My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: the marvels of technology can readily be found in your very own kitchen.
The history of technology we usually teach kids is a flashy one. They hear about atomic bombs, rocket ships, computers. If it's big, shiny, immensely expensive and difficult to create, oh, and explodes, we teach them about it. Occasionally, we might mention a really important, yet more boring one, like nitrogen fertilizers. But generally? It's shiny objects all the way down.
Modern nitrogen fertilizers, are, in my book, the most important invention of the 20th century. Forget computers, forget atom bombs: nitrogen fertilizers are what allow us to maintain our global population levels—and they might get a few sentences in your average grade school history book.
When you look at even less-flashy inventions, they get less and less in the way of attention paid to them. In fact, I can almost guarantee that you never think about one of the categories of devices you use most often. Kitchenware.
Seriously. Go in your kitchen right now, and pick up…let's say, a rubber spatula. We've had rubber for much, much longer than we've had rubber spatulas, so why did we invent them? Well, you probably have a non-stick pan, right? Try scraping it out with a metal spatula, and you're going to scrape off the non-stick coating. (Which, apparently, is really bad for your health.)
Or take a look at cast iron pans. They've got a bit of a reputation for being a little on the tough side to clean, right? Well, they used to be considerably easier to clean, but as they drifted a bit more out of popular use (though never went completely absent), a final step of the production process was dropped. They used to be sand casted, then given a strong polish, but this polishing step was dropped to save on costs, so antique cast iron is actually considerably more non-stick.
Every single pot, pan, knife, item of silverware, or bizarre back-of-the-drawer gizmo in your kitchen has an extensive history all its own. And even a cultural context: five centuries ago, a muffin pan would have been pretty much useless scrap, thanks to the lack of common closed range stoves. These are tools that you use constantly and are personally relevant every day. Atom bombs? They can, really, only be personally relevant once.
Photo by Todd Ehlers from McGregor, Iowa, a Mississippi River town, U.S. of A. (1937 Kitchen--Not Bad!) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Ramping Toward 2021
My friend The Yard Ramp Guy puts a noble spin on the year that was, and he looks forward to putting it all behind us.
Click HERE to review the world with him.
My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: the Tacoma Narrows offers us an important cautionary tale on preventing disaster and respecting nature.
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse is one of the best known architectural failures in modern history, and it is used as a lesson by everyone, from architects and civil engineers to insurance agents.
Built in 1940 across the Tacoma Narrows in Washington State, the suspension bridge lasted less than a year before collapsing. The only casualty was a dog stuck in a car.
Due to a very tight budget, the bridge was constructed with lightweight girders, as per the lowest bid design. (In my work, that Tacoma Narrows lesson is one of the many reasons I don't just go for the lowest bid). During construction, the bridge's thin design, low weight, and less-than-durable construction resulted in frequent vibrations and shaking whenever the wind picked up. It got so bad that the workers nicknamed it Galloping Gertie. Not exactly a trust-inspiring name.
The bridge began undergoing severe oscillations (or, to be a bit less technical about things: the bridge shook itself to bits) under heavy winds on November 7th, 1940.
I won’t go in depth on the science behind the collapse; you can find that easy enough. I'm more interested in what lessons it gives us about ignoring nature. For all the amazing things mankind has done, we still need to respect nature or it will come back to bite us. All of our technology and inventiveness allows us to stand up to nature, but push it around? Not a chance. We need to foster a design philosophy that promotes working with nature, not against it.
This sounds like hippy talk, I know, but it's nothing new. Heck, the idea goes back millennia. Look at any number of cultures that lived in hot climates—high ceilings, big windows, light colored paint. Cultures that live with heavy rain? You build your foundations strong, angle your roof, and pick your building site really carefully.
Why'd I decide to blog about Tacoma Narrows, when so many people already use it as a lesson? Well, I think some people missed that one ⏤ like my son-in-law, who decided to have his shed built by the cheapest contractor: at the edge of a hill, with no real foundation to speak of. He's going to be picking his tools out of the stream for weeks.
My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: the Hyperloop would get you from Point A to Point B in record time. Hands and legs in the compartment at all times, please.
The way I figure it, most billionaires are just investors: they're simply using money to make more money. It's not real exciting, but if you really want to be rich that bad, I guess it works.
A few billionaires are more interesting to me, though—guys like Bill Gates and Elon Musk, who actually get involved in producing new things.
Elon Musk is especially noteworthy right now. He's started a private space corporation (SpaceX), co-founded Tesla Motors, and most recently is pushing for the Hyperloop.
The Hyperloop is a conceptual transportation system that would be able to move passengers at speeds twice, or more, of a passenger aircraft. Essentially, it's a high speed train in a sealed tunnel with most of the air pumped out, letting it speed unhindered by air resistance, track friction, weather, or any of the difficulties facing other modes of high-speed transportation.
This thing could potentially hit thousands of miles an hour (depending on how low they can keep the pressure in the tube; that's the big limiting factor). Rather than using maglev (magnetic levitation) or wheels, the train would float on air rails, very similarly to how an air hockey table works, and it would be accelerated by linear induction motors.
This concept isn't new. The idea of vacuum trains has been around for decades. This is one of the first attempts to really build one, though. While all of the initial design work was done by Musk's engineers, he then took the unusual step of releasing all of the designs and plans. All of them. He turned it into an open source project.
Most of the current work on the project is by a group of engineers called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. (The old saw about engineers getting to name companies holds true here).
That's not to say that it doesn't face plenty of troubles of its own. They've still got to figure out how to handle earthquakes, any number of technical issues, and even zoning issues. But I feel confident saying that we'll get to see this fly one day.
The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: The Forklift Ramp Secret
What on earth is my friend The Yard Ramp Guy doing, giving away trade secrets? It high time to find out. And the answer is rather timely.
Click HERE to spend a few rewarding minutes.
A Slippery Slope
My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: ramps sometimes appear in the most unlikely of places. Which brings us to the funicular:
You normally want ramps to have a relatively low slope: it's hardly going to cut back on the amount of work you need to do to get something to the top if it's too steep.
Unfortunately, it sometimes isn't possible to construct a shallow ramp, usually due to terrain. You've still got to be able to get up to the top, though, which is where funiculars come into the picture.
A funicular is essentially a pair of linked carts on rails going up and down a slope. Think elevator, but tilted to the side, and using each other as counterweights instead of having their own counterweights.
Funiculars take shockingly little power to operate, since you're really only hauling up the weight of the load. In fact, some low-tech funiculars operate by filling water tanks at the top cart and draining them at the bottom, which pulls down the top cart and vice versa. They're an extremely effective way to get around, and since they're usually in the mountains, you usually get a great view as well, except when you go through a tunnel. You also get quite a few in mines.
Depending on the amount of space available, the carts might have separate tracks, or they may share tracks. When they share track, there's generally a split rail in the middle of the run that diverts the carts around each other.
Unfortunately, a funicular was the site of the worst ramp-related disaster in history. (Yes, definitely worse than the countless groin injuries caused by ramps in sports.) The Kaprun disaster occurred on a large funicular leading up to a ski resort. One of the large trams used in the funicular caught fire while going up the tunnel. The resulting smoke billowed up through the tunnel, killing more than 150 people, largely through smoke inhalation.
The disaster turned out to be caused mostly by poor training and a fault in the tram car, but public confidence in funiculars remained shaken for some years. (Maggie wouldn't let me ride the last one we saw, but I think I've finally got her convinced that they're safe.)
The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Forklift Ramp Modeling
This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy presents some amazing ramp photos that show the depth of his geographic reach across the nation.
Click HERE to enjoy the visual splendor of it all.