Theremin Longevity

Posted: 3/19/2006 6:56:39 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I've taken an evening out of my schedule to think about the future. (this is something I do from time to time - I am interested in the notion of The Long Now (

(In brief - people mostly think about Now - today, tomorrow and yesterday, and occasionally about Nowadays - this decade, the last decade, the next decade, and far too seldom about the very long term - about the effects of their decisions and actions on the future and the lessons of history. This is The Long Now - right now, the last ten thousand years, the next ten thousand years.)

So last year I made the first annual entry in a ten thousand year diary, the Diary of the Long Now (

(In short - if someone had started such a diary 10,000 years ago, the first entry might have read "So they have this new thing called civilisation now. I wonder how that will develop. Darn cold again today. How long is an ice age supposed to last anyway?" I think I'd want to read the rest!)

Last year I did not have a very clear idea of what I wanted to put in the diary, so I waffled a bit, but this year I have had longer to think about it and have a very clear idea.

I want to make it more likely that they will still have theremins in the year 12005, by putting a description of how a theremin works in the diary.

For this I ask your assistance.

What I want is a description of a theremin in one thousand words or fewer, written in simple, non-technical English (so that it can be easily rewritten from time to time as the language changes over the centuries,) that contains sufficient information that a skilled electrical engineer could recreate a heterodyning, two antenna theremin that behaved as present-day theremins do.

Is there anyone who would like to help me in this?

Gordon C

Posted: 3/23/2006 8:53:12 AM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

The Wiki entry is pretty good for your criteria. Who knows if it lasts 10,000 years the wiki would be the kinda living journal you're dreaming of.
Posted: 3/23/2006 4:59:19 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Gordon, what makes that you think that your diary (or even for that matter the Internet) will survive 10,000 years? Do you plan to bury it in a time capsule or something?

Posted: 3/23/2006 5:49:32 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi Charlie,

I do not know that it will survive, of course, but I am taking precautions to avoid its destruction or decay, by having multiple backups looked after by friends in different locations, by keeping it in an easily reproducible format, currently CD-ROM, and a manually reproducible format, on paper. These media will not last that long, so backups are checked for integrity every year and replaced before necessary. I have arranged for a successor, as I will not last that long either.

My hope is that the longer it survives, the more valued it will become as an heirloom so that appropriate care will continue to be taken of it by successive trustees, and so that they will be increasingly inclined to make entries - if someone entrusted you with a diary that was, say, three hundred years old, wouldn't you set aside just one or two evenings each year for the sake of keeping it going?

As noted in my original post it is most likely that language will evolve during that period, so I also hope that future trustees will rewrite earlier pages into modern language from time to time.

I also note that the more people start a long diary, the more likely it is that at least one will survive. :-)
Posted: 3/23/2006 7:27:50 PM

From: Portland, OR, USA, Terra, Sol, Milkyway

Joined: 3/1/2005

Hey GordonC, While your trying to preserve documentation for long periods of time, here is something interesting I found on the web that sort of applies to this. :)

Instructions for Meeting Time Travellers (
Posted: 3/29/2006 1:38:48 PM

From: COWafornia

Joined: 3/23/2005

Some of what is asked in the document is paramount to the distruction of public property. While an interesting idea much of what is said is illinformed. You idea to make copies on paper is a good one. CDs will not last another 10 years. Check google for document preservation.
Posted: 3/29/2006 4:54:11 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

" paramount to the distruction of public property"

I take it you mean the "meeting time travellers" document, not my Long Diary. I'm aware of the lifetime of CDs - point is, pretty much nothing is guaranteed to last long enough. But CD-ROM is easy and cheap to copy - replacing it every five years would not be a hardship. And hopefully future media will have better lifespans.
Posted: 3/16/2007 7:53:46 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

I know I'm really late getting to this thread, but if you're going to have a paper document last for ten thousand years, you'll need to enclose it in a hermetically sealled container with it's air replaced with nitrogen, and helium. This is being done with some of history's most vital documents today. You can't be going into the document to check it every year as this will introduce oxidation, and microbial contamination.

As for CDs not lasting another 10 years, well that's true, mainly due to format changes, and evin if you provided a playback device, a cd ROM won't evin last that long, a few years if you're lucky, because the dye fades over a few years. An actual CD master will last about 80 to 100 years maybe more, and a CD like what you buy with music on it will laast about 15 to 25 years depending on conditions due to microbial consumption, and oxidation of the aluminium layer of the disc.

A master disc made of solid gold might last ten thousand years, but the player sure won't, it's parts will oxidize long before then, and those who find it, will likely put a string through the disc, and wear it as a secred ornament, or worship it, or something, and use the player as a safe place to keep the disc.

There's no telling if all of what we know might be wiped out, with humanity starting all over from sticks, and stones, or if we'll thrive, and continue to enlighten eachother with fantastic new discoveries, and rediscovering things like our theremins.

If you want the theremin to survive ten thousand years, you're going to have to give up a diary, and go for a gold plated, or solid gold monolith bearing deeply engrave pictograms of a theremin, it's circuits, and it's use. Here again it must be pointed out that none of our languages will be around that long. Just look at how much just the English language has changed just within two hundred years, and now books are starting to appear in text message formats. Who knows what's next.

Pictures, and diagrams are your best bet, but then who's to say they'll evin know how to make the parts, let alone know how to process the raw matter need to make those componants.

The best we can possibly hope for is to put a theremin, the diary, and a hand cranked generator in a hermetically sealed monolithic container bearing the pictograms on it, and establish a sort of protectorate to be charged with guarding it throughout the next ten thousand years, and would pass on the information to future generations. A contingincy plan would have to include burrying it if need be.

Heck, I'd be willing to take a crack at drawing the pictograms, but what do I know about these things? I just play the theremin.

I wish you luck with this rather fascinating monumental legacy.

Thomas Grillo
Posted: 3/17/2007 6:08:04 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi Thomas - no I'm not going to have a paper document last ten thousand years. That would not work. But the information on a sheet of paper could survive by being passed from generation to generation.

Consider the Issei Shrine (a Shinto temple) - which is rebuilt from scratch every twenty years. It is thousands of years old and looks good as new. Compare it to Stonehenge. Erosion is taking its toll and now it too needs constant maintenance.

There could still be an Issei Shrine long after Stonehenge has crumbled to dust.

What are the odds of a single diary being maintained and renewed over the course of ten thousand years? Slim. But the chances are doubled if there are two diaries.

So if you do think it's a good idea, then start your own Long Now diary. It's only once a year after all. And make it something your children will treasure and care for, and pass on to their children in turn.

And if enough people do it, the probability of the information surviving in some form or another tend will toward certainty.
Posted: 3/17/2007 9:17:08 AM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Hi, I like the idea of reproducing the data, and frequent restoration of the storage facility. Provided people are willing to continue the effort, your idea has a high chance of succeeding.

Sounds interesting.

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