Comments Re-enabled; RSS & Mailing List; Noon Cannon

Gratuitous photo of a most admirable hat that lived near me in Florence.

Two quick announcements, then something fun to share.

First, comments were disabled for a little while.  Now they are enabled again.  Apologies to everyone who wanted to discuss Beccaria – I hope you still want to discuss him, and now you can.

Second, people have been reporting trouble subscribing by RSS.  I have investigated, and it seems that, while Firefox, Explorer etc. are fine, Chrome won’t do RSS (for this site or any site) unless you install a Chrome extension for RSS.  Googling “Chrome extension RSS” will supply a variety of equally viable methods.  However, for those who are struggling with RSS and can’t get it working, I have created a mailing list which you can register for in the right-hand sidebar.  Whenever I make a new post I will e-mail the list to alert people.  I recommend, however, that you use RSS instead of the mailing list if you can, because RSS will definitely alert you without, whereas the mailing list is hampered by my ability to remember to do it.

Meanwhile, I will take this opportunity to present another of my favorite objects in the Florentine Museum of the History of Science (aka. Museo Galileo): the Noon Cannon.  This is a strange variant on a sundial.  A tiny cannon, well under a foot long, is mounted outside, ideally in the gardens of a grand estate.  It is fixed in place on a stone slab, with a lens positioned above it.  At precisely noon each day, the lens focuses sunlight onto the canon, heating up the powder charge and making it go off.  If every morning you load the cannon with a little bit of gunpowder, then you will be reliably alerted to noon by the sound of a small explosion from your garden.  The effect is sort-of like a water clock except, instead of tranquil trickling and the tap of wood on stone, there is a ka-boom.


I think the specimen in the museum is probably from the Eighteenth Century, possibly the Seventeenth, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.  Of course, no one in our era can see a Noon Cannon and not instantly think of its potential uses in an old-fashioned murder mystery.  Simply put shot in the Noon Cannon along with its daily charge, lure the victim to the garden at the specified time, and you can be miles away having an alibi while the Noon Cannon does the rest.  “The Colonel put real shot in the Noon Cannon?  How dastardly!”  The killer could even mess with the lens to make it fire at an unexpected time, then play around with other sources of a substitute noise, a hunting rifle or a champagne cork to simulate the 12 PM shot… it writes itself…

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7 Responses to “Comments Re-enabled; RSS & Mailing List; Noon Cannon”

  1. Love your writings! That noon cannon is apparently from the early 19th. See

  2. You have a wicked mind Ex Urbe. I hadn’t even thought of the murder scenarios! 😉

  3. threeoutside said:

    I am enjoying your blog very much. It is very refreshing to find someone so knowledgeable, logical and interesting, even entertaining!

  4. chris y said:

    “In Hong Kong they strike a gong and fire off a noonday gun,


    “But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”

  5. I’m digesting your excellent blog in preparation for a trip to Rome and Florence.

    I saw the new space movie Gravity and noticed a Spot-The-Saint moment, if not a particularly challenging one.

    Briefly we see, affixed to the dashboard of a Soyuz capsule, an icon captioned in Russian. It portrays a tall shirtless man carrying an infant on his shoulder. Both the man and the infant have haloes. I grinned and thought of you.

  6. Douglas Knight said:

    I want to discuss the Shape of Rome, not Beccaria. It appears impossible to leave a comment there, though the tab marked “leave a comment” is confusing.

    Cyril was buried in Rome because he died there. Methodius survived him by 16 years and returned to Moravia. According to this, he is buried there. But of course Cyril’s tomb shows them both.

    • Ex Urbe said:

      I have now re-enabled comments on The Shape of Rome – I don’t know why the system keeps disabling comments no matter how many times I tell it not to, but hopefully the forthcoming upgrade will fix that.

      Thanks for the source. I have run into numerous sources claiming that both Ciryl and Methodius are in St. Clemente and numerous other sources claiming only Cyril, and the odd one that says neither is really there. An interesting case where there are such strong motives, historical, financial, political and religious, to lay claim to one or both of them that no source is trul reliable. But interesting always to have a fresh voice on the subject.

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