Monthly Archives: February 2016

We all go (keep doing what you do)

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The renowned Archdruid won’t be with us for a few weeks (taking a well-deserved vacation away from writing his weekly missive).   It is up to us to step up to the plate and write some good commentary on the world as we see it, and hopefully, to engage in some thoughtful debate with each other while the magic of the Internet still exists in its present form.   And of course, translate this into some action!

What would we do without the Archdruid’s weekly musings (or any of the others we read on a regular basis)?  There’s a small community of like-minded folks (and those who follow related columnists), and it is a medium comfort to know that smart minds such as his exist, and can rally a group to think and act in ways that are contrary to our crazy default culture.

In the bigger picture, his temporary but thankfully short absence should remind us that every one of us does have a limited time here on this earth to do the things that we do. What might be a limited absence could very well likely turn into a more permanent one.  Although we never want to wake up to find an unexpected message from any one of our favorite authors’ agents or their significant others that “Commenter X passed away inadvertently, and their musings will no longer be with us,” that possibility will always exist.   My own wish is that the folks on my blog roll exist as contributing voices to the Peak Everything discussion for a long time, even though that commentary might be in some far more retrotopian media such as radio, mimeograph, or broad sheet, as we continue our stairstep decline into our bumpy future.

The concept that ‘we all go’ (and that applies to everything, from nations, to houses, to computers, to people, from presidents to paupers) is sometimes a difficult one to accept, especially in a world and society where the natural order of things appears to be something humans can change.   Even in a world where such corporate behemoths (Google, Apple, and Berkshire Hathaway), countries (the United States of America, the United Kingdom), or buildings that have lasted for centuries exist, (which might outlive a human lifespan), such things do end.   Sometimes with a bang, and sometimes with a whimper – but they do end.

Personally, this begins to become more readily apparent when you get older.  Friends and parents succumb to age and illness, and your own body starts to show signs of wear and tear.   It isn’t pretty, but it is reality, and coming to grips with it is generally referred to as a ‘non-trivial task’.   Many still fight this process with every bit of energy they can.  Madison Avenue’s stock in trade is that we can all be forever young, and live perfectly in a Hollywood reality.

For those of us in the Peak Everything world, this reality is glaringly obvious, since we realize that the current set of living arrangements/worldview of infinite growth simply cannot continue on a finite planet.  We are also a bit more cognizant that there is a time and a season to all things, as many of us try and be a bit less a part of the industrial society that surrounds us.  Even something as simple as a commute to work via public transport or bicycle is different through the seasons, as opposed to a drive from an air-conditioned or heated house,  car, to office; working on projects that can be disconnected from the seasons and weather.   If you are ‘peak aware’, you are far more aware of these actualities, and hopefully, are trying, in whatever way you can, to live a ‘life of excellence’ and to use your powers for good, in spite of a system that tells you to do the exact opposite.

What then?   As the title of this essay states simply, “We all go,” so what then?  There’s a phrase that pops up in my correspondence with people who strike me as doing good, yeoman-like (and most of the time, better) work in this crazy world; Keep doing what you do.  If you get an email or comment from me that has that tag line, it is one way for me to tell you that, “Yeah, it’s a hard slog some days, and although yes, you will die, what you are doing is important, even though it may not be recognized quite at the moment.”  The longer version of this is summed up in a good commentary that I came across one day by author  Albert Jay Nock:

In the year of Uzziahs death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. “Tell them what a worthless lot they are,” He said. “Tell them what is wrong, and why, and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don’t mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,” He added, “that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you, and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job — in fact, he had asked for it — but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so — if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start — was there any sense in starting it?

“Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and buildup a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.” . . .

At one point, yeah, you will cease to exist (and, to paraphrase from Monty Python,”kick the bucket, shuffled off  the mortal coil, run down the curtain and join the choir invisible”)  You may go, but your work, and how it has affected others is important.  Like the Archdruid, it is good to take a vacation once in a bit, and yes, recharge your batteries.   But fight the good fight, and keep doing what you do.

Questions, as always (can’t have an essay without questions):

  • Does the reality of your passing help or hinder your worldview?
  • How do you keep going, in the face of a crazy culture?
  • What sort of things keep you energized?
  • How do you encourage others, and keep them going?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every Day Carry (EDC) Sociology/Philosophy

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There are plenty of sites around that talk about ‘Every Day Carry’ (EDC) – what you carry with your in your pockets, in your car, in your briefcase/knapsack/purse, on a day-to-day basis.  The idea behind EDC is that some basic elements can mean the difference between inconvenience and disaster, and sometimes, life or death.  It can sometimes seem a bit much to those used to living in an environment where nothing goes too wrong, but for those of us who have had to use a flashlight or a pair of pliers in a sticky situation, it can be quite a relief.   The essence of EDC is that you always have some basic everyday tools that are with you; they aren’t just for hikes, camping,  or when you think things are getting dicey.  I’ve carried my multitool and flashlight under a tuxedo at a wedding, and yes, both came in handy that day.   A watch, a cell phone, a whistle,  your keys, a few alcohol wipes and band-aids in your bag, a few garbage bags – all of those might be part of your EDC.

Now, EDC is generally seen as a bunch of physical things.   The basic questions then become what sort of multitool or flashlight do you carry, do you carry a lighter or a bunch of matches, how about self-defense stuff, and so on.   As I was sitting down to write this essay, I went over some of the stuff I carry in my pockets, in my bag, in my car, at the office and thought of cataloging those items, but realized a two important points.  One,   each person’s EDC will be slightly different, given the nature of their locale, environment, job, security concerns and so on.    Perhaps the best you can do, if you don’t have that figured out, is to do some research, and come up with a bunch of things that you can carry on an every day basis.   Secondly – there’s far more to EDC that just flashlights and pocket knives.

One part of the EDC kit that isn’t physical, but something that really needs to be added to everyone’s checklist is what might be called the ‘sociological EDC’, or general attitude as you go about your day.  Some may initially think of this as ‘situational awareness’; the general scanning of the horizon for threats and possible problems that could crop up, but dangers are generally few and far between.  This doesn’t negate the idea of looking out for them, but just that for most of us, those dangers are thankfully relatively rare.  Situational awareness regarding danger is very much a reality, however, in many places.  The day-to-day stuff that Ferfal had dealt with in Argentina were pretty chilling and shouldn’t be taken lightly.   Perhaps one day, that sort of world will come to us all here in the United States (instead of only in select neighborhoods), and you’ll have to be pretty observant in order not to wind up in a heck of a lot of trouble.

The part that is being addressed here is the EDC of the mind, and how you interact with others – sociological EDC.   Sociological (or philosophical) EDC is that basic advice that has been given by a many authors and sages – be nice to everyone, don’t gossip, don’t take things personally, do your best, treat everyone as you’d like to be treated, and so on.  These are things you’d read in books like All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and The Four Agreements.  Now, this article is not to convince you to go out and read every feel-good/how to make your life better book, but to remind us that those basic tenets and precepts of how to handle the world can be of immense help in making your life easier, and avoiding trouble.  Having all the coolest physical EDC widgets in the world, made from the lightest and strongest titanium alloys and Kevlar might be great, but if your attitude is horrible, this will not endear you to too many folks, and your ability to get things done (like survive!) might be severely impacted.

This EDC philosophy of treating people well doesn’t mean you’ll roll over when someone who doesn’t treat people nice comes into your world.   If anything, you can follow the (winning!) ‘tit-for-tat’ strategy that is seen in the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, and still maintain a ‘deterrence’ to folks who want to make your life miserable.

Now, you may think that this is obvious.  In your own world, where you interact with people who you know, even peripherally, cooperation, and being nice are generally easier methods of working together, rather than being contentious and wanting to ‘win’ at every interpersonal junction.   For random strangers, however, there may be a temptation to complain/cheat/lash out/not be nice, because in the modern world, anonymity, especially in groups that exceed Dunbar’s number by a few magnitudes, can let this happen.   But there are two good reasons why sticking with such a ‘nice’ strategy such as ‘tit-for-tat’ (or even ultra-nice strategies such as ‘tit-for-tat with forgiveness’) is a good, if not excellent idea.

For one, modifying your strategy based on your environment and the ties you have to people can be a bit schizophrenic.  If you are only nice to people you know and interact with, but not nice to everyone else, this might cause some internal tension – how do you shift gears, from second to second, minute to minute, based on who is in your immediate vicinity?   When do you start treating people around you ‘better’, and what is your metric for measuring how well you know them?   There’s a bit of ‘overhead’ in maintaining two different sets of rules, and deciding which ones to use.

The second reason for keeping your mental/sociological/philosophical EDC relatively constant (even if it isn’t easy) is the It’s a Small World effect.  If, while communicating with an (apparent) stranger,  you bad-mouth them, gossip, or berate a certain class of people with a broad brush, there’s a good chance you might be insulting your future boss, their loved ones, or even a good friend or colleague, via some far-less-than-six-degrees-of-separation connection!

Questions:

  • What is in your physical EDC?
  • What is in your mental EDC?  What attitudes do you bring to your everyday life?
  • What do you think of the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma?
  • The It’s a Small World effect – ever been in a situation where you’ve treated someone horribly, and it has ‘bitten’ you?  Ever been just your regular normal nice self, and inadvertently wound up talking to your future boss, neighbor, or their friend?

(Leatherman picture attribution is here.)

The importance of maker spaces

 

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As the industrial experiment winds down in fits and starts, the infrastructure of the world will fall apart in bits and pieces.  Roads will get bumpier, electricity will get intermittent, parts will be harder to get, food deliveries from far away will most likely get expensive – the usual sorts of predictions that have been illustrated by many of the fine folks on the blog roll, in both fictional treatments and unfortunately, in real life.

The best advice that has been given so far has been to, “Collapse first, and avoid the rush.”   Reduce your outbound cash flow, live low to the ground, find alternate sources of income, and invest in the things that matter, most importantly, be part of a community that you can trust.

Dmitri Orlov’s view (among others) is that the real communities that abide are the ones built around ones of limited size (Dunbar’s number, and all that) and a few other key elements.  The first part of the four part series can be seen here, and he gives some great examples of groups that seem to have figured it out (the Roma (Gypsies), the Hutterites).  Some of the key elements of the societies that do survive (that were brought up in a discussion he had) were that they were simultaneously:

  1. A church
  2. A nature preserve
  3. A historical society
  4. Minority-owned

There’s a lot more to this thesis that can be encapsulated here, but the ultimate conclusion is that individuals and single families cannot survive alone.   Gold, guns, and grub can’t save you; community is the key, but only a community built with certain elements can survive for a longer time.   Some of the best part of the analysis is the question of why such communities (especially the planned ones) fail, and the excellent commentary given in Part 4 of his essay (a good chunk loosely translated from Peter Koropotkin’s Anarchy).   One key point Koropotkin brings up: “Thus, to all those who are forming communist communities, I recommend very strongly entering into a union with other such communities.”  You still have to deal with Dunbar’s number for your own group, but a network of communities helps you out in the long run.

So, you want to save you and your family’s bacon (literally and/or figuratively).   You see the signs;  what do you do?  For some folks, this is all a bit much, and taking the plunge into a religious community or any sort of world might be a bit tough, given the general agnosticism/atheism/non-religious tenets that many adhere to.  Also, you may have a day job, a house, and all the trappings of a traditional American or Western life.  It is difficult to pull yourself away from that orbit, as many have mentioned in the comments of the blog roll.   The phrase, “living in two worlds,” is almost a trope in the Peak Everything community.

Joining a traditional church or other organization might get you some of the benefits of an community that abides, but your worldview might still be the same, and your behavior might not change as much as you’d think.  If you go to a church or synagogue, you may be part of a community, but unless you are inviting people to your house on a regular basis, you may be only partially investing in that community.

One community (and importantly, a network of communities) that might work for those in transition (or that might compliment being part of a church or civic organization (a Masonic lodge, which JMG has mentioned)) is the maker space/maker space world.  A maker space (or hacker space, depending on your definition and the mission of the place), in a nutshell, is a place where people get together and build things, usually with a lot of shared tools, space, and expertise.  The oldest one started in the 1990s; Australia and a few other countries have men’s sheds, another group of maker-like organizations that started around the same time.

There are a few pros and cons of such spaces, of course, with respect to Peak Everything and the examples of communities that abide.   Let’s start out with the problems:

Cons:

  • Although by definition, a maker space is place where people can make anything, many of these spaces are heavy on microelectronics, 3D printing, and the use of the modern world to get things done in their particular spaces.     As our technological suites diminish, these things may be useless (or less useful) going forward.
  • Some places don’t cater to lower income folks too well; for some, the maker space is a ‘rich white male’ club, and although these places are fun to be in, you need surplus cash to participate.  There are places that do have many free events, scholarships to get people in the door, and community outreach programs, however.
  • Some places (as noted above) are heavily skewed to being male; this is a serious drawback, but some places are relatively balanced, because they include a wider variety of crafts (sewing, printmaking, jewelry, knitting, printmaking) which have a broader appeal.
  • Some claim that these spaces have had governance and assault problems.
  • Participants might only be interested in entrepreneurial enterprises that are more plugged into the profit-making world, and the attendant things that go with it, rather than forging a long term community.
  • Shunning people (a key element in any community that abides) can sometimes be a long and laborious process.
  • Maker spaces don’t have some of the key elements of communities that abide; they only provide a portion of Orlov’s list (“housing, nutrition, education, medicine, entertainment, companionship, social security and a strong sense of belonging”).

And, for the positive side of the ledger:

Pros:

  • One of the greatest strengths of any maker space, especially with multiple areas of interest, is that you get experts in practically every area.  People who are professional engineers, seamstresses, carpenters, welders – all of them know each other, and (time permitting!) very happily share their knowledge.
  • You do get to meet people, and interact with them on a more real, rather than corporate basis.  Sometimes, these bonds become stronger and maker space members will begin to live with each other, as they share a common culture.
  • These places have community tools, which yes, do take a beating, but are usually better (commercial/professional) grade, and which generally have far better utilization than privately owned tools.
  • Like a group house, having your own small space (for those places that have them), is far cheaper than having your own studio.   Also, the presence of others can energize you and your projects.
  • Although there are some more trivial and whimsical projects that maker spaces have created, many places, having the DIY culture aesthetic, do a lot of their own work; building walls, furniture, ceilings; things that need to be done in the ‘real world.’
  • Participants are interested in entrepreneurial enterprises.  Yes,  this may seem like a contradiction, given that this is also a ‘con’, but these are places filled with people learning to be on the outside of the system, and supporting themselves (Charles Hugh Smith writes a great deal about this).  Many maker spaces have small or sole proprietor businesses that are not part of large corporations.
  • Generally, the folks in the maker world  are an open-source, privacy minded group of people.  Yes, there are hyper-libertarian Bitcoin-using folk in some places, but most of the time they eschew any heavy-handed top-down hierarchy.  Most maker spaces are ‘do-ocracies’; people who do stuff (and not just talk about them) are the ones who nominally ‘lead’, in as much that cats can be herded.

Maker spaces, like any other human organizations, follow a few different models of existence; the culture can vary widely from place to place.   I’ve been a member of and visited a slew of different maker spaces in cities around the country, and there are of course a few similarities and differences.   One key thing is that if you don’t like one maker space, there’s a good chance you can join another one, if the particular one you’ve joined doesn’t quite fit with your worldview.  A community of maker spaces could allow for that transfer between communities that Koropotkin thinks is key to preserving those individual spaces.

For sure, these spaces aren’t going to last forever.  Most spaces are still connected to the modern industrial world.  Those that are purely built around the latest and greatest technologies (Internet, microelectronics) might fade as the ability to get cheap electronics goes away.  Then again, these spaces might be the only ones who have the capability of salvaging things.  Because maker spaces revolve around building/fixing/teaching real world skills, they even might evolve or morph into the guilds in Star’s Reach (the Ruinmen’s guild, the Armorer’s guild, the Radiomen’s guild).  If there’s anything to take away from the maker space world (or any of the other DIY worlds), it is that you can start to get into a ‘real world community’ that is hands-on, adaptable, in-person, and more suited to our upcoming future.

Questions:

  • Have you visited a maker space? What did you think of the place?  Look here for a list of them.
  • If you are a member – what makes your place run?  Does it have long term sustainability?  What would you change about it so that it could be sustainable in the long term?
  • What sorts of people cause trouble in such places?  What about wealth, gender, income differences in members?  Is there a limit to the amount of diversity in a place?
  • What sort of parallels do you see between maker spaces, and in the communities that abide?   The obvious difference is that it isn’t religious/faith based (or does faith in technology count?), but there may be enough parallels that they evolve into guilds.  How might this happen?   Could modern unions do this instead?
  • Maker spaces rise and fall; what causes them to fail?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boomers vs Millennials

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Ah, the trope continues.    We put on our referee shirt, and wade into the conversation.

During a short conversation with a Millennial who was complaining discussing about Boomers and their views about Millennial habits (to me, a product of Gen-X, pre-Boomer parents, with a dash of Millennial disgust), I mused a bit on what each of these generations thought about each other.     A clip from the television series “The Newsroom” of a Boomer raking the Millennials and the US over the coals is a classic of the debate (“Worst. Generation. Ever.”).   A bit of searching will turn up a bunch of counterattacks, of course.  This is the kind of thing that can go on all day (see the NYC vs LA/SF debate, for example), or any long running feud you care to name.

Given that the Boomer generation is nearing retirement (or in early retirement, for those of them with civil service gigs), and the Millennials are still in their youth, it is tough to pass judgement or compare on an entire group that hasn’t entirely played their entire hand just yet.   It may be that even trying to judge any particular one in these groups is a fool’s errand, since we are all a product of our times and our surrounding culture.   The most extreme example, and probably one of the most insightful to this conversation was that given in Guns, Germs, and Steel.  Someone from a more “backward” (heavily in air quotes, here) area of the world asked why the Europeans had become the ones to rule the world, and the answer, as posited by the author, Jared Diamond, was that a lot of the deck was stacked in favor of the Europeans, simply because of things like geography, biodiversity, and things that happened after the last Ice Age.

In the same way, we can look at the Boomer/Millennial divide, especially in the United States, and propose that given what the Boomers had, it was almost hard not to follow the course they took.   At the end of the Second World War, America had it all; practically untouched by the war, with huge manufacturing capacities (and still capable of exporting oil!) and with the heady feeling that technological progress had saved the day.   The kids who grew up then, who could get a job whenever they wanted, with little more than a high school education, or buy a house on a workingman’s salary – no wonder they wound up like they did.  Only with a few exceptions did people look around and realize that it was a sham, and consciously change their course of their lives.  Most did not, and went on a trajectory that wound up with them “buying in” (instead of “selling out”), and settling into a reasonably comfortable future.

Likewise, with the Millennials – being born in the 1980s to 2000s, they came of age during the dot-com boom and bust, the aftermath of 9/11, and a declining world power, a shrinking middle class, cheap technology that actively encouraged narcissism, and very importantly, with student loan debt that was immune from bankruptcy protection.  Yes, a few Millennials may have some of the characteristics of the Boomers, due to some non-traditional parenting they may have gotten, but as a whole, the complaints, commentary, and praise about their worldviews are spot on, and probably expected, given the cards they were dealt.

So, where does that leave us, all of us, from this generational mixing pot we find ourselves in?   For one, we might want to take a step back and be cognizant of these things, and of the world everyone grew up in (and importantly, those years in which they were from about 15 to 25).   As I told the Millennial who was berating the Boomers; “Yeah, the Boomers have to stop complaining about the Millennial work ethic, and take a big hit on their pensions.   And the Millennials have to realize that the Boomers happened to luck out, and they are going to have to work harder, no matter what.”

Frankly, it is truly is a mess.  Elders of every generation have always complained about the younger, and the younger have always railed against the old guard.   As much as the words “This time it is different!” are anathema to me, in this certain case, it might ring true, just a bit.  The profligate use of fossil fuels by the Boomers allowed an enormous amount of largesse to be passed around, and it made them wealthy beyond any previous generation’s imagining.   When listening to the rant of the actor in the Newsroom clip, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots between the “great things America had done” to the amount of cheap energy and seemingly limitless energy they had at the time.

Once put in the context of the energy situation (and soon to be climate and environmental catastrophes coming down the road), the Boomer/Millennial sniping can be seen a bit more clearly, and understood.  It is sad that the Millennials and their offspring will inherit a world on the skids, but perhaps, after a time, things will settle back to a more steady state world.

If there is a generation that might bear the brunt of criticism, it might be the so-called “Greatest Generation” that won the Second World War, which is slowly fading in our collective rear view mirror.  It has been written about before; here, here, here , here, and here. In reading some of the comments, one in particular by PrinceOfTheWest, are noteworthy, especially with this tidbit:

…the measure of any generation is how well they passed their greatest values along to the next generation. By that measure, the “Greatest” generation failed miserably.

All in all, it may be that it is difficult to fault anyone, in any generation.  We are products of our time and our world.   Perhaps we have to stop complaining about “us versus them” and do the difficult work of looking at people individually, and how they handle the circumstances they are born into.

We’ve got a lot of work to do; Boomers, Gen-Xer’s, Millennials.   Sniping between the generations is not new, but now, there’s a world that is seriously in trouble.  We are going to have a hard time of things, and inter-generational squabbling will get us nowhere.

Questions for those in the audience:

  • Is the tagline “Greatest Generation” a bit silly, in some perspective?
  • What should the Boomers be doing, in particular?  Wipe out those crazy student loans?   Realize their pensions are untenable?
  • What should the Millennials be doing, in particular?  Start going to boot camps, and get off Facebook/Instagram/social media?
  • How can these generations interact with each other better?

 

 

 

Salvage of the United States

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Sometimes, these weekly essays are difficult to write, because so much has been said already by many, and we’re otherwise engaged in slogging through the rest of life like everyone else.

This past week, however, something really struck me, as a group of folks who I work with bought some old equipment from an old military contractor.   We wanted more of the furniture (old lab benches, chairs, cabinets, and bins), but along with some of that came a few bits and pieces of hardware and stock that was in those cabinets.

For one, the quality of some of the equipment was very high end, and incredibly documented.  The contractor in question was one who must have done a bit of work with the Air Force or Navy, and the level of organization (or bureaucracy) was very much in force.  Part numbers on everything, inventory forms, zip-lock baggies with expiration dates – it reminded me of the days of my first job of helping put together fighter aircraft parts.   If you are familiar with the story of the $600 toilet seat, you will understand the microcosm of what we discovered in salvaging these old pieces of equipment.   From what I understand, we got a lot of this stuff for pennies on the dollar, but in some sense, we were just getting paid back (as taxpayers), on all the government money that must have been shoveled into this beast, when it was running full tilt.  Yes, some pretty technological baubles came out of this company (and others like it), but the cost must have been incredible, both in resources, manpower, and money.  To think what could have been done with those things, instead of building weapons that were so arcane (and that might not even have an adversary).   Look no further than criticism of the F-35 program for a breakdown of how expensive these programs have gotten, and how much money can be spread around.   Perhaps the real element that surprised me was the level of carelessness that had been given to some of the parts and equipment we picked up; bags of high-end fasteners, expensive cable; all of which may have not had any value to the company (and was too difficult to sell off properly, or in time), but still, was very high end, but left as an afterthought.

The second element of a related salvage/used machinery operation, was that we also got a used Bridgeport, a ubiquitous vertical milling machine; something like this (attribution):

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These machines are found everywhere, and are the backbone of any machine shop. What really made it interesting was that the one we got was configured with 1980s-era computer-numerically controlled (CNC) equipment.  The mill was fine, and probably could have been operated by anyone from even the 19th century (they first started making them around 1938, however).   The 1980s CNC technology, however – that was a bit scary.   Essentially, that part of the machine is incredibly dead to us – nobody has the parts anymore, nobody has the manuals, and even the software and interfaces that connect to them are generations old.   One of a related machine we’ve got in our shop even has paper tape for feeding instructions into it, along with circuit boards where you can practically see the bits being twiddled as the machines moves.

This isn’t new, of course – on a related topic, the digital Dark Age has been discussed by many in the library and archive worlds, and perhaps you’ve got a bunch of 8″, 5.25″, or 3.5″ floppies around in your own life.  What this means, of course, is that we’ve got two options in dealing with these machines; upgrading them to use the latest and greatest CNC tools (which will be obsolete themselves in N years), or, to configure them for fully manual control.

We’ll probably configure them with more up-to-date technologies, but there may be a point when going manual is the smarter choice, in light of future shortages, supply chain problems, communications brownouts, or if the role of technology in society gets rethought .   JMG delved into this topic in his Retrotopia series, and being around one of these old workhorses of the 20th century makes me think that the world of Retrotopia might be closer than we think.   The recycling logo, as pictured above, is therefore more of a loop-the-loop.  We came in with a suite of technologies post-WW2, and we might wind up right back there.

The salvage of the United States, with all of its industrial and computational might will be an interesting experience.   Raw materials, basic electronics bits and relays, simple machine tools, and motors that can be easily worked on will still be useful, but my gut feeling here is that we will be abandoning a lot of the uber-high tech stuff that we’ve got now.   As JHK talks about in Too Much Magic, we may be in a world a bit too complex for our own good.

Questions for the audience:

  • What level of technology do you think we’ll want to keep going forward?  In JMG’s Retrotopia world, at best, it seems that 1950s technology is the highest level you can reasonably get, without getting overly complex.  Is this a valid point?
  • Are there any technologies we might be able to keep past the 1950s?  CNC technology is great for optimizing cuts in things like plywood (for things such as the Quidnon), but still requires some sort of control system.  We might get a CNC controlled setup with paper tape and 1950s technology, but it could be tricky to maintain.   Could we live with (and manufacture) 7400 series TTL chips for such things, or have to stay with discrete tubes and/or transistors?
  • What are some of the most egregious wastes of resources you’ve seen?  Millions (and billions) spent on software systems that don’t work; military hardware that doesn’t do anything; roads to nowhere?
  • What level of technology is salvageable or maintainable anyway?  Even solar panels don’t last forever, although they do last a good long time.
  • When do you think we’ll get our first Ruinmen’s Guild?