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Quipu (wikipedia.org)
47 points by zw123456 on Aug 18, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 24 comments

Calling it the Inca sneakernet would have been more accurate. Even then, however, what the Wikipedia article discusses is more of a medium for storing numerical data than a means of communication, so the comparison is forced.

(Original title: "The Inca Internert")

Mods invisibly changing titles really bothers me.

It's even worse that the mods decided it was a great idea to silence debate by [dead]ing the topic when HNers discussed possible alternatives.

Makes me wonder how much longer I want to stay in this community.

This is a classic case of why mods should be changing titles.

How on earth is this an Inca Internet??

This is why I clicked, I was intrigued how can the Incas have have had an Internet like thing?

I then wasted a lot of time trying to see the relationship. But there is none. It's not even close to an Internet.

I just got link baited. Welcome to Reddit.

The article in itself is probably interesting, but I'm not big on being lied to.

Other discussions about threads disappearing might be interesting but aren't really relevant in this thread.

It was the closest thing the Incans had to an Internet, and a bit more like digital technology than those of us raised on the idea that the Incans had no system of writing would expect. And of course anything with such a title will be speaking figuratively: if you were fooled, or unable to see the basis for the metaphor, the fault lies as much with your literalism as the original submitter's stab at metaphor.

Now, I'd agree "The Incan Internet" could be improved as a title, especially to explain the article's relevance to this audience. "Quipu: the Incans' digital communication tech" would bridge the gap from the original title to the interesting, vaguely-Internet-like aspect for HN readers.

Unfortunately, it seems the mysterious headline-changing-Gnomes of HN only have a button for "revert to original TITLE", and a fierce loyalty to literalism over creative-but-fair headlines. So, we wind up with useless-but-easily-enforced crap headlines like "Quipu".

IMO, authors need to start writing more descriptive headlines.

It's part of a disturbing presentism that is (and probably has always been) rampant in popularized history. It's as if authors think we can't understand anything unless we see it through the lens of some popular current technology or movement. It's a great way to misunderstand something entirely.

This trivializes the subject of history, by enforcing the idea that nothing ever changes. "The Incas had an Internet, we have an Internet, so they must have been just exactly like us, so studying them is a waste of time." Moreover, it ignores the real work done in modern times to make our era different from times past: If anything we have now can be equated with something we had then using facile arguments that make a hash of the facts, then we can make it look like there is no progress and that we don't need to study science or technology any longer.

It's sham history in the service of sham philosophy.

If an author had written a long case defending the analogy, maybe. But it was a throwaway metaphor in a headline to pique interest, so I think you're projecting those other unrelated concerns onto the situation.

In particular, it's those complaining about how the headline wasted their time who are belittling the value of historical comparisons across very different eras and societies. Their reaction is, "What? The Incans didn't really have anything that could literally be called an Internet? You tricked me into clicking when I could have stayed even more narrowly focused on my present-day Internet-centric concerns!"

Whereas instead, the headline author was trying to shake people out of their presentism with the figurative language. "There is something surprising here about the Incans", he was saying – and absolutely not any larger objectionable/anti-intellectual theme about how "there is no progress" (which is obviously unsupportable from the details on the Quipu system).

Exactly! I agree.

However, all the current system does is penalize people who follow the submission rules (since their content doesn't get up-voted), and generate annoying comments about the "original topic" for the rest of us to sift through.

I've now clicked on this link twice because the title changed and I thought it was about something else. Then, having not looked at the comments last time because the subject matter didn't seem interesting, I saw "12 comments" I went and looked to see if I had missed something. Nope, just a lot of unnecessary meta-discussion caused by mods changing the title.

To the mods: it's annoying. Enforce the rules at submission, or knock it off and let the community decide what's interesting.

Not that changing it to the wikipedia page title is at all useful. Quipu could be another node.js library for all I know. A sensible title would be something like "Quipu - Incan talking knots".

I agree that the title change was necessary, the problem is that the telephonetemp's comment has no sense unless you know the original title. (Perhaps the original title may be visible in a small gray font below the current title, or the title change may appear as a comment. But this can lead to even more metadiscussion.)

In some case it's good to have a little title editorializing, for example in this case I would like to "Quipu: How the Incas stored number information in knots" or "Quipu: Incas' device to store numbers"

(For me) the title made total sense

It would have taken very little effort for the poster to write a blog article with the title they wanted, discuss their metaphor, and link to the Quipu article. That kind of article is pretty popular around here and tends to lead to some interesting conversation. But I suppose if I wanted "here's a randomly-selected Wikipedia article" I would hang out somewhere that condones and encourages this kind of behavior. As it is, I like the effect the title resetting has. The bellyaching about it seems all out of proportion.

Maybe. It's still pretty clever way to solve a problem...

This was my best scoring Scrabble word.

“quipu” is worth 16 points given no extra bonuses (according to http://www.thekatespanos.com/scrabble-score-calculator/?word...).

I landed it on the triple word score square.

So the Incans independently invented a representation of 0 and a based number system? That's pretty cool.

Base system, yes. Zero, no.

The Babylonians also had a representation of 0 as being a space. But that created confusions because you can't end a number with a space. For example, 1 and 100 would look the same if you just used a space in place of zero. They eventually created a symbol for zero, but never used it by itself or at the end of a number.

Similarly, the Incas used a space for a zero, but it creates the same reliance on context to deduce the meaning of a space. And since the Incas represented numbers differently in the ones place, that was their marker for the end of a number, which means it can't be nothing. I imagine they could leave a space at the end and use the context of the numbers above or below since numbers were vertically aligned in the quipu.

So no, Incas did not have a proper zero.

An enterprising jeweller could draw inspiration from this to create necklaces with hidden messages for us nerdy types to buy for partners. Cord, wool, silver thread, wires, etc.

They could also do a range inspired by the pulsar distance/frequency depiction in the Voyager Golden Record that describes our Sun's location. I've always thought that was quite cool.


Given the original title "The Inca Internet" why is it not just a mail system?

Anyone else remember these from Amazon Trail (in the final scoring process)?


Native brazilians in the Xingu still use something similar for storing songs, like partitures.

I'm not sure if this would be immune to the NSA or not.

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