Some archeologists believe that Stonehenge - the mysterious arrangement of enormous elongated stones in England - is actually a crude effort by the Druids to build a computing device. ~Dave Barry

Monday, September 26, 2005

Its Monday, must be Greenwich

I took the Thames to Greenwich; I needed a change from the Tube or Bus. The cruise is just over an hour long. It was worth the extra time and money. London from the river is a different experience; you can see details of the city not visible from the roads. One of the operators kept us entertained with a running commentary. He made a possibly boring trip more interesting. He also pointed out some specific sites from various stories or historical events. We landed in Greenwich and I set off for the Royal Observatory. Down the street, towards the Maritime Museum, around the building, through the field, up the hill, and there it was…more hill to climb. OK, not a hill, but big steps.
I made it! THE Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian, the place where time begins 9as they say in Greenwich. Zero degrees east or west. This is it, the beginning.

OK, not that impressive, but there aren’t too many places on earth you can stand on both the eastern and western hemisphere. I suppose you could try standing on the International Date Line, but you might have a small problem, most of it runs through the Pacific Ocean.

Without going through all the history, buy an international agreement this was chosen as the 0° line of Longitude. I had a tour of the buildings and the observatory. Every day at 1 PM the red ball drops signaling to the ships the correct time, so that they can verify their clocks. The BBC and the CBC still broadcast a 1 PM time signal for everyone to set their watches. This was another of London’s pieces of tangible history. Although you can’t touch the instruments (they are too fragile) you can touch the buildings.

One notable building is the Camera Obscura; A blackened room with a pinhole on one side. In this case the pin hole was in the roof and with a series of mirrors the image is projected onto a table so it is easier to see. This was one of the earliest forms or creating a “photographic” image. I was able to get a couple of digital pictures of the live projected image. I used the newest photographic technology to capture an image produced with the oldest technology, pretty cool, ‘eh!

I met a group of students fro St. Georges School, I asked if they were going to or coming back from a dragon slaying, unfortunately all I got were strange looks. Their teacher had to explain the joke. It took a couple of tries, but they eventually got it. These were 12-14 year old students. Was this a reflection of the education system here, I hope not.

From here I head back down the hill. On to the Maritime Museum. The museum contains a collection of Britain’s maritime history; from royal barges covered in gold (yes real gold), explorers artifacts, information about the oceans (Britain is an island), a titanic exhibit, and general information about Britain’s maritime history. Arranged in a kind of chronological order, if not an order you can follow, you are taken through a logical progression of history and information.

Something I wanted to see were some of the first ship’s chronographs, these are very accurate clocks used on ships to navigate and to tell where they are. Based on measurements from the prime meridian (remember the observatory stuff)

Based on time (see the chronograph) and speed a ship’s captain could work out where he was east to west and based on the stars how far north or south he was. A ships captain could then with some accuracy plot a course.

I was able to take the DLR or Docklands Light railway back to London. The DLR is similar to Vancouver’s Subway system, except the tunnels are similar in construction to the Channel Tunnel, a tunnel boring machine was used to cut the hole and a second machine was used to place pre formed concrete blocks around the hole, thereby creating a lined tunnel. The DLR is mostly completely automatic.

The docklands are just that, the old London docks, a series of canals and wharfs. I passed by Canary wharf, built by Olympia & York That Canadian company. They call the tallest of the buildings Canada place. A pretty good name if you ask me J

I will post links to more complete information about the Observatory, longitude, chronographs, Canary Wharf and the DLR.


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