Saturday, 29 March 2008

The Earliest Audio Recording (at least as far as we know).

Two of my favourite news sources today referenced a particularly interesting bit of Victorian-era technology. Both the BBC and Edward Pearse are reporting on a device which, I must confess, I really had never learned of before: the phonautograph.

While I encourage the reader to browse the links above, I shall give a condensed version of the story here.

In 1857, Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville patented the phonautograph. The device used a stylus, connected to a receiving horn or bell, to inscribe a visual representation of the sound on to a recording medium (originally, a lamp-blackened glass plate; later, blackened paper). The purpose was to create a visual representation of sound -- not to provide for reproduction of that sound. And that is the key point to this story.

In April of 1860, a 10-second recording was made of "Au Claire de la Lune". This recording was recently found in the archives of the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France.

Scientists working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California created a method to reproduce the originally-recorded sounds from their sooty spectra. In short, an optical scan of the recording paper was made, and then computer software decoded the transcription to reproduce the sounds which originally drove the recording stylus.

The scientists are part of a collaborative, First Sounds. According to their web site:
First Sounds is an informal collaborative of audio historians, recording engineers, sound archivists, scientists, other individuals, and organizations who aim to make mankind's earliest sound recordings available to all people for all time.

David Giovannoni examines one of Scott's 1860 phonautograms in the archives of the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France, where it was deposited in 1861.

Photos by Isabelle Trocheris


So: these scientists took a visual representation of sound, which was never meant to be played back, and turned it back into sound.

Go back, and re-read that last sentence, considering the technology involved, and I think you would agree that this work is remarkable.

Are there more inadvertently-saved sounds waiting to be re-discovered? All that is needed, in theory, to record a sound is (1) a moving medium, and (2) a stylus which reacts to sound waves.

As is often the case, I am not the first to have such a fanciful notion. An episode of a popular American television science-fiction television series from the 1990s pondered what would happen if, say, sounds from 2000 years ago were recorded into a wet clay pot as a stick was being used to carve decorative grooves in it.

A little more research reveals that the concept was also the heart of an April Fools Day prank by a certain Bilge Sehir a few years ago, as nicely described on the Language Log blog. I mean, really: a 6500-year-old recording? Too good to be true.

Still, it does make for a nice gedanken experiment.

For quality sound reproduction, stick with Mr Edison's cylinders ... and beware of pseudoarchaeologists and/or April Fools pranksters.

Friday, 21 March 2008

A non-scientific announcement.

Some of my readership have learned of my recent inheritance of a bit of land in Winterfell. While the details of the matter do not require discussion here, suffice it to say that dear old Uncle Alexii will be greatly missed (sniff).

Before I get down to the necessary business on the estate (archæological excavations, mineral deposit analyses, and such like that), it would please me greatly to open up the area to let my dear friends, neighbours, and colleagues have a go at it.

So, it is with great pleasure that I am opening up Winterfell Eventide as a sandbox, at least for a week (Friday, March 28*), and I reserve the right to extend that offer if, say, really good builds appear. Feel free to use the land as well as the water; Viking longboats, anyone?

The caveats? Mediæval-style external themes. No floppy dongs. You have 3000-some-odd prims to play with.

The proclamation above is based on a charter from 1790 in which Catherine the Great promotes a certain Alexsandr Murkhanov to Secund-Rotmistr (Lieutenant-Captain) in the Horse-Mounted Guards.

And, if anyone has an interest in Alexander Nevsky-era uniforms, weaponry, or such accoutrements, please send me a notecard!



* That is Friday, March 28, New Style, that is, using the Gregorian calendar, as opposed to Old Style Julian calendar dates. When one is dealing with mediæval dates, and Slavic matters in general, the Old vs New Style distinction is important.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Failure analysis of the Loch Avie Cryogenic Seasonal Support Engine

Nicholas K, Bellambi E. Failure analysis of the Loch Avie Cryogenic Seasonal Support Engine (CSSE). Proc Royal Soc 1898;3.

The Loch Avie Cryogenic Seasonal Support Engine (CSSE) unexpectedly failed in February 1898, with resultant thermal destabilisation of the terrain. This analysis was conducted to determine the cause of failure, as well as to identify other potential failure modes of the engine. The root cause appears to be geothermal anomalous events triggered by plate tectonic movements. Various preventative strategies are discussed.

The CSSE was implemented during the current winter season in Caledon to support and enhance the ground and air temperature cooling needed to ensure persistent snow cover (maximum -3.5 degrees Centigrade) and precipitation occurring as snow (maximum -2.2 degrees C.) The system exhibited a meta-effect of allowing shallow-water ice to form to depths of up to 1 metre. (Fig. 1.)

The system was controlled from a certain location within Loch Avie. Electromagnetic relays were used to control various aspects of the system. Coolant temperature, flows, and hydraulic pressure were measured at the control panel. (Fig. 2.)

At various locations around the Loch, coolant pipes were exposed to the water and atmosphere to enable convective heat exchange to occur. Figure 3 demonstrates one such submerged pipe.

Note that the combination of the amount of dissolved solutes and particulate matter in the Loch water have dropped the freezing point to below the coolant temperature, as no ice build-up is seen. (Fig. 3a.)

Figure 4 demonstrates one of the above-ground heat-exchange mechanisms, which were used in tandem with the exposed pipe apparatus used for submersible cooling.

The details of the design of the cryogenic plant itself, and the method for dissipating heat from the system remain classified, as they were commissioned originally for The Security Service (Box 500, Loch Avie, Caledon).

System failure.
During the week of February 21, ambient air temperatures and soil temperatures began climbing by an average of 0.17 degrees C. per day, from their prior stable baselines of -3.5 and -2.2 degrees C. respectively. Snow cover began to dissipate immediately due to solar heating, and new precipitation fell as rain and freezing rain by February 26. By the first week in March, existing snow cover had vanished, and there was no contiguous ice remaining on the Loch.

During the warming event, the cryogenic fluid production remained constant, with nominal temperatures. (Fig. 5.) Readings from the heat dissipation system showed increasingly-warmer effluent.

Flow and pressure monitors recorded no pressure drops or coolant leaks. (Fig. 6.)

The data support that the system encountered increased ambient heat which could not be effectively dissipated, resulting in increasingly less-efficient cooling. While available readings from surrounding areas are scant, the data suggest increased energy deposition into the air, water, and soil. Electromagnetic (EM) sensors did not indicate any change in background EM or radio-frequency energies. Seismic readings, though, showed low-level activity beginning and increasing in a temporally-associated fashion with the warming event. One hydrothermal vent which is routinely monitored indicated increased output of geothermal energy.

The CSSE failure was a result of its heat-exchanging system being overwhelmed by an unusual increase in hydrothermal energy. The increase in seismic activity in the area is the most likely etiology. The CSSE operated as designed, without any loss of system integrity . Based on the system design, and the observed mode of failure, the CSSE failed safely. The design could not have been modified on-line to accomodate the increased need for heat dissipation. The authors recommend that the system, now off-line, be re-engineered to increase heat transfer and dissipation, and that seismic monitoring be instituted to allow for better prediction of the need for increased efficiency. Finally, a further study of the unusual seismic events should be undertaken, as the increased geothermal activity provides demonstrable evidence of a change in tectonic interactions.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Shameless advertisement: Mainland expedition site.

On behalf of my colleague, Prof. Krogstad (who appears to be blogless), I would like to announce* that he is divesting himself of a mainland expedition site, way up in the mountains of Livigno, one of the snow sims.

He cites a clear lack of Yeti, Sasquatch, and Abominable Creatures Other Than Mainlanders as reasons for abandoning the site in question. There was also something about using up all his grant funding buying questionable trinkets, but I didn't get that part of the conversation.

So if anyone is interested in a Yeti-free mountain parcel, please contact Adso Krogstad in-world.

* Disclaimer: I report that I have no conflict of interest in the sale of this property, nor am on the payroll of the Yeti, Sasquatch, and Abominable Snowman Council of SL.