Tag Archives: technology

Backyard history: Southern California’s impact on astronomy

Silicon Valley has reshaped the earth, Hollywood has driven our perceptions of it, and not always for the better.  Less well known is the outsized role California has played in understanding our universe.   Mt. Wilson, Mt. Palomar, and their astronomers have had a Copernican impact on where we stand in the grand scheme of things.  The word ‘vision’ gets bandied about a lot these days but George Ellery Hale had it in spades.  Here’s how the two observatories that housed Hubble, Humason, ShapleyZwicky, Baade, Rubin, and Schmidt came to be.

The third video from Corning’s Museum of Glass shows that the path to science is not always smooth and that learning from mistakes is the norm.  The original 200 inch pyrex disk for the Palomar primary did not go according to plan and had to be recast.  The second attempt succeeded and even so, it took ten years of painstaking grinding and polishing at Caltech before it was ready for use.

Youtube Channel: Palomar Observatory

Youtube Channel: Irish Astronomy

Youtube Channel: Corning Museum of Glass

 

Fella of the Royal Society: Q&A with Keith Moore

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library
— J.L. Borges

No, I haven’t read any Borges but this is one of those quotes that is very popular with my ilk.  But, libraries are indeed wonderful things and I remember hanging out a lot – and later volunteering – at the old Albany (California) Public Library on Solano Avenue in the late 1970s.  Don’t look for it there now, it is a youth center affiliated with the YMCA.  I spent as much time at the Doe and Bancroft as any science major at Cal could.  The specialty books and journals were in Hildebrand Hall but the atmosphere in the general purpose stacks was unbeatable.  The Internet has obliterated what little attention span I once had so sitting down and reading a physical book is next to impossible and yet the lure, the promise, and the perfume of endless shelves of books is still strong.

“Objectivity” is one of Brady Haran‘s strongest and most addicting channels.  Most of the episodes are filmed at the Royal Society‘s Library in London and feature Keith Moore, the hypnotic and wildly popular head librarian who pulls from a bottomless collection of manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, and  instruments from Newton to the present.  The Brits were pieces of work for several hundred years but there can be no denying that they made a few positive contributions to somewhat offset their spherical bastardy.

Visiting the Society’s collections may just be sufficient to deal with the rigors of travel in whatever a post-COVID landscape may look like as well as London’s notoriously high prices.

Enjoy the long-requested Q&A with The Man which includes a very candid answer to a probing viewer question.  Be sure to check out the rest of the channel – some selections below.

Youtube Channel: Objectivity

Spectral response: The science and emotion of color

The web’s archive of older industrial films is a recurring delight.  Jam Handy, Coronet, and other firms crafted these with an attention to detail, calm explanation, and rigorous science that is harder(*) to find today when most equivalents are about sales rather than fundamentals.  Jeff Quitney has uploaded a wonderful 1954 cleaned-up film to his Vimeo page on color theory and practice by the Interchemical Corporation.  It begins with the importance of color to society – especially in packaging goods and people – and then gives a marvelous account of the optics involved.   I’ve worked in the field for years but I learned to see things (pun intended) differently thanks to it.

The second film from 2016 looks at color in packaging through its emotional impact and its influence on design and designers.  ‘Color In Sight’  resembles like Hustwit’s ‘Helvetica.’  A number of prominent designers talk about how they use and think about color in order to evoke a response, surface a memory, or reveal a part of the spectrum to the color-blind.   I have no idea what I’d say to a nail-polish maker but Suzi Weiss-Fischmann (8m18s in) comes off  as a fun seatmate on a long plane trip.  I had a similar feeling about  Helvetica’s Paula Scher.   Interestingly, it is produced by TeaLeaves, a Canadian company specializing in very high-end teas for hotels.  Judging by their Youtube page, they must spend a fortune on short films – many of which have little outward bearing on their products.  I’ve never understood the appeal of tea but the videos are well worth a look.

(*) But not impossible by any means.

Vimeo Channel: Jeff Quitney

 

Youtube Channel: TeaLeaves

 

Proposing a Toaster: Technology Connections on a Sunbeam classic

I’ve owned and/or used many toasters and toaster ovens.  All have been crap.  It doesn’t matter how much it costs, it all comes from some noname as cheap as possible factory, doesn’t work as advertised, and falls apart quickly after making marginal at best toast.   Paying for quality is no longer an option. Alec from Technology Connections profiles a 1948 Sunbeam classic that still works due to a brilliant, timeless design.   His channel and Techmoan both delve deeply into our electromechanical past finding, explaining, and often resurrecting devices we’ve forgotten.

Youtube Channel: Technology Connections

He even offers a video on his second channel that shows how to fix and update one of these from the second-hand market.  Tempting, tempting.

Youtube Channel: Technology Connections 2

An elegant weapon for a more civilized age: In praise of chalk

Modern ejumacation has gone multimedia and Powerpoint, often multimedia within Powerpoint.  Some like 3Blue1Brown are brilliant at it (the multimedia, not Powepoint), others less so.  Here’s a random assortment of lectures where good old chalk and boards prevail: E&M from IIT Madras, chemistry and cryptography from Ruhr Universität, Bochum, Fields Medalist Cédric Villani on something-or-the-other, and an early calm-for-him presentation by Jens Fehlau on the Leibniz integration rule made famous by Feynman.  Finally, a tribute to a popular chalk, recently discontinued.

Youtube Channel: nptelhrd

 

Youtube channel: ChemieRub

 

Youtube channel: Introduction to Cryptography by Christof Paar

Youtube channel: Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHÉS)

Youtube channel: Flammable Maths

Youtube channel: Great Big Story

 

Dicta Prius: Redondo Beach’s Hybrid History

Page 1 of TRW’s Hybrid Engine patent, submitted on 17 March 1969 and issued 2 March 1971 (Click to enlarge)

It has been fifty years since a group of engineers submitted what would become United States Patent 3566717. Entitled “Power train using multiple power sources,” Baruch Berman, George Gelb, Neil Richardson, and Tsih Wang of then-TRW in still Redondo Beach described the hybrid gas/electric vehicle. As a satisfied Prius owner since 2012 and likely repeat customer, I only recently learned that the core engine technology was invented a mile from my house and possibly yards from my office.

In those seven years of hybrid ownership, I’ve often wondered what actually goes on under the hood.  Niels Blaauw offers a charming overview of older implementations of the engine and drivetrain.  Next, Professor John Kelly of Weber State University dives deeply into the innards of the transaxle that’s in my generation of Prius.   His WeberAuto channel is a gearhead’s goldmine.

Youtube Channel: Niels Blaauw 

Youtube Channel: Weber Auto

 

Photo Chemistry: The silver behind the silver screen

We have megapixel cameras in our phones and gigapixel cameras on our telescopes.  Before digital took over photography (and the world,) we had film.  Light struck silver and made a mark and behind it all was some marvelous physical chemistry.  It is still awe-inspiring to think of how these processes came about when knowledge and instrumentation were not nearly as advanced as today.  Each step could have millions of alternatives and sorting them through brute force would take the age of the universe.  Yet somehow it all came together and spawned industries.  The American Chemical Society takes us through the science as it was in 1940.

Vimeo Channel: Jeff Quitney

Horizon Event: The big EHT reveal

The Event Horizon Telescope team announces its major discovery following two intense and quiet years of data analysis on top of a longer period of development.   A nice testament to aperture synthesis and international collaboration as the rest of the world spirals into madness.  Damn!!!

Youtube Channel: National Science Foundation

Context for the interested public:
Youtube Channel: Sixty Symbols

 

Scrubbing bubbles: The pros and cons of cavitation

We routinely use ultrasonic cleaners to decontaminate all kinds of surfaces.  A little solvent, some buzzing, and jewelry, electronic parts, and pen nibs get degunked effectively.  Cavitation is responsible.  It is also responsible for damaging surfaces such as ship propellers and pump impellers.  The first video explains the physical chemistry behind the process and its (mostly) destructive effects.  The second shows it applied to cleaning vegetables which, surprisingly, is a research problem funded by the National Science Foundation.  Both videos show closeups of bubble collapse making the cleaning/damage mechanism much easier to understand.

Youtube Channel: IET Institute for Energy Technology

Youtube Channel: National Science Foundation

Addendum 7 April 2019: More detailed super-slowmo  videos from the EPFL group featured in the first video.
Source: CAVITATION BUBBLES IN VARIABLE GRAVITY

Addendum 25 September 2020:  EPFL has reorganized its webpages and the cavitation videos have disappeared.  Here is an American Physical Society report on that research.

Youtube Channel: APS Physics

Maintaining standards: The triple-point cell

Our society depends on standards in countless, mostly invisible ways.   If we can’t agree on how to measure weight, length, temperature, or time we can kiss manufacturing and our manufactured world with its specified, engineered, and interchangeable parts goodbye.   Actually creating and maintaining these standards is hard and the methods change over the years.  The meter was once defined in relation to earthly distances until the realization that the earth changes over time.  Now it is defined in relation to the speed of light which we are pretty sure does not.  The second used to be defined in terms of the day, now it is based on a fundamental property of the cesium atom.  The kilogram has just been redefined in terms of Planck’s constant which then turns into a combination of the second and the meter.

Making any of these measurements is difficult and requires a lot of fancy equipment, often involving lasers, vacuum chambers, electromagnets, and/or racks of electronics.  Here’s how NIST’s new F2 atomic clock works schematically and here’s a package from its inventor on the details.   As the F2 becomes a practical albeit sophisticated standard, even fancier methods are under development for the future.

The Kelvin, fundamental unit of temperature, is a nice exception to this complexity.  It is defined in relation to the triple point of water; that temperature at which the liquid, solid, and vapor phases of isotopically controlled, gas and contaminant-free water are in equilibrium.  Measure this and the Kelvin is 1/273.16 of that.   The aptly named triple point cell requires appropriate water, a skilled glassblower, and some patience.   Thermometers can be calibrated against this standard within and across laboratories.

The Fluke Corporation, despite its name, has long been a respected supplier of a wide variety of test and measurement equipment and they sell such a triple point cell.  In the right hands, it can allow the temperature of 0.01C (the Centigrade and Kelvin are equivalent) to be measured with an uncertainty better than ± 0.0001 °C.  Here’s Fluke’s Matt Newman showing how it is done and not a laser to be seen.

Addendum 20 February 2019: The Kelvin has also been redefined as of November 2018.  It is now tied to Boltzmann’s constant, k.  NIST says that not much will change for the moment since the triple point cell is a known, reliable tool.