Well, even if the OED defines them as such, neither the September equinox nor the just-past March variety actually counts an exactly symmetrical twelve hours of daylight and darkness. Often, the fussy details of things in astronomy (like whether an equinox is labelled as spring, or just March) are related to an observers location on Earth. This time, though, it mainly matters that this was only the spring equinox if you live north of the equator, so identifying it by its month is less hemisphere-centric. Which is absolutely a word.

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Happy September equinox, everyone.

One of the cool things about this day is that it has a fairly high profile on the common, demi-Gregorian calendar, the equinoxes perhaps figuring even larger than solstices in my casual surveys. Another one is that it is only the autumnal equinox if you live north of the equator: otherwise, it is the vernal kind.

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(mostly) Northern roundup

14 November 2008

Kyle Hopkins kicks ASS! Just heard him interviewed on NPR about an Alaska politics article he wrote for the ADN, and I was both thrilled to hear about someone I had lost touch with, and relieved that so sharp a wit is covering the important Stevens-Begich Senate race closely.

Begin obligatory election response: pretty weird that the three most hotly contested (or at least most drawn-out) Senate races were the three states I was most interested in: AK (see above), MN, OR. End obligatory election response.

I’m just starting Rashid Khalidi’s book Resurrecting Empire, which doesn’t seem designed to flagellate liberal guilt so much as actually educate a willing audience about colonialist history from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Indian subcontinent. A good book, and I liked it even more when I found out that he’s almost as dangerous as Bill Ayers.

National Geographic has a ten-page cover article on light pollution out this month, and we happily have our first clear night in about two weeks (not that that’s a record or anything–Alicia tells me that she remembers Kodiak going for something like sixty straight days of rain once, and nobody was talking about records being broken) Still, though, it is crisp and cool tonight. Jupiter looked bright until I saw Venus, and Manaiakalani is setting in the west as Ke ka o ka Makali`i is rising in the east. Even though I know something about how bad light pollution really is, I am reassured that I showed my nephew the same two planets and some of the same stars from the East River about a month ago.

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While I am interested in the news from the startup of the LHC, I think the event has already been well-covered by intellects vaster and with much closer knowledge than me.

Stay tuned for rhetorical analysis, though.

The camellias are blooming, and have been for a week or two. There was still a light frost this morning, though, and that helped me hang on to Saturn high up near Leo’s paws and Mars seeming to recede into the winter hexagon, glimpsed on my way home last night. Now that I look around a little more, the red maple close up against the kitchen porch is also budding strenuously, preparing to leaf out.

I haven’t been paying attention to climatological data, and there are unfortunately few lilacs nearby, but it still brings to mind Adolphe Quetelet’s prescription for lilacs; I think his test bed, so to speak, was in Paris, but I could be wrong. In any case, when the sum of the squares of the mean daily temperatures since the last frost of the winter exceed 4,274, look for the clustered clouds of little purple flowers.

Given that Quetelet was writing in 19th century Belgium, I think we can assume that he was talking about mean temps in Celsius. Odd to think of one of the effects of the French Revolution being the metric system, but there you go. This kind of social context and personal effects are precisely why I liked David Salsburg’s The Lady Tasting Tea, from whence I learned the Quetelet story. In general the book was excellent, but now that I reflect, I think I may have dropped out about half way through when the statistics got too deep for me. I’ll have to pick it up again.

The turning of the year

12 January 2008

(written on the morning of 31 Dec 07)

The frost is thick on the ground this morning, and it seems to have seeped into the air to create a thick fog. Intellectually I know the air isn’t frozen, though I have seen it so at other times, in other places. For now, though, the pack of Steller’s Jays hopping outside reminds me that there is life out there, after all.

Though unmarked by nearly everyone who will shout about tonight (New Year’s Eve), the real turning point seems to me to have happened on 22 Dec, the winter solstice. Though it is neither the earliest sunset of the year nor the latest sunrise of the year, it is the shortest day, with eight hours and about fifty minutes of daylight. [Writing now several days later, we are up to almost nine hours of daylight! yay.]

This 8:50, by the way, compares to 10:57 in Hilo and 3:43 at UAF on the same day. Also, the Sun made its lowest arc across the sky during the day, at the farthest south point in the sky. Which wasn’t quite low enough to beam through our living room windows, down the hallway, and into the kitchen. For which I guess I should be thankful–it isn’t Fairbanks.

I am still trying to catch the pace of seasonal change in the mid-latitudes; six years in the tropics preceded by six years in the polar region have dulled my sense of it. Clearly I need to pay more attention. And celebrate tonight, too.

A striking contrast is presented between the new MacPro that just arrived at work and the definition presented for the first learning tic-tac-toe playing computer laid out in a 1963 paper and reiterated in the O’Reilly Statistics Hacks book I’m reading now. On the one hand, an eight-core CPU, new fast RAM, and an embarrassment of riches in graphics cards; on the other, to quote Bruce Frey quoting Donald Michie, 287 matchboxes and large numbers of nine different colors of beads. That’s right. The arch-nemesis from 1983’s WarGames can be constructed from the contents of your kitchen junk drawer.

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