The Calendar and Irrigation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 4th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published November 16th, 2011)

The Nile is a Sliver of Life-Sustaining Black Earth Carved through the Lifeless Red Earth of the Desert

The early Egyptians were a religious people.  They still are today.  Egypt is a special land.  A unique land.  Because the Nile River flows through it on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile is the source of life.  For it was the Nile that allowed farming.  Because of fresh water.  And fertile soil.  Black earth.  The rich silt that the Nile washed down from on high.  Beyond the First Cataract.  All the way to its headwaters.  Where monsoons in the Ethiopian Plateau, around Lake Victoria and in the Ruwenzori mountains flowed into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.  That joined into the Nile and flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea.  Bringing with it the rich silt that flooded over the riverbanks.  And left behind some of the richest soil ever farmed.

The life from the Nile was a miracle.  A blessing for the Egyptians.  This sliver of life-sustaining black earth carved through the lifeless red earth of the desert.  So they prayed.  And they worshipped.  To placate the gods.  To keep the miracle of black earth returning harvest after harvest.  For when the gods favored them the flooding came.  On time.  And at just the right height.  But when the gods did not there was famine.

By Tracking a Regular Cycle of Natural Events they Knew When to Worship and What to Do in the Farming Cycle

If the gods favored them the flooding was predictable.  If Khnum favored them the First Cataract would bring on the floodwaters at the right time and in the right amount.  Thoth would foretell this in the form of white ibises returning from their southern migration.  A favorable omen of a good harvest.  Which began with the sowing.  The grain representing Osiris’ body.  A god killed by another god.  Seth.  Who embodied the lifeless red earth.  The new growth was the resurrection of Osiris.  At the harvest they praised Isis.  For the resurrection.  That was the harvest.

The Egyptians were a religious people.  Religious ceremonies and rituals occurred throughout the farming cycle.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Egyptians created one of the first calendars.  Which marked important religious ceremonies and rituals.  And the cycle of farming.

By being able to track this regular cycle of natural events they knew when to worship.  What to do in the farming cycle.  When to do it.  And they knew when something was wrong.  For one day the floods did not come.  The climate had changed.  And the water didn’t come to them from the river.  So they had to go to the water in the river.

When the Nile didn’t Flood when the Calendar said it Should we Created Irrigation

As agriculture developed so did our understanding of our environment.  And we developed a lot of this with our religious beliefs.  For our environment was the blessing of the gods.  And at times their curse.  But our observations grew.  As did our understanding.  We developed the calendar.  And when the Nile didn’t flood when the calendar said it should we created irrigation.  Expanding the lands under cultivation.  And grew even more food.  For even though the Nile didn’t flood the water and silt were still there.

Our initial religious beliefs may not have properly explained the flooding of the Nile.  But it was a first step in our critical thinking.  Trying to explain that which we didn’t understand.  We may have been wrong about the cause.  But we got a pretty good understanding of the seasons.  By studying our environment.  And learning how to change it to suit our needs.  And it’s this critical thinking that led the way to irrigation.  And, eventually, to the modern civilization.

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Rotational Motion, Windmill, Waterwheel, Steam Engine, Compressed Air and Electric Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 24th, 2013

Technology 101

The Combination of Force and Current of Moving Water on a Waterwheel produced Rotational Motion

Through most of history man has used animals for their source of power.  To do the heavy work in our advancing civilizations.  And they worked very well for linear work.  Going long distances in a straight line.  Such as pulling a carriage.  Or a plow.  Things done outdoors.  A long place typically from where people ate and slept.  So animal urine and feces wasn’t a great problem.  But the closer we brought them to our civilized parts of society it became a problem.  For it brought the smell, the flies and the disease closer to our civilized part of life.

Animals were good for linear work.  But as civilization advanced rotational work became more important.  For as machines advanced they needed to spin.  The more advanced machines needed to spin at a fairly high revolutions per minute (rpm).  We have used animals to produce rotational motion.  By having them walk in a small circle.  To slowly turn a mill stone.  Or some other rotational machine.  But it was inefficient.  As animals can’t work continuously.  Especially when walking in a circle.  They have to rest.  Eat.  And they have to urinate and defecate.  Making it unclean.  And unhealthy.

The first great industrial advance was water power.  Using a waterwheel.  Spun by a current of water.  Either a large force of water moving slow and steady.  Like in a river.  Or a small force of water moving fast and furiously.  Like in a small waterfall.  This combination of force and current produced rotational movement.  And useable power.  The waterwheel produced a rotational motion.  This rotational motion drove a main drive shaft through a factory.  Gear trains could speed up the rpm produced by a slow river current.  Or reduce the rpm produced by a fast waterfall current.  To produce a constant rotational speed.  That was strong enough to drive numerous loads attached to the main drive shaft via belts and pulleys.

Compressed Air Systems allowed us to produce Rotational Motion at our Workstations

Water power was a great advancement over animal power.  But it had one major drawback.  You needed a moving current of water.  Which meant we had to build our factories on the banks of rivers.  Or under a waterfall.  One of the reasons why our first industrial cities were on rivers.  The steam engine changed that.  With a steam engine providing our rotational motion we could put a factory pretty much anywhere.  And the power of steam could do a lot more work than a moving current of water.  So factories grew larger.  But they still relied on a rotating main drive shaft.  Then we started doing something else with our steam engines.  We began compressing air with them.

A current of air can fill masts of sails and push ships across oceans.  Air has mass.  So moving air has energy.  We’ve used windmills to turn millstones to crush our wheat.  Where a large force of a slow moving wind current filled a sail.  And pushed.  But these small currents of air required large sails.  If we compressed that volume of air down and pushed it through a very small air hose we could get a force at the end of that hose similar to what we got with a sail catching a large volume of air.  This allowed us to create rotational motion at a workstation.  Without the need of a rotating main drive shaft.  We could connect an air hose to a handheld drill.  And the compressed air in the air hose could direct a jet of high pressure air onto an ‘air-wheel’ inside the handheld drill.  Which spun the ‘air-wheel’ at a very high rpm.  Spinning the drill bit at a very high rpm.

Compressed air was a great advancement over a rotating main drive shaft.  Instead of belts and pulleys connecting to the main shaft you just had to plug in your pneumatic tool to an air line.  The steam engine’s rotational motion would drive an air compressor.  Typically turning a crankshaft with two pistons attached to it.  When a piston moves down the cylinder it draws air into the cylinder.  When the piston moves up it compresses the air in the cylinder.  The compressed air exits the cylinder and enters a large air tank.  From this air tank they run a network of pipes throughout the factory.  From these pipes hang air hoses with fittings that prevent the air from leaking out.  Keeping the whole system charged under pressure.  Then a worker takes his pneumatic tool.  Plugs it into the fitting on a hanging air hose.  As they snapped together you’ll hear a rush of air blow out.  But once they snap together the joined fittings became airtight.  When the worker presses the trigger on the pneumatic tool the compressed air blows out at a very high current.  Spinning an ‘air-wheel’ that provides useful rotational
motion.

Electric Power generated Rotational Motion eliminated the need of Steam Engines and Compressed Air Systems

As good as this was there were some drawbacks.  It takes time to produce steam when you first start up a steam engine.  Once you have built up steam pressure then you can start producing rotational motion so the air compressor can start compressing air.  This takes time, too.  Then you need a lot of piping to push that air through.  A piping system than can leak.  It was a great system.  But there was room for improvement.  And this last improvement we made was so good that we haven’t made another in over 100 years.  A new way to provide rotational motion at a workstation.  Without requiring a steam boiler.  And air compressor.  Or a vast piping system charged with air pressure.  Something that allows us to plug in and go right to work.  Without waiting for steam or air pressure to build.  And that last advancement was, of course, electric power.

When voltage (force) pushes an electrical current through a wire we get useable power.  Generators at a distant power plant produce voltages that push current through wires.  And these wires can run anywhere.  In the air.  Or underground.  They can travel great distances at dangerous high voltages and low currents.  And we can use transformers to change them to a safer low voltage and a higher current in our factories.  And our homes.  Where we can use that force and current to produce useful rotational motion.  Using electric and magnetic fields inside an electrical motor.

Animals were a poor source of rotational power.  The windmill and the waterwheel were better.  The windmill could go anywhere but the rotational motion was only available when the wind blew.  Waterwheels provided continuous rotational motion but they only worked where there was moving water.  Keeping our early factories on the rivers.  The steam engine let us build factories where there was no moving water.  While an air compressor driven by a steam engine made it much easier to transfer power form the power source to the workstation.  While electric power made that transfer easier still.  It also eliminated the need of the steam engine and the pneumatic piping system.  Allowing us to create rotational motion right at the point of work.  With the ease of plugging in.  And pressing a trigger.  Allowing machines to enter our homes to make our lives easier.  Like the vacuum cleaner.  The clothes washer.  And the air conditioner.  None of which your average homeowner could operate if we depended on a main drive shaft in our house.  Or a steam engine driving a pneumatic system.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 5th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published May 23rd, 2012)

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest.

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc.

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death.

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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Conservation of Energy, Potential Energy, Kinetic Energy, Waterwheels, Water Turbine, Niagara Falls, Dams, and Hydroelectric Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 25th, 2012

Technology 101

Roller Coasters use Gravity to Convert Energy back and forth between Potential Energy and Kinetic Energy

We cannot destroy energy.  All we can do is convert it.  It’s a law of physics.  The law of conservation of energy.  A roller coaster shows this.  Where roller coasters move by converting potential energy into kinetic energy.  And then by converting kinetic energy back into potential energy.

The best roller coasters race down tall inclines gaining incredible speed.  The taller the coaster the faster the speed.  That’s because of potential energy (stated in units of joules).  Which is equal to the mass times the force of gravity times the height.  The last component is what makes tall roller coasters fast.  Height.  As the cars inch over the summit gravity begins pulling them down.  And the longer gravity can pull them down the more speed they can gain.  At the bottom of the hill the height is zero so the potential energy is zero.  All energy having been converted into kinetic energy (also stated in units of joules).

Roller coasters travel the fastest at the lowest points in the track.  Where potential energy equals zero.  While kinetic energy is at its highest.  Which is equal to one half times the mass times the velocity squared.  So the higher the track the more time gravity has to accelerate these cars.  At their fastest speed they start up the next incline.  Where the force of gravity begins to pull on them.  Slowing them down as they climb up the next hill.  Converting that kinetic energy back into potential energy.  When they crest the hill for a moment their speed is zero so their kinetic energy is zero.  All energy having been converted back into potential energy.  Where gravity tugs those cars down the next incline.  And so on up and down each successive hill.  Where at all times the sum of potential energy and kinetic energy equals the same amount of joules.  Maximum potential energy is at the top.  Maximum kinetic energy is at the bottom.  And somewhere in the middle they each equal half of their maximum amounts.

(This is a simplified explanation.  Additional forces are ignored for simplicity to illustrate the relation between potential energy and kinetic energy.)

We build Dams on Rivers  to do what Niagara Falls does Naturally

So once over the first hill roller coasters run only on gravity.  And the conversion of energy from potential to kinetic energy and back again.  Except for that first incline.  Where man-made power pulls the cars up.  Electric power.  Produced by generators.  Spun by kinetic energy.  Produced from the expanding gases of combustion in a natural gas-powered plant.  Or from high-pressure steam produced in a coal-fired power plant or nuclear power plant.  Or in another type of power plant that converts potential energy into kinetic energy.  In a hydroelectric dam.

Using water power dates back to our first civilizations.  Then we just used the kinetic energy of a moving stream to turn a waterwheel.  These waterwheels turned shafts and pulleys to transfer this power to work stations.  So they couldn’t spin too fast.  Which wasn’t a problem because people only used rivers and streams with moderate currents.  So these wheels didn’t spin fast.  But they could turn a mill stone.  Or run a sawmill.  With far more efficiency than people working with hand tools.  But there isn’t enough energy in a slow moving river or stream to produce electricity.  Which is why we built some of our first hydroelectric power plants at Niagara Falls.  Where there was a lot of water at a high elevation that fell to a lower elevation.  And if you stick a water turbine in the path of that water you can generate electricity.

Of course, there aren’t Niagara Falls all around the country.  Where nature made water fall from a high elevation to a low elevation.  So we had to step in to shape nature to do what Niagara Falls does naturally.  By building dams on rivers.  As we blocked the flow of water the water backed up behind the dam.  And the water level climbed up the river banks to from a large reservoir.  Or lake.  Raising the water level on one side of the dam much higher than the other side.  Creating a huge pool of potential energy (mass times gravity times height).  Just waiting to be converted into kinetic energy.  To drive a water turbine.  The higher the height of the water behind the dam (or the higher the head) the greater the potential energy.  And the greater the kinetic energy of the water flow.  When it flows.

Hydroelectric Power is the Cleanest and Most Reliable Source of Renewable Energy-Generated Power

Near the water level behind the dam are water inlets into channels through the dam or external penstocks (large pipes) that channels the water from the high elevation to the low elevation and into the vanes of the water turbine.  The water flows into these curved vanes which redirects this water flow down through the turbine.  Creating rotational motion that drives a generator.  After exiting the turbine the water discharges back into the river below the dam.

Our electricity is an alternating current at 60 hertz (or cycles per second).  These turbines, though, don’t spin at 60 revolutions per second.  So to create 60 hertz they have to use different generators than they use with steam turbines.  Steam turbines spin a generator with only one rotating magnetic field to induce a current in the stator (i.e., stationary) windings of the generator.  They can produce an alternating current at 60 hertz because the high pressure steam can spin these generators at 60 revolutions per second.  The water flowing through a turbine can’t.  So they add additional rotational magnetic fields in the generator.  Twelve rotational magnetic fields can produce 60 hertz of alternating current while the generator only spins at 5 revolutions per second.  Adjustable gates open and close to let more or less water to flow through the turbine to maintain a constant rotation.

The hydroelectric power plant is one of the simplest of power generating plants.  There is no fuel needed to generate heat to make steam.  No steam pressure to monitor closely to prevent explosions.  No fires to worry about in the mountains of coal stored at a plant.  No nuclear meltdown to worry about.  And no emissions.  All you need is water.  From snow in the winter that melts in the spring.  And rain.  Not to mention a good river to dam.  If the water comes the necessary head behind the dam will be there to spin those turbines.  But sometimes the water isn’t there.  And the dams have to shut down generators because there isn’t enough water.  But hydroelectric power is still the cleanest and most reliable source of electric power generated from renewable energy we have.  But it does have one serious drawback.  You need a river to dam.  And the best spots already have a dam on them.  Leaving little room for expansion of hydroelectric power.  Which is why we generate about half of our electric power from coal.  Because we can build a coal-fired power plant pretty much anywhere we want to.  And they will run whether or not we have snow or rain.  Because they are that reliable.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 23rd, 2012

Technology 101

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest. 

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc. 

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death. 

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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Flat-Bottomed Boat, Keel, Standing Rigging, Chinese Junk, Daggerboard, Balanced Rudder, Compartment and Junk Rig

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 16th, 2012

Technology 101

Typical River Transport has a Flat Bottom and a Shallow Draft with Little Freeboard

What do most of the oldest and greatest cities in the world have in common?  Madrid.  Lisbon.  Paris.  London.  Amsterdam.  Belgrade.  Vienna.  Rome.  Cairo.  Kiev.  Moscow.  Baghdad.  New Delhi.  Shanghai.  Ho Chi Minh City.  Bangkok.  Hong Kong.  São Paul.  Buenos Aires.  Santiago.  Quebec City.  Montreal.  Detroit.  Boston.  New York.  Philadelphia.  Pittsburgh.  What do these cities have in common?  Rivers.  Coastal water.  Or safe harbors on the oceans.

Why is this?  Is it because their founders liked a good view?  That’s why people today pay a premium to live on the water’s edge.  But back then it was more necessity than view.  These were times before railroads.  Even before roads connected these new cities.  Back then there was only one way to transport things.  On the water.  And rivers were the early highways that connected the cities.  Which is why we built our cities on these rivers.  To transport the food or raw materials a city produced.  And to transport to these cities the things they needed to survive and grow.  And some of the earliest river transports were flat-bottomed boats.  Like the scow.  Punt.  Sampan.  And the barge.

Rivers are calm compared to the oceans.  Which allows a different boat design.  River transport doesn’t have to be sturdy to withstand rolling waves and high winds.  Which allows the design to focus on the main purpose of a boat.  Hauling freight.  Typical river transport has a flat bottom.  A shallow draft with little freeboard (i.e., sitting very low in the water with the top deck very close to the surface of the water).  And a square bow.  This allows these boats to operate in shallow waters.  Allowing them to run up right onto a river landing or beach.  Where they can be easily loaded with their cargoes.  Or unloaded.  And their flat, rectangular shapes maximize the cargo they can carry.  Propulsion is simple.  A man can push a small boat along with a pole.  Animal power can pull larger barges.  Or, later, motors were able to power them.  Or a tugboat could pull or push them.

The Chinese Junk had a Flat Bottom with no Keel allowing them to Carry a Lot of Cargo

These flat-bottomed boats are great for hauling freight.  But they are not very seaworthy.  Because the ocean’s waves will toss around any boat with a shallow draft and little freeboard.  Breaking it up and sending it and its cargo to the bottom of the ocean.  Which has confined these to the calm of rivers, bays and coastal waterways.  Cargoes that have to travel further than these allow are loaded onto an ocean-going vessel with a deeper draft.  And a higher freeboard.  With a keel.  That can withstand the leeward force of the wind.  So instead of being pushed sideways (or simply rolling over) the keel allows those sideway winds to fill a sail and propel a ship forward.  By sticking deeper into the water.  So as the wind tries to push the boat sideways the large amount of water in contact with the keel pushes back against that leeward force.  Allowing it to sail across the wind.

But there is a tradeoff.  The curved sections of the hull that form the keel reduces the amount of cargo a ship can carry in its hull.  Also, these ocean-going vessels have a lot of sail.  And a lot of rigging to hold it in place.  Standing rigging.  While the sails required running rigging.  To raise and lower sails depending on the wind conditions.  Which takes up space that can’t be used for cargo.  And requires a lot of sailors.  In fact, much of the upper deck is full of rigging and sailors instead of cargo.  But this was the tradeoff to sail into the rougher waters of the ocean.  You had to sacrifice revenue-earning cargo.  But there was one ship design that brought together the benefits of the flat-bottomed river scow and the ocean-going fully rigged sailing ship.  The Chinese junk.

The Chinese junk dates as far back as the 3rd century BC.  And began crossing oceans as early as the second century AD.  Long before the Europeans ventured out in their Age of Discovery.  The junk has a flat bottom with no keel.  But a high freeboard.  Which lets it carry a lot of cargo.  And operate in shallower waters than a fully rigged sailing ship.  But it could also sail in the rougher seas of the ocean.  When it did it lowered a daggerboard.  A centerboard that can lower from a watertight trunk within the hull into the water to act like a keel.  To resist those leeward forces.  Often installed forward in the hull so as not to take up valuable cargo space in the center of the ship.  Because they mount this forward the leeward forces could cause the back end of the ship to torque around the daggerboard. To counteract this force they use an oversized rudder on the stern.  To balance the resistance to those leeward forces.  Because the rudder was so large and had to deflect a lot of water it was difficult to turn.  Taking a team of men to operate it.   To help turn such a large rudder they developed ‘powered’ steering.  With a balanced rudder.  The axis the rudder turned on was just behind the leading edge of the rudder.  So when they turned the rudder the water hitting the part in front of the turning axis helped turn the rudder in the direction the crew was trying to turn it.  So the large rudder area past the turning axis could deflect the large volume of water necessary to turn the ship.

The Chinese gave us Papermaking, Printing, the Compass and Gunpowder but the Europeans Conquered the World

So the junk could travel in the shallow waters of harbors and rivers.  And the deep water of the ocean.  It was the first ship to compartmentalize the hull.  Making it very seaworthy.  Especially if it struck bottom and punched a hole in the hull.  Because of the compartments the flooding was contained to the one compartment.  Allowing the ship to remain afloat.  A design all ships use today.  The junk also used a different sailing rig.  The junk rig.  It’s low tech.  Was inexpensive.  And required smaller crews.

A three-mast junk has three masts.  And three sails.  One sail per mast.  And the masts are free standing.  They don’t need any standing rigging to hold them in place.  Because they don’t carry heavy loads of running rigging and sailors.  The sail is stretched between a yard and a boom.  The yard is at the top.  The boom is along the bottom.  Between the yard and the boom battens give the sail strength and attach it to the mast.  Think of a batten as that stick in the bottom of a window shade.  Grabbing this batten allows you to apply an even force on that window shade when pulling it down.  If this stick wasn’t there and you pulled down on the window shade the uneven forces across the shade would tear it.  Same principle on a junk rig.  Which allows them to use less expensive sail material.  To raise this sail up the mast you pulled up the yard via a block and tackle at the top of the mast.  From the deck.  With fewer crew members.  The sail is attached to the mast near one edge.  It’s pivoted to catch and redirect wind to the stern.  Propelling the ship forward.  And the battens will bend in strong enough winds to curve the sail.  Creating lift on the other side of the sail to pull the ship forward.

The Chinese gave us papermaking, printing, the compass and gunpowder.  But it was the Europeans that used these inventions to conquer the world.  For the Chinese had no interest in civilizations outside of China.  For when you had the best, they thought, what was the point?  So the Europeans came to them.  Even took Hong Kong from them.  When it was the Chinese that could have had the technologically advanced civilization.  An army fielding muskets and cannon.  And a navy of junk warships that could have gone anywhere the Europeans could have gone.  And farther.  Into the shallow waters and up the rivers where the European warships could not go.  They could have sailed up the Thames to London.  Up the Seine to Paris.  Even into Amsterdam.  Home of the Dutch East India Company.  That took such a great interest in all those Asian goods in the first place.   That brought the British to China to compete against the Dutch.  Leading to the Opium Wars.  And the loss of Hong Kong.  Imagine how different the world would be had China embraced their technology.  Like they are today.  Perhaps we will soon see the answer to that great ‘what if’ question.

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The Calendar and Irrigation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 16th, 2011

Technology 101

The Nile is a Sliver of Life-Sustaining Black Earth Carved through the Lifeless Red Earth of the Desert

The early Egyptians were a religious people.  They still are today.  Egypt is a special land.  A unique land.  Because the Nile River flows through it on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile is the source of life.  For it was the Nile that allowed farming.  Because of fresh water.  And fertile soil.  Black earth.  The rich silt that the Nile washed down from on high.  Beyond the First Cataract.  All the way to its headwaters.  Where monsoons in the Ethiopian Plateau, around Lake Victoria and in the Ruwenzori mountains flowed into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.  That joined into the Nile and flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea.  Bringing with it the rich silt that flooded over the riverbanks.  And left behind some of the richest soil ever farmed.

The life from the Nile was a miracle.  A blessing for the Egyptians.  This sliver of life-sustaining black earth carved through the lifeless red earth of the desert.  So they prayed.  And they worshipped.  To placate the gods.  To keep the miracle of black earth returning harvest after harvest.  For when the gods favored them the flooding came.  On time.  And at just the right height.  But when the gods did not there was famine.

By Tracking a Regular Cycle of Natural Events they Knew When to Worship and What to Do in the Farming Cycle

If the gods favored them the flooding was predictable.  If Khnum favored them the First Cataract would bring on the floodwaters at the right time and in the right amount.  Thoth would foretell this in the form of white ibises returning from their southern migration.  A favorable omen of a good harvest.  Which began with the sowing.  The grain representing Osiris’ body.  A god killed by another god.  Seth.  Who embodied the lifeless red earth.  The new growth was the resurrection of Osiris.  At the harvest they praised Isis.  For the resurrection.  That was the harvest.

The Egyptians were a religious people.  Religious ceremonies and rituals occurred throughout the farming cycle.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Egyptians created one of the first calendars.  Which marked important religious ceremonies and rituals.  And the cycle of farming.

By being able to track this regular cycle of natural events they knew when to worship.  What to do in the farming cycle.  When to do it.  And they knew when something was wrong.  For one day the floods did not come.  The climate had changed.  And the water didn’t come to them from the river.  So they had to go to the water in the river.

When the Nile didn’t Flood when the Calendar said it Should we Created Irrigation

As agriculture developed so did our understanding of our environment.  And we developed a lot of this with our religious beliefs.  For our environment was the blessing of the gods.  And at times their curse.  But our observations grew.  As did our understanding.  We developed the calendar.  And when the Nile didn’t flood when the calendar said it should we created irrigation.  Expanding the lands under cultivation.  And grew even more food.  For even though the Nile didn’t flood the water and silt were still there.

Our initial religious beliefs may not have properly explained the flooding of the Nile.  But it was a first step in our critical thinking.  Trying to explain that which we didn’t understand.  We may have been wrong about the cause.  But we got a pretty good understanding of the seasons.  By studying our environment.  And learning how to change it to suit our needs.  And it’s this critical thinking that led the way to irrigation.  And, eventually, to the modern civilization.

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