Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: technology

Codex Books Supplant Scrolls

November 16, 2008

In the century before the fall of Rome, the unwieldy 12-foot-long papyrus scrolls of Alexandria had started to cede room on the shelves to a new form of document: the codex book, so named because it originated from attempts to “codify” the Roman law in a format that supported easier information retrieval. The new format boasted a more navigable interface, featuring leafed pages bound between durable hard covers. Not only was the new format more resilient than the carefully wound scrolls that preceded it, it facilitated a new way of engaging with the text. Scrolls, by their physical nature, demanded linear reading from start to finish. They required a commitment on the part of the reader and resisted attempts to extract individual nuggets of information. But with a codex book, readers could now flip between pages easily to pinpoint any passage in a text. As Hobart and Schiffman write, “The codex had the potential to transform the manuscript from a cumbersome mnemonic aid to a readily accessible information storehouse.”

The new technology of the book ushered in a whole new way of reading: random access. A document no longer had to be read from top to bottom; its pages could be flipped, allowing the reader to move around at will. By letting users move freely from page to page, the new book allowed readers to form their own networks of association within a particular text. Scrolls, on the other hand, encouraged linear reading. The book also had one more considerable advantage over the old scrolls: portability. While collections of papyrus scrolls and codex books coexisted in late Roman libraries, the destruction of the empire saw most of the great old library collections burned, plundered, or scattered. The codex book format proved hardier and more portable than the old scrolls; as a result, many scrolls failed to survive the fall of the Roman empire, and a great deal of the literature that lived on did so between the covers of bound books.

Alex Wright, Glut: Mastering Information Through The Ages, p. 79

Emphasis mine.

Backstabbing Assassins, Not Knights of the Air

May 2, 2008

There is little finesse in air combat. Many civilians and those who have never looked through the gun sight…at an enemy aircraft have a romantic perception, no doubt influenced by books and movies about World War I, that pilots are knights of the air, chivalrous men who salute their opponents before engaging in a fight that always is fair. They believe that elaborate rules of aerial courtesy prevail and that battle in the clear pure upper regions somehow is different, more glorified and rarefied, than battle in the mud. This is arrant nonsense. Aerial combat, according to those who have participated, is a basic and primitive form of battle that happens to take place in the air. Fighter pilots—that is, the ones who survive air combat—are not gentlemen; they are backstabbing assassins. They come out of the sun and attack an enemy when he is blind. They sneak up behind or underneath or “bounce” the enemy from above or flop into position on his tail—his six-o’clock position—and “tap” him before he knows they are there. That is why fighter pilots jink and weave and dart about like water bugs in a mason jar. They never hold a heading or a position longer than six or eight seconds. Aerial combat is brutally unforgiving. To come in second place is to die, usually in a rather spectacular manner. Most casualties never know they are targets until they are riddled with bullets, covered with flames, and on the way to creating a big hole in the ground. Those who want to engage in the romanticized World War I pirouette of a fair fight will have a short career. Thus, aerial combat favors the bold, those who are not afraid to use the airplane for its true purpose: a gun platform. There is nothing sophisticated about sneaking up on someone and killing him. Aerial combat is a blood sport, a knife in the dark. Winners live and losers die….

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, pp. 42-43

Emphasis mine.

Astrolabe, Gift Of The Arabs

May 1, 2008

The astrolabe was an instrument of critical importance in [eleventh-century C.E.] Europe’s intellectual advance. It permitted all sorts of astronomical observations to be made with hitherto unmatched accuracy; it made possible rapid and accurate terrestrial measurements, for example of height and distance; it could be turned to navigational use and it could serve as a clock. The astrolabe was invented in antiquity, but the Arabs were the first to grasp its potential and elaborate its design. Knowledge of it was quickly diffused throughout the Islamic world….

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, p. 53