Saturday, April 25, 2015

Evolution of Television...

Image Source - Starts at Sixty: How the Jetson's Predicted the Future
Topics: Consumer Electronics, Electrical Engineering, Humor, Technology

The first television I remember my family owning was black and white, and so largely was society's views of social interaction, equality, etc. It used cathode ray tube technology, and as I recall looking in with my father, a lot of vacuum tubes - if they blew, you had to replace them - precursors to integrated circuits now, their usage in the space program fostered by NASA's need to reduce launch payload size into space (tubes are also quite heavy). They are not extinct, and do still have their specialized uses. We needed "rabbit ear" antennas to receive a radio frequency (RF) signal on the television; a large antenna connected by an analog cable usually on the roof. To attenuate a signal properly for my parents, sometimes I had to hold the ears and stand - absolutely still - next to the set while Walter Cronkite delivered after the sound of teletype actual NEWS completely devoid of theme songs, bombast and "infotainment," because as voiced by his signature line: "that's the way it was." I was also the resident channel surfer, AKA the analog remote control and sometimes dishwasher. Absolutely NO ONE looked at television during a lightning storm (and, really shouldn't now), but surge and electrical fire during the age of fuses was a far more prevalent danger back then before better power distribution schemes and GFCI. There was ABC, CBS, NBC and maybe a few local UHF channels if you were lucky. Television played the Pledge of Allegiance, and went OFF at midnight to a pattern, or static snow.

However, it was Saturday morning cartoons where I saw my first flat screen. Jane, Judy, Elroy, George, Rosie the robot maid and Astro the dog: The Jetsons got a lot of things right about the future - as the link below the picture above attests. There's a lot going on in that image: a video chat with a doctor (we call Skype, among others now); a hint of 3-D technology - the doctor "leaning out" of the screen - and nanotechnology (though I'm dubious on the article's claim: Secret Squirrel did the same trick, after all). And since I'm not too far from my sixth decade, I'm very fortunate to find out it won't be over for me. Sadly though, with the advent of 24-hour news closely followed by hundreds (thousands?) of 24-hour cable channels with appropriate-age cartoon channels, I've noticed a casualty of this advance in technology: one of the very mediums that probably started a lot of future designers, engineers and scientists dreaming up how to bring about what was artists' imaginations to pass...

...Saturday morning cartoons! May they rest in peace (and syndication).

Institute of Physics: Flat Screen Displays (PDF); Television (History)
The Royal Society:
Flat-panel electronic displays: a triumph of physics, chemistry and engineering, Cyril Hilsum

Post script: I will be moving to new apartments for this reason, apparently legal, but unfortunate nonetheless. I have a few posts "in the hopper" that can auto-post, but because I will be packing, I may take a blog-break if the boxes prove overwhelming. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Giant Leap...

International Space Station - Facts and Figures Page
Topics: International Space Station, NASA, Space, Space Exploration

Growing up in the Apollo era, spaceflight and space exploration were "big deals" that stopped traffic, ensued water cooler conversations and dominated - at least in nerd culture - deep thoughts regarding where we were heading. It wasn't until the Space Shuttle Program that spaceflight became humdrum; routine. We'd pause when Challenger or Columbia tragedies dominated the news cycle, briefly reflect, give heartfelt condolences and go back to our technology-centered lives. My sincere hope is going forward we don't lose our need to explore and sense of wonder, nor suppress it with fear, propaganda, empty talking points and arrogant convictions. My optimism is many of our future leaders - in high school and college now - get to experience the "overlook effect" and maybe this cooperation will become a little more widespread, and sanguinely for out continuance, quite routine.

Since 1998, humanity’s had a permanent presence in space with the International Space Station. The ISS, which circles the Earth once every 90 minutes, is a model of global cooperation: A joint cooperation among five national space agencies, crewed by astronauts from more than 15 countries. Take an inside look at the daily life and science that goes on inside the space station whizzing by at more than 200 miles above our heads.
World Science Festival Staff

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Radio Electron...

An electron in a magnetic field will turn circles and emit radiation. Adrian Cho - Science Mag
Topics: Cyclotron, Electromagnetism, Neutrinos, Particle Physics, Radiation

Physicists have long known that charged particles like electrons will spiral in a magnetic field and give off radiation. But nobody had ever detected the radio waves emanating from a single whirling electron—until now. The striking new technique researchers used to do it might someday help particle physicists answer a question that has vexed them for decades: How much does a ghostly particle called the neutrino weigh?

"This is a great achievement on its own, and we're really looking forward to seeing this technology develop over time," says Guido Drexlin, an astroparticle physicist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany who was not involved in the work.

To understand the experiment, suppose an electron flies horizontally through a vertical magnetic field. It will experience a sideways force that is proportional to both its velocity and the strength of the field. That constant sideways shove will cause the electron to run in circles (see diagram). But that turning will also cause the electron to radiate electromagnetic waves, much as a wet dishcloth will fling off drops of water if you whirl it above your head. Of course, the radiation will sap the electron's energy, so that it will gradually spiral inward.

This effect has been understood for a century. It's used to generate x-ray beams by sending electrons racing around circular particle accelerators known as synchrotrons. Such radiation also emanates from swirling particles in interstellar space. Now, 27 physicists with Project 8, an experiment based at the University of Washington, Seattle, have detected radiation from a single electron. "I thought surely somebody must have done this," says Brent VanDevender, a nuclear physicist and team member from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. "I looked and looked and looked in the literature and couldn't find anything."

Science Mag: Physicists detect radio waves from a single electron, Adrian Cho

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Current From Noise...

In this electron micrograph of the energy-harvesting device, the lower quantum dot is the red blob at the top of the red triangle. The upper quantum dot is the blue blob at the tip of the blue triangle. The image shows an area that is about 2 μm wide. (Courtesy: F Hartmann et al.)

Topics: Coupled Quantum Dots, Electronics, Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics

Two quantum dots have been used to generate an electrical current from voltage noise. The device was created by physicists in Germany, who say that it could lead to the development of systems that convert waste heat into useful energy.

Electronic devices generate large amounts of excess heat that must be dissipated. Instead of simply discarding this energy, using it to do useful work could revolutionize the electronics industry, and make it possible to create more efficient devices. Indeed, for more than a decade, physicists have been thinking up ways to convert this heat into electrical currents that can do work, such as power electronic devices.

Now, Lukas Worschech and colleagues at the University of Würzburg in Germany have verified experimentally that random voltage fluctuations can be rectified to drive a direct current. The experiment uses voltage noise to mimic the hot and cold spots of waste heat, and is therefore not a direct demonstration of waste heat being converted into work. However, team member Fabian Hartmann explains that it shows that small voltage fluctuations can drive a current: "A device derived from our sample might be able to provide the necessary power to drive autonomous and self-powered systems."

Physics World: Physicists generate electrical currents from noise,
Katherine Kornei

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Shades of Sith...

This Hubble Space Telescope image of four colliding galaxies in the Abell 3827 cluster shows the telltale signature of gravitational lensing--the bending of light's path by matter--in the form of blue arcs. The image suggests that dark matter in the cluster may interact with itself through some "dark force."
Credit: ESO

Topics: Astrophysics, Dark Energy, Dark Matter, Gravitational Lensing, Humor

Title note: with Episode VII coming out Christmas, I couldn't resist!

After decades of studying dark matter scientists have repeatedly found evidence of what it cannot be but very few signs of what it is. That might have just changed. A study of four colliding galaxies for the first time suggests that the dark matter in them may be interacting with itself through some unknown force other than gravity that has no effect on ordinary matter. The finding could be a significant clue as to what comprises the invisible stuff that is thought to contribute 24 percent of the universe.

“This result, if confirmed, could upend our understanding of dark matter,” says physicist Don Lincoln of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, who was not involved in the research. So-called “self-interacting dark matter” has been suggested for some time but it has generally been considered unorthodox. The simplest model of dark matter portrays it as a single particle—one that happens to interact with others of its kind and normal matter very little or not at all. Physicists favor the most basic explanations that fit the bill and add extra complications only when necessary, so this scenario tends to be the most popular. For dark matter to interact with itself requires not only dark matter particles but also a dark force to govern their interactions and dark boson particles to carry this force. This more complex picture mirrors our understanding of normal matter particles, which interact through force-carrying particles. For example, protons interact through the electromagnetic force, which is carried by particles called photons (particles of light).

Scientific American:
Dark Matter May Feel a “Dark Force” That the Rest of the Universe Does Not,
Clara Moskowitz

Monday, April 20, 2015


NASA's spacecraft to an asteroid – the OSIRIS-REx mission — is being readied for a 2016 liftoff. Gary Napier, Lockheed Martin spokesman (left) and reporter Leonard David (right) stand in front of spacecraft build-up on April 6, 2015 as technicians work on the probe for launch next year. Credit: Leonard David

Topics: Asteroids, Bennu, Clean Room, NASA, Space Exploration, STEM

Ahem: in a lot of STEM fields that are "stimulating" (pun intended), you'll find yourselves in apparel like this, affectionately known as "bunny suits." You can find a brief history of the clean room here and here.

DENVER, Colorado – A fact-filled and incredible day at Lockheed Martin on April 6, visiting ultra-clean room facilities in which NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is coming together for a September 2016 liftoff.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) probe is headed for asteroid Bennu, a carbon-rich body that could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and host organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth.

The spacecraft will collect and return samples of the asteroid, returning the specimens gathered back to Earth for detailed analysis.

Lofted spaceward next year, the probe will reach asteroid Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023.

In protective garb, this reporter saw assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) phase technicians hard at work in a critical stage of the program.

Over the next several months, spacecraft handlers will install on the OSIRIS-REx structure its many subsystems, including avionics, power, telecomm, mechanisms, thermal systems, and guidance, navigation and control.

The Bennu is an ancient Egyptian deity linked with the sun, creation, and rebirth. It may have been the inspiration for the phoenix in Greek mythology. Wikipedia
A Reporter's View: NASA's OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Mission Taking Shape, Leonard David

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Unraveling...

Image Source: Unraveling Fire II Boy - Art on Fire
Topics: Domestic Terrorism, Oklahoma Bombing, Timothy McVeigh, Xenophobia

According to this online calendar, today was Wednesday 20 years ago.

I remember the boys were with me (my wife was working) and I was off with them, making PB&J sandwiches for lunch. They were 12 and 2 then. The news of the Oklahoma City Bombing sickened me and horrified my oldest son. He wept over the thought some as young as his brother had died; I wept over both of them, and about the world that was coming. [1]

I remember the helplessness I felt when the wreckage of the Alfred P. Murrah building was broadcast on all stations across the world. We were a few months from the midterms and Newton Gingrich's "Contract With (or, some would say on) America." We were a year from the Internet using something we all take for granted now - search engines, first on home pages like AOL and Yahoo; then the very title of it becoming both a noun and verb: Bing and Google. Star Trek Voyager, Boy Meets World, Seinfeld, Friends and X-Files were our national obsessions. We were six years from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Peace Dividend we've never managed to cash in on.

The seeds of our unraveling/detachment from reality can be found here. As a nation, we've always been prone to fabricating "tall tales," but with the Internet it has made the loudmouth an expert, whether they completed a college degree, or have a wit of evident expertise in anything. The prerequisite seems to be willing to shout "fire" in crowded theaters or the public commons; babble incoherently and be misconstrued as "passionate" instead of insane. When the initial suspects were announced, every authority began looking for [initially] Arabic men; "false flag" became the excuse Du jour for everything we could not initially explain, then and now. Perhaps looking on this quick leap to accusation and judgment inspired a former US-backed Mujaheddin warrior we'd come to know infamously as Osama Bin Laden. Since they didn't care about vilification or leaps of illogical speculations, they literally had "nothing to lose."

Ominously, McVeigh was executed after waving further appeals June 11, 2001, three months to the DAY on the World Trade Center attacks of 9-11. [2]

"And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army." Rev 19:19 ESV

This has sadly been used by forces that would overthrow our democratic republic and establish a dangerous form of theocracy known as dominionism. (Note: all forms of theocratic governance are antithetical to democratic republican ideals.) Whether this is perceived as a literal or figurative event, perhaps it is a realization that peace isn't in our human natures. We have made cartoons and superheros of WWII and the "greatest generation," not having cultural memory of how hard life was here and on the war front, whitewashing what would become the Civil Rights movement as internal struggle from collective memory. "Here be dragons," and if none available, our determined imaginations will manufacture some in our need to slay them.

It was lastly, also the world of black helicopters, "jack-booted thugs" in black camouflage; "New World Order" - first in an address by President George Herbert Walker Bush, then neurosis by conspiracy theorists that would by steady osmosis - find its way into the mainstream. It was two years to the day from the Waco, Texas standoff between the ATF and the Branch Davidians and one day from Adolf Hitler's birthday (also used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in their violent attack on Columbine High School in Colorado. In Timothy McVeigh's conspiracy-here-be-dragons literature found at the scene, a guide written sadly by a physics apostate: The Turner Diaries. William Luther Pierce may have earned a PhD in physics, but that did not inoculate him from irrational stances and daft thoughts. His lineage in the Confederacy; his alliance with the John Birch Society (founded by the patriarch of the Koch brothers), his anti-Semitic/anti-gay worldview were the seeds that filled his ink before he put pen to paper; before the Internet was a commercial entity. Hate does not require low IQ's or high tech: simple xenophobia and smoke signals will do. It is a legacy we're still inheriting, like dandelion seeds in the wind.

1. Today: 20 years later, TODAY looks back at the Oklahoma City bombing
2. Oklahoma City Bombing