The Antikythera Mechanism

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A paper on the Mechanism appears in tomorrow’s Nature. In brief what it is these days is a rather unim­press­ive look­ing lump of heav­ily cor­roded metal. I have a photo of it some­where, but it’s a very bad blurry photo which doesn’t do justice to its lumpy unim­press­ive­ness. Fortunately Wikipedia has this much bet­ter photo.

Antikythera Mechanism
The Antikythera Mechanism in the National Museum, Athens. Photo from Wikipedia.

The reason why it’s news is that there’s been a lot of painstak­ing work to try and see bey­ond the cor­ro­sion, and its proven spec­tac­u­larly suc­cess­ful. The mech­an­ism has been examined using X-ray tomo­graphy, which is where X-rays are used to build up a cross-section of a sub­ject slice by slice without phys­ic­ally pulling the sub­ject apart. The res­ults are con­firm­ing that Greek tech­no­logy could be stag­ger­ingly soph­ist­ic­ated.
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Mystery of ancient astronomical calculator unveiled

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A press release on the Antikythera Mechanism, see the next entry for comment.

Antikythera Mechanism
The Antikythera Mechanism. Photo from Wikipedia.

An inter­na­tional team has unrav­elled the secrets of a 2,000-year-old com­puter which could trans­form the way we think about the ancient world.

Professor Mike Edmunds and Dr Tony Freeth, of Cardiff University led the team who believe they have finally cracked the work­ings of the Antikythera Mechanism, a clock-like astro­nom­ical cal­cu­lator dat­ing from the second cen­tury BC.

Remnants of a broken wooden and bronze case con­tain­ing more than 30 gears was found by divers explor­ing a ship­wreck off the island of Antikythera at the turn of the 20th cen­tury. Scientists have been try­ing to recon­struct it ever since. The new research sug­gests it is more soph­ist­ic­ated than any­one pre­vi­ously thought.
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Style Obscuring Content

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This was writ­ten well over a year ago and offered to a site. I assume it’s not com­ing out there, so I thought I’d put it up here before I lose it.

“Imagine a widely used and expens­ive pre­scrip­tion drug that prom­ised to make us beau­ti­ful but didn’t. Instead the drug had fre­quent, ser­i­ous side effects: It induced stu­pid­ity, turned every­one into bores, wasted time, and degraded the qual­ity and cred­ib­il­ity of com­mu­nic­a­tion. These side effects would rightly lead to a world­wide product recall.”

“Which came first on the evol­u­tion­ary lad­der, stu­pid­ity or PowerPoint? For all the demon­iz­ing, PowerPoint is just a tool.”

Adam Hanft (2003)

“I’d rather gouge my eye­balls out with a spoon than sit through another bor­ing PowerPoint presentation.”

Dan Groft (2002)

There has been a quiet revolu­tion in archæo­logy and ancient his­tory in the past couple of years. Both OHP trans­par­en­cies and slides are being driven to extinc­tion by PowerPoint, the lead­ing “slide­ware” pack­age. If the hype is to be believed we are enter­ing an era when all present­a­tions should glisten and glide before our eyes with the greatest of ease. The digit­isa­tion of present­a­tion would seem to mark the vic­tory of the tech­no­philes over the Luddites. So why is there is an increas­ing num­ber of art­icles by tech­no­logy pun­dits with names like “Friends don’t let friends use PowerPoint” (Stewart 2001), “PowerPoint makes you dumb” (Thompson 2003), and “Is PowerPoint the devil?” (Keller 2003)? Are these warn­ings of fun­da­mental flaws in PowerPoint, or another round of Micro$oft bash­ing by pos­tur­ing cyber­nauts? The answer is prob­ably a bit of both.

Segments of this art­icle first appeared in vari­ous forms in arch-pgs, the Leicester mail­ing list after attend­ing a few con­fer­ences and sit­ting through PowerPoint present­a­tions of vary­ing qual­ity. There are some emer­ging con­ven­tions in PowerPoint present­a­tions, but they seem dis­join­ted and ill-thought through. In par­tic­u­lar I was amazed at one present­a­tion which was designed in blue. Blue, the author told me, is the best col­our for PowerPoint. Her graphs were blue too. Neolithic pot­tery was in dark blue, Bronze Age pot­tery in light blue, Iron Age pot­tery in hashed blue, Greek pot­tery in polka-dotted blue… This was fol­lowed at the same con­fer­ence by three other speak­ers who all also thought blue was the best col­our for a present­a­tion. The res­ult of which was I couldn’t dis­tin­guish in my memory between one talk and another.

It would seem that either through mis­use or poor design, PowerPoint often works to obscure the mes­sage that the presenter gives rather than aid it. It is time that we look crit­ic­ally at the use of PowerPoint, and look at the altern­at­ives. Do we even need PowerPoint?
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Social Evolution by Mark Pluciennik

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[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]

Social EvolutionI think one of the most depress­ing sem­inars I ever had on my Master’s course was one on Evolutionary Archaeology. My intro­duc­tion to evol­u­tion was gen­er­ally through books like those of Richard Dawkins. So what I was expect­ing was a dis­cus­sion of how simple rules could pro­duce the emer­gence of com­plex and diverse soci­et­ies. In con­trast what evol­u­tion­ary archae­ology was often dis­cred­ited ideas dressed up in pseudo-scientific lan­guage. Had I been able to read Mark Pluciennik’s book Social Evolution before­hand then I would have been pre­pared for what was largely a crush­ing disappointment.

Pluciennik starts by look­ing at the sources for the concept of evol­u­tion. While there isn’t a clear start event as there is for Natural Selection he does find that social evol­u­tion is expounded in the eight­eenth cen­tury in the works of Smith and Turgot. This is in part due to the early anthro­po­logy of the Americas where nat­ives were seen as man in his prim­it­ive state. This laid the found­a­tions for the more racist expos­i­tions of evol­u­tion in later years where the pur­pose of evol­u­tion is to develop into European soci­ety. This may come as a sur­prise to some read­ers who may think of evol­u­tion as start­ing with Darwin, but this is evol­u­tion. It’s Lamarckian evol­u­tion.
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De oráculos y estrellas

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Traducción de Anacronista.

Delphinus in Colour

¿Cómo le hacían los grie­gos de la Antigüedad, para saber cuándo empren­der su per­eg­rinación a Delfos a con­sul­tar al oráculo del tem­plo de Apolo, “la voz más autor­iz­ada del mundo civil­iz­ado? Para Alun Salt y Efrosyni Boutsikas, de la Universidad de Leicester, la falta de uni­for­midad en los cal­en­darios de las polis rep­res­entaba el mayor prob­lema. Al seguir las huel­las de los Himnos Homéricos, de Aristófanes, de Hesíodo y Heródoto la con­jetura con­cluye que los grie­gos encon­tra­ban la respuesta en el cielo noc­turno
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Is there a case for protecting Christian values or Christian heritage?

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This is follow-up to the pre­vi­ous post, which allows me an easy way to link back to Butterflies and Wheels, and to the recent Carnival of the Godless. If you can’t stand the sus­pense my answers are no and maybe.

Christian val­ues” is a term that is caus­ing me trouble, because I genu­inely don’t under­stand what spe­cific­ally Christian val­ues are. I can under­stand that Christians believe in justice, hon­esty, respect and char­ity. So do Muslims, Hindus and athe­ists. They’re good val­ues for a soci­ety so it’s not sur­pris­ing that so many people adopt them. This doesn’t dis­prove Christianity, but it does show that Christians don’t have a mono­poly on mor­al­ity. It also sug­gests that mor­al­ity doesn’t derive from God. This should not be a shock.
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