Category Archives: Energy

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is*

I’ve never been crazy about switching back and forth between standard time and daylight savings time. I realize that daylight savings time is worth billions of dollars to the outdoor grill and charcoal industries, the gulf courses, and–at least on Halloween, the candy manufacturers.

But why switch back and forth? Oh, I forgot, our Congress came up with that idea to save energy, even though it actually uses MORE energy and there’s a great loss of efficiency whenever we change.

Time is pretty arbitrary to begin with. If you set up a sun dial in your backyard, with precise orientation, the time at your location is very unlikely to match the time your clock/telephone/nuclear synched weather station, etc. We have time zones because the railroads needed it back in the 19th century–today I guess it’s for network television.

Take the Eastern Time Zone. It stretches from Qaanag (Thule), Greenland to Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. In Qaanag, sunrise today is at 0819 (8:19 AM) with sunset at 1912 (7:12 PM).

In Indianapolis–in the same time zone–sunrise is at 0758 (7:58 AM) and sunset at 1949 (7:49 PM). On the east coast of Virginia, sunrise is at 0719 (7:19 AM).

Since it is so arbitrary, anyway, why don’t we just stop switching back and forth. Personally, I’d prefer staying on daylight savings time–I like a little sunshine after I get off of work.

If There’s No Breaking News—We’ll Break Something!

Courtesy, National Geographic  (Consider joining--http://www.nationalgeographic.com/about/)

Courtesy, National Geographic
(Consider joining–http://www.nationalgeographic.com/about/)

Squeezed in somewhere among the celebrity gossip and pinup pictures, occasionally the Internet carries items that journalists once referred to as News.

News includes such boring items as wars, disasters, election results, and rarely mention the reaction from starlets, transgender humans or trans-species….whatever. In the days of journalism, the reporter listed the facts:

  1. This is what happened (not my impression of what happened).
  2. Where and when it happened.
  3. Why is this significant? (Not guaranteed to be 100% factual, but true journalists tried to be as objective as possible).

“News” today is often predictive—this COULD happen, or the media focuses on something that probably will happen, but it could be tomorrow, or it could be in 30 billion years (give or take).

[Note: I like the fact that what was once the press is now the media. It’s like admitting they only rank a grade of “C” for their work.]

Today CNN ran a story on the super-volcano that someday could, maybe erupt (or it could keep releasing pressure through Old Faithful and the other geysers like that weight on the top of a pressure cooker).

But the best thing is—they’re now adding music to news stories, and a pretty zippy bongo number (doubtlessly electronically generated) at that. Try http://www.cnn.com/videos/weather/2015/04/24/supervolcano-yellowstone-magma-reservoir-orig.cnn?iid=ob_article_footer_expansion&iref=obnetwork

What’s next for the news mesia—laugh tracks?

Air Travel – A Business Model to Behold

Airplane! Need I say more?

Airplane!
Need I say more?

You’ve got to hand it to the airline industry. Their business model must be the envy of every other industry.

  1. No one likes to travel by airline. It is an trial to be endured. You may want to get to Vail or Orlando but the getting there via airline is not any part of the fun. Whenever there is an alternative, most people choose to avoid commercial flight. Unfortunately busses take forever, trains are unreliable and expensive and there’s a limit to how far the average person will drive.
  2. You can’t get there from here—not directly anyway. You have to stop at one or more additional airports, each of which gets landing fees, gate fees, profit and taxes from fuel sales, etc.
  3. Customer service is so abysmal that one might well consider it customer abuse. No leg room—let’s pack seats closer together. Boarding, which according to queuing theory could be handled significantly better, continues to be handled in a manner markedly worse than animals entering a slaughter house. During the flight, cabin attendants hawk the benefits of signing up for the airline’s very own Visa or MasterCard to a captive audience. “Get more points so we can abuse you more often!”
  4. Customers have been trained to accept additional charges for anything and everything. Check a bag? Twenty dollars. Check a second bag? Thirty-five dollars. Want to sit with your spouse and kids? Better dig out the gold credit card.
  5. Of course, the airports and the shops in the airports have jumped on THIS bandwagon. Parking fees are such that buying a beat up car and abandoning it at the airport is cheaper than paying for parking. Then, of course, there is the magnitude increase of prices for sodas, and food prices that Manhattan restaurants can only dream about. (In the Charlotte airport—a major connection hub—there is even an attendant in the men’s restroom with not one, but TWO Plexiglas tip receptacles [complete with padlocks]. I confess, he was entertaining enough, but aren’t airport restrooms supposed to be seedy places where members of congress seek out casual sex?)
  6. Fuel prices have been dropping, but ticket prices haven’t budged, even though they went up when fuel cost more. Why? The planes are full, so there’s no incentive to lower prices. (More customers? We don’t need no more stinking customers!)

Airlines have complained of being unprofitable for many years, but there’s unprofitable as in “Ohmigod we can’t pay our bills,” and then there’s unprofitable as in, “The accountants have figured out how to juggle the numbers even better. (Those of you who live near airline corporate headquarters—have you ever seen a rusted-out five year old compact car routinely parked in the CEO’s reserved parking spot? Didn’t think so.)

“Please remain seated until the aircraft has come to a complete stop—at which time we’ll sit here for a few more minutes before opening the aircraft door—Why? BECAUSE WE CAN! We know you have a choice in airlines, but we’re buying each other as fast as possible to eliminate choice as the last tiny vestige of human dignity. You can attempt to retrieve your baggage, or what’s left of it after we’ve kicked, dropped, crushed and perused the contents of it on the lower level. (We get some really neat stuff this way—as well as finding out some of your more embarrassing secrets). Some of you may be lucky, while the rest of you will have to make the 120 mile drive back to the airport tomorrow because after standing in line for three hours it made your luggage check in late. In any case, just like your luggage, your dignity has been shredded beyond recognition.

Maybe their motto should be, “We love to abuse, and it shows.”

 

So Here’s What I Did

"Don't follow the lightsss!"  - - - Gollum

“Don’t follow the lightsss!”
– – – Gollum

The news media was out in full force today, turning over rocks and raking up muck just to entertain you and the makers of various pharmaceuticals. Among the SHOCKING! things they found was that Jane Fonda was booed by veterans (like that’s never happened before) and Michael Moore (you know the very large person who will do or say ANYTHING to get attention) declared that (military) snipers are cowards.

So what did I do? Why I went upstairs and attempted to repair the switch on a floor lamp.

When I modernized from evil incandescent lightbulbs to CFLs, the lights would oscillate. Later, when I updated to LEDs, they still had a weird flicker. I think the switch may have been designed with a high and low setting that worked fine for incandescent bulbs, but not for the energy efficient ones.

So I bought a new switch.

It had to be small enough to fit within the pole of the lamp, and the only one I could find that had acceptable dimensions was at RadioShack (I’m going to miss them. If only they had stayed a radio parts/computer/geek heaven instead of trying to be another Best Buy, they would probably be doing just fine).

The switch, as luck would have it, lights up. Hey! That’s pretty cool. So I started taking the lamp apart and easily replaced the switch.

But…

Even though the switch was rated for 120 volt AC use, the light in the switch requires 1.7 volts DC. How was I going to manage that?

I spent hours modifying an old cell phone charger, building it into the base of the lamp, and running an extra set of wires up the lamp tube; finding that I missed a spot, disassembling everything, rerouting the wires and putting it back together.

All to have the stupid little switch light up.

The worst part?

Even with all my efforts, trials and tribulation, the news media never showed up.

Celebrity Does Not Equal Expertise

Daryl Hannah & Tom Hanks in "Splash"

Daryl Hannah & Tom Hanks in “Splash”

I saw today that Fox News in its never ending quest for journalistic excellence had a video of Daryl Hannah and why she opposes the Keystone pipeline. I confess, I didn’t watch it, as I despise videos, preferring a well written article for absorbing data. I also have a problem with our national fetish for celebrity.

However, I decided to check out Ms. Hannah’s bona fides to determine if I should, in fact, watch the video.

Daryl Hannah is a beautiful woman. She caught the eyes of both John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Jackson Brown both of whom had long term relationships with her.

She’s a beautiful woman who comes from a wealthy family in Chicago. According to Wikipedia, she attended the noted progressive Francis W. Parker School where she played on the soccer team. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a major in theater. Her education also included ballet drama at the Goodman Theater School of Drama in Chicago. Obviously, she took her craft seriously and prepared well for it. Her work speaks for itself.

She was particularly exotic and beautiful in “Bladerunner,” and especially engaging and beautiful in “Roxeanne.”

Even Albert Einstein spoke of the pleasure of speaking with a beautiful woman, but so far I’m just not seeing any qualifications in geology, petroleum science, transportation, environmental science or economics that would entice me to include her thoughts in my calculus about the Keystone pipeline.

Don’t get me wrong. Ms. Hannah is educated and no doubt intelligent. However, her education and intelligence does not entitle her to practice law or medicine, to lead troops in battle, or even, in most states, to cut hair. There are criteria to be met and credentials to be obtained before one is acknowledged to be competent in many fields. Expertise is usually dependent on the recognition by other credentialed members of one’s advanced knowledge and experience. While she no doubt has deep felt opinions about the pipeline, Ms. Hannah’s expertise is in entertainment.

Fox’s motto is “We report – You decide.” So I’ve decided that while Daryll Hannah is a beautiful woman, an accomplished actress, well educated, and quite possibly a delightful and fascinating person, I’ll look elsewhere for my relevant information on topics such as the need to build or not build a pipeline.

And I have to wonder about Fox News.

An Easter Thought for All

SONY DSC

Easter is a time of hope, optimism and looking forward. Because of its ties to Passover it occurs in the spring, with its focus on life. I propose that we take this time to harness our creative energies as we look ahead.

The prolific Thomas Alva Edison was self-educated, and, before some of you protest, let me remind you that Facebook wasn’t invented by a large corporation, and Apple started out with two guys experimenting in a garage.

So, now to the challenge – What is frequently in the news because we have too much?

Carbon and heat.

Someone is going to figure out what makes carbon – or more specifically carbon dioxide – valuable. When they do, I’m sure that the rest of us will bemoan how obvious the answer was and that we all should have thought of it. As near as I can tell, carbon in many other configurations is preferable to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Likewise, we’re always looking for new sources of energy, particularly renewable energy. W commonly measure energy in terms of heat (calories, and BTU – British Thermal Units). Somehow it must be possible to efficiently capture the extra heat in the atmosphere and store it for use elsewhere.

It’s a time of beginnings, worldly as well as other-worldly, beginnings and possibilities.

WANTED: Dead AND Alive

I was having a metaphysical moment.

I crawled into the box with Schrodinger’s cat* because I wanted to see what it’s like to be both alive and dead at the same time.

It didn’t feel any different, and now I’m covered with cat hair, I smell funny and I have several flea bites.

*

Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.

Courtesy wikipedia.org

Another Great Experiment

SolarI love learning and trying new things. If I only had 50 or 60 hours per day, I’d be all set.

Today’s experiment was the installation of some solar panels on the roof. The trick was to place them where they’d get enough direct sunlight to be effective while placing them where they wouldn’t be any more apparent than necessary.

Alas, I did not do the actual installation. At my age a fall from the roof would be a bit more than inconvenient, so my son did the heavy lifting with my daughter wanting desperately to challenge him for the lead role. It wasn’t the actual work mind you – just the appeal of being allowed to get up on the roof.

They got everything in place, although I’m not sure the connections are adequate (that was my doing – not them) – we’ll need a sunny day when I’m home to determine if it works. My intent is to see if I can operate my ham radio station off the solar cells together with rechargeable gel cells. Receiving is low current, while transmitting is much higher. However, the cycle is far more receiving than transmitting.

Some people want to see fossil fuel and nuclear replaced by renewable sources. I think the idea of running whole cities from renewable sources is too large a jump. If everyone ran a few minor things off alternative sources, we’d learn how the pieces fit together. We don’t get as many opportunities for individual experimentation as we did in the days of Edison, Bell and Marconi, but this is a great opportunity to experiment.

Pink Floyd never meant it this way, but “All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.”

Progress is one brick at a time.

How Do I See the End of 2013?

It is with some degree of sadness that I mark the passing of the incandescent light bulb.

Actually it is for one reason in particular – you could understand, and therefore teach others how a light bulb work. If you run electricity through a high resistance wire, the electric energy becomes heat and light.

You could tell your kids how Thomas Alva Edison knew he needed the resistance, and a vacuum would keep the filament from burning out immediately. How, as he tried different materials for the filament, he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” How Edison then went on to invent many things – how to record sound, motion pictures, medical fluoroscopy and how these inventions spawned whole industries.

How it was this date in 1879 when Edison first demonstrated the light bulb to the public and that one of those basic light bulbs has been glowing almost continuously for 112 years.

How when you add a second electrode to an incandescent light bulb and you have a diode rectifier; add a third, making a triode that can amplify an electric signal – an important step leading to the proliferation of radio and eventually television.

What a great teaching tool!

Gone.

Can you clearly explain how an energy efficient compact fluorescent bulb works? How about an LEDs (light emitting diode)?

Didn’t think so – me either.

It’s Not Safe!

slash

Sorry to have to tell you this, but it’s not safe.

Crossing the street.

Sunlight.

Cooking with an open flame.

Going outside.

Staying inside.

Sorry – they all could lead to death, destruction, cancer, loss of self-esteem, or even a warped sense of humor.

However, look at how much we miss when we’re over-concerned with safety.

Beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Rainbows.

Great food.

The chance to make a friend.

The chance to fall in love.

The ability to have a relationship with God.

Sun’s Magnetic Field Collapsing!

NASA photo

NASA photo

An amazing event is underway – the magnetic poles of the sun are reversing.

While this sounds like the opening chapter of a science fiction story, it really is no big deal – it happens every eleven years.

It’s almost incomprehensible how all the pieces of the universe fit together perfectly, from the tiniest to the mightiest.

Might almost make you think that something – or someone – was guiding it.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130807-sun-magnetic-field-reversal-space-weather/

Busy Weekend

It has been busy. Friday we made more progress on cleaning out the garage as well as some work on my antennas. We still can’t park in the garage, but the antenna situation has improved.

There’s a type of antenna called a “Yagi” (after its inventor) or a “beam” based on its appearance. It’s a highly directional antenna that lets you aim your signal in a particular direction. I had one years ago, and I’m ready for one again. In the meantime, the existing antennae (sorry, had to do it) after the weekend’s work are now operational and let me talk to stations in the Caribbean and much of Europe.

It was great.

usgs.gov

usgs.gov

Later in the weekend, we went treasure hunting at the thrift shops and I found a 4.5 inch reflector telescope with electronic positioning. It needs pieces parts, but I’ve tried various telescopes over the years, and this is the closest to what I’ve wanted.

I’ll keep you posted as I work on it.

The thought of seeing Saturn’s rings or Jupiter’s moons with my own eyes is absolutely awesome.

Detroit’s Demise

I grew up in Toledo, about an hour south of Detroit, so I feel a personal twinge about the financial disaster Detroit now faces.

It wasn’t always so. They used to say that, “What’s good for General Motors, is good for the country.” Supposedly GM had to keep its market share below 51% to not run afoul of monopoly laws.

Imported cars were rare.  They were exotics, like Lamborghinis, sports cars like the MG, or quirky like the VW Beetle.

How did Detroit go from being on top of the world to bankruptcy?

Two words.

Flying Cars.

The Jetsons! Hanna-Barbera

The Jetsons!
Hanna-Barbera

They’ve been promising us flying cars for years. “Thunderbirds,” the 1950’s black and white marionette space show had flying cars. The Jetsons made it practically a promise, and, if that wasn’t enough, we had the hover cars in “Back to the Future.”

So, Detroit, it’s all Hollywood’s fault.

The Dark Side

smith 1

Once again Smithsonian Magazine comes through with a thought provoking article, “Welcome to the Dark Side” by Ron Rosenbaum in the June 2013 issue. The article is about Lisa Randall, a Cosmologist – which is more or less like the mixture of a physicist and mathematician on super-steroids. Dr. Randall is a tenured professor at Harvard, and is working with things that Star Trek writers could never imagine.

smith 2

Dr.. Lisa Randall

The most interesting part of her theory is that of all the universe, we can only observe 4%. The other 96% we can’t see, measure or mathematically extrapolate. This 96% is so-called “dark matter.”

Here’s a totally unscientific question — “Could the afterlife; heaven and possibly hell be occupying the majority of the universe? Could they be in the part we cannot see?

Just a thought.

Lights! Action!

Sorry – it’s been busy around here. As I get older, the medical types seem to find more things they can poke, prod or test.

And to think I used to be on the OTHER side of the examination spectrum.

Poetic justice? Perhaps.

free-shipping-3528-led-strip-christmas-decorate-light-high-quality-led-string-lamp-life-long-led-lamp-tape

In the meantime, my wife found an idea online on how to convert a regular lamp to a cordless one. They sell LEDs (light emitting diodes) on tape; you just cut off what you need and save the rest for later.

So we took an old table lamp, placed the handy self-sticking led tape to the top and bottom of the lampshade (on the inside, of course), ran it through the lamp to some batteries, and voila! A cordless lamp.

Actually, more of a very bright night light.

However, it fits in with all my hurricane preparation stuff, but does so with style.

And my wife likes it.

Is Knowledge Power?

phren

We are a data driven society. Polls are taken regarding virtually any subject and consume far more of the media than the actual events they attempt to predict. Reliable instant communications allows twenty-four hour news to feed us information on scandals far and wide. We are shocked by the collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh or by the suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria. We have access to unemployment data, Gross Domestic Product and how each affects Wall Street in real time.

We believe that if we decode all the data in DNA, we could recreate mammoths, or even dinosaurs.

Satellites feed us data to allow us to accurately predict the weather days in advance (except when the surprise severe storm appears.)

Does that make us powerful? I think not.

Knowledge is only powerful when it is used to make a decision and then execute that decision. If we read about a disaster and it causes us (and countless others) to make a donation to an organization that is helping out, that’s powerful. If knowing about a house fire causes us to check our smoke detectors and buy a fire extinguisher that means something.

Merely knowing is inconsequential. Knowing what to do with what you’ve learned is wherein the power lies.

Science Fun

bird

I enjoy science, so naturally I enjoy the little scientifically based trinkets that demonstrate a scientific principle. In other words, they do something that can be done easier and more efficiently, but the trinkets do it in a creative way.

There’s the drinking bird that bobs as the liquid inside cools. There’s the Galileo thermometer with the different colored balls; which tell you the temperature. Then, of course, the radiometer – it looks like an old incandescent light bulb with four blades inside which spin wildly in sunlight – although there’s no way to harness the power. Finally, there’s the little frame with 5 balls hanging from it to demonstrate Newton’s Third Law – for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

Naturally, I’m fair game at certain stores.

I bought a “floating pen” that balances on its tip within a magnetic base.

I took it out of the box and told my wife that I used to have one of these and they are so cool.

I placed the magnetic base on the table in front of her, and set the pen into it.

Instead of standing up, it immediately fell over.

My wife laughed so hard, she almost fell over.

Hey, maybe this is one more way to demonstrate Newton’s Third Law!

The World Ends! Again!

foxnews.com

foxnews.com

Like almost every other American, I have a smart phone, although I only use a few of its features. I do check e-mail, not so much to actually read all of it, but to skim through and see if there’s anything really interesting. The internet access is sometimes handy, although the slow speed and small screen are significant disincentives. The alarm clock comes in handy when I’m on the road.

When I access the phone, the home screen gives me the current weather – just basics like 23 degrees and clear or whatever. However, it has little gizmos to make the weather more entertaining. If it’s raining, a windshield wiper clears video raindrops off the screen, complete with wiper sounds. If it’s windy, I hear the sound of the wind and see clouds blow around the screen.

This morning, before the alarm went off I reached for my phone. The weather screen showed an asteroid streaking toward the earth accompanied by the sound of destruction and screaming.

I’d never known the smart phone to be wrong before, so I took immediate action. I’m a trained professional! I’ve dealt with all kinds of emergencies and disasters throughout my life, so I knew exactly how to handle this.

I immediately yanked the alarm clock power cord from the wall. I fluffed my pillow crawled back under my covers and reveled in the fact that the bed was so warm.

Rule #1: If the world is going to end, you might as well sleep in.

Turns out it was a glitch with the phone.

I still enjoyed the extra sleep.

The Best Laid Plans

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
– Robert Burns
My_to_do_list_for_today_n_n_Img01

This past weekend was a three day weekend because of Presidents’ Day. My wife and I decided that I should take a vacation day along with it. Four days off in a row! What opportunities! We could get so much done and then just spend some time together, maybe shopping, going out for a meal, or whatever. I had a list of things I wished to accomplish, starting with cleaning out my study. Every week I think, “Maybe next weekend I’ll get my study in order.” With four days, this was finally going to be the weekend!

Friday I realized I had a dental appointment after work, but no worries, the weekend would start immediately after that. Except that my daughter had soccer practice, and my wife was already gone with my son to his practice. When practice was over, I expected her to come running off the field so we could head home; instead newly inspired, she continued to practice some of her moves solo, and was most unhappy when I suggested we get headed.

It was now late.

Saturday offered all kinds of possibilities, although Katie had a soccer game in the morning, and Adam had a game in the evening. It had started to snow, and in true Virginia fashion, the weathermen (excuse me, meteorologists), reeking of adrenaline, were describing every possible catastrophic outcome with bated breath.

The officials at the Field House cut the second half of the soccer game by 5 minutes to clear people out early, so naturally the coach saw this as a chance to wax poetic with the team after the game.

We grabbed a couple of pizzas on the way home.

Sunday was the great “Battle of the Kitchen Sink” over which I ultimately prevailed. Barb took Adam to his flag football game while I grilled steaks so that they would be ready when everyone got home. The only thing scarier than a starving teenager is a teenager who’s starving because of athletic exertion. The meal was ready on time and casualties were averted.

Monday. The long weekend is quickly slipping away. The funny noise in my wife’s car got louder and we dropped it off for service. It was a very disturbing sound. If you listened carefully you could hear spelled out in Morse Code, “I’m going to be expensive!”

Even though there was no school, Adam’s high school was conducting tryouts for the soccer teams. This was three hours in the morning, three hours break, and then three hours in the afternoon. I had been marinating meat for several days so we could have shawarma for dinner, so I was focused on that.

Katie had several projects for school that should have been done earlier in the weekend, but now demanded her attention and she demanded mine.

Then the dog got sick.

Not terribly unusual, as any dog owner will attest.

In the early evening it was obvious that the dog was more than just sick. Barb drove and Adam carried the dog into our veterinarian’s office. After x-rays and IV fluids, the vet told us he needed to go to the emergency veterinary hospital. We waited there until almost midnight. After weighing the options presented by the vet, we decided to go ahead and have her perform emergency surgery.

To make a long story short, when Louis gets a bone, he doesn’t just gnaw on it, he completely destroys it. Well, not completely – bone shards had perforated his stomach and small intestine. The surgery seemed successful and Louis should be home tomorrow.

Now it’s Tuesday – may vacation day and day four of my four day extended weekend.

I’ve revised my “To-Do” List.

  1. Shred old “To-Do” List
  2. Unconditionally surrender

Maybe next weekend is when I’ll get my study in order.

The Advance of Technology

 

Edison

1963: “Teacher, how does a light bulb work?”

What an excellent topic for Science class today. Several inventors had built light bulbs, but they didn’t last very long. Thomas Alva Edison figured out how to make the first practical light bulb after years of research. He was a prolific inventor with over 1,000 patents including how to record sound and motion pictures.

For the light bulb he figured out that he’d need a filament – that is something that glows – and it needed to be in a vacuum so it wouldn’t just burn up. A glass bulb would maintain a vacuum and let the light shine through, but the filament was a problem. He tried all types of exotic metals, including silver, gold and platinum, but eventually settles on carbon. One story is that he carbonized a piece of cotton thread for the filament.

Today we use tungsten for the filament, but the rest of the design hasn’t changed much. They’re reliable – in fact there are several bulbs that were installed at the beginning of the twentieth century that are still burning today.

2003: “Teacher, how does a one of those curly light bulbs work?”

Well, let’s Google that. Hmmm, it was invented back in 1976 by George Hammer who worked for GE , but they didn’t want to spend the money to manufacture them. Eventually, the Chinese started making them.

They use less electricity than incandescent bulbs but the light is kind of funny colored. They’re supposed to last for five years, but around my house they seem to last about half as long as the old style light bulbs they replace.

They’ve got mercury in them, which is a hazardous material. The expression “As mad as a hatter” referred to the fact that hat makers used mercury and as they absorbed it through their skin, they exhibited erratic behavior, so if you break one, you have a problem.

There’s a phosphor inside that glows. That’s about the best I can do to explain it.

2013: “Teacher, how do light emitting diode – LED light bulbs work?”

Ooops, we’re out of time for science. Put your science books away and get out your social studies books so we can learn all about how Congress gets things done.