World’s First Computer From Ancient Greece Discovered In Aegean Sea

Some time ago, I first wrote about a mystery unfolding in the Aegean Sea. To be more specific an underwater area off the island of Antikythera. A mystery slowly revealing more and more of its secrets.

An extraordinary mystery that really begins in 200 BC, when a Roman ship sailed on a voyage. Where it came from and where it was going nobody knows for certain. But somewhere between Greece and Crete, it ran into a storm and sank. And for more than two thousand years the treasures it carried literally faded into history. Entombed in the sandy bottom of the ocean.

Fast forward to only 100 years ago, when a group of sponge divers make a chance discovery. They see the hand of an ancient statue protruding eerily from the silt. These sponge divers stumbled on the wreck of that ancient Roman ship. It is the largest ancient ship wreck to be discovered. Even though they could only spend a short time on the bottom, because of the depth, they still managed to collect a vast array of artefacts. It was an amazing but eclectic collection of bits and pieces: bronze and marble statues, jewellery, glass and coins. The statues were beautifully crafted and life-like despite the ravages of time and the sea. The glassware crafted to an exacting standard and brightly coloured. The treasure is the sum of many parts but not the whole. Very few items were complete. And of course that led to much speculation about what kind of ship she was. Was it a treasure ship making a delivery to a King or High Priest? Was it a plunder ship carrying the spoils and trophies of war? Or, was it just laden with an assortment of trinkets destined for sale in some distant market?

But one particular item they discovered, at first glance looked like a corroded lump of bronze cogs and wheels. Because it was bronze, it survived well in the sea but didn’t look like anything, anyone had seen before. A lot of years passed before scientists finally took a closer look to see if it could be identified.

The first job, get it X-rayed. And when they did. it looked way more complicated than first thought. There were wheels within wheels. But what exactly was it? It slowly dawned on scientists this was one of the most sophisticated devices ever discovered from ancient times. Forget about Apple and Microsoft. They were looking at the world’s first computer, an analogue computer that did calculations. As far as anyone knows, the only example of its kind anywhere in the world. But how did it work? After further examination, the scientists determined it was an ancient timepiece working as an astronomical calculator. A calculator, or mechanical device, predicting movement of stars and planets. As one astrophysicist said, the device makes mechanical what was known for centuries about astronomical cycles. These cycles predict eclipses by the moon and the sun and are used to produce workable calendars. This hand-cranked device, more than likely predicted which city would host the Olympic Games, as well as tracking movement of planets, for prophecies and religious ceremonies.

Just to put this into context. This is something built more than two thousand years ago. The kind of skill and complexity needed for manufacture would not become evident until the 14 Century. Beyond being ahead of its time, the device could well be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. Scientists think it was built for a wealthy person, for a bit of fun.

The scientific community is very excited principally because they believe they only have half the story. Another half of the device or devices, remains on the bottom of the Aegean sea, waiting to be found. So scientists have no idea how complicated this device could potentially be, or even how many there are until they discover the rest of it. One set of gears and cogs doesn’t match the rest so there is more of the device or devices to be discovered.

But as time goes on scientists are learning more and more about what is being called the Antikythera mechanism. Some of the bronze work contains inscriptions and one word stands out. The Greek word for Cosmos. Scientists believe another metal plate may actually contain an instruction manual for using the device because it details different gear settings.

In a very recent development, scientists now say the device may be much older than first thought. The latest theory it dates from around 200 BC, and not 60 BC as first thought, which ties the device to two of history’s greatest minds, Archimedes and Hipparchus, both astronomers and mathematicians.

But one of the great ironies of this discovery is that true cutting edge technology is being invented for the express purpose of discovering the rest of this ancient example of high tech wizardry and whatever else might be lurking at the site. A $1.7 million diving suit, which acts like a wearable submarine, developed so an archaeologist can use it to explore the wreck site. There are pedals at the feet of the suit to allow the wearer to literally fly through the water powered by thrusters built into the suit’s backpack. The suit’s arms allow for free movement and instead of using their hands, archaeologists recover objects using mechanical pincers. The suit has breathing and communication systems and a carbon dioxide scrubber, which means a diver can stay at depth for long periods.

The whole expedition is costing millions of dollars, partly sponsored by a Swiss watchmaker. The Swiss are people used to dealing with complicated machinery so no surprise they are curious to know more about what makes this device tick.

So far 82 fragments of the Antikythera mechanism were recovered from the wreck. If it turns out to be some rich person’s toy it will be one the most complicated toys ever devised, a genuine forerunner of today’s modern computers. Move over Apple and Microsoft. Forget California, the first Silicon Valley was Ancient Greece.

Nigel, The Talking British Parrot Who Now Only Speaks Spanish

Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh. Out loud preferably. The way the world is lately, we are crying out for it.

Sorry for the mixed metaphor. But I’m sure you get the idea.

Hopefully what I’m about to tell you, will give you a good laugh.

A pet parrot called Nigel, which previously only ever spoke English with a British accent, when he disappeared from his home four years ago, has been reunited with his owner.

That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news. The bird now only speaks Spanish.

The touching reunion, between owner and pet, was orchestrated by a Southern Californian veterinarian, who initially mistook Nigel, an African gray parrot, for her own missing bird.

Nigel was micro-chipped as most animals are these days.

Veterinarian, Teresa Micco, tracked Nigel’s microchip to Darren Chick (believe it or not that is his real name) a British man living in Torrance, California.

Teresa takes up the story saying that when she introduced herself and said to Chick, have you lost a bird? He initially said no, but he thought she meant had he lost a bird recently. Nigel disappeared four years ago.

Teresa, the Vet, to her credit, persisted. She’d verified Chick’s name as the registered owner. She then told him she’d found his missing African grey parrot. Of course Chick thought he was dealing with a crazy woman. How could she have found his pet parrot when it’s been missing for four years?

Little is known about Nigel’s whereabouts for the past four years but how he talks now, as in the language he uses, could be a fairly substantial clue.

Chick says the bird’s British accent is gone, and it now chatters away in fluent Spanish. Unfortunately Chick doesn’t speak Spanish so it’s not like he can ask Nigel about what was happening for the past four years. In any case, Chick said the reunion brought tears of joy to his eyes – despite the fact that Nigel bit him when he first tried to pick him up. How quickly they forget.

Teresa, the Vet, who knows a lot about animal behavior, said Nigel’s recalcitrant attitude was not unusual and he would soon settle back to his old self.

“He’s doing perfect,” Chick, (who also seems to have also lost his British accent), told the local newspaper. “It’s really weird. I knew it was him from the minute I saw him.”

There is a small, cruel irony in this story with the happy ending. Teresa, the Vet, has been running ads over the past ten months for her own missing parrot, Benjamin, who flew the coop in February by darting through an open door.

She’s managed to reunite five other missing parrots with their owners, but no luck in locating Benjamin. How Nigel ended up with Teresa, the Vet, is a mission in its self. A woman called Julissa Sperling, managed to catch Nigel, outside her house, and brought him to Teresa, after seeing one of her ads. But first, she took Nigel to her dog-grooming business. It was like mana from heaven for an animal that likes to copy sounds.

“He was the happiest bird. He was singing and talking without control,” Sperling said. “He was barking like the dogs. I’m from Panama, and he was saying, What happened? In Spanish.”

What happened indeed. Sadly, Julissa didn’t bother asking Nigel, in Spanish of course. Hopefully someone will. He just might tell them. I am sure it will make for one hell of a story.

Grand Juries, Too Soft On Police Who Do Wrong?

In the United States, grand juries have suddenly become de rigueur but not in anything like a good way. To put it bluntly, too many white policemen are getting away with killing black men and Grand Juries are rubber-stamping the process.

Now before anyone climbs on their accusatory high moral horse suggesting this is biased and anti police, bad luck, I’ve beaten you to it. I’m already on it and riding at full gallop.

My high moral horse says the police are yet again culpable. The grand jury got it wrong and the facts speak for themselves.

This time it’s the New York Police under the microscope. Or, to be more accurate, captured on video.

The victim was Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American, father of six children and a grandfather of two. On July 17 this year, he allegedly committed the heinous crime of selling individual cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island. A group of New York City police officers approached and surrounded him. Why they did this is a question that was certainly never answered by the grand jury but it’s one that really does demand some kind of explanation in my view. What made this case radically different from all the others, was that cell phone footage was recorded by an onlooker, as the drama unfolded. And because the footage was shared online, the one eyewitness became millions more.

Garner was genuinely puzzled that the police officers seemed intent on arresting him for such a trifling offence. He was a big man, but at no point did he behave aggressively towards the officers or show them any disrespect. But maybe he wasn’t assuming a submissive posture, quickly enough. In any case one of the policemen, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, placed Garner in a chokehold, compressing his windpipe.

It should be pointed out that this maneuver was outlawed by the New York Police Department 20 years ago.

Again there appeared to be no reason for the police to take such an aggressive approach to Eric Garner. It was not warranted by his alleged crime or behavior. The videotape shows Garner complaining repeatedly that he’s having trouble breathing. The police officers wrestle him to the sidewalk and Eric Garner dies. Emergency paramedics are summoned but the police officers, who were present, are clearly shown making no attempt at all to resuscitate Eric Garner.

Again let’s be clear on the facts. The coroner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. He suffered from asthma, and Pantaleo’s chokehold killed him. The Staten Island prosecutor presented evidence against Officer Pantaleo to a grand jury. The other officers involved in the incident were given immunity in exchange for their testimony. But the grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo on any charge.

An American journalist, Eugene Robinson wrote what I consider to be an insightful piece, in the Washington Post, about the tragic death of Eric Garner. He called it a depressing episode in the reality series, No Country For Black Men. In his view, equal justice before the law in the United States is just a cruel joke.

Robinson wrote that African American men are being taught a lesson on how society values, or devalues their lives. He says the Garner case raises two very important issues: One involves what he called the excessive license given to police to do whatever they must to guarantee that the streets are safe. The second, poses the question, has the pendulum now swung too far in the law and order direction at the expense of justice, liberty and equality?

Robinson believes the Garner case is part of what he called the ‘broken windows’ theory of policing. If you want to reduce serious crime, you crack down on minor, nuisance offending like selling loose cigarettes on a street corner. He draws a parallel between the Garner case in New York and the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In both cases, Robinson says, the grand juries examined the evidence and decided there was no probable cause, a very low standard of proof, that the police officers involved did anything wrong. He asks, would the results have been the same if the victims were white?

In yet another twist in the Garner case, the only person to be indicted, who was involved in the Eric Garner killing, was the eyewitness, Ramsay Orta, who recorded the Garner incident on his mobile phone. He faced charges relating to weapons offences after a bust by an undercover policeman. Police allege Orta slipped a handgun into the waistband of a teen accomplice outside a New York hotel. Orta claims he was falsely charged in retaliation for the Garner filming. His case was also examined by a grand jury, which had no trouble at all in indicting him.

I think all of us have an obligation to be extremely careful in playing the race card. It’s easy and convenient and can be used to either confuse or silence justified criticism especially when there are two sides to every story. But in the case of Michael Brown and Eric Garner it happens to be true. Sadly, the category that defines America’s most feared and loathed citizens would appear to be young, black men. Ironically, Eric Garner didn’t even fit this profile stereotype. He was a middle-aged, overweight asthmatic man. He was engaged in an activity that warranted nothing more than being told to move along.

I hate to say it, but in my view, his capital offense, in the minds of those police officers who confronted him, was to be born black.

The Cougar Phenomenon: Science Is On Your Side Older Ladies (Apparently)

I came across something the other day called The Cougar Phenomenon. It was basically answering the question why older women should choose young lovers? It was written in such an important and breathless fashion it would have to be the question on everyone’s lips. Well it is, isn’t it?

It was quoting research, which is always a good sign if you are looking to go up a notch in the credibility stakes. Women in their 40s, should look for younger partners to boost their chances of becoming pregnant, according to a group of academics at Gill University in Canada. I guess it’s yet another example of Canadian researchers, coming up with creative ways to spend their research grants or have a lot of time on their hands or both.

Anyway, I’ll park the cynicism for the time being and get to the point.

Would be mothers in their 40s, will struggle to have children with male partners the same age. There might be no such thing as male menopause but that doesn’t mean the biological clock isn’t ticking for blokes. Gill University researchers say the fertility clock stops for men at the age of 43. According to their study, a man’s age is maybe just as important as it is for a woman when they both reach their 40s and want to conceive.

It upends previous thinking on this because it was said that men could go on fathering children indefinitely because they are continuously producing new sperm in contrast to women who have the same eggs from birth. But scientists are starting to believe and see evidence of mutations creeping into sperm over time, which affects male fertility. As if men didn’t have enough to worry about.

One of main Gill University researchers told a fertility conference in Hawaii that the findings were “astounding.” There’s no such thing as understatement at Gill University.

He said it was previously thought that young women could always “fix” any defects in genetic material in sperm but once she hit the naughty forties forget it. The lead researcher went on to say that this gives a biological argument to the cougar phenomenon of an older woman selecting a younger male partner. This was the first study of its type to look at this in a scientific way.

The researchers studied women aged between 40 and 46 who undertook 904 IVF cycles between 2010 and 2012. In couples where the male was 43 or older, no children were born. But older women with younger partners went on to conceive babies.

The news just keeps on getting worse for older would be fathers. Previous studies have shown the children fathered by men over 55, are at greater risk of autism, bipolar disorder, low IQ and schizophrenia.

But the new research suggests that even in their early forties, men are already beginning to lose their fertility.

According to the Gill University researchers for a 37 or 36-year-old woman, the man’s age is not such a factor. But once she hits 40, a woman’s reproduction undergoes changes and when those changes occur the age of her male partner becomes a factor.

The reality is that most men are probably with women of a similar age, so as the woman gets older, so does her partner. But when they both reach 40, the scientific evidence suggests the biological clock in the man contributes to his ability, make that inability, to produce children.

Over the past 40 years the average age for bearing children in the UK, and pretty much everywhere else in the world, has been steadily increasing for men and women. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, the average woman gives birth just a week short of her 30th birthday while first time mothers are also older, at just over 28. The average age of a father is now 32 years and six months.

Women are born with all their eggs, but male sperm is constantly replicating. Each time, a single sperm replicates, there is a chance for mutation in the DNA to occur. As men age, they are also exposed to numerous environmental toxins over time which have been shown to cause DNA mutations in sperm. Molecular genetic studies have shown that the sperm of older men have far more mutations than those of younger men.

Professor Dagan Wells, a leading fertility expert at Oxford University backed the Canadian findings saying that older women may find it easier to get pregnant with a younger man.

“We know that the DNA in the sperm of older men suffers a loss of integrity. The DNA should be a nice long uninterrupted molecule but in older men it breaks up into little bits. The egg is rich in enzymes which repairs DNA damage but it could be that (as women age) that the egg is getting more challenged. There might be a tipping point,” he said.

What about older men who manage to have children with much younger partners? Surely that is a sign they still have what it takes? Not according to these scientists. Men who become fathers in their 50s or 60s are not more virile, they are just more likely to have a younger partner whose egg has repaired their mutated sperm.

And just to complete the humiliation for older guys, Professor Charles Kingsland, consultant gynecologist at Liverpool Womens’ NHS Foundation Trust, added: “There are biological reasons why an older woman would benefit from a younger man. Not only are male sperm likely to be healthier but women live a lot longer.”

Ouch.

Mystery Plane, Cash, Drugs And Maybe CIA 4 – Epilogue

I’ve written some blog posts in the recent past about what I consider to be a fascinating mystery. It’s the story of a ghost plane, that turned up in Australia, a significant quantity of illegal drugs and cash seized by New South Wales police, as well as an under the radar flight operation, that in all likelihood involved the American CIA.

It’s the story that keeps on giving. So many intriguing twists and turns. Here is part four. But first, some background to put the story in context.

At the heart of this tale is a plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, that arrived illegally in Australia but no one knows how it got here.

But clearly someone knew quite a bit because the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane while it was parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. The day of the raid was a real cops and robbers type operation. The plane was surrounded by about 20 armed police.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, who is listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

The News South Wales Police case is that a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed. Normally, when police conduct raids of this type, it’s usually accompanied by a fair bit of bragging, about how law enforcement is cracking down on organised crime, but strangely, in this case, they’ve been conspicuous by their silence. Not one public word has been uttered since the raid.

Police clearly had Stevermuer under surveillance. They also claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 with the money provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was anything but straightforward and full of intrigue.

Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, for some unexplained reason had access to large reserves of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses based at Illawarra Airport in Australia.

Several aviation sources have confirmed that Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy the flight training organisation, NSW Air and another company, called the Aerial Patrol shark-spotting plane service.

Police allege these two aviation companies were to act as legitimate fronts in order to hide criminal activity. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot, they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they now are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $A70,000 cash.

But then the story gets even more intriguing.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware, might be an extremely significant development. Delaware is one of the strangest American states in terms of corporate law, especially if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy similar freedom and secrecy to the clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions based in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies, which own aircraft and yachts, register them in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records it turns out that the person who is listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club, which owns the mystery plane, is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club. Nothing strictly illegal in that you might say. Except, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, bother to travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane?

There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft apart from its age.

Even more unusual, Why would an Australian who doesn’t live in the United States, be listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless of course unless there was a darker purpose behind the deal.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area have ever heard it.

And, as it turns out, the plane at the centre of this intrigue, the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a ghost plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it ever arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft reveals that it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been doing a lot of flying right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But would this mystery be solved if we were able to trace the full ownership of this plane from the time in rolled off the assembly line?

As I already established in a recent blog post, the U.S. Forest Service was the first owner of the Swearingen Merlin 3 in the early 1970s. The Forest Service has a track record of an activity known in aviation circles as sheep dipping planes on behalf of the CIA. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal or disguise its true owner. Sheep dipping explains how some Forest Service owned aircraft were discovered in exotic locations like Colombia and Mexico being used by drug cartels instead of fighting forest fires.

Are there any significant clues in who might have owned by plane, before it was sold to the Oregonian Aero Club? Again a search of U.S. FAA records reveals the previous owner was a company called Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC based in Salem Oregon. Nothing unusual in that you might think except that Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC is owned by a dentist based in Colombia, Missouri on the other side of the United States. He bought the Swearingen Merlin 3 in 2011 and sold it to the Oregonian Aero Club a few months later. There is no suggestion or implication that any of these transactions were illegal. But they were definitely unusual and as per usual we end up with more questions than answers.

There is one final interesting element to this story that invites further scrutiny. The fact that this plane began its mysterious odyssey across the world, from Charlotte County Airport at Punta Gorda in Florida, could be an indication of its true origin and purpose. Punta Gorda, would have to be one of the more unusual locations in the United States and it’s all to do with its history. Punta Gorda could easily and humorously be re-named Spooksville. The founding fathers of Punta Gorda happen to be a pair of CIA spooks, Bud Cole and Al Johns, who turned a vast tidal flat into upmarket home sites complete with canals. As a CIA agent, Al Johns, was fairly gung-ho if you’ll pardon the pun. The CIA posted him to the East China Sea in the 1950s where his job was to supply pirates for junks used to attack Communist Chinese shipping. In fact, Punta Gorda seems to act as a magnet for CIA agents past and present. Porter Goss, former CIA Director during the Presidency of George W. Bush, was a long time resident of Punta Gorda and served as a local Mayor.

With that kind of history of CIA connectivity, it’s little wonder that Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport has been home to some interesting characters and even more interesting allegations. For example at least one Congressional committee heard allegations that the airport was used to transport arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and to smuggle drugs, principally cocaine. Of course the allegations were never proven and no one was ever prosecuted or served jail time.

And there’s the case of  the 23 helicopters that mysteriously disappeared from Charlotte County Airport. One of the helicopters was later discovered in Chile of all places. No one can explain how they managed to disappear, how they managed to leave the United States or who was responsible but the local Sheriff has suggested publicly that he has a pretty good idea even if he’s not saying.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that a ghost plane that flew out of a mysterious place like Punta Gorda would end up thousands of miles away in Australia, linked to drugs and organised crime and with no record of it ever entering Australia in the first place.

You would hope that the New South Wales Police would be interested in all of this information. It is clearly going to take their raid on the plane in a completely new direction and an international one at that. They have a lot of questions they need to ask. Who knows what they might uncover. But if they have any such plans they are not saying. Maybe their silence speaks volumes.

If I was a betting man, which I am not, I would wager that the mystery of the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft and how and why it ended up on the tarmac at Illawarra Airport is destined to remain exactly that. A mystery. And if the American CIA is involved you can take that as a given.