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14 May 2005

How Big Is It & How Much Does It Weigh?


Jeez I had a great time hanging with Eratosthenes in Alexandria in 230 BC the other night. I couldn't stay long, I got things to do in The Present, but after we got drunk on the retsina and woke up with big hangovers the next morning, Eratosthenes had two tickets to see the Alexandria premier of a big play from Athens, "The Trojan Women," I think by Euripides. We had really good seats way down front in the Amphitheater, but even the people in the cheap seats could figure out what was going on, because when the actor was Sad, he'd put on a mask with a Big Frown (and there's a little megaphone in the mouth to amplify his/her speech).

Not the Feel-Good Hit of the Season, but certainly a very powerful piece of drama with an important message about war. Everybody fixates on Victory, but for every winner, there's a loser, and "The Trojan Women" is about what happens to them. I don't think a single actor or actress used the other mask with the Big Smile through the whole show.

Man, them Ancient Greeks! Tragedy! Comedy! Mathematical Proof! Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns! Spanikopita! If I hadn't had to get back here and empty the dishwasher for SWMBO, I would have stayed a few more days, or a week. It would take six months to check out my bud Eratosthenes' Library and Museum. (Later it got burned down, some say by Romans, some say by Christians ... nobody's leaping to claim credit in the history textbooks for torching the Great Library of Alexandria. Like my friend's teenage son said after he made doughnuts on the golf course with his dad's Volvo on Saturday night: "It seemed like a good idea at the time.")

Well, did I tell you that Eratosthenes was the first guy to accurately measure the size of the Earth? Fortunately, I aimed the TM-212 and arrived three years AFTER he did that. (Otherwise I would have spent the whole time with a sock stuffed in my mouth so I wouldn't tell him that he was going to be the first human being to accurately measure the Earth, and I sure wouldn't have wanted to spill any hints about How He Was Going to Measure the Earth. He figured that out all by himself.)

But he told me lots of nifty details about his trip up the Nile to Syene for the Earth-Measuring Project and yadda yadda -- god, what a kick-ass interesting guy. And Archimedes -- across the Mediterranean in Sicily -- was his pen pal, and he showed me letters from Archimedes! With Archimedes' original hand-drawn mathematical diagrams! There was a sketch of The Method of Exhaustion on one of them! Wow!

They'd met, Archimedes went to Alexandria when he was a young guy. Eratosthenes said he had this real hick, rube Doric accent, like Faulkner's Mississippi accent, so if you had the usual Athenian prejudices, it took you a few minutes to realize you were chatting with the Most Brilliant Human Being on Earth. (Not just then, maybe for always. Archimedes invented First-Year Calculus. Then a Roman soldier murdered him in 212 BC, and the world promptly forgot First-Year Calculus for the next 19 centuries.)

Okay, so Erathosthenes measured the size of the Earth. That's an amazing story in itself, maybe (if you beg or send me some raw sausage) I'll tell it. Or three slices of Pizza with Double Anchovies are yours if you want to write How He Did That in the labyrinthine Comment Sewers of Vleeptron.

But it begs the Other Question: How much does the Earth weigh? The Earth is just a thing with mass, just like a cheerleader or a chair, so it must weigh something, in pounds or stone or kilograms. Who was the first human being to accurately weigh the Earth?

Of course now we know that it's extremely simple to do, any of us can do it right now at home. You just turn the bathroom scale upside-down and place the weighing surface on top of the Earth (your bathroom floor), and it weighs the Earth, just like when it's right-side-up and you stand on it and it weighs you. There is that one small extra problem of reading the number, because the scale's upside-down, and if you try to lift up a corner of the scale to read the number, it's not weighing the Earth anymore. (This is an Unsolved Problem very closely related to proving that when you close the refrigerator door, the light goes off. This problem is also still unsolved.)

Okay, so as usual, I am just feeding you a bunch of crap to see who falls for it. That has nothing at all to do with How to Weigh the Earth. Weighing the Earth has nothing whatsoever to do with your bathroom scale. You can come out of the bathroom now.

But some Human Being actually once DID weigh the Earth accurately for the very first time in history. And just like Eratosthenes, this Human Being is also one of my heroes, I am planning a Special Time Journey to check this Human Being out.

I've actually been to this HB's home, and guess what??? It has a MAZE! A big-ass garden Labyrinth, with twists and turns and dead ends and frustration!

And beer cans and used condoms and candy wrappers, just like the chain-link fence labyrinth at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. So it was closed to the public (me) when I got there. MAZE CLOSED TO PUBLIC. ENTRANCE FORBIDDEN. I could only admire it from the outside. And be very annoyed at all the jerks before me who left the used condoms and the beer cans.

On Vleeptron, we all take a Labyrinth Oath when we're 4: "I swear always to treat all mazes and labyrinths with awe and respect, and to pack out all my trash."

But anyway, MORE PIZZA! Who was the first Human Being to accurately weigh the Earth? How the heck did this person do it? And (drum roll .................) How much does the Earth weigh?

Ahhh ... no Honor System on this one. Surf your brains out. But if you already know without having to Cliquez Ici, if you just already know, we'll take your word for it, and that's worth pineapples on the pizza.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nevil David Maskelyne

07:39  
Blogger Bob Merkin said...

1. The first Dude or Dudeusse to accurately weigh the Earth was NOT Maskelyne, no Pizza for u. I know bunches about Maskelyne, most of them unfavorable things, and he wasn't the World's First Earth-Weigher.

2. The next Dude or Dudeusse who answers an serious important PizzaQ or has some gasbag Opinion on an important Political Question as an Anonymous Comment-Leaver, I am going to run this creature over with one of those Highway Department steamrollers. NO MORE DRIVEBY COMMENTS!

14:41  

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