The Leap Second Didn’t Break the Internet Tonight

secondsWe had a leap second tonight. It was the Y2K of the year. At 7:59:59 p.m. ET tonight an extra second was added officially so that we could sync up our devices with the Earth’s slowing rotation.

There was some fear that this 61-second minute might do some bad things and make computer systems go haywire. Websites crashing, financial market software going crazy…

It has happened before. We had a leap second in 2012 and a bunch of big sites did go down – Reddit, Yelp, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Gawker, StumbleUpon and Qantas airlines.

But we learned lessons. Google came up with a solution after a 2005 leap second screwed up some of its systems: gradually add a couple of milliseconds to servers’ clocks throughout the day when a leap second is to occur.

Reports of crashes could still appear, but my quick scan of news sites didn’t show anything.

How did you spend your extra second tonight?

The Night Sky Tonight

Tonight,  May 21, 2015, Venus is quite clear near the waxing crescent moon in the western sky. Venus is the third-brightest celestial object in our view, after the sun and moon.

The fourth-brightest celestial body is Jupiter and it is above the moon and Venus and can also be seen at dusk. If it is a clear night for you, you will see, as the darkness deepens, the bright star Regulus above Jupiter, and the Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux , will come out above Venus.



Did Yoda Visit Us in the Middle Ages?

A British Library curator who specializes in medieval manuscripts just mentioned an odd drawing in an interview with The Guardian, but the image caught the interest of the Wacky Wide Web.

Why? Because the figure, who was created between 1300 and 1340, looks like looks a lot like Jedi Grand Master Yoda from the World Wide Star War Universe.

Medieval  Yoda is found in a 14th-century manuscript known as the Smithfield Decretals, Of course, the “scholars” say it is supposed to be an illustration for the biblical story of Samson.  (Decretals are collections of papal letters containing decrees on church doctrine.)

Was the illustration made by a medieval time traveler? Did Yoda live or visit Earth about 700 years ago?  Yoda was supposed to be around 900 years old, but that’s from the perspective of him living in a galaxy far, far away in a rather vague “long time ago.”




Winter Words

“I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape
– the loneliness of it – the dead feeling of winter.
Something waits beneath it. The whole story doesn’t show.”
― Andrew Wyeth

Winter solitude-
in a world of one color
the sound of the wind.
― Bashō

“Melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night.”
― Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

“I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.”
― T.S. Eliot

“Wisdom comes with winters”
― Oscar Wilde

“The problem with winter sports is that — follow me closely here — they generally take place in winter.”
― Dave Barry

“When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. That’s my middle-west – not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


Welcome to America

Benjamin Franklin. We know him for many things. Did you know that he also introduced rhubarb to America?

When he was representing the American colonies as an ambassador in London, her sent a crate of rhubarb to his friend John Bartram. John Bartram was also responsible for introducing kohlrabi and poinsettias to America.

Rhubarb is a plant that is native to central Asia, but plants had been introduced in Europe by traders. The rhubarb that Franklin sent to America had come to London from Siberia.

I think of rhubarb as something my grandmother and my mother grow in the garden and used in applesauce and mixed into a wonderful strawberry rhubarb pie.

Until I did a bit of research, I didn’t realize that Siberian rhubarb extract is sold as a natural remedy with claims that it helps with “sleep disturbances, irritability, anxiety, exhaustion, joint and muscle complaints, even women’s sexual problems.”

Rhubarb first appeared in American seed catalogs in 1829, and soon became a popular ingredient in pies.

Standing in a Moonshadow and Watching the Perseids

Last night’s full moon is one dubbed “supermoon” which is fun but unfortunately it coincides with the annual Perseid meteor shower. They peak around August 11-13 and that just-past-full supermoon’s light will overwhelm the shooting stars.

I’ll still look up tonight and the next few nights for the Perseids. They occur every August when Earth passes through the stream of cosmic dust and bits left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle.

If viewing conditions are optimal, you can see lots of meteors in the course of an hour. This year, maybe just a few of the brightest fireballs.

My best view was in the woods of Maine years ago with my very young sons. That experience as a kid makes “wonderful” really something that is full of wonder. Still works on me after a lot of years.


I start looking after sunset, when the moon is still low, or just before sunrise, when the moon has shifted over to the west.

Some people recommend that you stand in a “moonshadow” – a place where the moon is hidden from your sight. (Not required, but feel free to hum the Cat Stevens song while you watch.)

I’ll be too close to city lights for optimal viewing.

If you want to add some technology, you can check this year’s Perseid forecast from NASA or go online and watch the meteors online (at Slooh) starting at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday. They have a nice view from the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands. That sounds like a nice place to lie back on the beach and watch.

We will have more meteor opportunities with the Orionids in October or the Leonids in November. As much as I love our Moon, it won’t get as much in the way for those dates.