Wednesday, April 16, 2014

History's First Memo to the I.T. Department

In my last post I had a little fun with the notion of what I would bring back in time to the Roman age in order to guarantee myself a life of relative ease.  You know, daily trips to the baths, slave girls feeding me grapes and so forth.  Planning for a return trip to the future seems even less plausible.  I mean, what would you bring back that would not be immediately challenged as fake?  Those mint, uncirculated rare denarii would only get you in trouble.

So a one way trip it shall be.  But it did get me thinking....could I send some gift from ancient Rome to modern times?  I think so. After accumulating my enormous fortune I would just have to compose the first memo in history to the "I.T. Department".

To: Chief Librarian, Museum of Alexandria
From: Badgericus Magnus, Merchant in Silks and Spices


Forgive the imperfect language of this message.  I have seen more years than you can imagine and as time runs short for me I find myself reverting to the subjects of my younger days.

By separate courier you will shortly receive my Last Will and Testament naming your Library the beneficiary of my considerable fortune.  Even after making provisions for the ongoing maintenance of numerous slave girls I think the sum will please you.  I ask that you use it to attend to the following issues.

1. Data Storage Media.  Dude, seriously, papyrus?  It has not been so very many years since the unfortunate fire associated with Julius Caesar.  Although that gossip Plutarch overstated it shamelessly it nevertheless was a warning that should not be ignored. Much wisdom can be destroyed by a single violent man with a torch.  And let me assure you, the past and the future contain many violent men. Also careless ones.  Can you be certain that Demetrius the Simple will not drop a lamp at any moment?

You should commission the local metalworkers to hammer out sheets of metal and inscribe upon them the thousand or so most important works in your collection.  And repeat the process every decade.  You could use lead, no doubt you are familiar with it from the use by the superstitious of "Curse Tablets". If the weight of this substance proves cumbersome consider using copper. The restless subjects of Judea have done some interesting work along these lines already.

Of course all this effort would be wasted if these durable mementos are not stored carefully.  Pick a number of places, ideally in the remote desert.  Inside the Great Pyramid would be a nice touch.  But most importantly place copies in as many spots as you can. You need only refer to Gaius Plinius Secundus' Naturalis Historia to understand the innate wisdom and nobility of the Squirrel.  (Modern readers take note, in exchange for my very excellent advice in AD 79 - "You do NOT want to get on that boat to check out the Vesuvius eruption" - Pliny the Elder will have allowed me to add to his Natural History no fewer than eight chapters on the Wonders of Squirrels!)

2. Physical Plant Security.  Hey, great bit of beachfront real estate you got there.  But you have noticed that you are along the waterfront.  Taverns, drunken sailors, and we are not even talking yet about how the native Alexandrians are so riot prone.  You could build some nice walls, even hire a cohort of Library Police.  But I suggest you relocate to a nice solid, easily defended hill outside of town.  Why?  I suggest on the next clear still day you go out in a boat right off your patio.  Look down. Notice anything?

Gee, look at all the big stuff that slid into the bay after earthquakes.  What are the odds that will happen again.  And again.  And again.

3. Future Information Technology Needs.  You are no doubt aware of the marvelous calculating machines invented by Archimedes and his followers.  I have had the opportunity to view the remains of one that was sadly shipwrecked on a sea voyage.

When intact this Device could rapidly determine the positions of Celestial Bodies, and the dates of intermittent events such as eclipses and the Olympic Games.  I suggest you seek out, finance and encourage the makers of such wondrous machines.  They are clever fellows and much future good will come from their further efforts.

But beware.  One day the cleverest of these fellows will come to you.  He will announce that a Terrible Event called "The Y One K" will be upon you in a few short centuries.  He will further state that he can solve all of your problems with something he describes as an "Operating System".  He will proudly name it "Fenestrae" (Windows).

Have him executed on the spot.


James said...

As an IT professional for the fed/gov, I find this genius. As for the last sentence (have him executed at once), I remember a contest Art Bell ran in 1999 on his radio show. It was: if the Internet were to awaken and become sentient, what's the first thing it would say? The winner as picked by Bell: "delete tree windows."
We should have been so lucky . . .

Tacitus2 said...

Not sure I believe it, but according to google translate Ctrl Alt Delete comes out in Latin as:

Maximum accidit turpis