Sunday, January 15, 2012


Sir Sandford Fleming"Have you ever seen so full and mighty a beard as this?"

Of course you haven't, because this is Sir Sanford Fleming, inventor of time!

OK, so he isn't a Time Lord and didn't actually invent time itself but he was instrumental in convening the International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington in 1884 and the subsequent establishment of global universal time. You see, it works like this: Local time is set by the sun. Noon when it reaches it's zenith. But move 20 miles west and the sun will reach it's zenith a little under 2 minutes later. Not a big deal when you can walk that far in a day but when you ride a train for a day, those miles and minutes can add up to a significant difference. There's a lot of math to be done to get the time correct and then everyone has to do it right, from the train conductor to the guy who sets the town clock tower and if those things don't match up, connections get missed, people are late and all of society breaks down into chaos and general panic.

Additionally, there's that pesky A.M. and P.M. thing. Fleming spent an uncomfortable night in a train station in Ireland because the schedule mixed those two things up. Fleming proposed both the 24 hour universal time clock and the standardized 24 hour time zones so that no one would have to muss their magnificent beards sleeping on a hard, wooden bench in a drafty station ever again. (At least, not because of time miscalculations. )

Thus, civilization was saved.

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