Week 2/Book 2: Time Lord

Time Lord: Sir Sandford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time by Clark Blaise

(I finished reading this on 16 Jan 2005, so it still counts as week 2 as far as I'm concerned.)

This book starts off like one of Simon Winchester's: A minor anecdote, an event that in passing seems otherwise forgettable, that leads to bigger, better, often world-altering things. Unfortunately, that's about the last time that Time Lord resembles anything by Simon Winchester.

The initial anecdote turns out to be a maguffin. Fleming misses a train (in that day, since there was no standard time, there was no guarantee that noon here was the same as noon 50 miles down the tracks), and this spurs him to create one time standard for the whole world. The problem, unless I misunderstood, is that Fleming missed his train because of a misprinted train schedule (PM was listed, but the train left in the AM), not because of non-standard time.

Only about half of the book has anything directly to do with either Sir Sandford Fleming or the creation of standard time (24 time zones for the entire Earth, with noon defined at Greenwich Observatory in London). The rest of the time, the author waxes rhapsodically on time, the passage of time, what time meant to those who lived through the Industrial Revolution and to those of us living today…. We learn a fair amount about Fleming, from his emigration as a young man from Scotland to Canada, to a career of civil engineering (building many of the railroad miles in eastern Canada), to his eventual knighthood for laying the first around-the-world undersea telegraph cable. Amidst all of this the creation of standard time seems almost an afterthought, and in fact his role in it seems minor. The United States had already standardized on four time zones (very similar to the present-day ones) several years prior, and many of Fleming's proposals to the conference that defined standard time were voted down.

So why, then, does the author give Fleming the title of the book, yet such short shrift inside it? In the afterword, we learn that Blaise, Canadian by birth, was writing a personal memoir at the age of 57 when the words "time zones" leapt off the page at him:

And I wondered, idly, why do those words suddenly seem strange, where did a term like "time zone" originate? The encyclopedia informed me that time zones were born with the Prime Meridian Conference of 1884, in which standard time for the world was decided. The leader of the movement was a fifty-seven-year-old(!) Canadian(!) named Sandford Fleming. [Punctuation in the original.]

So in the end, this book is not so much about Sir Sandford Fleming as it is about time itself, and about the author himself.



I'm starting to accumulate "things to remember" here, so I might as well put links to them all in one place. (In case anyone from Google/Blogger is reading this, it would be nice if I could assign categories to my posts.)

Starting and stopping Oracle

This isn't going to make any sense to the vast majority of you, and the others will point and laugh at something that can probably be looked up elsewhere. But I've been carrying this little piece of paper around for almost a year now, so I figure it must be important enough to write down somewhere a little more permanent.

Stopping Oracle:

    sudo su - oracle
    lsnrctl stop
    sqlplus /nolog
    connect sys as sysdba    # any password should do
    shutdown immediate;

Starting Oracle:

    sudo su - oracle
    sqlplus /nolog
    connect sys as sysdba    # any password should do
    lsnrctl start