28.6.12

Rays of Light

An optical glory at An Teallach, Scotland,
from the wiki commons. 
Glory of the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter, at St. Peter's Basilica,
designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the mid-17th Century.


"Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then - the glory - so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man's importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories."
 - John Steinbeck
East of Eden (thank you, whiskeyriver)

7.6.12

Measuring Relatively

If the size of an ounce were to fluctuate from market to market (as it often did before the standardization efforts of the 18th Century), the unit fails to yield utility. We would do as well to use "a handful" to measure and trade goods. Big handed people get a leg up.

By definition, a unit of measurement is a standardized constant.

So it's interesting to come across a unit of measure that does change relative to circumstances and maintains its usefulness. Currency is an obvious example of a fluctuating measurement system.

Here is an old Chinese system for measuring the size and space of dwellings:

"A chien is a unit of space with a constant relationship between height, width, and length--the space between the supporting pillars, the floor, the ceiling. In a large house, therefore, the chein is large and in a small house, small. The usual house in this part of China was three or five chien. Some of the smaller side houses might be two chien. The partitions from pillar to pillar, front to back, could be put in or taken out at will. A room could be from one to five chien. In poor families, a chien tended to be a room."
from a footnote in "A Daughter of Han: The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman" by Ida Pruitt as told by Ning Lao T'ai-t'ai


I will update this post when I recover information pertaining to a system of time measurement in which the time between sunrise and sunset is the same number of hours everyday, every season. Not only does the length of an hour change every day, but day hours are different from night hours.