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There was an ancient Charles Babbage!

I recall when they found this, and wondered what it was.  Now they have succeeded in recreating it, in gutta percha it seems.  But what a wonderful device.  The production of the gears must have taken a considerable amount of time and the, alas, was lost at sea!

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  1. Loki Eliot Loki Eliot December 10, 2010

    I love this sort of thing, only last week i saw Hero’s Steamball, those greeks!

  2. Aeolus Cleanslate Aeolus Cleanslate December 11, 2010

    That is so hot. Somebody write a novel about a Roman Empire driven by Greek computers.

    Julius Caesar seizes on the invention to help him calculate trajectories for his ballistae to defeat Hannibal … the Corps of Engineers demand engines to help design even more impressive aqueducts … a huge market for engines develops in Egypt to keep track of the grain trade … Greek engineers make excellent programmers for the engines managing Imperial finances … Rome builds temples to house them … Jesus Christ goes to the temple in Jerusalem to overturn the moneylenders’ … point-of-sale terminals.

    And then that crazy Hero is born in Alexandria and invents the aeolipile, and we get steam power too.


    Bronzepunk, baby. Or Romepunk.


  3. Jonathon Spires Jonathon Spires December 11, 2010

    The Greeks were developing some impresive automaton technology as well, far in advance of European clockwork from the rennaisance. One wonders what a Greek western world would have continued to develop if Rome had not taken over, and it it might have been a better world.

    Ptolemaic society pracitcally worshipped learning. Ships visiting Alexandria had to surrender their books, not because books were dangerous, but because the libarary had the right to copy any book that it did not have a copy of, already. It almost boggles the mind to imagine a society like that. Sadly most of what they made is lost, the library burnt, and the last Alexandrian scientist killed by a mob of angry monks, her flesh shredded with pot shards and then set on fire.

    Rome needed technology too, of course, and developed it where the need arose. But Rome  was far more depenant on slavery, and slave based economies don’t really have the same need to develop produdent non-entertainment or religious based technology.

    Its a shame humanity so often has had to reinvent things over and over, but maybe our cycle of light and dark ages is over.


    • Gabriell Anatra Gabriell Anatra December 12, 2010

      Not much chance of that, unfortunately. Fundamentalism is on the rise and has been for decades and we still haven’t faced the really difficult problems of an information and data driven society yet.

      We seem to be moving towards a sort of neo-feudalism atm. Maybe if we’re lucky the next dark age won’t be too severe and we’ll still know how to build computers when it’s over.

      • Jonathon Spires Jonathon Spires December 13, 2010

        Depends. I think we’re at a severe crux right now, and it could go either way. If, for instance, Polywell fusion is proven in the next couple of years, frankly we’ve hit the civilization jackpot. We’ve opened up the solar system and beyond with unlimited resources.

        If we fall into another dark age, I’m not sure we can survive it. The groups that come after us won’t have easy access to mineral resources that fueled the industrial revolution. This time there’s no going back for another tree. We win this one, or as a species we’re going back to living in trees.

      • Glaubrius Valeska Glaubrius Valeska December 15, 2010

        Puts me in mind of Canticle for Leibowitz, which has not one, but to nuclear holocausts, and an intervening Dark Age in which computers and machines are banned scientists and technologists are burned at the stake.  Only upside is that during Dark Ages self-reliance and holdout monks preserve knowledge.

    • Glaubrius Valeska Glaubrius Valeska December 12, 2010

      Check out the kinotropic Agora, about Hypatia (played by Rachael Weitz).  They sanitize her death a bit, but there is a tear-jerking scene of the librarians trying to rescue as many books as they can while the Alexandrian mob breaks down the doors.

      “Save only the important ones!”

      “They are all important!”

      Wonder if they had mechanisms stored in the Library?

  4. Kimika Ying Kimika Ying December 11, 2010

    Absolutely brilliant.  Its a shame that we’ll never know anything about the person or people who created the original device.



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