Scales of History

20 December 2016

13 and 20 and 20 and 20.

Ah, theAbysmal Days, when apparently we Leap over theAbyss and my mind overflows with thoughts on the higher functions of how the way in which we view or perceive time affects the way we think. It changes our mind. Between what I’ve researched astronomy, chronobiology, body function by time of day, time of month, time of year, time of life, embodied cognition, neurobiology, story, symbol, imagination, creativity, history, and reaching back to anthropology as well as calendar systems themselves in order to come up with this. It isn’t idle chatter. It’s the result of my subconscious knitting it all together in the background, and as  has become habit, at the New Year, it presents itself for consideration.

Supercoiled DNA molecular model

In this case, it’s the shape of history, or at the very least longer measures of time. 260 seems to be at the heart of it. 13 is one sacred number to the Maya, the other is 20, which is multiplied much like we do with 10 in observing decades, centuries, millennia. I also noted that the 13 is often associated with the major articulations of the body (ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck), 20 is associated with the fingers and toes. Read the rest of this entry »


19 December 2016

0 the circle, theAbyss, the Shape of Time

I was re-reading notes on Spengler’s Decline of the West, and found it as opaque this time around as the first time (maybe two times) I’d read it. Nevertheless, what I seem to recall is a progression, quite complex (Spengler was a philosopher after all), which I’ve taken in the following direction: the course of cultural events can be seen as following a sin wave. I always pictured them as waves as seen in profile, and circles as seen from the end. Here:

Although instead of the spiral progressing in a straight line, it would follow a sine-wave path, which in turn would follow sine-wave path and so on – spirals within spirals all the way down, as if they were turtles or something.

Read the rest of this entry »

theAbysmal Shape of Time

18 December 2016

If only I knew how to CGI.

I imagine, if I were able to animate theAbysmal Calendar as a visualization, I would begin with a string of days. Each day would be represented by a sphere, and they would stretch off ahead and backwards indefinitely. If you chose to look at the lunar cycles, then the days would form loops of 29 or 30 days out of the line. If we tie those to the year, the there are 12 or 13 of those loops for every year. If we measure the Metonic Cycle, then there’s another loop every 19 years.

That’s one example.  theAbysmal would be highly variable within the year, however, if we organize our year as the Maya by orders of 20, we get 20 day loop, 18 of those in a year (minus 5 leap days), then 20 years, 400 years, 8000, 160000, etc. It would be a similar effect to DNA supercoiling. A coil made up of coils made up of coils made up of…

And if theAbysmal behaves like DNA in this respect, in what other ways can they be linked?

mycelium - theAbysmal Color

Now That’s A Timepiece

17 September 2016

A clock that remains accurate for one billion years.

The Chinese have launched an atomic clock (with an unfortunate acronym in English, CACS) into space that’s more accurate than any existing timekeeping technology, including solar calendars systems. It will lose 1 second after 1 billion years.

Take that Switzerland!

China’s new space laboratory has an atomic clock which, Chinese engineers say, is more accurate than the best timepiece operated by America’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The device, called Cacs, or Cold Atomic Clock in Space, was launched this weak along with other instruments of the Tiangong-2, China’s second orbital lab. According to the South China Morning Post, it will slow down by only one second in a billion years. In comparison, the NIST-F2 atomic clock, which serves as the United States’ primary time and frequency standard, loses a second every 300 million years.

Circular Time App Thing

18 November 2014

Me and the techmologies… we don’t always understand them.

CircleTime – a revolutionary (get it) calendar for the 21st century.

the website is trying too hard to sell this thing, which puts me off.

It’s an interesting idea that creates a visual representation of projects given particular start dates and deadlines. It seems to me like a stop-watch applied to calendar time. This would have been much easier to pull off with almost any other of the world’s calendars. Now that’s persistence.

New Clock discovers Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey

3 November 2014

Or words to that effect.

NPR (and others) reported recently that our ability (or more precisely, those geniuses and technicians who keep the damn thing running based on cesium oscillations) to measure the minutia of time has lead to some interesting questions about its nature.

I don’t know if we’ve ever known what time is (or why would this blog even exist? I mean, I’d look up “time” on wikipedia, read a satisfactory answer, and move on. It’s not an easily described phenomenon, becauses it encompasses so many different ideas from across history and culture.

[you can listen to it on NPR, follow the link back to their site, or just read what I’ve copied below.

“My own personal opinion is that time is a human construct,” says Tom O’Brian. O’Brian has thought a lot about this over the years. He is America’s official timekeeper at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado.

To him, days, hours, minutes and seconds are a way for humanity to “put some order in this very fascinating and complex universe around us.”

We bring that order using clocks, and O’Brian oversees America’s master clock. It’s one of the most accurate clocks on the planet: an atomic clock that uses oscillations in the element cesium to count out 0.0000000000000001 second at a time. If the clock had been started 300 million years ago, before the age of dinosaurs began, it would still be keeping time — down to the second. But the crazy thing is, despite knowing the time better than almost anyone on Earth, O’Brian can’t explain time.

“We can measure time much better than the weight of something or an electrical current,” he says, “but what time really is, is a question that I can’t answer for you.”

Maybe its because we don’t understand time, that we keep trying to measure it more accurately. But that desire to pin down the elusive ticking of the clock may soon be the undoing of time as we know it: The next generation of clocks will not tell time in a way that most people understand.

The New Clock

At the nearby University of Colorado Boulder is a clock even more precise than the one O’Brian watches over. The basement lab that holds it is pure chaos: Wires hang from the ceilings and sprawl across lab tables. Binder clips keep the lines bunched together.

In fact, this knot of wires and lasers actually is the clock. It’s spread out on a giant table, parts of it wrapped in what appears to be tinfoil. Tinfoil?

“That’s research grade tinfoil,” says Travis Nicholson, a graduate student here at the JILA, a joint institute between NIST and CU-Boulder. Nicholson and his fellow graduate students run the clock day to day. Most of their time is spent fixing misbehaving lasers and dealing with the rats’ nest of wires. (“I think half of them go nowhere,” says graduate student Sara Campbell.)

At the heart of this new clock is the element strontium. Inside a small chamber, the strontium atoms are suspended in a lattice of crisscrossing laser beams. Researchers then give them a little ping, like ringing a bell. The strontium vibrates at an incredibly fast frequency. It’s a natural atomic metronome ticking out teeny, teeny fractions of a second.

This new clock can keep perfect time for 5 billion years.

“It’s about the whole, entire age of the earth,” says Jun Ye, the scientist here at JILA who built this clock. “Our aim is that we’ll have a clock that, during the entire age of the universe, would not have lost a second.”

But this new clock has run into a big problem: This thing we call time doesn’t tick at the same rate everywhere in the universe. Or even on our planet.

Time Undone

Right now, on the top of Mount Everest, time is passing just a little bit faster than it is in Death Valley. That’s because speed at which time passes depends on the strength of gravity. Einstein himself discovered this dependence as part of his theory of relativity, and it is a very real effect.

The relative nature of time isn’t just something seen in the extreme. If you take a clock off the floor, and hang it on the wall, Ye says, “the time will speed up by about one part in 1016.”

The world’s most precise atomic clock is a mess to look at. But it can tick for billions of years without losing a second.

Ye group and Baxley/JILA/Flickr

That is a sliver of a second. But this isn’t some effect of gravity on the clock’s machinery. Time itself is flowing more quickly on the wall than on the floor. These differences didn’t really matter until now. But this new clock is so sensitive, little changes in height throw it way off. Lift it just a couple of centimeters, Ye says, “and you will start to see that difference.”

This new clock can sense the pace of time speeding up as it moves inch by inch away from the earth’s core.

That’s a problem, because to actually use time, you need different clocks to agree on the time. Think about it: If I say, ‘let’s meet at 3:30,’ we use our watches. But imagine a world in which your watch starts to tick faster, because you’re working on the floor above me. Your 3:30 happens earlier than mine, and we miss our appointment.

This clock works like that. Tiny shifts in the earth’s crust can throw it off, even when it’s sitting still. Even if two of them are synchronized, their different rates of ticking mean they will soon be out of synch. They will never agree.

The world’s current time is coordinated between atomic clocks all over the planet. But that can’t happen with the new one.

“At this level, maintaining absolute time scale on earth is in fact turning into nightmare,” Ye says. This clock they’ve built doesn’t just look chaotic. It is turning our sense of time into chaos.

Ye suspects the only way we will be able to keep time in the future is to send these new clocks into space. Far from the earth’s surface, the clocks would be better able to stay in synch, and perhaps our unified sense of time could be preserved.

But the NIST’s chief timekeeper, Tom O’Brian, isn’t worried about all this. As confusing as these clocks are, they’re going to be really useful.

“Scientists can make these clocks into exquisite devices for sensing a whole bunch of different things,” O’Brian says. Their extraordinary sensitivity to gravity might allow them to map the interior of the earth, or help scientists find water and other resources underground.

A network of clocks in space might be used to detect gravitational waves from black holes and exploding stars.

They could change our view of the universe.

They just may not be able to tell us the time.

Creative Timekeeping

2 November 2014

An art clock – lovely but impractical (mind you, how hard is it to find out the time these days?)