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Category Archives: General Science
I recently toured a winery and, during the tour, I saw a number of charts related to various properties of ethanol and water mixtures. I was a bit puzzled when I saw Figure 1, which is a chart that I had never seen before. Figure 1 shows the amount of volume reduction experienced by an ethanol-water mixture compared to the separate volumes of the water and ethanol. I became curious about the chart and decided to see if I could derive these results on my own. Continue reading
My youngest son told me that I needed to watch the new Cosmos series with Neil deGrasse Tyson. I was immediately hooked – it is a masterpiece of scientific exposition for a general audience. I thought the original Cosmos with Carl Sagan was excellent, but the progress in computer graphics during the intervening decades makes the program visually stunning. Continue reading
I often have to interpret odd test requirements. In a test specification based on GR-487, a humidity test is called out where we need to have a fixed specific humidity (i.e. 24 grams of water vapor per per kilogram of air). For a given specific humidity, the relative humidity will vary with temperature. Since my test gear can control relative humidity, I need to derive a relationship between relative humidity and the specific humidity, which I show in Figure 1. Continue reading
A coworker was telling me about a relative of his who is an engineer at a nuclear power plant. One of his relative's many jobs is to babysit nuclear waste casks (Figure 1) – a task which includes monitoring their temperature. These casks are warmed from the inside by the radioactive decay of the waste they hold. As I understand it, this job has good long-term security because these casks are going to be a safety hazard for tens of thousands of years. Continue reading
While crawling around the Energy Information Administration (EIA) web page, I found some data on the energy conversion efficiencies of power plants based on the fuel that they use. I thought the data was interesting and worth going through here. Continue reading
There is almost a cottage industry in RP Feynman quotes and stories. For an engineer, there is much gold to mined in his problem-solving methods. I read his book Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman, and I have treated him as source of inspiration ever since. I was drawn to the joy he expressed about solving problems, and his skill in sharing that joy. Continue reading
I have some work to do that requires a model for air density as a function of altitude, temperature, and pressure. As usual, I will turn to the Wikipedia to provide me a working model. I will then check the results of my model against results published by other sources. Continue reading
I was in an interminable meeting the other day where we were discussing the MTBF and availability of a system. My issue with this discussion is that each person in the room preferred to think about these terms in different ways. In this post, I will show that the four individuals in the meeting were actually in violent agreement and simply did not understand that what their arguments were mathematically equivalent. I wish I could say that this was the first time in my career that this had happened, but that would not be true. It happens all the time. Continue reading
I had never seen coal until my first trip to China when I saw people on bicycles transporting coal to their homes for heat. I started to wonder just how much coal a home would need for heating. I have seen numerous values for the heat content of the various types of coal. I recalled from primary school that there were three types of coal: anthracite, bituminous, and lignite. So I would have expected three values for the heat output of coal. When I actually looked, I found dozens of grades of three primary types of coal. Each of the different grades would generate different amounts of heat per kilogram. I thought I would take a closer look at how the heat output from coal could be modeled using regression and a simplified model based on chemical heats of formation. Continue reading
Since 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2 (WW2), C-SPAN has been running a number of oral history interviews with people who worked on the Manhattan Project. I have found these interviews very interesting. You can find them on YouTube and watch them for yourself. Continue reading