The Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera mechanism as found in the sea (picture from Wilipedia)

The Antikythera mechanism as found in the sea (picture from Wikipedia)

A friend of mine is a member of the Cambridge Astronomical Association, from time to time he invites me to accompany him to their lectures. The latest outing was to watch a very interesting presentation about an ancient (180-70BC) machine discovered on a shipwreck in the Aegean Sea. This mechanism has been described as the worlds oldest analogue computer.

The excellent and interesting presentation was given by John Lancashire. Mr Lancashire has built his own working reconstruction of the machine using the original design to produce 3d printed plastic reproductions of those components to use in his machine. He did, however, change the tooth profiles of the gears to involute from the straight cut original form.

Antikythera 1

John Lancashires reproduction of the Antikythera mechanism

The machine was recovered from the sea in 1901 and identified as containing gears by the Greek archaeologist Valerois Stais in 1902. Only recently with the aid of modern X-ray and scanning techniques was its purpose discerned.  This enabled the true extent of its complexity and sophistication to be established.

John outlined the timeline of key steps in the development of astronomical theories in the Hellenistic period from 500BC through to the time when it was thought the mechanism was lost. At that time the earth was still considered to be at the centre of the universe with the sun and planets orbiting it.

Antikythera 2

This side of the machine shows the pointers representing the position of the sun and the known planets. The ball in the centre in black rotates to show the phases of the moon.

He completed his presentation by demonstrating his model of the mechanism and how he had calibrated it for the present day, the lecture was so interesting that it continued well past its scheduled slot and we departed much later than usual.

Antikythera 5

A view of the gearing and on the right the pointers for each planet and the sun. The complexity of such an ancient machine is astounding.

On the trip home my friend and I discussed the machine and concluded that there could have been earlier less complex versions of this mechanism, that someone must have sat down and designed it possibly recording their design. It is possible that these designs and the underpinning theories were lost in the burning of the library at Alexandria. For me, the interest was not only in the machine itself but how it was constructed with such accuracy and the history of the machines that well may have preceded it. We can only speculate about those people who had the intellect to have designed this and possibly other similar machines unless we can design a time machine to travel back in time we will never know their identity.

A Summer’s Place

The way through the trees

The way through the trees

I have written before of my love of the Lattersey Nature reserve in Whittlesey, I usually visit several times a week. Watching the changes in the vegetation and wildlife during the year is something I particularly enjoy.

A fantastic pathway

A path in another part of the reserve

A path through Purple Loosestrife

A path through Purple Loosestrife

We are now in high summer with autumn lurking just around the corner. Amongst the flowers in the meadow grounds and wooded areas butterflies accompanied by a few dragonflies go about their business but I am aware of the ripening of blackberries a few turning red and black among their still green fellows. The days are beginning to shorten not significantly yet but the change is coming.

Blackberries 2

An abundant crop of blackberries

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly

Time to make the most of the summer we have, to cherish the beauty of butterflies, dragonflies, wonder at the bees and flowers growing wild that nourish them, many considered weeds in other settings. My old gardening teacher defined a weed as merely a plant being  in the wrong place. As far as the bees and butterflies are concerned these erstwhile weeds are certainly in the right place for them.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly visiting a thistle a plant in the right place for him or her

Stamford Shakespeare Company’s performance of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit

I was given a ticket to Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit, a birthday present from my son. I hadn’t been to Tolethorpe Hall or watched a performance of this play before. My wife and I joined my brother in law together with his wife, her sister and friend. Enjoying a picnic in the grounds before making our way into the theatre.

The theatre is in the beautiful grounds of Tolethorpe Hall with permanent tiered seating and covered auditorium, the stage itself is detached from the auditorium and doesn’t appear to be fully covered.

The set was impressively well made showing a high degree of professionalism in its appearance and construction. Quality often lacking in sets used in many other supposedly more prestigious venues.

It augured well.

A photo of the fantastically well-constructed set for Blithe Spirit.

A photo of the fantastically well-constructed set for Blithe Spirit.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play and laughed far more than I have done in a long time. The entire cast played their parts to perfection and brought for me a degree of magic I have rarely experienced at the theatre. I particularly enjoyed the total eccentricity of Madame Arcarti brilliantly played by Angela Harris but competition from the rest of the very outstanding professional cast was tremendous.

Madame Arcardi, Blithe Spirit Stamford Shakespeare Company 2019 production. (Scan from the programme)

Madame Arcardi, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, Stamford Shakespeare Company 2019 production. (Scan from the programme)

 

The final scenes showed just how well the set had been designed a work of exceptional quality.

The thought crossed my mind after watching the play, whether the character of Charles Condomine had been inspired in any way by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a novelist with an interest in spiritualism. I did a quick bit of research but could find nothing to support the theory.

This was my first visit to Tolethorpe Hall it will certainly not be my last “The Importance of Being Earnest” is on my to do list for next season.

Thank you, everyone, at the Stamford Shakespeare Company cast, production team and management for a truly wonderful evening.

Review of Halfords Chain Cleaning machine.

Chain Cleaner from Halfords

Chain Cleaner from Halfords

Like many men and boys, I have a fascination with machines; particularly ones with gears, cams, cranks and sprockets. My daughter knows me well, she has grown up watching me watching things whirr and rotate. She has seen me standing awestruck in front of traction engines and beam engines.

As a cyclist, it was with absolute delight that I opened my birthday present to find this wonderful looking machine, its gears and cogs clearly visible through its plastic casing. Then I read the label a Chain Cleaning Kit, as the late Professor Stanley Unwin would have said, “Deep joy”.

I had it out of its packaging there and then opening it up to inspect its works, being the man I am, reading the instructions came afterwards.

The cycle chain cleaning machine itself

The cycle chain cleaning machine itself

 

A few days later I put the machine to work, it is supplied with a small bottle of cleaning fluid to start you on your chain cleaning experience. The cycle was parked on the patio, a piece of wood placed under the stand to raise the rear wheel clear of the ground.

The machine is built in two halves to allow it to be fitted around the chain. The picture shows the two halves prior to assembly, the cleaning brushes and plastic cogs clearly visible.

The two halves of the cycle chain cleaning machine

The two halves of the cycle chain cleaning machine

The next picture is of the chain cleaner in place ready for action and waiting for the cleaning fluid. After pouring some fluid into the top reservoir I turned the crank backwards as instructed, the machine fell off hitting the ground. The second attempt produced the same result and the chain came off the back sprocket too.

Cycle Chain cleaning machine

Ready to go just need the cleaner adding

I refitted the chain and machine then tried turning the crank forward, we were in business the accumulated grime started to lift from the chain making its way into the bottom reservoir.

Cleaning in progress

Chain cleaning in progress

The difference in chain cleanliness was very apparent, the removal draining of the cleaning fluid and washing the machine was easy and straight forward. I put my new toy away oiled my chain and was ready for cycling action.

A really thoughtful present.

Cambridge Strawberry Fair

Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous Plants, any Triffids?

I grew up in Huntingdon, which is roughly equidistant from Peterborough and Cambridge. Of the two cities, Cambridge was and still is my favourite. Setting my novel in Cambridge has given me the perfect reason (not an excuse) to revisit more frequently for research purposes.

The Park and Ride at St Ives and the Guided Bus are very handy, free parking and a bus pass really useful.

For those who don’t know Cambridge the sheer volume and variety of bicycles is I am sure something of a surprise.

Dutch bike

Dutch Bike

Today’s visit was to the Strawberry Fair, giving me valuable first-hand information I  wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I had a wander around the fair astounded by the inflated price of food available at the venue, Greggs got my custom after leaving the fair. Whilst ambling around the stands and stalls I noticed one selling carnivorous plants, I was tempted to ask if they had any Triffids? I am not sure whether they would share my sense of humour and probably have already had similar requests so decided against it.

Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous Plants, any Triffids?

There were a lot of live music performances taking place, nothing that really appealed to me but I am now of an age.

I toured some of the “lefty” stands, Momentum, Cambridge People’s Assembly, Cambridgeshire Keep our NHS, (nice profiteroles ladies reasonably priced too), Sea Shepherd and Hunt Saboteurs. I had a nice chat with the Hunt Sabs lady sharing my opinion of those who kill for sport and an account of an encounter I had with a hunt over fifty years ago. We agreed that those who kill for pleasure have at the very least a personality disorder.

Dinosaur skeleton at the Sedgewick Museum

Dinosaur skeleton at the Sedgewick Museum

I visited the Museum of Zoology and then the Sedgewick Museum of Geology looking for information to help my daughter with a topic she is teaching her class, about dinosaurs. Both museums are well worth a visit.

Old habits die hard and whilst walking around Cambridge I was evaluating the quality of the ironwork used in gates and railings, it no longer serves any practical purpose it just stimulates the brain.

I think I am now up to date with my research but an unexpected plot twist might require another visit, I won’t know until it happens, hang on, something is coming through now.

Irony?

I was visiting my brother in hospital yesterday he has been pretty poorly, currently suffering from pneumonia. I was getting near the end of my visit when our cousin and his wife turned up.

We then proceeded to discuss people we all knew, many old school contemporaries that had died recently.

A Following Wind

Front book cover for A Following WInd

A following Wind front cover

Our U3A Creative Writing Group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths, is working on a new book, a follow up to Where the Wild Winds Blow, our first very successful attempt at writing and publishing. This new volume has the title: A Following Wind.

I am working on a new front cover for the book, something that conveys both a movement by wind and our Fenland landscape. Over the years I have managed to take photographs of what is for many people the defining feature of our landscape, the skies. Often at their most breathtakingly beautiful during sunrise and sunset.

The cover may be slightly different depending on the template restrictions but please take a look at it and let me have your feedback.

The Calling by Alison Bruce a review.

Front cover of the book The Calling

The Calling by Alison Bruce

Having read the first two books in the DC Gary Goodhew series (Cambridge Blue and The Siren) I was keen to try The Calling; the third or more accurately the first.

Alison had written The Calling before any of the others but decided that it was better placed as the third novel in the series.

There is always the problem of a Cambridge based detective being compared to that of Oxford’s Inspector Morse, Edinburgh’s Inspector Rebus or Bath’s Superintendent Diamond. DC Gary Goodhew is further down the ranks, a mere Detective Constable but none the less just as talented.

Goodhew struggles without any advantage of rank to find his way through a maze of clues, using unorthodox methods and skating round procedural niceties to find the answer to a troubling series of cruel murders. The ending is edgy and tense with the outcome by no means a foregone conclusion.

I enjoyed the book, like a great many of Alison’s fans, Cambridge is local and familiar to me, we have ownership of the settings.

This is, as are Alison’s other books well written, detailed and literate but above all else a damn good entertaining read.

Visiting Woodwalton Fen Nature reserve

Wood Walton Fen Nature Reserve

This probably as close to how the fens were before they were drained

My wife and I visited Woodwalton Fen Nature reserve recently, it has been a number of years since our last short visit. We parked alongside the Great Raveley drain that forms part of what is in effect a moat that surrounds the reserve. The reserve needs these surrounding and network of internal waterways to keep the ground moist and maintain its height above the surrounding land. The land roundabout has been drained and is as a consequence lower.

We crossed the bridge into the reserve walking to the thatched information shelter where we picked up three leaflets, each a guide to a different walk around the reserve. We decided on the waterfowl trail and set off.

Woodwalton Fen Information Centre

Woodwalton Fen information Centre

The Great Fen Project of which Woodwalton Fen is part is returning the area to the fen wetlands that existed before their drainage. The ground is boggy and wet nearly everywhere, apart from some wooden walkways, in many places, there are ponds of dark peaty water. The landscape gives some indication of how difficult travel must have been in centuries past when most journeys in the fens were made on either foot, horseback or by boat.

The Bungalow Woodwalton Fen Nature Reserve

The Bungalow Woodwalton Fen Nature Reserve

For a while we saw little in the way of wildlife save for a few swans and an odd duck, then after coming across the bungalow and a beautifully carved memorial bench beside it, we spotted a dear in the distance. Surprisingly for this early in the season there were a number of butterflies around we spotted Brimstone and Peacock for certain.

Carved Memorial Bench at Woodwalton Fen Nature Reserve

Carved Memorial Bench at Woodwalton Fen Nature Reserve

 

A deer in the distance

A deer in the distance

A sleeping Swan

A sleeping Swan

We gingerly edged around a sleeping swan then came across a ditch full of frogs apparently mating and the biggest ball of frogspawn I have seen. I cannot remember seeing so many frogs in one place they all seemed to be thriving looking at their size.

Frog spawn

Frog spawn

Frogs

Frogs just two of a huge cast

We rambled on finding the winding footway to Gordon’s hide. The hide is elevated roughly ten feet above the level of the mere sharing the same name, it gives a good panoramic view of the open water and the surrounding fen. We will bring binoculars on our next visit.

We continued on the trail until we found ourselves back alongside the Great Raveley Drain. We followed this until we reached the bridge at the entrance and crossed to collect our car. As we walked alongside the drain we encountered a tree obviously hollow, home to wild bees. These little fellows seem to have an aerial motorway across the drain, the bee traffic seemed heavy and continuous.

Bee hive in a tree

Bee hive in a tree

We reckoned that we had spent the best part of two hours wandering around this beautiful, tranquil place and are determined to return sooner rather than l

Philosophy and History

Plato_Silanion_Musei_Capitolini_MC1377

By Copy of Silanion, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7831217.

I went to a U3A meeting yesterday at St Neots, they had a number of different displays around the room from different interest groups one was by the Philosophy Group.

Although there are a number of definitions of Philosophy they seem to distil down to what I understand Philosophy to be, the study of wisdom. I have felt for some time that along with History it should be a core subject within the education system. Philosophy should replace Religious Education in my view. Teaching people how to think, would help them make sounder judgements, rationalise and avoid knee jerk reactions to untested statements. It would make us all more questioning and rational less willing to take statements of fact at face value.

Why then history too?

This quote in its various forms is probably the most persuasive argument for the teaching of history:

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Sir Winston Churchill

(by Dallon Christensen White board Business Partners website)

The commonly used expression, “Those who ignore history are bound (or doomed) to repeat it” is actually a misquotation of the original text written by George Santayana (1863-1952), who, in his Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1, wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Stanford University online also provides an outstanding and much more detailed background on this important and profound philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist.

Santayana’s quotation, in turn, was a slight modification of an Edmund Burke (1729-1797) statement, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Burke was a British Statesman and Philosopher who is generally viewed as the philosophical founder of modern political conservatism.

(Answers.com)

I was talking to a history teacher of a secondary school a few years ago, when I said I thought history was a very important subject she asked me why I thought it was important?

I replied, that “History teaches us not only about the past but informs us about the present and helps predict the future”.

If we do not know history we have no option than to continue to repeat it as we have nothing to learn from.

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