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October 21, 2010 AT 9:31 am

Building a Telegraph in the Wilderness

Jamie O’Shea decided to try to build a telegraph using nothing but stone-age tools. He uses nothing modern, except information. He is wearing a suit, though I suspect that is for dramatic effect — collapse of civilization and all that. Or he may just have a day job.

He writes:

Some people have viewed this project through the lens of sustainability. While self-sufficiency and locally sourced material would certainly seem to be sustainable, my methods fail quite spectacularly in environmental analysis. For one, I used an estimated 20 kg of charcoal to produce perhaps 20 g of metal. Much of this was wasted in the learning curve, but it was used just the same.

I had zero emissions control. While roasting my copper ores, I directly vented all the gases being produced. The noxious sulphur dioxide, chief precursor to acid rain,  gagged me when I got too close. Moreover, I got sick twice after this phase of the process. At first I assumed this was from the sulphur, but after further reading, my symptoms more closely resembled mild arsenic poisoning. Arsenic is a heavy metal usually found in ores of copper that sublimates away during the roasting process. So I have to issue a “don’t try this at home” warning. The only way I can see this process being described as sustainable is that I was distracted from more effective activities of consumption for 6 weeks. But this is easily canceled out by the 3 round-trip cross-continental voyages taken to complete the project.

His vimeo page is full of more detailed clips.


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3 Comments

  1. @ K Scharf: From a pragmatic standpoint, you forgot the most important part — who’s he going to talk to? Telegraphs from any era only work if there are two of them.

    But I believe this experiment is not about pragmatism, so much as it’s a a proof-of-concept exercise. And an interesting one, at that.

  2. what were those bellows made of?

  3. If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. –Carl Sagan

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