PC 187 Numbers (3)

My first two postcards about numbers (PCs 176 and 177) were written in April this year and I still have more thoughts about numbers running around inside my skull. For the past two weeks I have been engaged in a little creative constructive DIY. The result has been very pleasing even if I say so myself, but my mind has been full of numbers, for instance the measurements of bits of wood, both lengths and of cross-sectional size and of numbers and sizes of screws.

When engaged in some form of carpentry, there is a saying that you need to keep at the forefront of your mind: “Measure three times and cut once” and I was reminded of something that happened way back last century; a classic example of miscommunication if ever there was. My first wife and I had bought a marble-topped table in a second-hand shop and we both recognised it was too tall for where we wanted to put it. We ‘agreed’ to cut something off the legs, except she meant the finished height should be 70 cms from the top, whereas I thought it would be a low coffee table and took 70 cms off the bottom!!

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Map reading skills are a delight to acquire and we are lucky here in the UK that the Ordnance Survey produces maps with amazing detail; a glance as some other countries’ maps will make the difference obvious. Reading a map well gives you confidence moving across the country, although I appreciate that electronic maps and Global Positioning Systems can give you good accuracy without the romance of an old-fashioned map. Navigating using a map over land or a chart at sea requires taking a bearing and converting it to ‘magnetic’ for use with a compass, whose needle is affected by the earth’s magnetic field. When I was doing my military service or sailing offshore, the mnemonic ‘grid to mag add, mag to grid get rid’ served us well as the variation was some 4 degrees ……. and mistakes happened!

The tour of the French beaches and hinterland of Normandy was a highlight of my Staff College course, as those who had fought on D-Day on both sides recounted their stories at the very spot where the action had happened. For some of us it was an opportunity to sail the 60 miles from Gosport to Trouville on the north coast of France. I skippered a Nicholson 43 and we had an easy and safe passage. An hour after our arrival one of the other skippers, who I knew well, took me aside up on the harbour wall and quietly questioned whether you added the magnetic variation or not, as they had missed the channel entrance!! (Note 1)

But I now read that in September 2019 ‘magnetic’ north and ‘true’ north aligned, in Greenwich, London at least, for the first time in 360 years and will remain so for some years to come. A relief for some no doubt!

Some years ago I was sufficiently anal to record all the sunrise and sunset times over one year in London. I was keen to find out why and when it was noticeable that the days were getting longer/shorter. Then I plotted the results (times are GMT) thus:

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At this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere we are currently enjoying longer evenings as the sun had reached its northerly point on 21st June, the ‘summer solstice’, and that gives us here in Hove 16 ½ hours of daylight. At the top of the curve it appears as though the sun just hangs there before it starts its long descent towards the shorter days of winter. Actually the numbers support this. For a week after the longest day the sunset time doesn’t change (BST 21:18) and the sunrise time only by a mere 3 minutes (from 04:46 to 04:49). Now almost three weeks into the second half of the year we have lost 15 minutes of daylight.

I am sure you’re bored about my fascination and addiction to the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercise sequence, practised at 40°C (before Covid!), put together by Bikram Choudhury that was known as Bikram Hot Yoga. Now, because of Choudhury’s behaviour, the sequence has taken on the term 26-2 Hot Yoga. It’s coincidental that the distance of a modern marathon run is 26.2 miles.

When I was at school numbers were I, 2, 3, up to 9, essentially the decimal or Base 10 system. Other systems are the Binary, Octal and Hexadecimal. We have become familiar with the binary system, Base 2, as the basis for computer language, where 0 represents ‘off’ and 1 represents ‘on’. For example 348 becomes 101011100 – if you divide 348 successively by 2 you get a zero if it’s even and if odd you get a 1. Not sure why the bottle of scent by eccentric is called 01100101 but looks very modern – and smells wonderful!! And equates to 101 in the decimal system

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Of course the visible sign of the binary system is the barcode attached to every manufactured item – and actually even on non-manufactured items, like the weight-ticket from my online-bought bananas.

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Many years ago I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, written in 1932 about life on earth in 2540. I don’t remember whether he imagined we would all have barcodes on our skin or a simple chip embedded in our shoulder but I can sense some benefits!

Some numbers are easy to understand, to assimilate, others just so mind-boggling they simply become ‘a number’. We are all vaguely aware that the earth revolves around the sun, along with a host of other planets, but do you have any concept of the scale of these rocks? Because I think this is a fascinating set of photos, I thought I should share them (Note 2) They don’t need any numbers, or indeed any commentary; the comparison of scale is just extraordinary.

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And to bring you back to earth (!), remember that it’s only thirty seconds that stands between a soft or a hard-boiled egg or is the difference between catching one’s train or standing puffing at the barrier!

Richard 10th July 2020

Note 1 Each degree of variation over a distance of 60 miles will result in one nautical mile off course. A 4 degree variation would give you 4 nautical miles off course …… and the entrance to Trouville was a narrow dredged channel you approached on a transit and accessible only for a two hours either side of high water.

Note 2 Quoted by Ken Robinson in his excellent book ‘The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.’ ….. a MUST READ for those who don’t enjoy the work they do, for they haven’t found their element.

2 thoughts on “PC 187 Numbers (3)

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