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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Even If It's Greek to You, It's Greek to You: An Early Analog Computer

      I have been dreaming of Greek mathematicians, blue waters, and green islands this week in our swirling March snowstorm. And, especially of things that have been described, by Dr. Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University as "more valuable than the Mona Lisa." Though that comparison doesn't work all that well for me, I am intrigued.






     The Antikythera Mechanism, discovered in a shipwreck off the coast of Antikythera, Greece, in 1900 is an early analog computer from the first century B.C. (A 2013 dive to the shipwreck site found many sephoras with DNA samples and other artwork.)The 30 or more bronze gears, including the largest one with 223 teeth, was used to predict eclipses, celestial events, and lunar cycles. The discovery and subsequent analysis via x-rays is described in this 7 minute video:

                     ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM


     The original mechanism of a very intricate, integrated collection of gears is kept in Athens, Greece. The device could mechanically replicate the irregular motions of the moon, caused by its elliptical orbit around the Earth, using an extremely clever design involving two superimposed gear-wheels, one slightly off-center, that are connected by a pin-and-slot device: 




     Replicas in the U.S. are at the Children's Museum in New York and the Computer Museum in Bozeman, MT. This degree of complicated gear meshing in clock- like fashion was not again replicated until the 14th century. Hmmmm, why not?!




      
     The writing around the gears is in Koine Greek, also known as the Alexandrian dialect, common Attic, or Hellenistic Greek.

     


     Well, yes, it's all Greek to me (and likely to you). And even if it isn't Greek to you, it's Greek to you ;-).





Clockwork green? ;-)

Happy early Pi Day on Friday everyone! 

Looking forward to your timely thoughts, 

Word Woman (Scientific Steph)

47 comments:

  1. And Happy St. Paddy's Day! I just learned that Patty is short for Patricia whilst Paddy is short for Patrick. Anyway, continuing the green theme. . .

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  2. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that the link that occurs to me between this week's blog and last week's is my college organic chem professor, who referred to nucleophilic substitution at saturated carbon as "Greek attack". (Mnemonics are powerful; I remember little else from that course.)

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    1. "Greek attack" standing for?

      At least there is a link for you. ;-)

      I thought about the Keystone XL pipeline, a bubbling salt cavity somewhere in the south, etc. So much really bad, incomplete, scientifically inaccurate reporting out there!

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    2. It was a reference to anal sex. I think you need to play with ball-and-stick models of molecules to see the analogy.

      Interesting how political correctness in education has changed in the 30 years between the time I took organic chem in college, and my med school physiology class, when the prof said he had been told he could not use a the mnemonic "Point and Shoot" in the lecture on the male genitourinary system, to remind us that erection is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system, while ejaculation is controlled by the sympathetic system.

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    3. I had never heard Greek attack used in that context before. The image of that Greek guy attacking those snails was all I could think of. Life-long learning indeed. ;-)

      And the PP1 connection now makes sense. So glad I asked ;-).

      And now a whole new way to look at cameras too!

      Mnemonics work. . .

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    4. It's actually quite interesting to think of the parasympathetic nervous system controlling one function and the sympathetic nervous system controlling the other. A new thought for guys to replace math problems during sex?

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  3. More to the point, while it's obvious that digital computers are the way to go now that we know about electronics (at least, until we work out the details of quantum computing), I've always been in awe of analog computers, like the Antikythera, the Norden bombsight and the torpedo data computers of WWII, etc. Unlike the brute force, reductionist approach that works with digital computers, analog computers seem to exhibit a subtle elegance, freezing complex nonlinear relationships in curved metal and gears. OK, slide rules I can understand, and even jury-rig myself on paper to teach the use of logarithms to a bright elementary schooler, but ancients building an Antikythera just blows me away.

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    1. There is something so elegant, perfect and touchable about the Antikythera. The way all those gear teeth fit together, the accounting for an elliptical orbit...you can see it and feel it and hear it (at one time any way).

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    3. SS,
      I like your new graphic. Can you tell us about it?

      (The following reply is a rehash of what you and jan already expressed so elegantly and eloquently about analog/digital. But, as you know, I can’t help myself.)

      I agree greatly with you and jan about the elegance of analog over digital. Paradoxically, digital is not so “tactile,” but analog is. Ah, glorious, heavenly clockwork with its clickings and tickings marking the trickling of time, escapements tickling analog gears, all cogs meshing like lovers’ hands clasped in a timeless embrace.

      The Antikythera Mechanism is a wake-up call from the depths of antiquity. Makes our upside-down LED digital alarm clocks kinda pale in comparison.

      But, I’ve a quibble. Antikythera Mechanism is too general and not at all catchy. We might more accurately label it the Antikythera Orrery. (Orrery is a fine eponymous word that can be changed into an adjective by replacing one of its R’s with a different letter.)

      Okay, okay, Antikythera Orrery is not at all catchy either. Then how about SCOBA (Self-Contained Orbital Body Apparatus)? Or SNAFU (Solar Nautical Apparatus Found Underwater)?

      You wrote: “This degree of complicated gear meshing in clock-like fashion was not again replicated until the 14th century. Hmmmm, why not?!” I would venture to say something flippant about “teeth gnashing in lockjaw-like passion,” but any serious explanation I might offer would be mere gueshing on my part.

      Lego…

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    4. Lego, the new graphic is Hypatia of Alexandria, a classical Greek mathematician. I thought I would allude to her since WS did not include her as a possibility in this week's puzzle.

      I like the Orrery the best. Isn't naming things fun?

      A friend whose brother lives in Bozeman has not yet been to see the AM (or AO) at the Museum of Computers. Incidentally, the museum was going to be located in NJ but the founders decided to move to MT and created it there instead. She had not heard of the AM; had you?

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    5. I learned of the Antikythera Mechanism through a Scientific American article several years ago.

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    6. Speaking of life-long learning, jan, it looks like you went back to PA school decades after college. How was that?

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    8. Grad school in neurobiology & behavior, then 23 years at Bell Labs in software & electronic in between.

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    9. I wondered what it was like going back to school after 23 years away...And if you are pleased with your second career?

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    10. I was a little surprised that a classroom still felt comfortable. Never worked so hard before, but everyone else was, too, so I guess it was just the volume of material to cover. Yeah, this career is keeping me busy.

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  5. Welcome, Hypatia. Memo to Dr. Shortz: Achieving gender neutrality can seem like a b-word (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Tenth Edition, Def. #3.) but it is not really that difficult. Take the words of your puzzle “…re-arrange the letters in his name to spell two numbers,” and simply replace “his” with “the mathematician’s”. Perhaps you wanted to dumb down the puzzle by eliminating female possibilities?

    I had not heard of the Antikythera Mechanism until yesterday. The gray sponge between my ears remains far, far from saturated.

    I hate to stereotype (so, of course, that is precisely what I shall now proceed to do) but, Snooki aside, the Big Sky State could use a museum more than could the Garden State. (Frasier: “Hello in there, Cliff. Tell me, what size is the sky in your world?”[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbS2KSRUVHo] MT’s got Brent Musburger, Martha Raye and Chet Huntley; NJ’s got Sinatra, Springsteen and… jan! Jersey’s a hotbed of culture and, thanks to jan, of cultures (in the Petri dish sense).

    (I’ve gotta keep googling how to use the href attribute -- like tried for the Cheers you tube clip above. I always get a red message: “Your HTML cannot be accepted. “http:” is not allowed. A” I tried it in three browsers, IE, Google Chrome and Firefox, with no luck.)

    Lego…

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  6. Hey, lego. That was my thought about the wording this time also.

    Thanks for the Cliff Clip. The sky is the limit on that. ;-)

    If you e-mail me the code you are using I am happy to see what I can see.

    Steph

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  7. Whenever I've clicked on this blog page this week, and caught a glimpse of the Aegean map, with circles over Kythera and Antikythera, something in the back of my mind has said, "Oh, they've found that Malaysian jet!"

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    1. Seeming more sinister as the evidence for intentional diversion mounts.

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    2. And now the plane was known to climb to 45,000 feet then descend to 23,000 feet. Definitely something involving humans up to no good.

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    3. The real questions are, where is that plane now, and in whose airline colors is it being painted?

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    4. Yes, and I'll add "How did they silence 230 plus people so quickly rendering them all unable to text or call loved ones?"

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  8. Over the ocean, you're out of cell range, so that's not an issue. If you want to put the passengers to sleep, dropping the cabin pressure is fast, easy, and effective.

    A 777 in Malaysian Airlines colors that shows up unexpected anywhere is going to get shot down. If I were al Qaeda or Jamaa Islamiya, I'd paint the plane in KLM livery. Nice, trusted country, and The Flying Dutchman has a nice ring to it.

    On the other hand, all you really need to do is sneak up behind a scheduled commercial flight over the ocean where there's no radar coverage, and follow it closely enough that only 1 primary radar return is resolved. At night, you'll never be noticed. And a 777 can hold a lot of explosives.

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  9. Wouldn't the scheduled commercial pilot notice someone flying that close?

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    1. Though I suppose if you turned off all external lights on the plane...Btw, how close is close enough so that only one radar return is signaled?

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    2. You can't see behind you in a plane

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  10. I don't think that air traffic control resolution is capable of resolving 2 planes flying in close formation as anything but a single primary return.

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    1. That should read air traffic control radar, of course.

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  11. Hmmmm. I didn't know that. Thought perhaps they'd have technology to see behind like in newer cars...

    The official safe spacing is 300 meters or so from the ATC wiki.

    Hmmmm.

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    1. That safe spacing is vertical separation. Horizontal separation is much more, several miles, depending on altitude. But we're not talking about normal safe ATC operations. Military pilots routinely fly just a few feet from other aircraft. Bad guys could, too.

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    2. I vote for rear-view cameras in planes.

      Can't imagine flying a few feet away from another plane. . .

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    3. Mid-air refueling is essential for many military operations. See, e.g., the opening sequence of Dr. Strangelove. And there's really no need for rear-view cameras in airliners.

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    4. Are you a pilot, jan?

      I still want a rear-view camera in my private plane. Maybe I will get one in my car first, though. ;-)

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    5. Inactive for about 28 years now. Private pilot, airplane, single-engine, land, instrument airplane rating.

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    6. Cool. I meant πlot, of course. My neighbor flies to and from NM often in a single-engine plane. Never thought to ask him about rearview mirrors/cameras. It does make sense.

      That opening of Dr. Strangelove is pretty amazing. Missed it the first time 'round.

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    7. And, lest anyone think this conversation has veered off course from the start, the Malaysian pilot was a supporter of Malaysian oppositionist Anwar Ibrahim, who has had Greek attack issues brought up in court.

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  12. Brown sends on these articles about doctors googling their patients:

    GOOGLE

    A shout out also to my daughter in Costa Rica. She is studying Dengue Fever. I thought about that for tomorrow's blog...She knows lots more than I do. . .

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    1. I mean, of course, that the article about docs googling patients reminds me of that cartoon. Your daughter studying in Costa Rica reminds me that, thanks to global warming, Dengue's moving north, and that she'll soon be able to study it much closer to home.

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    2. The cartoon was quite topical and amusing, jan. Thanks for sharing.

      Sure hope Dengue Fever doesn't make it all the way north to Minnesota!

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