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Ancient calculator

a_majoor

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How many of us could do this?:

http://www.networkworld.com/cgi-bin/mailto/x.cgi?pagetosend=/export/home/httpd/htdocs/news/2008/121708-antikythera.html&pagename=/news/2008/121708-antikythera.html&pageurl=http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/121708-antikythera.html&site=datacenter

Reproduction of 2,100-year-old calculator deepens mystery
The model of the Antikythera Device is based on the latest discoveries of the mysterious mechanism
By John Cox , Network World , 12/17/2008
Sponsored by:

A new working model of the mysterious 2,000-year-old astronomical calculator, dubbed the Antikythera Device, has been unveiled, incorporating the most recent discoveries announced two years ago by an international team of researchers.

The new model was demonstrated by its creator, former museum curator Michael Wright, who had created an earlier model based on decades of study. He demonstrates how the more complete device works in a video originally created on the New Scientist Website. (It's part of an update story by Jo Marchant, author of Decoding the Heavens, an account not only of the device itself but also the century-old scientific quest to recover its meaning.)

The added details and precision of the new model are based on the breakthrough research by The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, a joint effort by researchers from Greece and the United Kingdom. They were able to plumb the depths of the device, comprised of 81 separate pieces (including several fused together over time), and decipher many more of the inscriptions by using high-tech hardware and software from HP Laboratories and X-Tek Systems, a U.K.-based manufacturer of high-resolution X-ray inspection equipment. The 2006 slideshow on the device, and the technology used by the researcher to decipher it, is online.

Though often dubbed the "first computer," the device doesn't meet the fundamental requirement of computing. One of the project members, Michael Edmunds, a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University in Wales, prefers the term "calculator." "It multiplies, divides and subtracts, but you can't program it," he says.

But it's a highly advanced calculator: the complexity of its gearing was not seen again until the rise of European clock-making in the Middle Ages, 1,000 years later.

About the size of a shoebox, the Antikythera Device is crammed with an astoundingly complex and precise arrangement of 27 fine-toothed bronze gears and dials, turned by a hand-operated knob on one side. On the front and back, dials and pointers show the relative positions of the sun and moon in the sky over periods of time (and possibly of the five then-known planets), a black-and-white ball showed the moon's changing phases, and inscriptions showed the times of rising and setting of stars.

On the back, two spiral dials tracked the relative positions of the sun and moon, and the dates of solar and lunar eclipses, and showed the dates of the Olympic games.

The ancient Greeks believed that celestial orbits were circular, instead of the elliptical ones we know them to be today. To account for the discrepancies in the moon's movements, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus developed a mathematical model superimposing the motions of overlapping circles, each with a different center. The Antikythera Device uses a "pin and slot" arrangement to exactly reproduce this anomalous motion, so it accurately represents the observed celestial motions and times.
Reflecting this complexity, the 2006 research team included astrophysicists, radio astronomers, mathematicians and philologists (philology is the study of ancient texts and original documents).

They made use of two advanced technologies to make their discoveries.

HP Labs supplied a technology to bring out surface details previously unseen. Tom Malzbender, a senior research scientist with HP Labs, and colleagues Dan Gelb and Hans Wolters had developed a digital technique, called reflectance imaging, for re-imaging how light is reflected from a surface. Essentially, it's a computerized version of what most of us have done with the oil dip stick in our car: you hold it up to the light and twist and turn it, until the light shows up the oil film and the inscribed markings.

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The HP researchers do it by putting an object inside a dome that's fitted with a camera, scores of light bulbs, and a laptop computer to control it. A separate laptop runs a program to create a polynomial texture map (PTM) of the captured images, letting the researchers then change the lighting and surface characteristics.

The second technology was 3-D computer tomography, based on X-ray gear from X-Tek weighing nearly 8 tons. But unlike medical X-rays, these are real-time and digital, taking super-thin slices through an object and then recreating them into a 3-D image that can be manipulated. One result: The tomography not only showed new details of the gearing and teeth but also uncovered inscriptions never before seen.

Based on these results, the researchers discovered the following:

* The device was built between 150 and 100 B.C., somewhat earlier than previously thought. The shipwreck took place about 65 B.C. The date is significant, as is the assumption (based on some circumstantial evidence) that the ship, traveling a busy sea route, was heading to Rome from Rhodes, where one of the greatest of Greek astronomers, Hipparchus, lived and worked from about 140 to 120 B.C. Researchers speculate that he or one of this students could have influenced the design, and possibly the building, of part of the mechanism.

* The pin-and-slot gearing, as mentioned above, which creates an anomalous motion for the moon, simulating visually the mathematics created by Hipparchus to account for moon's observed, irregular orbit around the Earth.

* One of the two back spiral dials on the back of the device is now shown to simulate what's called the Saros eclipse cycle, in which a given solar or lunar eclipse will be repeated 223 lunar months later.

* The second back spiral dial is now confirmed to have 235 teeth, demonstrating it simulates the Metonic lunar cycle, which over 19 years (235 lunar months) represents the return of the moon to the same phase on the same date in the year.

* Researchers now believe the device had 37 gear wheels; seven of those are deduced from the now more-visible details of the surviving wheels and from the new understanding of their relationships and functions.

* Researchers agree with Wright's speculation that some of the missing gears were likely used to simulate the movement of the known planets, making the Antikythera Mechanism one of the earliest and most complex planetariums.

Even deciphered, the Antikythera Device retains its power to fascinate us.

All contents copyright 1995-2008 Network World, Inc. http://www.networkworld.com
 

Marshall

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Its neat to see how such complex things are reaching further and further back in time, soon they will discover a automobile or a plane made during B.C :D
 

Greymatters

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This device was first made famous through the Erich Van Daniken series "Chariots of the Gods" and at the time very few peple believed it was a calculator as the people back then were not believed capable of such skill and expertise...

 

KingKikapu

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Newton supposedly came up with the fundamental theorem of calculus to solve a problem at a math competition within a matter of days that was supposed to take months.

Smart fellow.  My guess is there were a few more of his kind interspersed throughout history.  Stuff like this certainly can't hurt that notion.
 

GAP

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Doctor Who forgets mini Swiss watch at archaeology dig
December 17, 2008 by fayyaad
Article Link

Incredibly careless of him, I guess, but let this be a lesson to all time travelers. Don’t leave your possessions lying around when visiting the past! So heed this tale of caution: a group of Chinese archaeologists are in a state of intense confusion after discovering a ring in the shape of a Swiss watch in a 400-year old tomb.

“We picked up the object, and found it was a ring. After removing
the covering soil and examining it further, we were shocked to see it
was a watch.”

The time was stopped at 10:06am, and on the back was engraved the word “Swiss”, reports the People’s Daily.

Local experts say they are confused as they believe the tomb had been
undisturbed since it was created during the Ming dynasty 400 years ago.

Well, it was either the Doctor or Slartibartfast!

(Yes, I know that Ananova stories should be taken with a large rock of salt!)
More on link

 

a_majoor

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Receating the device in LEGO!

http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/mimssbits/26124/?nlid=3874

A Lego Reconstruction of the World's Earliest Computer
Before the birth of Christ the Greeks built a mechanical computer. Now an Apple engineer has made a functional Lego replica.

CHRISTOPHER MIMS 12/10/2010

Here's a brand new stop motion video of a reconstruction of the world's first mechanical computer, directed by occasional Technology Review contributor John Pavlus. It's entirely self-explanatory: watch it and read on.


One hundred years before the birth of Christ, when agriculture and the wheel was for most of human civilization the apex of technological achievement, the Greeks built a mechanical computer so sophisticated that it could add and subtract--all in the name of predicting the next lunar eclipse.

In 2010, Apple engineer Andrew Carol created, based on previous reconstructions of the so-called "Antikythera" mechanism, which was discovered in a shipwreck in 1901, a fully functioning Lego replica of the device. Like the original, it accurately predicts solar eclipses.

Its secrets are explained at length in a feature in Nature and its Wikipedia entry, which, not surprisingly for a device that is catnip for geeks, is as exhaustive as the plot exegeses of old episodes of Lost.

The Antikythera is such a marvelous device--Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University, who led the most recent study of the device, says it is more historically valuable than the Mona Lisa--that it continues to inspire great works of its own: first the historically faithful reconstructions of it, then the lego reconstruction, and now this stop motion video, which, like all stop motion, was an enormous effort in itself.

Here's a sped-up, behind the scenes video of the shoot:


And if you want to really dig deep, Pavlus has conducted an interview with the creator of the Lego version of the Antikythera. It includes fascinating details about managing the friction generated by the more than 100 gears in the mechanism. Here's Carol's account of how it works:

It's pretty simple; it's all about ratios between the numbers of teeth on two gears meshed together. If one gear has 50 teeth and another has 25, that's a 2-to-1 ratio -- which means that turning the axle one full revolution on the first gear will multiply by two, because it turns the second gear twice as fast.

But the tradeoff is that when you make it go fast, you lose power. It's fast, but it's not strong, and vice versa -- and those mechanical effects pile up quickly when you've got over 100 gears working together in exotic ratios. When I have to multiply by 127, it's got to turn very fast, but with little power, which means that whatever amount of friction there is, I've effectively multiplied it by 127. So I had to put a lot of thought into designing the optimal layout of gears that would minimize the friction enough to make that kind of calculation physically work.

Finally, there's Pavlus's account of how he brought the video project itself together. For anyone interested in how to explain complicated technology to a lay audience, it's quite a ride:

But how to actually execute that idea? Obviously some kind of animation would be necessary. Several people I consulted urged me to use computer graphics. But that felt wrong: Legos are wonderfully tactile, and I really wanted to highlight the machine's intricate physical detail — to make you feel like you could literally reach out and touch the gears or turn the crank. CGI would feel too weightless and abstract — too perfect. Andy's model was the quintessence of DIY hacking: he didn't even diagram it out before starting to build it. I needed animation that was physical, craft-ey, and a little bit rough around the edges. Stop-motion was the clear choice.

For even more background on the Antikythera mechanism check out this illuminating video from 2008, produced for Nature by a director with decades of experience at the BBC.

Embedded Youtube links at site.
 

a_majoor

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More Lego computers:

The "Antikythera" mechanism, a Babbage Difference Engine and a Turing device!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLPVCJjTNgk&feature=player_embedded
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_u3hpYMySk&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYw2ewoO6c4&feature=related

Is there anything you can't do with Lego!
 

a_majoor

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Very nice documentary on the The Antikythera Machine and various devices which may have led up to its development:

Ancient Discoveries - The Antikythera Machine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KO4-zx9buc&NR=1&feature=endscreen
 
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