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Lyle Zapato


Lyle Zapato | 2007-01-12.6550 LMT | Announcement

Another reason to celebrate...

2007 is the Centenary Year of Lord Kelvin becoming One with Entropy.

The University of Glasgow, where Lord Kelvin both taught and learned for over 70 years (he was accepted at the age of ten, holding the record for the youngest college student ever until recently, and never left -- quickly working his way up to Professor and eventually Chancellor, all the while professing that he remained a student), is planning to celebrate Lord Kelvin's life and contributions to Mankind (details on page 6 of the UG News Review [1.25 Mio PDF]). Observances there include (and included -- sorry, a bit late with this post):

  • The St. Mungo Lecture, which is a "celebration of the history, culture, humanity and passion which distinguishes Glasgow and its citizens", launched the Kelvin Centenary Year on January 9th.
  • In April, a series of talks by distinguished scientists taking a modern look at Kelvin's work.
  • Kelvin Honorary Degrees awarded on the University's Commemoration Day in June.
  • A one-day meeting to celebrate his achievements some time in autumn.
  • And in closing in December, a one-man performance by science promoter Johnny Ball in honor of Lord Kelvin.

If you can't make it to Glasgow, read Lord Kelvin's statements on the 50th anniversary of his professorship for some insight into what he might say were he there to join in the celebrations.

Lyle Zapato

A Father's Tachyon Transceiver

Lyle Zapato | 2006-08-25.2698 LMT | Technology | Letters

Although it may not seem it at first, Christopher R. Davy's 2001 patent application for The Tachyon Transceiver is the heart-warming, feel-good patent application of the summer.

What is a Tachyon Transceiver? Davy claims:

The Tachyon Transceiver(s) can send or receive a resonance from one point in spacetime to another point in spacetime instantaneously without a relativistic time-delay.

Interesting, but probably not as practical as St. Clair's Remote Viewing Amplifier. As we shall see, however, the real interest here isn't technological, but human.


Lyle Zapato


Lyle Zapato | 2006-03-26.9900 LMT | Announcement | Technology

The Tesla Society has asked me to mention that Nikola Tesla's 150th birthday is coming up on July 10, 2006. Be sure to join in the WORLDWIDE TESLABRATIONS! You still have plenty of time to build your own Tesla coil.

Lord Kelvin thought highly of Tesla, saying that he had "contributed more to electrical science than any man up to his time." It was Kelvin who in 1893 headed the Niagara Falls Commission which chose Tesla's AC technology over Edison's DC.

When Tesla was being mocked by the media for revealing that he received radio transmissions from Mars, Kelvin came to his defense and silenced all criticism by proclaiming himself in complete agreement that Mars was signalling New York, since it was the "most marvellous lighted city in the world" and the only place visible to the Martians.

(Kelvin's proclamation was reported in "Lord Kelvin Believes Mars Now Signalling America", Philadelphia North American, May 18, 1902, Mag. Sec. V, which I haven't yet seen. If anyone knows where to find a copy of this, or any other related reports, please contact me.)

(UPDATE: Lord Kelvin later denied he agreed with Tesla on Martian signals. See: "On the Martians Signalling Earth.")

Kelvin and Tesla also corresponded, as well as exchanging books on electrical science and Vedic philosophy:

15, Eaton Place
London, S.W.
May 20, 1902

Dear Mr. Tesla,

I do not know how I can ever thank you enough for the most kind letter of May, 10, which I found in my cabin in the Lucania, with the beautiful books which you most kindly sent me along with it:--"The Buried Temple", "The Gospel of Bhudda", "Les Grands Inities", the exquisite edition of Rossetti's "House of Life", and last but not least the Century Magazine for June, 1900 with the splendid and marvellous photographs on pp. 176, 187, 190, 191, 192, full of electrical lessons.

We had a most beautiful passage across the Atlantic, much the finest I have ever had. I was trying hard nearly all the way, but quite unsuccessfully, to find something definite as to the functions of ether in respect to plain, old fashioned magnetism. A propos of this, I have instructed the publishers, Messrs. Macmillan, to send you at the Waldorf a copy of my book (Collection of Separate Papers) on Electrostatics and Magnetism. I shall be glad if you will accept it from me as a very small mark of my gratitude to you for your kindness. You may possibly find something interesting in the articles on Atmospheric Electricity which it contains.

Lady Kelvin joins me in kind regards, and I remain,

Yours always truly,


Thank you also warmly for the beautiful flowers.

Lyle Zapato

Panspermia In the News

Lyle Zapato | 2006-01-07.8900 LMT | Nature

A paper to be published on red, cell-like particles that rained over India in 2001 has rekindled interest in panspermia -- the hypothesis that life on earth was seeded from space. The paper's researchers also wrote two unpublished papers on the subject in 2003 that made stronger panspermian claims (#1 & #2).

I'm repeating this story and links swiped from Slashdot only so I can add this quote from Lord Kelvin giving the reasoning behind the concept:

Lord Kelvin

Every year thousands, probably millions, of fragments of solid matter fall upon the Earth—whence came these fragments? What is the previous history of any one of them? Was it created in the beginning of time an amorphous mass? This idea is so unacceptable that, tacitly or explicitly, all men reject it. It is often assumed that all, and it is certain that some, meteoric stones are fragments which had been broken off from greater masses and launched free into space. It is as sure that collisions must occur between great masses moving through space as it is that ships, steered without intelligence directed to prevent collision, could not cross and recross the Atlantic for thousands of years with immunity from collisions. When two great masses come into collision in space it is certain that a large part of each is melted; but it seems also quite certain that in many cases a large quantity of debris must be shot forth in all directions, much of which may have experienced no greater violence than individual pieces of rock experience in a land-slip or in blasting by gunpowder. Should the time when this earth comes into collision with another body, comparable in dimensions to itself, be when it is still clothed as at present with vegetation, many great and small fragments carrying seed and living plants and animals would undoubtedly be scattered through space. Hence and because we all confidently believe that there are at present, and have been from time immemorial, many worlds of life besides our own, we must regard it as probable in the highest degree that there are countless seed-bearing meteoric stones moving about through space. If at the present instant no life existed upon this earth, one such stone falling upon it might, by what we blindly call natural causes, lead to its becoming covered with vegetation. I am fully conscious of the many scientific objections which may be urged against this hypothesis; but I believe them to be all answerable. I have already taxed your patience too severely to allow me to think of discussing any of them on the present occasion. The hypothesis that life originated on this earth through moss-grown fragments from the ruins of another world may seem wild and visionary; all I maintain is that it is not unscientific.

Lord Kelvin, August 1871.

Lyle Zapato

Lord Kelvin: Military Leader

Lyle Zapato | 2005-11-23.9400 LMT | Random Found Thing

From an eBay auction for a 1912 biography, Lord Kelvin: His Life and Work (emphasis added, all of it sic):

Lord Kelvin

Lord Kelvin was one of those super human beings who
excelled in everything he did.
Born in Ireland 1824, his father moved to Glasgow to be
a mathematics chair in Glasgow University. Then only
11 years old Lord Kelvin became a student there and
quickly became the star student!
He excelled in other
universities and even rowed in the winning team of
Oxford/Cambridge race. At age of 22 he became the
chair of natural philosophy in University of Glasgow
for 47 years, becoming a well-known author and authority.

He was one of the first persons to recognize the importance
of electricity and telgraphy. He developed many patents
of mathematics and physical inventions.
He was a specialist in heat, wave-motion,
electrostatics and magnetism.
He is most well known as a military leader.
This book has an emphasis on his scientific work.

Right. If you want a book with an emphasis on his military leadership in the war to liberate Mars, you need to read the previously mentioned one.

Lyle Zapato

Edison's Conquest of Mars

Lyle Zapato | 2005-11-14.5800 LMT | Entertainment | Technology | Retro

As previously mentioned, Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss is an unauthorized 1898 sequel to H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. Unauthorized by Wells, that is. It was authorized by Thomas A. Edison, and the story reads like an Edison promotional vehicle (which it essentially was):

Edison reveals his inventions to the assembled leaders of Earth, including the insufferable Kaiser Wilhelm -- curse his handlebar moustache!


Lyle Zapato

Gun-Slinging Lord Kelvin Speaks!

Lyle Zapato | 2005-09-26.2470 LMT

Voices of History 2: Arts, Science & Exploration, a new CD set of rare and historic recordings from the British Library, features the only known recording of Lord Kelvin speaking. Unfortunately, no word on what he has to say. It's available on the 28th.

Also newly available: Edison's Conquest of Mars (IEEE review with background info) -- the first full reprint with original illustrations of the unauthorized, serialized technothriller sequel to H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, written a year later in 1898 by astronomer and science journalist Garrett P. Serviss.

The novel, a classic example of Edisonade (Victorian and Edwardian era science fiction -- see here for more info on the genre), is primarily about Thomas Edison leading a counter-attack against the Red Scourge of Mars, and features cameo appearances from other famous contemporary scientists, including a "disintegrator-gun-slinging Lord Kelvin."

I haven't read it, but I hope while blasting Martians he gets in some good action lines like "You, like radio, have no future!" or "To measure is to know, but to disintegrate is to DIE!"

UPDATE: I have since read it and added a review.

Lyle Zapato

Lord Kelvin Exhibit

Lyle Zapato | 2005-03-23.3250 LMT | Announcement
Lyle Zapato

Lord Kelvin And Your Hard Drive

Lyle Zapato | 2005-02-27.2800 LMT | Technology

Kelvin's "On the Electro-dynamic Qualities of Metals" describes his experiments with bits of nickel and iron that showed their electrical resistance changed depending on how they were oriented in a magnetic field.

What's so interesting about this 148 year old experiment? It marks the discovery of a phenomenon today known as anisotropic magnetoresistance (AMR) which is used by modern hard drives to read data. Just like in Kelvin's experiments, a hard drive's magnetoresistance (MR) read head changes its electrical resistance in response to magnetic fields, thus allowing the drive to read data from changes in the current being sent through the head as the head passes over the spinning magnetic platters.

The introduction of the MR read head (made of an alloy of nickel and iron -- the metals used in Kelvin's experiments,) allowed the explosion in hard drive sizes in the late '90s as they replaced the older, less-sensitive inductive read/write heads. (The original MR heads are now being replaced by even-more-sensitive giant magnetoresistive heads, which still contain an AMR element.)

So, the next time you look through your multi-gibioctet collection of MP3s, digicam snaps, and pirated episodes of American television shows, remember to thank the Lord Kelvin for giving you the ability to have greater areal density through the electro-dynamic wonder of anisotropic magnetoresistance.

Lyle Zapato

Victorian 3D Scientific Imaging

Lyle Zapato | 2005-02-08.0310 LMT | Technology | Retro

Looking for some content for your iPod-Stereoscope? Here's an illustration from Lord Kelvin's 1894 paper "On Homogeneous Division of Space":

Stereoscopic photo of an orthic tetrakaidecahedron, constructed out of soldered wire.

Cross your eyes to see cutting-edge 19th century scientific imaging technology! I have exchanged the images left for right from the original since I find crossing my eyes easier than forcing them apart. The original presumably would have been viewed using a stereoscope, a common gizmo for the Victorian-era techno-hipster...

Victorian stereoscope advertisement, as filtered through Apple

Since it took an inordinate amount of time to make the above image, I'll have to put off retyping Kelvin's paper till later. It's an interesting one, with some nice illustrations of tessellations. Until then, busy yourself with making your own tetrakaidecahedra. See how many rooms of your house you can fill!

UPDATE: "On Homogeneous Division of Space" is online.