History of the cuckoo clock

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Over at Smithsonian, Jimmy Stamp shares a brief history of the cuckoo clock, likely invented in 17th century Germany.

After a century of development that saw wood replaced with brass and metal, two distinct styles of cuckoo clock emerged from the Black Forest to dominate the market: The ornamented, house-like “Bahnhäusleuhr” or “railroad house” and the Jagdstück” or “Hunt piece” or “traditional style” clock, which features elaborate, decorative hand carved nature scenes adorning a simple encasement…

So why a cuckoo? The common cuckoo, native to Europe, had long served as a natural marker of time, a welcome harbinger of Spring whose familiar calls denoted the coming of the new season and warmer weather.

"The Past, Present, and Future of the Cuckoo Clock"

Grand Central Station's clocks are a minute off

Here's The Atlantic on how New York's busiest train station helps commuters get there in time: by giving them an extra minute: "The idea is that passengers rushing to catch trains they're about to miss can actually be dangerous -- to themselves, and to each other. So conductors will pull out of the station exactly one minute after their trains' posted departure times."

Newly-discovered Mayan calendar in Guatemala proves (again) the world won't end in 2012

William Saturno, a Boston University archeologist, excavates a mural in a house in Xultun. Photo: Tyrone Turner © 2012 National Geographic


An archaeological expedition in the northeastern lowlands of Guatemala yields an amazing discovery: the "9th-century workplace of a city scribe, an unusual dwelling adorned with magnificent pictures of the king and other royals and the oldest known Maya calendar."

From Thomas Maugh's report in the Los Angeles Times, on the dig in the ruins of Xultun led by William Saturno of Boston University:

This year has been particularly controversial among some cultists because of the belief that the Maya calendar predicts a major cataclysm — perhaps the end of the world — on Dec. 21, 2012. Archaeologists know that is not true, but the new find, written on the plaster equivalent of a modern scientist's whiteboard, strongly reinforces the idea that the Maya calendar projects thousands of years into the future.

To paraphrase modern-day Maya priests I've spoken with on past travels in rural Guatemala: "Well, duh."

The findings were first reported Thursday in the journal Science. The full text of the report requires paid subscription, but a recent Science podcast covers the news, and is available here (PDF transcript or MP3 for audio).

Read the rest

Excellent vintage film about the first accurate atomic clock

This short film was produced by the film unit of the UK's National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the 1950s, and explains the principles behind the first accurate atomic clock, which was designed by Louis Essen and built at the National Physical Laboratory in 1955. The NPL's YouTube channel has other videos of interest to science geeks. (thanks, obadiahlemon)