For Whom the Bell Telephones (Part 1)

Capn Crunch Cereal Whistle that defeated the phone company

This whistle, found inside boxes of Capn Crunch cereal, allowed people to make free phone calls in the 1970s. No one cared about ripping off the phone company because people hated AT&T. Just like today.

[short series on AT&T inspired by their announcement to buy T-Mobile: Part 1]
In one of those great historical ironies, “Bell” was the inventor of the first practical telephone, so that the “Bell Telephone Company” was named after the inventor and not the ringer.  Through a series of business shenanigans that only an MBA could find interesting, the Bell Telephone Company sold its assets to one of its own spin-offs: American Telephone & Telegraph company, AT&T for short.  This spin-off had originally been set up to run the long distance lines for Bell Telephone, but now the child ate the parent.

I told you only an MBA would find that interesting.

As any engineer will tell you, the easiest way to ensure compatibility between technologies is to have it all come from one source.  There are plenty of examples of this:  Edison’s first power systems, IBM’s 360 computer.  In the case of AT&T, the focus was the telecommunication system. However, Bell’s original patents expired in 1894 and AT&T needed Continue Reading


The Nuclear Diet: Something Doesn’t Add Up

Three Mile Island - site of worst US nuclear disaster

Three Mile Island - synonymous with nuclear disaster. Those working cooling towers (that's moist air, not smoke, coming from them) are part of Unit 1, which can continue to produce energy until 2034. The two silent towers are part of Unit 2, which failed in 1979, less than 3 months after commissioning.

[shine little glow-worm, glimmer]
Well, that just about does it: with a very real nuclear energy crisis on hand at Japan’s Fukushima reactor (Japan has informed the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency that radiation has leaked directly into the air), the world will have some very hard choices to make going forward. Most reactors are not subjected to 9.0 earthquakes, indeed, it was the infrastructure of the electrical grid that lead to the overheating (not enough power to control the reactor!). Then the double whammy of being swamped by the tsunami. Nature simply overwhelmed our puny efforts to establish order in the universe. The IAEA’s bland recitation of the serious damage to the local environment is almost comical:

Coming as they do when oil prices are rising, these events remind us that the world is running out of choices on how to get its daily recommended amount of electrical energy. Let’s do the math: According to the latest government numbers, 70% of the US’s electrical power is from fossil fuels (oil/natural gas/petroleum) and 20% is from nuclear, so it’s obviously not trivial to make a dent in reducing our present established sources.  Of the remaining approximately 10% of electrical generation, 6% is hydro and only 4.5% is everything else (wind, geothermal, solar, biofuels).   (For those doing the math: Yes, these numbers don’t add to 100% due to accumulated round off errors).

For us to wean ourselves from traditional fuels, we will have to quadruple the present amount of electricity generated with alternative fuels.  (Hydro power is limited in its growth and, lest we forget, Continue Reading

Michele Bachmann: A Ready-Made

[don’t know much about history]
Some blogs just write themselves. This weekend, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann moved the seat of the American Revolutionary War from Massachusetts to New Hampshire:

This wasn’t a simple gaffe in an extemporaneous speech. It was a pre-planned part of her remarks which she also delivered, with the same error, the previous night.

Compare her clip with this gem from the comedy film, ANIMAL HOUSE:

As you may recall from the film, the charismatic but academically-challenged Bluto (played by John Belushi) ended up as a US Senator.

The writers of ANIMAL HOUSE really understood what moved the American public.

As a bonus irony, consider this: the US Senator who used to write comedy for a living, Al Franken, has had a better command of facts during his first term in office.