In 2011 the historian David Christian gave a talk at TED in California. His subject was "Big History", the cross-discipline study of history he began teaching in Australia in the early 90's. The course spans multiple timescales to teach the entire history of the universe, from it's birth to the present day.
I've written about Big History before. It solidified a lot of what I'd been fumbling towards with the Computus Engine. It deals with timescales in a cohesive manner and most importantly gives context to the major events.
Two years on and with the support of Bill Gates the Big History Project is about to open it's doors. The website was updated last week and some material was already been released to educators. The course will launch to the public in September.
Back when I lived in London my commute by train would take me past a small unassuming office building in Vauxhall. The only reason it caught my eye at all was for the sign across the entrance that read The British Interplanetary Society. I've been curious about what goes on in there ever since. So earlier this year I jumped in, joined up and found out.
The society was founded in the early 1930's with the aim of supporting and promoting astronautics and space exploration. United Kingdom explosives law curtailed early experiments into rocketry but as early as the end of the decade, the society had developed a project to land three men on the moon. By the time of the Apollo moon landings, members of the society were working on Project Daedalus - a proposal for an interstellar spacecraft.
Notable members of the society include the science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke who was an early member and served as it's chairman shortly after the war, and Sir Patrick Moore who was the first editor of the BIS magazine SpaceFlight. Which brings me neatly to Patrick's picnic...
The society holds a summer picnic at Sir Patrick Moore's house in Sussex. It's a relaxed affair, with a few speakers, a quiz and some games, all held within the leafy grounds of his home. It was a fun day out and a great reminder that following your curiosity can take you to the most surprising places.
"In my own time. On my own time." is a project by Royal College of Art graduate Charlotte Christofferson.
The project examines how gender and age affect our perception of time. Charlotte's research and interviews revealed how we all perceive and structure time differently. She distilled her findings down to five archetypes: a child, teenager, mother, father and a grandmother in the early stages of dementia.
My involvement in the project began about a month ago. We met in London to discuss how the rules for each archetype could be codified into an interactive application. I soon after set to work building all this into an iPad app that could be part of the public display for the RCA Show 2012.
Although the timescale was tight, less than two weeks from concept to delivery, that wasn't really the biggest challenge. The tough part was suppressing my own time conventions in order to program each archetype. The father was simple; as an adult male we both structure events in a linear manner. The teenager is also linear although a little less structured. The mother observes a daily cyclical structure, and the events of the child and grandmother are pretty much random.
So today is a leap day, right? Well, yes and no. We generally assume the 29th of February is a leap day but in the original Julian calendar the leap day was intercalated on the 24th of February. The aim of the leap day insertion is to keep the computational calendar in sync with the actual movement of the earth and sun. The primary motivation for this being an accurate calculation of the Computus, an algorithm for the correct observance of the date of Easter.
I've been playing around with Processing recently and I thought it might be interesting to see what those leap days look like. You can see the results below. Each pixel represents one day, with each line of pixels representing one year. The leap days are shown in red. It was a little thrown together but it shows the patterns and the scale.
The Julian calendar is shown first, beginning in 45BC. It's leap year rules are pretty simple, one day is inserted (on the 24th of Feb) every four years. This simple pattern holds true for the next 1500 years, but by the middle ages it had become a problem. The calendar had drifted 10 days out of sync with the real rotation of the earth.
The Catholic church instituted a reform to the rules and this became the Gregorian calendar. You'll see this in the second block. The leap day rules for this are based on the Julian, but with the addition of special cases for centuries and millennia.
The white line represents 2012.
The unusual looking year that spans both calendars is 1582. 10 days were dropped at the point of transition. The Julian calendar concluded on Thursday, 4 October 1582 and was immediately followed by Friday, 15 October 1582, the first day of the Gregorian calendar.
I had some problems embedding the Processing.js version into WordPress so I've had to make do with an image. Feel free to download the source below if you want to tinker with it.
Churches and alehouses are ubiquitous in Britain. The names change from time to time but many of the sites have been occupied for centuries. Back before the advent of GPS and smartphone mapping it was fairly common to provide directions as a list of common landmarks. I can still remember my Geography teacher instructing his class (of ten years olds) how to navigate across town by every pub and alehouse en-route. It was much more fun than oxbow lakes.
After ten years living and working in London I got to know the alehouses rather well, and with the festive season well and truly upon us I thought it might be fun to have a virtual temporal pub crawl. This list is by no means exhaustive but here are a few London pubs with a temporal connection.
The Ship and Shovell, Charing Cross
This was a regular haunt of mine when I used to commute in from Greewich. This wonderful pub is unusual in that it is split across two locations, either side of an alleyway. On most days visitors spill out of both buildings and into the alley in-between. The pub is named after the wonderfully monickered Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Cloudesley Shovell. He lost his life in 1707, along with 2000 other sailors, when his fleet hit rocks off the isles of Scilly. The cause of the disaster was due to a mis-calculation of the fleet's location. In order to prevent this from happening again the British government formed the Board of Longitude which in turn inspired clockmaker John Harrison to create his award winning marine chronometer, H4.
The Crown, Seven Dials
This pub is located on the Seven Dials roundabout in Covent Garden. It was the closest pub to my old agency so we would often end up there after work. Next to the doorway, on the wall of the pub, is a plaque with a waveform and inscription showing the Equation of Time. You'll find an identical plaque next to Nero's coffee shop on the other side of the roundabout. In the middle of the roundabout is a tall monument capped with six sundials... go figure.
The Jerusalem Tavern, Clerkenwell
Now this is a cracking alehouse. In the 18th century Clerkenwell was home to watchmaking in London. At that time, the site of what is now The Jerusalem Tavern was a clockmakers shop. When I was working at Pogo we'd often end up here at the end of the night. It's a little tricky to find but if you do manage to visit then take a few minutes to pop round the corner to St John's square where you can visit the marvellous Museum of the Order of the Knights of St John.
The Daylight Inn, Petts Wood
This is the only pub on my list that I haven't managed to get to but I can't really miss it out. The pub is named in honour of local resident William Willett, a London builder and the principal UK proponent of Daylight Saving Time.
Trafalgar Tavern, Greenwich
There are lots of great pubs in Greenwich (tip: you'll find the best ones are along Royal Hill) but the Trafalgar is probably the most famous. Built in 1837 on the site of the Old George Inn, it sits on the river alongside the Old Royal Naval College. The writers William Thackeray and Charles Dickens were frequent visitors. It can get very busy but is worth visiting to soak up some maritime history.
The White Hart, Drury Lane
The White Hart bills itself as the 'oldest licensed premises in London'. This may or may not be true (the oldest pub in London is a hotly debated topic) but inside it looks like any modern pub. It's present incarnation is far less exciting than it's colourful history - highwayman, Dick Turpin, is said to have been a regular. It's claim is apparently derived form from the (nearby) Old Bailey archives which show it was first licensed back in 1216.
BONUS PUB: The Dog and Bell, Deptford
This was my local when I lived in Deptford. I don't know if it has a temporal connection (most of Deptford does) but I'm listing it because it's the best pub in south east London. Don't just take my word for it, no less an authority than CAMRA have honoured it with the accolade several times. Built next to the Royal Dockyards, it serviced the drinking requirements of local workers. The pub makes an appearance in ''Homeward bound', a sea shanty from 1870's.
And now we haul to the Dog and Bell
Where there's good liquor for to sell.
ln comes old Archer with a smile,
Saying: "Drink, my lads, it's worth your while."
For I see you are homeward bound,
I see you are homeward bound.
It's not easy to find, but while you're getting lost I'd recommend visiting the nearby St. Nicholas churchyard. Extra points if you can find the grave marker for the playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593).keep looking »