Episode #125 of the Stack Overflow podcast is here. We talk Tilde Club and mechanical keyboards. Listen now
177

Microsoft "stole" the GUI in roughly the same way that every scriptwriter has "stolen" their movies from Shakespeare. Ideas are important, but implementation is everything. I'll start by saying I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know what it claims. However, I didn't see it because I lived through most of it as a home computing enthusiast, so I already ...


71

Early hand grenades looked like that: The word "grenade" originated in the Glorious Revolution (1688), where cricket ball-sized iron spheres packed with gunpowder and fitted with slow-burning wicks were first used against the Jacobites in the battles of Killiecrankie and Glen Shiel (Specimen made from glass, French, ca. 1740)


70

Until the 1940s, it was believed that the cure to loud noises was developing a tolerance to them: The pervasive attitude of the early 1900s was that hearing loss could be prevented by developing a tolerance to noise. Consequently, any attempts to avoid loud sounds or to protect oneself from them were interpreted as weakness. Between 1941 and 1944, the US ...


63

According to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, one of the first steps from a hunter-gatherer society towards civilization is agriculture. While agricultural societies appeared all over the world, the old world had a more suitable environment, especially with regards to the grains and large animals that lived there. The old world had wheat, which is ...


62

Are there any examples of technologies have been lost over time? At least four examples spring to mind: Damascus steel, which might have been rediscovered last century, Greek fire, whose composition is still a matter of debate, Roman concrete, whose formula was lost in Western Europe after the fall of Rome and later rediscovered during the Renaissance, and ...


61

That characterization is not legally accurate. Yes, Apple believed that Microsoft infringed on its GUI ideas, and filed a lawsuit in 1988. They lost. Jobs himself obtained the idea from implementations he witnessed at Xerox PARC. Microsoft did not just use this argument themselves to win. Rather what happened is that Xerox noticed the suit and joined the ...


57

Architecture: Roman Cement Concrete was widely used throughout antiquity by the Persians, Egyptians, Assyrians, and Romans. The Romans technique in creating concrete allowed them to build the Pantheon, Colosseum, aqueducts, and spectacular baths (big ones, awesome ones). Amazingly many structures built with this Roman Cement are still standing. The recipe ...


51

Robert Temple has zero credibility in archaeology. He's written multiple ancient-astronaut books, one of the quotes on his web page about his books is from an author of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and his page about Egyptian Dawn includes these points: Exposing faked evidence which has been credulously accepted by the Egyptological community. ...


46

An enlisted Naval serviceman was paid anything from $80 to $213/month, depending on rank and service. I can't find a clear US record, but the Canadians had the lowest (non-training) telegraphist grade as an Able Seaman, and this seems to be at the E-3 level; so by analogy say $100/month. To make it directly comparable to civilian pay we need to account for ...


45

It's important to note that concrete information on how shields were used is scant, so a large part of any discussion on this subject is speculation and logic. That said, kite shields had an obvious advantage in extending protection to the lower half of the body. This was especially relevant to the cavalry, and particularly so in a period when leg armour ...


43

There is a difference between abstract knowledge and "inventions". In the 17th century it was still widely believed that the ancient Greeks had discovered and formulated pretty much the sum total of abstract knowledge. Fermat put this in question. The authentic quote from Fermat (in French and in English translation) can be found here: Perhaps, posterity ...


40

Cavalry sabres (a.k.a. Shashkas) were still widely used in the Russian Civil War (1918-1922) and appear in many books on that period. This weapon is primarily associated with Cossacks even though it was standard equipment in the Russian and later Soviet army. The Russian Wikipedia article claims that Shashkas were still used by the cavalry in the Second ...


39

Yes, and this wikipedia article and this other one describe it. The first article talks about ice boats in America (invented in Poughkeepsie, etc), but the second makes it clear that the Dutch had this technology down cold a very long time ago. Verne, one suspects, read 19th century equivalents of Wikipedia for plot elements; maybe he read an equivalent of ...


39

In Germany Maximilian Negwer founded the company "Fabrik pharmazeutischer und kosmetischer Spezialitäten Max Negwer" in 1907. The first package of Ohropax noise protectors was sold in autumn 1908 for one Goldmark (adjusted for inflation about €5.75).[…] In August 1914, the product was recommended by Lieutenant General Freiherr von Dinklage to the War ...


38

The book is well written and well explained; Jared Diamond actually takes real pain to explain that his theories are not implacable and must not be taken as a 100% reliable blueprint for predicting success or failure of any civilization (even if we could actually define what "failure" means for a civilization). The book, though, attracted criticism because ...


36

It would be very interesting to see a chart of rate of innovation over time in western civilization. Of course, this begs the question of what is "innovation". Do you count number of inventions? Do you give more weight to inventions that would have long lasting significance through history? Or ones that may have been less influential but providing a huge ...


35

There are plenty of industrial uses for steam engines, mostly for generating electricity. Any coal-fueled power station is a steam engine, or more likely a set of them. The only big change in technology is that converting the steam's expansion energy to kinetic energy is now done using a steam turbine and not a piston engine. Since the question specifically ...


33

That depends on what you mean by 'socks'. Hesiod (Greece, ~700 bce) recommends that farmers line their boots with felted wool for extra insulation. That wool layer could be considered the first sock, and it was commonly available to people who weren't particularly rich. When the Romans invaded northern Europe (ie, Gaul), they started wearing sewn foot ...


33

Personally, I don't think anything ever went particularly "wrong" with India. They only fell behind the civilizations of Western Europe, not the rest of the world. So the proper question to ask here is what suddenly went right with heretofore backward Europe. To my mind the answer to this question is clear: The printing press. Nearly overnight Europeans had ...


32

Perhaps one of the most famous examples is the Antikythera mechanism. Discovered in 1901, it is believed to date between 205 BC and 60 BC. This ancient analog computer contains traces of technology that appear utterly modern: gears with neat triangular teeth (just like the inside of a clock) and a ring divided into degrees (like the protractor you ...


30

Iron is not "mined" in its native form. The ores of iron, such as hematite, are oxides which are plentiful and can even be collected right off the surface of the earth with no mining involved at all. I myself have collected hematite and magnetite from stream beds right near where I live. The difficulty in making iron is that it must be reduced from its ...


29

It did exist but no one is sure what it was. The making of such was split between different orders and each only knew how to make the next step in the chain. It was delivered via tubes and could be "thrown" towards the enemy. Some of those were man-portable, other were ship bound. Sometimes, you could find it in jars. The best guess is that it was a ...


27

Nuclear power stations are steam engines, they just use a different source of energy to generate the steam from what you're probably thinking of. So yes, steam engines are in widespread use around the planet.


26

"You're ripping us off!", Steve shouted, raising his voice even higher. "I trusted you, and now you're stealing from us!" But Bill Gates just stood there coolly, looking Steve directly in the eye, before starting to speak in his squeaky voice. "Well, Steve, I think there's more than one way of looking at it. I think it's more like we both had this ...


26

From the standpoint of the ancient Greeks, the aeolipile is a technological dead end. As an engine in its own right, it's useless for more than toys/temple wonders: it produces negligible torque, and does so in a horribly inefficient manner -- the slave you've got stoking the fire to run your aeolipile-powered device would be far more productive if he let ...


26

Cursory netsearch brings up very common blips of history relating to the past evolution of reading aids or eyeglasses. There are some early Greek objects that have magnifying properties, although it is said they were apparently used just to decorate other objects. Ancient Egyptians have produced glass lenses that were once readily identified as reading aid ...


25

I'm afraid I know nothing about which pre-Columbian cultures had any metalworking, but I can answer why metallurgy was, in 1492, very rare in the Americas but widespread in Eurasia. Paraphrasing liberally from Guns, Germs and Steel, which I happen to be reading at the moment, Native American peoples were largely hunter-gatherers. Metalworking, like any ...


25

The Wikipedia entry on the book is pretty thorough. Guns, Germs, and Steel is definitely controversial, because Diamond is writing from the perspective of an evolutionary biologist, and essentially is arguing that history is if not wholly determined by geography, at least heavily influenced by it. From the Wikipedia entry: Guns, Germs and Steel met with ...


25

The metal dip pens existed since the times when Britain was a Roman province, also they are known to be used in the Middle ages and Renaissance times, that is, they were used alongside the quill pens. However, those old metal pens were hand-made, it is only after the Industrial Revolution that their mass production became available. John Mitchell pioneered ...


24

Edit: the original question title was about Greece, which is what I've tried to answer below. Because it wasn't Steam Engine Time. It didn't coincide with an obvious need for locomotion, and the capability to implement it on a wide scale. For example, there was little steel and not much coal. There were lots of slaves to do the heavy lifting... I think ...


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