Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tonight on TV: Mythbusters and Archimedes' Death Ray

OBAMA, MYTHBUSTERS TO TEST 'ARCHIMEDES DEATH RAY' IN PUSH TO PROMOTE SCIENCE

PUBLISHED OCTOBER 18, 2010
| FOXNEWS.COM

PRESIDENT OBAMA IS EITHER TRYING TO REACH A NEW AUDIENCE OR HE'S LOOKING TO BUILD THE PENTAGON'S NEXT PROJECT ON THE CHEAP.


THE PRESIDENT IS SET TO MAKE A GUEST APPEARANCE NEXT MONTH ON THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL'S "MYTHBUSTERS," THE SHOW WHERE A TEAM OF EXPLOSION-PRONE PYROPHILES TEST URBAN LEGENDS. THE OBAMA EPISODE WILL FOCUS ON THE SO-CALLED "ARCHIMEDES DEATH RAY."
THE DEATH RAY IS THE WEAPON LEGEND HAS IT WAS USED BY GREEK MATHEMATICIAN ARCHIMEDES TO DESTROY ENEMY SHIPS. IT WOULD HAVE USED A SYSTEM OF MIRRORS TO REFLECT AND FOCUS THE SUN'S RAYS ONTO WHATEVER IS TARGETED FOR INCINERATION.
HOWEVER, THE BUSTERS HAVE BUSTED THE HEAT RAY MYTH TWICE ALREADY IN PRIOR EPISODES. THE LATEST ATTEMPT WAS AIRED IN JANUARY 2006, WHEN THE HOSTS TEAMED UP WITH MIT STUDENTS -- THEY SUCCEEDED IN CHARRING THE TEST BOAT AND CREATING A SMALL FIRE, BUT THE MYTH WAS NEVERTHELESS DEBUNKED.
MAYBE OBAMA HOLDS THE KEY. DISCOVERY SPOKESWOMAN KATHERINE NELSON SAID THE EXPERIMENT WAS INCLUDED ON A LIST OF OPTIONS FOR THE PRESIDENT "BECAUSE FANS ARE CONSTANTLY ASKING THE MYTHBUSTERS TO RE-TEST THE ARCHIMEDES SOLAR RAY." SHE SAID THE WHITE HOUSE PICKED THE RAY TEST "BECAUSE IT PROVIDED THE GREATEST OPPORTUNITY TO GET STUDENTS INVOLVED IN (SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING AND MATH) IN THE MOST REAL WAY POSSIBLE."
Mythbusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, seen here, have taken up President Obama's challenge to retest the Archimedes' solar ray theory.

OR BLOW UP SHIPS. WHATEVER. THE DISCOVERY APPEARANCE WAS ANNOUNCED MONDAY AS THE PRESIDENT HOSTS THE WHITE HOUSE SCIENCE FAIR. THE WHITE HOUSE SAID THE EPISODE WILL AIR DEC. 8, AS PART OF HIS EFFORT TO "INSPIRE YOUNG PEOPLE TO EXCEL IN MATH AND SCIENCE."
OBAMA WILL ANNOUNCE THE "MYTHBUSTERS" EPISODE AT THE SCIENCE FAIR MONDAY. LEAD BUSTERS ADAM SAVAGE AND JAMIE HYNEMAN PLAN TO TAKE QUESTIONS IN THE WEST WING AFTER THE PRESIDENT SPEAKS.
DISCOVERY SAID IN A STATEMENT THAT THE PRESIDENT WILL "CHALLENGE" SAVAGE AND HYNEMAN TO REVISIT THE "CONTROVERSIAL" MYTH. AND THERE'S A LOT ON THE LINE, APPARENTLY.
"DID GREEK SCIENTIST AND POLYMATH ARCHIMEDES SET FIRE TO AN INVADING ROMAN FLEET USING ONLY MIRRORS AND THE REFLECTED RAYS OF THE SUN? WILL ADAM AND JAMIE BE ABLE TO PULL THIS OFF, OR WILL THEY HAVE TO REPORT BACK TO THE PRESIDENT THAT THEY FAILED?" THE STATEMENT READS

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Archimedes' Death Ray - Continued


This is from BBC's "Bang Goes the Theory." I've always had an interest in the Death Ray that Archimedes built, and even attempted to build my own. This guy's setup looks like some sort of parabola that faces away from the sun. I don't know how it works, but I do know that it is AWESOME! Catch the part where he melts ROCKS! The guy says that there's nothing on Earth that can withstand the temperatures created by this thing. Ummm... Speechless.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ultrasonic Trebuchet



This trebuchet ultrasonically determines the distance of the target. This trebuchet was designed, built, and tested by Kettering University Students for Professor Kaiser's Senior Design Course.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Human feces a weapon of mass destruction?

Human feces a weapon of mass destruction?

While researching documented cases of psychosis following particularly brutal engagements of ancient warfare, I came across a new (2008) introduction to Adrienne Mayor's book, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World, originally published in 2003. In it she mentions that during the Gothic War (CE 535-555) Romans, under siege by the Goths, were forced to eat human feces, toxic nettles, and acidic acorn flour resulting in mass fatal poisonings.
A group of acorns.Image via Wikipedia

I had never read about this particular siege or its outcome before so was appalled at the level of desperation the Romans must have reached to engage in these last ditch efforts to stave off hunger. But as I thought about these poor unfortunate wretches, I got to wondering about whether the items mentioned would really produce a mass poisoning. Since all three items were mentioned, I assume there was not a definitive consensus about which of the three caused the fatalities. So I began to research this issue further.

I learned that coprophagia, from the Greek copro which means feces and phagy which means eat, is common among some animals, particularly dogs. That's why I've had to scold my little dachshunds for attempting to scarf down cat feces when they dig them up in the yard. Veterinarians are not really sure why dogs engage in this disgusting behavior although it does appear to increase in frequency in cases of severe disorders of the pancreas (pancreatic insufficiency) or intestine, severemalnutrition from massive parasitic infestations, or starvation. (I assure you my little dogs are rather pudgy from my husband feeding them too many snacks so they don't have that excuse!)



I also learned that in ancient times physicians would taste the excrement of their patients to try to determine their state of health. (I knew there was a reason I decided against becoming a medical doctor) I also read about the Bedouin using the consumption of warm camel feces as a treatment for bacterial dysentery.
So, as revolting as it sounds, apparently some people have eaten feces without initial harm although long term diseases can be contracted such as E. coli, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis E, pneumonia, polio, influenza
and internal parasites. But it doesn't sound like coprophagia could be the cause of an observed wide-spread poisoning.

So I started exploring the effects of eating nettles. But I learned that nettles, even stinging nettles, actually have an edible bulb and, although the ancients may have only recorded that the inhabitants of the beseiged town were gathering nettles, they may not have realized they were only eating the tuber and not the "nettlesome" foliage. So that leaves acorns as the only remaining suspect.

Acorns have been used as a protein-rich food source by both wildlife and humans for centuries although acorns from some species like red oak are high in tannic acid that must be leeched out by soaking them first. But processed acorns are susceptible to mold when stored. Perhaps it was mold, then, that actually precipitated the poisonings, not the consumption of acorns itself. Of course, poison concoctions could have been manually applied to potential foodstuffs and left where they could have been easily "stolen" by desperate townsfolk but the ancient sources were not admitting to anything like that. Hmmm....

In this updated introduction to her book (it was written to coincide with a 2008 paperback re-release of her original work ) Mayor also mentioned that archaeologists found the remains of an ancient concoction termed "Mithridatium" in the bottom of a vat in a Roman villa near Pompeii in 2007.
"Tests of the residue, published in 2007, revealed a mixture of powerful medicinal plants, including opium poppy seeds, along with the flesh and bones of reptiles. Was this an ancient witch’s poisonous brew? Quite the contrary; according to the archaeologists, the vat may have been used to prepare a secret “universal antidote” believed to counteract all known poisons.
Portrait of the king of Pontus Mithridates VI ...Image via Wikipedia
Mithradates VI "The Poison King" of Pontus
This concoction, a combination of small doses of poisons and their antidotes, called Mithridatium, had been invented by King Mithridates VI of Pontus, a brilliant military strategist and master of toxicology, about one hundred years earlier. His recipe was perfected by theEmperor Nero’s personal physician and became the world’s most sought-after antidote, long prescribed for European royalty." - Adrienne Mayor
I somehow missed hearing about this fascinating discovery back in 2007. For 38 pages of similarly intriguing examples, I encourage you to read her "New Introduction" available online from Stanford.

Related articles
The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World Siege Warfare in the Roman World: 146 BC-AD 378 (Elite)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Smashing Pumpkins, the Halloween Rage

Salve!

This article is from the NYT. Did you know that October is Catapult Month?!? I have ordered every book ever written by William Gurstelle, who is mentioned in this article, to help us with our endeavors.

~Spartacurtus~


Smashing Pumpkins, the Halloween Rage

Wendy Carlson for The New York Times
A pumpkin smashes into its target after being launched from a home-built catapult at Daisi Hill Farms in Millerton, N.Y.
SOME people like their pumpkins baked into pies redolent of cinnamon and nutmeg. Others like them carved into goblin faces and illuminated with candles. Me? I like them hurled at 50 miles an hour by a medieval weapon. Or perhaps shot out of an air cannon, to splatter with a satisfying “Thwock!” into brilliant orange shrapnel.
Wendy Carlson for The New York Times
Adam Klein shoots a pumpkin out of a makeshift canon.
I like my pumpkins chunked.
Exactly who first fired one using homemade artillery is unknown, but the reasons are pretty clear: Farmers selling pumpkins from their fields realized that the experience was somewhat lacking in drama. And while hay rides, corn mazes and petting zoos are nice, if you really want to draw a crowd, you need a little destruction.
Or, as Donald Totman of Daisi Hill Farm in Millerton, N.Y., said, “We’re doing the entertainment to sell the pumpkins.” Now on a busy weekend he’ll smash 1,000 pounds of pumpkin in the interest of moving product off the vines.
Mr. Totman started about 13 years ago with a homemade trebuchet (a version of a catapult that uses a counterweight to add force). He’s currently on his second one, made from materials lying around the farm. About six years ago he added an air cannon to his arsenal that shoots its orange ammo 1,500 feet toward an old metal tank. The pumpkins “turn into water” on impact, he said proudly. That is especially popular with the fathers in the crowd.
Why?
“It’s a man thing,” he said. “It’s a gun, it makes a big noise.”
There is a more scientific side to the pumpkin catapult phenomenon, beyond the “very satisfying splat, with pieces flying everywhere,” said Alice Stevenson, senior manager of family programs at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. Last year the Hall’s exhibits department built a 19-foot-tall metal trebuchet to demonstrate the principles of physics during Catapult Month (a k a October). Most of the time, gallon jugs of water are used for ammunition.
But who can resist using the trebuchet for pumpkins? On the 30th and 31st, the Hall will use its weapon to wreak pumpkin destruction. Bring a jack-o’-lantern — no bigger than a basketball — and you can turn it into pumpkin purĂ©e.
Catapults have become popular projects for science museums and physics classes, said William Gurstelle, a backyard artillery expert and the author, most recently, of “Absinthe & Flamethrowers.” Catapults are both accessible — “you look at a catapult and say, ‘I understand this,’ ” — and sophisticated. “There are some complicated equations to describe the motion,” he said.
For sheer pumpkin power, perhaps no event matches the World Championship Punkin Chunkin in Bridgeville, Del., which has grown from a competition with three machines and about 80 spectators in 1986 (the winning shot that year traveled 114 feet) to a three-day extravaganza of orange mayhem. Last year’s contest, with 115 teams, drew 80,000 people, said Frank Shade, director of media and promotion for the event, which raises money for charity. The winning pumpkin (well, maybe not from the pumpkin’s perspective) traveled more than 4,480 feet.
If you can’t get there in person, this year’s competition will be televised on Discovery’s Science Channel on Thanksgiving Day. But by then, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just pie.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Catapult design




Salve! Spartacurtus ibi! 
Our Praetor, Dan spoke to us about his plans for the catapult he has been planning, and has drawn up these plans for it. We have decided to move forward with the tortion style of catapult, as this seems to be the most practical and authentic design. This is still in the conceptual phase, and if you have any comments, questions, or concerns about the design, or have anything that you would like to add, please feel free to add to the comments section down below. I will be happy to repost any important additions to a new posting, if requested! 
Tibi gratias ago, Dan! 
Consul Spartacurtus 

Monday, October 18, 2010

POM Wonderful "Warrior" TV Commercial

Here's a pomegranate commercial extolling the virtues of eating pomegranates before battle...