Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Pet Peeve #63: people who say that before Columbus discovered America, Europeans believed the world was flat.

It's ridiculous. Dante's "Inferno" placed Hell inside a round earth. Hell, the ancient Greeks knew the world was round, because they saw islands apparently rise up out of the sea as they approached them in ships. Some time around 500 BC, I think, a philosopher made a pretty good approximation of the size of the Earth by measuring the angles of shadows in different places. If there is a seven degree difference in the angles of noontime shadows between specific places in Egypt and Greece, and those places are a known distance apart, then by trigonometry - wedge of a sphere, something like that - you get an estimate of the Earth's size that is very close to the actual size.

Columbus did not have this miraculous epiphany that, hey, maybe the world is round - he had a stupid idea but got lucky. Everyone knew the world was round, but somehow Columbus had become convinced that it was a great deal smaller than everyone else thought. When his first proposal was refused, it was rejected because he didn't have anywhere near enough provisions for the actual distance. And they were right - if he hadn't run into a land mass between Europe and Asia, he and his men would have starved or died of thirst long before they reached Asia.

So, anyhoo... we had fun in Toronto. We saw "Mamma Mia," an Abba musical, and had dinner at this Indian buffet, and stopped at a few bars. While we were there we also went up the CN Tower, supposedly one of the wonders of the modern world. The signs say that on a clear day you can see hundreds of miles. It lists a bunch of cities, and Rochester is one. Unfortunately, it wasn't a clear day. When we were up on the observation decks we couldn't even see past the edge of Toronto, I don't think. Then we went down a few levels to the cafe. A few minutes later we noticed it had cleared up, and we were amazed by how much better the view was. But still, it says something about where we live that our definition of good weather is "being able to see the ground."

I got some work done over break. I didn't get as much done as I'd wanted, but it was probably more than I would have accomplished if I'd gone home. Friends to visit (and added problem of travel time) and family and pets to play with and lots of old books to reread and whether or not I'd even choose to bring the right books and papers with me - not a good work environment. So on the whole, I guess I can call it a success.

Unfortunately, less work than I wanted and more work than I expected, still means less work than I needed. I have a short story to do, a takehome midterm due Monday, and I really can't let myself fall any further behind and put stuff off any more. So, I shouldn't be writing this. So I'm done.

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