Silbury Hill, part of the complex of Neolithic monuments around Avebury in Wiltshire (which includes the West Kennet long barrow), is the tallest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe and one of the world's largest. On a base covering over 2 hectares (5 acres), it rises 39.6m (130ft) high. It is a display of immense technical skill and prolonged control over labour and resources. Archaeologists calculate that Silbury Hill was built about 4600 years ago and that it took 18 million man-hours to dump and shape 248,000 cubic metres (8.75 million cu ft) of earth on top of a natural hill. Every man, woman and child in Britain today could together build such a mound if they each contributed one bucketful of earth.
The base of the monument is 167m (550ft) in diameter and it is perfectly round. Its summit is flat-topped and 30m (100ft) wide. We know that the construction took two phases: soon after work was started, a re-design was ordered, and the mound enlarged. It is constructed in steps, each step being filled in with packed chalk, and then smoothed off. There have been three excavations of the mound: the first when a team of Cornish miners led by the Duke of Northumberland sunk a shaft from top to bottom in 1776, another in 1849 when a tunnel was dug from the edge into the centre, and a third in 1968-70 when professor Richard Atkinson had another tunnel cut into the base. Nothing has ever been found on Silbury Hill: at its core there is only clay, flints, turf, moss, topsoil, gravel, freshwater shells, mistletoe, oak, hazel, sarsen stones, ox bones, and antler tines.
Moses B.Cotworth, at the beginning of this century, stated that Silbury was a giant sundial to determine seasons and the true length of the year. More recently, the writer Michael Dames has identified Silbury Hill as the winter goddess but he finally acknowledges that the monument remains a stupendous enigma.
According to legend, this is the last resting place of King Sil, sitting on a fabled golden horse. Another legend states that the mound holds a lifesize solid gold statue of King Sil and yet a third, that the Devil was carrying an apron of soil to drop on the citizens of Marlborough, but he was stopped by the priests of nearby Avebury
Whatever you think it is there for, it is enchanting to consider this mound of soil. It makes me want to fly a kite and discover electricity and how to make light. I google Ben Franklin and discover this. It is at mos.org.
Probably the most famous experiment to do with lightning is that of Benjamin Franklin and his famous kite.
What Franklin was investigating was whether or not lightning was an electric phenomenon. This seems fairly obvious to most of us today, but we must remember that in Franklin's day the largest sparks they could make were under an inch long! Since lightning is several miles long it is not so obvious that they can be the same.
The question often arises whether or not Franklin actually did this experiment, and the answer is we do not know for sure. One thing, however, is certain: if he did do an experiment like this, he did not do it the way it is often shown. That is, he didn't tie a key to the kite string, fly it in a thunderstorm, and wait for it to be struck by lightning! Such an experiment would be very dramatic--and quite fatal.
There are safe ways to do similar things, however, and Franklin, in his various writtings, shows that he was quite aware of both the dangers and the alternatives.
Franklin realized that if lightning was electricity, then it must be an awful lot of the stuff, and that it must take a long time to amass in the storm. Therefore, he suggested, fly the kite early in the storm before the lightning comes near you.
He had several variations on how to show electricity was present--you could draw sparks from a key tied to the string, or you could attach the string to a Leyden Jar, which is a device for collecting electricity (a capacitor). If the jar was empty before flying the kite and full afterwards then that is good evidence that thunderclouds contain electricity.
One could Google all day. It is a new form of play.
which brings me to this - another editorial in the NY Times today.
The Battle of the Box
Published: May 3, 2006
In their struggle for dominance, neither Microsoft nor Google wants to give an inch. Right now the exact inch they are fighting over is visible in the upper-right corner of a small but growing number of computer screens. It's called a search box, and it is just one battleground in a much larger conflict between two premier high-tech companies.
Microsoft recently released a "beta" or test version of its latest Internet Explorer Web browser. Other browsers, like Firefox or Apple's Safari, already have search boxes. They allow users to enter search terms without first going to the trouble of entering the Web address for a search engine.
Say you wanted to buy a bicycle. Instead of going to www.google.com and typing "bicycle," you type it right into the little box. The browser launches the search from there and displays the results on a Web page, basically cutting out a step in the process. The rub, according to Google, is which search engine the browser uses.
Google contends that Microsoft's real motive in adding the search box to its browser is to shift as many users as possible to its own MSN search engine. In essence, Google is accusing Microsoft of the same old tricks that got it in trouble with the government in the first place, leveraging its operating- system monopoly to elbow out competitors.
Microsoft's past bad behavior makes it an easy target for criticism, but this is a far cry from Microsoft's attack on the Netscape Navigator Web browser. Microsoft counters that computer makers and users generally choose the defaults and many users already have Yahoo or Google. It's easy to change, Microsoft contends, and Google has directions on its sites to walk users through the easy steps.
This is really just a flare-up in a larger rivalry. It is called competition, and that's a good thing. Competition should lead to lower prices, better products and improved service. In that case, the customer wins. Microsoft has announced that it will spend $2 billion more next year than its previous estimate. If the company doesn't innovate faster, if it continues to roll out major products at its recent snail's pace, Google will overtake it once and for all.
The government should act something like a referee in a boxing match, staying out of the way unless one of the two starts fighting dirty. That means making sure that Microsoft stays within the boundary of its settlement with the government. It also means keeping an eye on Google, which is just learning to throw its considerable weight around. Let's have a good clean fight.