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kottke.org posts about tools

A world-historical theory of tool use

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 16, 2018

early tools.jpg

I love reading and rereading about the origin of humanity. I love that it’s not settled science: we’re still making new discoveries about when humans first left Africa, how and when we interbred with other hominins, and what makes us human in the first place. It’s just the coolest story, which is also every story.

Popular Science has a really nice new primer on the current state of research on early humanity. Embedded in it is a series of studies on tool use by early humans in Kenya that caught my attention. Basically, the tools got smaller and more portable, the materials used were more exotic (sourced from farther away), and they were decorated with pigments.

“That’s where there’s a similarity to technology in recent times; things start out big and clunky and they get small and portable,” says Richard Potts, head of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program and a co-author of the papers. “The history [of] technology has been the same ever since.”

I wonder, though, if all three vectors hold up across history: greater portability, greater range of materials, and greater decorative value.

I suspect the null hypothesis would be that technologies that work tend to stay roughly the same over time. (For most of early human history, our tools didn’t change up that much, which is exactly why the burst of activity in east Africa is noteworthy.) You need something to shake things up: either sudden availability of new materials, or a deprivation of old ones (like the Bronze Age collapse, which eventually helped usher in the Iron Age).

As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

“One of the things we see is that around 500,000 years ago in the rift valley of southern Kenya, all hell breaks loose. There’s faulting that occurs, and earthquake activity was moving the landscape up and down. The climate record shows there is a stronger degree of oscillation between wet and dry. That would have disrupted the predictability of food and water, for those early people,” Potts says. “It’s exactly under those conditions that almost any organism—but especially a hunter-gatherer human, even an early one—would begin to expand geography of obtaining food or obtaining resources. It’s under those conditions that you begin to run into other groups of hominins and you become aware of resources beyond your usual boundaries.”

The web’s most useful tools and sites

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 19, 2017

The World Wide Web isn’t all fun and games. This isn’t television! This isn’t an arcade! This is computing! We’ve got high-powered work machines tuned into this thing! With keyboards and mice and productivity software and everything!

These are the most useful tools and sites on the web, as nominated by the readers of Kottke.org:

WORDS
Thesaurus.com
Linguee
Online Etymology Dictionary (three different people suggested this! which suggests to me that y’all are my kind of people)
Green’s Dictionary of Slang
Behind the Name (which is a baby name site I think?)
Wiktionary
OneLook

TIME AND WEATHER
Time.is
Time and Date
Weather Underground
ABC 13 Southeast Texas Weather (from a reader who lives in Houston)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (this site is very cool)

KNOWLEDGE REPOSITORIES
Baseball Reference
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Wikimedia Commons
Wikipedia
Old Maps Online
Internet Archive/Wayback Machine
BOOOOOOOM

CONTENT DISCOVERY
Digg
Nowness
Metafilter
Kottke (you’re already here)
Can I Stream It?
TV Muse

CODING AND DESIGN STUFF
Tampermonkey
Stack Overflow
CopyPasteCharacter
Cool Tools
0 to 255
Wordmark.it
Random Password Generator
Google Fusion Tables

SAVE IT FOR LATER
Pocket
Ffffound!
FutureMe.org (write a letter to yourself in the future)

SOLVING UNUSUAL PROBLEMS
This to That (Glue Advice)
Soapcalc (Making soap)
waifu2x (Anime character generator)
Random Oblique Strategies Online

BROWSER EXTENSIONS
Shut Up (hides comments)
OneTab (collapses all your browser tabs into a sortable, exportable list)

SEARCH ENGINES
Google, Craigslist, DuckDuckGo, the usual crap

A lot of you seem like you have really cool jobs.

(A special thank you to Google Forms for making this possible.)