Category Archives: History of Science and Technology

Quick Look at Large US Dams

I was on the phone this morning with a coworker who lives in California, about 150 miles south of the Oroville dam (Figure 1). This dam has recently been in the news because of concerns that spillway erosion could cause a dam failure. At one point, nearly 200K people were evacuated from the potential flood zone. Continue reading

 
Posted in Excel, History of Science and Technology | 3 Comments

Slide Rules of the Rocket Pioneers

I was watching a interview with Valerie Neal, Curator and Chair National Air and Space Museum, on CSPAN. The interview was focused on the history of rocket development in both the US and Soviet Union. Valerie was asked what was her favorite artifact at the National Air and Space Museum. She responded that she liked artifacts that were the personal items of the pioneers. In the case of space travel, she said that the slide rules of rocket pioneers Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev were her favorite artifacts. Both men used the same type of slide rule. As I looked closely at the slide rules (Figures 2 and 3), I realized they were the same brand – Nestler – as used by some engineers I knew as a boy. My slide rule was a Pickett, similar to that shown in Figure 1. Continue reading

 
Posted in History of Science and Technology | 2 Comments

Calorie Per Acre Improvements in Staple Crops Over Time

My family has strong agricultural roots – mainly in dairy and potato farming – and our holiday conversations frequently turn to discussions of crop yields (bushels per acre or lbs per acre). As I listened to the discussion between my brothers on this year's crop yields, I realized that the yield numbers they were quoting were much higher today than we saw as children. This made me curious, and I decide to go out to the US Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service crop database and download CSV files on the yield of some key staple crops for processing by Power Query (i.e. recently renamed Get and Transform). I will be using this file to train my staff on defining Power Query functions. No macros were used in this analysis. Continue reading

 
Posted in Excel, General Science, History of Science and Technology, History Through Spreadsheets | 1 Comment

Old-School Selling of the Exploration of Mars

My youngest son has been fascinated with Elon Musk's plans for colonizing Mars. He is not that different from his old man because in my youth Wernher von Braun (Figure 1) had me captivated with his plans for human-crewed missions to Mars. As I described von Braun's plans for exploring Mars to my son, I realized the both Musk and von Braun applied similar state-of-the-art marketing approaches. Continue reading

 
Posted in Astronomy, History of Science and Technology, Management | 2 Comments

Those Thrifty German Immigrants ... Combine Repurposed as a Gravedigger

I am the son and grandson of German farmers. Their farms were almost magical to me because of all the belts and pulleys used to drive everything – it would have been an OSHA nightmare. I was always impressed with the self-sufficiency of these farms. For example, the Biegert farm in Hanover, Minnesota had a small sawmill that was powered using a tractor's PTO. Many farm buildings in that small community were built using wood from local trees cut by that mill. In fact, my family still has an affection for woodworking using butternut because that was a wood our father often milled on the farm Continue reading

 
Posted in History of Science and Technology, Humor | Leave a comment

Old Way Of Specifying Phone Wire Diameter

I still work on old copper phone networks, and today I encountered wire specified as "300 pound". I had never seen a specification like this for phone wire before. As I thought about it, this specification seemed very similar to how the diameter of thread is still specified, which is by the weight in grams of a 9000 meters of fiber – a unit of measure called the denier. Continue reading

 
Posted in Electronics, General Mathematics, History of Science and Technology | Leave a comment

Mass-Energy Conversion Example

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

 
Posted in General Science, History of Science and Technology, Military History | Leave a comment

Sherman Tank Myths

When I was a boy, most of the fathers in my neighborhood had served in WW2. One of these neighbors, Alvin Weese, was an Army veteran who was very specific about his WW2 service by saying that he had "served under Patton" and you could clearly see his pride in having served in Patton's 3rd Army. Continue reading

 
Posted in History of Science and Technology | 9 Comments

Rate of Technological Progress

I saw the following LED history graphic in Machine Design magazine today. I like the graphic because it shows how technological changes often occurs – I only wish there had been some additional space for the quantum mechanical developments of the 1920s. Continue reading

 
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I Would Not Like to Have Worked For Frank Lloyd Wright

Because my wife and I are designing a cabin to replace our hunting shack in northern Minnesota, we have been looking at various house designs. Many of the designs we have looked at show the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, who was the most famous member of the Prairie School of architecture. I know that Frank Lloyd Wright (Figure 1) is considered America's greatest architect (according to American Institute of Architects, 1991), but I do not think I would have wanted to work for him. Continue reading

 
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