Since FC mentioned his and P’s latest foodie outing, I guess I can mention that, Friday night, my co-workers and I, in honor of co-workers who are leaving us for greener pastures, went to Negril Village (Carribbean food in the – what else? – Village). Food was pretty good – I had the Salmon-Crab burger, which was good. My co-worker had a roti that looked delicious. Appettizers were terrific; dessert – well, who resists dessert? (not me). The music was a little loud; bathroom was nice and pretty. (yeah, I notice that!).
A weird and interesting article on whether this Ancient Greek device might actually be a kind of computer. The NY Times’ John Noble Wilford reports:
The instrument, the Antikythera Mechanism, sometimes called the world’s first computer, has now been examined with the latest in high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography. A team of British, Greek and American researchers deciphered inscriptions and reconstructed the gear functions, revealing “an unexpected degree of technical sophistication for the period,” it said.
The researchers, led by the mathematician and filmmaker Tony Freeth and the astronomer Mike G. Edmunds, both of the University of Cardiff, Wales, are reporting their results today in the journal Nature.
They said their findings showed that the inscriptions related to lunar-solar motions, and the gears were a representation of the irregularities of the Moon’s orbital course, as theorized by the astronomer Hipparchos. They established the date of the mechanism at 150-100 B.C.
The Roman ship carrying the artifacts sank off the island of Antikythera about 65 B.C. Some evidence suggests it had sailed from Rhodes. The researchers said that Hipparchos, who lived on Rhodes, might have had a hand in designing the device.
In another Nature article, a scholar not involved in the research, François Charette of the University of Munich museum, in Germany, said the new interpretation of the mechanism “is highly seductive and convincing in all of its details.” It is not the last word, he said, “but it does provide a new standard, and a wealth of fresh data, for future research.”
Technology historians say the instrument is technically more complex than any known for at least a millennium afterward. Earlier examinations of the instrument, mainly in the 1970s by Derek J. de Solla Price, a Yale historian who died in 1983, led to similar findings, but they were generally disputed or ignored.
The hand-operated mechanism, presumably used in preparing calendars for planting and harvesting and fixing religious festivals, had at least 30, possibly 37, hand-cut bronze gear-wheels, the researchers said. A pin-and-slot device connecting two gear-wheels induced variations in the representation of lunar motions according to the Hipparchos model of the Moon’s elliptical orbit around Earth.
The numbers of teeth in the gears dictated the functions of the mechanism. The 53-tooth count of certain gears, the team said, was “powerful confirmation of our proposed model of Hipparchos’ lunar theory.” The detailed imaging revealed more than twice the inscriptions recognized earlier. Some of these appeared to relate to planetary and lunar motions. Perhaps, the team said, the mechanism also had gearings to predict the positions of known planets.
“It was a pocket calculator of the time,” said John Seiradakis, a professor of astronomy at the University of Thessaloniki who served on the international team.
Ever since its discovery a century ago, the complex mechanism has baffled scientists.
Edmunds said the 82 surviving fragments, dated to between 140-100 B.C, contain more than 30 gear wheels, and “are covered with astronomical, mathematical and mechanical inscriptions.”
“It was a calendar of the moon and sun, it predicted the possibility of eclipses, it showed the position of the sun and moon in the zodiac, the phase of the moon, and we believe also it may have shown the position of some of the planets, possibly just Venus and Mercury,” he said.
The box-shaped mechanism — the size of office paper and operated with a hand-crank — could predict an eclipse to a precise hour on a specific day.
The new study of the ancient device, with the aid of Hewlett Packard and the British X-ray equipment maker X-Tek, more than doubled the amount of the inscriptions readable on the mechanism.
“We will not yet be able to answer the question of what the mechanism was for, although now we know what the mechanism did,” Edmunds said.
His fellow team member, Xenophon Moussas, an associate professor of space physics at Athens University, speculated that the device could have been used for navigation at sea or for mapmaking.
The first comparable devices known in the West were clockwork clocks developed during the Middle Ages.
Personally, I just think that the name of the device, Antikythera Mechanism, is just plain cool. A mouthful, but cool.
As I have relatives in Canada, I can’t help but check in on what’s up in Canada. Methinks that the Liberal Party there can be as confused as the Democrats down here. In what was the most competitive party leadership election the Liberals had since the Pierre Trudeau days, the leading candidate for their party leadership, the intellectual-former Harvard professor-writer Michael Ignatieff, surprisingly lost. Stephane Dion won – the ex-environmental minister who apparently was someone with federal experience and no (apparent) corruption connection (which was apparently what got the Liberals out of office in the first place). He’s a politician from Quebec, but even people in Quebec don’t exactly love him, according to the Reuters article I linked here. Oh-kay, sounds like politics in Canada has craziness like anywhere else.