Time in Tens
Today I learned: During the 18th and 19th centuries there were passionate efforts to institute decimal time, a day divided into 10 hours, each consisting of 100 minutes, which would be further divided into 100 decimal seconds.
Just like gunpowder, paper money, and countless other things, decimal time was developed long ago in China, as far back as 2,000 years ago, only to be eliminated in the 1600’s by those pesky European Jesuit missionaries and the oh-so-logical dozenal (12-based) time system that we all know and love.
The French Revolution saw the most recent push for decimal time, with democratic reformers insisting on a base-10 calendar, and even manufacturing base-10/base-12 combo clocks like the one above (via Wikipedia). As recently as 1893, smart guy extraordinaire Henry Poincaré was pushing for a standard decimal time. But since so much of the world, from maritime navigation to daily appointment-keeping, had been built on the time that we still use today (and since making everyone buy a new clock is just mean), decimal time never caught on.
Nice to know that the U.S. and its failure to adopt the metric system isn’t the only decimal failure in modern history!
The top image was drawn on the back of the On The Origin Of The Species manuscript, the second image is of the Darwin family home:
with cozy details like a tea kettle on the boil and a fluffy orange cat in the attic window… Fascinatingly, this image might be detailed enough that it actually depicts Darwin’s famous sandwalk, his “thinking path” that led to the family greenhouse (which is, perhaps, the structure visible at the end of the path). The area was later made into a playground for the Darwin children.
The third image is of Emma Darwin’s diary, which a toddler has blacked out.
It’s all a great reminder that even legendary scientists had family lives, and that when we think about history, it’s important to remember that famous figures weren’t working in isolation. They were surrounded by far less famous friends, family members, acquaintances, and enemies. And sometimes, when we get lucky, we see some of their artifacts from the past too.
Filed under: parenting
Kids will be kids, even if they’re Darwin’s kids!
I suppose if you’re gonna have somebody explain something, best to go right to the source.
Carl Sagan writes about the intersection of astronomy and poetry in his high school paper, because Sagans do as Sagans do.
In case you missed it, here’s my thoughts on Carl’s legacy in video form:
A selection of scientific images from the Wellcome Collection’s recently released library of over 100,000 publicly available images.
I think I’m going to be spending a lot of time here. Check out Public Domain Review for more and find out how to get access to these images for your work, free.
I can’t stop laughing at the “Thames Water” AKA “Monster Soup”. It strikes me as a vintage version of this gorgeous microscopic look at a drop of seawater.
An Early Draft of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue DotQuote
Over at The Atlantic, Rebecca J. Rosen takes a look back at the evolution of that one perfect passage that gives us all the best feels. She marked up the copy above to highlight the differences between this early draft (oh the days of red pen editing!) and the final version, which you can listen to below.
I also highly recommend heading over and checking out Rebecca’s analysis of the meaning of a certain “mote”…
This document comes from the Library of Congress’ Sagan Archives, which were generously donated by Seth MacFarlane. I attended the dedication event last fall, and there was lots of these little tidbits of the legend-in-the-making.
When I got home from that trip, I delivered my thoughts about Carl’s legacy in a video, because it was a touching experience:
I’m hard at work today on a pretty awesome if-I-do-say-so-myself script for the YouTubes, and I learned something neat. As you probably already know, at least if you’ve ever looked at a periodic table, Iron gets its symbol Fe from its Latin name “ferrum”. That’s not what I learned.
But what you might not know (I didn’t) is that “iron” comes from an Anglo-Saxon word which definition traces back to “holy metal”. Why? Because the earliest samples of pure iron collected by ancient humans, Egyptian beads dating back to 3500 BC, were collected directly from meteorites.
It’s only natural that they viewed this metal as a gift from the gods!
(image of meteoric iron via Wikipedia)
…the appointee’s wife was granted a divorce from him because of appointee’s constantly working calculus problems in his head as soon as awake, while driving car, sitting in living room, and so forth, and that his one hobby was playing his African drums. His ex-wife reportedly testified that on several occasions when she unwittingly disturbed either his calculus or his drums he flew into a violent rage, during which time he attacked her, threw pieces of bric-a-brac about and smashed the furniture.
Richard Feynman's FBI files have been released to the public. In the 1950s, shortly after Feynman worked on the Manhattan Project developing the Atomic Bomb, the FBI set out to out him as a “communist sympathizer” in a witch hunt characteristic of the Cold War era.
As for Feynman’s bongo drums, well, that’s true.
Of course, government surveillance is nothing new, but if it has a silver lining, it can open our eyes to interesting tidbits of history. I’ve never seen this darker side of Feynman’s character, and it’s an unfortunate one. Highly recommend leafing through the FBI files at the link above.