Sunday, 28 October 2007

Back to Greenwich Mean Time

Today is the day when the clocks go back. I wish they'd stay back.

Civilisation has many things for which to thank Benjamin Franklin, but I don't count daylight-saving as one of them. Twice a year we have to wrench ourselves forward or back in time by changing all the clocks, and in high summer we have to put up with unnaturally late sunsets. I don't blame Franklin though. He may have been the first person to suggest the idea, but it wasn't a serious recommendation - it appeared in a humourous essay he wrote in 1784 while he was in Paris.

Benjamin Franklin is famous for proving in a dangerous experiment that lightening was a form of electricity. He had started out in life as a printer. Another, greater scientist interested in electricity also began his working life in a trade linked to publishing: Michael Faraday, born the year after Franklin died, who completed a seven year apprenticeship as a book binder. It's not really much of a resemblance, though, since Franklin never lost his love of printing and made his fortune by it whereas Faraday got out of bookbinding as soon as he could (by taking a job as Humphrey Davey's assistant at the Royal Institution). But it does show that the sky's the limit for a boy who knows how to read and is willing to make the most of it.

I learned only recently that Faraday was a chemist as well as a physicist and is also famous for isolating benzene. Of course the ancient Ethiopians were able to exploit a natural source of pure benzene, but I don't believe they knew its formula. (Actually, neither did Faraday; that had to wait for Kekulé.)

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