MECHANICAL MYSTERY

“The Wonder of the Ancient World” by Tony Fritt describes the mechanism of Antikythera, a Greek astronomical calculator. As a biologist with an interest in engineering, I was amazed by the design of the device. How did the ancients do it? I doubt that they had tools such as lathes for cutting gears, splitting heads for indexing, precision drills, etc.

Gerald Leg Hearstpoint, England

Now that the design of the Antikythera mechanism is understood, my question is: Does it really work? And if so, how was this feat achieved? In order for a device of such complexity to function, the parts will have to be incredibly well machined. It seems that the working mechanism requires the quality of workmanship of a good watch – a device that appeared only centuries later.

NORMAN L. GILINSKI East Sound, Wash.

FREE ANSWERS: My colleagues and I share Leg’s amazement. In the research team of University College London Antikythera, our two doctors. students explore the issues he raises. It is difficult to see how the components of the device – such as gears, arcs and coaxial outlet pipes – could be made without a lathe, and we are examining the evidence for lathes in ancient Greece. Its creators must have had some form of drill, as well as files or chisels for cutting teeth on gears. Coaxial tubes raise many questions. Our students are part-time, so it may take some time to resolve these issues.

In response to Gilinski: The mechanism of Antikythera must have been made with great precision for its time – it may not have been as accurate as a modern clock, but it was very well made for ancient Greece. Friction must have been a huge problem – especially since many of the parts were in contact with each other in a way that would not happen in a modern tool.

Did it work? We can’t be sure, but two pieces of evidence suggest that is probably the case. The first is the descriptions of the Roman politician Cicero from the first century BC on Greek devices that sound similar: two made by the mathematician Archimedes in the third century BC and one by the philosopher Posidonius in the first century BC. f. The second comes from modern models – especially those of Michael Wright, a UK-based “historian of the mechanism” and a former curator at the London Science Museum. His models work remarkably smoothly – although he uses 19th century lathes to make them.

The researchers on our team are researching whether our latest theoretical model works. First, they build a model with modern machines to see if there are any serious design issues. They will then build one (or parts of it) using techniques we believe were available in ancient Greece..

SECURITY FOR SECURITY

In Ransomware Hacking [Science Agenda]The editors describe strategies for dealing with ransomware attacks, in which hackers encrypt data into a computer system on a target and demand payment to release it.

There are many problems that allow ransomware to survive. Removing the incentive for criminals to use it is great, but it only works for companies that report the attack. The vast majority seem to believe that government involvement is an obstacle rather than an aid. Having worked in the field of security and networking of companies, I can say that the biggest problem that allows ransomware to continue is the reluctance of companies to implement good security architecture and practices. This is the result of a combination of problems, but in general the implementers do not know what they are applying and why. Inevitably, one area will be closed under security or audit guidance, but another 50 will remain open. Companies choose good practices and do not realize that they are exponentially safer if you apply them in tandem with complementary practices.

BRETT LITTLE
Technical Director, Alum Rock Union School District

CLIMATE STRATEGIES

In “Eat to Save the Planet” [Observatory]Naomi Oresquez says people can help mitigate the climate emergency by reducing red meat consumption, but notes that some “argue that calls for individual action actually distract us from corporate responsibility.”

Demanding individuals to take responsibility for climate change does not distract us from the pressure of larger companies to do the same. This movement requires everyone to participate as much as possible. People can fight climate change in many ways that do not require much time or increased costs. Tools are available to change our transport, the energy used in the gases emitted by our homes, our consumer purchases and donations to compensate for the use of carbon. Next time, don’t tell your readers one thing they can do. Tell them the 20 things they can do.

SAMUEL BENETT via email

VIOLENCE AND IDEOLOGY

Amy Cutter’s praise for America’s Internal Militia, her article on the transition to more violent extremism among such groups. Down here in rural Alabama, we have an interest in land next to a militia training camp full of obstacle courses, firing ranges, and simulated combat and tactical training fields. I have dealt with the spectrum of well-defined Cutter characters countless times over the decades and in so many contexts, from grilling to jury selection to debate, while some are working on our farm equipment. As I noted the points of agreement with Cutter, I looked forward to her opinion on a topic I found the police world focused on: the Antifa, which she described as the “antifa (anti-fascist) movement.”

It seems that the militia’s speech cannot stop at the best-sounding series of bad words to describe the antifa. After being shot as a veteran of the Vietnam War, I know the fear and see it in the world of militia when its members discuss the organization. I would like to know if this fear is justified. Cutter’s piece leaves us with scarcely spicy things on the subject.

GUY W. MARTIN, Jr. Montgomery, Ala.

COUTER ANSWERS: What we do know is that groups that long for a fictional past, especially those with overtly racist motives, are more organized and more threatening than those on the left. Antifa is not represented by one organization, and engaging with it is often seen as a transitional action in which some people may participate in one protest or another, rather than necessarily having a significant, long-term group affiliation. Strong ideological individuals of all political persuasions have potential for violence. But in my opinion, the fear of the antifa in police communities and beyond is more related to the social change that its presence represents than to a real or systematic threat of violence..

ERROR

Rhythm of the Lemur by Jack Tamisia [Advances]it should be said that the indris study showed the first confirmed case of a non-human mammal having a definite rhythm similar to that in human music, rather than a definite rhythm in general.

Ian Batalia ‘s review of The upper house [Recommended] incorrectly describes Florida as the action of the novel. The hero Francesca dies in a hurricane in this state, but the plot is focused on the English coast.

In the March 2022 issue, two Advances articles included illustrations to be credited to Thomas Fuchs: Matthew Hutson’s Phantom Finger and Rachel Berkowitz’s Unusual Flow.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/readers-respond-to-the-january-2022-issue/

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