Wasted Days and Wasted Nights- by Orvan Ox

Wasted Days and Wasted Nights- by Orvan Ox

Sometimes advancements happen by determination. The obvious, mid-latter 20th example is “Let’s get someone to the Moon.” But quite often advancements happen by what is called serendipity. As Asimov put it, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…”

This was prompted by a question on Twitter, which is a very simple question that likely has no One True Answer. “What is the Greatest Invention of All Time?” There are many candidates. Language would be quite basic – but was it truly invention or discovery? Written language certainly followed, eventually, and needed some considerable polishing – and cross-referencing for preservation. Anyone arguing against that claim is invited to “merely” translate some Linear A. }:o)

One possibility is ‘sewers’ – something most First-Worlders don’t think about much as they do not need to. They’re just there, doing the job. Nice and boring. And that is certainly one of the big wins of them. Nobody enjoys it when Something Happens and a sewer demands attention, even if it’s only a bonding bill for maintenance before Something Really Bad happens.  How to scare anyone who deals with sewers, just say “Orangeburg” – and step well back.

Sewers? The Brit’s got at least some teasing in ‘pop culture’ at least once upon a time about considering that civilization was indicated by “proper drains.”  Yet, that is if not right on the mark, certainly not far off. Properly designed and built (and managed!) sewers beget “proper drains.” Proper drains beget at least the start of hygiene and cleanliness (once you have sewers, THEN you can have piped-in water, else where would it all *go*?). Hygiene and cleanliness begets health. Health begets better survival. Better survival begets… and therefore begets more brains. More brains, more brainpower.  And with less fighting off diseases, more time and energy for those brains to work with.

And, yes, invention will beget leisure time and most, perhaps almost all, will be ‘wasted’.  The early Industrial Revolution saw an explosion of gin-sellers in Britain.  The Brits might well have lost a generation to gin and not knowing how to cope with time in the big city. Similarly, it has been argued that the post-WWII USA had such a fairly easy time of things that TV became the “electric hearth” or the boob tube became something of a tranquilizing drug for many. The information revolution (started by Gutenberg’s press, accelerated by the cross-index, and then… well, Facebook, Twitter, and various things might be considered “time sinks.”)  BUT… so what?  There are also things like wikis, which, when done right (rarely, like most things) add to knowledge, or at least increase access to knowledge.

Yes, a there is a vast, previously perhaps even unimaginable amount of computing power… devoted to games. Yet research projects do advance some by using the spare cycles (Folding@Home is just one). And a few decades back many were derided for wasting time with childish (or worse!) comic books or crazy science fiction stories. The ones that got some thinking about getting into space, getting to the Moon, and going farther.  Will some screwball event happen that will mean some great advancement happens… because Billy (or Billie) played some video game?  It would more surprising it that FAILED to happen.  Will the world be saved because someone once played Grand Theft Auto? It seems doubtful in the extreme, but Reality is a mighty weird place.

New ideas are sort of mutant thoughts. Most mutations might do nothing or seem to do nothing. Many will go nowhere. And a few will take off. And the gotchya of it is that until the very last bits are ready to fall into place, nobody knows which is which. In the 1960’s going to the Moon had become or was ready to become an Engineering Problem.  In 1962, it might have been just barely an Engineering Problem and a right b*tch of one at that, but it was no longer pure fantasy. No magic was needed. A HELLUVALOTTA effort from more than a few Truly Stubborn Cusses, but no magic.  In 1862? Utter fantasy was what that dream was, and magic seemed a requirement.

But as Leslie Fish put it, “What makes one step a ‘Giant leap’ is all the steps before.” Today, Elon Musk is taking steps, but his steps benefit from how many chemists (and alchemists, going back), how many astronomers, how many mathematicians who worked on “useless” problems that turned out useful later?  And Elon is doing stuff we can see. He’s connecting dots. Difficult dots, with expensive connections, but still, we can see them or most of them.

It’s the unseen dots and unrealized connections that will RE-make the future. One day Billie (or Billy) might have that “Aha!” moment, or at least start wondering why ‘Approach A’ is always shown, but ‘Approach B’ (or G… or N, or even V..) might be better/faster/easier/cheaper.. or even allow something not yet even imagined.  And millions might have all the same experiences and not question or even notice a thing. But if enough brainpower, enough mindpower, enough point of view variation, is allowed to ‘waste’ time… that one ‘oddball’ mind that thinks just a tiny bit askew from Standard… is thereby given the opportunity to trip over that one particular hook indicating one of Nature’s “Easter eggs”, that might have been “just lying around” for Ages. Or maybe it was only coded last Thursday. Who knows?  We know won’t know until well after it happens.

The ultimate uptime requires at least some downtime.  And we should all be down with that.

303 thoughts on “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights- by Orvan Ox

  1. I would submit that at root the most crucial invention to the existence and development of the human race was our discovery of how we could use tools to improve our environment. And that arguably the two most important and most fundamental of those tools were fire and the cutting edge.
    Now we certainly did not “invent” fire, but early man did first learn how to capture natural fire, then over the course of time to generate an artificial flame whether by two sticks rubbed together or that a certain kind of rock could be made to strike a spark. And from there the care and feeding of flame became an art that meant one would never again have to suffer from the cold.
    As for that cutting edge, such occurs naturally as certain other types of rock fracture. Early oh so clever man discovered that such a sharp rock was a great aid to tooth and claw for any number of situations from gathering food to defending ones self. One huge leap came about as some Neanderthal figured out that if he took that certain kind of rock with no sharp edge and struck it with another one just so he could actually create a very sharp edge. Side factoid, before medical lasers became common very precise surgeries were performed with tiny shards of obsidian mounted to a handle and those glass like rock flakes were far sharper than any metal blade.
    It’s been said by some that man is infinitely adaptable to his environment. I would argue the opposite case, that man is infinitely capable of adapting any environment to one suitable for his survival and prosperity. And that those two tools along with the multitude that followed them helped us to make that happen.

    1. As far as I know, electron microscope samples are still sliced with a broken microscope slide.

    2. This is because obsidian and other crystaline rocks (or glass) could be ‘sharpened’ to an edge a single molecule wide. Metal cannot be so sharpened.

      1. “This is because obsidian and other crystaline rocks (or glass) could be ‘sharpened’ to an edge a single molecule wide. Metal cannot be so sharpened.”

        That’s why my name is what it is.

        That also bugs me about Game of Thrones. The Valyrians had the ability to magically melt obsidian so it was malleable as clay and then harden it so it was hard as diamond. They only used this ability for infrastructure why?

          1. “If that’s the only giant plot hole in GoT, oh dear where do I start…”

            😂 Don’t get ME started either. It was the only plot hole even slightly relative to this conversation.

            1. I forget what short-lived screwy cartoon it was, but one such so lampshaded issues that (almost?) every episode seemed to have a bit where “We can’t get anywhere!” “I know… we’ll use the… Plot Device!” and some strange gadget was brought out and… things advanced when it was done doing whatever it did.

    3. As an aside, I had occasion a little while ago to explore the fascinating topic of fire starters. Among other things, it’d appear that a particularly bright spark (really, no pun is intended) amongst the ancients somehow invented an amazing way of producing a tiny flame by ramming a smooth, solid cylinder of wood inside a form-fitted wooden tube. At the bottom of the closed tube would be a tiny hollow intended for a flammable starter such as fine wood shavings, shredded dry leaves, and so forth. The sharply raised air pressure from ramming said wooden cylinder into the almost airtight tube would evidently heat the air enough to cause the starter material to combust. Now, how the hell did that idea ever occur to a primitive tthinker? O_O

      You can even buy these gewgaws on Ebay although I have no idea which ones are good and which are schlock. For the sake of illustration, I’ll post a link to an apparently high-reputation, low-cost product listing at Amazon:


      1. That’s because the “ancients” weren’t primitive thinkers; they were just as smart and curious as us but didn’t have all our technology (and “knew” a bunch of things that were wrong, like “evil spirits cause disease”).

        Scenario: Shappush the Hittite jams the chariot pole into the socket a little too hard and wonders why he can smell smoke. Pulls it out. Notices the scorching. Says, “huh, that’s interesting”. Tries it again. More smoke. Puts a little dry grass in there. Tries it again. Oh, look: fire! “Hey boss, check it out!” Voilà!

        1. “(and “knew” a bunch of things that were wrong, like “evil spirits cause disease”): Evil spirits, no. Evil politicians on the other hand, well, yes, they do and have, such as the CCP Virus.

          1. “The trouble with our Liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” –Ronald Reagan

      2. I mean, heck, I look at something as “simple” as knitting and go…”Who thought of that? How did that even occur to someone to do that??”

        Or…how about a yeast starter? I can guess how leavened bread might have been ‘discovered’, but…who figured out “If I do this, and then “feed” it, I get a bread starter”???

        Frankly, by comparison, inventing the wheel was bloody simple. THAT one was obvious. But…knitting?!?!

        1. There’s a reason why lace making came so late in human development. As in the 1500s. 1536 is the first written evidence for bobbin lace. Openwork is not intuitive. The materials needed for lace-making require a certain technological level around them (bobbins, very fine thread, pins, something to mark the pattern on, a pillow or other base to work on, lots of time and concentration). https://www.laceguild.org/a-brief-history-of-lace

        2. From what I’ve found, it sounds like the most likely cause was unleavened dough being not promptly cooked and levening. People carry yeast on our skin, so it’s easy to unintentionally add yeast to a dough.

          Alao, animals are known to seek out rotten fruit that has rotted in such a way to ferment. The main trick with alcohol making is figuring out how to control it and do it on demand.

          1. We got rid of a lot of juniper trees because of the fire hazard, but when we had a bunch, ripe-berry time made for some entertainment. I had a couple of occasions where small birds passed out on our porch; one was drunk enough that I could pick it up–several seconds later, it did a double take and flew away–unsteadily.

            1. I saw a tv show a few years ago about elephants in Africa, drunk from eating fermented fruit that had fallen from the local fruit trees. Think of that and tremble …

            2. We had a giant Juniper Bush near our back stoop. We also had from 10-20+ semi-feral cats from 1967 or so to the mid 80’s. Getting drunk on juniper berries could end VERY badly if you were a bird…

            3. My parents had fruit trees in the back yard. Most of them didn’t bear fruit, but one apple tree did. The fruit would fall to the ground and ferment, and the wasps would wander by and eat it and get so smashed they couldn’t fly.

              On the other hand, there’s nothing meaner than a hung-over wasp.

        3. Well, we have early records stating that an old tub is better for brewing beer. Carry-over from the earlier batches, but they didn’t realize that.

        4. The discovery/invention of the (Branley) coherer struck me as odd until I looked things up and just when radio & electrical experimentation was taking off, tubes of metal filing were fairly common (electrical) lab items. The conditions for the happy accident were ripe. Makes one wonder what gadgets a lab ought to have that are ‘not applicable, maybe useless’… for the next accident(s). After all, had Roentgen NOT had that particular unusual special paper in t he room… he would have noted that electrons don’t go through the tube wall, and that’d have been it – until someone else had an ‘event’ and realized something strange was going on when they did… something.

          1. It was only chance the guy who set a candy bar next to a waveguide was an RF engineer working at Amana…

    4. I suspect the fire by friction occurred when some enterprising protohuman, already familiar with fire, was aggressively sharpening a stick on a rock and either touched it or saw it smoking a bit and had a “Huh? That almost looks or feels like it’s on fire. I wonder if…”

      1. I used to say that fire on demand was autism’s gift to humanity. Who else would sit there and rub two sticks together until they burst into flame. “How’d you do that? I rubbed these two sticks together until they burst into flame.” or “I banged this here rock with this sorta shiny thing. Why that rock? Well, I banged all these hundreds of other rocks first.”

        1. There’s a lot of inventions/discoveries like that. You look at them and wonder “How the FSCK did someone figure that out? The classic one to me is coffee. There is a (certainly apocryphal) legend that a goat herd saw some of his flocks eating berries from a bush and saw they got a bit more frisky. Voila says the myth Coffee is discovered ! In a pigs (or goats) eye it is. What you have is coffee cherries. You need to remove the flesh (usually by piling the berries up and letting them ferment/rot), then you need to was and clean the pits (coffee beans). These now need to be roasted, carefully ground and then placed in boiling water. How in the heck did that occur to someone? It can’t evolve because the products at the intermediate stages aren’t useful, without the whole process you have nothing…

            1. I suspect that that’s the explanation. Ate the original fruit, probably let some get dried out and ate it anyway, and crunching on the beans gave you a mild high.

              1. OK maybe I could buy that, but its kind of out there. Mind you not as out there as FICUS actually being in charge, but on that order of magnitude.

          1. Hunger and scarcity, but not too much all the time? So that, during a bit fatter time… Well: The thing is there, and *some*part of it *has* to be good for *something* right?

            See also: artichokes and tomatoes.

  2. Although its not the greatest invention of all time I think Sanitation is a arguable measurement of the success of a civilization. Particularly contact with feces. The less time you have to deal with feces issues the better. I don’t know what the unit of measurement would be. How would contact vs smell be measured. Sadly many leftist dominated big cities are going backwards on feces issues. At least most of us in the US don’t have to worry about It. The WuFlu rush on toilet paper shows that many people are at least somewhat aware of the importance of sanitation to a modern civilization.

    1. The cartoon Freakazoid! had the titular character once complain, about having to go into a sewer, that a SuperHero shouldn’t have to smell “poo gas.” I suggest whatever it is in detail, the name Freakazoid Poo-Gas Index. FPGI. The ideal, is of course an FPGI of 0.00. We’re not *quite* there yet, as “light a match” is still a thing.

    2. I’m with you. I think the flush toilet has probably saved more lives than anything else, and its inventor ought to be up for sainthood.

      1. Doesn’t have to be FLUSH. Just as long as the Poo is carried away down a drain. The Romans and others had that.

        1. Actually… the interesting thing is that the Etruscans invented sewers for marsh drainage, because they wanted drainage canals that were below ground and would keep their shape (unlike ditches). Even the Cloaca Maxima in Rome was built for drainage, originally.

          Now, after you have marsh drainage to create useful fields down in the valley, and you have a city up on a hill as Etruscans were wont to build, the idea of draining away human waste in an enclosed sewer, and keeping it very separate from your nice clean Etruscan running water in enclosed channels coming out of your city spring or cisterns, seems to have caught on. And then you get toilets that drain into the sewer, and so on.

        1. not wholly– so I might say equal to– but I have lived without plumbing and it is HARD to stay well in that situation (for three years)

  3. I immediately thought “fire.” When mankind captured fire and used it to cook food, then we didn’t have to spend every minute of every day seeking out food. Chimps spend all day eating and foraging. There’s no time to think about creating wine out of grapes. (I have two grape vines in my back yard and they produce an insane amount of grapes. Now I understand how wine is so important in history. How do you capture all that nourishment if you don’t have a freezer? Wine!)

    But sewers are the sign of true civilization, and being able to take a hot shower is the ultimate luxury. Excellent article.

  4. Very much appreciate and concur.

    I haven’t woken up properly, so my thoughts are mostly silly. Like ‘saving the world is a little much, but what if 4X games led to asking about the Chinese “Why don’t we just kill them”, and this was important’.

    But yeah. Totalitarianism cannot command invention and discovery. The cost of that alleged efficiency is the ‘squid farms on Mars’, the lost opportunities for invention and discovery. Penny wise and pound foolish. There may be a point where the invisible opportunities are less significant than not wasting the resources visible to a bureaucracy, but we are certain anyway to lose the visible resources if the bureaucracy has power to manage all the resources. (Again, food surpluses and their incompatibility with totalitarianism.)

    1. Given that Central Control’s (pick one) failure mode is shortage and famine…
      And decentralized control has the ‘failure’ mode of surplus…

      Why play it Fail Deadly?

      1. Because the elite haves are the last to starve; and don’t really care about the others starving, until their own belly’s start feeling empty.

    1. For a modern show in much the same vein as Connections take a look at Mike Rowe’s new series Six Degrees. I believe it’s on the Discovery Channel.

    1. Francis Bacon gets beaten up a lot in certain academic circles, but I’ve always appreciated his admonishment “Rule by obeying nature’s laws.” First, you have to understand how everything works. Only then can you dare to start trying to regulate or shape things. And if you don’t/won’t follow nature’s laws, well, don’t be surprised when Bad Things happen.

  5. When I was in school (a looong time ago), there used to be the quip, which even then was getting quite out-of-date, that “Number Theory is that branch of Mathematics with no practical application whatsoever.” … and then along came Claude Shannon and digital communication and compression and encryption and the Web and SSL and …

    1. Yes! The humble recognition that we still don’t know how the universe works is a critical discovery.

      1. I worked for a chief engineer a long time ago who always used to say:

        “There’s our numbers, and there’s God’s numbers. Our number are wrong, but they’re useful!”

      2. I guess now wouldn’t be a good time for me to tell you I discovered how the universe works.

        pssst. the answer is, perversely.

      3. “We’re still confused, but now we’re confused at a much higher level about much more important things.”

    2. Much to the annoyance of mathematicians everywhere. “Gee, first we invented complex numbers, which we were sure couldn’t have any real-world applications, and then the physicists started using them to model perpendicular forces. Then we got number theory, just us playing little games with numbers, purely theoretical, and then the encryption folks showed up. Maybe we all need to move to algebraic topology. There couldn’t possibly be any practical use for algebraic topology!”

      “Hey, did you know that if you take this one theorem from algebraic topology and apply it to optimization theory, you can use the simplex algorithm to get integer solutions to some key optimization problems…”

      Theoretical mathematicians just can’t win.

        1. I almost agree with you. Rewrite that statement as ‘They could always try “free” Jazz.”, and I’m with you all the way. Alternatively, you could go with the “academic” side of Modern Classical Music! But I think I should have put scare-quotes around the word “Music” in that one…

      1. Linear Algebra, Quaternions and Tensors. Hit a dead end round about 1910 basic thought was No one will EVER use this. About 15 years later its the preferred way to deal with the math for Quantum Mechanics. Jump forward to the 1980’s as folks try to do 3d computer graphics. Linear algebra (in particular homogeneous coordinates) come to the rescue. Now your graphics card has specialized hardware to do this in massive parallel to the order of 10s to 100’s of millions of operations a second to make all those pretty pictures for your video game.

    3. I had a computer science teacher in college who had a particular interest in graph theory. He mentioned that it didn’t have a whole lot of real-world application until people needed to start laying out complicated printed circuit boards.

      1. Finance and, dare i say, epidemiology too. Network topology is the way to bring crashes and cascades back into finance.

      2. When I was an undergrad in the early ‘80s, I had the opportunity to choose an “elective”… so long as it was any upper level course from the Math department. I considered taking the Graph Theory course, but decided against it because I couldn’t imagine a more useless topic.

        Two years later I got a job working at a compiler company in the Optimizer team. Optimizing compilers are based on graph theory from start to finish. I spent the next decade eating, breathing, and dreaming graph theory.


        1. Minimum Path Theory. Used extensively by Google Maps, etc., even based on multiple data situations, shortest, easiest, or other criteria.

  6. Yes– people don’t realize how much drains and sewer management are so important. Several years of my younger life, my family lived with an outhouse. Also had to truck in water for drinking and washing so it meant one bath a week at the most. When I was in Panama City Panama they would throw the sewer in the ocean. This meant that cholera was a danger if you ate any fish caught in the bay. These are very important for a first world society. — pipes and sewer management.

    1. We still throw sewage into the nearest river or ocean.
      Difference being that we process it to the point that it’s cleaner than the water we’re throwing it into.

              1. an issue here at work was rewriting one of our processes so we could sell a “waste”, so it became “Wash Byproduct” and goes back to those places that supply our supplier. Essentially it is an unused element that carries the other elements we need and has to come out for our products to work, and selling it for a measilt 25¢/lb is far better than paying many Dollars/lb to have it disposed of if it was a waste.

            1. “What you’re drinking is, in effect, yeast piss.” — Dr. Arensky

                1. I’m not sure if we developed it, or it developed us.

                  Recall, a lot of things that aren’t people can’t survive in yeast waste.

                  It’s quite handy being able to eat/drink stuff that poisons the rest of the world. Mint’s nice too 🙂

                  1. Cheese is essentially rotten milk. And Bleu chees is MOLDY rotten milk. Here I stand I can do no other…

                  2. Right proper buttermilk is the stuff left over after butter is made. This is now hard to find. Instead you get “cultured’ (*INFECTED*!) ‘butter’milk.

                    1. You want real whole milk nowadays, you almost have to get your own cow. (Or you can pay a fortune for it natural and organic.)

                    2. No idea what marketing ‘genius’ (or legal dope) had the idea, but it’s unusual to it labeled ‘WHOLE’ but you will see ‘VITAMIN D’ and not have a percentage (2%, 1%) or skim. That seems to be the same thing, but it is a bit weird.

            1. And is worth its weight in gold in terms of fertilizer, and rabbit urine is EVEN BETTER. Which makes quite the rarity, amongst fertilizers…

      1. Right?
        Outside Riverside CA, a very popular spot on the river was just downstream from the sewer treatment plant.
        I remember my Dad commenting about how the treated sewage water was cleaner than the usual runoff in the river.

        1. Arkansas Nuclear One uses Lake Maumelle as a heat sink as well as conventional cooling towers. The water returned to the lake was only a few degrees warmer, but the fish liked it, and fishermen quickly found the best fishing spots were near the outlet pipes.

          Eventually some out-of-town enviroNazis showed up, raving about “ruining beautiful Lake Maumelle” and “destroying the ecology.” That generated counter-protests from angry sportsmen, who told them to fribble off back to Yankeeland where they came from.

          Those “protests” have been paid political action for a long time. But they learned that while you can cow commissions and councils, you *don’t* stand between an angler and his trout…

          1. That reminds me of the manatees hanging out near the power plant in Sarasota, Florida in cooler months.

              1. There’s a pretty good meme out there of a picture of an oil pipeline vs. lithium mine.

  7. The thing about “wasted time” is that I think humans need a certain amount of it. We like to think that if we weren’t watching TV, we’d be writing novels or painting landscapes or engaging in deep and meaningful conversations with each other. In reality, we’d probably be sitting around staring at nothing.

    I’ll also say that I don’t think my TV time is wasted. Often, during football season at least, I’ll watch the games with my computer on my lap and write during commercials or during the downtime between plays. Or I’ll work on a knitting project. If anything, my productivity has suffered from the fact that football season is over, and I’m boycotting Major League Baseball.

    1. TV time is prime crafting time. Knitting, crochet, sewing up hems, reattaching popped buttons. And when watching with others, after the episode (or sometimes smack in the middle of it) there’s almost always a discussion of ‘why that won’t work in the real world’, or ‘did you notice what he did there?’, or ‘that’s not the view through that scope! Get it right! It’s NOT that hard!’

            1. Hrmm… Karl Marx published before Hertz did his demo of radio. One wonders what effect that sort of thing have on the ‘L’ factor in the Drake equation.

                1. And that’s a horrifying realization of a potential answer to the ‘Fermi Paradox’.

                  I can just see a HFY story with humans expanding through space, finding dead (or hopelessly backward) world after world… the lucky ones having been hit by asteroids or bacterial/viral plagues…. but most having succumbed to Creeping Socialism.. that got up and Marched, a boot-heel stamping on real progress forever.

                  1. “Nuclear armageddon” was the diversion; the real danger was and is socialism.

                    “MOAR socialism will save us all! Double winz!”

                    1. So far its nuclear armageddon ~150,000 (give or take) Communism (and variants) 100 million +. TRX it appears you are correct

                  2. Could you imagine the REEEEEEing from a movie like The Day The Earth Stood Still where the aliens come down and say “Markets work. What the hell is wrong with you people, you’ve known that for hundreds of years. Why are you still listening to those collectivist idiots? Respect the rights of individuals, especially their right to property, and everything else takes care of itself.”

            2. Definitely KARL, That kills people.
              Hey let’s buy a time machine or make one, or whatever and go surround him while he’s writing his opus horrificus and shout that in unison, with the weird whine.

                1. oh. I’m rather talking about doing the whiny quote until we drive him insane
                  Or get him thrown from the library
                  Look, I know. He knew at some level what he was doing. Or whatever possessed him knew. (shudder.)

                  1. How about giving him money to do something besides write? Or burn all his manuscripts. In the same line as getting Hitler an Art scholarship.

                1. Karl was lazy and useless as fuck. I would have convinced and/or killed his friend Freddie to stop letting him mooch off of him so Karl would have to get a real job

                  Fun fact: Who were the first people to starve under Karl Marx’s ideas?
                  Answer: Karl Marx’s children

                    1. The maid he never paid a penny to for all her hard work, (on her back or otherwise), while he was lamenting the “slave workers” in the factories.

                  1. Hence the wood chipper. We could make fertilizer and he’d actually produce something worthwhile.

                    1. You guys are all thinking small.

                      I say we go back in time and strangle that f***er Rousseau in his crib. That’ll do for a whole lot of stupid in one shot.

    2. The fallacy is thinking that hunter gatherers didn’t have any downtime. Chimps apparently spend about 7 hours a day looking for food. That leaves quite a bit of time left over for TV, sports, drinking at the local pub…

            1. First off, have a carp.

              Second, aren’t you muscling in on RES’s turf with jokes like that?

      1. I don’t recall if it was Jeff Cooper who said it, but somewhere in the early ’90s, I heard the hypothesis/statement/assertion that brewing alcohol was the first sign of a formation of a civilization. Comparisons to certain countries in the Middle East were quietly noted.

        1. Americans have a few curious ‘holidays’ and some that are but aren’t.

          St. Patrick’s Day… America’s Irish excuse to drink.
          Cinco de Mayo… America’s Mexican excuse to drink.
          Oktoberfest (even if in other months).. America’s Germanic excuse to drink.

          Any culture with alcohol has a chance at getting some appreciation. And then there are those that eschew alcohol (officially, anyway)… and… well, they don’t stand much of a chance.

            1. As a person of the LDS persuasion, I’m okay with that.
              Now, an Ice Cream or Barbecue holiday? I’m all over that.

              1. Then you get WI, where they mix the ice cream and the alcohol.
                See: Wisconsin Cocktails by Jeanette Hurt

                The author said she had started out with the idea of having 50 books, one for each state, but found that overall, every place was much like everyplace else… and then there was Wisconsin. Wisconsin, where the Brandy Old Fashioned can be fruit salad. Wisconsin, where the Brandy Manhattan isn’t an oddity. Wisconsin, where the ‘cream’ drinks are ice cream. Wisconsin, where the utterly insane Bloody Mary became utterly insane.

          1. Jews drink every week. Unfortunately only a thimbleful. We excel at food. “Ess, ess mein kinder.”

            1. I now have the strange image of centaurs encountering Judaism, some finding it generally appealing for various reasons, and then…

              “We’re gonna need a bigger thimble.”

              1. It’s a minimum. No one says that you can’t drink more. In my community drinking was despised as something only red-furred barbarians did.

                Biggest Jewish sport was eating!

    3. It is that space between “important things” that is so useful for allowing our minds to play with ideas. From that ‘wasted time’ comes some of life’s richest moments.

  8. In regards to games, they are the Kids Theese Days blog comments.

    “Hey Ma, remind me what an ‘A level’ is? German buddy says he passed his in English because we always play in English.”

    “Hey Ma, Russian buddy says she got a new job fixing tanks instead of autos, but all the tankers are weebs.”

    “Hey Ma, what do you know about anarchist revolution in Canada? Canada Buddy says they’re on the streets.”

    “Hey Ma, the French guys won’t be playing this week, they’re going up to Paris to protest.”

    “Hey Ma, Dutch buddy says they parked tractors around the government buildings.”

    (Anyone here got anything on Canadian anarchists? That was yesterday, and his source is in or near Quebec, or plays like he/she is on the internet.)

    1. I really should track down some sources like I used to have around the globe. Some I had went away, others went silent for various reasons outside their control (Iraqis who got too famous, among them), other just moved about for a time or were less active and I really should catch back up (dissident frogman)

    2. I recall reading a fascinating article many years back about how an in-game event in World of Warcraft got an odd little bug (a disease that ended up being transferable from player characters to NPCs, and vice versa), and that led to a fascinating look at how various humans will react to a major plague (not, note, the current non-plague that has wrecked our lives the last year, but an honestly deadly and highly contagious plague)

      1. It’s pretty limited in use for “how people will act,” since the Corrupted Blood plague was in a video game known for griefers.

        But it fit the assumptions people wanted to make, so….

        1. Actually, the surprise came in that not really as many people as you’d think WERE griefers–they had some folks setting up “quarantine” areas, and others directing low-level players (whom the plague would “kill” right off) to safer areas, and I think they even had some clerics and druids standing by healing NPCs that kept getting infected so people could continue turning in/receiving quests. (And also healing players) Sure, there were the usual a-holes, but it was the helpers that showed up that the scientist (who happened to be a WoW player during this time) found so interesting 😀

            1. And let’s face it, that right there was a bit of brilliance on his (or her? It might actually have been a her, come to think of it) part! Who among us gamers WOULDN’T want an excuse to do just that?? 😀

              (Although as much as I love gaming, I would not want to work in the video game industry. I haven’t ever heard much good about being employed there. “Toxic” and “overworked” frequently are used…)

              1. More people want to be the hero, even if unsung, than be the bad guy. It’s one of the slight redeeming features of humans.

                1. It is so much easier to destroy than to create, so the fact that there’s anything at all proves that humans are, on the whole, mostly good.

      2. And then there is Eyjolfur Eyjo Gudmundsson who was the Economist for Eve Online for a decade… They still publish monthly Econic/Trade reports for the game. 🙂

    3. > “Hey Ma, Dutch buddy says they parked tractors around the government buildings.”

      That was *the* hilarious story of that year.

      Dutch farmers were upset about their government shafting them in the name of the EU, so they organized a rally and drove their tractors to the capitol.

      The politicians, shitting their shorts at the “insurrection” (pardon me if this sounds familiar) called out the freakin’ ARMY to block the roads.

      The convoys arrive at the barricades, admired the machine guns, armored vehicles, and badassitude of the Dutch Army… and then zag off the roads, through fields, and around the barricades.

      Apparently, their city-boy army didn’t know that tractors are “off-road vehicles”…

  9. Yes, a there is a vast, previously perhaps even unimaginable amount of computing power… devoted to games. Yet research projects do advance some by using the spare cycles (Folding@Home is just one). And a few decades back many were derided for wasting time with childish (or worse!) comic books or crazy science fiction stories. The ones that got some thinking about getting into space, getting to the Moon, and going farther. Will some screwball event happen that will mean some great advancement happens… because Billy (or Billie) played some video game? It would more surprising it that FAILED to happen. Will the world be saved because someone once played Grand Theft Auto? It seems doubtful in the extreme, but Reality is a mighty weird place.

    You can get a leg up on predicting what will be Important in the future by looking at what the teenage boys are fascinated by, that is also roundly mocked by all right thinking people.

      1. I don’t see any reason to mock that at all. ;-D

        (Prediction: Whoever manages to develop non-invasive stem-cell-based breast enhancement will win a Nobel Prize. Or at least make a mint.)

      2. I should elaborate a little: it isn’t that teen boys have some special view into the future, but that two of their many interests are 1. things that build the world, and 2. things that protect the world.

        In contrast the Generally Accepted Wisdom is that anything they are interested is at best completely worthless, and at worst the literal spawn of [insert ultimate source of evil to taste] which will doom everyone.

  10. Will the world be saved because someone once played Grand Theft Auto?

    They figure out how to steal Fighting Machines from the invading aliens? 😛

    1. Christopher Anvil wrote several stories where invading aliens were confounded by scam artists, investment opportunities, hire-purchase contracts, persuaded to sell their military equipment on the black market, or generally confounded by the bizarre and shifty humans, who wouldn’t hold still to be defeated like properly civilized sapients…

      Lightweight fiction, but gently humorous and still entertaining more than half a century later.

      1. “Were you out-gunned?” “No…”
        “Out-maneuvered?” “No…”
        “Out-fought?” “No…”
        “Out-produced?” “Almost, but no…”
        “Out-propaganda-ed?” “No, not exactly…”
        “Then what happened?” “Out and out fraud!”

        “Out and out frau…. wait.. was this… Earth?” “Yes.”
        “What IDIOT let you go anywhere NEAR that?!”

        1. And then the aliens return to their spaceship to leave and find that it has been stripped down to the frame. 🙂

          1. Had Yoda hidden in the slums of Coruscant rather than the swamps of Dagoba, Luke would have come back to find his X-Wing on blocks, stripped to the frame.

          1. “If you fight, we’ll call in your mortgages. And incidentally, that’s my pike you’re pointing at me. I paid for that shield you’re holding. And take my helmet off when you speak to me, you horrible little debtor.”

            1. “And what happens if I kill the person that I owe money to?” 😈

            2. An emperor borrowed a lot of money from the Hanseatic League to wage a war. And then he attacked them and forced them forgo repayment.

                1. How many of them considered access to his markets vital, so that his threat to close them out had to be considered? It all depends on whether “loan” = “business license”.

                  1. Umm I learned in Yeshiva that the Jews were kicked out of England so that he wouldn’t have to repay his loans.

                    1. With the warning that a *lot* of historic teaching stuff is tainted by how bogglingly hard it is to get research– I seem to remember that was a justified/supported teaching.

                    2. Kind of hard to force people to give you a second loan if you drive them out of your territory.

                      Plus, you’re giving the rulers of other countries reason not to trust you and it’s a lot harder to force people who have their own armies to do business with you.

                    3. The Lombards had started to get into money-lending.

                      That’s a job in which competition was a problem.

                2. There’s always *someone* who’s sure It Will Be Different This Time.

                  And when you’re dealing with a proposal from someone who has a monarchy, soldiers, and torturers, it’s not always practical to say ‘no’.

  11. Even mindless wastes of time are neither mindless nor wastes of time. It’s in the breaks that the breakthroughs come. One episode of Psych shows Lassiter attending one of Gus’ tap classes, even though he thinks it’s a complete waste of time, but the fact that he is thinking about where his feet go and how to get the tap right means that his brain is shocked out of its usual groove and gives him insight into the crime he’s investigating (plus some others that were occupying his mind).

    Generally only the times one has been actually wasted are “wasted time”.

  12. Unfortunately the hockey stick graph turned out to not be an “Ah ha!” moment; but rather a “And that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”

    Unfortunately, Laurel and Hardy were both more intelligent, and entertaining.

    1. By all accounts and all evidence uncovered in various forensic explorations of the “analysis” “methods” applied to the underlying raw data, the hockey stick was the result of torturing said data until it tells you what you’ve predetermined you want to hear.

      Since advocacy was the objective rather than any search for truth, that data torture and its obfuscation in publication probably represents an “aha!” in new modes of procedural chicanery.

  13. On civilization and development…my first trip to Serbia our little group decided that we could create a development scale for countries based on plumbing. This occurred after finding that so-called Turkish toilets (holes in the ground/restroom floor) were the preferred toilet model. That and how popular cleaning said public restrooms was as a cultural thing. On a later trip I rode the bus from Skopje, Macedonia to Belgrade, Serbia (8 hours plus 2 stuck at the border because some Albanian militia leader threatened to take to the hills again), and didn’t go to the restroom at any stop. My seatmate was amazed. Until she tried to use the restroom at one stop. “You were right. It was atrocious.”

      1. I kind of like some of the porcelain slit trenches you find occasionally in the Far East. Squat to unload. Your butt never touches anything. Of course you have to remember to miss your pants, or pop one leg out and swing them away.

        1. I came across the perfect urinal at a pub in Ireland, it was a section of wall tiled ~4.5 feet up with a series of water nozzles along its length ~4′ up and a trench at floor level. It had a really large capacity and was impossible to miss. The nozzles would periodically spray everything down and keep it clean.

          1. I’ve seen and used the like in the USA, somewhere. Old building, with a wall of marble as the target. Pipe at the top with water holes to avoid yellow marble.

            Something tells me it was a government (or University) building somewhere in Illinois.

            “If you pee on the same tree that your dog uses,
            you might be a redneck.”
            — Jeff Foxworthy

            1. There’s a place in Cali that has one of those. The Madonna Inn, iirc.

            2. I think that this is the root of penis envy. Toilets that work for women are a true blessing!

          2. Used same in Korea. As the working girls walked by me to use the crappers. With no doors or dividers…

        2. Yeah those are great if you have the balance to use them. And aren’t wearing nylons under your skirt.

    1. France used the “hole in the floor” system for a long time. They were a big sensitive about it, and indignantly asserted they had all been replaced with modern Western plumbing by the mid-1960s.

      Some of the editors of Car & Driver were in France and traveled on the autoroutes, where they found the slit-and-grab-handle were still standard equipment at rest stops… Of course, given France’s flexible ideas of territoriality, they may have simply designated the rest stops as part of one of the colonies, the inverse of the way some of the colonies were legally boroughs of Paris…

  14. The greatest invention: language, including the written word. By effectively storing and transmitting knowledge, society could build on what came before.

      1. Akshully, language, art, mathematics, and engineering are all discoveries, not inventions.

        (I’m confused enough that I don’t know whether I think this is correct, but may desperately need the silly.)

        ATM, think the funnest contrarian jerk position might be classifying just about everything that could compete as a discovery, and thus arguing that God’s invention of Christianity is the best, most important, and most significant invention.

        1. I mean, to be sure, the concepts introduced by Christianity–that we are all equal in the eyes of God, no matter the status of our birth, our skin color, our gender, anything, that we should seek to love our fellow man as God loves us, etc etc helped pave the way for things like, oh, the Constitution and the ending (at least in the West, and at least openly) of things like slavery.

            1. *nodnodnod*

              I’ve been known to describe myself as a Jewish heretic– we disagree with Judaism on the question of the promise.

              Actually got me a Jewish recipe buddy on the ship, too– we traded “how to avoid tainted foods” tricks. (He couldn’t eat pork, duh, and I observe Friday abstaining.)

              1. If you won’t mind, My original thought was that Christianity is Judaism for Dummies. Orthodox Judaism is seriously hard-core. A lot of it is ditched by Christianity. 😉

                1. But of course!
                  Because a lot of the stuff in Orthodox Judaism is “building a wall around the law”– which makes all the more sense with a tradition of folks trying to do the whole “explain that Himself meant to fight X when He said this, and we can avoid X, so it’s totally cool to do (obviously bad thing)” that folks may be familiar from from many “bioethicists” today. (I think it was Smith who commented that ‘bioethicsts’ often meant “guy explaining why obvious ethical principles didn’t apply.”)

                  Catholicism (and some other Christians) took that into “Prudential Judgement.”
                  Hey, does this get too close to a Bad Idea? Maaaaaaybe avoid.

                  Which actually goes back to the disagreement on the Promise from the Boss. Because it matters.

                2. I am neither Jew nor Christian, but everything I’ve learned indicates that Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity are more like sister religions than mother-daughter. Both came out of Second Temple-period state Judaism but both are very different from it.

                  1. While I can see the argument– it still leans on if Jesus who He said, so it can be seen as a more diplomatic phrasing to say that we simply disagree.

                    Of course, it can also be seen as development of a faith after a very large group said that a promise HAD been fulfilled, but another large group said it hadn’t, which also justifies the Sister Religions view.

                    Not sure which makes more sense with the fairly big number of Christians funding “breed an suitably perfect offering for the JEwish temple” thing.

                    1. Really, any interpretation of Revelation that “you” don’t agree with is “interesting”.

                      An interpretation of Revelation that “you” agree with is not in the “interesting” category. 😉

                    2. Well, I’ll admit that it has been years since I paid much attention to “End Time Theories”. 😉

                    3. >> “Wait, there’s not ‘interesting’ interpretations of Revelation?”

                      There’s the atheist interpretation that it’s all just fiction, I suppose.

                3. Dear, one of the first doctrinal fights in Christianity was Peter and John(? it’s been awhile since I read it) arguing with Paul over how much Judaism was going to come along. Peter’s side was holding out for adult circumcision, keeping kosher, the whole 9 yards.

                  Paul’s response was basically “WE couldn’t completely keep that and we were BORN to it; if we’re going to teach all nations they aren’t going to go along.”

                  Peter (who earned his cognomen “The Rock” honestly) required a direct message from God telling him not to bother with the details…..

          1. “Hello, I’m Leonard Nimoy. The following tale of alien encounters is true. By true I mean false. It’s all lies. But they’re entertaining lies and in the end, isn’t that the truth?

            The answer is no”

            1. “Yow, that dredged up a memory reaction.”
              Yup, now I have “Good Morning Starshine” stuck in my head damnit.

              1. “The Earth says, ‘Hello!’.
                You twinkle above us…
                we twinkle belo-o-o-o-w…”

            2. >> “Yow, that dredged up a memory reaction. And… thank you.”

              You’re welcome.

              And it’s funny, but when I wondered who would get that reference your name was the one that popped into my head. Somehow I figured you’d seen that. 🙂

                1. >> “Egad, I’m a predicta-bull*?”


                  Hold still. The carpzooka takes a moment to load…

  15. Video game graphics have driven the demand for faster, more numerous, and more capable parallel Graphics Processors, which has, in turn, enabled Deep Machine Learning, which has all kinds of applications in business, transportation, military, etc.

    1. ^ This.

      And even just on the “surface” level (ie, “Ooh, pretty graphics!”) the advances are utterly astonishing. I look at what I played on our old Apple IIe back in 1986 or so, and what my relatively-inexpensive current computer has as far as the graphics, and it’s incredible. Add into that the AI advancements in gaming done so that games are more challenging/fun, and it’s opening up things on that frontier as well.

      I mean, I don’t know if that AI that was originally developed to be able to tell different bakery goods apart (for cashier purposes) and turned out to be equally good at detecting cancer cells had its ultimate origins in gaming, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

      1. The Grand Theft Auto franchise in particular has always pushed the envelope with both AI and graphics, and is the proverbial grandfather of open sandbox games. Even the actual “missions” can be achieved in most cases in a variety of ways. This is seen in each subsequent game that comes out in the series.

        1. Son found a hack…. The best way to make a bazillion dollars on that game was to steal (the only crime) a fire engine, then drive around putting out fires for pay.
          Weird game.

          1. In at least one of the games, completing a specific number of “fire” and also “police” missions are needed in order to complete all the missions. Then of course, the older ones GTA3 and Vice City, had “rampages” which are exactly what they sound like-you had to go on specific rampages (and survive); usually there were over 20 some odd rampages that needed to be completed.

            There is reason why both the religious left and religious right hate the franchise so much.

            1. There is reason why both the religious left and religious right hate the franchise so much.

              And why Rockstar Games have done a better than average job of resisting wokeness. They live on the shrieks of impotent fools.

      2. Advances in computing story.

        Listening to my dad, in 1982, looking at the specs for the IBM PC (5150) he just received through employee purchase. And his realization that the processor (8088), speed (4.77MHz) and memory (512 KB) matched the processor, clock speed and memory of the System/360 mainframe he helped install in in 1965 to run American Airlines reservations system.

        And then there was a long period where my new computers had cache that matches or exceeds the memory of the previous model.

        1. When I headed off to college in ’79, one important tool we got me was an HP-21C programmable calculator. It was quite expensive for the time: a few hundred dollars. While my Dad was looking at the specs, he realized that it could do more floating point operations per second (FLOPS) than the computer he used for his Ph.D. work in the early ‘60s. That computer was Lincoln Labs’ TX-2 which was the largest and fastest computer in the world at the time. Yes, the TX-2 had more of almost everything else. But still — “fastest in the world” to “pocket calculator” in ~16 years!

          1. My father was fond of pointing out that my high school calculator had more computing power than the US Armed Forces during WWII.

            1. One (of many) fascinating bits in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman was the description of how the head the computing/math dept. in the Manhattan Project laid things out. That fellow’s name? John von Neumann

            2. I think the analog ballistic fire control computers on an Iowa class battleship would out-do a pocket calculator. Or the Norden bomb sight. ENIAC wasn’t all they had.

              1. Above the Manhattan Project, headed by Groves, was the Manhattan Engineering District, headed by Vannevar Bush. Seems he had… more than little going on with analog computation systems.

        2. Now we’ve got the Raspberry Pi 4. Quad-core 1.5 GHz 64 bit ARM V8 processor, 8 GB RAM, dual 4K video ports, gigabit Ethernet, 4 USB ports, wireless networking and more for $75.00. More computer than you could get at any price not so long ago.

          1. A decade and a bit ago, I was in Albuquerque doing research, and had a down day (archive was closed). I went to the Natural History museum. They had a special display about Albuquerque and the history of computers. A fellow visitor and I got to talking (as one does in museums) about the display and comparing notes on “back when I got started in computers.” This was inspired by a TRS-80, and early Atari console and an Apple IIe.

            Twenty years ago, DadRed looked around the study/book room and observed that the two computers there, and the laptop in my lap, had more computing power than the entire US Navy in WWII, possibly the Army as well.

  16. I don’t know if someone mentioned this but I think that the most important thing that needs to happen *before* innovation, is excess. Surplus. No one can afford to try a new thing if they don’t have extra. Extra time. Extra materials. Extra. More than they need. Because you can’t take risks with things that you NEED.

    Which is why I get so very very pissed off at people who whine about how some people have more than they NEED.

    Well, so do you. But those people with “too much” are the people that bring us all forward into the future BECAUSE they have more than they need and can afford to risk it with attempts at innovation.

    1. Humanity has been running ‘progress@home’ in the background, using spare cycles. They key that that implies, is that there must first BE those spare cycles.

    2. Given that… perhaps the most important discovery was the idea of preserving that surplus, rather than consuming or discarding it. Note that this is a concept far more ancient than humanity (starting, perhaps, with insects), but we alone use it as a tool that lets us afford risk.

    3. “I wept that I had only a three-year-old Mercedes, until I saw a man who had only a Ford.”

      My wife was watching one of those “worst highways” shows on YouTube. Some guys in a 6×6 truck in Kazahkstan, driving in the middle of nowhere, and finally the truck gets stuck. Nothing buts grass to the horizon, 360 degrees. After working at it for a while, one of them says, “I guess we’ll have to camp here and eat grass until the weather gets cold enough for the mud to freeze.”

      The other says, “I’ll call for help,” and pulls out a smartphone…

  17. As usual, I am on the
    Very Odd Frequency. First thought for “greatest” :


      1. When younger, I wished I’d had LEGO… when older, the specific-to-one-thing versions put me off. I “get it” that some thing need it, but the idea of “this is a GENERAL thing” has a decided… CLEAN… appeal.

        1. My son would get a new character set from Lego, put it together, once, exactly like it was supposed to be. Then take it apart, combine it with parts from other sets, and make something new.

          The one to one thing is not nearly as precise as people sometimes think.

        2. We were cheap, so we bought the kids “buckets” of legos or bins of legos. (i.e. random pieces, presumably left overs from kids.) Much cheaper, and left them free to explore.

          1. >> “Much cheaper, and left them free to explore.”

            I still haven’t gotten that story of your younger son blowing craters in the yard out of my head. For a split second I read that as “free to EXPLODE.”

            1. Fortunately after that he became fascinated with the idea he could create life from dead insect parts and chemicals, and stopped blowing up things.

              1. I hope you raised him right. When his mad scientist powers fully awaken, we might be in trouble if he goes evil.

  18. Some years back, about the time that the concept of “many hours of homework” penetrated to grade school, someone researched how kids learn vs idle time. Turned out that while they store away information during structured learning (classwork, homework) kids =process= and integrate what they’ve “learned” while they’re WASTING TIME, and doing nothing much. Not games, not TV, not sports, not reading — but just plain idling, or doing some repetitive task that leaves the brain free to churn in the background. Without this downtime (and several hours of it), the accumulated knowledge was not really processed or connected to anything else.

    Kids used to have that time to “waste”; now it’s all gobbled up with homework and planned activities, and their ability to properly learn has suffered as a result.

    I’d guess it’s roughly 1:1 hours of schooling vs brain-idle hours needed to integrate that.

    1. Gee, a mental similarity to muscle development. Lifting weights, for example, certainly aids in muscle development, but doing it from waking to slumber is not beneficial.

      1. Brain chemistry needs time to recharge and to carry out the trash, just like pretty much the whole rest of the body. Who’d have guessed??

    2. YES, YES, YES!!!!!!
      I used to teach, and the poor advanced students were jam-packed with “worthwhile” activities – art, music, sports (not playground activities, but purpose-driven, coached sports), and enrichment classes.
      They had NO time to just cogitate aimlessly.
      Probably why so few of them have come up with interesting inventions or thoughts.

  19. James Watt was taking a Sunday stroll when he invented the idea of the separate condenser for the steam engine, which invention was a major enabler of the Industrial Revolution. Nikola Tesla was also taking a walk–and thinking of some lines from Faust–when he invented the principle of the multiphase AC motor. Steve Jobs took a typography class, just for fun, which had plenty to do with the creation of the Mac.

  20. In one of Heinlein’s novels (‘Tunnel in the Sky’) a group of high school kids are stranded on a planet galaxies away, and have come to accept the idea that they are probably never going to be rescued. They evetualy decide to hold a formal election to choose their leader. One of the candidates, Grant, asks: “What is the prime knowledge acquired by our race? That without the rest is useless? What flame must we guard like vestal virgins?”

    Members of the group give various answers: fire, writing, the decimal system, the wheel.

    “No,” says Grant, “none of those. They are all important, but they are not the keystone. The greatest invention of mankind is government. It is also the hardest of all. “More individualistic than cats, nevertheless we have learned to cooperate more efficiently than ants or bees or termites. Wilder, bloodier, and more deadly than sharks, we have learned to live together as peacefully as lambs. But these things are not easy..

    1. And Grant was a Politician and wanted Control along with his “friends”. And screwed Roddy in the election. He did redeem himself in the battle against the Stobor and was killed.
      Best line “Jim is a GIRL!, Rod”

      1. Grant was indeed an irritating student-government type…but I think Heinlein thought he was right about the need to formalize the government rather than just continuing to elect Rod by acclamation.

        1. As I remember the story, Grant’s government had more “legitimacy” than Rob’s “self-proclaimed leadership”.

          Remember that Rob’s leadership was somewhat successfully challenged by a bunch of jerks and nobody was willing to support Rob when the jerks took over.

          The jerks finally “went-too-far” (IIRC brutally showing Rob that he was a has-been) and the rest of the group took action.

          After that is when Grant made his speech about government and the group formally set up a government… THEIR GOVERNMENT not just “doing what Rob said” or not just “doing what the jerks said”.

          And Grant’s government survived until the group were rescued.

          Grant himself died but what he built didn’t die until everybody got to go home.

    2. The problem is finding the proper compromise between not enough government, and Way Too Much Government. Governments grow, like mold, and have to be sterilized from time to time lest they cover and destroy everything.

      1. Government seems sort of like alcohol, only FAR more insidious.
        That is, a little is generally beneficial, or at least not overly damaging.
        But for some, “if a little is good, then more is better.”
        And that might be true, in very lose dosing range.
        But as the doses get larger and the doing more frequent, things start going bad. We seem now to be in a state where it’s (movie stereotype) frat boys in an unsecured distillery.

        That hangover is gonna be NARSTY!


      If I had been presented with a puzzle of “what is the worst pro-government mistake Heinlein could make?”, I would have picked something along the lines of “forgets the evil part of ‘necessary evil’ after determining that it is such”, a near-universal mistake.

      Fawning devotion, coming out as “this is the best thing humans have ever done” I did not expect.

  21. Also, games themselves can teach or at least motivate you to learn.

    When I was a very little kid and my family got its first computer back in the early 80s I immediately got hooked on a CRPG that was above my level in terms of reading and math. End result of my wanting to play so badly was that my reading and math skills shot way up.

    These days I’m also into Zachlikes. You might not learn an actual engineering skill from them, but you WILL learn the mindset and problem-solving skills of an engineer if you want to get anywhere in them. Because you’re not going to start with an empty workspace and produce something like this:

    …by banging stuff together at random.

    1. Five or so years ago, I was subbing in AP physics class, and discovered that half the kids were taking it just so they could play Kerbal Space Program successfully.

      1. I took medieval history courses in college so I could make my D&D worlds more believable.

  22. My humble contribution to this fascinating thread.

    There’s so much fascinating stuff on the history of civilization and invention there that I had no clue about. Plus it’s hilarious.

    1. See Leo Frankowski’s Cross-Time Engineer series. A modern mechanical engineer gets drunk, sleeps it off in a time machine and wakes up in 13th century Poland, 9 years before the Mongol invasion.

      1. Will check it out. I think S.M. Stirling’s Island in a Sea of Time series, and Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague deCamp will always be my favorites though. Or the inverted trope of “The Man Who Came Too Early” by Poul Anderson.

    2. Turns out my local digital library branch has this available, so I added it to my Wish List. (I already have six books checked out and only 14 days to read them in.) It looks like a fun read – thanks!

  23. One of my very favorite Scifi short stories is “The Road Not Taken” by Harry Turtledove…which posits that science and technology on earth overlooked something, that was apparent to the rest of the sapient beings in the galaxy, including a race of teddy-bear like spacefarers with roughly a 15th-century level of technology: Except they have spaceflight. No electrical appliances, advanced (or even Civil-War era) weaponry, not much of an understanding about things we take for granted – chamber pots are used onboard the ships, which also lack clean air…

    After landing at UCLA (Go Bruins!) and killing the greeting party composed of the City Leaders (YAY!) the National Guard proceeds to blow the crap out of them. And then in looking at the wreckage, they discover what had been missed….

    I don’t have much hope, but I keep looking for those opportunities. I hope Musk does as well.

    1. In the sequel, “Herbig-Haro”, a human from around a century later looks back at the subsequent human expansion after of the teddy bear invasion and says “we must have seemed like avenging gods”.

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