Saturday, September 23, 2006

Implications of the Relativity Drive

In an article published by New Scientist Magazine issue 2568 (08 September 2006) Justin Mullins explains the work of Roger Shawyer who claims to have developed an engine with no moving parts referred to as the 'Relativity Drive' or 'EM Engine'.

The drive works by bouncing microwaves inside a specially shaped container with one end wider than the other. At the narrow end the microwaves are reflected more and transfer less momentum to the end wall than at the wide end. Since they are moving at about the speed of light they move, according to Einstein's special theory of relativity, in their own frame of reference and independently of the container.

The actual article has been copied many times on Internet and has even it's own section now on Wikipedia (where the controversy about the drive is discussed more than the drive itself.)

Many debunk the drive as being the same as 'Roadrunner on a skateboard with a sail propelled by a fan on the skateboard'. Yet it should be testable even at home using some parts from an old microwave, a copper foil container and a sensitive electronic balance. (It might be advisable to do it from a distance if you don't want to cook yourself).

What's more of interest to me are the potential implications of a working device.

Assuming a superconducting container, preferably one working at room temperature, then Shawyer calculates a thrust of 30,000 Newtons per kilowatt of power input may be possible. That's enough for us to do away with the internal combustion engine and also to lift a vehicle off the ground. New Scientist shows a diagram of a wingless plane lifted by relativity drives and moved forward by a hydrogen fueled gas turbine. What, however, is to stop the turbine being replaced by yet another relativity drive and the power being obtained from a fuel cell?

Without the need for wings there would be no ceiling for such a vehicle. Space would be as accessible to the individual as the roads are today. The drives themselves should not cost a fortune - after all there are no moving parts unlike an internal combustion engine. Granted you will need to spend money on creating a sealed environment for the driver and passengers and on collision avoidance systems and navigation since there are no roadsigns in space.

Want to visit Auntie on the other side of the world? Just hop in your relativity drive vehicle climb out of the atmosphere, accelerate (maybe powered by solar energy) and coast like a satellite around the world. It may take you a couple of hours but you won't have to wait for the airline to check you in, seat you, and so on. With the availability of cheap personal transport international borders will become a nonsense so you can forget about passports, visas, immigration control, airport security and all that rubbish. Instead of going for a night out in the local town a UK resident could pop over to Vegas for a few hours.

Terrorism? No airplanes and no reason for it anyway since the world's population would be free to move, live and work wherever they want. That includes the rest of the solar system too! Now that might unsettle governments but ... who cares about govenment. I for one would like to see a little democratic anarchy.

Live near an airport? Your house value is going to rise without those noisy planes. A relativity drive vehicle (shall we say RDV from now on?) will be silent. After a while though house prices in the city will fall as cheap personal transport makes living in the country more feasable.

Privacy in your garden? Hmm - that may be a problem with silent RDVs floating overhead. But then anyone who has seen Google Earth or will know that back garden privacy will soon be a thing of the past.

Work for a rail service/shipping firm/airport/road construction? Better start looking for a new job. Motor industry? You are going to be selling and maintaining RDVs instead.

Work in the oil industry? Well there won't be the demand for petrol (gas), diesel or aviation fuel but oil products will still be needed for heating and as raw materials. It might reduce pollution and global warming.

How about space travel? By that I mean travel between the Earth and the Moon and planets. We'll have to overcome the absence of the Van Allen belts protecting us against radiation but the good news is that the Sun is expected to go through a quiet phase for a while making interplanetary travel much simpler. If you want a good field to invest in for the future try space suit manufacture and autopilots.

I'm sure there are lots of other ways the RDV would change our lives and I invite you to add them to this blog.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Well I thought it was funny...

Years ago, to earn extra money for my morgage, I worked nights as a taxi driver in Stockton on Tees. One of the other taxi drivers told me this story:

He was driving, as usual, a little too fast and taking a passenger from Stockton to Billingham. As he approached the traffic lights in Norton near a nightclub he saw the lights start to change so started to brake. At this point he realised to his horror that a previous fare had left a bottle in the car and it had rolled forward under the brake pedal preventing him from pushing it. He was doing about 40mph, the lights were now red, there were cars moving out of the junction across his path and there were nightclub visitors crossing the road to a burger van parked outside the club. The only thing he could do was to reach down and pull the bottle out from under the brake. He did that and as he got back up frantically braked. When he finally could see again he found his taxi stopped six inches from the rear of the burger van. He had gone through the lights at red and missed every car and pedestrian.
"Take me back home." said his passenger.
"What for? you've only just left there."
"I need to change my trousers!"

Richard wasn't a very bright student. When he did his technology exam he got everything on the paper wrong apart from one question. He even got everything on the front page wrong.
Surname - he had written the technology teacher's name. "Well you're Sur aren't you?"
Forename - Dickie
Centre Name (the school name) - Alun
The question he got right? he had answered 'Rat shit'
The actual question was 'Name a type of screwdriver.'

I was supervising an English exam at school. I and the other supervisors were run ragged by pupils asking us for pencils - which the English department had not provided. Eventually we ran out and I asked "What do you need a pencil for anyway?".
It was question 5b which said - 'Draw your conclusions...'

Friday, September 15, 2006

Thrush Hall Farm before it was Throstle Hole Abbey

Until I was eight I lived with my family in Walkergate, Newcastle on Tyne. Then my father followed his brother's footsteps and bought a small farm in the wilds of Northumberland.

My father was very much the 'Mr. Jones' in our street in Newcastle. We had the first car, the first TV, a modern kitchen - we were comfortable. Everyone else tried to keep up with us. Thrush Hall Farm was a bit of a change.

For a start - we had no electricity. It was oil lamps and candles upstairs and Calor gas lights and Tilley lamps downstairs. Our TV sat useless in a corner of 'the sitting room' along with our mains radio and gramophone.

There was no bathroom. We did have a bath - it was underneath a counter top in the scullery. We did have the luxury of running hot and cold water. It was heated by a coal fire in the kitchen. Not for us the luxury of chlorinated mains water. Our water supply ran down the field in a ditch. We had a large settling and storage tank just up the hill from the farm buildings. In wet weather it didn't have time to settle and I remember on occasion a large worm would make it's way into the bath. In dry weather the ditch dried up and we had to use a spring in our fields. That spring never dried up, no matter how dry the summer. Not only did it keep us going but it also served for serveral of our neighbours. Unlike the tap water, which had to be boiled, the spring water was pure and delicious.

Toilet? It was outside. Not for us one that flushed. We had an earth closet in a whitewashed outbuilding. I remember a wooden board with a hole you uncovered. At the side of the building was a stone slab which was removed to rake out the contents. I also remember a healthy population of spiders. One day I moved that slab while my sister was sat there and waved a bunch of nettles inside. My sister shot out of that place in hot pursuit of me. Normally I could outrun her but I was laughing so hard she caught me and pulled out handfuls of my hair.

Cooking was done on a Calor gas hob in the scullery or on the coal fire in big cast iron pots. Baking was done in an oven next to the coal fire. I remember that oven served a lot of purposes, from baking to thawing out semi frozen lambs during frosty springs.

The floors in our farm downstairs were made of stone flags. Slabs of stone about two feet by three. The walls of our farmhouse were over two feet thick. They kept us warm in winter and cool in summer. There were small windows facing south with a window ledge that served as a seat at times. There were no windows facing north west or east other than a tiny one in the scullery and an even smaller one filled with perforated zinc mesh in our walk in 'pantry'. The roof was a bit of a mixture. On one side it was stone slabs pegged onto oak beams with sheepbone pegs, on the other side it was slates. The house was built on a slope so was low enough to easily get onto the roof on the slate side. Between the house and the byre there was a cobbled farmyard.

Fridge? We didn't have one. We kept food cool in the pantry and bought fresh food from the many traveling shops which visited.

There were only two bedrooms so Mam & Dad had one and my sister and I shared the other. If you needed to 'go' there was a chamber pot under the bed.

Winters were something else! We were 1700 Ft up in the Pennine hills in a valley surrounded by open fells. When the wind blew all the snow made it's way into the valley and we were 'snowed in'. We had been warned about this and my mother took care to lay in a stock of tinned and dried food. Once the snow started the traveling shops didn't make it to our farm and we had to rely on our stores. That first year I remember helping my parents to dig snow, and dig, and dig and... The temperature plummeted. We had a thermometer outside and I remember eleven degrees of frost. At night we snuggled under two quilts and lots of blankets. (No central heating.) In the morning it was not unusual to find half an inch of ice on the windows. I learnt to keep my clothes for the next day under the top quilt and to get dressed before I got out of bed.

Our normal footwear was the Wellington boot with thick socks. In winter we learnt to wear two pairs of jeans with the outer pair outside the wellingtons to stop the snow getting inside them.

In winter we had to feed our cattle (kept in the byre) and sheep (outdoors). Feeding the cows was a twice a day job and mucking out I found difficult. My problem was that I wasn't strong enough to wheel the wheelbarrow without the risk of it turning over. When it did it was fill it again. One of our cows we milked, a mild mannered shorthorn cow called Daisy. Mostly my mother did this but both my sister and I learnt it too. The trick is to keep your head close to the side of the cow )so she can't whip you in the eyes with her tail)and avoid her stepping or kicking over the pail (by keeping her occupied with some food). We could only milk her part of the year - for the rest we bought milk from Sarah Clark our neighbour.

Another job my father gave me was to bury dead sheep. Our first sheep were old and several died of age. Try burying a sheep in winter when the already stony ground is frozen hard. You do it with a pick, a spade and a shovel.

In spring there was lambing. I learnt to catch the new born lambs with a shepherd's crook and inject it against disease. Lambs are nice, cute and playful. Adult sheep are smelly and frustratingly stupid however. They would jump the stone walls of our farm to get to the much poorer grazing in our neighbours property. As they did so they often caused the ancient dry stone walls to collapse and these needed rebuilding. They say dry stone walling is an art but I learnt it at an early age. I must have been ok at it because my repairs didn't fall down again.

Summer was a different matter. It meant haymaking and we did it the hard way by hand since we did not have a tractor. We got someone to cut the hay and we then used huge wooden rakes to turn the swathes over after drying a few days. If it rained - we did it again. We then raked three rows into one and again let it dry. Next we raked it into small mounds - Kyles. These were then put together into much bigger mounds - Pikes. After the pikes had dried a while they were taken by tractor to the hay barn where it was forked through the narrow door. It was all hard work and my sister and I being only ten and eight years old didn't get me out of it.

Around 1960 electricity finally made it to our valley and at last we could watch tv again. By this time however our TV was too old to pick up the ITV channels that were now being broadcast. We didn't miss it much. We were too busy on the farm. About the same time we did some building work on the farm and at last installed a bathroom with flush toilet and a third bedroom. The scullery was extended in a DIY conversion and joined with the walk in pantry. My father did the work, taking down the wall and installing a thick oak beam to support the bit left. The following morning we came downstairs to find that oak beam bent nearly in a U shape. There turned out to be another 10 feet of two feet thick stone wall above it. It all had to come down. Fortunately this bit wasn't load bearing at the top. To replace the walk in pantry we knocked through to the stable next door and I helped a friend who often helped out on our farm, Dick Phillipson, build a new wall. I remember him sitting astride a beam while I passed him buckets of rubble to fill the gap between the two layers of wall he had built. Suddenly there was a loud rumble, a muttered curse and Dick got very carefully down from his perch. One half of the wall which supported the beam he was sitting on had collapsed and had to be rebuilt.

We also dug out the back of the house and made a new entrance from the yard into the scullery. It used to get filled with snow in winter so eventually we roofed this area over.

Dick usually cut our hay and brought the pikes' in for us. He lived at Nenthead and came over from there on his tractor. He was already old when I first met him but he didn't seem old to me. He was very strong in a wiry way and was one of the few people I knew who had been a lead miner before the mines in the area closed down. His tractor made all the difference to us. My mother was persuaded to drive it. One day I remember her trying to change gear as she brought in a pike. She missed the gear and the tractor started to roll backwards down the hill. She wasn't heavy enough to get enough pressure on the brake and would have ended up back down the hill had one of the prongs of the pike lifter not struck one of the large Scots pine trees which separated two of our hay fields. A few years ago I visited our old farm again, (it's now Throstle Hole Abbey, a Buddhist monastery) and the mark can still be seen in the tree after 40 years.

With the arrival of electricity we bought a deep freeze. I remember seeing it empty apart from the first item we put in it - a packet of fishcakes. One day when Dick arrived my mother took them out to have for lunch. She wasn't quite used to deep freezes though because when she served them they burnt your mouth on the outside and had a chunk of frozen fish in the inside. We still tease her about hot frozen fishcakes. The freezer didn't stay empty long. We had whole pigs, vegetables and fruit in it.

Electricity meant also that my father could start installing central heating. He bought a coal fired boiler, a pump, pipes and radiators and started connecting things up. When he got sick of the job of bashing holes through two foot thick stone walls I took over. I knew nothing about central heating and simply connected everything in series. When we switched it on the radiator in my room was red hot and the one last in line, downstairs in the sitting room, was barely warm. It worked though and made the house warmer. I then read books on central heating and found out what I should have done. Years later I met a guy in a pub in Allendale who talked about what a botch job the central heating was there. I kept quiet.

My mother did most of the work on the farm since my father worked full time as an electrical engineer. She raised cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and at one time goats. She gardened, repaired walls, dipped sheep, milked, lambda, calfed, built animal shelters and cleaned them. In addition she delivered children to the primary school and did a post round. After my parents divorced she sold the farm in 1969 to some Londoners who turned it into a hippy commune. Later it became Throstle Hole Abbey a Soto Zen Buddhist abbey; the name coming from the old name for Thrush Hall.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Distorted Carrots?

OK - so I move to a new house with a massive 150ft garden. Now I don't know a lot about gardening, but I decided it would be worth a try growing vegetables. I got a good crop of potatoes, especially since they were grown from peelings. Peas and beans were great. My sweetcorn, squash, celery, courgettes (zucchini) are delicious. The tomatoes - well, I'm getting sick of them! The cabbage and broccoli are fine now that I've persuaded the caterpillars to go elsewhere.

My carrots though are pathetic. They grow, but I've never seen such distorted efforts.
Now there must be some knowlegeable gardeners out there. What am I doing wrong?
Does Miracle Grow contain testosterone?