The World's Oldest Computer

Sometimes people ask me, "what does your company's logo mean?" When I founded Bezzotech 4 years back, I wanted a symbol that says "high-tech and new", but also something that says "old school rocks!"

After a bit of thinking, I realized the answer was simple. There was only one appropriate symbol, the computer invented by the ancient Greeks: the astrolabe.

An astrolabe is essentially an analog calculator. You would set it according to your latitude, and point the rule at a well known object in the sky: the sun, the moon, the north start, etc. Depending on what you picked, you could calculate the time of day, the time of year, or your location. It could be used for things as simple as calculating when to plant your crops, or as complex as a geographic survey of an entire city. Advanced ones had charts on the back to help with math calculations, and conversions.

It was originally invented in Greece in approximately 150 BC, and spread quickly through Europe and the Middle East... They aren't very common today, but 2000 years ago they had approximately the "cool factor" of the iPhone. One Persian astronomer wrote a book on the 1000 different uses of an Astrolabe. Technically, the astrolabe has more apps than the Google phone...

You can make a simple astrolabe using paper or wood... but of course the most beautiful ones are made from brass. In the old days, an educated person would not only know how to use an astrolabe, but they could build one as well. This presentation from the TED conference covers how it was used, and how amazingly resourceful our predecessors were with them:

So what do you think? Does my logo look like an astrolabe, or is it just a cool gear thingie?

Astrolab - Islamic developers

It was the Muslims and the Islamic Golden Age that developed the Astrolab into the truly sophisticated instrument for many practical uses

depends on your definition of "sophisticated"

According to Wikipedia:

"An early astrolabe was invented in the Hellenistic (Greek) world in 150 BC... Theon of Alexandria wrote a detailed treatise on the astrolabe, and Lewis (2001) argues that Ptolemy used an astrolabe to make the astronomical observations recorded in the Tetrabiblos... Astrolabes continued in use in the Greek-speaking world throughout the Byzantine period. About 550 AD the Christian philosopher John Philoponus wrote a treatise on the astrolabe in Greek, which is the earliest extant Greek treatise on the instrument. In addition, Severus Sebokht, a bishop who lived in Mesopotamia, also wrote a treatise on the astrolabe in Syriac in the mid-7th century. Severus Sebokht refers in the introduction of his treatise to the astrolabe as being made of brass, indicating that metal astrolabes were known in the Christian East well before they were developed in the Islamic world or the Latin West."

Arguably, it would have to have been a pretty sophisticated device with many practical uses already to have so many treatises written about it... Muslim astronomers certainly did help a lot, but so did inventors and mathematicians throughout the Mediterranean (and probably beyond).

Recent comments