Hublot recreates a 2,100-year-old clockwork relic – for your wrist

Why on Earth would you want to strap one of these to your wrist? It barely tells the time, and it can’t take pictures, tweet or connect to your Facebook. In fact, very few people would have the faintest idea what it is, or why you’d want one at all. But for those that do recognize its intricate gears and dials, this tiny, complex piece of machinery tells a vivid and incredible tale. It’s a story of gigantic scientific upheaval, of adventure and shipwreck on the high seas, of war and death. A story of amazing intellect, lost riches and impossible chance – a sunken treasure that Jaques Cousteau once described as “more valuable than the Mona Lisa” – and it’s connected with an ancient celebrity whose star shone so brightly that he’s still a household name more than 2200 years after his death… Read on!

Historians and scientists alike live for the great “Eureka” moments, where some newly discovered fact can turn our understanding on its head and lead to a richer picture of our world and our species. And there are few scientific or historic discoveries more significant than the one made by a Greek sponge diver in October 1900, on the Mediterranean sea bed…

Historians at the time largely ignored the device for one simple reason – the technology required to make such complex metallic gear systems simply didn’t exist back in 100 B.C. It appeared to have an epicyclic, or planetary gear system in it – and those hadn’t popped up anywhere else in history for another 1900 years or so. It was assumed that the machine had been misplaced, accidentally left with the wreckage, or wrongly cataloged, so it was shelved for another 49 years, until an English physicist called Derek Price decided to have a closer look in 1951.

With better technology and plenty of time at hand, Price soon realized that this was indeed an ancient device – in fact, there was some kind of instructive script carved into it, faded almost to obscurity, that put it right in the 100-300 B.C. period. This was a true Eureka moment – it put amazingly advanced technology in the hands of the Ancient Greeks.

In fact, it instantly became not only the world’s earliest known use of planetary gears, but the first known mechanism that used clockwork gears at all. Various civilizations earlier than the Ancient Greeks had used wooden peg-in-hole gear systems to transfer motion, but this was an order of magnitude more complex than anything before it, and indeed anything for a millennium and a half after it.

There began a painstaking scientific examination of every available fragment of this ancient machine – there were 82 pieces in total – over the course of the next 50 years. As technology improved, it was applied to the fragments of what had become known as the Antikythera mechanism.

RTFA. I’ve blogged about the antikythera mechanism before – especially when the first complete replication was completed. This is a fascinating tale of engineering history, coupled with early knowledge of the relative motion of heavenly bodies.

Bravo for Hublot deciding to replicate this in miniature.

Afghan elders reject the number 39

Officials at a meeting of elders in Kabul changed a committee’s number after delegates rejected 39 because of an Afghan belief that the number is associated with pimps.

Delegates at the gathering, or loya jirga, convened by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, divided into 40 groups to consider Afghan-US relations. Elders refused to take part in group 39 until its number was changed to 41…

Correspondents say some believe the taboo started because a pimp had 39 on his vehicle number plate. But others say it dates from an old way of calculating numbers called “Abjad”.

Many delegates at the loya jirga voiced their fervent opposition to being part of committee 39, one attendee told the BBC’s Bilal Sarwary in Kabul.

”One delegate said: ‘I don’t want to return to my area and be called a pimp. I don’t care if it is true or not, but people out there believe in it. Look no one wants to have a vehicle with number plate 39. And yet, you want me to be in 39?”’ the member said…

Officials at the loya jirga said they never expected this to be a sticking point at the gathering, which is considering reconciliation with the Taliban as well as future Afghan-US relations.

We needed 40 committees and we created 40. But a special solution was found for a ‘special problem’,” the official said.

I’m sort of sensitive to folks in Western nations claiming the right to patronize culture in developing nations, the 3rd World. But, superstition is a sticking point as are cultural hangups – no matter which nation is responsible for the foolishness. The concept has been dealt with by the best scientific minds of our time – from Doug Adams to Monty Python.

A decade of missed chances seems to foretell the future of the U.S.

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Two months ago, the U.S. marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Sadly, we commemorated a tragedy without celebrating much triumph. The post-9/11 moment was an unheralded instance of national — even global — unity. The Bush administration could have used it for almost anything. And, to be fair, it did. The nation burned trillions of dollars in two wars and a budget-busting round of tax cuts. The president told us to go shopping, and the Federal Reserve held interest rates at extraordinarily low levels. The result? Deficits and a credit bubble. That was missed opportunity No. 1.

Three years ago, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. fell. The ensuing financial crisis dwarfed anything seen since the Great Depression…For a country with more than $2 trillion in unmet infrastructure needs, this is a remarkable opportunity. But it gets better. Weak global demand means raw materials are cheap. And the bursting of the housing bubble means unemployment in the construction sector is high. We can borrow at a bargain, buy at a bargain and ease the unemployment crisis in the hardest-hit sector of our economy, all while making desperately needed investments in our future competitiveness and quality of life.

Plus, if we don’t do it now, we’ll have to do it later. Delaying a dollar of bridge repair just means it’s a dollar we’ll have to pay later. And by that time, it might be more than a dollar, because it’s cheaper to repair a bridge than rebuild one that has crumbled.

So are we taking advantage of this opportunity? No. Are we seriously discussing it? No…That’s missed opportunity No. 2…

The Obama administration was able to use the aftermath of the financial crisis to pass health-care reform, which made a good start on both covering the uninsured and controlling costs. It also secured a package of financial- regulation reforms to limit the risks of another catastrophic meltdown. Today, Republicans want to repeal both laws, and if they win the next election, they might just get their wish. In the meantime, they’re defunding the implementation of the two laws, and bogging them down in the courts.

It’s entirely possible that we could wake in 2013 only to realize that we have made no durable progress on any of our pressing national problems over the course of the Bush and Obama presidencies, and have, in fact, made some problems worse. That would mean a loss of 12 years during which we could have been moving forward as a country. And we won’t be able to blame it on a lack of opportunities.

I don’t read Ezra Klein often enough to know if his remedies would have differed or agreed with mine as we trudged down this primrose path. Rules made by the incompetent and administered by the inept seem predestined to ennui and unproductive finger-pointing.

The hope we had following universal revulsion at Bush’s policies has been undone by reliance on uncreative legislation and leadership that smacks more of cowardice than clarity. Heading towards the potential of a second term for Obama versus a Republican party that wavers between simple-minded allegiance to corporate America and truly reactionary scumballs – I can’t rev up very much enthusiasm for one more election where I get to not vote for the evil of two lessers.

Vatican blows a gasket over picture of pope kissing Muslim leader

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Italian clothing company Benetton has withdrawn a publicity shot of the pope kissing a Muslim religious leader following a Vatican backlash.

A digitally manipulated picture showed Benedict XVI locking lips with Mohammed Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand sheikh of al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, as part of an advertising campaign that…featured unlikely combinations of religious and political figureheads kissing…

The offending poster of the pope and Tayeb briefly appeared in Rome, but the Vatican reaction was swift. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi criticised the company for exploiting the pope’s image, calling it completely unacceptable…

Benetton apologised, saying it was sorry the picture “had so hurt the sensibilities of the faithful“.

Har. Photoshop rules!

Acid pollution in rain decreased with reduction in emissions

Emissions regulations do have an environmental impact, according to a long-term study of acidic rainfall by researchers at the University of Illinois.

The National Atmospheric Deposition Program collects rainfall samples weekly from more than 250 stations across the United States and analyzes them for pollutants. The program recently released a report detailing trends in acidic rainfall frequency and concentration over 25 years, from 1984 to 2009.

“This is the longest-term, widest-scale precipitation pollution study in the U.S. In particular, we wanted to see how the trends in the pollution and the rain correlated back to emissions regulations,” said Christopher Lehmann, a researcher in the program…”We’re seeing regulations on emissions sources having direct and positive impact to reduce pollutants in rain.”

The phenomenon commonly known as “acid rain” has widespread effects not only on the ecosystem, but also on infrastructure and the economy. Polluted precipitation adversely affects forestry, fishing, agriculture and other industries. Acid also erodes structures, damaging buildings, roads and bridges.

According to the report, acidic precipitation – rain or snowfall with a pH value of 5.0 or less – decreased in both frequency and concentration over the 25-year span.

The researchers largely attribute the decrease to the amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990 regulating emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, the gases that become sulfuric and nitric acid when mixed with rain water…

“You want to make sure that the regulations you put in place are effective, that they do what they were designed to do,” said David Gay, the coordinator of the deposition program. “…This study shows clear, significant evidence of the direct impact of regulation.”

Overdue. The progress – not the regulation or studies confirming that progress.

Certainly, there should be checks to confirm the cause-and-effect relationships, confirming that remediation is working, confirming that the laws forcing a decrease in emissions are working.

Please, let’s don’t waste time kissing the butt of know-nothing, anti-science politicians and pundits. There are sufficient creeps around who continue to deny any responsibility for environmental degradation by corporate sleaze. No need to add to their credibility by offering them time and space on the public dime.

Court rules that District Attorney’s book deal disqualifies him

David Camm — Keith Henderson

If former Indiana state Trooper David Camm is tried a third time in the murders of his wife and their two children, Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson should not be involved, an Indiana appeals court has ruled.

The unanimous, three-judge panel ruled that a special prosecutor should replace Henderson because he entered a book deal to write about the case while Camm’s second conviction was being appealed.

The panel called that deal, which has since been canceled, “an irreversible, actual conflict of interest with his duty to the people of the state of Indiana…”

Camm was convicted twice of murdering his wife, Kimberly Camm, their 7-year-old son, Bradley, and 5-year-old daughter, Jill, in the garage of their home near Georgetown in September 2000. Both convictions were overturned because prosecutors used impermissible evidence or arguments.

In June 2009, while the Indiana Supreme Court was weighing Camm’s appeal of the second conviction, Henderson reached an agreement with Berkley Penguin Group to write a book about the case…

He and a co-author split a $3,400 advance and promised to deliver the manuscript by Aug. 1, 2009, court records show. But just days after Henderson entered into the contract, the state high court overturned the conviction.

Though Penguin canceled the contract, Uliana filed a motion with Special Judge Jonathan Dartt in December 2009 asking that Henderson be replaced by a special prosecutor if a third trial were to be held.

Looks like Penguin has more sense than the DA or the political hacks who had endorsed his continued presence as prosecutor. What an egregious creep!