The 2000 year old computer
December 12, 2008 3:06 PM   Subscribe

 
Strangest ephemera ever.

Thanks for posting this!
posted by puckish at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2008


I can't get enough of this story.
posted by dead cousin ted at 3:24 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Last I'd heard, the mechanism had just been x-rayed. Have they really been able to infer that much, or is this more breathless news reporting, long on hype and short on facts?
posted by lekvar at 3:27 PM on December 12, 2008


That is so steampunk.
posted by Laen at 3:39 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame.
posted by GuyZero at 3:44 PM on December 12, 2008 [9 favorites]


Rather than being toys, devices like the Antikythera mechanism were seen as a route to understanding and demonstrating the nature of the universe - a way to get closer to the true meaning of things. To what better use could technology be put?

I wonder, how significant is culture when considering this kind of questions. I mean, what better use indeed.
Sorry for flogging the week old horse..
posted by Chuckles at 3:45 PM on December 12, 2008


Aaaah, just looks like one of the Titan's pocket watches. No, seriously, this thing is fascinating. I love it!
posted by Ron Thanagar at 4:05 PM on December 12, 2008


Awe inspiring.

But that crazy attitude jet multi kill thing is awesome too.
posted by Max Power at 5:01 PM on December 12, 2008


They're still releasing updates? That is real customer service.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:06 PM on December 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


That's awesome. All this technology from the Greeks and Romans (like cement), only to be lost during the dark ages, and had to be re-discovered.
posted by Eekacat at 5:08 PM on December 12, 2008


Astounding. I saw it in the museum once and I have a hard time believing anybody could figure out how it went together. Thanks for posting.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:34 PM on December 12, 2008


Hooolyyy shiiiiit.
posted by odinsdream at 5:47 PM on December 12, 2008


Retrograde motion and all! That's very cool.
posted by carter at 6:08 PM on December 12, 2008


I saw this this morning and almost posted it. That journalist is also writing a book, which has a website. Pepsi Mechanism, but I (heart) Antikythera.
posted by DU at 6:39 PM on December 12, 2008


That's fantastic.
posted by homunculus at 6:39 PM on December 12, 2008


I have a hard time believing anybody could figure out how it went together

What blows my mind about this whole thing is that every step is impossible.

1) Observe the heavenly bodies and somehow keep records of where they are that make sense across seasons, times of the night, latitude and longitude of the observer etc.
1b) and that's not even mentioning the lack of sophisticated tools like even a goddamn SEXTANT
2) Notice some patterns in the positions that actually work to predict positions.
3) Invent the idea of a machine like this.
4) Encode the patterns in the machine.
5) *time passes* and then we happen to find the thing in multiple pieces and in a fused lump.
6) Figure out how it worked.

No. Way.
posted by DU at 6:44 PM on December 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


Ohhhhh, this is coooool!
posted by P.o.B. at 6:49 PM on December 12, 2008


Imagine someone 2000 years from now trying to figure out how, say, a Honda Accord worked.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:51 PM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


DU -

That's the same reaction I have when I read about the Bletchley Park analysts, who had to divine, through crib sheets and sheer mental prowess, how the Enigma machine worked.

Absolute astonishment, every single time.
posted by jquinby at 6:57 PM on December 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Right, the Enigma thing is similar. Although to be fair, at least Bletchley was contemporary AND knew what the Enigma was doing (encoding text).

OTOH, when you actually try to do something like this yourself, it's surprising how much you can figure out. Like a few months ago, someone sent me some data and an explanation of the contents and format. But decoding it that way didn't work. However, by examining certain patterns, I was able to figure out that A must be true which implied that B and so forth. Working backwards, I was able to reply to their email correcting the explanation of the contents and format.

In summary, triumph of the human spirit or something.
posted by DU at 7:15 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm amazed someone put this thing on board a ship. It must have been incredibly valuable. There couldn't have been many of them around. I wonder if someone drowned with this in their arms? Should have taken a camel and the long way around I guess.
posted by Camofrog at 8:53 PM on December 12, 2008


One of the things that floors me is that there's just barely a shot that this mechanism is actually mentioned in a surviving text.

I'm amazed someone put this thing on board a ship. It must have been incredibly valuable.

Sure, to us. To the Romans it was probably just an elegant trinket. They admired, even envied, the Greeks their achievements, but considered them an impractical conquered people. Slaves and tutors.

And sea travel was the only realistic way to get anywhere. Half the important places in Greece were on Aegean islands. People died in shipwrecks all the time, so it was just the way things were.

Anyway, it's not like it was Greek Fire or anything useful. To a Roman.

at least Bletchley was contemporary AND knew what the Enigma was doing

The Poles helped by capturing a somewhat simpler commercial Enigma. In fact, Bletchley really owed an enormous debt to Polish intelligence, one that is oft overlooked.
posted by dhartung at 11:12 PM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


way cool

thanks for this
posted by jammy at 6:37 AM on December 13, 2008


Can you imagine, if the Romans had taken the "trinkets" they had, like the complex clockworks of the Mechanism, and steam power, and actually harnessed them?

English would have never evolved from the old Germanic, that's for sure.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:01 AM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


We'd have hit peak oil somewhere around the year 700, but not before the Romans had conquered most of the world.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:31 AM on December 13, 2008


lekvar: there was a Nature paper in July with new translations for the some of the calendar inscriptions.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 5:26 PM on December 13, 2008


if the Romans had taken the "trinkets" they had, like the complex clockworks of the Mechanism, and steam power, and actually harnessed them?

You want S.P. Somtow's Aquiliad series.
posted by dhartung at 9:58 PM on December 13, 2008


Can you imagine, if the Romans had taken the "trinkets" they had, like the complex clockworks of the Mechanism, and steam power, and actually harnessed them?

Might look something like this.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 9:01 PM on December 14, 2008


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