The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - A Group Project: The Time-Traveller's Protection Guide
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A Group Project: The Time-Traveller's Protection Guide|
I spend entirely too much time wondering what I'd do if a wormhole opened and I was sent a couple of hundred years into the past. How would I survive? How would I avoid not being strung up for using the Lord's name in vain? Where would I get my money?
One of the things I could do is utilize my tremendous powers as a doctor. Yes, in today's modern world I'd be useless, but in a world that didn't understand the concept of germs or organs or anesthesia, I could be a frickin' genius. The mere power of "washing my hands" gives me a medical superpower in the 18th century. On the other hand, that means I'd be in constant contact with plague victims, and my chances of surviving could be minimal - I have no clue whether my 21st-century physiology would be better or worse in standing up against 18th century plague.
So my best bet would be to invent something. I first thought of the cotton gin, which is easy to create and very easily memorized... But looking at what the cotton gin eventually accomplished (an explosive rise in slavery), I'm not sure it would be my best bet. Besides, the cotton gin was easily copied, and Eli Whitney didn't make a fortune off of it because everyone just made their own. Admittedly, he was asking for a full quarter of all crops harvested using the cotton gin, which seems excessive, but still. You don't want to bring back an invention from the future and then have everyone steal it.
Someone suggested the printing press, but that assumes I've been thrown back past 1446. I'd like something that's useful right up until the invention of, say, electricity.
So what we're looking for is something:
So. Those are my criteria. Suggestions for easily-memorized, practical, widespread changes I could work on committing to memory? Suggestions for other criteria?
- Easily memorized. I might get lucky and be thrown back in time with my iPhone, I might not. I have to be able to reproduce this from memory.
- Monetizable. I could probably do a lot of good for the world by introducing the idea of crop rotation, and would, but I'd also like to be wealthy on my own. Something that's complex enough for me to memorize but difficult to rip off would be ideal. (The printing press is actually a good idea, since it requires technical skill to use, giving me a lifetime of work - but as noted, I could be flung back to after it's invented, and what then?)
- Workable with inferior materials. Everyone knows about the Babbage Engine, the first real computing machine - but what people forget is that the precision necessary to create those parts didn't exist back then, and that's why it remained mostly a curiosity. Having a great idea that requires a civilization with better inventions is a bad idea for a time traveller. (Although it may well be that one of the things I should bring back is how to create advanced metals, assuming I can do it in a blacksmith's workshop.)
- Civilization-transforming. I'd like to be very very rich and influential - partially because I'd like to live as comfortably as I could, partially because rich people can get away with slips that others cannot, and partially because I'd like to have the power to affect change through my altered history. So what I want is something that can really change the world in a way that it's attributable to me, and even the King would have to go, "Oh, yeah, Steinmetz - what a guy!"
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/27615.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 01:44 pm (UTC)|| |
On the other hand, that means I'd be in constant contact with plague victims, and my chances of surviving could be minimal - I have no clue whether my 21st-century physiology would be better or worse in standing up against 18th century plague.
I remember reading somewhere that viruses essentially evolve with the humans they infect, so your going back in time would mean that the germs afflicting everyone around you wouldn't necessarily touch you because your body wouldn't be a familiar ground for them to breed.
Though writing that out now, I almost want to say I read that in one of the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon, so while she does do fantastic research, my source is still a fiction book.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC)|| |
Considering how devastating viruses can be (and remember, we're also talking about bacteria and no ready sources of antibiotics) to populations that haven't previously encountered the virus, I don't think so. Viri seem pretty happy to jump into new populations that don't have the defenses yet.
Rolled steel beams (I-beams) allowed people to build "lightweight" buildings over 6 stories tall.
The first buildings using this "technology" actually had to be built using railroad ties, because I-beams didn't exist yet.
Keep in mind some surgeons were aware of the handwashing and clean environment to prevent the spread of disease - but they were usually shouted down when they tried to implement it hospital wide. That whole 'being clean' thing just didn't catch on for a while.
So you would need something from the era that wouldn't ruffle too many feathers.
I suggest hot dogs in a bun. It'd catch on pretty quick.
Or, semiphore traffic signs. (Traffic was a monster in big cities)
If you want civilization transforming, you'd need to do something like make a syringe and needle (both could be fabricated about any time in history), and find dairy girls with Cowpox to make the pus into a dead vaccination. Cowpox will innoculate against Small pox, and injections are much better than blowing the powdered scabs into someone's nose or scratching it into their skin.
As far as diseases, as long as you're healthy and have intact skin, you should be fine. You'd want to autoclave your clothes before you "left" because you wouldn't want to introduce a bug back then that we're used to and they're not.
Ooh, a smallpox vaccine would be perfect! How does one create a vaccine from pus, though?
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:36 pm (UTC)|| |
Bwahahaha! That's great!
You instantly call to mind the thing about "history is the trade secret of science fiction." Good job.
You actually might find some fruitful take-it-with-you ideas in economics. Memorizable, portable, and even in the post-Adam-Smith era, a lot of modern economic ideas are powerful. Of course, bootstrapping into actual wealth with them might be tricky.
1. Scientology. You are already a science fiction writer, so why not?
3. Slot machines.
4. If you are talking about the 18th century, revolvers and machine guns would pretty much make you an actual king.
5. The locations of gold mines that had yet to be discovered.
6. The phonograph.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC)|| |
I think you've got something with Penicillin--add that to a basic knowledge of hygiene (including sterilization with alcohol or heat) and vaccines, and you'd be the miracle healer.
The Bessemer process would see you right up until the the 1850's or so, makes cheap steel on an industrial scale. Maybe won't grant you an audience with the king but civilisation transforming certainly.
Bessemer steel was exactly what I "invented" in an RPG scenario along these lines.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)|| |
The issue of the cotton gin points out a larger general problem around intellectual property. What is your business model? Are you wanting to manufacture something that people will buy from you? The idea of getting a lock and therefore the profits from your "invention" is going to depend a lot on the legal system.
I'm thinking studying chemistry might be the way to go. Chemistry with, of course, an eye towards processes that will work with materials you'll be able to get. But that's one where if you have a good understanding of synthesis, you could potentially make things like synthetic dyes and totally rake in the money - and unlike with a machine, you wouldn't be selling the machine, which can be reverse engineered, but just the product.
I think your best bet, depending on when you're going back to, is in metals or chemistry. Some kind of alloy or chemical blend that improves industry would be useful, particularly if you find yourself in the Gilded Age. All you have to do is memorize a formula and make friends with the local blacksmith, metallurgist, or apothecary.
Yes, but what I want is that chemical blend.
If you want to spring some bucks for the PDF, GURPS Time Travel 3rd Edition rules has some suggestions. One cheap and easy (relatively easy) one is the paper clip. Or for that matter the typewriter, if you want to be ambitious. In their own way they were civilization transforming.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)|| |
*nod* The safety pin is along those lines, too. Depending on *how* far back, the stirrup and plow collar were damn revolutionary, too.
I was thinking the photography process. The first photo was created around 1826, but wasn't very good. It was still stunning at the time though.
Not an invention, but I've always thought one of the most portable forms of money if traveling back to say, the middle ages, would be metal sewing needles. Cheap here, easy to transport, and they'd be worth a lot of money there.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:20 pm (UTC)|| |
Invention may be less easily planned than a few big acts of arbitrage, against well known shortages.
That assumes I have a lot of cash with me to start with, which I don't. Or do you think the merchants will take my American paper-cash and credit cards?
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:25 pm (UTC)|| |
Seek a protective patron first, or you - like most people up to the Industrial revolution - will be more preoccupied acquiring food.
So music is a good bet (sadly, not terrifying modern music). Try a piano. You may have to learn how to make a piano, depending on when your time machine transports you to.
Guitar, lute, or harp would seem even safer.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)|| |
Bearing in mind that materials and labour were expensive, and few people would be willing to waste them trying out the weird guy's (and you are weird - you look and talk wrong, no-one knows who you are, your clothes are seriously strange) loony theory so you'd have to do it all yourself until you managed to make enough of the end product that you could demonstrate it.
So overall I think I'd probably be going for something easy to make by hand from easily available materials by myself. A nice modern double-drive spinning wheel perhaps. And the knowledge of how to make socks that fit properly.
The modern spinning wheel would be useful in a cold climate where people are cooped up in the winter doing crafts, but not so much in a warm climate where people spin on portable spindles while doing other things (like herding their sheep).
I don't think socks that fit properly would be that unusual - history is full of experienced sock knitters, because without them, no one would have any socks. The ability to make lots of socks fast would be more useful. Learn to make modern circular knitting needles and use the Magic Loop method, or invent the knitting machine.
Yes, as a knitter and sci-fi fan, I have already thought about this.
Pockets are surprisingly recent, but probably too easily copied.
How about memorizing the music for various pieces? You could be a touring player, a composer or a producer depending on when you go back to. Heck telling stories or writing them should see you with some sort of living, and you don't even have to come up with the ideas now.
I'm reminded of a movie where the main characters were acting out the end of the Empire strikes back after the Apocalypse had happened.
Learn to make nitric acid. This is the key to easily synthesized things like nitrocellulose (guncotton) and nitroglycerin (which can be soaked into guncotton to make smokeless gunpowder and into diatomaceous earth to make dynamite).
Use your explosives for good, not evil.
Oh, and it can be used to make artificial fertilizer.
Explosives and food will get you into just about any ruler's court.
Indeedy! The only problem is that you have to be able to stabilize the nitro, which is a pretty frisky substance.
Nitric acid (aka aqua fortis) can be made from saltpeter and is incredibly useful in the refining of metals as well as a lot of other stuff. With the addition of ammonia it becomes aqua regia, which has a bunch of other applications. Sulfuric acid (aka vitriol) is the same, and reasonably easy to make in quantity. (You'll want to invent the lead chamber process, as the more modern contact process requires platinum or vanadium as a catalyst.)
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)|| |
But you would still not be a Jedi. FYI.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:45 pm (UTC)|| |
Radio. Radio, radio, radio.
Did I say radio? Because I meant radio.
The most transforming technology of that period.
If you go back too far, you'll have to make a steady stream of electricity (create batteries), but batteries are fairly easy to make.
EVERY general will want short-range to medium-range communications with his troops.
I'm not sure if many of the time periods possible would be okay with a radio. If you go back to the seventeenth century, when electricity is still quite scary, you could be accused of witchcraft for being able to harness its power. Sure, memorize radio in case you go back to the late 19th century, but I'd recommend having some neat processes, medical technologies, or hand-powered machines just in case. Those would be applicable (and easily implementable) in just about any time period.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)|| |
Combine modern cooking techniques with the ability to accurately spice dishes. Further, what if you could introduce Cuisine A to Country B. You would have an easily transportable skillset which is exotic enough to be difficult to copy while being special and useful enough that you could be supported by someone rich enough to keep you relatively healthy.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)|| |
The problem might still be getting the spices of Country B while in Country A, though.
Didn't you already do this? Life wouldn't be the same if our milk wasn't Steinmetzized...
|Date:||October 28th, 2010 01:43 am (UTC)|| |
The problem with many of these inventions - especially medical ones - is that they can also get you labelled as having trafficked with the devil. Even into the 18th or 19th century, depending on where you go.
Also, luck with the patents. Patent enforcement was spotty, at best, before the late 19th century. And the "letters patent" that were their precursor had more to do with royal favors than common law or economic practice.
I suggest going with the entertainment route previously suggested. Or some kind of mathematics. Get a little scratch in your newly-invented pockets, make something of a name for yourself and THEN break out the cotton gin or the Steinmetz Gun. Your reputation for genius, by that time, should position you nicely for the kind of royal patronage your new patents will need.
Time Travel Cheat Sheet
Re: Time Travel Cheat Sheet
I was saddened to see that a closer inspection revealed this to have a lot of not-very-useful information and at least one blatant error.
Toilet paper. It's easy to make, easy to manufacture, and wasn't created until 1857, and the rolled sort we know and love today wasn't invented until 1880.
I would think many of the people of history would be horrified to know that we wipe our buts with precious paper.
The first thing I thought of was the steam engine. It's still valuable even after the invention of electricity and requires relatively simple smithing/engineering skills. And it started the Industrial Revolution so it's pretty important.
It was "perfected" in the 18th century though, so this may not be modern enough for your needs... but the battery was invented in 1800 so I assume it qualifies.
|Date:||October 26th, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC)|| |
Lots of tricky "craft" issues around the steam engine, although if you could get a rough prototype demonstrating the power then I guess the craft would definitely follow on.
For me the big issue of going back in time is working out what has the least dependencies... Certainly you need the least dependencies to demonstration... Big difference between "HTA flight is possible" and the Wright brothers. Although the Montgolfier's are ripe for preempting...