Thursday, 26 July 2007

Three hundred and eleven

It has recently come to my attention that the number three hundred and eleven has a certain significance.

The London Monument was built as a memorial for the Great Fire, built so that if it toppled over in just the right direction, then the top would land on the exact spot where the fire started at a bakery in Pudding Lane. However, it was also designed to allow scientific studies on atmospheric pressure. Specifically, each step is six inches high, so you can walk up carring a barometer and calibrate it, for instance. Point being: there are exactly 311 steps.

Elsewhere and earlier, the Roman emporer Galerius lead the persecution of Christians for many years. In 308CE, he issued an edict stating that *everyone* had to offer sacrifice to the gods, "and that all provisions in the markets should be sprinkled with sacrificial wine." This is of course against mainstream Christian practice, so they had to sin or starve .
This practice finally ended when Galerius changed his mind and decided to allow Christianity to flourish unhindered, as long as they agreed not to destablise the state. He did this on his deathbed, issuing his "Edict of Toleration" on May 5th. The year? 311.

Then things got interesting. In a foreshadowing of post-war France (where Nazi collaborators were hounded), many Christians had helped the Roman persecution of their fellow believers, even going as far as helping to burn Christian writing. There was then a debate about whether they could ever be forgiven for such terrible apostasy, and one particular sect was founded which refused to forgive them at all. This was Donatism, founded by a chap called Donatus Magnus. The year? 311 (still).

Elsewhere and later, in the USA in fact, the police use codes on their radios for reasons I've never understood. Why not say "this guy's drunk" rather than "this guy's 390"? Does it save time? Reduce ambiguity? Anyway, code 311 is for indecent exposure. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with all of this.

Meantime, the National Center for Biotechnology Information is a fantastic source of biomedical information, all free thanks to the US government. One part of this is a list of biological compounds, each of which is given a unique compound id, or CID. So what, I hear you ask, has a CID of 311? It's Citric acid, as if I need spell it out. Or 2-hydroxypropane-1,2,3-tricarboxylic acid if you want to get technical.

So to summarise: Wren's phallic monument to a careless baker exposes the indecency of tolerating citric acid as a flavouring for doughnuts.


Auntie Em said...

Coincidence? You decide.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I do first aid with a voluntary organisation.

All sorts of professional and voluntary aid organisations use numeric or other codes on the radio.

The usual reason is so that sensitive information can be passed without danger of being overheard (which is particularly risky when you're using handheld radios in busy places).

It's easy to see some of the dangers, even drawing only on my limited experience in first aid.

If you are treating a teenage girl, you may need to communicate that she's pregnant without her parents overhearing. If someone has AIDS, you must get that across without the world and his dog all hearing. If you are in danger of being assaulted, it does not cool the situation down if you say so to the helpful people at the other end.

Anonymous said...

And, in particular, saying "this guy's drunk" will cause offence in some circumstances.

Even if you manage to disappear into a quiet corner to pass the message, unless you communicate using codes, you run the risk of getting the loud reply, "I didn't hear, you say he's DRUNK?" a moment later.