Archive | History

Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism, the First Computer

"NAMA Machine d'Anticythère 1". Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Antikythera mechanism (Fragment A – front)
NAMA Machine d’Anticythère 1“. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

By Jo Marchant via Smithsonian.com:

After 2,000 years under the sea, three flat, misshapen pieces of bronze at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens are all shades of green, from emerald to forest. From a distance, they look like rocks with patches of mold. Get closer, though, and the sight is stunning. Crammed inside, obscured by corrosion, are traces of technology that appear utterly modern: gears with neat triangular teeth (just like the inside of a clock) and a ring divided into degrees (like the protractor you used in school). Nothing else like this has ever been discovered from antiquity. Nothing as sophisticated, or even close, appears again for more than a thousand years.

For decades after divers retrieved these scraps from the Antikythera wreck from 1900 to 1901, scholars were unable to make sense of them.

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Science for the People!

CC-BY: BSSRS/Wellcome Images

CC-BY: BSSRS/Wellcome Images

There’s a smell in Battersea, south-west London. Today, there are streams of the internet devoted to a whiff of toast commuters notice on the train over the river. It’s something to do with local coffee roasters, apparently. But in the early 1970s, the area was very different economically, and the stink wasn’t nearly so pleasant. The strong stench – described at the time as “like dead bodies” – was colloquially known as “The Battersea Smell”.

There was various speculation about causes. Most likely was that the stench came from one or two local factories – the gin distillers John Watney and Co and the glucose manufacturers Garton Sons and Co. But no one really knew. Moreover, the local council seemed to be actively avoiding trying to find out, and avoiding attempting to do much about it.

As a local paper at the time noted, “We can get to the moon, phone relatives in Australia, perform miracles of surgery but a simple matter like getting rid of a smell seems to baffle everyone.”

Residents were especially annoyed as the local council insisted they use (expensive) smokeless fuel to cut air pollution yet seemed to do nothing about the stink.… Read the rest

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Is This Country Crazy? Inquiring Minds Elsewhere Want to Know

(Credit: Occupy Posters/owsposters.tumblr.com/cc 3.0)

(Credit: Occupy Posters/owsposters.tumblr.com/cc 3.0)

Ann Jones via Tom Dispatch:

Jan. 11, 2015 (TomDispatch.com) — Americans who live abroad — more than six million of us worldwide (not counting those who work for the U.S. government) — often face hard questions about our country from people we live among. Europeans, Asians, and Africans ask us to explain everything that baffles them about the increasingly odd and troubling conduct of the United States. Polite people, normally reluctant to risk offending a guest, complain that America’s trigger-happiness, cutthroat free-marketeering, and “exceptionality” have gone on for too long to be considered just an adolescent phase. Which means that we Americans abroad are regularly asked to account for the behavior of our rebranded “homeland,” now conspicuously in decline and increasingly out of stepwith the rest of the world.

In my long nomadic life, I’ve had the good fortune to live, work, or travel in all but a handful of countries on this planet.

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Zuse’s Thesis – The Universe is a Computer

zusesthesis

Jürgen Schmidhuber writes:

Konrad Zuse (1910-1995; pronounce: “Conrud Tsoosay”) not only built the first programmable computers (1935-1941) and devised the first higher-level programming language (1945), but also was the first to suggest (in 1967) that the entire universe is being computed on a computer, possibly a cellular automaton (CA). He referred to this as “Rechnender Raum” or Computing Space or Computing Cosmos. Many years later similar ideas were also published / popularized / extended by Edward Fredkin (1980s), Jürgen Schmidhuber (1990s – see overview), and more recently Stephen Wolfram (2002) (see comments and Edwin Clark’s review page). Zuse’s first paper on digital physics and CA-based universes was:

Konrad Zuse, Rechnender Raum, Elektronische Datenverarbeitung, vol. 8, pages 336-344, 1967. Download PDF scan.

Zuse is careful: on page 337 he writes that at the moment we do not have full digital models of physics, but that does not prevent him from asking right there: which would be the consequences of a total discretization of all natural laws?

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The Triumph of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Ashton Carter’s predecessor, greets Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain, at right in the blue and red ties, respectively. Photo via Wikipedia

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Ashton Carter’s predecessor, greets Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain, at right in the blue and red ties, respectively. Photo via Wikipedia

Via Ben Cohen & Winslow Wheeler at Medium:

In his farewell address in January 1961, Pres. Dwight Eisenhower famously cautioned the American public to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

Today it’s routine for critics of wasteful military spending to cite Eisenhower’s warning. Unfortunately, Eisenhower did not warn us that the military-industrial complex would become increasingly malignant as it morphed into less obvious forms.

The “complex” is no longer just “military” and “industrial,” and it has extended far beyond just its congressional branch, which Eisenhower also intended to include.

It’s now deeply embedded in the fiber of the American political system, academia, the civilian leadership of the Defense Department and—increasingly—the White House itself.

• • •

The military-industrial-complex was on display—but passed without wide notice—on Dec.

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Argentina’s Nisman Scandal and the Dark Side of Progress

451px-Cristinakirchnermensaje2010

presidencia.gov.ar (CC BY 2.0)

Politics in Latin America is always a messy affair. And in the latest scandal to rock the region, the mess in question was a pool of blood left by Alberto Nisman, an Argentinian federal prosecutor found dead last Sunday in his Buenos Aires apartment. The day after his death, Nisman was scheduled to present key evidence in a case against the government of Argentina, led by president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

This was certainly a big deal within the country. Piggybacking off the protest slogan coined for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, protestors immediately took to the streets with “Yo soy Nisman” signs (which translates to “I am Nisman” – something tells me every high profile killing this year will now result in “I am [victim]” sloganeering). But though this story may seem easy to write off for audiences in the US and Europe as more needless violence by those backward folks in the “global south”, it really is a cautionary tale for any government who takes progressive ideas seriously – proof that sometimes, progress comes with a high price tag.… Read the rest

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The Train To Crystal City

[Excerpted from The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster.]

Trains are a primary symbol of World War II. During the war, life and death revolved around the arrival and departure of trains. American troops boarded Pullman cars with signs on them that said HITLER HERE WE COME and ON TO TOKYO. Along the tracks, American workers, who saved rubber tires and tin for the war effort, waved their arms to the troops, saluting them with smiles. Trains led soldiers to ships and to battle. Women waited at train stations for the return of their husbands and lovers and kicked up their heels when their men disembarked. In Germany, more than 6 million Jews were shipped in cattle cars, floors strewn with straw, to concentration camps.

And then there were the trains that transported people to Crystal City, Texas. Week after week, month after month, from 1942 to 1948, trains with window shades pulled shut carried approximately six thousand civilians from all over the world across miles of flat, empty plains to the small desert town at the southern tip of Texas, only thirty miles from the Mexican border.… Read the rest

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The Octave of Energy – Robert Anton Wilson

Felipe Gabaldón (CC BY 2.0)

Felipe Gabaldón (CC BY 2.0)

Via Deoxy.org/Robert Anton Wilson

The Law of Octaves was first suggested by Pythagoras in ancient Greece. Having observed that the eight notes of the conventional Occidental musical scale were governed by definite mathematical relationships, Pythagoras proceeded to create a whole cosmology based on 8s. In this octagonal model Pythagoras made numerous mistakes, because he was generalizing from insufficient data. However, his work was the first attempt in history to unify science, mathematics, art and mysticism into one comprehensible system and as such is still influential. Leary, Crowley and Buckminster Fuller have all described themselves as modern Pythagoreans.

In China, roughly contemporary with Pythagoras, the Taoists built up a cosmology based on the interplay of yang (positive) and yin (negative), which produced the eight trigrams of the I Ching, out of which are generated the 64 hexagrams.

In India, Buddha announced, after his illumination under the Bodhi tree, the Noble Eightfold Path.

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Charles Bukowski’s Letter to the Librarian Who Banned His Book

51Gk+OrWOqLYet another intriguing Charles Bukowski letter. I think I still prefer the letter he wrote to his publisher, John Martin. But this one is also a gem.

A library in Holland banned Bukowski’s book, Tales of Ordinary MadnessWell Bukowski apparently felt the need to not exactly defend his writing, but to explain how honored he was to have written something so prolific. Though, he rightfully condemns the librarian’s censorship.

Dear Hans van den Broek:

Thank you for your letter telling me of the removal of one of my books from the Nijmegen library. And that it is accused of discrimination against black people, homosexuals and women. And that it is sadism because of the sadism.

The thing that I fear discriminating against is humor and truth.

If I write badly about blacks, homosexuals and women it is because of these who I met were that. There are many “bads”–bad dogs, bad censorship; there are even “bad” white males.

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Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell: A Reflection

David Blackwell. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

David Blackwell. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Today is the 65th anniversary of George Orwell’s (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950) dematerialization. C_D

Robert McCrum writes at The Guardian:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Time is out of joint, and everyday life has no comfort any more: from Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) to Animal Farm (1945), George Orwell had been incubating a profound inner dissonance with his society. Even as a child, he had been fascinated by the futuristic imagination of HG Wells (and later, Aldous Huxley). Finally, at the end of his short life, he fulfilled his dream. Nineteen Eighty-Four, arguably the most famous English novel of the 20th century, is a zeitgeist book. Orwell’s dystopian vision was deeply rooted both in its author’s political morality, and in its time, the postwar years of western Europe.

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