Saturday, May 27, 2006

lies of the HIstory Channel

I enjoy the history channel, but every once in a while they have a story which I know is deceitful and this makes me wonder how much I should believe of the rest of their shows. The latest example of deceit is in a story on ancient technology.

Ancient technology is a fascinating subject. Most people don't know how much the Classical Greeks used technology. Did you know for example that the ancient Greeks used coin-operated holy-water dispensers at some of their temples?

The History Channel show wasn't about things like that; it was about water works and speculative archeology. Very interesting stuff, but the presentation of at least one thing was very deceptive. They discussed the Baghdad Battery, a clay pot with a piece of iron and a piece of copper that some say was an ancient battery.

This is a controversial interpretation, and the History Channel made motions towards covering both sides of the controversy, but they didn't give the strongest (and in my opinion, decisive) point from the anti-battery argument: the fact that the pot couldn't have worked as a battery. In fact, the History Channel deliberately concealed this point when they showed a reproduction of the device used to produce electric current and failed to mention that this "reproduction" had a significant design change to allow it to work. The problem with the discovered pot is that only one of the "electrodes", the iron one, is accessible from outside the battery. But to get any current, you need access to both electrodes.

Speculation Alert: Personally, I wonder if the devices weren't inspired by observations of cathodic protection. Iron can protect copper from corroding. There is no evidence that the ancient knew this, but if they did, maybe the theory was that the iron would protect the copper and the copper would protect the contents of the jars.

The History Channel also neglected to mention that there were no wires found near the device and that the stopper was designed to be a long-term seal, not just a cover. But you wouldn't want a long-term seal for such a battery because you need to refill the electrolyte. And one more thing: the copper tube was closed at the end. It wasn't water-tight, but it implies that the designer didn't intend to fill the jar with a fluid and then have that fluid come up between the iron and copper, otherwise the end of the copper tube would have been left open.

All in all, this was a pretty shoddy and deceitful account of the controversy. I led me to wonder about another controversial part of the show, the part about the Archimedes Death Ray was similarly dishonest. Research on the Internet wasn't conclusive, but the only quote I found from an ancient document has Archimedes burning the ships with a single mirror that produced a beam he could play across the water as a whole. The entire History Channel episode assumed that Archimedes used a bunch of mirrors operated by soldiers and they never mentioned that this contradicted the actual story.

Speculation Alert: It's a neat idea, but I think it's likely that the Archimedes story is a myth fabricated from someone who knew the effects of parabolic mirrors and extrapolated to a large one that could burn ships. But we don't know how Archimedes could possibly have constructed a mobile, controllable mirror of that size.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

tthe truth about Katrina

From Instapundit, this review of what really happened with Hurricaine Katrina and how the press's incompetent or dishonest coverage was used to pummel George Bush. Isn't it funny how the press's errors always seem to benefit the Democrats?

Glenn's take on what the press learned from the reporting debacle surrounding Katrina: "what they learned was that if they all shouted lies in unison they could drive Bush down in the polls."