Another Dark Little Corner

moon phases

Started this before change to "New Blogger", as backup in case of trouble with digiphoto blog "In a Small Dark Room", or rants & links blog "Hello Cruel World" . Useful - at one stage Dark Room was there, but like the astrophysical Dark Matter, we could't see it ... better now, but kept Just In Case.

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There is nothing. There is no God and no universe, there is only empty space, and in it a lost and homeless and wandering and companionless and indestructible Thought. And I am that thought. And God, and the Universe, and Time, and Life, and Death, and Joy and Sorrow and Pain only a grotesque and brutal dream, evolved from the frantic imagination of that same Thought.
Mark Twain (letter to Joseph Twichell after his wife's death)
[me, on a bad day]

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Mar. 14th, 2005
07:09 pm - that's entertainment

By gum, TV can indeed teach, and occasionally there are the most delicious morsels dropped into the educational mix: night before last I was unable to stop wathcing two successive programs on vulcanology (on the Discovery Channel), one concentrating on the titanic 1815 blast-off of most of an Indonesian volcano called Tambora. One scientist (the world's primier expert on Pompeii) was excavating what turned out to be a carbonized household on the slopes of what's left of Tambora while another, working with the logbooks of the British Navy in the Pacific, constructed a computer model of the recorded impact of the blast on the world's weather (though this was not known at the time). Love the idea of His Majesty's ships, being mostly underemployed, as floating meteorological stations since in their boredom they took temperature, wind, and other sky-and-water type readings every two to four hours and recorded them, along with their exact position on the ocean at the time.

The plum in the pudding, however, was this: because of the sun-blocking effects of so many tons of Tambora being thrown into the upper atmosphere and blown round the globe, the summer of 1816 was the coldest on record in Europe (and New England, where people referred to it as "eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death"), leading to huge crop failures, famine, and, of course, bread riots in France. One of the places hardest hit was Switzerland, where that summer consisted of three solid months of cold, driving rain.

Now, think back: who was vacationing in Switzerland in the summer of 1816? In a rented villa on the shore of Lake Geneva? One of 'em had a club foot, and another was his doctor, and then there was the wife of another poet -- ? YES!! A little party of talented British literatti. Fortunately for us, all their picnics got rained out and their hikes were quenched by chilly temperatures. What did they have to do except go back indoors and, when the parlor games gave out, sit down by the fire and *write*?

Hence, "Frankenstein", and Dr. Polidori's short vampire piece, and I forget what else -- but what else do you need? A vast mountain blows its stack in southeast Asia, creating the largest volcanic death toll in recorded history (they said 117,000 but to that you'd have to add the secondary deaths of all those Swiss farmers who quietly starved in their high, muddy valleys, and similar victims elsewhere); and out of all this catastrophe, however indirectly, comes one of the totemic monsters of modern times, and the seed of his alter-ego the blood-sucking vampire!

Ah, history -- the gradual revelation of its elegant interconnections ranks among the best entertainments in the world.

Comment on
Mar. 14th, 2005
07:09 pm - that's entertainment

"The Year Without a Summer" caused by Tambora naturally also caused
disruptions to crops and the health of both humans and their animals. The
resulting wave of famine and disease in Europe caused rioting there, while
nearly a hundred thousand died from them in Indonesia, and there were
similar problems in the North-East USA and Russia. It's generally accepted
that this also inspired "The Last Man", (1826) by Mary Shelley.

I read this some years back, and one thing that was interesting was that it
was set in the 21st Century, yet much had not changed, e.g. in transport
and communication. It rather made me wonder whether it was Mary's own
mindset, or that the idea of constant, world-overturning change hadn't yet
set in. It also makes you wonder what basic things people looking to the
future now would miss.

See some notes on eruptions in the introduction of the Geophysical Research
Letter, vol 32, in February 2005 at
. It also mentions the very disruptive, eruption of Laki, in Iceland --
not as explosive, but much longer-lasting, in 1783-84. I wonder if this
may have contributed a few straws more to the French Revolution in 1789?

This poem is also supposed to be partly inspired by that dreary year

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swing blind and blackening in the moonless air
Morn came and went – and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires – and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings – the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Lord Byron (1816)

while the extraordinary sunsets after Krakatoa's eruption are thought to
have helped inspire Edvard Munch's "The Scream", if you read his
description of the scene that had such an impact on him.
(Based on When the Sky Ran Red: The Story Behind "The Scream" by
Donald W. Olson, Russell L. Doescher, and Marilynn S. Olson | Sky &
Telescope | February 2004, p. 28-35 )

Jan. 26th, 2005
10:59 pm -
gigantism in Amerika

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