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Posts Tagged ‘Edison

“In the landscape of extinction, precision is next to godliness”*…

There is a portion of the sky where no spacefarer wants to go. It causes Astronauts to see shooting stars in front of their eyes, sets off emergency sensors and renders satellites useless. This Bermuda Triangle of space isn’t just a cause for concern for our future of space exploration, it could be the sign of something far more deadly. This may herald an event that last happened 42,000 years ago, which wiped out our closest relative, the Neanderthals. Welcome to the terrifying world of the South Atlantic Anomaly.

In the 80s engineers noticed that most satellite errors happened over South America and the South Atlantic. These errors ranged from minor glitches, wiped data to full-blown crashed satellites. But they couldn’t quite pinpoint what was causing these troubling errors, they named this mysterious area the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA).

We didn’t understand the dangers of this region for a long time. When the Hubble Space Telescope first turned on in 1990 they found that the computers kept crashing and data was corrupted almost every time it flew over the South Atlantic. Not wanting their billion-dollar telescope to crash to Earth, the engineers had no choice but to switch it off every time it passed over this deadly patch of sky, and still do today. Not ideal, but it saves the telescope from this mysteriously dangerous part of space.

So what makes the South Atlantic Anomaly so dangerous? It turns out it is all down to the Sun and a crack in Earths armour caused some very bizarre geophysics.

So what does struggling satellites means for us here on Earth? Well, quite a lot really. It could be a sign of something much more deadly, a geomagnetic reversal.

When we picture the Earth’s magnetic field we often think of it as unchanging. It is our eternal armour from deadly solar radiation as well as the guide for our sailors. Even some birds have evolved iron-rich cells in their eyes, enabling them to ‘see’ the magnetic field and navigate the globe. But the magnetic north pole hasn’t always been in the north.

The magnetic poles have flipped repeatedly over the millennia. The field weakens, disappears and then reappears in the opposite direction. We know this because iron-rich lava aligns to the magnetic field and then sets, so we can look at ancient rocks and see what direction magnetic north was when it formed.

We don’t have a complete understanding of how the magnetic field is generated and why it flips. We know that convection currents of iron-rich mantle create the field, but the interactions between these immense systems are complex and hidden from us. What’s more, there are no patterns to the past flipping events, so it is very hard to predict when one will happen.

But, models and simulations show that when the field gets weaker at the beginning of a magnetic flip, it seems to happen in a random area and then grows from there. The poles also start to drift quite dramatically and chaotically. This is worrying because not only does the South Atlantic Anomaly look like the weakening in a simulation, it is also growing, and the North pole is drifting further each year.

… So, it seems at least plausible that the South Atlantic Anomaly is the start of the next geomagnetic flip. If so, it could have enormous consequences for us!

The last time a flip happened was 42,000 years ago, but it was only a temporary event, and the poles returned to their previous locations, this is known as the Laschamps Excursion, and it lasted for about a thousand years. That meant Earth was without its essential protective shield for an awfully long time.

Now, 42,000 years ago is a significant time. This was when Neanderthals died out. We (Homo Sapiens) also started using caves, red ochre body paint, and the global craze of cave painting started. It was also when a lot of ice-age megafauna died out. All of which has been linked to the flipping of the poles during this period. This extinction event and Sapien revolution has been called the Adams Event (after Douglas Adams and the infamous 42).  

This theory suggests that when the poles flipped, the Earth had a thousand years without its protective layer, so the planet was bombarded with radiation. This depleted ozone, increased radiation on the surface, messed with weather patterns and caused abrupt climate change.

Scientist even suggests that this is why we suddenly took to living in caves and using red ochre. We had to hide from the deadly rays of the Sun, and if we ventured out, we needed a powerful suncream, like powdered red ochre. This is why red ochre hand paintings became so widespread around this time.

But these immense changes hit one species particularly hard. Neanderthals were likely red-headed, light-skinned and mostly dwelt in steppes (grassy plains) and woodlands. They probably got sunburnt a lot. Unlike Homo Sapiens, it seems as though Neanderthals didn’t use red ochre much at all! All of this means that cancers would have been a deadly problem for them.

To make all this even worse, the radiation increased the strength of electrical storms, changed the weather patterns and screwed up many ecosystems. So the food that the Neanderthals hunted my have been driven away or gone extinct. It seems Neanderthals died out because they starved to death while being baked by the Sun. Meanwhile, we Homo Sapiens hid from the Sun, used weird sunscreen and adapted to new foods…

These flipping events take hundreds or thousands of years to pass due to the amount of heavy magma that needs to shift to cause a flip (however it is hypothesised it could take as little as a month in extreme circumstances). So we aren’t in any danger of waking up to a new direction for North. But, over the next few decades or hundreds of years, we will see the South Atlantic Anomaly grow and potentially be joined by many other areas of weak magnetism. We may even see some local flips in a few hundred years.

So, it seems at least plausible that the South Atlantic Anomaly is the start of the next geomagnetic flip. If so, it could have enormous consequences for us!

The South Atlantic Anomaly: Earth’s deadly weakness: “Do Failing Satellites Foretell An Imminent Extinction?” From Will Lockett (@welockett).

* Samuel Beckett

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As we search for true north, we might send charged birthday greetings to a man whose life work could be at risk if there’s a flip (or an intense solar storm), Elihu Thomson; he was born on this date in 1853. An engineer and inventor, he was instrumental in developing the practical applications of electricity, especially alternating current. He invented electric welding and other important advances in electric lighting and power (among his lifetime total of about 700 patents). Thomson was also a cofounder of the General Electric Company (in 1892, in a merger of his Thomson-Houston Electric Company with the Edison Company.

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“There is in souls a sympathy with sounds”*…

 

A Marconi-Stille recording machine, which the BBC helped to develop. It used thin steel for tape, a single spool of which weighed more than 20lb. (Photo taken in 1936)

In the worlds of television. audio, and film production, The BBC Sound Archive is legendary.  Founded in 1936, its holdings date back to the late 19th century and include many rare items, including contemporary speeches by public and political figures, folk music, British dialects and sound effects– along with most BBC Radio programs.  The pace of collection has flagged a bit under recent budget pressures; still, the archive is 350,000 hours of material in total duration.

The public has had some access to the archive through the British Library.  But now there is a more direct channel: the BBC has made 16,000 sound effects available (for personal, educational or research use) for download directly on its web site. From “Drilling and reaming machine operating, with occasional pauses” to “Tropical Forest, West Africa at dawn.” there’s (literally) a world there to hear.

* William Cowper

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As we lend an ear, we might recall that it was on this date in 1888, that Nikola Tesla was issued several patents relating to the induction magnetic motor, alternating current (AC) sychronous motor, AC transmission, and electricity distribution (Nos. 381,968-70; 382,279-82).

In his extraordinary career, Tesla patented over 110 innovations, ranging from these (which he deployed at Niagara Falls among other spots; in the long run, Tesla was right and Edison– proponent of direct current/DC, and vicious opponent of Tesla– wrong: AC became the standard) to the first wireless remote control.  Tesla designed and began planning a “worldwide wireless communications system” that was backed by JP Morgan…  until Morgan lost confidence and pulled out.  “Cyberspace,” as described by the likes of Bill Gibson and Neal Stephenson, was largely prefigured in Tesla’s plan.  Often mis-remembered (as a fringe figure, almost a looney), if at all, Tesla was a remarkable genius, whose talent ran far, far ahead of his luck.  He died penniless in 1943.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“With recording, everything changed”*…

 

To the question “When were recordings invented?,” we might be tempted to answer “1877” — the year when Thomas A. Edison was first able to record and playback sound with a phonograph. But what if we think of recordings not as mere carriers of sound, but as commodities that can be bought and sold, as artifacts capable of capturing and embodying values and emotions; of defining a generation, a country or a social class? The story then becomes one that unfolds over three decades and is full of many layers and ramifications. Without Edison’s technological innovations, recordings would have certainly never existed — but hammering out the concept of recording were also a myriad of other inventors, musicians, producers and entrepreneurs from all over the world. Most of them were enthusiastic about being part of a global revolution, but they worked in close connection with their milieu too, shaping recording technologies and their uses to relate to the needs, dreams, and desires of the audiences they knew…

The full(er) story: “Inventing the Recording.”

* “With recording, everything changed. The prospect of music being detachable from time and place meant that one could start to think of music as a part of one’s furniture. It’s an idea that many composers have felt reluctant about because it seemed to them to diminish the importance of music.”  – Brian Eno

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As we drop the needle, we might recall that it was on this date in 1900 that “His Master’s Voice,” the logo of the Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA Victor), was registered with the US Patent Office. The logo famously featured the dog “Nipper” looking into the horn of a gramophone.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 16, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The radio was shouting at you, pleading with you, and seducing you”*…

 

For your holiday listening pleasure, from Studio Puckey, live radio streams (and more) from around the world: radio.garden.

* David Byrne, How Music Works

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As we touch that dial, we might recall that it was on this date in 1880 that New York’s “Great White Way” was born when Charles F. Brush successfully demonstrated his arc lamps along Broadway– two years before Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station began lighting New York.

Brush’s New York central power plant dynamos, which powered arc lamps from December, 1880 along a 2 mile long circuit, including Broadway

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(Coincidentally, on this date 20 years later, Nature reported the invention, by William Du Bois Duddell, an English physicist, of the Musical Arcs– the first fully electric musical instrument.)

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Cats have been domesticating and harvesting humans for at least two millennia”*…

 

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This film, featuring two cats wearing boxing gloves and packing a punch, was filmed in Thomas Edison’s studio in 1894. The performance was part of Professor Henry Welton’s “cat circus,” which toured the United States both before and after appearing in Edison’s film. Performances included cats riding small bicycles and doing somersaults, with the boxing match being the highlight of the show. As for why the cats were filmed (apart from being an early example of people enjoying footage of cats), it might have possibly been a publicity stunt to advertise the show. It could also quite possibly be the first ever “cat video” (though, of course, before the days of video).

Via Public Domain Review and the Library of Congress.

* “Cats have been domesticating and harvesting humans for at least two millennia, albeit slowly, generation by generation. With the Internet, they are moving much faster, and in only two or three more generations, we will be completely incapable of sustaining a line of thought for more than half a second, and therefore effectively be zombies in the service of our feline masters who will use lame Photoshoppers to communicate with us”

–Matt Smith

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As we memorialize memes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that Henry F. Phillips received several U.S. patents for the Phillips-head screw and screwdriver– a system in which a matching driver with a tapering tip conveniently self-centers in the screw head.  Phillips founded the Phillips Screw Company to license his patents, and persuaded the American Screw Company to manufacture the fasteners.  General Motors was convinced to use the screws on its 1937 Cadillac; by 1940, virtually every American automaker had switched to Phillips screws.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

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