And that's all very true. The physicians of the ancient world — especially the Egyptians, who started medicine as we know it — were very conscious of what they could and couldn't treat. And the translations of the surviving texts say, "This I will not treat. This I cannot treat. So were the followers of Hippocrates. The Hippocratic manuscripts also — repeatedly, according to recent studies — show how important it is not to do harm. More recently, Harvey Cushing, who really developed neurosurgery as we know it, who changed it from a field of medicine that had a majority of deaths resulting from surgery to one in which there was a hopeful outlook, he was very conscious that he was not always going to do the right thing.
But he did his best, and he kept meticulous records that let him transform that branch of medicine. Now if we look forward a bit to the 19th century, we find a new style of technology. What we find is, no longer simple tools, but systems. We find more and more complex arrangements of machines that make it harder and harder to diagnose what's going on. And the first people who saw that were the telegraphers of the midth century, who were the original hackers.
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Thomas Edison would have been very, very comfortable in the atmosphere of a software firm today. And these hackers had a word for those mysterious bugs in telegraph systems that they called bugs.
That was the origin of the word "bug. Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain, was a big investor in the most complex machine of all times — at least until — registered with the U. Patent Office. That was the Paige typesetter. The Paige typesetter had 18, parts. The patent had 64 pages of text and figures. It was such a beautiful machine because it did everything that a human being did in setting type — including returning the type to its place, which was a very difficult thing.
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And Mark Twain, who knew all about typesetting, really was smitten by this machine. Unfortunately, he was smitten in more ways than one, because it made him bankrupt, and he had to tour the world speaking to recoup his money. And this was an important thing about 19th century technology, that all these relationships among parts could make the most brilliant idea fall apart, even when judged by the most expert people.
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Now there is something else, though, in the early 20th century that made things even more complicated. And that was that safety technology itself could be a source of danger. The lesson of the Titanic, for a lot of the contemporaries, was that you must have enough lifeboats for everyone on the ship. And this was the result of the tragic loss of lives of people who could not get into them. However, there was another case, the Eastland, a ship that capsized in Chicago Harbor in , and it killed people — that was 14 more than the passenger toll of the Titanic.
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The reason for it, in part, was the extra life boats that were added that made this already unstable ship even more unstable. And that again proves that when you're talking about unintended consequences, it's not that easy to know the right lessons to draw.
It's really a question of the system, how the ship was loaded, the ballast and many other things. So the 20th century, then, saw how much more complex reality was, but it also saw a positive side. It saw that invention could actually benefit from emergencies. It could benefit from tragedies. And my favorite example of that — which is not really widely known as a technological miracle, but it may be one of the greatest of all times, was the scaling up of penicillin in the Second World War.
Penicillin was discovered in , but even by , no commercially and medically useful quantities of it were being produced. A number of pharmaceutical companies were working on it. They were working on it independently, and they weren't getting anywhere. And the Government Research Bureau brought representatives together and told them that this is something that has to be done. And not only did they do it, but within two years, they scaled up penicillin from preparation in one-liter flasks to 10,gallon vats. That was how quickly penicillin was produced and became one of the greatest medical advances of all time.
In the Second World War, too, the existence of solar radiation was demonstrated by studies of interference that was detected by the radar stations of Great Britain. So there were benefits in calamities — benefits to pure science, as well as to applied science and medicine. Now when we come to the period after the Second World War, unintended consequences get even more interesting. And my favorite example of that occurred beginning in , when it was discovered that the bacteria causing Legionnaires disease had always been present in natural waters, but it was the precise temperature of the water in heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems that raised the right temperature for the maximum reproduction of Legionella bacillus.
Well, technology to the rescue. So chemists got to work, and they developed a bactericide that became widely used in those systems. But something else happened in the early s, and that was that there was a mysterious epidemic of failures of tape drives all over the United States. And IBM, which made them, just didn't know what to do. They commissioned a group of their best scientists to investigate, and what they found was that all these tape drives were located near ventilation ducts.
What happened was the bactericide was formulated with minute traces of tin. And these tin particles were deposited on the tape heads and were crashing the tape heads. So they reformulated the bactericide. But what's interesting to me is that this was the first case of a mechanical device suffering, at least indirectly, from a human disease. So it shows that we're really all in this together.
In fact, it also shows something interesting, that although our capabilities and technology have been expanding geometrically, unfortunately, our ability to model their long-term behavior, which has also been increasing, has been increasing only arithmetically. So one of the characteristic problems of our time is how to close this gap between capabilities and foresight.
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One other very positive consequence of 20th century technology, though, was the way in which other kinds of calamities could lead to positive advances. There are two historians of business at the University of Maryland, Brent Goldfarb and David Kirsch, who have done some extremely interesting work, much of it still unpublished, on the history of major innovations.
They have combined the list of major innovations, and they've discovered that the greatest number, the greatest decade, for fundamental innovations, as reflected in all of the lists that others have made — a number of lists that they have merged — was the Great Depression. And nobody knows just why this was so, but one story can reflect something of it.
I spent many hours researching Roman and Jewish history to build a persona for Lydia and the many people she came into contact with in her long life, and have tried to make it as true to her time as possible. But it is the result of many years of experience in health care as it is known today ,in various parts of the world among different cultures having seen dreadful poverty and excess riches, also much unpleasantness and corruption between peoples, and writing this book caused me to think again about my beliefs, and it has been quite cathartic in that it has released in me quite a lot of emotions that were hidden because possibly the good old British stiff upper lip syndrome which we use to help us navigate stormy seas!
Be the first to review this book. Those things under that category were numerous ,and deprived us of many childhood delights which today are regarded as rites of passage for children. Such things as the cinema, the theatre ,dancing ,comics or even circuses were frowned upon, and we were instead ,encouraged to read those things that were good for the soul and guaranteed us ,we were told, a safe passage eventually to heaven when we expired.!
We suffered many embarrassments ,for example we were not allowed our presents on Christmas day , had to wait until Boxing Day when Christmas day fell on a Sunday,. In fact to do anything representing pleasure we felt was denied us on a Sunday, not that we could have done much, being dressed in our Sunday best bought for us at great expense in those times, by our rather impecunious parents.! We were taught in Sunday school by those of the same ilk as our parents ,the lessons designed to teach us the authority of scripture, and both the teachers and ministers of the non-conformist faiths, were treated with great respect.
In fact the minister, to we children, was God himself, and with a stern manner and voice pronounced his gospel with many incomprehensible words and listening to him on a hot day, on one unforgettable session I began to fidget as only a child can, and was taken out of the chapel, given a good smack bottom and marched back in for the rest of the service! But as I grew older ,and at the age of 14 was now at grammar school and I was learning another side to life ,that for example the world could not have been made in six days ,and if I did not believe that ,I was not going to be confined to the flames of hell as I had once been promised by a missionary home on leave from China!
As I left school with a school certificate in eight subjects, all of a good standard ,I now had to look for a job commensurate with my abilities ,but a rather narrow background to base my future life upon. Up to now I had not been taught exactly how to live ,but as a result of my home life, knew how to die!. My father was at this time was diagnosed with malignant disease and following surgery lived only a few days, leaving my mother to bring up we three boys ,and had to go out to work.
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His death was surrounded with all the practices of the church, many prayers had been said for him to no avail this struck me as disappointing, I was not really intellectually capable of understanding why this happened ,and had no concept of the meaning of prayer at that time. However I joined the nursing profession as a student in This brought me face to face with a lot of death , pain and misery , and it also brought me into contact with caring and compassionate people. A few years later during my service ,my mother met a lay preacher at her church and subsequently married him.
This finished me with the non-conformist movement ,and I eventually joined the CofE which gave me the freedom to question the faith and was non proscriptive. So my spiritual growth which had been constipated up to now, suddenly was liberated and took off, and began to grow. So I now look with some scepticism at those who claim to be the holders of the truth. I told some insistent door step preachers weeks ago that they were right! That pleased them ,but then went on to say that ,so was Hitler, Stalin , Mao ,Polpot ,Saddam Hussein and all the rest, they knew they were right, But the only man who was right, was murdered by people like them,!
That did not please them!. I wrote the first chapter as a short story, but it took me over and the stories came thick and fast into my memory ,and after a lot of research came up with a tale which showed ,I hope, another side to these well worn stories that may influence others to look at them again. But these stories were written down by somebody, first hand? I took them at face value as a child, now in my eightieth year and still a believer, have found them exiting to look at with fresh eyes ,and with experience of life as it really is.
There are a lot of hidden gems therein, and when you find them, some pearls of great price! Of recent years I have practised acupuncture ,having qualified in the art in ,but I retired when my wife died in and left me bereft ,however many of the people I treated over the years needed biblical type miracles to help them! Auguste Pare the great 17th century French physician, said that the role of a practitioner was to cure sometimes, to relieve often, but to comfort always ,the man in my story that the clever people murdered, did just that! Stay connected with Troubador on our social media feeds.
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