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The Antikythera Mechanism > Ancient Moon ‘computer’ revisited December 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Science.
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The delicate workings at the heart of a 2,000-year-old analogue computer have been revealed by scientists. The Antikythera Mechanism, discovered more than 100 years ago in a Roman shipwreck, was used by ancient Greeks to display astronomical cycles.

Using advanced imaging techniques, an Anglo-Greek team probed the remaining fragments of the complex geared device. The results, published in the journal Nature, show it could have been used to predict solar and lunar eclipses. The elaborate arrangement of bronze gears may also have displayed planetary information.

“This is as important for technology as the Acropolis is for architecture,” said Professor John Seiradakis of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, and one of the team. “It is a unique device.”

However, not all experts agree with the team’s interpretation of the mechanism.

Technical complexity > The remains of the device were first discovered in 1902 when archaeologist Valerios Stais noticed a heavily corroded gear wheel amongst artefacts recovered by sponge divers from a sunken Roman cargo ship. A further 81 fragments have since been found containing a total of 30 hand-cut bronze gears. The largest fragment has 27 cogs.

Researchers believe these would have been housed in a rectangular wooden frame with two doors, covered in instructions for its use. The complete calculator would have been driven by a hand crank. Although its origins are uncertain, the new studies of the inscriptions suggest it would have been constructed around 100-150 BC, long before such devices appear in other parts of the world.

Writing in Nature, the team says that the mechanism was “technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterwards”.

Although much of it is now lost, particularly from the front, what remains has given a century’s worth of researchers a tantalising glimpse into the world of ancient Greek astronomy.

One of the most comprehensive studies was done by British science historian Derek Solla Price, who advanced the theory that the device was used to calculate and display celestial information. This would have been important for timing agricultural and religious festivals. Some researchers now also believe that it could have been used for teaching or navigation. Although Solla Price’s work did much to push forward the state of knowledge about the device’s functions, his interpretation of the mechanics is now largely dismissed.

A reinterpretation of the fragments by Michael Wright of Imperial College London between 2002 and 2005, for example, developed an entirely different assembly for the gears. The new work builds on this legacy.

Eclipse function > Using bespoke non-invasive imaging systems, such as three-dimensional X-Ray microfocus computed tomography, the team was able to take detailed pictures of the device and uncover new information. The major structure they describe, like earlier studies, had a single, centrally placed dial on the front plate that showed the Greek zodiac and an Egyptian calendar on concentric scales.

IMAGING TECHNIQUES
1. Three dimensional X-ray microfocus computed tomography: Developed by X-Tek Systems and similar to medical CAT scans, it allowed 3D images of the fragments to be reconstructed. Crucial for reading text hidden by centuries of corrosion.
2. Digital optical imaging using polynomial texture mapping: Developed by Hewlett Packard, a new method for increasing the photorealism of surface textures in digital pictures. Revealed faint surface details.
3. Digitised conventional film photography: High-quality images allowed the fragments to be studied without being handled. 

On the back, two further dials displayed information about the timing of lunar cycles and eclipse patterns. Previously, the idea that the mechanism could predict eclipses had only been a hypothesis.

Other aspects are less certain, such as the exact number of cogs that would have been in the complete device. The new research suggests 37 gears could have been used. However, what is left gives an insight into the complexity of the information the mechanism could display. For example, the Moon sometimes moves slightly faster in the sky than at others because of the satellite’s elliptic orbit. To overcome this, the designer of the calculator used a “pin-and-slot” mechanism to connect two gear-wheels that introduced the necessary variations.

“When you see it your jaw just drops and you think: ‘bloody hell, that’s clever’. It’s a brilliant technical design,” said Professor Mike Edmunds.

Planetary display > The team was also able to decipher more of the text on the mechanism, doubling the amount of text that can now be read. Combined with analysis of the dials, the inscriptions hint at the possibility that the Antikythera Mechanism could have also displayed planetary motions.

“Inscriptions mention the word ‘Venus’ and the word ‘stationary’ which would tend to suggest that it was looking at retrogressions of planets,” said Professor Edmunds. “In my own view, it probably displayed Venus and Mercury, but some people suggest it may display many other planets.”

One of those people is Michael Wright. His reconstruction of the device, with 72 gears, suggests it may have been an orrery that displayed the motions of the five known planets of the time.

“There is a feature on the front plate that could have made provision for a bearing with a spindle, that carried motion up to a mechanism used to model the planets of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn as well,” he said. “That’s how I see it and my reconstruction shows it works well.”

Intriguingly, Mr Wright also believes the device was not a one-off.

“The designer and maker of the device knew what they wanted to achieve and they did it expertly; they made no mistakes,” he said. “To do this, it can’t have been very far from their everyday stock work.”

Related Links >

Antikythera Research Project

Nature

Cardiff University

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

Imperial College

Polynomial texture mapping

X-Tek X-ray technology

Male psyche dissected December 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Stage & Theater.
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Dimitris Papaioannou’s ‘2’ examines the rift between obligation and desire

The production is performed by an all-male cast, against the background of Constantinos Vita’s music and also bearing the signature of Angelos Mendis, the artistic director and costume designer. Due to great demand, performances have now been extended to the end of January.

Following a long period of anticipation and heavy discussions, Dimitris Papaioannou’s latest production, “2” finally opened at the newly renovated Pallas Theater last Friday. The production is an inventively blended combination of dance, movement and acting, all united against the background of Constantinos Vita’s music, with Angelos Mendis on board as artistic director and costume designer.

Initially scheduled for a 20-day run, performances have been extended to the end of January because demand has been so great.

With this powerful show, Papaioannou has returned to his own explorations, briefly interrupted by the Athens 2004 Olympic ceremonies, of which he was concept creator. The ceremonies are the last thing one should have in mind when going to see the show.

Performed by an all-male cast, “2” gives the impression of a highly in-depth, cruel yet very inventive dissection of the male psyche. The title reflects the need for inner unity in a futile attempt to combine the stereotypes imposed by society and one’s genuine desires.

The main character, played by actor Aris Servetalis, embarks on a journey of self-discovery. The stage itself, at times resembling an airport lounge with its conveyor belts, is symbolic of the journey where the leading character encounters loneliness and a lack of communication. Two men run parallel to each other but in opposite directions on the conveyor belts; despite their efforts, in a powerful scene with captivating movement, they can never stand still to meet just long enough for one to light the other’s cigarette. They end up losing each other as they gradually drift apart.

Papaioannou demonstrates that all efforts to fit our desires into our daily routine are hopeless. Servetalis’s character makes desperate attempts to fit bits of shredded paper as well as a balloon, the symbol of his creativity and sensitivity, into one bucket. He is unable to do so, as the bucket can only hold the paper or the balloon, but not both. No matter how hard he tries to combine his obligations with his dreams, it appears that the two just cannot go together. Men are not allowed to express what they really feel but instead drown their desires: The shredded bits were torn at a torturous pace in a previous scene, set in a lethally sterile and bureaucratic office, full of people with television sets instead of heads.

Man’s dual and contradictory nature is also reflected in the two men who stand behind each side of a rotating wall and only appear one at a time, men who in fact represent just one person.

With an endless display of highly inventive ideas, Papaioannou mocks the violence that runs through every aspect of our daily lives and which we have come to accept as natural. How can you truly discover yourself and respect your inner wishes and at the same time remain part of a whole? How can a man strike a balance between what is expected of him by society and what he really wants to express? What is the extent of people’s loneliness today? These are some of the questions that the audience is left to ponder at the end of the 100-minute long performance.

Even sex, which is supposed to be an act of joy and intimacy, is carried out in a repressive way, almost like a compulsion. It is presented as a purely biological need, which it is of course, to a certain extent, but also as something imposed. When at some point Servetalis’s character joins a group of men who are simulating sex while relieving themselves in the urinals, one cannot help but think of the unbearable “must have sex” pressure which not only defines the timing of the act but also determines its circumstances, flattening any possibility of spontaneity and pleasure. Society simply does not tolerate male sensitivity. A man dancing on stage, with one leg dressed in a stocking and a high-heeled shoe, feels compelled to keep shooting at it, hence rebuking the more sensitive and creative, or “feminine,” aspect of his nature. Every need for tenderness, even as one of the dancers cuddles up to the huge Barbie doll, the only female presence in the entire performance, is camouflaged by violence.

Mass culture as it is imposed on us is a recurring theme in “2” translated into men’s passion over football and their attendance at cheap, low-caliber Greek music clubs, which they feel obliged to go to even if they don’t have any fun and where they wonder if those around them feel the same way. This theme becomes even more apparent when Papaioannou decides to mock our modern worship of the perfect body by having his performers work out compulsively at the gym and then treat themselves to a hammam, in an aesthetically very intriguing scene.

Sharp, observant and merciless, but always with an acute sense of humor, Papaioannou probes deep into men’s dilemmas and pokes fun at the futility of coming to terms with their dual nature.

Pallas Theater, 3 Voukourestiou Street, Athens, tel 210 3213100. As demand is high, book as soon as possible. Tickets can also be purchased on tel 210 2005050 and online at www.ticketshop.gr.

New venue on the modern and the old December 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Arts Events Greece, Arts Exhibitions Greece.
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Eclecticism and a mix-and-match aesthetic is the idea behind “Kriezotou 6, Art, Design, Antiques”, a sophisticated exhibition space and the latest venture by the Zoumboulakis Galleries.

Designed by architect Thodoris Zoumboulakis in bold black and white contrasting elements, this modern space juxtaposes the contemporary with the antique and brings together contemporary design, art and traditional artisanship in an aesthetic of relaxed chic and playful interior design.

The fluid-like shape of “Aqua Table” designed by the acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid for the British company Established & Sons, stands out for its sculptural quality and bold-yet-visually-soothing form. The version on display at the Zoumboulakis gallery is in white gloss-finished polyurethane but the table also comes in black and in red. A curving bench also by Hadid seems, like the table, more like a work of sculpture than actual furniture.

Almost every piece presented in the space has that one-of-a-kind feeling even though many of them are editions in limited series. Yet what makes them seem unique is the way they have been arranged to create the sense of personal involvement rather than standardized aesthetic.

The outcome seems effortless and playful. Greeting the visitor is a children’s car from the 1950s. Mounted on the wall just above is one of Rauschenberg’s limited-edition works from the 1970s and on the opposite wall a large painting by contemporary Greek artist Yiannis Kottis, one of the Zoumboulakis galleries’ collaborating artists. Other artworks include one of the early magnetic works by Takis and a work on wood by Alexis Akrithakis.

Traditional Greek chairs from Epirus and an 18th century French hutch evince an appreciation for craftsmanship and the antique. Close by, round, metal tables on wheels represent contemporary, Italian design. A complete pewter dining set from France represents a contemporary re-edition of the antique as do the Astier de Villate ceramics. This play between the old and the contemporary is the theme of a video that Anastassios Agathos directed especially for the Zoumboulakis galleries, Tatiana Karapanayioti is the producer.

It is also what Thodoris Zoumboulakis had in mind when designing the space. The rough-looking, black metal that “unfolds” throughout the largest part of the gallery is meant to evoke the patina of time, while the white areas in the galleries express the contemporary. The lighting has also been carefully designed by Thanassis Kanellias.

The proximity of this new venue to the other two branches of the Zoumboulakis galleries (the well-known contemporary art space run by Daphne Zoumboulaki and the gallery, also on Kriezotou Street, that includes graphics and editions and is just across the street) enables the visitor to acquire a full understanding of the profile of the Zoumboulakis galleries. Interestingly, this latest venue is located just across from the premises where the gallery first opened in the late 1960s. Peggy and Tassos Zoumboulakis, the parents of Daphne and Thodoris, opened their first gallery on Kriezotou but moved to the present-day space in Kolonaki Square a few years later. The gallery opened with an exhibition on Takis and hosted some of the most innovative projects in art at that time. “Kriezotou 6” continues this tradition of the Zoumboulakis. It adds a new angle and expresses the growing status that design has acquired in our lives.

Kriezotou 6, Art, Design, Antiques, 6 Kriezotou Street, Athens, tel 210 3640264

Related Links > www.zoumboulakis.gr

Jewelry as identity, custom and culture December 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Arts Exhibitions Greece, Fashion & Style.
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Pieces from a private collection on display at Lalaounis Museum

Long before bling-bling, designer jewelry and luxury brands, there was jewelry with identity, reflecting cultures, customs and societies.

Representing a 40-year-old quest by its owner, “Ethnic Jewelry from the Private Collection of Liza Moussis” currently being showcased at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, is a display of portable art, representing wealth, social status, provenance and more.

The temporary exhibition is taking place under the auspices of the National Committee of the European Cultural Foundation, with the generous sponsorship of Calzedonia and Intimissimi.

With more than 170 items, stemming from no fewer than 30 countries stretching from Africa to Asia, from Morocco to Papua New Guinea, and Yemen, the majority of the pieces were made between the late 19th and early 20th century.

With body ornaments ranging from necklaces to anklets and from hair pieces to buckles and earrings, the exhibition features jewelry made of precious metals and semiprecious stones, without discarding beads, feathers and even cloves.

At the Athenian Museum, traditional values and behaviors come across through the use of a variety of pieces: An anklet, probably from the Baoule tribe in Ivory Coast, used to be fixed on a woman’s leg as part of her dowry. These days, wearing this type of jewelry is forbidden by the Liberian government. Believed to have therapeutic qualities, amber is used extensively in Morocco, as seen in a collection of necklaces. The Hellenistic influences in a Kalash neck ring in Pakistan points to a rich history.

Earrings made by the Flores people in Ngada, Indonesia, are traditionally given by young men as an engagement and preliminary wedding gift. In India, on the other hand, it is the woman’s family who has to produce jewelry amounting to the bride-to-be’s “worth,” such as the heavy silver torque (neck ring) on display.

In Turkmenistan, jewelry is known to hang on the back, at the museum is a piece with elaborate gilding and cornelians, while newlywed women are obliged to wear their entire bridal collection every day for a year. In Nepal, wealthy women can be identified by intricate pieces such as necklaces with gold-leaf beads and sheet metal sewn on fabrics.

Just as ethnic fashion styles have been increasingly gaining momentum in the Western world, with designers throwing softer or stronger elements into their collections, ethnic jewelry has become a fountain of inspiration through original or reproduced pieces playing leading roles in Western looks.

If the democratization of jewelry means that a solitaire nowadays no longer necessarily indicates a marriage proposal and is purchased by the person who ultimately wears it, this ethnic jewelry comes as a reminder that it has not always been that way.

Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, 12 Kallisperi street, Acropolis, Athens. For more information, tel 210 9221044. The exhibition runs to January 31.

Related Links > http://www.lalaounis-jewelrymuseum.gr

Court halts work on railway extension December 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Transport Air Sea Land.
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Greece’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, has ordered the suspension of work on the overground extension of the Proastiakos suburban railway line to Piraeus, in a decision made public yesterday.

The court decided that authorities had not looked thoroughly enough into the alternative methods of extending the line through the areas of Menidi, Aghioi Anargyroi, Sepolia and Treis Gefyres.

Constructors cited “economic and technical” reasons for not making at least part of the line underground but this was rejected by the judges.

Residents of Aghioi Anargyroi in western Athens appealed to authorities last month to stop the work after waking up to find that 100 pine trees had been felled to accommodate the new line. Some 1,000 trees in total have been chopped down by the constructors.

World AIDS Day commemorated in Greece December 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Health & Fitness.
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An event was held outside the Roman-era Arch of Galerius in the northern city of Thessaloniki on Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, on the occasion of World AIDS Day.

The international campaign to end AIDS (World AIDS Day) was also observed in Greece on Friday, with several political and religious leaders issuing statements on the occasion.

On his part, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos said the issue of AIDS was primarily one of prevention, while expressing the Church of Greece’s compassion for sufferers of the deadly virus.

According to reports, 485 new HIV cases were reported in the east Mediterranean country in 2006, with 50 of those cases declared full blown AIDS.

Events marking the day were held in Athens and Thessaloniki, with medical students in the latter handing out pamphlets and prophylactics.

Winter visitors > colour in the cold December 1, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Nature.
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Over sixty different bird species come to Cyprus to spend the winter. Most come from northern, central or east Europe to take advantage of our mild winters as opposed to the cold, hard winter conditions of their breeding areas. The most familiar of Cyprus’ winter visitors are the greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) that use the salt lakes of Larnaca and Akrotiri between the months of November and March. In some years, thousands of flamingos make the most of the abundant brine shrimp food supply provided by the salt lake ecosystems.

Less well known, however, are the many European song birds that come to Cyprus in considerable numbers, taking up temporary residence on our farmlands, wooded areas, gardens and parks. One of the first visitors to arrive is the white wagtail (Motacilla alba). This black and white bird is very common during its stay and huge concentrations flock together at dusk to roost in trees in built-up areas such as Makarios Avenue in Nicosia and Larnaca’s Phinikoudes area. This is a very easy bird to spot with its characteristic pied plumage and ‘wagging’ tail.

These winter visitors lend different sounds to the countryside to those that prevail in summer. The robin (Erithacus rubecula) is more often heard than seen during its time here. You will know when one is around when you hear a short, hard ‘tick’ or a long repeated series ‘tick, tick, tick…’ This calling helps in defending its territory. The robin also has a melodious song and as it sings all year round, and this can also be heard while it is in Cyprus. This well-known red-breasted bird may be spotted flitting in the undergrowth, but “our” birds are not from the more confident British population but rather from the human-shy European one.

The song of another very common winter visitor, the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), betrays its presence and, like the robin, this warbler may prove more difficult to spot than hear. On sunny winter days, the melodic, warbling song of the male blackcap can be heard in wooded areas and even from trees in city centre car parks. The chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) is a rather non-descript little greenish-brown warbler which skulks in undergrowth and shrubs throughout the winter. As soon as the winter sun shines through, however, it too sends out notice that it is here with its simple song, a repetitive, cheerful ‘chiff-chaff’ from which it gets its name. The rest of the time, it is a forlorn-sounding “huit” call, not dissimilar to that of a baby chicken, that indicates its presence.

A more conspicuous winter visitor is the stonechat (Saxicola torquata). This is the same size as the robin. The male has a striking black head with white around the side of its neck, orange-red breast and a mottled brown back. The female lacks the male’s black head. Stonechats are very common visitors to the low altitudes of Cyprus between October and April. They are frequently seen flicking their wings while perched from the tops of low bushes. At the same time they often utter a sharp, loud call which sounds like two stones being tapped together, hence its English name.

Other winter visitors come from the thrush family, blackbirds (Turdus merula) and song thrushes (Turdus philomelos) are usually widespread. Other thrushes such as redwings (Turdus iliacus), fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) and the mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus) occur regularly but in varying numbers. Their appearance in Cyprus usually depends on the severity of the winter in the surrounding European countries.

Hard winter conditions in our own mountain range of Troodos drive two species from there to spend their winters on the milder lowlands of Cyprus. These are the finch species chaffinch (Fringilla coelabs) and serin (Serinus serinus). Both these birds breed in the Troodos range but from October onwards are found increasingly at lower levels where they are joined by wintering migrants from elsewhere. The male chaffinch is a colourful creature, having a blue head and pinkish breast, but it is the flash of white on its wings and white outer tail feathers in flight that are the prominent identification marks. Its ‘pink pink’ call is also diagnostic.

Serins form small flocks and feed together, often flitting from tree to tree and twittering together as a noisy mass. They have streaky yellow-brown upper parts with paler streaked under parts and a yellow rump. The males have bright yellow heads with darker patches on the crown and below the eye, while the females are duller.

The birds that winter on the Cypriot wetlands may be much better known but these over-wintering passerines add variety to the landscape and can even be found in our back gardens and parks.

If you want to know more about Cyprus’ birds or are interested in joining BirdLife Cyprus please contact P.O. Box 28076, 2090 Nicosia, telephone 22-455072 or e-mail birdlifecy@cytanet.com.cy. In addition, join us at Fassouri Reed beds for a walk on Sunday, December 10 to look at the birds wintering there. Call 99-059541 for details.

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