Life on Planes

by  —  February 18, 2009

I spend some amount of time traveling by air; it’s never enough to satisfy me, but the time-and-space aspects of it always fill me with giddiness. Pondering those aspects In Flight gives an excellent opportunity to examine our place in the larger picture of space, for it’s not such a common event that a person can noticeably leave one spatial reality to spend time in another spatial reality. Making the situation more contorted is that we, humans, have attempted to force the application of a framework of calendrical time — an application which doesn’t conform so well to the properties of our planet – of a sphere.

To paint an example: i flew to New Zealand over Thanksgiving. I boarded a plane in Vancouver on a Friday evening around 5.30p; it was wintry – typical for that time of year. I flew for 14 hours and arrived in the morning — but it was now Sunday. Walking around downtown Auckland at 8.00a on what was already shaping up to be a warm summery day (typical for that time of year), i gave my friends T&E a call; they were in California so i knew they’d be awake since it was a few hours ahead: they were answering the phone at 11.00a — but on Saturday. On my return flight, i boarded a plane on Sunday night around 8.00p, flew for 13 hours, and arrived at 12.30p — it was Sunday, early afternoon.

So, how did we get to this state of chronometric cluster fuck? Well, this is just one of the side effects of our living on a sphere.

Instead of one of my usual tilting-at-windmills articles1, i thought i’d do an article about geometry. Wait – don’t go – you might actually enjoy this. It’s an article about the differences between the geometry we perceive in our every day lives as ground dwellers, and the geometry we’re actually living in on Earth. The three topics i’ll talk about are:

Also, this can be an interactive article: should you choose to play along at home, you should scrounge up:

  1. two oranges
  2. a sheet of ordinary letter paper
  3. a ruler
  4. a sharpee
  5. a pen or a pencil (unless you want to use the sharpee on paper)
  6. paper towels
  7. one object of your choosing, no bigger than the oranges
  8. a Pringle2
  9. a decently sharp knife

You’ll also need a responsible adult if you’re a minor (or particularly incompetent with a sharp knife).


A foreword:

This article will be ever so slightly math-y — it’s unavoidable.3 I realize that one man’s orgy of gorgeous shapes and symbols is another man’s snooze-fest, so i’ll do my best to make it candy and consumable, while trying not to dumb it down.

Also, this article has turned into a beastly length, so i’ve made all of the headings collapsible, and collapsed by default (save this one); click on them to expand/collapse the section under each.

Lastly, in the spirit of exclusion, if you’re a person who believes in a flat earth, who has somehow ungnarled your purple polydactyl pointers into using a computer mouse and uncrossed your eyes long enough to read this, you can stop reading here. (Yes, it’s true: there are apparently **still** flat-earth people today4 — if you thought that the supporters of a geocentric universe had to come up with some inventive [read: absurd] models to support observational data, they had nothing on the modern flat-earther.5)


On with the show:


Time zones and calendrical hoo-hah:


Flight Progress Graphics:


The Seasons Change, Change, Change:


  1. don’t worry: i’ve got one on social networks which i’ve been writing in quasi-parallel to this []
  2. … or a hunter-jumper / dressage saddle, if you’re a horse person. []
  3. Again, don’t stop reading here though. []
  4. quite possibly all living together in a trailer park somewhere, and potentially splitting the rent with the chemtrail-conspiracy-theorists and the folks who think that the moon landing was faked []
  5. Well, nothing except the decent excuse that they didn’t have a mountain of invalidating measurement and observation. []
  6. Once again, Prockey comes to my rescue… []
  7. 6.39 x 10-17 times the area []
  8. For example, Greenland is almost three times the size of Texas, but the usual kind of world map shows a Greenland that visually would cover nearly the entire continental U.S []
  9. … though that appears to vary between 22.1° and 24.5° with a periodicity of 42,000 years []
  10. An improvement would be if you could some how have the orange sitting with its center in the table’s surface, since a planet’s orbit follows its center of mass and not its ‘bottom’. []
  11. Technically: diameter []

Marked as: MathReality Frames  —  1 comment   (RSS)

1 Comment so far
  1. endless March 14, 2010 9:59 am

    This is an incredibly interesting experiment you’ve conducted. It’s interesting to see how day-dreams can turn into a vehicle for thought, especially in a way such as your own.

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