Archive for June, 2011

Fifth Anniversary Post — Caption Contest!

June 13, 2011

Title says it all. I’ve been at this wacky pursuit exactly five years. And I can only marvel at all the twists and turns. In honor of it all, a blogging tour de force of silly picture and hopefully silly responses. To the victor goes a shiny new pony (offer good while supplies last…) Many thanks to one and all for reading, sharing, caring, and generally being. And thanks for the mammaries!

Sundials!

June 2, 2011

“We do not know when men first began to use instruments which were at all similar to modern sundials. A stone fragment in a Berlin museum is thought to be the earliest known sundial, dating from about 1500 B.C. The Bible mentions what some authorities take to have been a sundial (although the meaning is by no means certain) in the days of Ahaz, king of Judah some 700 years before Christ. About a century later the Greek philosopher and astronomer Anaximander of Miletus is said to have introduced the sundial into Greece. Herodotus, who lived in Asia Minor and Greece about 450 B.C., tells us that ‘It was from the Babylonians that the Greeks learned about the pole, the gnomon and the twelve parts of the day'; and sundials had become so common in Rome by 200 B.C. that the comic dramatist Plautus condemned in verse ‘the wretch who first…set a sundial in the market place to chop my day into pieces.’ Vitruvius, a contemporary of Julius Caesar, bemoaned the fact that he could not invent new types of sundials, since the field was already exhausted. He lists a dozen or more types, giving the names of their inventors. We do not know anything about the appearance of many of these early dials, and cannot guess the degree of their accuracy.

Many medieval English churches carry what appear to be crude sundials cut or scratched directly into the stone of their walls. These appear to have been used primarily to note the times of the prayers. One of these dials, at Kirkdale in Yorkshire, carries an inscription in Old English which reads in part, ‘This is the day’s sun-marker at every tide.’ This will be understood only if we realize that the Saxons divided the day not into hours, but into ‘tides’ — from which we still get such words as ‘noontide’ and ‘eventide.’

Sometime and somewhere — no one knows when and where — it was discovered that the shadow cast by a slanting object might be a more accurate timekeeper that the shadow cast by a vertical one. If, in fact, the shadow-casting object was parallel to the earth’s axis, the direction of its shadow at any given hour of the day was constant regardless of the season of the year. It has been suggested that this discovery occurred in the first century A.D., but be that as it may, men had now discovered the system which remained the principal basis for time-telling for nearly thirteen centuries. In fact, sundials remained in use long after the invention of the clock, since early clocks were erratic and needed frequent correction by the sundial. Our frontispiece reproduces an old print showing three gentleman waiting to set their watches when the sun dial shows that the moment of noon has arrived, and many a New England housewife paced her morning’s chores with the movement of the shadows across the kitchen floor. While men have used many other means of telling time — sandglasses, waterclocks, candles and graduated oil lamps (or else relied on the crowing of cocks and other natural phenomena), nevertheless for at least ten and perhaps twenty centuries the sundial was the major timekeeping device used by man.”

Albert E. Waugh, Sundials: Their Theory and Construction (New York: Dover, 1973), 3-5.


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