austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Clouds of doubt are cut asunder

I'm confident that I've mentioned my desire to get a compass for my car. I still haven't got any actual need for one; it's just a little amusement for me. My first attempt was with a cheap dashboard compass featuring a suction cup base which believed every direction was south-westish and that went flying into the nether-world when I made a perfectly respectable turn. It eventually re-emerged, and since then has spent some time in the little store-bought cup holder next to the paint lid opener that I give the gas station attendant to open the gas door, except when I get tired with that and put it in the empty spot next to the cigarette lighter, where it never lasts because in there it rattles around endlessly.

But I was confident that I could do better, as what alternative is there to a compass like that, and I finally decided to break my long habit at Target of buying only peanut butter cups and Diet Cokes and instead bought a new dashboard compass. This was a much smaller unit, with a compass sphere itself only a touch wider in diameter than a nickel is, and has a frame of a nice little square-faced triangular prism with a couple of attachment options. None of them were suction cups, which is probably fine, but it could clip on to something, or be bolted on as who wouldn't use a screwdriver to attach a cheap dashboard compass to a car, possibly as a prank, or be adhered using that double-sided sticky tape used to hang stuff in your dorm room for about two weeks until you decide having stuff actually stay on the walls counts for more than being dinged for thumbtack holes by the RA.

So I clipped it to my overhead visor, and noticed as I drove that I was heading roughly south-west-ish although since I knew I was going roughly south-west-ish this was not particularly implausible, and I went home.

The next morning I got out to my car and found the compass had disintegrated: the prism had fallen of the clip, the ring around the ball had come loose from the mounting, and the ball itself had vanished. (I eventually found it under the floor mats.) Apparently cheap dashboard compasses are not necessarily designed to withstand the punishment of night.

I returned it to Target, for credit, and got a peanut butter cup and a Diet Coke.

Trivia: In 1820 Peter Barlow of the Royal Military Academy reported that more than half the Admiralty's stored compasses at Woolwich were defective enough to be useless. He reported the same in 1822, by which time nothing had been done about the matter. Source: Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation, Alan Gurney.

Currently Reading: Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide To The Elements, John Emsley. Yup, yup, it's thulium that's the boring one. Also it turns out that red giant stars produce technetium. Neat.


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