ZPi | Kelviniana
ZPi Logo "Serving the Paranoid
since 1997"
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.

Lyle Zapato

Lord Kelvin And Global Warming

Lyle Zapato | 2005-02-06.3100 LMT

An interesting letter from Lord Kelvin to John Clarke. In 1860, Kelvin proposed that an increase in CO2 emissions from coal-burning would raise global temperatures much like how a greenhouse works. What's even more interesting is that he considered doing this intentionally to "provide a very comfortable living environment" for the people of Glasgow.

In the end he decided better of it, considering both the havoc it would cause for non-Glaswegians and, more importantly, the potential danger of introducing malaria to a more tropical Glasgow. "We have quite enough pestilence here, I contend, without inviting another!"

UPDATE: The above letter is fiction. Disregard.

Also, while making the Lord Kelvin library a little more respectable looking (still a work in progress), I found this:

La Bibliothèque nationale de France (that's French for "the French National Bookatorium") has a large collection of scanned books, etc. in PDF format (available one excruciating page at a time). The collection is searchable ("search" in French is "recherche,") by author, title, subject, and full text contents. You'll probably find something to interest you there. There's certainly lots of Kelvin stuff, from a seemingly complete collection of "Proceedings of the Royal Society of London" to his various reprint volumes. There's no way I'm going to retype all that (although I did manage to partially patch up one of the incomplete papers I had), so just go there and look for yourself.

Lyle Zapato

Lord Kelvin vs. Jackie Chan

Lyle Zapato | 2004-07-10.6050 LMT | Entertainment

The Game Boy Advanced game Around the World in 80 Days (based on the recent Jackie Chan movie) features an appearance by Lord Kelvin:

Lord Kelvin as he appears in the 'Around the World in 80 Days' video game.

Unfortunately, the game makers knew that Kelvin would kick Chan's ass if given the chance -- which they couldn't allow in this Chan-vehicle -- so Kelvin has been relegated to the expositively non-action-packed beginning and end sequences. Here are screenshots from the end sequence where Kelvin is attacked with vicious lies and falsely arrested (the programmers had to make him immobile to keep him from single-handedly taking out this gang of cretins):

'Around the World in 80 Days' screenshots

Needless to say, this isn't exactly the best game ever made. However, as far as I know, it has the first appearance of Lord Kelvin in a video game. If anyone knows of any others, email me.

Lyle Zapato

Make Your Own Kelvin Cells

Lyle Zapato | 2004-07-04.7160 LMT | Crafts
Tetrakaidecahedron paper model

Print out and assemble your own tetrakaidecahedra, approximate versions of the Kelvin Cell -- a single shape, space-partitioning cell with a minimum intercellular surface area described by Lord Kelvin.

Tetrakaidecahedra pack together to evenly fill a space. Make a whole bunch and fill your cubicle with a papery foam! If your boss protests, just remind him how much paper you are saving over cubes of equal volume. Given enough space, tetrakaidecahedra will practically pay for themselves!

Lyle Zapato

Blythe Kelvinmas!

Lyle Zapato | 2004-06-26.0000 LMT | Announcement

It's the 180th birthday of the Lord Kelvin! Catch up on some of His wise words:

Lord Kelvin "A boy should have learnt by the age of twelve to write his own language with accuracy and some degree of elegance; he should have a reading knowledge of French, should be able to translate Latin and easy Greek authors and should have some acquaintance with German."

In addition to these minimum accomplishments, by the age of twelve Kelvin had won a prize for translating a dialogue of the Greek satirist Lucian and was in His second year at the University of Glasgow. What had you accomplished by the age of twelve?

Learn more about Kelvinmas...