A Bewildering Barometer

I bought an old aneroid barometer at a local estate sale many years ago.  It still works well.
Full barom_0723 (2)The convex glass cover was cracked so I replaced it with a piece of very old window glass, after slowly drilling a hole for the pointer.

The aneroid mechanism became popular in the early 1900s.  It uses a sealed and flexible bellows chamber that changes size with variations in atmospheric pressure, instead of the mercury filled fragile glass tubes of older designs.

I thought the case must have been changed at some time because the face references a thermometer (“Thermomètre selon Réamur”) and yet there is none present.  There are no markings on the wood case other than a cryptic “#61” engraved in the back surface. But the dial is very interesting:Dial_0721 (2)

For many years I wondered, and have repeatedly asked guests, what the scale reading from “28” to “31”, and in divisions of 1/12s, could represent?  It must surely be inches of mercury – sea level atmospheric pressure is about 29.5 inches of mercury – but why would the scale be subdivided into twelfths instead of the usual tenths?  None could explain.

The language on the face is surprisingly all in French, although the fine print says “P. F. Bollenbach” and “Barrington, IL”– not a known US francophone location.

At last Philips’ friends, Geoff and Dave, with a little help from King Google, have cracked the code: Before Napoleon’s time, and France’s great conversion to the metric measurement system, it seems the French used an inch measure, called a “pouce” (not the similarly sounding “puce”. That is a French flea!) which they subdivided into 12 “lignes”.  A ligne began about 1,200 years ago with German button makers and was “…the measurement of a round wick, folded flat…”.  It is still used today by some button and snap makers, and a few French and Swiss watch people, according to Google.  Around the same time England was actually dividing their “inch” into 10 subdivisions.  The English inch was then defined as 3 medium size dry barley corn grains laid to end to end, but that turned out to be about 12.6% longer (depending no doubt on the year’s harvest!) than the French inch.

A recent estate sale (it’s hard work being retired!) yielded a fine 1969 Nicholas Goodison 388 page book, “English Barometers 1680-1860”, for a few dollars.  It shows a 1772 Ramsden mercury barometer with a dual scale of quote “..both English and French inches divided into 1/10in. and 1/12in. (i.e. 12 ’lignes’) respectively..”

Ramsden 1772_0728 (2)

The other scales on it are Fahrenheit and Réamur thermometers and a conversion scale.

The earliest example of 1/12 divisions that I can find is the scale on this beautiful Robert Hooke 1665 wheel barometer. The scale here somewhat mysteriously reads “M, N, O, P” for the main divisions, but each gap between letters is subdivided into sixths and twenty-fourths.  Hooke was not French but he did come from the Isle of Wight so perhaps there was a little vin rouge nearby to help his studies?
Hooke Wheel 1665_0725 (2)
The final evidence comes from eBay where a few hundred $ might get you this very fine 1749 Louis XVI instrument.  It also has 1/12 divisions in the scale.Ebay old Barometre 27-29 12 div_0584 (2)So it seems that very old French barometers used the 1/12 divisions when most of the English ones were using the 1/10 parts of their fine scale.  My, perhaps 50 to 100 year old, Illinois instrument appears to have used French wording and one twelfth divisions to give an antique air to a modern aneroid mechanism.  I note too that the face is simple printed paper rather than the engraved metal of genuine antiques. I shouldn’t complain, Goodison’s book says that for accuracy an old mercury barometer needs periodic maintenance by “boiling” (sic) the mercury to remove absorbed water and oxygen!

Isn’t it ironic that despite being partly decimalized before continental Europe (as shown by the tenths divisions on their old mercury barometers) England stubbornly held on to their colorful, but so confusing to me in my school days, non-decimal: fathoms, firkins, furlongs, fortnights, farthings, etc., etc.  (Did you know there are about 5,600 “scruples” in one “strike”, whatever they may be measuring?).  France dropped it’s “lignes” in Napoleon’s time and went metric, or so they claim.   But they have yet to fully adopt the ‘true’, internationally agreed decimal system, “S.I.” (System International).  Although France does agree with the rest of the world that the current inch is now exactly 25.4 mm, many French people will insist on writing it as “25,4 mm”  This can be very confusing if you want to write a dimension of say 1 meter plus 1/4 millimeter (or metres and millimetres depending on whereabouts you happen to float in the Atlantic ocean) in millimeters (thank you very much David for pointing out the ‘mm’ omission) into an international technical drawing:  in SI it should be written “1 000.25 mm”; in France it is often written “1.000,25 mm”; and here in the US it is typically shown as “1,000.25 mm”.  So no wonder that international space probe crashed into Mars a few years back, while trying to land, because its computer thought the planet’s surface was further away than it really was! When flying above the surface of planet Earth it is very important to know what your barometer is actually measuring because that is the instrument which gives you your height above ground.  On the ill-fated trip to Mars I imagine other types of instruments, than mercury filled barometers, were used but sadly they did not give correct final values!

Winter Holiday Puzzles

I.  The squirrels here love to eat the many fallen walnuts (as well as the roots of my freshly planted native plants!) even though the meat inside is protected by a very hard shell.


But the squirrel has sharp teeth and manages, with great effort, to chew right through.

Gnawed Nuts_5064The puzzler is the many perfectly split walnuts which were lying on the ground near the end of April.  The inside meat has all been eaten without a trace of tooth marks on the shell:

Split Nut 5063I’d never noticed these hemispheres before.  The plane of the north-south split is fairly flat, smooth and almost polished.  How it happens I have no idea.  I took some whole walnuts, soaked them and froze them, and hit them with a hammer –  all to no avail, they refused to be smoothly split.  There is some secret cleaving process at work, and I’m certain the squirrels would love to take advantage of it if they could?
II.  The younger looking of a pair of bald eagles
2Eagles_8602has been putting sticks against this tree on Garden Island out back for a year now without getting one of them to stay in place.  This clip (click the white triangle in the middle of the picture below to play the video)
YouTube Preview Image
shows the bird hard at work, but at the very end the stick sadly drops to the ground once again, wasting all the effort.

It would be so beautiful to have an eagle’s aerie right here but the problem for now is how do I get the process to start?  It is not an easy tree for climbing!

III.  This winter’s weather has been so mild that my bees were actually gathering pollen on December 23, when the temperature was 50 F (10 C), who knows where this one found the bright yellow food packed onto her legs?
Pollen_8702I’ve found nothing in bloom anywhere nearby.  Ever tried following the “bee line” as they leave the hive on their way to their hidden food source?  I could not make it work.

It was so unseasonably warm that the Sandhill Cranes, who we haven’t seen for 10 years since Inez was last here from Spain, stopped by for the week of Xmas on their very late migration south.
Cranes 8746This photo was taken through a closed back window yet we could still here their unique chattering, clacking bills: sounded like humans squabbling about climate change.

IV.  Einstein very neatly showed that something with enough mass can visibly bend a ray of light. (Without any math, he simply stated that we could not tell the difference between the force of gravitational attraction and the force of accelerating a mass with inertia. So when a nearly horizontal beam of light from one wall to the other of your room seems to droop, it means either the room is accelerating upwards, or the room is being pulled down by a gravity field, which is also pulling the light beam down).

The sun at a distance of about 550 AU (Astronomical Units – 1 AU is the distance from earth to the sun) is massive enough to act as a “Solar Telescope” to form an image, of what might lie far, far behind it.   The enlarged image of a bright spot behind the sun becomes an arc or a circle.  A Black Hole would have a similar effect as the sun. (Radio waves are similarly bent.  A good receiver at the focus spot could listen to the radio programs from another galaxy, if any planets there happened to be broadcasting!)

APOD (Nasa’s Astronomy Picture of the Day) often shows images magnified by gravitational lenses.

Einstein Rings:  In the image below the gravity of a close luminous red galaxy (LRG) has gravitationally distorted, into a ring, the light from a much more distant blue galaxy which was directly behind the red one. http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap111221.html
Einstein RingsMy Puzzle is that I can’t understand how this works, in even the simplest terms:

An ordinary glass imaging lens (convex) works by bending light rays to come together to form a convergent image.
Convex LensMy problem with the gravitational lens is that the light rays are more deflected the closer they pass to the massive gravitational object.  This results in a fanning out or diverging series of light rays and not the convergence of the rays needed to make a visible image.  The rays shown below, from a star, apart from the red one which is swallowed by the BH, have an increasing bend or deflection the closer they pass to the BH.
Black Hole LensThus the massive object acts as a rather strange concave lens.  I know a regular concave lens looks like this:
Concave Lensbut its effect on a bundle of light rays should show a similar, non-imaging, divergence!

A simple point of light, in this case one quasar far beyond the focusing mass of a faint spiral galaxy, is often shown forming an “Einstein Cross” as 4 spots, rather than an arc or a circle.  http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap130102.html
Einstein CrossThat too I fail to understand!

Perhaps a clue lies in the gravitational images formed, not by a point mass, but by a cluster of galaxies:  http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap990104.html
Gallactic Cluster LensThe cluster CL2244-02 above is composed of many yellow galaxies and is lensing the image of a very distant blue-white background galaxy into a huge arc.
Here the rays of light from a bright spot far behind the cluster mass might come almost straight through the gravitational center of the cluster with little or no deflection.  The next adjacent rays would be somewhat deflected, and the next ones a little more so.   Thus the central area of the galaxy cluster could conceivably act as a converging lens, but further away from the center and outside the cluster, the rays will be deflected away from each other resulting in the concave lens effect sketched above.  So could there possibly be an imaging process, but only in the center of the cluster?


Any solutions to any of these puzzles will be gratefully acknowledged.


Happy Solstice, Winter Holiday, Xmas and New Year 2016 to all.

Some Fierce Finns and a Few Ferocious Fliers

In June a Eurail pass took us around Finland.  Dogs are welcome in their own section of the train:eDogsOnTrain_6009

But I saw they are treated even better in Washington Dulles airport:

e 6463 HydrantOne very remote station close to the Russian border was so small there was no platform, or even rail staff – just this dog guarding everything:


On seeing us he looked happier thinking fresh meat might have arrived:

eSmilingStnDog_6259 copy

That station was only about 10 km from the Russian border where Rubles seem to have leaked across judging by the size of the Dachas, some with trilingual “Keep Out” signs in their gardens in Russian, English and then finally Finnish.

A fine trail through the woods, where we fed the meat-eating mosquitos,eMosquito_6230

had this surprising sign:

eNo Ski_6233

I’d thought we were in the original home of cross country skiing?  Or perhaps the sign just means don’t squat when skiing?

The Finns have a great new (to me) “nano-material” waxless ski base which is reportedly very effective between and freezing and -10 C snow temperatures. The material feels like the finest texture seal skin with its one way slide and stick in the other direction.  It totally replaces the large fish-scale waxless surfaces of old.  I found some in overstocked sports stores because, thanks to last winter’s climate change, the Helsinki snow was so sparse that I had more days skiing in Toledo, Ohio than they had.  I was thrilled to find a great set for about 300 Euros, and tried to ship them Fed Ex because we were flying with just hand baggage.  The only problem was that Fed Ex would have wanted 800 Euros just for the shipping!

Way north, at the Arctic Circle the sun never set on June 20th.  This photo taken at 11:00 pm searched for a small gap in the leafy trees to show the sun’s position, without over-saturating the iPhone’s pixels.

ePinholeSun_6025 Turning around, to face due South (think about it!) the tree acted as a pinhole light source and gave this nice sharp shadow.


Even at 2:00 am this view looking due north shows an ever-present sun:

e2 am_6083

The irony was that right then there was a huge solar storm with Northern Lights visible elsewhere (at night) as far south as Atlanta, Georgia.  Of course, in Lapland in June we saw absolutely nothing because there was no darkness to the night!  In their long nights of winter they typically see the lights weekly.

Near Santa’s village right on the Arctic Circle there is a line in the ground to prove it.  Sorry I forgot the check its accuracy with my phone GPS!  We were still only about ¾ of the way from the equator to the North Pole (about 22 more degrees of latitude needed).

eArctic Circle_6050

We met “Rudolph”. He did not look too fierce, but was definitely grumpy,


so we only fed this young one:


The reindeer are herded in for tourists for a few months and then turned back out into the Taiga to keep them “fresh”.

This young herder is drinking his coffee from his traditional birch wood “kuksa”


– same design as the one this delicious (reindeer!) soup was served in,

eReindeer Soup_6016

followed by (pseudo) Lichen and ice cream:


Magnificent Lupins were everywhere, alongside highways and railroad tracks:


Some Finns say they come from Russia and are not always welcomed!  Only in the special sand of Oak Openings can we grow them in Ohio. I have repeatedly demonstrated they do not like the Maumee River clay of my garden.

The trip included my presenting a paper on breaking glass (spandrels) at the big biennial GPD meeting in Tampere.  The noisy end-of-conference party nearly added some more broken glass. Click the link below to see:

10 sec Bartender

Back home in Perrysburg my bees are doing battle with small hive beetles, robber bees from some other hive, an emerald color fly, and wasps.  My best hive only had a few beetles, but the other hive had swarmed, taking the queen with them.  It now looks like the rascals went to my neighbor’s empty hive about a quarter mile away.  The remaining large number of workers seemed unable to keep the beetles out without a queen to guide them, or to keep out robber bees who stole almost all the honey.  I’m not in favor of monarchies but on occasion it seems that they might have some utility!

At this time of year the hives smell of honey, especially on a sunny hot day, and it attracts others.  Here are three clips of the fights you see at the front door as others try to enter, including pretty rough treatment of a darker color alien robber bee from another hive. Amazingly the attacked bee seems to suffer no damage and usually eventually flies off.  I think bees do have little teeth. They certainly can shred a newspaper barrier when I put one between different levels.  I would have thought their bites to antennae and wings would do damage?

Mobbing a Robber Bee.mov

I like the speed of the emerald color fly, but I don’t think he succeeded in entering.

Green Robber Fly

The half dead wasp was easily handled:

Robber Wasp