Here’s Loyal Reader Number Twelve playing peekaboo.

Greetings from the train! It was rainy today and (I’m guessing) the traffic was terrible, so here I am. Ridership was pretty light this morning and it’s pretty heavy this afternoon. It’s just like Friday traffic, and my question is the same – where do all these people come from? They don’t drive to work in the morning and they don’t ride the train, but they’re clogging the highways and aisles on the way home. Maybe they stay in town all week and just go home on weekends. If so, they have my pity.

Speaking of which, I pity the fools who have to go to work tomorrow. It’s my off Friday! All I have to do is generate some charts in the morning, conduct my 10:00 meeting via telecon, attend an 11:00 meeting via telecon, and do timecards in the afternoon. Other than that, I’m free as a bird. At least I can do all that work in my pajamas if I want to. On the other hand, maybe I could be wearing my PJs to work every day. Hmm. That’s something to think about. I wouldn’t ever have to worry about another promotion again!

Anyway. Loyal Reader Number Four and I are planning to finish the garage door insulation project tomorrow. I also ought to go to the library and return a few books.

Speaking of which, I just finished reading Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. It’s a very interesting history of the guy who solved the longitude problem. As my loyal readers no doubt know, it wasn’t too hard in the 1700’s to figure out a ship’s latitude (how far north or south of the equator it is) by solar observation. Direction was simple – compasses were available from a very early date. Longitude was a much thornier problem. Celestial observations weren’t accurate enough to place a ship even within a hundred miles of its true location. Dead reckoning was no good – winds and currents took care of that. Lots of ships were lost because they couldn’t figure out how far east or west they had gone, so they didn’t know how close they were to land or even which direction it might be. Since ships had to sail at night as well as in the day, they were likely to run aground or just get lost long enough to run out of food and/or water. Eventually, the British government put up a pretty substantial prize for anybody who could solve the problem.

Two schools of thought arose. The first one was to refine the ability to make celestial observations and publish tables. The theory was sound – knowing the relative positions of the sun, moon, and stars at your current location versus their predicted locations at a reference location (which ended up being in Greenwich, although the French – typically – demanded that the world use Paris), you could tell how many hours/minutes/seconds east or west of the reference point you were and hence your longitude.

The other school of thought was the timekeepers. If you took two clocks with you and kept one set to the reference time and the other set to local time, you could figure out your longitude without all those messy star charts, long observations, and difficult math. Unfortunately, there were no clocks that were even close to accurate enough. The book is the story of the great race between the two factions, with all the politics and pettiness that accompanied it. Good read. I won’t tell you how it turns out, other than to say that the good guy won.

Well, that was certainly a long explanation. Can you tell I enjoyed the book? Now let’s talk about one I didn’t enjoy. I also need to return The Little Book of Time. It certainly didn’t work out the way I had hoped. I was in the mood for scientific history books and that’s what this one sounded like, based on its title. It turns out to be the pseudo-scientific rantings of some two-bit, unimaginative, unoriginal, dumb philosophy major. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But don’t bother with his book. And if you happen to meet him, run away. Fast.

Okay, that’s enough for today. See you tomorrow.

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