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Long Term Thinking
November 8, 2008 1:39 PM   Subscribe

How far do you plan ahead? Are we careering towards another Dark Age? The Long Now Foundation (subject of many previous posts on Metafilter), has finally solved the technical problems in producing a modern day Rosetta Stone. Orders are now shipping.

Not only does the question address long term backup and materials science, but also the evolution of language.
posted by Homemade Interossiter (37 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love how they site the Phaistos Disc as an example. Great example, except for the whole thing about no one being able to read it. Oh, and the best theory for what it means is that it's a modern forgery.
posted by Nelson at 1:54 PM on November 8, 2008


Your first 5 links recapitulate stuff that's been posted on metafilter before (+refer to a generic britannica article). The (last 3 links wikipedia+brittanica!) have nothing to do with the only new information in the only link of any interest or novelty, which is a single blog entry about the rosetta disk project finally overcoming a technical hurdle.

This is not a good post for metafilter
posted by lalochezia at 1:55 PM on November 8, 2008


I wasn't familiar with this at all, but I'm totally fascinated.

"The text begins at eye-readable scale and spirals down to nano-scale. This tapered ring of languages is intended to maximize the number of people that will be able to read something immediately upon picking up the Disk, as well as implying the directions for using it—‘get a magnifier and there is more.’"

That is so damn cool.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 1:55 PM on November 8, 2008


At the nano scale it segues into "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:08 PM on November 8, 2008 [9 favorites]


I like the Long Now (and I loved Anathem, btw) but this Rosetta Stone seems backwards. Such tiny writing is extremely prone to destruction by scratching. Of course, if you distribute thousands or millions of them you have redundancy, but at $25k a pop (and only two left) who is going to order even hundreds?
posted by DU at 2:13 PM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's a cute fund raiser but I don't see them doing much. I'd propose two measures : (1) Develop long term archival disk "burners" that automatically produce disks that will last 1000 to 10,000 years. University & government libraries would be much more interested in long term archival if such a machine could be bought for say $10,000. (2) Restrict copyright privileges to only open source software (or outlaw closed source software entirely).
posted by jeffburdges at 2:23 PM on November 8, 2008


Whatever, dude. The Dark Ages didn't exist.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 2:24 PM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


On the reverse side of the disk from the globe graphic are 15,000 microetched pages of language documentation.

It's all in LaTeX, though.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:24 PM on November 8, 2008


But still.
posted by Dumsnill at 2:32 PM on November 8, 2008


Why didn't they just use VHS? Oh, that's right.
posted by Knappster at 2:36 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's what Stewart Brand says in an essay explaining why the Long Now Foundation:

"Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span.."

If Stewart had taken the "long view" himself, he'd know that this statement is questionable and probably just wrong. If we set aside eschatological views based in religion, the "time horizon" of civilization has been growing continuously since, say, the Scientific Revolution. We look back and forward farther than any civilization in world history. We know, for example, when the sun will destroy the Earth--about 5 billion years from now. That's "long."
posted by MarshallPoe at 2:36 PM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


...the "time horizon" of civilization has been growing continuously since, say, the Scientific Revolution.

Could someone please tell me how to print out a PostScript file?
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:49 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know, clay tablets last a very long time. As do paper books, in desert conditions. Perhaps low-technology is a better way to store all the accumulated treasure and wisdom of modern civilization. the way to go.

Or maybe I just enjoy imagining some future archaeologist dusting off a tablet only to see this.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:04 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am sure this opinion puts me in the minority here on Metafilter, but the sooner the world's dazzling diversity of languages dies out, the better. Nothing perpetuates hatred and conflict like mutual incomprehensibility. Let the historians have their archive, but let the rest of us speak clearly to each other.
posted by drdanger at 3:17 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Etched metal is a pretty low technology way to store stuff. Until you want to store lots of info and make it scratch-resistant, at which point you end up with laser-etched titanium and so on.

Ceramic (clay) is fine, but it's hard to encode very much info, and at 10000 years I wonder if you'd start seeing water-cased breakdown of the clay.
posted by hattifattener at 3:18 PM on November 8, 2008


> Could someone please tell me how to print out a PostScript file?

Open it in preview.app on a mac.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:22 PM on November 8, 2008


let the rest of us speak clearly to each other.

rofl d00d
posted by Greg Nog at 3:34 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


> Could someone please tell me how to print out a PostScript file?

For Linux. (Or you can use KPDF.)
For Windows. (Maybe)
For Mac.
posted by simoncion at 3:56 PM on November 8, 2008


We look back and forward farther than any civilization in world history.

I think he's saying we tend to act with shorter horizons than that, e.g. quarterly profits, etc.
posted by adamdschneider at 4:19 PM on November 8, 2008


The Dark Ages didn't exist.

Interesting. I hadn't heard those theories before, YoBananaBoy. The problem with the whole, "Christianity and Christian writings were invented in the 1500s because all we have is copies-of-copies of all the original documents," is problematic, not the least of which is that you have things like the Nag Hammadi Library, which dates to the 3rd or 4th century A.D., and was dug out of the ground. It's hard to argue that Christian writing dates to 1200 years later (or, I guess if the Middle Ages never existed, it was just a few years later...)

It would mean that things like the Codex Sinaiticus, dating to the 4th century, and containing the canonized bible, are fakes.

Don't they carbon date these things?

And, who knows, thousands of years from now, perhaps they will be arguing that the 21st century is a fake, and even this Rosetta Stone couldn't possibly have been created using current technology...
posted by MythMaker at 4:43 PM on November 8, 2008


A better Dark Ages link. The term has caused a lot of damage to peoples understanding of history. It was propaganda created by Italian humanists to disparage the Catholic Church in a project to restore Ancient Rome. The project failed but the term lives on. There was no "Dark Age".
posted by stbalbach at 4:47 PM on November 8, 2008


YoBananaBoy: "Whatever, dude. The Dark Ages didn't exist."

This is Time Cube material, worse than tin hat. Anyway I think this theory was voted as one of the top 10 worst history theories of all time in a recent poll - it didn't even survive on Wikipedia, AfD'd years ago, it's a Big Foot of history theories.
posted by stbalbach at 4:54 PM on November 8, 2008


This seems to be a step backward from carving in stone, to my eyes.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:25 PM on November 8, 2008


Hell, for 25,000USD, I could buy a pretty decent sized piece of stone and have it engraved with a message of my magnificence (in a half dozen languages) and chuck it into the desert.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:27 PM on November 8, 2008


I wonder if it would be possible to create a "magic box" with several layers, where each of them would be "harder" to open, technology-wise.

The first lock could just be a normal keyhole, with a short description of what the box is and a picture of what the key should look like. Once inside, you get a brief description of electricity, and instructions for creating a simple potato battery. The next layer would maybe talk about magnetism, and you'd have instructions for creating an electromagnet which would open it further, and so on. Then finally in the innermost layed you would have as much human knowledge as possible, stored on microfilm or some other durable medium.

The best thing would be if such a box could be designed well enough that it could be dropped into a stone-age society, where it hopefully would help bootstrap them up to our technology level within a few hundred years or less.
posted by ymgve at 5:38 PM on November 8, 2008 [18 favorites]


The whole "hundreds of years of history was just invented" thing really is like Time Cube, stbalbach. I mean, hell, it's not like the Arabs or the Chinese didn't have high culture and records of those eras. Calling the Early Medieval Period "The Dark Ages" may have pejorative connotations, but to suggest that that period never existed is just silly. The Chinese have thousands of years of unbroken history to show that we're not missing 300-1000 years in there somewhere.
posted by MythMaker at 5:42 PM on November 8, 2008


ymgve: Your idea is absolutely gorgeous.
posted by SteelyDuran at 5:43 PM on November 8, 2008


drdanger : We don't want one world language for the same reason we don't want one global government. We often let very bad ideas get very popular. We thus need some lag time between different people implementing an idea, time for the bad ideas to hang themselves.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:57 PM on November 8, 2008


paisley henosis writes "Hell, for 25,000USD, I could buy a pretty decent sized piece of stone and have it engraved with a message of my magnificence (in a half dozen languages) and chuck it into the desert."

The disk has language information on 2500+ languages.
posted by Mitheral at 8:01 PM on November 8, 2008


I am sure this opinion puts me in the minority here on Metafilter, but the sooner the world's dazzling diversity of languages dies out, the better. Nothing perpetuates hatred and conflict like mutual incomprehensibility. Let the historians have their archive, but let the rest of us speak clearly to each other.

Oh, hell, no. Conformity of language is conformity of thought. Give me Babel over Stepford any day.
posted by FormlessOne at 8:29 PM on November 8, 2008


The best thing would be if such a box could be designed well enough that it could be dropped into a stone-age society, where it hopefully would help bootstrap them up to our technology level within a few hundred years or less.

Or perhaps a lone bushman would walk all the way to the end of the Earth, only to throw it back to the gods...
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:35 PM on November 8, 2008


Could someone please tell me how to print out a PostScript file?

Of all the formats to complain about, PostScript isn't the best choice. It's a readable language, after all, and if you understand English and were determined, you can recreate, if not the exact document, then at least one with the basic content of the original without much technical help at all.
posted by odinsdream at 7:30 AM on November 9, 2008


Hell, for 25,000USD, I could buy a pretty decent sized piece of stone and have it engraved with a message of my magnificence (in a half dozen languages) and chuck it into the desert.

Good luck with that.
posted by odinsdream at 7:33 AM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ah, but being remembered for hubris is still being remembered.

This thing seems fairly fragile, and over thought, is all I'm trying to say.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:52 AM on November 9, 2008


Could someone please tell me how to print out a PostScript file?

Oh, and first I need to get it off the tape.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:05 AM on November 9, 2008


Maybe I'm just an idiot, but perhaps a graphic novel stored in all living and understood languages would be the best way to preserve as many languages as possible? Combining it with visuals is the closest thing we could get to a universal human language (Let's leave the aliens out of this, but if they can see, it'd probably help them, too). Of course it would take up more space, but I figure if we're going to have this low-tech method, we may as well also bundle in a DVD as well in case they can read that. Perhaps also add in 3-4 print versions of the graphic novel with this stone, representing the most common and distinct languages (Perhaps just two Latin derived languages, since they're relatively easy to interpret between each other)?

Maybe in the future we'll have the ability to make a near-age proof projector and speaker system with a uranium battery that could stay in a time capsule indefinitely. Then, it displays a subtitled film in several different languages as humans onscreen act out what they are describing. This could be a cool, Lost-style thing to leave around Yucca Mountain, since I have read it is a priority to emphasize that the waste is not something to be dug up and that it's impossible to know what will become of intelligent life and languages over the 10,000 years it will take for the waste to decay. The back of my mind says it's probably most logical to leave the place totally unmarked and count on the unlikeliness for anyone to dig deeply and randomly in the middle of the desert, but it's just much less cooler to me than leaving a message to people in the future. Perhaps we should leave them with a cutesy tourist map of where our great cities used to be and tell them to dig there? Surely they'd love to see where we went so wrong in a way that they could still live.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:09 PM on November 9, 2008


Re: yucca mountain, I think a giant frowny face carved into the side of it would suffice.
posted by bigtex at 7:46 PM on November 9, 2008


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