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This is one of my favorite of Sayers's books too, and I always wondered whether the plot was plausible or not. Now you've saved me the trouble of looking it up. (Thanks Jen!) One of the possibilities you didn't mention was that increased sound levels also increase psychological stress and that can form a biofeedback loop physiologically. Blood pressure increases, people become more irritable (which explains why New Yorker's are such nice people), and I imagine at extreme levels like you'd have in the bell tower it might actually induce a stroke in someone susceptible. A mere ten minutes worth of jackhammering outside my apartment by ConEd at 3 AM makes me insane enough to commit murder. I can feel every muscle in my shoulders and neck tensing up. In the studies done by the environmental consulting firm I used to work for, noise was always a big chapter of the EIS and the mitigation measures were taken very seriously because its so distressing (ask people who live upstairs from a noisy club). It was a big factor in the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site, too, since the construction was (is) going to go on for so long. So perhaps it was death by environmental stress. . . .

Jen Lucis holding a lizard... shouldn't that be a parrot?

It's her nod to Darwin and the Galopagas Islands.

Dick Wittington lived 1354–1423, so your 1932 is probably a typo for 1392??

Yes. There are a lot of typos in this post, alas. Hopefully I'll get around to correcting most of them later today. :)

Mythbusters did a show on shattering wine glasses with sound. They were able to shatter a glass without amplification but it was not easy. It may have been the first time it was provably done.

An interesting article..but I refer to your account of the manufacture of the mould for casting a refer to baking it so that it wouldn't crack when the molten LEAD was poured in?!! A fairly dull sound there, then...! We could do with a set of lead bells for the church at Hampton, on the river Thames, where the bell ringing is actually painful..not due to sound intensity, but inaccuracies due to the fact that the ringers aren't very good!

My bad -- molten metal of some sort. Brass perhaps :)

Making a bell from Lead? Err, umm, no. Aren't most bells made from "bell metal", which is a bronze, with about 77 percent Copper and 23 percent Tin:

However, there are some variations, including the addition of other metals (Silver) to the alloy to produce different sounding bells.

And, of course, this introduces the fields of metallurgy and crystallography to bell making.


That's a great post. (I've met David Lubman through Sigma Xi. He gave a talk about the Mayan acoustics).

There's another interesting resonance effect: take a styrofoam cup (8 oz or more). Fill it with coffee (water works, but the coffee color makes it easier to see the effect.). Hold it close to the bottom, and drag it slowly across a smooth surface until it starts to vibrate from the friction. (Restaurant diner tables seem to work really well.) Once it starts, standing waves will build up on the surface. You can keep it going long enough so that droplets will separate from the surface and fly up.

Lee: "A mere ten minutes worth of jackhammering outside my apartment by ConEd at 3 AM makes me insane enough to commit murder."

Now imagine an hour or so in the middle of a 100 dB rock concert. One suggestion is to invest in hearing-aid companies - they'll be going deaf in a few years.

There's a Chinese legend about a bell that was cast during the Ming Dynasty - sometime in the 1500s. They were making a 41-ton iron bell, and the casting wasn't going well. The bell-maker's daughter, hoping to keep the Emperor's anger off her father, threw herself into the molten bronze. The resulting bell is one of the finest in China.

Your post on bells reminded me of the Poe poem, "The Bells"

Hear the sledges with the bells -
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!


Of the bells, bells, bells -
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells -
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

And of course the Phil Ochs musical version of the poem!


Lovely post. Yes, 9 taylors (originally tellers, as in counters) for a man, 6 for a woman, 3 for a child. In 18th century villages that would be enough to let you know who had died.

Does anybody know why change ringing never caught on outside Britain (and, for all I know, The USA, Canada, Australia, NZ, etc.)? In continental Europe the bells, even of great cathedrals, seem to ring a cacophonous jangle with no audible pattern at all.

July 2006 we visited a bell foundry.
There's a write-up of the visit in my blog at permalink

As a kid I attended a church with a single large bell. As a special treat we would occasionally be allowed to ring this bell. The combination of physicality and sound was a delight. You felt as if you were in contact with a living creature crying out in excitement. It was the most stimulating experience we could have without fear of damnation.

Change ringing - I absolutely love it!

phone sex for the mind - and you called him john right off the bat!

haha :)

Would like to know where the illustration (etching) of the ringers/ringing chamber came from ... origin and copyright? Thanks, Sally Cook, editor, The Clapper/No. American Guild of Change Ringers

Excellent post and precis of change-ringing for the uninitiated. I wish I had read more before I got involved ringing--might have made the first few weeks easier! I did want to point out a small inaccuracy--the sally or sallie on each rope that is gripped for the handstroke is wool, not wood. It is comprised of tufts of wool fiber woven into the rope--the end result is a soft grip roughly 14 inches long and double or treble the diameter of the rope. I think I've seen the mistake in other sources, but I can't imagine pulling a bell with a wooden grip!

From one Sayers fan to another,
John Calvin Young
beginning ringer at St. Mary Magdalene, Oxford

"Here lies the body of SAMUEL SNELL,
Who for fifty years rang the Tenor bell.
Through changes of this Mortal Race,
He laid his Blows and kept his Place.
'Til Death that changes all did come,
To Hunt him down and call him Home.
His Wheel is Broke, his Rope is Slackt,
His Clapper Mute, his Metal Crackt.
But when the great call summons him from Ground,
He shall be raised up, Tuneable and Sound."

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.