Oct 16, 2006

"STOP ME IF YOU THINK YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE"

TUESDAY UPDATE: The virtual book tour continues! Read the nice little chat I had this week with Edgy Mama.

Un-news flash: Amy Guth is a nerd and a half. Prepare! I am about to confirm this yet again.

A while back, an ad was brought to my attention that advertised Michael Wright at the Adler Planetarium, lecturing on "The Greek Planetarium: A New Reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism, an elaborate Hellenistic astronomical instrument recovered in 1900 as part of a spectacular cargo from an ancient shipwreck. Dating to the 1st century B.C.E., the instrument is the earliest example of a geared mechanism. Michael Wright will describe his thirty-year personal quest to reconstruct this instrument. Through inspection and imagination, he offers a new and strikingly different analysis of the mechanism as the first planetarium."

Needless to say, I just returned and my head is about the explode in the best way possible. Wright's paper on the subject can be read here, but the short version goes something like this:

A fragment of what has now come to be known as the Antikythera Mechanism, was recovered from a 1st century BCE shipwreck near (quel suprise!) the Greek island of Antikythera...



...around 1900 and is generally regarded to speak to both the highly-developed level of early Hellenstic mechanics as well as (and there is plenty of overlap here) serving as some of the earliest evidence of gear usage in artifact (as oposed to documentary) form. And, ecause it's a dateable artifact, it is most totally worth nerding out over because it utilizes a differential gear, which, before all of this business, everyone thought didn't come around until the 13th century or so. Anyway...

So, these fragments were underwater for years, years, years and years, turned out to be bronze, and, when x-rayed, delivered a gorgeous display of a preserved gear system, marking and the like. Ka-blam! So, Prof. Derek Price does a good deal of work on the subject, a few follow after him, enter Michael Wright, who felt the device was underrepresented, inaccurately reconstucted and therefore poorly explained. Price's attempt was deemed somewhat inaccurate, but, at the time, nobody could do any better.

So, Wright, who tonight said he repairs clock for hobby, sifted through all of the early research and attempts to reconstruct and whipped out a version that is compliant with all detail found on the fragments. (And he made it out of scrap brass "from a public house door, the rubbish bin...") And, Wright does, indeed, knock one out of the park and builds a perfect mousetrap.

So, he described every gear and it's corresponding planet, we covered epicyclic platforms, solar and lunar movement in Hipparchosian theory, Apollonios, Ptolemaic theory! We spent time flipping between Price's original diagram...



...demonstrative of his guesswork in directing and adding differential gears, then switching over to Wright's improved-upon diagram. We covered the velocity ratio of the front dial! Synodic months! Metonic period! Callippic period! Then, we ventured into literary-nods this device was perhaps given by Cicero's "recently constructed by our friend Poseidonius, which at each revolution reproduces the same motions of the sun, the moon and the five planets."

Oh man. What a great night. If it weren't for the rain, I would probably find it impossible to sleep. Few things keep me awake quite in the same way a big vitamin B shot of academia does.

8 comments:

Wings said...

Fall is the time for the academic geek to come out in all of us. For a great freebee rush of ideas and academia check out what is now called Humanities Day at U of Chicago (formerly Humanities Open House)http://humanities.uchicago.edu/humanitiesday/home.shtml

In the past I have listened to and met folks like director/playwright Mary Zimmerman and philosopher Martha Nussbaum.

You are fertilizing that wonderful "demented" mind of yours. A little intellectual compost gives us what we need to be human.

I applaud you for tending to your mental garden. [Even if reading your fruits makes my wife think twice about climbing in bed with me ;-)]

V. said...

I feel shamed. You are nerdier than I. You have a plus 2 amulet of nerdiness. I bow to you.

Adam Shprintzen said...

Don't worry V., the good Professor does not theorize at all on the existance or non-existance of wizards. You still have that on the world.

Leah said...

Too nerdy. Can't see straight. Must. Go. To. Museeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeum.

Vellum said...

Dear Amy,
I am so sorry I missed your reading in Milwaukee. I would have loved to come along, but sadly, it has been a bit mad this time of year at school! Plus all the time I'm working on my book--I intend to take a photo of yours and mine side by side for the contest you are holding, but I've got to get my hands on a good digital camera first.
Please do let me know if you wish to attend Humanities Day, as you know I am currently enrolled at University of Chicago. I would love to spend an afternoon together, and I have a feeling we would have so much to talk about! Had I known you were attending the lecture at the planetarium, I definitely would have made an effort to attend. Though my brain is more equipped for processing information related to English, I still think it would have been fascinating.
Well, perhaps I will make it to one of your readings soon. I have some new chapters written that I would love to have your feedback on!! I have also created a myspace profile, in the interest of better networking, though I must confess I am struggling to find time to fill in all the blanks! But fear not, I shall make quick work of adding you and your book to my friends list.
Regards,
Vellum (I suppose I shouldn't sign my comments V. anymore, it may lead to some confusion!)

Amy's Mom said...

OK! WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH MY DAUGHTER?
It must be all of those architecture/engineering/physics genes coming out. All the ones that clearly skipped right over me because I was lost after the second sentence. But your brother will love this!
I must remember that "fertilizing your mind" thing, Wings. Love it!

Nicky said...

Amy, I choo- choo- choose you.

V. said...

HAHAHA, Amy's Mom said Wings, and I think maxipads. I love marketing.