The More Things Change | Issue 24

The More Things Change | Issue 24

23-29 September

This week, science and technology progress in leaps and bounds.

27 September, 1066: Duke William II of Normandy set sail for England, and went about taking over the place in a significant, and ultimately successful, quest for the throne. (He is now known as William the Conqueror for precisely this reason.) It all started when the previous ruler died without leaving a confirmed heir; apparently heíd encouraged William to follow his dreams of becoming King, and William did just that. He wasnít immediately popular, but eventually he managed to subdue the populace, introduce a lot of new government procedures, and do other Kingly stuff.

28 September, 1889: The metre was officially defined for the first time by the General Society of Weights and Measures. It was predictably scientifically rigorous: the international prototype metre was the distance between two lines on a metal bar, which was made of an alloy of 90 per cent platinum and 10 per cent iridium, measured at the melting point of ice. The convention was redefined in 1983, and is now officially the distance travelled by light in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second. And yet for all this specificity, we still canít agree on how to spell the damn word.

27 September, 1905: The scientific journal Annalen der Physik received a paper by Albert Einstein, one of several important papers he published that year, and particularly notable because it included an argument for the equation E=mc2. The equation is arguably the most famous in physics, and is actually quite simple once you know what the letters stand for: E is energy, m is mass, and c is the speed of light. Many people are apparently surprised to learn that E=mc2 is actually used in real life (insofar as Level 3 Physics counts as real life).

29 September, 1950: The first electronic answering machine was produced by Bell Laboratories. The machines were significantly larger than what they are today and didnít have a lot of storage capacity. Itís probably a good thing that theyíve developed greater efficiency levels, because otherwise it would be impractical to use them forebodingly in every second crime-based TV programme and horror movie produced.

25 September, 2002: Something happened in Russia that is simply called the Vitim event, because nobody knows exactly what it was. There was an explosion near a fairly remote mining town in southeastern Siberia, but no one can even agree on its magnitude: estimates range from 0.2 kilotons to five. Itís thought that the event was caused by the impact of a comet nucleus, but so far all attempts to reach the impact site have failed.
This article first appeared in Issue 24, 2013.
Posted 1:47pm Sunday 22nd September 2013 by Jessica Bromell.