DAY 25 From Pole to Pole

February 1st, 2013 § 0 comments

My latest revelation, halfway through Spielberg’s 2 1/2 hour blockbuster on and around the bumpy passage of the 13th Amendment, was Lincoln’s point about Euclid’s belief in equality as self-evident (First Common Notion).

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Euclid Proposition 1.1.

I’d never thought about Euclid as a democrat, (you can assume he kept slaves); and he may not have seen equality in the way that Lincoln did. Back to the problems of the Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer, human rights and all that. Still, as St Just said to Robespierre, ‘Les choses qui sont égales à une même chose sont égales entre elles‘. (Approximate translation.) Which might bring us to Les Misérables, and students from the Polytechnique singing as they build barricades with the help of Pythagoras’ Theorem. Better not.

So, finally, to GPS. See, there are these 24 satellites up there, going around the earth twice every 24 hours.



They are maintained, at a height of ‘approximately 20,200 km’ above us, by the US Air Force, who make it their business to give them a nudge if they stray off course I suppose. Why 24? It seems that we  (by ‘we’ you are to understand not Hafiz or Leila trying to navigate the streets of Tehran in his/her Mercedes, but the US Army, who wants something more fail-safe) need that number to be sure that four of them are reliably ‘in view’ at any one time. They transmit signals, and you – having bought a GPS system – receive them.

‘In view’, because they are actually sending radio signals, which your GPS picks up (on 1575.42 MHz, and so on). You can deduce from the signal which satellite you’re hearing from and where it is. So, you can find out how far away it is – how long has the signal taken to reach you, at the speed of light? And if you know how far away four satellites are, you know your position – latitude, longitude, and even altitude – very exactly. Think of knowing how far away two, three, or four trees are.

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This picture shows what you know with fixes on three satellites. The distance from  each of them tells you that you’re placed on a sphere; three spheres meet in two points; and the fourth satellite will make you sure that you’re in Indiana where the star is, not Louisiana. This is the ideal picture; but leaves two questions, I suppose:

1. How do I get the information from the signal?

2. What might go wrong, and how do I check that it hasn’t?

More on the answers in due course, but a little suspense is never any harm and besides you can find out as easily as I did. GPS is a better system than navigating by the stars, because the satellites are nearer, and unlike the stars they talk to us. But it’s cost Uncle Sam a ridiculous amount of money to get them up, keep them going, and encrypt the signals so that terrorist hackers can’t misdirect the entire world’s traffic (think of it!). In the 1960s it was sensibly argued by leading figures in the US Defense establishment that it would be too expensive to implement. But now we have it.

Yesterday’s news that Polish is the most spoken language in the UK after English and Welsh, outstripping obvious favourites like Punjabi and Bengali, prompts an (often quoted) tribute to Polish Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska:

Kot w pustym mieszkaniu (Polish)

Umrzeć – tego nie robi się kotu.
Bo co ma począć kot
w pustym mieszkaniu.
Wdrapywać się na ściany.
Ocierać między meblami.
Nic niby tu nie zmienione,
a jednak pozamieniane.
Niby nie przesunięte,
a jednak porozsuwane.
I wieczorami lampa już nie świeci.

Słychać kroki na schodach,
ale to nie te.
Ręka, co kładzie rybę na talerzyk,
także nie ta, co kładła.

Coś się tu nie zaczyna
w swojej zwykłej porze.
Coś się tu nie odbywa
jak powinno.
Ktoś tutaj był i był,
a potem nagle zniknął
i uporczywie go nie ma.

Do wszystkich szaf się zajrzało.
Przez półki przebiegło.
Wcisnęło się pod dywan i sprawdziło.
Nawet złamało zakaz
i rozrzuciło papiery.
Co więcej jest do zrobienia.
Spać i czekać.

Niech no on tylko wróci,
niech no się pokaże.
Już on się dowie,
że tak z kotem nie można.
Będzie się szło w jego stronę
jakby się wcale nie chciało,
na bardzo obrażonych łapach.
I żadnych skoków pisków na początek.

A Cat in an Empty Apartment (English)

Die? One does not do that to a cat.
Because what’s a cat to do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls.
Caress against the furniture.
It seems that nothing has changed here,
but yet things are different.
Nothing appears to have been relocated,
yet everything has been shuffled about.
The lamp no longer burns in the evenings.
Footsteps can be heard on the stairway,
but they’re not the ones.
The hand which puts the fish on the platter
is not the same one which used to do it.
Something here does not begin
at its usual time.
Something does not happen quite
as it should
Here someone was and was,
then suddenly disappeared
and now is stubbornly absent.
All the closets were peered into.
The shelves were walked through.
The rug was lifted and examined.
Even the rule about not scattering
papers was violated.
What more is to be done?
Sleep and wait.
Let him return,
at least make a token appearance.
Then he’ll learn
that one shouldn’t treat a cat like this.
He will be approached
as though unwillingly,
on very offended paws.
With no spontaneous leaps or squeals at first.


I have been searching for the best in Polish techno, dubstep and disco, but have failed to find anything which will entirely satisfy this blog’s rather picky audience; and the Youtube comments are unnecessarily racist (FAQ: What’s racist but not unnecessary?). So I’m sticking with Chopin’s tried and tested Military Polonaise, heard in that great film ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ as Zbigniew Cybulski bleeds to death on someone’s laundry line. Even better – it’s Rubinstein.




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