No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118


The Purcell Papers are full of good Irish spookiness. Some of the Irish dialogue is a bit thick, especially when LeFanu sticks malapropisms in Irish mouths, presumably for humorous effect. If he wasn't dead, I'd get drunk and punch him for his baseless slanders of the Irish national character.
The stories are old, so they're mostly public domain, so you can read of The Child that Went with the Fairies, or the longer (but more oogie) Legend of Dunblane.
The Mysterious Lodger is quite an odd duck -- sort of a story of Job, but starting with an unbeliever who becomes a believer through his trials:

Among these were the study of Voltaire, Tom Paine, Hume, Shelley, and the whole school of infidels, poetical as well as prose. This pursuit, and the all but blasphemous vehemence with which I gave myself up to it, was, perhaps, partly reactionary. A somewhat injudicious austerity and precision had indissolubly associated in my childish days the ideas of restraint and gloom with religion. I bore it a grudge; and so, when I became thus early my own master, I set about paying off, after my own fashion, the old score I owed it. I was besides, like every other young infidel whom it has been my fate to meet, a conceited coxcomb. A smattering of literature, without any real knowledge, and a great assortment of all the cut-and-dry flippancies of the school I had embraced, constituted my intellectual stock in trade. I was, like most of my school of philosophy, very proud of being an unbeliever; and fancied myself, in the complacency of my wretched ignorance, at an immeasurable elevation above the church-going, Bible-reading herd, whom I treated with a good-humoured superciliousness which I thought vastly indulgent.

Our narrator appears to have a minor character flaw, but it's nothing the gruesome, supernatural death of his children can't fix.

Group Theory in the Bedroom, by Brian Hayes.

A collection of 12 essays on diverse mathematical topics. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I've read a great number of 'popular math' books, so I often get a feeling of deja vu when reading one. Oh yeah, he's gonna talk about the friggin' Fibonacci sequence again. Sigh. So Hayes' effort was a pleasant surprise, since most of the topics were relatively novel. They can't be entirely novel, because they have to relate to something about which I know the fuck. Otherwise, they don't make sense to anybody.
One essay spends a great deal of time (and it's well worth it) describing the intricacies of the Strasbourg Cathedral Clock, which is ridiculous. That Wikipedia article is feeble, and I don't find any other good treatments of it, so Hayes has done a great service -- you can read the original essay online here (2MB PDF). The thing is a steampunk wonder of the world. For starters, it keeps both mean and sidereal time. "The true sidereal day is 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.0905324 seconds, whereas the mean solar day is exactly 24 hours (by definition). The ratio of these intervals is 78,892,313 to 79,108,313, but grinding gears with nearly 80 million teeth is out of the question. The clock approximates the ratio as 1 + (450/611 * 1/269), which works out to a sidereal day of 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.0905533 seconds. The error is less than a second per century."
As for the calendar function, get this...
The display of leap years calls for as much ingenuity as their calculation. ON the large calendar ring, an open space between December 31 and January 1 bears the legend [Start of the year]. Shortly before midnight on each December 31 when a leap year is about to begin, a sliding flange that carries the first sicty days f the year ratchets backwards by teh space of one day, convering up the [Start message] at one end of the flange, and at the same time exposing February 29 at the other end.

Needless to say, the mechanism understands that every four years is a leap year unless the year ends in 00 unless unless the year is divisible by 400. The mechanism was built in 1842, so the mechanism ran for 158 years before some lonely cog made sure that 2000 would be a leap year.
Oh, and there's a system geared down at a ratio of 9,451,512 to 1 to ensure that the equinoxes precess every 26,000 years.
If you think that's crazy, Hayes brings up The Long Now, a group intent (on other things) on building a clock to last 10,000 years.
And that's just the first (albeit the most interesting) essay.
Tags: book, math

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