Archive for July, 2008

Ancient computer discovered

From The New York Times:

After a closer examination of the Antikythera Mechanism, a surviving marvel of ancient Greek technology, scientists have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.

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The new findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, in Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with the great Archimedes.

Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse and died in 212 B.C., invented a planetarium calculating motions of the Moon and the known planets and wrote a lost manuscript on astronomical mechanisms. Some evidence had previously linked the complex device of gears and dials to the island of Rhodes and the astronomer Hipparchos, who had made a study of irregularities in the Moon’s orbital course.

The Antikythera Mechanism, sometimes called the first analog computer, was recovered more than a century ago in the wreckage of a ship that sank off the tiny island of Antikythera, north of Crete. Earlier research showed that the device was probably built between 140 and 100 B.C.


The mechanism’s connection with the Corinthians was unexpected, the researchers said, because other cargo in the shipwreck appeared to be from the eastern Mediterranean, places like Kos, Rhodes and Pergamon. The months inscribed on the instrument, they wrote, are “practically a complete match” with those on calendars from Illyria and Epirus in northwestern Greece and with the island of Corfu. Seven of the months suggest a possible link with Syracuse.

Inscriptions also showed that one of the instrument’s dials was used to record the timing of the panhellenic games, a four-year cycle that was “a common framework for chronology” by the Greeks, the researchers said.

“The mechanism still contains many mysteries,” Dr. Freeth said, citing questions about some of the remnant gears and a star almanac at the front that has confounded the experts.

It even predates DOS!

The good question down lower in the story is why the technology disappeared.

Touched by a vampire

Salon writes about the phenom that is the Twilight series:

July 30, 2008 | A minute past midnight on Aug. 2, bookstores across the country will for the first time repeat a ritual once reserved for a single author: J.K. Rowling. They’ll stay open late and begin selling copies of “Breaking Dawn” by Stephenie Meyer, the fourth novel of the Twilight series, at the first moment they’re officially permitted to do so. Tens of thousands of fans plan to congregate for these release parties, message boards have shut down to guard against leaked spoilers, and as many as a million readers will be blocking out an entire weekend to bury themselves in the book.

The preceding three installments in the series — “Twilight,” “New Moon” and “Eclipse” — occupy the top slots in Publishers Weekly’s bestseller list for children’s fiction (they are categorized as Young Adult, or YA, titles), and are among the top five overall bestsellers on USA Today’s list. In May, Publishers Weekly reported that 5.3 million copies of the Twilight books had sold in the U.S. alone. When a movie based on the first novel comes out in December, expect to see book sales jump to numbers that approach Rowling’s eight-figure numbers.


Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula was the English bourgeoisie’s nightmare vision of Old World aristocracy: decadent, parasitic, yet possessed of a primitive charisma. Though we members of the respectable middle class know they intend to eat us alive, we can’t help being dazzled by dukes and princes. Aristocrats imperiously exercise the desires we repress and are the objects of our own secret infatuation with hereditary hierarchies. Anne Rice, in the hugely popular Vampire Chronicles, made her vampire Lestat a bisexual rock star — Byron has also been called the first of those — cementing the connection between vampire noblemen and modern celebrities. In recent years, in the flourishing subgenre known as paranormal romance, vampires play the role of leading man more often than any other creature of the night, whether the mode is noir, as in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series of detective novels or chick-lit-ish, as in MaryJanice Davidson’s Queen Betsy series.

The YA angle on vampires, evident in the Twilight books and in many other popular series as well, is that they’re high school’s aristocracy, the coolest kids on campus, the clique that everyone wants to get into. Many women apparently never get over the allure of such groups; as one reader posted on Twilight Moms, “Twilight makes me feel like there may be a world where a perfect man does exist, where love can overcome anything, where men will fight for the women they love no matter what, where the underdog strange girl in high school with an amazing heart can snag the best guy in the school, and where we can live forever with the person we love,” a mix of adolescent social aspirations with what are ostensibly adult longings.

I confess I’ve never read them. I’m not sure I’d want my preteen daughter reading them either. I like books where the girls aren’t helpless.

London rain, 1938

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No Lines Dodgeball

Sorry for the lack of updates. We’re in the middle of No Lines Dodgeball season at home, the sport that has replaced “Two Ball Soccer with Squirt Guns” as the official sport of the Carnacki house.

I’m currently fourth in the standings behind the 7 year old, 10 year old and 4 year old in wins. Yes, technically that puts me in last place, but I’d prefer to think of it as 4th place with a shot of moving up.

Generally it’s been very close and exciting matches though I have the disadvantage of providing a bigger target.

The rules are simple: 1 on 1 with no out of bounds and no time limit. 2 playground balls are used. A hit without touching the ground first is 1 point. Catching the ball is 1 point. The ball can be used to block the opponent’s ball. The first to 10 points wins.

The 7 year old’s strategy is to hold both and stalk in close for the kill and throw at the ankles. But if you hold your hands down to catch the ball there, she’ll quickly aim at the head.

The 10 year old goes for the sudden charge. The 4 year old’s strategy is more complex: run until her opponent gets tired of chasing her then go swing on the swing set. It’s quite effective. Charges that she’s not playing fair are usually met with derisive laughter from her and calls to “swing me higher.” I’ve come close to winning several highly competitive games and have led for many of the games only to have my leads suddenly disappear to furious comebacks. Regular blogging of the irregular will resume at some point. Until then look for more chapters and photos for The Howl of the Werewolf on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Friday vampire dance party

Henry Hall: In the chapel in the moonlight

The Howl of the Werewolf, Chapter 5

Chapter 5


True Blood

Hopefully the series will be better than the marketing campaign. It does have a good pedigree.

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Posted in Horror | 3 Comments »

Miskatonic University Library, Arkham, Mass.

Miskatonic University Library

Note: Miskatonic University Library, Arkham, Mass. 1929.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along blog!

The horror.

Posted in Horror | 1 Comment »

Marlene Dietrich: Johnny

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