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 … Continue reading Innovation and Scarcity (and Panic)

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 … Continue reading Peter M. Schuster on History of Science

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 … Continue reading Computers, Science, and History Thereof

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

Lest We Forget the Pioneer: Ottokar Tumlirz and His Early Demo of the Coriolis Effect

Two years ago I wrote an article about The Myth of the Toilet Flush, comparing the angular rotation caused by the earth's rotation to the typical rotation in experiments with garden hoses that make it easy to observe the Coriolis effect. There are several orders of magnitude in difference, and the effect can only be … Continue reading Lest We Forget the Pioneer: Ottokar Tumlirz and His Early Demo of the Coriolis Effect

A Sublime Transition

Don't expect anything philosophical or career-change-related. I am talking about water and its phase transition to ice because ... ...the fact that a process so common and important as water freezing is not fully resolved and understood, is astonishing. (Source) There are more spectacular ways of triggering this transition than just letting a tank of water … Continue reading A Sublime Transition

Carl Sagan’s Glorious Dawn: The Promise of Cosmos

This is a reblogged post:

Trying to catch up I am wading through social media streams and notifications. I am delighted to discover a post that echoes EXACTLY what I feel / have once felt as a teenager and high school student who had just decided to become a physicist. In his reflections Carl Sagan’s Cosmos Samir Chopra said it better than I would have been able to do. Quote: “I react the way I do to “A Glorious Dawn” because when I watch it I am reminded of a kind of naiveté, one that infected a part of life with a very distinct sense of possibility; I am reminded indeed, of an older personality, an older way of looking at the world. You could call this simple nostalgia for childhood; I think you’d be partially right. This nostalgia has many components, of course. Then, science, its methods and its knowledge, seemed sacrosanct; its history the most glorious record of human achievement, rising above its sordid record in other domains. It seemed to document a long struggle against many forms of intellectual and political tyranny. Because I was a student of science then–if only in school–I felt myself tapping into a long and glorious tradition, becoming part of a distinguished stream of humans possessed of epistemic and moral rectitude. And because I felt myself to be have just barely begun my studies, I sensed a long, colorful, adventure–perhaps as dramatic as those that I had seen depicted in Cosmos‘ many episodes–lay ahead of me.”

Samir Chopra

The YouTube video titled “A Glorious Dawn” starring Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking (their voices run through Auto-Tune ), and snippets from Sagan’s epic  Cosmos , has now racked up almost nine million views and twenty-seven thousand comments since it was first put up sometime back in 2009. (Mysteriously, in addition to its seventy-seven thousand ‘Likes’ it has also attracted over a thousand thumbs-downs. There’s no pleasing some people.)

To that count of nine million views I have made several dozen contributions. And cheesily enough, on each occasion, I have detected a swelling, a lump in my throat, and sometimes even, most embarrassingly, a slight moistening of the eyes. I am a grown man, supposedly well above such trite sentimentality. What gives?

Like many of those that write those glowing comments on YouTube, I too watched Cosmos as a youngster. I learned a great deal of astronomy and the history…

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This Year in Books: Biographies, Science, Essays.

I hardly review books on this blog, but I mull upon specific questions - to which books may have answers. This is my pick of books I enjoyed reading in 2013 - and the related questions! Biographies I have a penchant for physicists' lives in the first half of the 20th century. How did scientists … Continue reading This Year in Books: Biographies, Science, Essays.

Fragile Technology? (Confessions of a Luddite Disguised as Tech Enthusiast)

I warn you - I am in the mood for random long-winded philosophical ramblings. I have graduated recently again, denying cap-and-gown costume as I detest artificial Astroturf traditions such as re-importing academic rituals from the USA to Europe. A Subversive El(k)ement fond of uniforms would not be worth the name. However, other than that I … Continue reading Fragile Technology? (Confessions of a Luddite Disguised as Tech Enthusiast)

May the Force Field Be with You: Primer on Quantum Mechanics and Why We Need Quantum Field Theory

As Feynman explains so eloquently - and yet in a refreshingly down-to-earth way - understanding and learning physics works like this: There are no true axioms, you can start from anywhere. Your physics knowledge is like a messy landscape, built from different interconnected islands of insights. You will not memorize them all, but you need … Continue reading May the Force Field Be with You: Primer on Quantum Mechanics and Why We Need Quantum Field Theory

The Twisted Garden Hose and the Myth of the Toilet Flush

If you have wrapped your head around why and how the U-shaped tube in the flow meter (described in my previous post) is twisted by the Coriolis force - here is a video of a simple experiment brought to my attention by the author of the quoted article on gyroscope physics: You could also test it … Continue reading The Twisted Garden Hose and the Myth of the Toilet Flush

Joule, Thomson, and the birth of big science

This is a reblogged post:

I know that I might be guilty of putting too much emphasis on the fancy / sci-fi / geeky fields in physics, as demonstrated by my recent post on quantum field theory.

In order to compensate for that I want to reblog this excellent post by carnotcycle in order to demonstrate that I really like thermodynamics. And I mean good, old, phenomenological thermodynamics – pistons, steam engines, and seemingly simple machines (that look like exhibits at a steampunk convention).

Classical thermodynamics is underrated (re geekiness) compared to pondering on entropy and the arrow of time or entropy as it is used in computer science.

It is deceptively simple – you might think it is easy to understand the behavior of ideal gases and steam-powered engines. But isn’t it that type of experiments that often baffles the audience in science shows on TV?
The history of the research done by Joule and Thomson could give you a taste of that. I don’t think it is intuitive why or why not a gas should cool when flowing to a region of lower pressure.


Historical background

In early May 1852, in the cellar of a house in Acton Square, Salford, Manchester (England), two men began working a mechanical apparatus which consisted of the above hand-operated forcing pump attached to a coiled length of lead piping equipped with a stopcock at its far end to act as a throttle.

The two men were the owner of the house, 33-year-old James Joule, a Manchester brewer who was rapidly making a name for himself as a first-rate experimental scientist, and 27-year-old William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), a maverick theoretician who was already a professor of natural sciences at Glasgow University. Over a period of 10 days, they were to conduct a series of experiments with this highly original apparatus which would serve to crank experimental research into the modern era and herald the birth of what we would now call big science.

What Joule and Thomson were looking for…

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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, … Continue reading The First Heat Pump Ever Was Built in Austria

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 … Continue reading Einstein and His Patents

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 … Continue reading 111 Years: A Shining Example of Sustainable Product Development?

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 … Continue reading Physics Paradoxers and Outsiders

I Did Normal Science

Finally I am reading one of the most influential books on science: Thomas Kuhn - The Structure of Scientific Resolutions. I should have done so earlier, actually the book should be part of any science major's undergraduate curriculum. Naive as I was, I had expected to work on solving earth-shattering problems in physics, or at … Continue reading I Did Normal Science

I neither Met Newton nor Einstein

I am just reading The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin. I am not familiar with string theory, quantum gravity, and the related communities, so I cannot comment on Smolin's main statement. But there is a section in the last chapter of the book that resonated with me. He describes his expectations and feelings when … Continue reading I neither Met Newton nor Einstein