Fixing A Hot Shop, With Science

We know that pretty much everybody in the Northern hemisphere has had a hellish summer, and there’s little room for sympathy when someone busts out with, “Oh yeah? You think THAT’s hot? Well, lemme tell you…” But you’ve got to pity someone who lives in north Texas and has a steel Quonset hut for a shop. That’s got to be just stupidly hot.

But stupid hot can be solved — or at least mitigated — with a little smarts, which is what [Wesley Treat] brought to bear with this cleverly designed shop door heat shield. When it pushes past 42°C — sorry, that sounds nowhere near as apocalyptic as 108°F — the south-facing roll-up door of his shop becomes a giant frying pan, radiating heat into his shop that the air conditioner has trouble handling. His idea was to block that radiant heat with a folding barrier, but to make sure it would be worth the effort, he mocked up a few potential designs and took measurements of the performance of each. His experiments showed him that a layer of extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam insulation covered with reflective Mylar did better than just the foam or Mylar alone.

The finished heat shield is an enormous tri-fold plywood beast that snugs up against the door when things get toasty in the shop. There’s a huge difference in temperature between the metal door and the inside surface of the shield, which will hopefully keep the shop more comfortable. We imagine that the air between the door and the shield will still heat up, and convection could still distribute all that hot air into the shop. But at least he’s giving the AC a fighting chance.

In addition to great shop tips like this and his custom storage bins, [Wesley] is a talented signmaker. He’s pretty funny too — or maybe that’s just the heat talking.

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Hackaday Prize 2022: Soviet Geiger Counter Gets WiFi

[Marek] has an impressive collection of old Soviet-style Geiger counters. These are handy tools to have in some specific situations, but for most of us they would be curiosities. Even so, they need some help from the modern world to work well, and [Marek] has come up with some pretty creative ways of bringing them into the 21st century. This version, for example, adds WiFi capabilities.

This build is based on the STS-5 Geiger tube but the real heavy lifting is handled by an ESP8266 which also provides a wireless network connection. There are some limitations to using an ESP8266 to control a time-sensitive device like a Geiger tube, especially the lack of local storage, but [Marek] solves this problem by including a real-time clock and locally caching data until a network connection is re-established. Future plans for the device include adding temperature and atmospheric temperature sensors.

Eventually this Geiger counter will be installed in a watertight enclosure outside so [Marek] can keep an eye on the background radiation of his neighborhood. Previously he was doing this with another build, but that one only had access to the network over an Ethernet cable, so this one is quite an upgrade.

Forget Radio! Transmitting With Neutrons

Throughout history, people have devised ways to send information across long distances. For centuries we relied on smoke signals, semaphores, and similar physical devices. Electricity changed everything. First the telegraph and then radio transformed communications. Now researchers at the University of Lancaster have demonstrated another way to send wireless data without using electromagnetic radiation. They’ve harnessed fast neutrons from californium-252 and modulated them with information with 100% success.

The setup was interesting. The radioactive material was encased in a cubic meter steel tank filled with water. A pneumatic system can move the material to one edge of the tank which allows fast neutrons to escape. A scintillating detector can pick up the increased neutron activity. It seems like it is akin to using what hams call CW and college professors call OOK (on off keying). You can do that with just about anything you can detect. A flashlight, knocking on wood, or — we suppose — neutrons.

We wondered what the practical application of this might be. The paper suggests that the technique could send data through metal containment structures like those of a nuclear reactor or, perhaps, a spacecraft where you don’t want anything unnecessarily breaching the containment. After all, neutrons cut through things that would stop a conventional radio wave cold.

It seems like you only have to prove you can detect something to make this work — it really doesn’t matter what it is you are detecting. It seems like it would be much harder to do more advanced types of modulation using neutrons. Maybe this is why we don’t hear aliens. They are all Morse code operators with neutron-based telegraphs.

A 1971 Thermos compliments this mid-century corner of my office.

The Incredible Tech Of The Vacuum-Seal Flask

I recently started using a 50-year-old vacuum-seal flask that belonged to my Grandpa so that I don’t have to leave the dungeon as often to procure more caffeine. Besides looking totally awesome on my side desk, this thing still works like new, at least as far as I can tell — it’s older than I am.

Sir James Dewar's original vacuum-seal flask.
Sir James Dewar’s original vacuum-seal flask. Image via the Royal Institute

Of course this got me to wondering how exactly vacuum-seal flasks, better known in household circles as Thermoses work, and how they were invented. The vacuum-seal flask is surprisingly old technology. It was first invented by Scottish chemist Sir James Dewar and presented to the Royal Institute in 1892. Six years later, he would be the first person to liquefy hydrogen and is considered a founding father of cryogenics. Continue reading “The Incredible Tech Of The Vacuum-Seal Flask”

On 5G And The Fear Of Radiation

The world around us is a scary place, with a lot of visible and invisible dangers. Some of those invisible dangers are pretty obvious, such as that of an electrical shock from exposed wiring. Some are less obvious, for example the dangers of UV radiation to one’s skin and eyes commonly known, but also heavily underestimated by many until it’s too late. In the US alone, skin cancer ends up affecting about one in every five people.

Perhaps ironically, while the danger from something like UV radiation is often underestimated, other types of electromagnetic radiation are heavily overestimated. All too often, the distinction between what is and isn’t considered to be harmful appears to be made purely on basis of whether it is ‘natural’ radiation or not. The Sun is ‘natural’, ergo UV radiation cannot be harmful, but the EM radiation from a microwave or 5G wireless transceiver is human-made, and therefore harmful. This is, of course, backwards.

Rather than dismissing such irrational fears of radiation, let’s have a look at both the science behind radiation and the way humans classify ‘danger’, such as in the case of 5G cell towers. Continue reading “On 5G And The Fear Of Radiation”

Roll The Bones Chernobyl Style

We’re suckers for the Fallout aesthetic, so anything with a post-apocalyptic vibe is sure to get our attention. With a mid-century look, Nixie tubes, a brushed metal faceplate, and just a touch of radioactivity, this quantum random number generator pushes a lot of design buttons, and it pushes them hard.

Charmingly named “Chernobyl Dice”, this little gadget comes to us from [Nathan Griffith], and appears to be one of those “Why not?” builds we love so much. The heart of any random number generator is a source of entropy, for which [Nathan] chose to use six slightly radioactive uranium glass marbles. Those feature prominently in the front panel of the device, occasionally made to fluoresce with a few UV LEDs just because it looks cool. A Geiger tube inside the case is used to look for decay events from the marbles every millisecond. After some adjustment for the bias toward zeroes due to the relative rarity of decay events, the accumulated bits are displayed on eight Nixies. The box can be set to generate a stream of random numbers up to 31 bits long and send it over a USB port, or make random throws of a die with a settable number of sides. And when it’s not doing random stuff, it can just be a cool Nixie clock.

There are lots of ways to generate the entropy needed for truly random number generation, from a wall of lava lamps to bubbles in a fish tank. They’ve all got style, but something about this one just works.

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Bent Electric Field Explains Antenna Radiation

We all use antennas for radios, cell phones, and WiFi. Understanding how they work, though, can take a lifetime of study. If you are rusty on the basic physics of why an antenna radiates, have a look at the very nice animations from [Learn Engineering] below.

The video starts with a little history. Then it talks about charges and the field around them. If the charge moves at a constant speed, it also has a constant electric field around it. However, if the charge accelerates or decelerates, the field has to change. But the field doesn’t change everywhere simultaneously.

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