Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
A Norwegian who knew his tortoises so well that he changed history (nypesuppe.blogspot.com)
183 points by Clepsydra on June 11, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments

> In the age of sail, sending international mail was no easy matter. A sealed note would be left with some ship going in roughly the right direction, and then luck more than anything would decide the outcome. This was before steam ships, before the rail road and the telegraph, and it could well take a year or more before the sender eventually recieved a reply. The preserved letters from Lossius are full of references to other letters that never made it across the oceans.

This was striking to read; it's absolutely impossible for me to imagine a pre-telegraph world with such utterly slow communications where people nevertheless had friends and family separated by years of latency.

It makes me appreciate the significance of the electric telegraph and of long-range communication that is not limited by the speed of any physical vehicle. I recently read a short romance novel (called "Wired Love") published in 1880 about two telegraph operators who meet online (well, on the wire), use spare time on the wire to talk (and flirt) with each other; and eventually fall in love -- before even having met each other IRL or knowing each other's IRL names! There's even a quite modern impersonation that happens -- someone else steals the identifier of the operator the main character is in love with, and proceeds to be an rude asshole to her. Almost like IRC nick stealing, except a century or so earlier! The antics involving the telegraphs were, amusingly enough, the least antiquated part of the novel, as there's an entirely shocking amount of aspects of Internet communication/relationship practices that have pretty clear equivalents in that telegraph-era book. For example, the main character disdains the telephone and prefers the elegant and more technically-involved telegraph, she and her partner "clasp hands" over the wire in the same way people do "/me hugs" on IRC, she gets called crazy for laughing to herself and "smiling at vacancy" while telegraphing with her online lover -- and after they've met IRL, her suitor even installs a private telegraph wire from her bedroom to his. There's something quite endearing about reading an old novel and realising that the people with access to real-time text chat more than a century ago might have used it in quite similar ways as people use it today.

I've recently been thinking about this since I've been going through family history.

So my great grandfather just decides to get on a boat in Latvia and sail to Australia. I'm really not sure why. He settles and sends for a bride. One comes. They've never met. They marry and have a bunch of children.

The wife's family is from Latvia and the Ukraine. She writes back and forth to her family over the next 20 years. I'm not sure what the latency is on communication here but I imagine at least 6 months, best case, more likely closer to 12. The last letter she received from her family was in 1937 and it was heavily censored. This of course being Stalin's USSR at this point.

Now it never really occurred to me that in this time there was such long lines of communication but in hindsight I guess there had to be because what was the alternative?

All of this was just a century ago too. Taking 6-12 months to communicate with family. Marrying an unknown bride. It's really quite bizarre.

Go back two centuries and it's even more surreal. One relative has a stated occupation of "scutcher". What's that you might ask? (I know I did). It's one of those English words that's now largely unknown and searching for it leads to a list of pre-Industrial Revolution jobs that don't exist anymore. A scutcher is someone who bashes flax seeds for linen fibers, a job later done by machines.

> sends for a bride

Can you expand on this a bit?

In some parts of the world it's still common that the (broader) families arrange who marries whom. The results are typically better than you'd believe (it "worked" so often that the custom survived through the centuries).

I spent a ~week in the Gili Islands in Indonesia. I sent (with little hope of ever making it) my mom a postcard. The mailbox was a neglected tiny wooden box that was overflowing with mail and exposed to the elements. I squished my postcard with the rest of the mail. Surprisingly, the postcard made it a year and a half later.

The Galapagos post office still works to this day, it usually takes 3-6 months for a letter to reach its destination:


> someone else steals the identifier of the operator the main character is in love with, and proceeds to be an rude asshole to her.

Wouldn't the character recognize that their lover's tapping pattern had changed?

The 'tapping pattern' is generally referred to as one's fist.

As in "Wouldn't the character recognize that their lover's fist had changed?"

I read Wired Love a while ago and was impressed with how light and easy to read it was, the whole thing felt really quite contemporary.

> Nicolai adapted to his environment, just like the tortoises

This is such a beautiful ending to the article.

I think we are experiencing a whole new world right now, where anyone can be almost anywhere by the help of technology. This will of course be discussed in the future who knows how.

Give yourself a day or two every month without computer or mobile phones, code editors, or programming discussions.

Enjoy the life, discover things, spend more time with family.

Not sure what I expected, but this wasn't it. Great read.

Edit: Can mods please remove the blog name from the title. It translates to "rose hip soup" and is rather out of context :)

Ah sorry. I thought it was the Norwegian who knew tortoises.

Crazy how he resumed contact with his family, they only knowing vaguely that he might be alive somewhere in Chile and managed to track him down.

> he advanced to become lieutenant under Chile's revolutionary hero, Scottish-born vice admiral Thomas Cochrane

The model for Jack Aubrey, from the Aubrey-Maturin novels (and the movie Far Side of the World). A couple of the later books involve Chile.

You could live wherever you wished in those days. I can't even leave my country at the moment, because my passport expired.

That's an oversimplification. Specifically since this involves a Norwegian: Even travelling between two cities in Norway required you by law to register with the police at the time, and emigration from Norway required permission from the government, and this was no mere formality (that is, it could be denied).

For some values of "you": a tiny minority of noble people and well-off merchants. Chances overwhelmingly were you'd be born, live and die within the same 5 mile radius.

Did you read the story? The Noregian Nicolai was not well off. Like a large part of the Norewgian population, then and later he started as a sailor. Many Norwegians would go to the seas from 15 years old. My great grand father was from a poor working class family like most of my sncestors. He worked at a quarry in Norway with a sledge hammer. Nothing privileged about it. Yet he also signed up as a sailor and worked all over the world. Layed railroad in the wild west and worked many places in south america like this guy. And like this story my family thought he was dead as he was away so long.

There's a difference between "signing up as a sailor" and "going where you want to go"...

Did you read the comment I was replying to? Any attempt of organized travel was enormous and expensive undertaking, the lack of bureaucracy and effective border controls hardly made up for it.

But sure, you could become a sailor, or get conscripted to soldiers, or even sold into slavery to a distant land. Doubt though that was the kind of travel the GP alluded to.

I'm struck by the patchwork of historical references it took to track this mans life. Given our digital footprints today, will historians have an easier time of tracking folks, or will our digital messages be in some strange lockup as digital storage evolves? Will they mine a centuries old Facebook to analyze our lives?

The corollary is that back then it was also easier to vanish. Today you can find almost anyone. In the long run though I wonder if future historians will have a more difficult time finding obscure people since the electronic records may have vanished whereas paper and books can survive for hundreds of years. It amazing to me you can see the person's birth notice.

I imagine that electronic records will suffer a similar fate as paper records. Many will survive and many won't. To respond to the grandparent, there are many more records, so you may be able to track some individuals with far greater level of detail, but the noise is also a lot higher. When googling my name, for example, I don't show up at all in the first several pages of results, so it may be a lot harder for a random researcher to sort through the data to learn about me if, for some reason, they wanted to.

I had a co-worker let's call him "Bob" who is closely related to Charles Darwin. Bob grew up in Nova Scotia I don't think his family lived in England. And no his surname is not Darwin.

Another coworker "Jim" asked Bob "You're related to Charles Darwin? And you grew up on an isolated island?". (either Brier Island, NS or Long Island, NS I don't really know).

Jim was trying to get Bob going by stressing that Bob grew up on an island isolated and tried to convince Bob the people in his home town and island evolved differently due to the isolation.

I live on an island too I found it funny but I don't think Bob cared or knew what Jim was trying to say.


Would you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to HN?


You should read this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7609289

> I agree with what people have already said, but I think there's one more point to add: people usually over-estimate how funny their own comments are. We have a tendency to think, "This idea of mine is hilarious! And different! Surely this witticism is the exception." And we are usually wrong. When you have N people all doing that, there's a lot of noise.

> I try to gently point this out to people who complain when their attempt at humor has been downvoted by the community. It's not that we don't like humor. We just don't like banal attempts at humor, which becomes noise. Or, put in a less charitable fashion, "You're not as funny as you think you are."

I have no issue with people flagging anything I post.

However, there is a clear and marked difference between users "showing me they don't like my humor/post" and having the moderators step in and start warning me to stop. And to imply that this is somehow an ongoing issue with my posts?

No, he can just ban me and get it over with.


and just so we're clear, had he not made the comment he did, this entire "conversation" would not be occurring.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact