About webnerbob

A Cleveland and Ohio State sports fan who lives in Columbus, Ohio

A Clockwork Expert

More than two hundred and fifty years ago — so long ago that America was still a collection of diverse, squabbling colonies — a British carpenter and clockmaker named John Harrison made an outlandish claim.  He contended that he had designed a pendulum clock that, if wound properly and in timely fashion, would keep time so accurately that it would lose only one second of time over a 100-day period.

clock_3272964b.jpgYou would think that Harrison’s claim would have had some credibility, because he had just invented a device that had solved one of the knottiest problems confronting the British Empire of that day — namely, allowing sailors to figure out their longitude on long sea voyages.  Latitude could be determined by looking at star charts and comparing constellations to the horizon, but longitude posed a seemingly impossible problem.  Harrison solved it by creating the chronometer, a device that kept remarkably precise time calculated from Greenwich, England.  By determining the local time, such as high noon, and then comparing it to the Greenwich time kept by Harrison’s clock, sailors could calculate how far away they were and determine their longitude.

But even though Harrison had solved the longitude problem, and won a large prize from the British government for his ingenuity, his claim to be able to build such an accurate pendulum clock was met with churlish derision.  Harrison was ridiculed, his claims were said to involve “an incoherence and absurdity that was little short of the symptoms of insanity,” and his clock design was forgotten for centuries.  But Harrison’s achievements became the subject of interest again in the 1970s, and a clockmaker attempted to decipher Harrison’s plans for the clock and build a replica.

Harrison’s design, called simply “Clock B,” then was tested, and the test results confirmed that Harrison was right all along.  During its carefully controlled 100-day trial, Clock B lost only 5/8 of a second when measured against official Greenwich time, and it was declared by Guinness World Records to be the “most accurate mechanical clock with a pendulum swinging in free air.”  Centuries after his death, Harrison was vindicated:  he was right, his critics were wrong, the design of Clock B was an amazing accomplishment for a clockmaker who lived during the mid-18th century,

It just goes to show you — sometimes the conventional wisdom isn’t wisdom at all.

Holiday Burger

As every citizen knows, the Cheeseburger Consumption Act of 1987 made it a federal law that every red-blooded American must consume at least one cheeseburger during the extended Memorial Day weekend, in order to properly welcome in summer and also support the American beef industry.  Today Kish and I did our patriotic duty by heading to the Thurman Cafe, a legendary burger joint in south German Village.  All of their burgers weigh in at 3/4 of a pound of beef, and I got this beauty with bacon, mozzarella cheese, and a slice of raw onion.

Now that I’ve made it back home, I plan on complying with my civic obligations pursuant to the Memorial Day Napping Act of 1956.

Grand Canyon Time Lapse

I’ve been thinking about America on this Memorial Day, and when I think about America I often think about our national parks — because they are a big part of what makes America such a special, beautiful place.  I’ve had the pleasure of visiting many national parks, and I aspire to visit many more, but in my view it’s hard to top the Grand Canyon for sheer spectacular views.  It’s just an incredible, gorgeous feast for the senses.

I found this nifty YouTube time lapse video of a rain storm approaching the Grand Canyon.  It reminded me of what it was like to stand on the rim, hearing the wind whistle past the rock formations below and feeling almost swallowed up by the extraordinary vastness.

Happy Memorial Day!

The east side of the Ohio Statehouse features the Ohio veterans plaza.  It consists of two curved stone walls that face each other from opposite ends of the plaza, two fountains, and two grassy rectangles with room for flowers and plenty of Ohio flags that can be put in place for a holiday weekend.

The stone walls are adorned with snippets from letters written by Ohioans who were serving in the different wars in which America has fought.  It’s a simple yet elegant reminder of one unifying reality for all of the soldiers and sailors, regardless of when or where they fought:  they left home in service of their country, and as they put themselves in harm’s way they wanted to let the family back home that they were okay, that they accepted the cost of their service, and that they hoped to make it back home when their service was done.

This weekend they’ve also put up a simple wreath at the northern end of the plaza.  It’s a good place to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have served and to inwardly express our appreciation to them for making our current lives possible.

Profound thanks to all of our veterans, and happy Memorial Day to everyone!

Making Old Buildings Look Cool

I’ve written about the enormous boom in new building construction in downtown Columbus, but there’s another trend underway that also is helping to make the downtown core cooler:  taking old buildings and sprucing them up.  Interesting signage on the walls, flags draped down the front, neon signs, bunting — they all can take an older structure and give it a fresh new look.

The latest example of this phenomenon is the Yerke Mortgage Company building, now called 145 Rich.  I love the construction company sign that’s just been painted on the side of the building, which has a nifty retro element to it.  Touches like these help to make the downtown area a more visually appealing place.

Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman died yesterday.  One of the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band, a group that unquestionably is one of the finest rock bands America has ever produced, Allman had been ailing for a while.  He was only 69.

Allman was one of those recording artists whose personal life always seemed to be a mess — he was married to Cher, of all people, for a while, which probably tells you all you need to know — but you felt that his life really was about his music.  Allman played guitar and keyboards in the band, but everyone really knew him as the voice of the band.  His unique, smoky vocals, with their gravelly, gritty undertones, injected life and soul into the bluesy songs that the Allman Brothers Band made their own.  Songs like Whipping Post, One Way Out, Not My Cross To Bear, and Midnight Rider are classics in large part because the vocals are so . . . legitimate.  When Allman sang about being tied to that whipping post, you felt that he really knew what he was singing about.  He could make Happy Birthday into an exploration into the dark recesses of the human experience.

We’re getting to the point where many of the rock icons of the ’60s and ’70s are moving on.  It’s sad, but it’s also a reason to listen, again, to some of the music that made them enduring icons in the first place.  Today, it’s time to go listen anew to the Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East, one of the very best live albums ever recorded.  This performance of Whipping Post below comes from one of the band’s Fillmore East performances.

So Hot It Could Kill You

A farmer recently produced the world’s hottest chili.  Is he in Mexico, perhaps, or somewhere in South America, or maybe in subSaharan Africa?

picante2Nah!  He’s in Wales.  That’s right, Wales — that mist-shrouded, coal mining land with towns with ludicrously unpronounceable names, like Llanfairpwllgwyngyll.  And the farmer who discovered it wasn’t even trying to create the hottest chili ever.  Instead, he was trying to create a novel entry for the Chelsea Flower Show.

The accidentally created chili, aptly named Dragon’s Breath, comes in at a staggering 2.48 million SHU on the Scoville heat scale.  To give you a sense of how that ranks, jalapeno peppers are a measly 5000 on the Scoville scale, Cayenne peppers reach between 30,000 and 50,000 on the index, the Scotch Bonnet, a favorite of Caribbean hot sauces, hits between 100,000 and 350,000 on the scale, and the ghost pepper is 1 million SHU — so the Dragon’s Breath is more than twice as hot.  Oh, and U.S. Army regulation pepper spray, which is capable of blinding and disabling assailants, is only 2 million on the Scoville heat scale.  The Dragon’s Breath chili is so powerful that scientists believe that if anyone consumed one of them they would probably die of anaphylactic shock.

It’s hard to imagine that something so small, and produced so accidentally, could be so immensely powerful.  It’s hard to even imagine how something more than twice as hot as the ghost pepper would taste — if you could even taste it before it burned your taste buds and tongue sensors to blackened smithereens.

I like hot food, I really do.  But I draw the line at something that is life-threatening.