Friday, March 14, 2008

Getting my bearings

Longitude is a great topic for a book and, better yet, the title for a book.  While the book "Longitude" certainly tackles the issue of finding out who first (John Harrison) could measure longitude correctly with great enthusiasm, it lets itself become too biased to what amounts to the hero of the story.

It seems that John Harrison, shamefully the first time I've heard of him, got the short end of the stick in his lifetime (late 1600's to late 1700's) in terms of recognition, having belongings stolen from him and worse yet having to remake those very items he lost.  The man certainly had an admirable amount of dedication to his trade of making clocks and gobs of talent.  The first clocks he made were almost entirely from wood for goodness sake!

While I do enjoy a good hero and anti-hero story, it doesn't seem quite appropriate to cast this story in such a light.  The author's perspective, while possibly true, appears very narrow to me, with almost nothing but praise going to Harrison and scathing prose for all those who apposed him.  The book is still full of great facts and figures that have made me go "hmmm".  Little did I know that before the chronometer found throughout the world now, there was a battle ragging between the sextant and H-4 users of the world.  The astronomers versus  the horologers.  Now I can look down at my wrist and see the time, whereas it used to take 4 hours of methodical observations of the sun, moon and stars to get what time it might be in London and, simultaneously, the Bahamas.  Just another one of those things that makes you gasp at how far we've come.

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