Open source knowledge…what a novel concept

| July 1, 2011 | 3 Replies

Thirty years ago, give or take, I read Lucifer’s Hammer (by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) for the first time. Published in 1977, it has a few dated elements, but apart from those, it holds its own in my mind. The novel describes a near future after a comet hits the Earth. I enjoyed it, but one very small reference stcuk in my head.

One of the characters has a library (that he preserves from the anarchy) and the one book he takes as currency to the outpost central to the novel is “Volume Two of The Way Things Work.” Google “The Way Things Work” now, and you’ll likely find mostly hits on David Macaulay’s illustrated book. Nice…and informative, but not the one Niven and Pournelle were talking about.

I searched for years, pre-internet, before finding my copy. It’s an eighth edition of the one originally published in 1963 by Simon and Schuster; subtitled “An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Technology.” It’s a single volume, not two, and although also dated (vacuum tubes), it is still an enormous, condensed wealth of knowledge. I’m not an end-of-the-world type person, but I have several survival books of this nature (Back to Basics, The American Boys’ Handybook, etc.) for my children and descendants…just in case. Not in case of the end of the world, but in case they get stranded or what have you.

Driving around to look in on various construction projects today, I listened to a few TED videos and one, very short by TED 18 minute standards, conveyed in four minutes one of the more amazing ideas I’ve seen at TED, host of hundreds of amazing ideas.

Marcin Jakubowski, a Polish American with a PhD in fusion physics, founded Open Source Ecology, “home of the Global Village Construction Set, developing community-based solutions for re-inventing local production” after starting a farm. I’ll let him describe what he’s done:

I’m adding this to my various “Way Things Work” works. It’s free, brilliant, full of maker ideals, and can deliver affordable technology to the world. Maybe I’ll even be able to contribute.

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Category: Sustainable Living, Technology

About the Author ()

Jim is a husband of more than 27 years, father of four home-schooled sons (26, 23, 16 and 14), engineer delighting in virtually all things technical, with more than a passing interest in history, religions, arts, most sciences (particularly physics) and skepticism.

Comments (3)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    To create "a single DVD that is a civilization starter kit" is a big idea, but seems to require a pretty big first step: Build a DVD player from your innate know-how, sand, grass, and rocks on which to play it.

  2. Jim Razinha says:

    Noticed I sidestepped that, eh Dan? I really was thinking of adding, "Now, how to get that off of the DVD…." but was ushered off of the DVD creating tool by my sons, so I published while still thinking on it.

    Did you see the Thomas Thwaites TED video "How I built a toaster — from scratch"? The simplest ideas are made very complex. Opposite of Erich's Einstein quote from a couple of days ago. Great quote from Thwaites in his talk: "The smaller scale you have to work on, the further back in time you have to go."

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Jim, the toaster from scratch is a good illustration of how little we consider the actual meaning of bootstrapping. Even in his video, he was using tools from at least industrial-age technology as his "primitive" equipment.

    Although I am puzzled why no one thinks of polymerized boiled linseed oil or boiled pine resin as plastics and insulators. Leo Frankowski has the same major blind spot in his Conrad Stargard books.

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