2005 Reith lectures: Chapter 1 – The Triumph Of Technology

This year’s series is called The Triumph Of Technology

Four thousand years ago, just 5 miles north of present day Thetford, our Neolithic ancestors began what may have been the largest early industrial process in these islands. This is the site that the Anglo-Saxons called ‘Grimes Graves’ and it contains nearly four hundred mine-shafts, built to extract high-quality flints, which could be chipped to produce sharp cutting edges. Using nothing but tools of bone and wood and presumably the flints themselves, these ancient people excavated to a depth of up to twelve metres, to reach the buried flints. It has been calculated that the miners needed to remove 1000 tonnes of waste to produce eight tonnes of flint. The site covers nearly 40 hectares and the whole project is astonishing.

Whilst more advanced technologies had developed elsewhere – for instance in China – our ancestors’ task was anything but easy. They needed timbers to shore up their excavations and ladders to get down in to them, lighting was required in the deeper pits and they needed tools, which they made from deer antlers, so they had to manage the local herds of red-deer. A separate and skilled industry was required to work the extracted flints and to market and distribute them. The flints were used as axe heads, as agricultural implements, as arrow-heads, and no doubt there were countless other applications that we have lost track of. The Grimes Graves operation underpinned the foundations of a new sort of society. The timescale was quite different from our own. Excavation at Grime’s Graves lasted more than five centuries, whereas, for example, valve electronics lasted about fifty years. Continue reading “2005 Reith lectures: Chapter 1 – The Triumph Of Technology”

TechnologyReview.com,The People Own Ideas!

TechnologyReview.com – The People Own Ideas!
By Lawrence Lessig June 2005

We entered the youth camp that morning by passing down a long, white gravel road and under a wooden gate. Spread to one side, and for as far as you could see, were rows and rows of tents. In front were scores of showers, with hundreds of kids in swimsuits milling about, waiting to rinse. It felt like a refugee camp.

In a sense, it was. More than a hundred thousand had descended upon Porto Alegre, Brazil, to attend the World Social Forum, a conference intended to offer a progressive alternative to the much smaller, and much more famous, World Economic Forum meeting at Davos, Switzerland (see “Letter from Davos,” April 2005).

Just past the showers was a sprawling collection of wooden huts, connected by a canvas spread across their roofs. This was the free-software lab. To the right, there was a training room, with more than 50 PCs arranged along long tables. At the far end was a large screen, where 20 to 30 kids were watching an instructor explain the workings of some video-editing software. Every machine was running free software only–GNU/Linux as the operating system, Mozilla as the browser, and a suite of media production software, most of which I had never seen on any machine anywhere.
Continue reading “TechnologyReview.com,The People Own Ideas!”

Car Pipe Organs

For the last couple of days I have been thinking about car pipe organs again. This is an idea from some years back. The basics are fairly simple, you have a number of cars driving along a freeway side by side. On the top of the cars are long metal tubes of various lengths and diameters and as the car hits the right speed the velocity of the air travelling through the pipe will resonate and a note will sound. So the theory is that if the cars drive along speeding up and slowing down they will be able to play a tune. Now there are a number of things that need to be worked out I agree, but in principle it should work.

The reason that this is back in the front of my consciousness as opposed to hiding down the back with all the other scary thoughts is that I saw a show on the Crucible ( a blacksmiths shop in San Francisco not the play) and they were playing with flame throwers mounted on the top of their trucks and it got me to thinking (hey you down the back there… yes you the car pipe organ thought. Come up the front here for a minute) that maybe by squirting flame down the pipes you would lower the density of the air in the pipe and get a bit better control over the pitch.

Anyway thats as far as the thought has got at the moment (OK thought, back into storage.). I need to find a pyromaniac and see what they think. Dont you just love it when art , physics and madness all intersect?