Friday, 30 September 2011

From the Discovery of Electrons to a Nuclear Meltdown

Frank decided to look up the path from simple electronics to nuclear power, and he found that a few things happened on today's date. Here they are:

In 1895, Jean Baptiste Perrin (born today in 1870) showed that what had been called Cathode Rays weren't actually rays, but physical particles that had mass and travelled from one end of a vacuume tube (the cathode end) to the other (the plate). He had found electrons.

In 1882, the first hydro-electric generator, designed by Edison, began operation today at the Appleton Edison Electric Light Company.

(On a side note, in 1913 on today's date, Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel, the inventor of the diesel engine, died under mysterious circumstances. He was on board the Dresden, bound from Antwerp to London for a meeting, and after dinner, he headed for bed at 10pm requesting to be woken shortly after 6am, but he was never seen alive again. Over a week later, a decomposing body was found adrift with items that belonged to him, but due to the advanced state of decay, the body itself was never verified to be his.)

In 1935, the Hoover Dam was dedicated, and its hydro-electric generators now supply enough power to run public and private consumers in Nevada, Arizona, and California.

(Interesting and possibly useful, but also irrelevant, in 1953, on Sep 30, the International Federation of Translators was set up, and ever since, they have used today, the feast day of St Jerome (accepted as the patron saint of translators), as International Translation Day (also St Jerome's death date, 420). St Jerome was well known for translating the Bible from older Latin, with extensive reference to Greek and Hebrew texts. His version is known as the versio vulgata, or commonly used translation. The world 'vuglar' meaning having to do with ordinary or common folk.)

In 1954,  the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus (SSN-571), was commissioned.

In 1977, Sir Nevill Francis Mott (born today in 1905) received the Nobel Prize for Physics due to his work in electronics and magnetism.

Sep 30, 1980, is a date that is probably not as well known as it should be, considering the medium we are using now. That was the date that the Ethernet specification was published by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Intel, and Xerox.

Finally, in 1999, an accident at a uranium processing plant in the village of Tōkai killed three technicians and caused dozens of people to be hospitalised. In that incident, due entirely to human error, workers added a critical seventh bucket of uranyl nitrate solution into a precipitation tank, exceeding the limits set for the tank and starting a self-sustaining fission reaction.

So, just on today's date, we have found everything from the initial discovery that electrons must be particles all the way up to a nuclear meltdown. We have certainly come a long way, haven't we?

Friday, 23 September 2011

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox and other important dates in history

Frank is in a party mood today, what with all the things he has to celebrate today. First off, today at 9:04 this morning, the Autumnal Equinox occurred. That's when the Earth's axis is exactly parallel to its orbit around the sun. From our view down here, we see the sun rising and setting right over the equator.

Other things that Frank likes to celebrate today include these folks born on this date, going from the oldest to the most recent:
But the biggest event that Frank celebrates today is that back in 1889 (yes, that does say prior to the 1900s!) the Nintendo company was formed. Of course, back then it only dealt with playing cards, but still it was the beginning of a vast empire that has influenced many. In fact Frank carries his Wii U controller around with him at work, so he can keep up on his games when he's not sitting in front of the tele at home.

Have fun, and I hope you don't get Nintendinitis!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Not Magnetic Monopoles? Possibly Reimann manifolds

We know from the last post that phones are a pain, but there's no need to elaborate on that. I think we've all recovered from that experience.

Anyway, Frank has been working on that magnetic monopole theory again, and he says that it's probably not relevant. On a macro level, we all know that if you break a magnet, you don't end up with a North piece and a South piece; what you get are two smaller magnets, each with their own pair of poles. In spite of the fact that Joseph Polchinski, a prominent string-theorist, claimed that the existence of monopoles was "one of the safest bets that one can make about physics not yet seen", Frank doubts that the Door is based on that theory. He says that it's just not logical (and if Frank is anything, he's logical).

Frank's latest theory has to do with Reimann surfaces. Those surfaces appear to be fairly normal if you only look at a small section, "but the global topology can be quite different", depending on the calculations involved. The overall impression of the shapes can be a sphere or a torus or even just a couple of sheets glued together. Frank thinks that the way the Door works is to fold our normal 3-space into a shape like those through some kind of 4-space, making two points normally distant very close together. The typical example is a folded piece of paper. (Quite a few examples of this appear all over.)

We might have more about the theory behind the Door next time, as long Frank doesn't get distracted by any other bright, shiny objects.

Friday, 9 September 2011

POTS? No way! VOIP instead

When we moved into this new building, Frank insisted on upgrading the phones in our office. The previous tenants had been on POTS, but now we have swapped everything over to VOIP, and let me tell you, it's been a learning experience!

With POTS, the local phone company brings in a separate pair of wires for each line, and each one has a different phone number associated with it. Then someone (us!) has to physically connect them to each desk. Keeping track of all those interconnects is just plain ugly.

With a VOIP system, each phone number is encoded into the phone set itself, so all the wires going to all the desks are identical. There is no need to swap any wires. If we had someone move to a new desk, all we have to do is pick up the phone, unplug it, move it to the new desk, and plug it back in. That's it. All the number changes are done on a computer, assigning the phone number to a specific MAC address.

All I can say, after pulling an all nighter helping to update an old POTS system, I'm glad that Frank convinced us to install VOIP when we moved in here.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Tom's data untrustworthy? Electronics still don't work; Halbach Spheres?

Well, Tom collected quite a bit of data for Frank to analyse, but at first glance, Frank doesn't trust some of the numbers. Tom suggested that Frank go collect his own data, but Frank says that he's not going through the Door until someone he trusts is at the controls to make certain he can get back. Of course, Frank doesn't trust anyone, so he's likely only going to see the part of the other planet visible through the Door as it's opened. (Sometimes dealing with these two is like herding cats, I swear!)

Anyway, the initial guess that the planet is larger than Earth makes sense (even though we haven't actually measured it), but it must be far less dense (as Frank claimed), which explains why the gravity is still so close to 'normal'. So, what we've got is a larger planet that spins slower, doesn't have an iron core, and no magnetic field to speak of. All that still doesn't explain why electronic things don't work. We really need to get Frank working on that.

Instead, Frank is still trying to figure out how the Door itself works. He's made a supposition that the way it works is probably similar to a Halbach sphere. The only difference is that a typical Halbach sphere is made of permanent magnets, whereas the Door is basically a huge electromagnet, just with a twist to it. (Twist, get it? Frank opens the Door by spinning the magnetic field.)

Frank may have more for us soon, but Tom certainly will. He's been really excited about taking some folks out for an adventure, a 'walkabout' he calls it. We'll see what he has to say next week.