SMOKE: The Greatest Invention Ever
Originally published: 12 April 2005
I was chatting to Tashi the other night about great inventions and we started trying to come up with the most significant invention of all time.
Seems obvious at first, doesn't it? Without Rizlas...
I got hung up on the wheel for a while - it is arguably the greatest invention ever since it provided not only means for transport and thus expansion, but it also turned the world of agriculture on its head.
People were able to travel further distances by road, which opened up inland trade routes. It was the first instance of the world getting connected and making the place a little smaller.
But if you're going to start arguing for the wheel then you would need to start looking at other ancient inventions - like the bow and arrow, for example, or the plough. There are numerous other inventions that propelled primitive societies forwards and had they not been invented the world would not be where it is today.
I'm no expert on ancient inventions and their significance to our modern world, so I thought I'd rather look at modern inventions - anything developed since the current calendar began 2005 years ago.
You could actually argue that the calendar was the greatest invention, since it formalised time and gave it a nice symmetry that the whole world could run by.
But then you could argue that the clock was a more important invention since everything - from our daily lives to the most sophisticated space programmes - uses clocks in some way.
The structuring of time is important for global business synchronisation, for reaching other planets with space probes, hell - even the Olympics would be redundant without time. You ran how fast? Prove it.
The understanding of time is crucial to not only improving life on Earth, but for investigating the rest of the universe as well.
As we develop in knowledge and sophistication we are going to branch out into the greater mysteries of our universe and time will play a crucial role in furthering our expansion to other solar systems and who knows - possibly other universes as well.
Some bloke sat down one day and plotted 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour and so forth and another oke worked out how to make the mechanism to make it standard (the clock).
That oke has got to take some credit for what he started - 24 hours in a day may seem pretty obvious to us now, but once time was simply told by the sun and moon.
Which would have made it pretty difficult to work out what time to phone the bank to get your cheque cleared on the last Friday of the month, which in turn would lead to nasty weekends allround in which you scrape the last few remnants of Marmite together for a meal or two.
So time - clocks, calendars and otherwise - is definitely right up there on my list of greatest inventions since Jesus.
But what about electricity? Can you imagine a world in which once it's dark you're screwed? No telly, no movies, no light (a pitch dark world), no communication that doesn't involve the beating of drums or the controlling of smoke - a seriously primitive world, in fact.
Back to the dark ages, for want of a better pun.
What good is electricity without anything to read, however? No point having a lightbulb so that you can sit and stare at the wall until 10pm before going to bed.
Plenty of people argue for the movable type printing press being the greatest modern invention since it allowed knowledge to be disseminated to places it would never have previously reached.
That dissemination of intelligence - the thoughts and philosophies and theories and practical solutions of brilliant minds - directly contributed to a greater human intelligence, which propelled us forwards like never before.
But how useful would printing presses have been without paper? Papyrus was used as early as 3000BC by the Egyptians, but it was only in 105 AD that some Chinese dude invented paper and thus it qualifies as a modern invention.
Paper provided the canvas for all that great knowledge and allowed it to be recorded over the ages for future scholars to learn from and improve.
Despite modern digitization of information paper is still far more crucial to our world than hard drives - in the event of electronic breakdown paper could still be used to record, amongst other things, history.
But paper is boring. It's never going to make it to the top of my list of greatest inventions.
I mean - many regard the lateen sail as one of the greatest inventions. It was the first sail that wasn't in a square shape (it was a triangle) and which had a boom, which meant for the first time ever ships could sail into the wind and not just rely on its mercy.
Before the lateen sail (and the accompanying compass and rudder) ships couldn't be out of sight of land, or they wouldn't have been able to navigate.
That made exploration possible, which lead to colonisation of all parts of the globe and the introduction of sea trade routes. The Age of Discovery would never have happened without the lateen sail and we would still be hunting for witches in Salem.
But the lateen sail is as interesting as a pair of old britches, so it can't be the greatest thing ever either.
Perhaps little more impressive is the steam train, which spawned the industrial revolution. It was the industrial revolution that kicked modern technology into overdrive and provided the biggest step forward for humanity since, well, the wheel.
Before the steam train the world was hostage to animal power, but once it became possible to haul industrial material long distances by rail or steamship the possibilities became endless.
The lightbulb gave us light, the aeroplane gave us wings, the telephone gave us personal communication across the world and penicillin saved more lives than any other drug in human history.
All great inventions. But none of them come close to my winner of greatest ever invention: KPPP headache powders.
Don't laugh now - I'm being serious.
You probably won't have heard of them because aside from myself there's only one other person in the world - that I'm aware of - who knows of them.
You could only get them at one place (an Engen convenience store in upper Claremont) for a period of no more than about 18 months in the late 90s before they disappeared, never to be seen nor heard of again.
It's a galactic anomaly - of that I'm convinced.
I was introduced to them by a friend who lived near that Engen, and who one night - in a fever of pain - stumbled down to the shop and decided (for reasons known only to himself) that instead of taking the regular route of Panado and Disprin he was going to try something different.
Anything to kill the severe pain, which was emanating from a rotted tooth.
He swore on his life that just one KPPP powder took all his pain away in five seconds flat, and naturally I was skeptical. I've been through a vast mill of painkillers over the last decade on account of my back problems and operation in 1997, and I have yet - correction: had yet - to find a single painkiller that completely and utterly relieved my pain.
KPPP powders are almost exactly the same as Grandpa headache powders - you get a small amount of powder in a paper sleeve and you pour it onto your tongue before flushing it down with a gurgle of water.
I hate Grandpas - they are highly addictive and immensely destructive to a number of your vital organs and for the whole month before my back operation my pain was so bad I was taking up to 20 Grandpa powders a day.
Nothing else even faintly obscured the pain, but the price I paid was heavy - my guts were ruined and my colon turned spastic and a month or two ago I urinated a kidney stone - and Grandpas are guaranteed to cause you kidney stones.
If you've ever passed a kidney stone you'll know that mere screaming in agony isn't enough - it's like someone dragged a rusty fish hook through the length of your urethra.
One night I had a severe headache - I tried my stock of Myprodol and Disprin but nothing worked, so acting on an informed hunch - and no doubt out of desperation - I got in the car, drove to that Engen and bought myself a handful of KPPP powders.
When I got home I took one to start with, but didn't have time to open the second before I noticed that my headache was gone. I don't mean it had started waning - it was gone. Like it never existed.
It was just like my friend said - instant, total relief. I couldn't believe it. We'd found the miracle drug.
I tried KPPP powders on a number of other occasions and each time the result was the same. My mate and I took the liberty of comparing the properties of the powder with that of Grandpas, and the comparison was way off the charts.
I can't remember what the specific ingredients were, but I remember they were in far higher dosage. There were also one or two ingredients that weren't on the Grandpa list.
Back pain - banished. Headaches - no more.
And that's why it's the greatest invention ever, because every single person in the world gets a headache at some stage, and not one single person enjoys having that headache.
Having a headache leads to loss of productivity, lost man hours, wasted money, extra stress, suicide and accidental death. If everyone had a headache every day the world would fall apart - unless they hauled out their KPPP powders.
Those powders disappeared one night and I've never found them since. Indeed, I haven't yet met one other person who has heard of them. I've tried researching them but have come up with blanks everywhere I look - there is no trace of them in existence.
Maybe they were bought up by one of the big pharmaceutical companies with a rival product and destroyed in an Illuminati-like conspiracy of silence and fear.
Maybe they were planted by some top secret government agency as a silent test on unwitting subjects and withdrawn because folks started spitting up blood and sprouting third limbs.
I have no idea. All I know is that once they existed and now they don't, and I may be one of only two people in the history of humankind who can attest to the fact that they are the greatest invention ever.
Since Jesus, at any rate.
All Smoked Out,