Attila The Hun lives. He's a bus driver in Budapest. I know this for a fact. He drove me around that city.
Let me explain.
Recently, my wife and I vacationed in Budapest, Vienna, and Prague, all beautiful and very old cities. We were on a tour, and we traveled in and among those cities on a bus. The driver's name was Attila, a common name in the area. He was Hungarian. Attila the Hungarian. Attila The Hun.
But, this particular Attila was no barbarian. He was the perfect chauffeur in these cities with so much medieval and modern history. He knew where to go, how to get there, and, with the official tour guide, a Romanian named Sherban, just enough history to spark our interest. Want to see the six-hundred-year-old, gear-driven Astronomical Clock in Prague? They could take you there. Looking for the site of the gold-plated statue of Strauss in Vienna? Got you covered. Where did the '56 uprising start in Budapest? Right over here.
They were somewhat less knowledgeable about the history of technology development in the area. For example, they couldn't tell you much about how that Astronomical Clock worked. But, of course, no one on the tour expected them to be experts on that score. They did point out one engineering fact, however, that drove me to the web for more information: the lack of toilet facilities in the original castles. You've probably never thought about that. I never did either. But those original castle owners—and their neighbors—probably thought about it a lot. Toilets are a subject worthy of our consideration because their emergence marked a major milestone in the development of civilization.
Toilets as we know them are a quite recent invention. Certainly, there were primitive sanitation facilities in ancient times. In 2500 BC, one city in India had a drainage system where wastewater from each house flowed into a main drain. But until the invention of the water closet by John Harrington in 1596, castle dwellers used rooms that protruded out of the top floor, with the waste dropping through a hole straight to the river below. In 1738, the valve-type toilet debuted and in 1870 came the flush toilet, the invention of one S. S. Helior. And there the technology has stood, or sat. The most significant advances since are in aesthetics.
All that history comes from an intriguing website you should check out: www.sulabhtoiletmuseum.org. It's for a toilet museum. Yes, there really is one, in New Delhi, India.
You may note that the website contains no mention of John Crapper, to whom folklore attributes the invention of the flush toilet. Not so, says the website www.takeourword.com. Mr. Crapper made flush toilets, but he didn't invent them. And, his first name was Thomas, not John, which kind of undercuts that common American expression many use to say where they are going when they excuse themselves.
Now lest you think that web searches about toilets are a waste of time, think again. Sanitation systems include a great deal of technology. Check out the papers from the International Symposium on Public Toilets held in Hong Kong this year.
The website www.plumbingworld.com has this introduction on its home page: "When you consider the contributions that plumbing and sanitation make to the quality of our lives, then much of the other things we do just seems so much less significant." Well, that certainly puts the Mars mission in perspective.