I remember reading this information many years ago but just ran across a reference to it today and thought it was worth posting as reminder to all of us just how easy it is to actually “lose” technology.

For several centuries the Western World tried to solve the mystery of “Damascus” steel, that hard, tough steel used to manufacture swords first encountered in the Middle East that were far superior to swords made in the West. Even well up into the 1900s Damascus steel remained a mystery that frustrated metallurgists worldwide.

Lo and behold the mystery was solved late in the 1900s when it was finally figured out that Damascus steel was actually what was known as Wootz steel that had been made India since well back in the first Millennium around 400 AD and was still being produced into the mid 1800s. However significant export of it to the Middle East had ended well before then and the connection between the Middle Eastern Damascus steel and the Indian source of the metal was lost.

The “secret” if you want to call it that was simply making a high carbon crucible steel (an early method of smelting) by fabricating it at extremely high temperatures and then cooling it slowly. The steel was then sold to Middle Eastern smiths who made weapons out of it since it held such a sharp edge and most importantly could be forged at low temperatures.

So the technique of making a steel that was produced for myriad centuries in India using what today would be considered primitive almost crude methods going back almost 2000 years was lost in history.

Eventually the connection between the Indian source of the steel and it’s Middle Eastern users was rediscovered and the entire story pieced together. As a result a 1600 year old techynology has been “re-discovered” after being lost for centuries.

You can go on youtube today, enter the term “Damascus Steel” and find dozens of videos demonstrating how to make it yourself from scrap steel.

While Damascus steel has been eclipsed by some of the more modern steels it still retains a place among custom knife makers and hobbyists. It is an interesting and surprising simple metal to fabricate using non-sophisticated methods.

When you glance through some of the books in the Library on other subject you have to wonder how much other technology we’re losing .


The Librarian


I finally got around to cleaning out the Individual Additions page and got all of the books listed in it moved to the appropriate categories.

I wanted to get it cleaned out since I’ve started making good progress again on getting some of the material I’ve collected cleaned up a bit, cataloged and readied to add to the Library.

A good bit of it is material to add to either new categories or existing ones. I have a Corn section that’s pretty well along and should be added before too much longer. I also have a few new encyclopedias to add to that category.

The books that will be added to existing categories will be posted in the Individual Additions page first so they can be selectively downloaded and not have to be sought out within their respective category pages.

I suppose I could mark them in the category pages as new additions but that would be a nightmare trying to track each one in each category and keep it organized since the organization process is more manual than automated.

I maintain all of the book Names, Filenames and Sizes in Excel with each category in a separate tabs. That worked fine when I started but it’s grown into a very large spreadsheet and has becoming cumbersome to maintain. It’s also a manual cut and paste process to move individual books to the separate categories in alphabetical order and recreate the index for that category.

I’m using some convenient plugins that let me just upload the html for each index into tables which can simply be referenced by number in the index pages.

What I really need to do is to move all of the data into an SQL or MySQL database then build the PHP code to generate each index page dynamically as needed.

But every time I look at that and it comes down to a choice between spending the time I have available making a nice clean, elegant database system with dynamic pages for the site or searching for more books, cleaning them up and getting them added the latter always wins out. Maybe someday when and if I retire I’ll tackle the database solution.

Until then I’ll just keep putting new stuff for existing categories into the Individual Additions page and leaving it there until I’m forced to clean it out again.

The Librarian.


The consensus of opinion on the various Sailing Directions books I ran across is that they should not be included in the Library.

From people who have nautical experience the general conclusion was that while they are interesting from a historical point of view they are not useful for navigation and are likely worse than having nothing at all.

Not being a sailor or having a great deal of sailing experience I simply couldn’t answer that myself.

Seems that shorelines change rather significantly over the years. Even tidal patterns change as the sea floor is moved about and reshaped by tides and storms. A tidal current that ran one way a decade ago may flow in a completely different pattern today.

So bottom line is I’m not going to add them to the Library. I’ve run across a number of them in different collections and rather than spend time on them I’ll focus on other more useful material.

The Librarian

p.s. Thanks to everyone who contacted me to comment on the material and it’s usefulness. (or rather the lack thereof)


While searching through some collections of book on Sailing I’ve run across a lot of books titled “Sailing Directions for…” and then various geographic areas.

Here’s a partial list of some I’ve got:
Sailing Directions for Canadian Shores of Lake Ontario 1921
Sailing Directions for Lake Michigan 1894
Sailing Directions for Nova Scotia 1891
Sailing Directions for the Bristol Channel 1879

Not being a sailor or doing much sailing I have to ask for some input from the Library Patrons who do sail or know something about manual navigation and sea travel especially in littoral areas.

Are such books of any potential value?

I’m sure they make reference to lighthouses and beacons that no longer exist but would the general description of the land, the currents, weather patterns, depths, channels, passages and so be of value to someone having to navigate completely without modern navigational equipment or charts?

Would all of those characteristics of the shorelines have changed so much over the intervening time as to make the information not just useless but potentially worse than no information at all.

Not being able to come up with a conclusion myself that I trust I have to ask for some guidance as to whether these are worth collecting and posting.

Here’s an excerpt from the Sailing Directions for the Bristol Channel 1879 to give you a sense of the kind of information they contain.

Freshwater Bay – From Sheep Island, described on p. 50 in connexion with the entrance to Milford haven, bold cliffs extend for 2 miles in a SE direction, the shore then turning out nearly at right angles 2 1/2 miles for Linney head. Between is Freshwater Bay with its sandy foreshore. Bluck’s pool in the southeast corner has on its northern side a spit of shelving rock named the Pole…

Just not sure what to do with these. Do I ignore them and pass on by them or are they worth collecting and posting?

The Librarian


Ever since I put the 1918 Encyclopedia American online back a year or so ago I have been keeping an eye out for the missing Vol 24.

I never had any luck tracking it down though until one of you found a copy of it online at a small Russian site. Since that volume contains the entries about Russia someone there must have put it up for personal reasons.

Since the site is in Russian and my Russian is quite poor (i.e. virtually nil) I can’t really determine why it was posted.

Nonetheless I have it downloaded. It was a series of over 900 .png files. I converted them all to jpgs, did a little cleanup on them, then combined them into a PDF file which is now online.

The direct link to it is:


The Librarian


I’ve gotten the Potato and Sweet Potato Category uploaded and online.

I think it sort of goes without saying that potatoes and sweet potatoes would be a staple crop in the aftermath of a collapse. They are both foods that are easy to grow, grow most places and are capable of sustaining life however bland it may be.

In the recent movie The Martian the hero survives a long unintended stay on Mars on nothing but potatoes.

In Ireland during the mid 1800s a potato blight led to a massive migration of Irish citizens out of Ireland. The culprit in that case being the monoculture of a single variety of potato that when struck by a single disease threatened an entire country with starvation.

And those of you who are of Irish descent can hold off on the lectures about how it was actually the fault of the English landlords and the British Corn Laws. However true that may be it is a historical and socio-political issue.

The issue here is that 1.) a large percentage of the Irish population survived with potatoes as their primary food source and 2.) that the danger of monoculture in agriculture was demonstrated in the worst possible way.

Potatoes can be grown in a wide variety of soils and while they take more work than sweet potatoes they are not one of the more difficult crops to grow.

In the Southern U.S. the sweet potato has been a staple crop for generations. Unfortunately it is pretty much a Southern crop only and does not grow well in the north and colder climates. In many areas they are grown as food for livestock or deer. Though once spurned as a food fit only for the poor today they often spoken of as one of those super foods that will make you immortal, cure or prevent all diseases and make you appear perpetually young, beautiful and sexy just like Kale or whatever the current super food of the day is.

(I wonder how much of that is retailers discovering they can take really, really cheap foods that used to be fed to the cows and pigs and through clever marketing and an appearance on Doctor Oz turn it into the pet rock of the day? All marketers aspire to equal the marketing success of the man who sold people common rocks to the public as “pets” and made millions doing it.)

In a world trying to survive after a collapse potatoes and sweet potatoes are some of the food staples that will feed the survivors and provide the surpluses needed to start rebuilding. No seeds are required. Growing them is fairly easy. The soil and fertilizer requirements are much less stringent than many other crops and they grow in a wide variety of climates.

While the books in the Library on Farming in general are vital for non-farmers, books specifically on Potato and Sweet Potato growing add some needed depth for a couple particular crops that would be of extreme importance to survivors.

The Librarian


I’m going to post this link and let you read it and or not as you like. It addresses what a lot of people who use the Library instinctively feel. They may not know why they feel it. They may not be able to put it in words as Dreher does but they feel it nonetheless.

And before you start composing a screed to condemn me for posting Christian or Conservative oriented material consider that the feeling he speaks of is not unique to Christians or Conservatives. A lot of Liberals are just as uneasy about the direction the country has been going for a long time before Trump was elected.

This falls neatly into the recent category I added on Monasticism. Perhaps there is a bit of synchronicity involved.

What Dreher is advocating or at least putting forward as an idea for discussion and consideration is that the time to start forming communities separated from the “world” is not after a collapse occurs but before. I don’t believe he is talking about luxury survival compounds in an old missile silos or redoubts in the mountains of Northern Idaho but simply community of like minded individuals.

He does addresses the subject purely from a Christian perspective. The namesake of his idea is St Benedict who is a Christian Saint. Personally though I don’t believe the issues of which he speaks are limited to Christians. They affect people of several different faiths whose morality conflicts with the modern ideas of Moral Relativism and the perspective that belief in God is simply a lifestyle choice like being Vegan.

In any event take a moment and read his article. If nothing else it will provide some food for thought.


The Librarian

P.S. One of the Library’s patrons in Russia found a copy of the missing Encyclopedia Americana Vol 24 1918 on a site in Russia and provided the link. I’ve got it downloaded and it will be added to the Encyclopedia Category as soon as possible. Unfortunately each of the 900+ page is in a separate lower resolution .png file as occasionally occurs with older books. I’m going to reprocess them into a higher resolution jpg files then combine them into a PDF like the rest of the volumes. Once it’s done I’ll add it directly to the Encyclopedia Category to complete the Encyclopedia America 1918 Collection. There are techniques for taking lower resolution images of text and converting them to higher resolution, more easily readable/printable text but they are extremely cpu intensive processes and take a lot of time. Mostly it’s setting up the processing routines then letting them run a day or two. They then have to be checked visually and a fair number of pages tweaked. Good time to listen to music or an audio book.


I’m currently working on a new Category on Potato and Sweet Potato Cultivation.

It’s about a hundred books on the lowly but important potato with a few on the sweet potato, which isn’t really a potato nor a yam but since we think of them as potatoes and often call them yams I’m going with the popular usage.

I’m reminded of the recent movie The Martian in which Matt Damon is stranded on Mars and his sole food source for his stay is of course… potatoes.

It’s taking longer than I expected to get it cataloged and ready since there’s a high proportion of the books which have minor problems.

They’re all PDFs as usual but a number of them have minor corruption issues. The problems don’t prevent them from being read but can cause problems if you try to print them or clean them up for printing. So I’m reprocessing them like I do with most books to clear up the problems.

The basic process involved is to dump every page of the document as a high resolution jpg file then recombine all of the images into a new PDF file. The resulting file is, of course, YUGE so it has to be optimized and otherwise reduced in size while still maintaining as good a quality as possible within the constraints of reasonable size. That last step can take several tries before I’m satisfied with it.

Usually I only run into one or two of these in a collection but this time I’ve already reprocessed 5 of them and still have a dozen or so to go through and check. Irritating thing is that the ones with problems are naturally the largest ones. I’ve got a 600+ page one dumping to jpg format at the moment.

Hopefully it should be up early next week.

The Librarian


Someone sent me this link this morning with a smiley face after it and I understood once I started reading it.

It was really hilarious in a sad sort of way. Nice to have some comic relief on a Thursday morning. You’re well into the week, past the hump but still a full day to go before you get to Friday.

14 Items You Need to Survive the Apocalypse In Style

I’m really not sure whether the author was writing tongue-in-cheek or was serious but it’s still a fun read.

14 items you absolutely need to be self sufficient after an apocalypse.

Problem is about half of them are sophisticated technological systems that are complex, difficult to repair even if you have the requisite knowledge and IF they require repair will need spare parts you are NOT going to find lying around most homes. Not are they likely to be available for barter.

Solar panels are highly sophisticated products of a highly advanced industrial infrastructure. There’s a reason the Romans and the Greeks and Industrial Age Britain and the Civil War era U.S. did not use solar panels. They require materials that simply do not exist in nature but must be manufactured using highly sophisticated machines.

In a world where the infrastructure is broken there are no spares. There are no more solar panels. There are no more golf cart spare parts. There are no more freezer compressors.

While all these things would be a great convenience for few years they might last all they do is put off the inevitable day when you have to actually become self sufficient and learn to make do with what YOU personally can manufacture or can produce to swap with your neighbor who cane manufacture something you can’t.

The way to survive the breakdown of advanced technology is to… buy more advanced technology??

May I humbly suggest the way to survive a breakdown of technology is to spend the time and effort to learn some of the basis of survival WITHOUT advanced technology.

The Librarian