18 January 2007

The Long Now Foundation (now in my blogroll, too) has a slew of interesting projects detailed on their website. And they link to this great essay by Michael Chabon, about the Clock they’re building. In response to the ‘Why do it?’ question, I think that Harley-Davidson was really on to something with their slogan, “If I had to explain, you wouldn’t understand.” It’s a common meme, mutating into many different forms, but I think that theirs is the best statement. Speaking of clocks, it is interesting to think that, according to Ivars Peterson in Newton’s Clock [amaz], any of our models (and I use the term mathematically) of the Solar System are only accurate out to a couple of hundred thousand years. There are, it turns out, any number of suitably periodic astronomical things that could work as timekeepers, but they are about as tactile as the SI standard for the second, and we all know what I think of the metric system, anyway.

Any discussion about observable (in van Fraassen terms) things that we could use to measure time on the scale of thousands of years is welcome.

Also welcome is a discussion of etymology of the word ‘slew,’ used in the first sentence. Until John Ciardi weighs in from the grave, Free Dictionary gives a Gaelic-Old Irish chain of association, which would make it one of a pretty small number of words in modern English, I’d think. And Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have a non-“moving your telescope” definition.

For a bonus point, name the Minnesota town where Tilt-A-Whirls (which do have a Wikipedia entry) are manufactured, and explain why they are one of the classic definitions of chaotic motion. Just like the Solar System.


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