Simple Time-Telling: Time Balls

Yesterday we talked about Weather Balls; today let's follow the Wikipedia "See Also" link and dig into the exciting world of Time Balls!

The best known time ball these days is the one that drops in New York City's Times Square to indicate the passage of another year. We're all familiar with how that ball works: when it hits the bottom, the clock has hit midnight, marking the division between old and new year. But past time balls dropped far more often: designed to help boats at sea calculate their longitude (which required accurate timekeeping), the balls typically dropped every day at 1pm (though in some places around the world, the time differed).

In a reversal of the modern New York City ball, early time balls started counting the time (say, 1pm) when they started dropping, not when they finished. To get sailors ready, the ball would only be raised a few minutes before the day's drop.

The earliest such ball was installed in 1829 in southern England, and others followed along the coastal UK shortly thereafter -- including the one shown at left, at the Greenwich Observatory. The balls initially got their time right by astronomical observations of the sun; the reason for the traditional 1pm drop was that astronomers were busy measuring the sun's position at noon and needed some time before dropping the ball. Later balls used telegraph signals to get Greenwich Mean Time, thus obviating the need for local sun observation. Time balls finally fell out of common use in the 1920s when radio began broadcasting time signals, though many time balls still remain in the UK and Australia.

For more awesome Time Ball info, check out the Deal Timeball Tower Museum located in Deal, Kent.

The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]


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