Archive for the ‘Cool Stuff’ Category

April 10, 2008

VSL Theory Says, “Yes”

A brilliant young physicist João Magueijo asks the heretical question: What if the speed of light—now accepted as one of the unchanging foundations of modern physics—were not constant?

Magueijo, a 40-year old native of Portugal, puts forth the heretical idea that in the very early days of the universe light traveled faster—an idea that if proven could dethrone Einstein and forever change our understanding of the universe. He is a pioneer of the varying speed of light (VSL) theory of cosmology -an alternative to the more mainstream theory of cosmic inflation- which proposes that the speed of light in the early universe was of 60 orders of magnitude faster than its present value.

Solving the most intractable problems of cosmology in one brilliant leap, Magueijo’s varying-speed-of-light theory (VSL) would have stunning implications for space travel, black holes, time dilation, and string theory—and could help uncover the grand unified theory that ultimately eluded Einstein.

Joao Magueijo’s radical ideas intend to turn that Einsteinian dogma on its head. Marueijo is trying to pick apart one of Einstein’s most impenetrable tenets, the constancy of the speed of light. This idea of a constant speed (about 3×106 meters/second) -is known as the universal speed limit. Nothing can, has, or ever will travel faster than light.

Magueijo -who received his doctorate from Cambridge, has been a faculty member at Princeton and Cambridge, and is currently a professor at Imperial College, London- says: not so. His VSL theory presupposes a speed of light that can be energy or time-space dependent.

In his fist book, Faster than the Speed of Light, Magueijo leads laymen readers into the abstract realm of theoretical physics, based on several well known, as well as obscure, thinkers. The VSL model was first proposed by John Moffat, a Canadian scientist, in 1992. Magueijo carefully builds the foundations for a discussion of Big Bang cosmology, and then segues into the second half of the book, which is devoted to VSL theory.

Like most radical, potentially seminal thinkers, Magueijo shakes the foundations of the physics community, while irritating off many of his fellow scientists. VSL purposes to solve the problems at which all cosmologists are forever scratching: those inscrutable conceptual puzzles that surround the Big Bang. Currently many of these problems have no widely accepted solutions.

Could Einstein be wrong and Magueijo right? Is he a gadfly or a true, seminal genius? Time will tell.

Posted by Casey Kazan.


 The real life of inventor Nikola Tesla was strange enough for fiction.

By Yvonne Zipp 

March 4, 2008 

Nikola Tesla’s biography reads like something created by Jules Verne and F. Scott Fitzgerald in a brainstorming session in an alternate universe. During his life, theories abounded about the inventor of alternating current (electricity as we know it) and radio. Some people thought he was literally from the future; others suspected Venus. There was even a rumor that he was a vampire. (It didn’t help that at one point Tesla claimed to be receiving messages from Mars.)Tesla’s last days are the subject of The Invention of Everything Else, an affectionate new novel by Samantha Hunt. Interplanetary theories aside, the electrical engineer was actually from a small village in Serbia, where at age 7, he created an engine that was powered by June bugs. As an adult, he showed up in New York at Thomas Edison’s factory with almost no money and a letter of introduction from Charles Batchelor, Edison’s factotum. It read simply: “I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man.”

The grown-up Tesla tried to manufacture lightning and once nearly destroyed his New York neighborhood with an accidental, man-made earthquake.

“It is not uncommon for the police to show up at my doorstep, following up on neighborhood complaints of blue flashes or sixteen-foot-long bolts of lightning streaming from the roof,” Tesla tells visiting friends.

Also, he talked to pigeons. But instead of turning him into the prototypical mad scientist, Hunt creates a loving portrait – pigeons and all – of a brilliant, charming man who was almost entirely unfettered by practical considerations, self-interest, or universally accepted limits.

Tesla died in debt, having once ripped up a contract that would have made him the world’s first billionaire.

(Charles Westinghouse begged him to because it would have bankrupted the company.) His ideal was free energy for all; he found the notion of someone owning electricity repugnant.

“How could I own alternating current?” he asks Edison, who was unencumbered by altruistic concerns. “That’s like owning thunder or lightning. I can’t agree with that.”

Not surprisingly, given his ideals, money had a way of eluding Tesla, despite his brilliance. Edison cheated him out of $50,000, and Marconi took credit for wireless, even though Tesla held the patents.

“Even my inventions have forgotten who invented them,” he grouses at one point. From being a sought-out 19th-century bachelor, he becomes first a figure of ridicule (those messages from Mars didn’t exactly play well in the media, and at one point, Superman battles an evil scientist named Tesla) and then, after a while, Tesla was entirely forgotten.

These slights weigh heavily on the octogenarian who occupies Room 3327 at the Hotel New Yorker in 1943.

But “The Invention of Everything Else” isn’t a depressing read. Instead, it’s a love letter, to both Tesla and a bygone New York that seems cleaner than even in Rudy Giuliani’s wildest dreams.

The lonely man strikes up a gentle friendship with a curious chambermaid, Louisa, who likes to nose through guests’ belongings and discovers a treasure trove of memoirs and magical-looking devices when she snoops in 3327.

Through Louisa, we learn about Tesla’s childhood, his rivalry with Edison, and his friendship with poet Robert Underwood and his wife. That last was a rarity for Tesla, who believed that human interaction would distract him from his inventions.

“I can’t allow myself to have many feelings for humans besides curiosity. My life does not allow for it,” he explains.

Louisa, who is addicted to scary radio programs, lives with her father, Walter, a night watchman at the New York Public Library, who’s obsessively in love with her dead mother. When his best friend claims to have invented a working time machine, Walter becomes determined to travel to the past.

Also, Louisa strikes up a burgeoning romance with a man named Arthur Vaughn, who might be a mechanic and might possibly be from the future.

Hunt is trying to cram a lot into 250 pages. The combination of history and old-fashioned science fiction is a winning one, but at times, the plot of “The Invention of Everything Else” sags under the overload. Some subplots promise more than they deliver, such as one where government agents spy on Tesla and take Louisa into custody.

But in Nikola Tesla, Hunt has a character of such electric charm that his brilliance powers the novel.

Links to more Tesla stuff: 

By Glenn Hasek

 A cut-away of a lamp from ilumisys
 NATIONAL REPORT—In meeting rooms, back of house and other areas of your hotel, chances are great that you are using T-12 fluorescent lamps or the more efficient T-8s to illuminate large spaces. At least two companies—ilumisys, Inc. in Troy, Mich., and LEDdynamics, Inc. in Randolph, Vt.—are trying to replace these linear fluorescents with LED alternatives that are more energy efficient and safer for the environment. Fluorescent tubes include mercury and despite recycling efforts, 500 million to 600 million lamps end up in landfills each year. LED alternatives do not include mercury.“LED lamps also last longer, which means you throw away less waste,” says Dave Simon, president of ilumisys. “They are, on average, 10 percent more efficient, are dimmable, and can interface with smart building and HVAC systems.”

While not significantly more energy efficient than their fluorescent counterparts today, linear LED lamps are expected to be three times more efficient in the next five years. They currently cost more than fluorescents but once labor and waste reduction is factored in, they begin to make sense, especially for high locations that are difficult to access.

Simon’s company has installed its new products in batches of hundreds at several pilot sites. The LED lamps are “drop in” replacements for fluorescents and are compatible with standard, ballast-equipped fluorescent light fixtures. Similarly, lamps produced by LEDdynamics are also compatible with standard fixtures.

LED Light is More Direct

Linear LED lamps perform somewhat differently than their fluorescent counterparts in that they produce a directed, rather than a disbursed light.

“They need to be aimed properly,” Simon says. “Color temperature options can vary from very warm to classic harsh blue light. LEDs don’t put out radiant light. They produce less heat than fluorescents. The heat that is generated is produced through the connection to the circuit board. The more light per watt, the less heat that is generated.”

So far, ilumisys has primarily been generating 48-inch lamps as replacements for T-8s and T-12s. LEDdynamics is also producing 48-inch lamps. The lamps are recyclable, flicker free and can last 10 years.

Late last year, ilumisys was presented with the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s first award for outstanding diversification achievement in alternative energy companies. The company was selected as the small business winner. Also last year, LEDdynamics received the Popular Science “Best of 2007 Innovation Award”—in the Green Tech category—for the EverLED-TR product line.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, energy consumption for lighting could be reduced by more than 20 percent by 2020 through the use of solid state LED-based lighting.

Go to ilumisys and LEDdynamics.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at

Mother Earth News Original Article                                                                                  

Few new housing designs have drawn as much attention—or caused as much controversy—as has the double envelope. Pioneered in 1977 by Lee Porter Butler and Tom Smith in a house near Lake Tahoe, California (see

MOTHER NO. 56, page 120), the two-shell concept has gained an enthusiastic following. At the same time, however, the theory behind the thermal envelope has created a stir among solar designers.

When the Smith house was built, the dynamics of its performance were completely theoretical. No one had carefully instrumented such a building, and—accordingly—many architects and engineers reserved their acclaim . . . pending the availability of data on the efficiency of distribution and storage of the solar heat taken in through the home’s large south facing glass area.

Today there are hundreds of double envelope houses around the country, and the performance of the concept has been well documented. Very few experts now question the fact that thermal-envelope buildings are quite efficient … but the quibbling over why they work and about how well they compare with other passive designs, continues.


The “collector” system for a thermal envelope house is a heat-producing sun space (which can, in many climates, double as a year-round greenhouse). It’s the method by which the sun space is incorporated into the structure’s heating system that sets this sort of dwelling apart from other solar-heated houses.

As the term “double envelope” implies, such a building is actually a house within a house. The exterior shell is load-bearing, and generally has a minimum of R-19 insulation. Between the outer and inner skins lies an air space (usually at least a foot wide) which extends from the east to the west end of the house along the roof line and the north wall. The inner wall is generally thinner—since the small temperature difference between the building’s interior and the air space requires less insulation—and supports only the structure of the living space. The passageway between the two walls is linked to the greenhouse by a crawl space or basement, which feeds air up through gaps in the boards of the solarium floor

The circulation of air through the envelope is entirely passive. The system takes advantage of the fact that warm air is less dense (and therefore more buoyant, since gravity’s influence is reduced) than is cold air. Sun-heated currents rise in the greenhouse and enter the envelope at the room’s peak … while the air between the shells—and particularly that along the north wall—loses heat and falls. The solar-heated air is then pulled through the passageway and the subfloor area, and returns to the sun space from below

Furthermore, as the air passes through the subfloor area, some of the heat it still holds is absorbed by the surrounding earth, rock, and/or masonry. These massive materials take in and store the warmth as long as they’re cooler than the circulating air. During the evening, however, the storage temperature may actually exceed that of the circulating air … which causes the thermal mass to give up heat.

A double envelope also taps its storage passively by reversing the convective loop. During the night the structure’s greatest heat loss is through the expanse of glass in the sun space. That cooling causes air to fall to the floor of the greenhouse, while the (relatively) warmer air of the storage area rises and is forced up the north wall cavity. The continual imbalance in pressure then keeps the loop flowing.

In the summertime, however, the sun space is likely to gain far too much solar energy . . . despite the fact that the tilted glass is oriented to admit winter—but not summer—sun. To prevent overheating, vents are usually set into the roof peak of an envelope house, allowing the rising hot air to escape. And in some designs, “cool pipes” (air intake tubes buried in the ground . . . see the article on page 128 for a fuller explanation of this system) are linked to the crawl space so that earth temperature air can be drawn in and distributed through the envelope.

The energy-saving capabilities of the envelope design are numerous. For one thing, a great deal of solar heat is taken in through the greenhouse, and at least some excess warmth is stored in the crawl space for use during the night or on cloudy days. Consequently, most double envelope houses require very little backup heat. In fact, they often satisfy 80% (or more) of their thermal needs directly from the sun.

Now there’s no question that a large part of the energy efficiency of such structures does result from their thick insulation. The two shells and large air gap produce a total R-value that typically exceeds 30! In addition, the double walls reduce infiltration (direct air leakage) to the living space and dramatically improve the thermal resistance of any north-facing windows … because of the roughly 12″-wide air space. (In fact, that gap can, in effect, increase window Rvalue by as much as 4 . . . without producing the condensation that tends to be a problem in conventional multipane windows.)

Another thermal benefit of the envelope concept shows up in the form of comfort. Because the air circulating inside the envelope is significantly warmer than that outdoors, the difference in temperature (or At, in heating engineers’ lingo) between the living area and the air passage is relatively small. Thus the heat loss for the inner wall is less than that of an equivalent insulative fraction of a single wall whose total Rvalue equals the double envelope’s. As a result, the surfaces of the envelope’s interior walls remain warmer than would equally insulated single-layer walls.

Envelope home residents also enjoy pleasantly stable humidity through the winter, since moist greenhouse atmosphere is continually circulated through the air space and can be admitted to the living quarters by cracking a door or window. (In the summer, however, excess humidity—and heat—is vented at the sunspace peak.) Furthermore, the constant but gentle and silent circulation of air prevents stagnation and lends a balmy feeling to the interior environment.

Article continues here

Original Article  From “The Independent” UK                      

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Friday, 8 February 2008
Why are we asking this now?

Two Russian mathematicians have suggested that the giant atom-smasher being built at the European centre for nuclear research, Cern, near Geneva, could create the conditions where it might be possible to travel backwards or forwards in time. In essence, Irina Aref’eva and Igor Volovich believe that the Large Hadron       Collider at Cern, which is due to be switched on this year for the first time, might create tiny “wormholes” in space which could allow some form of limited time travel.

If true, this would mark the first time in human history that a time machine has been created. If travelling back in time is possible at all, it should in theory be only possible to travel back to the point when the first time machine was created and so this would mean that time travellers from the future would be able to visit us. As an article in this week’s New Scientist suggests, this year – 2008 – could become “year zero” for time travel.

Is this really a serious proposition?

The New Scientist article points out that there are many practical problems and theoretical paradoxes to time travel. “Nevertheless, the slim possibility remains that we will see visitors from the future in the next year,” says the magazine says, rather provocatively.It has to be said that few scientists accept the idea that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will create the conditions thought to be necessary for time travel. The LHC is designed to probe the mysterious forces that exist at the level of sub-atomic particles, and as such will answer many important questions, such as the true nature of gravity. It is not designed as a time machine.In any case, if the LHC became a time machine by accident, the device would exist only at the sub-atomic level so we are not talking about a machine like Dr Who’s Tardis, which is able to carry people forwards and backwards from the future.

What do the experts say about the idea of time travel?

The theoretical possibility is widely debated, but everyone agrees that the practical problems are so immense that it is, in all likelihood, never going to happen. Brian Cox, a Cern researcher at the University of Manchester, points out that even if the laws of physics do not prohibit time travel, that doesn’t mean to say it’s going to happen, certainly in terms of travelling back in time.”Saying that the laws of physics as we know them permit travel into the past is the same as saying that, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell, they permit a teapot to be in orbit around Venus,” Dr Cox says. It’s possible, but not likely.”Time travel into the future is absolutely possible, in fact time passes at a different rate in orbit than it does on the ground, and this has to be taken into consideration in order for satellite navigation systems to work. But time travel into the past, although technically allowed in Einstein’s theory, will in the opinion of most physicists be ruled out when, and if, we develop a better understanding of the fundamental laws of physics – and that’s what the LHC is all about.

“Why is the possibility of time travel even considered?

It comes down to the general theory of relativity devised by Albert Einstein in 1905. It is the best theory we have so far on the nature of space and time and it was Einstein who first formulated the mathematical equations that related both time and space in the form of an entity called “space-time”. Those equations and the theory itself do not prohibit the idea of time travel, although there have been many attempts since Einstein to prove that travelling back in time is impossible.

Is there anything to support the theory?

Lots of science fiction writers have had fun with time travel, going back to H.G. Wells, whose book The Time Machine was published in 1895 – 10 years before Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Interestingly, it was another attempt at science fiction that revived the modern interest in time travel.

When Carl Sagan, the American astronomer, was writing his 1986 novel Contact, he wanted a semi-plausible way of getting round the problem of not being able to travel faster than the speed of light – which would break a fundamental rule of physics. He needed his characters to travel through vast distances in space, so he asked his cosmologist friend Kip Thorne to come up with a possible way of doing it without travelling faster than light.

Thorne suggested that by manipulating black holes it might be possible to create a “wormhole” through space-time that would allow someone to travel from one part of the Universe to another in an instant. He later realised that this could also in theory be used to travel back in time. It was just a theory of course, and no one has come close to solving the practical problem of manipulating black holes and creating wormholes, but the idea seemed to be sound. It spawned a lot of subsequent interest in wormholes and time travel, hence the latest idea by the two Russian mathematicians.

Apart from the practicalities, what’s to stop time travel?

The biggest theoretical problem is known as the time-travel paradox. If someone travels back in time and does something to prevent their own existence, then how can time travel be possible? The classic example is the time traveller who kills his grandfather before his own father is conceived.

Cosmologists, renowned for their imaginative ingenuity, have come up with a way round this paradox. They have suggested that there is not one universe but many – so many that every possible outcome of any event actually takes place. In this multiple universe, or “multiverse” model, a woman who goes back in time to murder her own granny can get way with it because in the universe next door the granny lives to have the daughter who becomes the murderer’s mother.

Where does this leave the time machine in Geneva?

The science writer and physicist John Gribbin, who explains these things better than most, points to a saying in physics: anything that is not forbidden is compulsory. “So they expect time machines to exist. The snag is that the kind of accidental ‘time tunnel’ that could be produced by the LHC in Geneva would be a tiny wormhole far smaller than an atom, so nothing would be able to go through it. So there won’t be any visitors from the future turning up in Geneva just yet. I’d take it all with a pinch of salt, but it certainly isn’t completely crazy.”

So, not completely crazy, just a bit crazy.

So will we one day be able to travel into the future?


* There is nothing in the laws of physics to prohibit it, and events in Geneva are pointing the way and could be a first step
* In physics, so the saying goes, if nothing is prohibited, it must    happen at some point
* All we need to do is to work out how to manipulate black holes and    wormholes, and away we goNo…* The practical problems with time travel are too immense to solve, and even    if you could, who would want to?* You might travel back in time and kill one of your grandparents by    accident. Then where would you be?

* If time travel is possible, why are we still waiting to welcome our first    visitors from the future?