Readers react to the January 2022 issue
“Wonder of the Ancient World”, by Tony Freeth, describes the Antikythera Mechanism, a Greek astronomical calculating machine. As a biologist interested in engineering, I was amazed by the construction of the device. How did the ancients do it? I doubt they had tools such as lathe-like machines to cut gears, dividing heads to index them, precision-made drills, etc.
Gerald Legg Hurstpierpoint, England
Now that the design of the Antikythera Mechanism is understood, my question is: did it really work? And if so, how was this feat accomplished? For such a complex device to work, the parts would have had to be incredibly well machined. A working mechanism seems to demand the craftsmanship of a fine watch, a device that only appeared centuries later.
NORMAN L. GILINSKY Eastsound, Wash.
FREETH RESPONDS: My colleagues and I share Legg’s astonishment. In the University College London Antikythera research team, our two PhD students. students explore the questions it raises. It’s hard to see how the components of the device – such as gears, arbors, and coaxial output tubes – could have been made without a lathe, and we’re looking for evidence of lathes in ancient Greece. Its creators had to have some form of drill, as well as files or chisels to cut the gear teeth. Coaxial tubes raise many questions. Our students are part-time, so it may take some time to resolve these issues.
In response to Gilinsky: The Antikythera mechanism must indeed have been made with great precision for its time – it may not have been as precise as a modern watch but very well made for ancient Greece. Friction must have been a huge problem, especially because so many parts were in contact with each other in a way that wouldn’t happen in a modern instrument..
Did it work? We can’t be sure, but two pieces of evidence suggest that’s probably the case. The first is the descriptions of first-century BCE Greek devices by the Roman politician Cicero that appear similar: two made by the mathematician Archimedes in the third century BCE and one by the philosopher Posidonius in the first century BCE. The second comes from modern models, in particular those of Michael Wright. , a UK-based “historian of mechanism” and former curator of the Science Museum in London. His models work remarkably well, although he uses 19th century lathes to make them..
Researchers in our team are investigating whether our latest theoretical model works. First, they build a model with modern machinery to check if there are any serious design issues. Then they will build one (or parts) using techniques we believe were available in ancient Greece.
In “Hacking the Ransomware Problem” [Science Agenda]the editors outline strategies for dealing with ransomware attacks, in which hackers encrypt data in a target’s computer system and demand payment to release it.
There are several issues 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 think that government involvement is more of a hindrance than a help. Having worked in enterprise security and networking, I can say that the biggest problem that allows ransomware to persist is the reluctance of enterprises to implement good security architecture and practices. This results from a combination of issues, but generally implementers don’t know what they are implementing or why. Inevitably, one area will be closed under the direction of a security guard or audit, but another 50 will remain open. Companies pick best practices and don’t realize they’re exponentially safer if you implement them in tandem with complementary practices.
CTO, Alum Rock Union School District
In “Eat to save the planet” [Observatory]Naomi Oreskes argues that people can help alleviate the climate emergency by reducing red meat consumption, but notes that some “have argued that calls for individual action actually divert us from corporate responsibility”.
Asking individuals to take responsibility for climate change does not prevent us from pressuring large entities to do the same. This movement asks everyone to participate as much as possible. Individuals can fight climate change in many ways that don’t require a lot of extra time or expense. The tools are available to change our transportation, the energy used in the gases emitted by our homes, our consumer purchases and the donations to offset our carbon consumption. Next time, don’t tell readers one thing they can do. Tell them the 20 things they can do.
SAMUEL BENNETT by email
VIOLENCE AND IDEOLOGY
Congratulations to Amy Cooter for “Inside America’s Militias,” her article on the shift to more violent extremism among these groups. Here in rural Alabama, we have an interest in land next to a militia training camp, complete with obstacle courses, firing ranges, and fields for mock combat and tactical exercises. I’ve dealt with the spectrum of well-defined Cooter characters countless times over the decades and in as many settings, from grilling them in jury selections to debates while some work on our farm equipment. As I ticked off the points of agreement with Cooter, I eagerly waited for her to address a subject I found the militia world obsessed with: Antifa, which she describes as “the antifa (anti-fascist) movement “.
Militia parlance can’t settle for the best string of swear words to describe antifa. Having been shot as a Vietnam War veteran, I know the fear and see it in the world of the militia when its members discuss the organization. I would like to know if this fear is justified. Cooter’s article leaves us with few details on the subject.
GUY V. MARTIN, JR. Montgomery, Alabama.
COOTER RESPONDS: What we do know is that groups that yearn for a fictionalized past, especially those with overtly racist motivations, are more organized and more menacing than those on the left. Antifa is not represented by a single organization, and involvement with it is often seen as a transitional action, in which some people may participate in a single protest or other action rather than necessarily having an affiliation with a significant and long-term group. Strongly ideological individuals of all political persuasions have the violent action potential. But in my view, the fear of antifa in militia communities and beyond is more about the social change its presence represents rather than an actual or systematic threat of violence..
“Lemur Rhythm” by Jack Tamisiea [Advances]should have said that the indri study showed the first confirmed case of a non-human mammal possessing a categorical rhythm similar to that of human music, not a categorical rhythm in general.
Ian Battaglia’s review of The High House [Recommended] incorrectly describes Florida as the setting of the novel. The character Francesca dies in a hurricane in this state, but the plot focuses on the English coast.
In the March 2022 issue, two Advances articles included illustrations that should have been credited to Thomas Fuchs: “Phantom Finger”, by Matthew Hutson, and “Unusual Flow”, by Rachel Berkowitz.