Friday, December 10, 2010

Charles Babbage, Eat Your Heart Out

Posted by Nathaniel Comfort on 12/10 at 08:12 AM

A Youtube video, released by Nature Magazine, that is making the rounds on the intertubes is a bit of porn for historians of technology. It depicts a replica of the Antikythera mechanism, an intricate calculating machine from ancient Greece designed for predicting astronomical events—made out of Lego. You can read about it on the project website, and where you can also download a copy of the article in Nature from March 2008.

The mechanism itself is very impressive, as is the story of how its purpose was decoded. They’re worth seeing for their own sake.

What I want to call attention to, though, is the video. In general, I get annoyed by the way everything seems to be communicated in video instead of text nowadays. Video often feels unbearably slow. When I want to search tech support, I have to watch a 5-minute video instead of doing a 20-second text search. To me, video explanations typically feel flabby and annoying.

But this video is compact and well-muscled. It communicates a lot of detail about the actual workings of the Antikythera engine—how it does the math—in a short time, by combining text and moving images.

It’s an elegant piece of science communication, and worth the attention and reflection of anyone who communicates complex scientific ideas.

Tags: antikythera, astronomy, science communication, technology, video