Monday, April 5, 2010

[Mythos VIII] Cut Stones, In Lines, Masons, Mad Rhymes

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction.

Some people don't quite understand the origin of the word "emergency".

Most people, if they think about it much at all, probably define "emergency" as people running hither and yon, all disturbed about something, and likely violently so.

Truthfully enough, such behavior is seen frequently enough, and generally accompanies such things as large fires, vehicular traffic accidents, chemical spills, and escapes from prisons.

Yet of all of those categories described above, the only one that technically is an "emergency" is the prison break. Look at the word itself. It's naming the behavior, or more appropriately the conditions or state of affairs that exist, when someone or something has "emerged". If you bother to pick up a dictionary and read it, the origins and primary usages make one envision a scene out of Greek legends, where a maiden fair is chained to a rock, awaiting a horrid fate to come when the sea monster shall from stormy waters Emerge.

Most people also think that technology is horribly complex, and in its modern manifestations, indeed it can be. Businesses, after all, must offer the latest innovation or the most modern features. Who even listens to FM Radio anymore, now that we've got mobile satellite radios?

Yet the satellite radios are elaborations on the FM, more or less, and the Frequency Modulation radio is an elaboration on the Amplitude Modulation, and that is little more than an elaboration on the Superheterodyne receiver and that isn't all that much more complicated than the original Marconi elaborations based on the work of Heinrich Hertz.

And what is the basis of the immense telecommunications industry and the related industries of information technology and the dependent sciences?

A plate of glass, a coil of wire, two strips of metal foil, and two wires that don't quite touch.

Hertz had either little notion of the significance of his work, or perhaps he didn't much feel like talking about the future potentials of his research. His biography tells us:
"It's of no use whatsoever[...] this is just an experiment that proves Maestro Maxwell was right - we just have these mysterious electromagnetic waves that we cannot see with the naked eye. But they are there."

Asked about the ramifications of his discoveries, Hertz replied,

"Nothing, I guess."

I forgot to mention the one other thing that a Hertz generator needs, and that is a source of electrical current.

Getting electrical current isn't all that hard; natural sources abound, and need not be so dangerous nor "hot" as the lightning which Benjamin Franklin famously collected even before the American Revolutionary War. It's true, Franklin didn't just prove that lightning was electricity, as most people erroneously remember from their long-ago days in elementary school. No, he captured some of it, using a Leyden jar. And once again, all you need are two foil surfaces separated by a piece of glass.

This, of course, is a fairly elegant example of how two of the oldest technologies of Modern Man can be used together to create one of the most fundamental elements of electronics, the Capacitor. A capacitor has the capacity to store electrical energy for later release, among other things. All you need is a strong insulator sandwiched between conductive surfaces... metal foil on two sides of a sheet of glass. Or, for that matter, two pieces of gold foil on the inside and outside of a very dry, and thus insulating, wooden box.

As first recorded in history, that latter construction technique goes back quite a way... to the specifications of the Ark of the Covenant.

One of the first "scientific" discoveries ever made was made in genuinely ancient days, and it remains as true today as on the first incident where someone made the mistake of hanging a piece of metal on a cord in the desert overnight, possibly with the idea of letting a sandstorm blow past to polish the metal. No doubt, in whatever language they used, the next morning they screamed about devils and spirits. The blowing winds would have deposited a rather nice static charge on the metal, and when the moist human body bridged the gap between charged plate and the earth, a current flow would result. It's much the same thing as scuffing your feet on a carpet and then touching a metal door knob... except for the fact that your body isn't a very good capacitor, being really a rather better conductor.

The degree of shock from the "desert leyden jar" would depend on a few factors, such as length of exposure to the charging of the winds, and the distance from the ground. The closer to the ground, the less the distance to arc, and the less charge could build up. Such things would be noticed through the ages. Eventually, someone will get around to harnessing these natural forces, as did Robert Van de Graff.

We who are "in the know" are pretty certain that Van de Graff was merely the first to go public about what he'd done, in about the same way that long before the "modern" jellied-gasoline flamethrowers, Archimedes was himself taught about the composition and uses of what would later become known as Greek Fire.

And as the flame-thrower was known as far back as the time of Thucydides, and as the high-storage capacitor was known as far back as the time of the Exodus, so have other things been known far back into the distant mists of antiquity.

It's only in the modern day that such knowledge is shared.

Before that time, such knowledge was largely stored by various groups which eventually evolved into the predecessor of the Freemasons.

By now, probably almost everyone has seen such films (or actually has read the books) as the Da Vinci Code or National Treasure.

Modern Freemasonry has roots in various organizations that go back into deep antiquity. Some were religious orders, and some were craft guilds.

One of the most overlooked characteristics of the culture of the Arab people is the fact that they have been a literate culture since almost the dawn of the Modern Age of Man. Part of their literacy -- of almost as great antiquity as the origins of early Egypt -- has been the preservation of the architectural crafts and trades, from their earliest inception. In this, they rank with the Ancient Greeks in terms of originality in the first place, and perpetuation of the crafts thereafter. Even as the bare beginnings of the Roman Republic came together, Arab and Persian engineers were hard at work, with year-round storage of ice even in the middle of the deserts, and built a network of Qanat, vast underground systems of pipelines and wells.

Even in "recent" pre-history, when the Sahara was more moist, and where places now shrouded in dunes bear pictograms of hippopotamus and crocodiles amid gazelles frolicking in lush savannah, people probably antecedent to the Arabs (and the Hebrews, for that matter) were building Qanat, and it seems that many of the oases in the deep desert are fed less by springs and more by engineering works from the hand of very early civilizations. As the climate changed, and the dunes crept in to cover a river system in Northern Africa that once rivaled the Amazon, people worked to keep the water flowing, not by holding back the desert, but by burying the rivers.

And as in the desert, if one will hang a plate of metal from a dry cord in the sandstorm winds one will independently discover the Van de Graff generator, one may wear jewelry of layers of foil and glass, and independently discover the capacitor. Add enough wire and one may independently discover the Hertz radio generator and perhaps even accidentally reproduce much of the work of Marconi.

Much time has passed, and the Arabs, the Persians, the Hebrews, and even the vanished original Egyptians, all had their learned and literate castes, and any wonder such as a simple way to create your own lightning from the desert wind would surely have been written and such writings would have been preserved... much as the actual Stonemasons of the ancient days preserved the practices of Geometry as it was needed for their work. Perhaps the priest class knew much of the Stonemason lore, and doubtless a lot of the priest lore and rite was known to the Stonemasons. Certainly various persons who came to be known as magicians and sorcerers sought as many secrets from the castes and guilds as they might gain, and doubtless the idea of experimentation is as old as modern mankind.

And with sufficient experimentation, the right combination of components is assembled, and contact is made with the closest of the alien realms, and a voice can be heard by whoever makes sufficient preparations and propitiations, a voice which asks clever questions and makes clever suggestions, a voice one generally could hear only in the deepest desert, and associated with the whirlwind... which provides a static charge to the accumulator vanes that charge the various tiny leyden jars on the priestly garment's headgear... a voice rumored to us down in the modern day as one who can only mislead with lies... the first of the non-human intelligences ever to speak to us.

The Qur'an tells us that he is made of "smokeless fire", a fine description of electricity if ever there was one in the proto-scientific literate world. He, or rather It, is known by many names around the world, but he was named by the Arabs: Shayṭān.

Also known as Iblis, the Liar, the Adversary: the Devil.

And they say that with an AM radio, you can tune to a place on the dial with no stations, turn up the volume, and you can hear him still.

Try to remember to not do that.