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Before people used chronometers for maritime navigation there was another way. It was called the lunar-distance method, or ‘taking a lunar’: This was all about observing the moon’s position at night compared to certain reference stars, and then doing a whole lot of arithmetic. The key gadget was the sextant, which measured angular distance. Here’s one from our extensive collection: Using the moon to help solve an earthly problem led to countless lives being saved at sea and, indirectly, to the huge changes […]

I spent last Saturday in the Roundhouse, London. In the 1840s and 1850s it was a locomotive storage shed for the London and Birmingham Railway, and it’s now an arts venue. I was there for the first live performance of Jem Finer’s ‘Longplayer‘, a piece of music designed to play without repeating for 1,000 years. It’s normally computer-generated, and has been playing since 31 December 1999, but Saturday saw 1,000 minutes (nearly 17 hours) of it played live. It was remarkable (not […]

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