After Hours

Who is the original geek?

Blogger Edmond Woychowsky makes the case for who he believes is the original geek. Here's a hint: MythBusters has featured two episodes about this person's Death Ray invention.

For some bizarre reason, many people think that geeks are a uniquely 20th and 21st century phenomena. It's almost as if some time in the 1950s a switch was flipped to a cry of, "It's alive," and the first geek was animated. This idea is entirely impractical because geeks have been with us much longer than the English word geek, which only dates to the 19th century. However, in order to find history's original geek, we need to look much further than the 19th century, all the way back to between 287 BC and 212 BC to Archimedes.

Archimedes was born in the Greek colony of Syracuse, Sicily. Although Archimedes lived roughly 22 centuries ago, he was a force to be reckoned with. He was a mathematician, engineer, astronomer, inventor, author, and physical scientist (or, in today's terms, a chemist/physicist), who discovered mathematical principles that are still in use today.

As an inventor, Archimedes discovered methods of measuring the density of irregular objects, as well as the Archimedes screw, a new type of pump. Another invention attributed to Archimedes is the block and tackle, which any fan of the Discovery Channel's show The Deadliest Catch knows is still in use today.

His invention that causes the most controversy is the Death Ray. And, really what is more a sign of geekhood than a Death Ray?

Although the details have been lost in the mists of time, Archimedes' Death Ray is believed to be one or more reflected giant mirrors, which when used could set fire to enemy ships. In the case of the Siege of Syracuse, the story goes that the Roman fleet was set ablaze, which was something of an embarrassment for the Romans. The controversial part of this story is that attempts to recreate it in modern times have met with mixed success.

The best known of the failures is probably the MythBusters experiment, which the show revisited in 2006. While the latitude of San Francisco is almost the same as Syracuse, Sicily, San Francisco is on a west coast while Syracuse is on an east coast. In addition, unlike Syracuse, San Francisco is known more for fog than sun. Finally, wouldn't it make more sense to ignite the sail, instead of the damp side of the ship?

Geek roots run deep, and one has to merely look around to see the everyday concepts and objects with geek origins. With someone like Archimedes as the original geek, you can proudly let your geek flag fly and enjoy the simple guilty pleasures of life, like The Big Bang Theory and building your very own Death Ray.

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