Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"One-thousand-one ..."

One second is a breath, a heartbeat, a thought, even a relatively slow Google search. It's also what's been tacked-on to 2008, a leap second to go along with the leap day last February 29th, all to keep time in sync with our perception of the proper day. But how do you observe the leap second, capture and make the most of it? In 20th century analog mode, try digging out a short-wave radio, and tuning in at just before 7p Eastern time. A digital experience turns out to be much more complicated, with multiple time protocols and time scales, software glitches and delays. The most commonly used accurate time source is a GPS, and its internal time is actually ahead of UTC (clock time to you and me) and has no leap seconds. The closer you look the more mysterious it all is, and in truth general relativity provides relativistic incantations that allow GPS to keep time accurately if not find your way home. Einstein's time is knotted up with space and mass and "dark" things we know next to nothing about. Our time is a fairytale and much sleight of hand is needed to keep it that way.

It might be more meaningful to take that moment to reflect on one of three laws by a notable author who passed on in 2008, Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

On a Lighter Note ...

At this point, we've made it well past the solstice, and the days are certainly, if not perceptibly, getting longer. The posting below and this month's Moondark (under construction at the moment) are a bit dark and too reflective. To brighten things a bit, here are some of my favs from, with somewhat lighter takes on of science, scale, space and time, and our place in the Universe.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Megalithic 2.0 and the Winter Solstice

There's something disconcerting about watching a live webcast of the winter soltice sunrise from a 5000 year-old megalithic tomb at Newgrange, Ireland. While it's unlikely I'll set an early alarm, I'll probably check out the replay later in the day.

It's cool, but completely lacks context. For some perspective, see Alan Boyle's Hope on a Pale Blue Dot post at the Cosmic Log, a thoughtful reflection on Carl Sagan, which includes a 1977 video (is that lecturer the real Profesor Sagan?). Boyle saves the best for last: a mashup of Sagan readings paired with an Academy Award-like tribute compilation of film clips. All that comedy, romance, drama and conflict, joy and inhumanity indeed happen on the Pale Blue Dot, in just a portion of a pixel.

Sagan's words and set against a myriad of images of mankind, even the simple fact that we could take that image and know our true place and scale in the universe, all demonstrate to me one critical thing. This species can comprehend things bigger than anyone or anything on our home planet. Good thing too, we must now start taking care of it and treating one another the way we would want to be treated.

And that's an appropriate sentiment for the winter solstice.

P.S. Our winter begins at 0704 EST on Sunday the 21st (1204 UT)