Monthly Archives: October 2010

More Wind

(More on the Wayward Wind, described in the previous post…)

What’s really odd about the wind today is that sometimes it seems like it’s finally dying down, and then a while later, it doesn’t.

It’s been blowing over 24 hours now, so it seems like it’s got to end sooner or later. As if in anticipation of this expectation, for most of the day we’ve been getting periods where it actually seems like it’s over.

Then, a little while later, the wind will pick back up to full strength again, which I’d guess is about 50 or 60 mph (it does seem to be stronger than yesterday).

And then it’ll die back down again. It seems to be on some kind of regular cycle, maybe every 10 minutes or so, as if a large portion of the atmosphere is compressed into an absolutely colossal, ultra-low frequency sound wave. As the “peaks” and “troughs” of the wave pass over us, the wind picks up and dies down.

In addition to that, though, is a sort of “overtone”, that is, a higher frequency wave superimposed on the main wave. The higher frequency is about one cycle every 20 to 30 seconds. The wind will pick up to full blast, then slow down to a more ordinary speed, over and over, except this pattern itself will pick up and die down within the greater, lower frequency cycle.

I wonder what it would sound like if these cycles were somehow brought up into the range of human hearing? Would it sound like some sort of gigantic, low-pitched flute?

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Wayward Wind

Earlier this week, apparently, a jet stream moved and set up a gigantic storm stretching across most of the eastern United States. A huge storm, I’ve never heard of one this big. Larger than most hurricanes, if judging it by the size of the front in this weather map (click to make it bigger):

And look at the size of that low pressure zone! Holy crap!

It’s just amazing. Tornadoes from Wisconsin all the way to the east coast, heavy snows up in northern Minnesota and North Dakota, and dangerously high winds throughout almost all of the eastern US. Also reported have been record low barometric pressures, comparable to a category three hurricane. Wow. Kind of reminds me of that cheesey movie from several years ago, The Day After Tomorrow. Or, from even earlier, a very interesting sci fi book called “Mother of Storms” (will have to look up the author–I think his last name was Barnes, but I can’t remember which Barnes he was).

Somehow, though, we’ve been lucky where I live. Winds topped out at about 51 mph yesterday, according to the local paper, and no major damage in the area. Just some busted tree branches, blown-over garbage cans and a few minor downed power lines.

How did we get so lucky?

The wind continues to blow today. Right outside where I work there’s a series of high-voltage transmission towers going by, with four power lines threaded along them. They make an eerie, beautiful howl when the wind gets strong, up and down as the wind speed fluctuates, fading into nothing if it slows down too much. The lines stretch sideways in the wind, instead of downward. I wish I could go outside and just listen for a while. For some odd reason, I want this weather to last for days. I’ll be disappointed when the wind stops.

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Arches, Vaults and Buttresses

Learned last night:

That the “Gothic” style of architecture was actually invented by a Frenchman (and the French were obviously not Goths). The new style was initially panned by critics, who intended the term “Gothic” as an insult. The general public, though, loved the new style, and the “Gothic” name stuck.

The really interesting thing is the reason for the style in the first place. Gothic architecture is characterized primarily by pointed arches, compared to the semi-spherical arches which came before. The advantage of a pointed arch is that force is directed in a more downward direction, rather than outward, and this allows for taller structures. Witness the towering windows and so forth in any typical Gothic cathedral. You could not do that with a rounded arch, it wouldn’t be stable. The window would have to be either shorter, or narrower with thick walls on either side to support it.

Of course, once the new style caught on, all the towns in France (and soon in other countries) had to have their own super-tall cathedrals, and each had to be taller than the one in the neighboring town. The limits of the pointed arch were quickly reached, so another innovation had to be invented to compensate for even taller structures: flying buttresses. These are typically situated on the outside of the building. A flying buttress is essentially a brace that rests up against the bottom portion of the pointed arch, right where the arch sits on its supporting column. Putting a flying buttress on each side very simply prevents the whole thing from collapsing outward.

A building with lots of flying buttresses on the outside has a rather interesting, complex appearance, so these, together with tall, pointed arch structures (and a third innovation, vaulted ceilings) are what give Gothic structures their characteristic look. A look which is, to my eye, one of the finest aesthetic achievements in the history of humanity.

Many thanks to the folks at Public TV and NOVA for putting together such a fascinating program. Honestly, this show was one of the coolest I’ve seen. It makes me want to quit my job and just bumble around France for the rest of my life, looking at cathedrals. :)

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Filed under general geekery