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NGO_Vleeptron (aka "Bob from Massachusetts") recently featured LIVE on BBC WORLD SERVICE, heard briefly by Gazillions!!!

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Location: Great Boreal Deciduous Hardwood Forest, New England, United States

old dude, all hair, swell new teeth

26 April 2006

where Time begins

The Royal Observatory overlooking
the Thames River, Greenwich, England

Architect: Christopher Wren. Through its campus runs the Greenwich Meridian, Zero Degrees Longitude.

A laser blares the line into the night skies over the Thames Valley, and in the sidewalk there's an imbedded illuminated line, so schoolkids (and Bob) can skip and dance back and forth between the Western and Eastern Hemispheres.

The Observatory's Motto: Where Time Begins.

The red thing on the left tower is The Time Ball. Each day precisely at noon it's dropped, so ships in the Thames could look up and set their clocks by it, a necessary first step for determining Longitude during their voyages around the world.

The first clocks precise enough to compute Longitude were invented in the 18th century by a self-taught clockmaker, John Harrison, whose originals have been restored and tick merrily away at the Observatory. Though magnificent machines of brass and steel, the hearts of the Harrison Chronometers are actually made of Lignum Vitae wood, and lubricate themselves.

The second Astronomer Royal Edmond Halley (famed for predicting the return of his Comet) got drunk one night with Tsar Peter the Great, and they rolled each other around the Observatory grounds in a wheelbarrow. The first Astronomer Royal, Flamsteed, was a real jerk and a liar and a crook.

The standard history of all this is in Dava Sobel's wonderful book "Longitude." The cable channel A&E (Arts & Entertainment) made a movie of it, featuring a scene of attractive young topless women playing strip whist with rich aristrocrats. But Jeremy Irons wonderfully plays the ex-Naval officer Gould, who found the Harrison Chronometers in a heap of junk in the basement, and spent years between the World Wars restoring them to original specifications, working order, Bristol fashion.

4 Comments:

Blogger Jim Olson said...

I'm going to see H1, H2 and H3 when I am in England this summer. Can't wait.

21:45  
Blogger Bob Merkin said...

The park that surrounds the Old Royal Observatory is gorgeous, give yourself some wandering-around picnic time, but from the Observatory you can look down toward the river and see another masterpiece, Queen's House, by the other giant of English architecture, Inigo Jones. And when I was Googling for "Wren Greenwich," it seems there's a hospital in Greenwich he also designed. When I visited, up-scale Londoners considered Greenwich and everything on that side of the river not worth visiting (wrong wrong) but siting all the Millennium stuff in Greenwich and extending the Underground has now made G a jewel in London's crown.

Down the road from Greenwich is The Thames Barrier. Quite the thrilling Monster Machine, very worth a visit.

The Harrison Chronometers themselves -- even if you don't know their history, they're just sublime to see. But to realize these strange clocks solved a question that had doomed thousands of sailors all over the world ...

Sobel's "Longitude" begins with a wreck of an entire British fleet and the loss of about 1000 men just because guessing and dead reckoning weren't good enough to find their location; the tragedy caused the Admiralty to offer the big cash prize that Harrison spent a lifetime trying to win.

If I could only see one thing in London again, I'd go back to the Royal Observatory in a heartbeat. Such beauty that did such amazing things. Britannia ruled the waves because of that place.

23:33  
Blogger Londradical said...

thank you Bob, I learnt with pleasure about Greenwich.
Don't worry for the link, don't go mad, it's not important.

12:32  
Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Grazie, but it is important. I've wanted to post the links to my favorite sites and blogs from the beginning (September 2005!), but was too cowardly to face the HTML Frustration Barrier. But your reminder will inspire me to Succeed! Ad Astra Per Aspera!

Yes yes you lucky sucker you are just an Underground ride away from The Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich! (What's your Underground station?)

And from Inigo Jones' dreamy Queens House!

This hill in Greenwich, the view to the Thames -- this is what Paradiso / Heaven looks like!

Goethe called Architecture "Frozen Music." The Frozen Music doesn't get more beautiful than Greenwich.

Anyway I will redouble my HTML links efforts, and Londradical will shine above all the rest!

14:38  

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