February 2003 Archives

BlogTV: The Old Capitol Dome Rises

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More than 2 years after a fire that destroyed the Old Capitol dome in the center of the University of Iowa Pentacrest, a new dome is in place. This video was shot by UITV from Phillips hall, I spent many hours in that building and this is the view from my old classroom window. I've compressed the video at 8x so you can see the slow 12 minute sequence in just a minute and a half. Watch the crowds along the bottom and right of the frame. The crane started lifting at 1:25 PM, just as classes were getting out. Students stopped to watch the dome go up, and then rushed off by 1:30 when their next class started.
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The fire that destroyed the dome was tragic, nobody can replace solid oak timbers hewn from 19th century Iowa forests and shaped with hand tools. I'm not sure if I approve of the new dome, I saw photos of the wooden structure and it looks like it was designed on a computer. But now that the dome is covered in gold leaf again, it looks more like the original dome. Still, it will take many decades before it gets that weatherbeaten, hail damaged look of our old dome.

Build Your Own UFO Detector

UFO Detector When I was a little kid about 7 years old, I read an article in a science fiction magazine that showed how to build your own UFO detector. The device is a crude but fairly sensitive magnetometer, it looked interesting so I built one. The theory is that an alien UFO would travel with some sort of advanced electromagnetic propulsion, it would disturb the magnetic field and the sensor would detect it. It's a simple trembler switch, you can make it yourself with some wire, a magnet, and an doorbell. I was surprised to discover it really works!
The entire switch is about 6 inches tall, made from 3 pieces of uninsulated solid copper wire. The illustration shows the general layout of the switch, with the two sides of the circuit indicated in blue and red. It's a simple pendulum hanging from a hook, and down through an open loop. When the pendulum swings, it will hit the loop and complete the circuit. The pendulum's counterweight is a small magnet, I used a cylindrical refrigerator magnet and wrapped the end of the copper wire around it. The magnet isn't part of the electrical circuit, but when a large magnetic field moves by, it will attract the counterweight and cause the pendulum to swing. You can verify this by waving a magnet near the sensor, the pendulum will swing wildly, and will be influenced by a moving magnet even at a fair distance.
I made the hook about 6 inches high and the lower loop about 1/2 inch in diameter, and put it under a glass jar so it wouldn't be triggered by drafts. Connect the bottom end of the loop to one wire of the doorbell, connect bottom of the hook to the other wire, hang the pendulum on the hook, and your UFO detector is ready for action.
You can increase the sensitivity of the switch in two ways; you can increase the length of the pendulum, or decrease the size of the loop. You could actually make this several feet tall, and it would be so sensitive it could detect nearby electric motors and TVs, and it would be very sensitive to vibration. But we're trying to detect huge metal spaceships so we should start fairly small. And it turns out that even a small detector is very sensitive.
I left my detector running in my bedroom at night, of course aliens would come under cover of darkness. I waited for the alarm signal night after night. I decided to decrease the size of the loop a bit. I also improved the pendulum by substituting a little bar magnet, and aligning it with magnetic north. Then one night as I was sleeping, the UFO detector rang!
I rushed to my window but I could see nothing. I ran barefoot out into the yard and searched the sky. I could hear the motors approaching, it was a small aircraft flying at low altitude, a propeller aircraft from the local airport, darn it! I was disappointed, but I'd successfully detected a flying object, even if if it wasn't unidentified.
I decided to make the device a little more sensitive so I could detect more distant UFOs. As I tuned the sensor, it became so sensitive I could detect high altitude jet airliners, and even large trucks driving down the street! It appears that any large mass of metal moving through earth's magnetic field can trigger the alarm. I got a quite a few aircraft detections, but I never saw any alien spaceships. Eventually my Dad got mad at me for constantly waking up in the middle of the night and running through the house, so he made me turn off my UFO detector forever.
Update: I poked around the web and found other descriptions of the UFO detector. Apparently it was a popular device during the 1960s, and quite a few people made these sensors in various designs. I wonder who invented it?

Censored Again

I was censored again today. On a moderated newsgroup, someone wrote a derisive message, claiming there were only 10 protesters in San Francisco. I posted a link to photos of the Freeper pro-war protest with only 10 people. Here is what he wrote, interleaved with my response in italics:
I think what is funny is the notion that people in the military really give a crap about what home bound pimple poppers think.
FYI: The military is commanded by one civillian: the Commander-in-Chief, who is allegedly a representative of the citizens of the US. He BETTER pay attention to the citizens, or he'll be another 1-term president, just like his daddy.
It has been doctrine since VietNam that the US cannot fight a war that is opposed by a substantial proportion of US Citizens. This is why the US is spending so much time and effort with the UN, i.e. Colin Powell's speech that was not targeted at convincing other countries, instead it was targeted at convincing americans.
There will always be people who carry the weight, and others who sit on their asses reaping the benefit.
There will always be lower and middle class taxpayers who slave at substandard jobs, struggling just to pay their taxes, and sending their sons and daughters into combat, just as there will always rich white fratboys getting deferments and avoiding military service.
There is a name for protests conducted under the protection of the police, local government and the news media - a relaxing day off.
I've been looking for an old book I have, it's called "Resistance" and is a manual for the Swiss Army on how to fight an invasion of Russians. The most interesting part is the section on Soviet doctrine against mass demonstrations. The Sovs channel the demonstrations into "approved" paths, block the alternate routes into and out of the demonstration, and once everyone has arrived at the site, they contain everyone for easy elimination with tanks and machine guns. Except for the firing of weapons, the NYC demo was almost exactly carried out according to Soviet doctrine.
I'd suggest spreading land mines on the streets and firing on the crowds with automatic weapons to assist them in gaining a better sense of reality and balance to the debate, you know, level the playing field.
I haven't heard anything as offensive as that statement except from Ann Coulter. [name removed], you are better than that. This country was founded in dissent, and our form of government is intended to form a consensus out of dissenting factions. What ever happened to "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"...?!?!?
In response, I received this email message informing me that my post had been censored:
At a time like this we have a loyalty and an obligation to support Americans that are preparing to risk their lives for the sake of this country. With that in mind, posts with anti-American commentary are not welcome in the newsgroup. Thanks.
Now I ask you, who is more anti-American, someone who advocates machine-gunning peace protesters, or me?

Icarus Falls

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Today seven brave men and women surfed atop the atmosphere on a tiny shield and spilled to earth. They had the Right Stuff, even if just for a moment, they went higher, faster, farther, harder, closer to heaven than anyone before. They didn't just push the envelope, they broke through it. Everyone with the Right Stuff knows that at any moment it could go out of control. It could not be otherwise, if there was no risk there could be no triumph.
Daedalus built the labyrinth for King Minos, but afterwards lost the favor of the king, and was shut up in a tower. He contrived to make his escape from his prison, but could not leave the island by sea, as the king kept strict watch on all the vessels, and permitted none to sail without being carefully searched. �Minos may control the land and sea,� said Daedalus, �but not the regions of the air. I will try that way.� So he set to work to fabricate wings for himself and his young son Icarus. He wrought feathers together, beginning with the smallest and adding larger, so as to form an increasing surface. The larger ones he secured with thread and the smaller with wax, and gave the whole a gentle curvature like the wings of a bird. Icarus, the boy, stood and looked on, sometimes running to gather up the feathers which the wind had blown away, and then handling the wax and working it over with his fingers, by his play impeding his father in his labors. When at last the work was done, the artist, waving his wings, found himself buoyed upward, and hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten air. He next equipped his son in the same manner, and taught him how to fly, as a bird tempts her young ones from the lofty nest into the air. When all was prepared for flight he said, �Icarus, my son, I charge you to keep at a moderate height, for if you fly too low the damp will clog your wings, and if too high the heat will melt them. Keep near me and you will be safe.� While he gave him these instructions and fitted the wings to his shoulders, the face of the father was wet with tears, and his hands trembled. He kissed the boy, not knowing that it was for the last time. Then rising on his wings, he flew off, encouraging him to follow, and looked back from his own flight to see how his son managed his wings. As they flew the ploughman stopped his work to gaze, and the shepherd leaned on his staff and watched them, astonished at the sight, and thinking they were gods who could thus cleave the air.
They passed Samos and Delos on the left and Lebynthos on the right, when the boy, exulting in his career, began to leave the guidance of his companion and soar upward as if to reach heaven. The nearness of the blazing sun softened the wax which held the feathers together, and they came off. He fluttered with his arms, but no feathers remained to hold the air. While his mouth uttered cries to his father it was submerged in the blue waters of the sea, which thenceforth was called by his name. His father cried, �Icarus, Icarus, where are you?� At last he saw the feathers floating on the water, and bitterly lamenting his own arts, he buried the body and called the land Icaria in memory of his child.
The death of Icarus is told in the following lines by Darwin:
"...with melting wax and loosened strings
Sunk hapless Icarus on unfaithful wings;
Headlong he rushed through the affrighted air,
With limbs distorted and dishevelled hair;
His scattered plumage danced upon the wave,
And sorrowing Nereids decked his watery grave;
O'er his pale corse their pearly sea-flowers shed,
And strewed with crimson moss his marble bed;
Struck in their coral towers the passing bell,
And wide in ocean tolled his echoing knell."