www.britannica.com/technology/atomic-clock

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32,768 oscillations per second

When you hit a tuning fork against something it vibrates, giving a specific musical note.

We learned that a digital clock is regulated by measuring how many times a quartz crystal oscillates per second—32,768 times. How does it count all those vibrations so quickly? Here’s how: the crystal is purposely cut with a laser to exactly the size and shape (the shape of a tuning fork) that will produce 32,768 oscillations in a second, then stop.* The electric circuit zaps the crystal with electricity, which makes the crystal vibrate until it returns to its original shape. When the vibrating stops, exactly one second has passed. The stopped vibrations trigger the circuit to move the second hand and give the crystal another zap.

The same principle applies in animated entertainment for children. The mouse hits the cat, who oscillates for a second, then resumes his former shape.

Here’s how a tuning fork works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW-igtIn3A8

Basics of LC oscillators and their measurement


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_oscillator

* “Because 32768Hz can be so conveniently divided to give a 1 second pulse, it is a very popular size for it to be cut to. Manufacturers can bang them out and be sure they will sell.” https://www.quora.com/Why-does-Quartz-vibrate-exactly-32768-2-15-times-per-second

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Circuit boards

Three inventions moved clocks and watches away from being mechanical/analogue so they could become digital: The quartz crystal, the circuit board and the liquid crystal display.

This will look better when I paint it. For one thing, the board will be a lovely green. The bigger, more complicated circuit boards look like city maps.

If you’ve ever wired something—like a lamp—you’ll remember getting out the needle-nose pliers and wire-cutters, maybe a razor blade to strip the insulation off the wire ends; you wrap the exposed copper wire around the appropriate screws then tighten ‘em up so the wire stays put…I’m trying to imagine how you would wire something as minuscule as the insides of a watch. Wires would need to go from the battery to the quartz crystal, back to the battery with a detour to power the hour, minute & second hands after counting how many oscillations the crystal made.

The circuit board is a flat card made of plastic or resin. Instead of wires, circuitry is printed right onto the card in metal ink. A circuit board can get a complicated electric network crammed onto a very small area. A small circuit board in a watch can direct electric power from a battery to the quartz crystal and anything else inside the watch .

You can see the circuit board at 27:20 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFiq8WDx5Is

The History of Circuit Boards


https://www.pcb-solutions.com/pcb-market-monitor/the-history-of-pcb-infographic/
Those old discarded mass-produced watches and circuit boards can become playthings for someone with electrical knowledge—http://www.angelfire.com/ut/horology/quartz.html
https://sound-au.com/clocks/timebase.html

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The wristwatch

While I was blathering about cars and roads, I got ahead of myself—I haven’t been talking about time for awhile. In the previous post I mentioned that satellites need incredibly precise clocks so that their signals are accurate when finding your global position. But the last time we looked at a clock was Harrison’s marine chronometer from 200 years ago.

The Queen of Naples wearing her wristwatch.

In 1810 the very first wristwatch was designed by Abraham-Louis Breguet for the Queen of Naples. Before that, a ‘watch’ meant a pocket-watch, kept in your pocket and attached to a button-hole in your vest by a chain. Instead of hauling a time-piece out of your pocket, now all you had to do was look at your wrist.

Nowadays nobody wears a wristwatch. When we want to know the time, we haul our cell phones out of our pockets. Progress!

A Brief History of the Wristwatch – Part 1


https://www.hallandladdco.com/blogs/interesting-articles/a-short-history-of-the-wristwatch

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Satellites and hamster balls

Satellites are useful for a whole bunch of purposes: talking on your cell phone; keeping an eye on the weather; broadcasting television and radio stations; seeing what your enemy is up to in times of war; communicating with people when there’s an emergency…but you probably guessed why I decided to talk about satellites.

Satellites serve the same purpose the stars did for Galileo and Maskelyne. They give you information you need to find your location on Earth. Satellites communicate with the Global Positioning System (GPS) on your phone or in the car. They constantly send out 2 bits of information: time and distance.

Most satellites orbit fairly close to the Earth, like 11,000 miles above its surface. When a satellite sends out information, its range is like a sphere—the satellite in its sphere is like a hamster in a hamster-ball.

Well, maybe not exactly, but you get the idea.

These spheres overlap. In fact, we want 3 or 4 satellite spheres to overlap. If you’re looking at your GPS device, satellites are telling it when you’re within their spheres.

So if you’re in the overlap of 2 spheres, you have a general idea where you are.

A third sphere makes that overlap even smaller, right? The smaller the overlap, the more accurately you know your position.

Then there’s a fourth sphere: Earth. You’re inside that overlap, and on the surface of the Earth.

 

trilateration noun

: the measurement of the lengths of the three sides of a series of touching or overlapping triangles on the earth’s surface for the determination of the relative position of points by geometrical means (as in geodesy, map making, and surveying)

triangulation noun

1 : the measurement of the elements necessary to determine the network of triangles into which any part of the earth’s surface is divided in surveying broadly : any similar trigonometric operation for finding a position or location by means of bearings from two fixed points a known distance apart

While the satellites are telling your GPS device where they are, they’re also zipping along at hundreds of miles an hour. Their positions change from second to second. All 3, 4 or 5 satellites need to tell you their positions at the exact same moment or it doesn’t work. They need a clock that’s even more accurate than Harrison’s chronometer.

https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/gps/en/
https://thesciencegeek.org/2017/01/29/gps/                                                               mmmmmmmm

https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/item/what-is-gps-how-does-it-work/

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