Sailing without a compass

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C is for Compass

In today’s world we navigate with the aid of GPS, radar, sonar and other high-tech stuff. Even technological troglodytes like me, who don’t have GPS or a smartphone, can consult Googlemaps and know the exact route we need to take and even view photos of what our destination will look like.

a compassWith all this technology at our twenty-first century fingertips, a compass seems like a primitive tool. And definitely not very user-friendly.

But imagine sailing the seas without one.

Historical records indicate that compasses were not used as a navigational aid to Europeans until sometime in the late twelfth century, and they weren’t in common use until even later.  (The magnetic properties of lodestone were recognized by ancients such as Greeks and Chinese, but apparently none of them thought of using a magnetized needle to help sailors navigate in bad weather—so ancient seafarers had to blunder along without such tools for an additional thousand years or so.)

Can you imagine sailing the seas without so much as a compass to guide you? But people did. For centuries. People like the Phoenecians, Greeks, and Vikings. It sheds a whole new light on Paul’s shipwreck account, doesn’t it? After being blown off course, and not seeing sun nor stars for thirteen or fourteen days, they had no idea where they were and no way to figure it out. The fact that they ended up on Malta is nothing short of a miracle. (For a detailed play-by-play account of the whole story, visit this site.)

 How did they do it?

When possible, ancient seafarers stayed within sight of land (which would explain all the stops Luke mentions during Paul’s sea travels.) When they risked crossing expanses of open sea, they did so where prevailing winds and currents could be depended upon to take them where they hoped to go. And although they didn’t have a sextant or a compass, they did have one tool to help them navigate: their fist.

Say what?

If you clench your fist and hold it at arm’s length, the width of your fist is equivalent to an angular distance of ten degrees. That means a sailor could determine the height of a specific  star above the horizon with a fair degree of accuracy, fair enough to help them sail those wine-dark seas.

Amateur astronomers still use this handy fact today when they want to find something in the night sky, since star or satellite positions are given in degrees above the horizon.

 C is also for Cool Rocket Launch

And speaking of things in the night sky, how would you like to watch a rocket launch? If you live within a few hundred miles of NASA’s Wallops  Flight Facility, (near Chincoteague, VA) you might have a chance. Several months ago I watched one from right here in southeast PA, and there is another launch coming soon. When I last checked, the launch was scheduled for 6:44 EDT this coming Monday (10/27), but check their Facebook page or website for up-to-date info.

For those in southeastern PA, all you need to do is find an open field or pasture–preferably without streetlights or dusk-to-dawn lights–that gives you an unobstructed view to the south. The previous launch looked something like a really impressive meteor, but travelling much slower. It flared, traveled, disappeared, then re-appeared when the second stage rocket lit. If you’re close enough, and the sky is clear, give it a try.

A_to_Z_blog_hop_zps9cc52b74And give some of these other blog hop sites a try as well. (If you are viewing via email, click the “Read in browser” link below to see the blog hop links.)

If you were that fly on the wall …

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Imagine you were a fly on the wall of the stable the night Jesus was born. What did you see? Who was there (besides the obvious)? How did they respond? How did the events play out?

Sometimes it’s fun to think of a familiar story from a new angle. That’s what I’m trying to do as I come up with a script for a Christmas outreach event. Maybe you can help me … Continue reading

The Beautiful Sound of Silence

person enjoying solitude

Hello silence, my old friend
I’ve come to soak you in again
The noise of modern life always keeping
Creative thoughts and ideas sleeping
All the visions, that are swirling in my brain
Will be in vain
Without the sound of silence.

with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel

We live in a world filled with noise.

And when we’re tired of the noise, what do we do? We block out the noise with more noise. Continue reading

Anyone Searching for Treasure?

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Buried Treasure

What picture do those words evoke in your mind? A pirate chest filled with gold? A secret map? Indiana Jones? Captain Jack Sparrow? The curse of King Tut’s tomb?

Hidden treasure is the stuff of great stories, from classics like Treasure Island or The Count of Monte Cristo, to modern tales like National Treasure, Sahara (the Dirk Pitt version) , and Pirates of the Caribbean.

But treasure isn’t just for pirates and fictional heroes. Continue reading

What lies are you listening to? Maybe it’s time to doubt your doubts.

doubting raccoon peering through hole

Don’t be afraid of your doubts

Acknowledge them.

Wrestle with them.

Question them.

I ran across this concept in a book called The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. He suggests that it is healthy to wrestle with doubts:

People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.

Continue reading

What’s in a Name?

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What do the following names have in common?

Julia — Claudia — Antonia — Amelia — Cornelia

  1. They were all stars of classic Hollywood silent movies
  2. They are all names of china patterns
  3. They are all daughters of important Romans
  4. They are all mothers of British Royalty

 

If you chose either two or three, you are correct. The names have been used for china patters, but they come to us from ancient Rome, specifically from some of the most important patrician families. (Do the names Julius, Claudius or Cornelius ring any bells?)

A Roman female was given the female version of her father’s nomen, or family name. So, Gaius Julius Caesar’s daughter was named Julia, Publius Cornelius Scipio’s daughter was Cornelia and Marcus Antonius‘ daughter was Antonia. Actually, Mark Antony had three daughters, and they were all named Antonia.  (Can you see a problem here?)

The Romans came up with various ways to differentiate between daughters. In Mark Antony’s case, the daughters were differentiated by age: Antonia Prima, Antonia Major and Antonia Minor. Some women were given a cognomen, so two daughters might be called Claudia Paula and Claudia Patricia. Or the family name could be given an ending such as ‘illa’ to differentiate Drusa from Drusilla or Prisca from Priscilla. I am sure families came up with all sorts of other nicknames for their daughters, but they didn’t leave such information behind so we can only guess.

statute of Livia_Drusila from Paestum

Livia Drusilla, wife of Caesar Augustus. Her father’s name was Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus.

One benefit of this naming scheme is that all females retained their family name even when married, but I don’t consider that a sufficient reason to emulate the Romans.

Aren’t you glad we no longer follow such naming conventions?

Happy Friday!

Are You Listening?

If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.

– Mark Twain

Are you paying attention to what your cat is saying?

Cats may not use human speech, but they are excellent communicators. Sadly, not all humans understand the complex and nuanced body language of felines. This guide is intended to help the cat-illiterate grasp the gist of what their feline acquaintances might be saying. Continue reading