About time

I’ve now had this blog for just over a year.  As soon as I set up my shiny new WordPress site, I put up an “about” page with a quick bit of placeholder text to say that details would follow soon.  A few months later I amended it to warn the reader not to hold their breath…

I have now, at last, got round to updating the about page to actually say something (admittedly, still not very much) about me.

[Grammar fans may like to pause to consider the different shades of meaning in the word “now” at the start of the two previous paragraphs.]

If you are especially interested in my blogging history, you may like to read one of my earliest posts on this blog, which was a history of my earlier blogs (but I won’t be mortally offended if you don’t bother).

Today is another landmark in the history of my blog as it’s the first time (at least in the current blog) that I’ve posted twice in one day (judging by my usual track record, twice in one month is above average:)  I must admit that I’m doing this more out of curiosity to see how WordPress handles multiple posts on one day than out of a belief that anyone will actually be that interested to know that my About page has been updated, so I hope you’ll bear with me.  (While in confessional mood, I should probably also admit that I just couldn’t resist the obvious title for this post that sprang to mind as soon as I’d finished the page update – that’s really the main reason for posting!)

155.891 smoots (or maybe two)

When I started my occasional series of posts about length measurements just over a year ago, I mentioned that there were two reasons why I had chosen to use the Menai Suspension Bridge as the reference object for all the different units (to be measured via the Google Maps DMT wherever possible).  One reason was that I regularly traverse this landmark.  The other, as I said, was a bridge-related connection to one of the units which was to be related in due course.  Now is the time!

The smoot is a unit that originated in October 1958 when a bunch of engineering students at MIT used one of their number (Oliver Smoot, later to be Chairman of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and President of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)) as a measuring stick to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge.  One smoot is equal to Oliver Smoot’s height (at the time of the measurement), which was 5’7″ (i.e. 67″ or 1.7018m). The bridge’s length was measured to be 364.4 smoots plus or minus one ear, with the “plus or minus” intended to express uncertainty of measurement.  That’s about 620m in the rather more boring but somewhat more common metric system.

The Menai Suspension Bridge, according to my measurement on Google Maps, is 155.891 smoots long, so it’s a bit less than half the size of the Harvard Bridge.  Incidentally, the Menai Suspension Bridge looks very similar to the Széchenyi Lánchíd (Széchenyi Chain Bridge) in Budapest:

Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest

The Budapest bridge was actually built about 15 years later by a different engineer (and modelled on a bridge over the Thames).  Wikipedia lists its length as 375m, which Google Calculator tells me is about 220 smoots.

In case you’re wondering about the possibility of two smoots indicated by the title of this post, it’s actually a reference to two Smoots since Oliver has a cousin, George Smoot, a physicist who won the Nobel Prize (for physics, unsurprisingly) in 2006 and has appeared as a guest star on The Big Bang Theory (which is quite appropriate since much of his physics work has been on the big bang).   Arguably, George is more famous than his cousin although I’m not aware that he has any units named after him.  I decided to go ahead and write this post after I discovered (from Wikipedia, where else?!) that today is George Smoot’s birthday.  So, happy birthday George (in case you should ever happen to read my blog, which is admittedly fairly unlikely)!