Hello, this is the (optional.is) quarterly newsletter. Mostly the thoughts of Brian Suda.

02021Q3 REYKJAVIK: We just passed 24h of sunlight and summer is in full swing. Our diligent weeknotes are on a regular pace, the team is vaccinated  💉💉, and we're exploring some new ideas in the summer downtime.

A few years ago, along with our friend Aitor, we started to create a series of books/magazines/newspapers around wikipedia and creative commons content. We experimented with a collection of articles curated into a printed format. Instead of you falling down a wikihole we planned to present interesting topics in a well-designed collection.

Sadly, life, work, and shipping costs put the project on the back burner. Not too waste our efforts, we're going to release a few teasers of what the idea was all about, starting with our first edition: Ancient Machines

🏺🏛⚙️ Ancient Machines

If we go back around 2000 years, we can find a plethora of ancient Greek and Chinese machines that we would recognise today.

They range from solving problems of astronomy and cartography to randomised selection processes and vending machines. It was an era of complex machines and early computing devices not seen again until the 01600s.

The astrolabe is an analog calculator capable of working out several different kinds of problems in astronomy. An early astrolabe was invented between 220 and 150 BC and was used up to the 16th Century. By moving the disk and arms around to mimic the stars, it was possible to determine your latitude.

Closely related but even more complex was the Antikythera Mechanism. Found in 01901, it is thought to have been created by Greek scientists anywhere between 200 BC to 70 BC, although others question if such complexity was achievable in that era. It tracked a four year period of astrological phenomenon and is the earliest known analog computer.

Part of the device contained 37 meshing bronze gears used to calculate the position of the moon and sun. This might be the earliest form of a differential gearing system, the same as used in cars today. The gearing allows the closer wheel to make a smaller turning radius than that of the outside.

The differential gear was put to use in the construction of the Chinese South Pointing Chariot and found it's way into other applications too.

Before these ancient machines we had Bematists. They were well trained walkers who counted their paces to estimate the distance. While they were within a small percentage of error, they were eventually replaced by Mechanical Odometers.
Instead of estimating a Bematist's step length and count, it is easier to measure the circumference of a chariot wheel and count the revolutions when travelling. This was done through a system of gears and pebbles. With each wheel revolution a gear was engaged and a pebble dropped into a bucket. Count the pebbles and that’s the number of wheel revolutions. A simple multiplication of the pebbles and circumference yields the total distance.

When it comes to democracy, the ancient Greeks built a tool called the Kleroterion. It was an analog random selection tool. Each member of the different tribes would put their name in one slot in the grid. This is the first random ordering. Depending on the number of people needed for a certain task a white die was added, representing a selection and a black die add representing a non-selection. These dice were all shaken together, the second randomisation, and pulled out in an order that corresponded to the grid of names.

The key to this invention was that it was simple, transparent and public. Everyone could see where their name was on the grid and see the dice selections. It was hard to argue the outcome when the procedure was fair.

Great Inventors

Around 2200 years ago, several famed inventors appeared, Hero of Alexandria and Ctesibius were two.

Hero invented the aeolipile, which was the first recorded steam engine, two centuries before the Industrial revolution.

He also invented the first vending machine. By inserting a coin, the weight would push down a leaver, which in turn opened a valve to release holy water. As the coin slid off the leaver, the counter weight would close the valve, stopping the flow.

Ctesibius was thought to be the first head of the Library of Alexandria. He created the field of pneumatics and revolutionised the possibilities of compressed air. He improved the water clock or clepsydra ("water thief"), which for more than 1,800 years was the most accurate clock ever constructed.


We think that life two thousand years ago was devoid of technology, but as we've seen, they had working steam engines, gears, tools and conveniences we'd recognise today. We tend to make incorrect assumptions about the lives of ancient civilizations because we thought they only had primitive tools. They were creating amazing megastructures and incredibly fine, intricate tools.

This was a brief, abridged synopsis of what a short printed magazine might contain. Our goal was to craft a narrative by weaving the threads of a given topic together through a series of seemingly disparate articles. We have all the links still saved and would love to continue this idea in some form in the future.

Other Possible Editions:

  • Currency/money
  • Diplomatic incidents
  • Walled cities
  • Cultural ghosts
  • Forgeries
  • Bells
  • Micronations
Let us know if this is something you'd like to see happen. Feedback and support always help push us in the right direction.

🏢 🕰 Office Hours

Over the last year, we’ve made use of the gracious open office hours of others. We’ve booked sessions and had amazing chats. 

Open office hours are Monday evenings (our time) for the Americas and Friday mornings (our time) for the GMT folks.

We've had some great chats already. Hopefully, we’ll reconnect with more old friends, meet some new folks and have interesting discussions.

Book a time to chat

😀📅 July 17th: World Emoji Day

History of Emojis
A short 15 minute show featuring the creator of emoji, Shigetaka Kurita. Learn about the history and ideas behind the creation of emoji characters.

Need some Emoji wallpaper?
Use this random emoji background generator to quickly create a new look for your desktop, phone or any wallpaper.

Big Emojis
Pablo Sanzo upscaled 1623 emojis from 160x160px to 2560x2560px using A.I. It's 3.22 GB of pure emoji glory in PNG.


😀📅 Emoji Calendar. This is a free app to countdown to the next holiday with simple two glyph emojis. Available for iOS and Apple Watch.

Designing with Data eBooks. If you need to tell your story using data, pick up these books today. Now pay what you want pricing for epub, mobi, pdf.

Write betterer with Text Stats. An iOS app and extension to any text editor. It breaks down word count, difficult sentences, adverb overuse and more. $0.99 on the App store.

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