Plural Form

Take a figure of a historical patent, meticulously drawn before there was software. It’s a Plural Grating Spectrograph. Wonder about the appeal of antique technical drawings. So modest, so sublime. Copy it, multiply it. Slowly rotate the color wheel, until the purples meet the reds again. This is an impossible spectrum. There are no purples…

Tribute to a Pragmatic Swiss Solar Pioneer – Who Called to Action in 1989

He is called a pragmatic doer, knowing his physics and engineering, devoid of ideology. This is how Josef Jenni is introduced in the preface to his document called How can we achieve the energy transition (Wie erreichen wir die Energiewende). It’s a manifesto and a technical overview – by the pioneer whose company had built…

Pioneers of the Oil Shock Era

…. a lot had been done right after the 1973 oil embargo but there exist almost no documents on theses activities. The concerned pioneers were realizing all types of heat pump systems, sometimes day and night. But they did not care for publishing. … says Professor of Engineering Martin Zogg, in his research report History…

Innovation and Scarcity (and Panic)

I tried to avoid such words. They sounded like hollow buzzwords in times of abundance, used by advertizers playing on fears. But our complacent world is taught a lesson, right now, at furious speed. I am following news as everybody else, I am reading about gloomy forecasts. An Austria paper mill has announced today it…

Jellyfish of Diffraction

Diffraction patterns, again. But this time I tack them to an imaginary semi-circular screen. Screens grow bigger in radius with increasing wavelength – growing more reddish. If every wavelength would be diffracted in the same way, all peaks would lie on a radius of the circle. But as red is diffracted more, maxima move to…

Newton’s Space Probes Investigate my Ribbons of Diffraction

I have been calculating diffraction patterns for visible light. Curves are displaced to turn the whole structure into a wavy ribbon built from colored wires or threads. I have turned these images into collages, adding Isaac Newton’s drawings from Opticks (1704). The more I moved Newton’s figures around, and the more I twisted the ribbons…

Circles to Circles

Using stereographic projection, you create a distorted image of the surface of a sphere, stretched out to cover an infinite plane. Each point on the sphere is mapped to a point in the equatorial plane by a projection ray starting at a pole of the sphere. Draw a circle on the sphere, e.g. by intersecting…

Vintage Covectors

Covectors in the Dual Space. This sounds like an alien tribe living in a parallel universe hitherto unknown to humans. In this lectures on General Relativity, Prof. Frederic Schuller says: Now comes a much-feared topic: Dual vector space. And it’s totally unclear why this is such a feared topic! A vector feels familiar: three numbers…

Peter M. Schuster on History of Science

The late Dr. Peter M. Schuster was a physicist and historian of science. After a career in industry, he founded a laser technology startup. Recovering from severe illness, he sold his company and became an author, science writer, and historian. He founded echophysics – the European Center for the History of Physics – in Pöllau…

Poets Who Speak of Jupiter

In the third chapter of the first volume of his legendary physics lectures, Richard Feynman discusses the relation of physics to other sciences. He says that astronomy got physics started, and its most remarkable discovery is that stars are made of atoms of the same kind as those on the earth. He adds this famous…

Gödel’s Proof

Gödel’s proof is the (meta-)mathematical counterpart of the paradoxical statement This sentence is false. In his epic 1979 debut book Gödel, Escher, Bach Douglas Hofstadter intertwines computer science, math, art, biology with a simplified version of the proof. In 2007 he revisits these ideas in I Am a Strange Loop. Hofstadter writes: … at age…

The RSA Algorithm

You want this: Encrypt a message to somebody else – using information that is publicly available. Somebody else should then be able to decrypt the message, using only information they have; nobody else should be able to read this information. The public key cryptography algorithm RSA does achieve this. This article is my way of…

The Solar Self-Building Movement

Every year the International Energy Agency publishes a detailed report on worldwide usage of solar thermal energy. The last one from 2019 is based on data from 2017. Countries are ranked by their installed capacity: Collectors’ thermal heating power under standard operating conditions is linked to their area: 0.7 kWth (kilo Watt thermal) per square…

Computers, Science, and History Thereof

I am reading three online resources in parallel – on the history and the basics of computing, computer science, software engineering, and the related culture and ‘philosophy’. An accidental combination I find most enjoyable. Joel on Software: Joel Spolsky’s blog – a collection of classic essays. What every developer needs to know about Unicode. New terms…

Peter von Rittinger’s Steam Pump (AKA: The First Heat Pump)

Peter von Rittinger’s biography reads like a Victorian novel, and his invention was a text-book example of innovation triggered by scarcity. Born 1811, he was poor and became an orphan early. Yet he was able to study mathematics and physics as his secondary education had been financed by the Piarist Order. He also studied law…

Cistern-Based Heat Pump – Research Done in 1993

One of the most recent search terms on this blog was: ‘cistern for water source heat pump’. I wanted to double-check and searched for this phrase myself. This was the first Google Search result: Cistern-Based Water-Source Heat Pump System Design … a research paper that had been available for download at the website of Iowa…

A 1970s Pioneer in Self-Sufficient Living

Living in southern France, Jean Pain developed a self-sustaining ecosystem in the 1970s that supplied his home with 100% of the energy needed. He built a 50 tons compost mound from chipped wood – brushwood that had to be cleaned out to lower the risk of forest fires. Heat exchanger pipes were buried in the heap while it was built….

The First Heat Pump Ever Was Built in Austria

I have confessed recently that I am from Austria. So the patriot in me wants to entertain her readers with the story of a milestone in the history of engineering thermodynamics – set by an Austrian! The development of the first heat pump is attributed to Peter von Rittinger [1]. (Note that [1] is by a Swiss author,…

Einstein and His Patents

No, this is not about Einstein’s achievements as a moonlighting scientific paradigm shifter, while working as a patent examiner in his day job. Einstein is famous for the theories of special and general relativity, and for the correct explanation of the photoelectric effect that has been rewarded with the Nobel prize. It is not so common knowledge that he contributed…

111 Years: A Shining Example of Sustainable Product Development?

The centennial light bulb has celebrated its 110th birthday last year and the story has percolated the web. According to its web cam the bulb is still alive. This light bulb has caused quite a stir when featured in the documentary on planned obsolescence: The Light Bulb Conspiracy. Actually, the bulb technology is very different from modern incandescent bulbs (that are not so…

Physics Paradoxers and Outsiders

As I did – plain and straightforward – normal science, I do not consider to develop my personal Theory of Everything or to build my personal perpetuum mobile. I am pretty conservative with respect to the laws of thermodynamics and just understanding the main orthodox candidates for theories of everything today is already a a larger-than-life task…