Dan's Data letters #155
(page 2)Publication date: 24 November 2005.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
I think you're completely barking mad about the Spring Drive, though. It's a damn clever design.
Unlike every other spring-driven watch, it doesn't use an oscillating escapement to regulate the unwinding of the spring. Instead, it has an electro-mechanical regulator which controls the energy from the main spring and uses it to power the oscillator directly. To dismiss this as "just a quartz watch" misses the incredible technical achievement of producing a hybrid electromechanical watch. Yes, it has a quartz oscillator, but it's driven by a unique 30-jewel automatic movement.
That said, I agree that it's completely impractical in a world filled with good $30 electronic timepieces. This product is all about bragging rights - Seiko gets to lay claim to the first mechanical watch with electronic regulation, and I'm sure they’re hoping it will raise the cachet of their brand.
It took you this long to notice that I'm mad?
And yes, Spring Drive is damn clever, but the world of expensive watches is full of damn clever designs. I don't know whether the development of amazing new all-mechanical movements - ever thinner, ever lighter, ever-increasing numbers of tiny bells and rattrapante second hands and relativity-corrected orbit-of-Mercury calculators - even slowed down when quartz watches took off. It's like postmodern literary criticism - cleverness is the product, here.
High-end watches occupy a spot in the tactility and ingenuity scales right between pocket-knives and CPUs (one scale decreasing, the other increasing...), and I don't think real high tech will have a place in the fancy watch market until someone makes a nanotech watch that rebuilds itself into more interesting configurations right there on your wrist.
As far as hybrid electromechanical watches go, I think the original Accutron has a strong claim to being the first.
It's interesting to see how Seiko's playing down the quartz-iness of the Spring Drive, to avoid repelling the high-end customers. Who, actually, probably don't even need a watch, because their People will remind them when they need to do something, in of course the unlikely situation that the event in question (the start of a play, the closing time of a restaurant, a solar eclipse...) cannot be rescheduled to suit the customers' whim. And they certainly don't need anything so proletarian as a very accurate watch.
A watch with no consumable parts is all very well, and a worthy philosophical goal, but it's not any more sensible in the real world than super-expensive mechanical watches in general. Because, like all mechanical watches, it will need servicing now and then, or it will become inaccurate at best, or stop working at worst.
Sure, people'll be glad of their mechanical watches after the aliens invade and eat all of the women and watch batteries, but we'll be able to coordinate our attacks on the Terminators just fine with cheap wind-up mechanical watches. Jaeger-LeCoultres won't give us much more of an edge, and neither will Spring Drives.
It's great when the guy raving about them can't even come up with some Treknobabble explanation for the wonderfulness of the item in question, and instead just cheerfully says something that straightforwardly violates basic physical laws.
Apparently these interconnects kick arse because metal cables "turn into big radio antennas", but "...'Nano' is ... inherently immune to sonic corruption."
If they conduct electricity, they work as antennas. But that's cool, because the cheapest and crappiest vaguely-shielded coaxial RCA cable it's possible to buy still dumps almost all incoming RFI to ground through the shield, and the gear on each end of the cable is insensitive to radio frequency signals anyway, since they're several orders of magnitude away from the audio frequencies that hi-fi gear is made to reproduce.
The talk about carbon spark plug leads in the 6moons review further muddies the water, and is also wrong. Automotive carbon leads are, as 6moons say, constructed quite differently from these filament cables, and they do indeed reduce interference emissions, because they have very high resistance - up to 10,000 ohms per foot. It's nothing magic about carbon. A copper wire with a great big resistor on the end will behave exactly the same.
The high resistance indeed makes the ignition cables a lousy antenna - but its principal purpose is to work as an in-line resistor to reduce spark current, and thereby reduce RFI. Fairly low resistance spiral-copper leads allow a higher current spark, which along with their better antenna performance produces more RFI, which may cause interference with the car radio or, more importantly, engine control and other electronic systems. Solid copper cored leads have very low resistance and produce a lot of RFI, so they're only suitable for old carburetted vehicles - you'll still find them on various dragsters, for instance.
If you fit an after-market high energy ignition to your car, you'll probably burn out carbon plug leads in short order, and should therefore upgrade to copper-spiral leads and deal with RFI some other way (people in this situation are usually more interested in listening to the engine than to the radio, so that's one problem out of the way).
The audio fruitcakes used to be all excited about single strand cables - the single strands, as opposed to the multiple thin woven strands that make normal cable flexible and resistant to fracture, were supposed to minimise "skin effect". Which doesn't have any significant effect at audio frequencies anyway, but bear with me. Low skin effect was meant to do the usual collection of unquantifiable voodoo things to the sound, as a result of being more resistant to the transfer of, that's right, very high frequencies.
But the ones that're crazy for nano-wires (made from carbon or copper or silver or gold-pressed latinum) are championing a cable that, if it's accurately described, genuinely can exhibit low impedance to ultra-high frequencies. Which it will collect every bit as well (or, from the point of view of the reality-based community, badly), as ordinary interconnects.
So (a) the SonicFlare writer is absolutely as wrong as it's possible for him to be, and (b) it would be a good idea to lock the solid-wire and nano-wire proponents in a room and see what happens.
Damn Interesting are running this story at the moment:
I thought this was something you'd recently debunked…?
Quite the opposite, actually!
I mentioned hydrogen injection in passing in this column; the basic claim behind it is not at all the usual over-unity nonsense. It just says that a small amount of hydrogen introduced into the combustion chamber makes combustion more effective. Companies that sell the kits to make it happen often have... fanciful... descriptions of what's actually going on (as soon as you read the words "Brown's Gas" you should close the browser window...), and I don't know the details or how reliable are the exciting claims made for its effectiveness in various kinds of engines. But it does seem a solid enough technology at base.
If you haven't already seen it, check this story out. Pretty amusing, I think, but perhaps not for that man.
Usually, bizarre news stories about things that happen in Australia are just using Australia as one of those "strange countries from another dimension" where things that defy belief happen every day. We Aussies all ride giant kangaroos to work, dodging drop bears on the way, after all. The Weekly World News loves us.
This one, though, is a real report, of events that could not possibly have happened.
It got onto the Reuters wire service, and around the world it went. And because most people can't tell an amp from a hamster, it got published hither and yon.
The wire services are kind of like the patent office. A patent doesn't mean the patent office has made sure the device works (most patent offices do have bans on perpetual motion machines, but that's the exception rather than the rule), and AP or AFP or Reuters distribution doesn't mean they've checked the facts.
Anyone with some slight knowledge of elementary electrical theory can see that the story makes no sense at all. Current isn't measured in volts, and clothes don't spontaneously combust because of electrical buildup - or for pretty much any other reason, if you aren't using linseed oil deodorant.
David Gosden, the expert quoted at the end, is a real academic, who may well have given a perfectly sensible explanation of static electricity that got garbled up into rubbing clouds (newspaper science reporting is disastrously bad).
Anyway, I reckon he must by now be getting tired of having this story stuck up on his office door.
It's easy to build up tens of thousands of volts of static charge; walking across a nylon carpet with rubber-soled shoes on a dry day will do it. This charge is only there because it's got no easy discharge path, though, not because you've somehow attracted a huge arcing glob of electricity waiting to vaporise the first crowbar you touch. When you touch something relatively uncharged - like a metal doorknob - there will, indeed, be a spark, which you'll probably notice and which may even be slightly uncomfortable. But that'll be it. Grab something moderately well earthed, like a cold water tap, and bing, you're back at ground potential.
You could start a fire with a static spark if there happened to be some flammable vapours wafting around, but you wouldn't be lighting the place up like some kind of supervillain.
Actually, even a vague comprehension of conservation of energy will do to show this story's nonsense. To melt and set fire to things, you need considerable energy. If you could generate that much energy just by walking around in a nylon leisure suit, then a person pedalling an exercise bike could power a city.
Of course, the world has no shortage of ignorant and/or dimwitted people who find this sort of thing perfectly plausible.
They were the target market for the old electric belts, which were still popular around the start of the 20th century. The belts were promoted with terms like "massive 80-gauge current!", and were supposed to be good for whatever ailed you.
And I do mean whatever ailed you. The belts often had "suspensories" to go around the penis. Fancy ones had a scrotum-bag too.
What they didn't usually have was any components capable of creating an actual electrical circuit. Those that did comprise some sort of battery and pass current through the body generally only developed a few volts, at most, and a minuscule current; you'd do much better with a potato battery.
(Here's a belt that actually had some electricity in it. Note that $US60 in 1913 is about $US1150 today.)
Then, as now, "gauge" was not actually a unit of current, but when the first quack belts were developed, it might as well have been. Electricity's been measured in volts and amps since the 1880s, but before then there weren't any units for it. Nobody knew enough about it to even quantify it properly.
These ones generally actually do pass (a small amount of) electricity through the user, but that's all that can be said in their favour.
While I'm mopping up old widely-forwarded news stories, here's a rather older one from further down my letters-in-progress file:
The story claims Peltiers are more efficient than standard ol' A/C compressors? I find that hard to believe. And I know the US doesn't use Freon anymore, we use R-134a. Which is the same stuff we use to squirt dust out of our computers all day long.
Don't know what the rest of the world uses. But if they're letting us buy this junk at OfficeMax, it can't be as bad as all that. Can it?
Anyhow, thanks for the site, and keep up the good work.
You should indeed find the "Utah teens'" story hard to believe, because Peltiers are nowhere near as efficient as standard air conditioning.
This Slashdot comment pretty much covers it.
Unless this story is severely misreported, the person who gave these kids a prize should be playing a harmonica on a street corner. I imagine a nasty surprise awaits them if someone with a practical comprehension of elementary physics looks over their discoveries.
You're right about the refrigerant, as well; Freon is not the same thing as R-134a. But the definition has been thoroughly fuzzed, at least in some countries, as tends to happen when technical concepts hit the grease-under-the-fingernails world.
WE ARE DEFINITELY NOT AMUSED AT YOUR ATTEMPTS TO DISCREDIT THE WORLD OF ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES.
PLEASE STOP THIS CAMPAIGN OF INTOLERANCE.
LIKE I SAID, YOU NEED TO GET OUT MORE AND EXPERIENCE MORE HUMAN WARMTH LOVE AND EMPATHY. IT WOULD DO YOU GOOD.
WEBMASTER OF LIFE TECHNOLOGY
There must be some place where people go where they issue you with a silly new-age name (I suppose you can save on stationery, or something, if it's the same as one of your products) and teach you to talk bollocks and believe any amount of utter cock.
The above e-mail was, no doubt, an indirect result of the last-line link on this page, clickthroughs from which led to the ill-advised advertising inquiry at the end of this page, with further fame in the second-last letter on this page.
(Note: Mr/Mrs/Ms Solis has now e-mailed me with regard to the above link, strongly protesting that Life Technology are in no way associated with Dr Nick "Hi, everybody!" Riviera. Since Dr Nick's every bit as real as the other stuff these people believe with all their little hearts, I can understand why they'd be concerned about possible consumer confusion, and hasten to add that they are also not in any way associated with Bugs Bunny dressed as a doctor. You can't make this stuff up, folks.)
You'd think the plain goofiness of it all would mean they'd have no chance of doing any harm, but plenty of people out there happy to spend money on nothing, and new forms of credulity are invented every day.
And, as these e-mails indicate, this strange segment of humanity seems to be largely built of, for and by the profoundly woolly-brained - there seem to be surprisingly few cynical scam artists, but plenty of vendors who seem to be as incapable of coherent thought as their customers.
As far as I know, Mr/Mrs/Ms Solis never said anything to me about "getting out more"; the only previous communication I'd had from Life Technology was "Rory" (a disturbingly normal sounding name...) asking about running ads.
After I replied to Aurum saying as much, he said "WE ARE SENDING YOU GOOD VIBES".
Which is nice of them, I suppose. It's certainly better than the usual lawsuit threats.