Telling time the old fashioned way

Oct 30, 2003, vol. 28, no. 5
By Diane Luckow



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An analemmatical sundial - the first in Canada - can now be found at the northeastern end of "C" parking lot, painted on the pavement.

An ancient form of telling time, the first analemmatical sundial appeared in France in the early 17th century at the church of Brou.

SFU's sundial features two analemmas (the large figure eight's painted on the pavement). The analemma on the west is used for morning hours, the other for afternoon hours.

To tell clock time select the appropriate analemma for morning or afternoon and find the date position on its curved boundary. The first of each month is shown as a white dot; thus Sept. 15 is half way between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1.

The hours are shown on the dial beside the large yellow circles, labelled in blue for Pacific standard time and red for Pacific daylight savings (PST) time - one hour later of PST.

Someone telling time on a sunny day must face away from the sun on the coloured analemma with the date centered between their feet. The approximate mean time will be shown by the person's shadow on the dial.

“It's quite accurate,” says mathematics professor Len Berggren, who collaborated on the dial with North Vancouver retired engineer and sundial enthusiast Brian Albinson.

“The average absolute error in the morning is 23 seconds and in the afternoon, 54 seconds.”

Now, Berggren is looking for a good example of a sundial motto in Gaelic (to reflect SFU's heritage) and invites anyone with a suggestion to contact him at len_berggren@sfu.ca (len_berggren@sfu.ca).

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