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Wootz steel (wikipedia.org)
61 points by ezhil on June 21, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 45 comments

One of the things that threw me off when watching forging YouTube videos like Alec Steele was that he would take on these historical projects like Renaissance weaponry but using super-modern power hammers and such. But they actually had power hammers in the Renaissance, Wikipedia calls them trip hammers. They didn't appear in Europe until the Middle Ages, but similar devices were used in China 2000 (!) years ago.

The things you can do with just water, wind, and wood are incredible.

"They" had analogue computers [1] and steam turbines [2] two millenia ago. Power hammers a few centuries ago seem pretty mild by comparison.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolipile

I don't think I'd really call that a computer any more than I'd call an old watch a computer.

The line is pretty blurry. This (relatively) modern device [0] is a computer although it's probably less complex than some of the ancient ones.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumaresq

Mechanical computers for fire control where the standard solution until very recently. Here's a very interesting video about them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1i-dnAH9Y4

Anything that computes is a computer.

Even plastic circles with writing on them designed to compute the effects of a nuclear bomb's blast:


I don't think I'd really call that a computer any more than I'd call an old watch a computer.

The some of the targeting computers aboard the USS Iowa worked in part by the same principles. (The Mk 8 Rangekeeper)

The continuous control mixing of the XC-142 tiltwing (1960's version of the V-22 Osprey) as it changed from vertical to horizontal mode, was all done with cams, gears, and levers.

The Aeolipile is notoriously inefficient though.

I understand it to have been essentially a proof of concept, not something that was intended to provide motive power to a machine. Given that, its simplicity would likely have been more valuable than its efficiency.

Power hammers have been in use for hundreds of years at least - the change is almost entirely in the size of the power source (modern engine vs a waterwheel). Power hammers were the reason cams were invented.

Whoops: I had conflated trip hammers and power hammers. Power hammers date to the mid 1800s. (Kids this is why you look up citations before you post :) )

Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle has about 35 enjoyable pages on this process, if anyone's interested.

Stephenson's books are funny. They're totally gripping while I'm reading them, but afterwards I'm never sure if I liked them or not.

I plowed through Quicksilver when it came out and loved it. Some time later I picked up The Confusion and was very excited to get on with the story, until I read the first couple of pages and realized I'd forgotten most of the plot and relationships and would have to reread the first...and the thought of that filled me with dread. I put the whole thing aside and have never regretted it.

I tried to read Quicksilver but couldn't really get into it. However, I then tried the Audible audiobooks and became completely hooked by the whole saga to the point where I think Jack Shaftoe is probably my favourite fictional character.

Edit: On the other hand I've read Anathem so many times that my hardback copy fell apart!

How strange we are. I've read every other Stephenson book more than 3 times and loved every minute of all of them. Never could get into Anathem.

As an aside: I really wish someone would produce The Baroque Cycle as a GoT scale epic.

Oh, yeah. As amazing as the Baroque Cycle Movie or series could be, or Cryptonomicon, or Diamond Age, etc... I'd vote for Seveneves over everything else.

There was supposed to be a Ron Howard directed version of Seveneves but I think it's been on hold for a few years.

Seveneves has been in my reading queue for quite awhile... I think I might go ahead and move it to the top of the stack. Thanks for posting this!

One of the best books I've read in years. If you have any space-geek in you, you won't regret it.

To be honest, I found it long and depressing. It must be something about this theme of the demise of society and space exploration that gets me. Same with Baxter's NASA trilogy. His early novels, like Snowcrash and Diamond age, are amazing, but Seveneves is really quite a different kind of a story.

Oh I’m full on space geek! I’ll start ASAP

Cryptonomicon, should be easier.

Can't wait for the whole episode dedicated to Lawrence's musings on the importance of reliable access to prostitutes for cracking ciphers and the international female conspiracy to control ejaculation and thus the mood of the world.

Society will benefit more from the cereal eating discussion.

I would love to see Anathem as a 3 season animated series.

There's a highly entertaining account of the uses and properties of Wootz steel in Neal Stephenson's The Confusion, part of his Baroque Cycle.

(edit - beaten to it - see below)

Hour documentary on wootz:


The illustrative picture on that article is absolutely useless without a scale of some sort. The feature look small, like maybe on the order of a weld bead but it might be on the order of mill scale but under massive magnification and I have no way to tell.

I think that is the fullered flat of a sword blade, so a couple inches or more across. The pattern exhibits at scales you'd need magnification to see all the way up to bands a mm across. I have a blade that was created using one of the reproduction processes. I have heard some say it is simply a very specific type of alloy banding.

I will add that while it cuts well and has good abrasion resistance, it isn't anomalously better than modern tool steel.

Here's Niels Provos (author of bcrypt) attempting to make Wootz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9j9vUGi0QA

Wait, what?! I've been subscribed to Niels Provos on YouTube for years for his swordsmithing content without realising who he was outside of that. What an amazing guy :) Thanks for pointing that out!

Nitpick: it's Wootz steel, not Wootz's steel. It wasn't named after someone called Wootz.

India prior to the Brits, should be a case study in how to integrate places like the Rust Belt in US, Afghanistan into global trade.

Each village was an autonomous unit of production that traded directly with nearby villages, silk road and through merchant ships with the world. ( In some cases they had their own local currency ! )

A single village could be directly linked to markets in Europe and China, or form part of a supply chain of villages to larger markets. Shenzen is similar being a SEZ, allowing it to trade directly with any unit across the globe.

It is kinda ironic that we went from a more libertarian trade system to a more restrictive one, as technology helped the state exert more control.

Places like the Rust belt can't directly trade with Kenya, they have to go through hordes of middle men.

Same thing happens in inner India, even though its filled with excess cheap labor in close proximity.

I have no idea what you're on about but this lept out at me as being very obviously wrong:

> Places like the Rust belt can't directly trade with Kenya, they have to go through hordes of middle men.

"The Rust Belt" can pretty easily trade with Kenya, thanks to the Saint Lawrence Seaway. I'm sitting in my office in the "rust belt," looking out at a shipping channel that accommodates ships from Europe pretty routinely.

If we're using "middlemen," e.g. relying on rail to bring Kenyan products across Africa to one of its western ports, or relying on rail to bring those products from an Eastern US port, it's because that is inherently more economical. There aren't "hordes" of middlemen involved.

The only technology needed for this to happen was a common understanding of language. The only people you can't trade with are those you can't communicate with. And cities can issue their own currency; they just can't convince anybody to use it.

I would argue that the trade system is far less restrictive because you can easily trade globally rather than only locally. You also can't get away with pillaging/defrauding your neighbors and calling it 'trade' anymore.

It sounds like what you're really wanting is a freer economic environment - the idea of small autonomous regions having the ability to issue their own currencies, for instance.

That said, though I strongly suspect that we're very close to each other w/r/t sociopolitical views, I don't think your overall assertion here makes sense. As others have said, someone in the Rust Belt can in fact trade directly with someone in Kenya today.

> It is kinda ironic that we went from a more libertarian trade system to a more restrictive one, as technology helped the state exert more control.

I don't think technology has had much to do with this, certainly not until the last handful of decades. My intuition is that tech didn't start having a huge impact on the scale of governments until mechanization in the early 20th Century, and didn't really take off until the advent of databases for managing entire populations' worth of data in the 1930s. Even now, with the seemingly exponential increase in surveillance power driven by advances in tech, I'm not so sure that a century from now that technology will be seen as a force driving the growth of state power. In fact, I believe the opposite will be true.

Look me up on social media somewhere. I almost always use my real name as a username, and it's very nearly unique. I'd love to have a longer-term conversation about how technology has increased the relative power of the individual - from prehistory (when a faction's military power was measured directly in how many fighters it could field) to today (when a single individual can occupy a populated region's police and military forces nearly indefinitely).

It seems like a link to a random Wikipedia page should be accompanied by an explanatory comment...

This happens a lot here. I don’t mind it.

I think it's a good thing.

If I'm not knowledgeable about the topic, I read the article. If I feel like I am knowledgeable about it, I jump straight to the comments. There I either learn something, or share knowledge.

It's one of my favorite types of HN posts :)

As a counterpoint, I think it drops the signal to noise ratio and makes HN less useful.

If I want to read a random Wikipedia article I can use the "Random Article" link on their website.

I don't think it's too much to ask for people posting random wiki links to explain why the article is worth reading about and discussing. Especially in cases like this one, where the linked article (apparently?) has little or nothing to do with the usual content posted.

I have no idea what the poster wants me to get out of this article.

> If I want to read a random Wikipedia article I can use the "Random Article" link on their website.

Ah, but that's the thing - it's not "random". It's an article that someone who likely shares many of my interests found interesting. That's valuable enough for me :)

Have you considered adding a user stylesheet that hides or minimized submissions that link to Wikipedia? It shouldn't be difficult.

I enjoy not knowing their take. If they saw value, so might I.

Hmm. From my perspective, I've never seen a post like this that didn't refer to an article I'm already aware of. Which would tell me if you like this kind of thing, you could probably just spend more time on Wikipedia instead. It certainly wouldn't be very useful for someone like me to spam seemingly-random Wikipedia articles here.

I agree, and not just about Wikipedia submissions, but any of them: it should come with a short summary and/or explanation of the significance.

But that battle was lost long ago and HN's format and conventions go against it.

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