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Tuesday
Jan142014

Test flying new aircraft can have its ups and downs

The Douglas XB-19 Photo: US Airforce

When a brand new aircraft takes to the sky for the very first time, just about every aspect of the aircrafts' performance has been predicted to a tee. Computer modelling and flight simulators allows the test pilot to experience how the aircraft will perform long before wheels ever leave a runway.

But things were not always this way. Take the 1940's for example. There was no computer aided design (CAD) back in those days. So pilots took aircraft into the air for the first time with crossed fingers and a lucky charm in the pocket. And one look at the video below will tell you why. In this landing, anyone sitting at the front of the aircraft would have tested their nerves as oscillations because just prior to touchdown. But spare a thought for anyone at the rear of the aircraft. Air-sick bags anyone?

 

The Douglas XB-19 was a prototype aircraft designed to test flight characteristics for giant bombers. It was the largest bomber built for the US at that time. Weighing 82 tons it was that heavy the wheels broke through the runway on at least one occasion. 

Only one of these aircraft were ever built. It was replaced by an even larger aircraft, the Convair B-36 peacemaker.

Tuesday
Jan142014

Forget global warming - looks like the next ice age is coming

Many people will tell you that global warming is a fact. Well, maybe not anyone from most of the United States given last weeks polar vortex that sent temperatures to record lows. You also probably won't get much argument from a few Norwegians either. Especially the ones that came across thousands of fish snap frozen in a bay in the island of Lovund, Norway. According to a story from website gizmodo a very low air temperature combined with the wrong kind of winds blew these poor fish into instant oblivion.

I don't want to be around for the smell when the ice melts.

The cold is making life tough for more than just fish in Norway, with this story of a poor moose found frozen in another Norwegian lake

 

Saturday
Jan112014

My train set is bigger than yours. Err... no it's not!

Like many kids, I had a train set. Mine was better than most. My dad helped me build it on a wooden board. It had buildings and accessories that interacted with the train. Railway signals that worked. Rolling stock that unloaded cargo automatically. Yes, I was a train nerd. Well train nerds unite. 

At Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg Germany you will find a train set. Actually you will find the world's largest train set! It's actually more like a miniature world. And you have to see it to believe it. Check out the video below.

 

Wunderland consists of 8 "worlds", Harz, Knuffingen, Austria, Hamburg, America, Switzerland, Scandanavia and "The Airport". Future areas under construction are Italy and France, with England and Africa to follow. The airport section alone took 6 years and 3.5 million euros to build. And unlike your dinky train set at home, this marvel even simulates night and day. When night falls (every 15 minutes), the lights go on and it becomes a whole new experience unveiling sights unseen in the sunlight.

According to the official website the stats on this mini world are truly amazing. 

  • Model Area - 1,300 m3
  • Track length
  • Rolling stock - 14,450
  • Lights - 335,000
  • Signals - 1,270
  • Buildings and bridges
  • Figurines - 215,000
  • Human Staff - 230
  • Construction Commenced - December 2000
  • Total cost to date - 12,000,000 euros

And the good news is that they will continue expanding for at least another 6 years with construction planned until at least 2020!


     

 

Friday
Jan102014

Image of the Week - The best selfie you can take

Astronaut Mike Hopkins Xmas Eve 2013 Photo: NASAOK, I admit it. I don't understand the selfie. Those silly photos that people take of themselves, usually with the aid of the bathroom mirror. But I am in the minority. Selfie's have taken over the world... with the help of Instagram and Facebook. In fact, "selfie" has been named international word of the year by the Oxford dictionary.

But selfie's like the one above of NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, Expedition 38 Flight Engineer, taken on December 24, 2013 is one that beats most. 

Tuesday
Jan072014

Robots are starting to lie to humans - Skynet is on the way

Robots or computers that turn against their human creators has been a well used storyline for over a century. Whether its Colossus in The Forbin Project, HAL in 2001, or SKYNET in Terminator 2, man made entities that become self-aware and then seek to destroy its creators always seemed so far into the future that we need not worry just yet.

Sadly, the future is upon us. According to the story on i09.com robocalls are being made to people that sound exactly like a real person. The scary part (and this is where Skynet comes in) is that the robots have been pre-programmed to lie to the human about whether the call is real or robotic.

The story on i09.com details a phone call received by Time magazine's Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer, where an articulate woman asked him if he wanted a better deal on his health insurance. Michael became suspicious and during the call (and during subsequent calls) began asking directly if the caller was a robot. The way the robot responses avoided the question reminded me a little too much of this scene from Blade Runner.

One thing to think about when contemplating how the future could turn on the human race. Most often it's the military, or the military industrial complex (MIC) that is portrayed as the problem in our future. And it could be. But let's not forget corporate greed. Most likely it will be a corporation driven by the desire to make fast money that will unleash some monster that will require a bigger cleanup than any single nuclear device ever could.

Listen to the call below.

Monday
Jan062014

The Ross sisters were Cirque du Soleil before there was Cirque du Soleil

 

The Ross Sisters (Aggie Ross, Elmira Ross, and Maggie Ross) performed in the 1940's as singers,dancers and contortionists. Sounding a little like the Andrews sisters, they had an extra trick that had to be seen to be believed.  The clip below is from the MGM movie Broadway Rhythm. Fast forward to the 1 minute mark if you want to see some of their versatility.

This was Cirque du Soleil World War 2 style.

Monday
Dec232013

It's time for a Christmas story

It's that time of the year again. The time when boys and girls (as well as men and women) hope that Santa knows how good they have been all year. Whenever a child asks me if Santa Clause is real I always answer something like ... "do you think all of us adults would go to all of this trouble for something that's made up"? I mean, there is all those SANTA STOP HERE signs, the photo Santa's in most malls and stores, we make movies about Santa and sing carols about him. Could all of us adults be so deluded?

Trust an Engineer to answer that question.

 

An Engineers View on Santa

1) No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen. 


2) There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn't (appear) to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total - 378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each. 

3) Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about. .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc. 

This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man- made vehicle on Earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour. 

4) The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison - this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth. 

5) 353,000 tons travelling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecrafts re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

In conclusion - 
        If Santa ever DID exist, he's dead now. 

 

Sorry about that kids!

Monday
Dec162013

Image of the week - The Crab Nebula

Photo: ESA/Herschel/PACS/MESS Key Programme Supernova Remnant Team; NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University)

This stunning image is actually a composite view of the Crab nebula, the leftover of a supernova in our Milky Way galaxy, as seen by the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. 

The Crab nebula was observed by Chinese astronomers in the year 1054 and may have been bright enough to be seen during daylight.

Hubble captured the visible light, seen here in blue, while Herschel's infra red image is shown here in red. Their combination is amazing.

 

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