A little of what you fancy…

Figure 1 from United States patent #1,773,079 ...

Figure 1 from United States patent #1,773,079 issued to Clarence Birdseye for the production of quick-frozen fish. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My wife regularly asks me a question such as what do you fancy for dinner tomorrow night, which seems a bit like asking me where I want to go on holiday the year after next. I simply don’t know. I can tell you what I feel like now or whether I liked what I just ate but asking me what’s going to tickle my culinary fancy tomorrow is a bit of a stretch.

I can’t imagine there were too many such conversations in the Neanderthal household. Back in those days, what you ate came down to what you could grow or catch. If you fancied something meaty it came down to whether you could run faster than this evening’s dinner. Once the nasty business of killing was out of the way, you had to peel your meal – removing any fur or feathers. Before fire was discovered, having rare meat was not a choice, it was a necessity. I don’t think I’d have lived too long unless a met a particularly feisty cave girl.

With bartering came a lot more choice. Instead of doing everything yourself, you had the option of sharpening your neighbour’s axe in exchange for a chicken or hiring out your feisty cave girl for something more exotic in return. No-one really moved around that much, so communities were still restricted to what lay within easy reach.

With more mobility came more choice still. Knowing that rarity breeds value, smart people with orchards went to where there were no orchards and exchanged their goods. As transportation technology evolved, foodstuffs could be moved further and further. Unfortunately, most food has a shelf life and perishability determined how far they could travel. Salt became the preservative of choice or food was cured or pickled in some way.

People eventually worked out that keeping foods cold helped to keep them for longer. In the beginning, there were no artificial cryogenics available, so large blocks of slowly melting ice in cool rooms had to suffice. Once the humming white box in the corner had been developed, there was no stopping us. Everything was frozen from vegetables to meat and a whole new selection of sweets became available for the first time. Legend has it a certain Captain Birdseye realised on a polar fishing expedition that food frozen quickly tasted so much better than the stuff that was left in the icebox to cool down on its own.

Of course, now that the other side of the planet can be reached in a mere 24 hours, pretty much any delicacy from anywhere in the world is available in a choice of high street supermarkets all year round. Ecologically, this is a disaster. There is every chance that if you choose the right (or wrong depending on your point of view) choice, the carbon footprint of your evening meal could be several thousand tonnes. All this explains why our fridge and freezer are rammed full of a multiplicity of ingredients – hence my wife’s insistent question!


A brief history of warfare

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Malay Wikipedia for the 44th week, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over time, the human race has devoted a lot of energy to finding creative new ways to hurt or kill each other. Back in the dragging women back to the cave by their hair days, sticks and stones were the order of the day. Plentiful and easily fashioned, these devices would do the job but it would be messy and time consuming. Not only that, but if both of you are similarly armed, regardless of the victor, it’s highly likely you will both be hurting afterwards. Sooner or later, one bright caveman realised that if you took a very small, sharp stone and attached it to a stick, it could be thrown some distance with accuracy. Once the spear had been invented, cavemen no longer had to fight at such close quarters.

Sharpened flints were all well and good, but they were a bit crude. When metals were discovered, weapons could be much more strong and finely constructed. The sword became the order of the day. Some of them were sharp and some of them were heavy, but they were all effective. In response to this, metalworkers developed armour and shields. In order to breech the armour, bows and arrows and crossbows came about. Nothing struck fear into the heart of a warrior in plate mail armour than a crossbowman.

For a time, occupiers built castles which were a hardy defence to most of the weapons of the day. With the advent of gunpowder and cannons, the balance of power changed yet again. The walls could be easily breached and deadly missiles could rain down into the interior of the castle. Muskets and rifles reduced the skill level required of the average foot soldier and increased his range.

During world war I, there were a number of advancements. Aeroplanes were used for reconnaissance and later for bombing missions. Once the bombers became enough of a nuisance, fighters were developed. The most famous of which being Baron von Richthofen in his glorious red Fokker DR1 triplane. Trench warfare was the order of the day. The only way to advance was to assemble a large number of men and go “over the top”. With the advent of the machine gun, such tactics were stopped in their tracks. A well aimed machine gun operated by a handful of men could take out hundreds of soldiers. In order to counter this, the tank was developed. Because it was bulletproof and had caterpillar tracks, the tank could advance with impunity.

By the time world war II started, aircraft could fly much further and could carry a lot more. It is hard to believe now, but at times during world war II, it was routine for London and Berlin, both European capital cities, to have many tons of high explosives dropped on them on a nightly basis. When you think that the slightest innocent casualty in a war today causes an outcry, it’s a sobering thought. With the advent of the V1 and V2 rockets, missile technology was well and truly here to stay. When the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan, the scene was set for the cold war.

Fast forward to the first gulf war and the tales of cruise missiles flying down streets and navigating through towns were absolutely mesmerising. By the time we got to the second gulf war, laser guided missiles meant that explosives could be delivered with pinpoint accuracy. With all this technology, sometimes the most effective weapons are the most simple and Improvised Explosive Devices (or IEDs) have been used to murderous effect by the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Weapons get more sophisticated by the day. Bullets can now go round corners and there is enough destructive power in the world’s nuclear arsenal to lay waste to our wonderful planet several times over. It is no wonder that Albert Einstein said that he had no idea what weapons would be used in world war III, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.