Daily Archives: November 9, 2017

It Wasn’t My Fault, Really!

I just got word this afternoon that my uncle, Dr. Edward Calvin, died yesterday evening at the Alabama State Veteran’s Home in Huntsville. He was 89 years old.

Ed and Janic at Dot's Funeral

We had just seen him this past summer and it was obvious he was going downhill, but it’s always a shock anyway. He will be missed.

I titled yesterday’s blog, “They’re Baacckk!” and then forgot to tell you what was back.

Yesterday morning our AWOL Facebook emoticons suddenly reappeared. They just were back. At least until the next time they disappear.

I got an email a couple of days ago from Amazon telling me about their new Amazon Key service, which would let Amazon package deliverers drop off your orders right inside your front door, instead of on your doorstep where they can ‘walk’ off.

Although it sounds like a great idea, the Internet was abuzz about all the possible problems.

“Why would I ever let anyone in my house when I’m not there.”

“Why just anyone could come in my house.”

Of course I’m old enough to the remember leaving the back door unlocked so the milkman could put the dairy products in the fridge.

And how many times have you left the door unlocked so the AC repair guy could get in during the day. Or gave him a key that you hope didn’t get duplicated. Well, Amazon Key solves all those problems and more.

Amazon Key

It consists of a video/audio camera that lets you see and talk to who’s at your front door. Then if you’re satisfied, you can remotely unlock the door and let them in. So the housekeeper, repairman, dog walker, etc., can gain entrance with your permission. Again without passing out keys hither and yon, or leaving in under the mat or in the flower pot.

And just so someone can’t dress up in a brown uniform and pretend to deliver a package to get in your house, you get an email the morning of a delivery, and another one when he’s at the door. He then has to use his Amazon handheld scanner to unlock your door using a one-time code.

I don’t know, but it sounds pretty safe and convenient to me.

Again on the Amazon front, I just got in this new toy.

USB Charging Station

6 port 12amp USB Charging Station

With two phones, three Kindles, and a Galaxy Tab, we’re always looking for a outlet to plug in a charger cord, so this will be a big help.

With 6 ports and a full 2 amps on each port, it’s a fast charge on everything.

Fifty two years ago today, a number of people thought I caused the Great Northeast Blackout. But it wasn’t my fault, I swear, Well, maybe.

In 1965 I was 16 and a senior at Columbia Military Academy (CMA) in Columbia, TN. And for the Science Fair that year I had built a High Power Laser system

CMA was established in 1905, and most of the buildings, including my dorm, were built in the later 30’s, And the building wiring reflected that age.

I built up my laser using a Neodymium-Ruby laser rod, 

Laser Rod

a spiral xenon flash tube, and a large high voltage power supply.

Laser Tube 2

My power supply was about the size of a small suitcase and had 12 of these 1000mf capacitors like this supply.

Laser Power Supply

I knew I was going to have a problem the very first time I turned it on and started charging up the caps for the first test. The wiring in the old building literally ‘moaned’. So I knew that this wasn’t going to work, and built up shunts for the power supply to slow the charge rate and reduce the power.

I had been working on it for a week or so without a lot of visible results. It would flash and fire, but that’s about it. You couldn’t see the beam unless you had smoke in the path, and we weren’t allowed to smoke in the dorm. I was able to pop balloons with it, but that wasn’t very impressive, at least to the other cadets.

Back then, lasers like mine were rated in ‘Gillettes’, as in how many Gillette razor blades would it burn through. In my case, at this point, the answer was none. I could only make a slight dimple in one blade.

So finally one Tuesday afternoon, after taking a lot of ragging, I decided to go for a full power test. But as a concession to the building wiring, I just removed one shunt and change the value of the other one to allow for a full charge, but over a longer period of time, in this cast, about three hours.

So when the meter showed a full charge, I was ready to go. But here’s where I made a mistake. I forgot to unplug the power supply from the wall outlet.

The problem with this is that when a capacitor setup like mine is discharged, it can send a back EMF voltage out through the input, i.e into the building wiring.

As I slammed the knife switch closed, there was a blinding flash, a loud ‘WHOOMP!’, and a shower of sparks at the target, looking something like this.

Laser Hit

And suddenly in my room, before filled with noisy cadets, it got very quiet . . .  and dark. The power was off in the building. And I quickly discovered that one of the two transformers that fed the entire school had blown, so I had knocked out power to half the campus.

Rut Roh!

As my roommate and I were hurriedly dismantling and packing away the laser system, and wondering how we were going to get out of this one (Ah, needless to say this wasn’t my first . . . indiscretion, let’s call it.), a cadet from across the hall came running in with his transistor radio and said, “Hell, White, you’re really in trouble now. You knocked out power all up and down the East Coast.”

Rut Roh!

So that’s what happened to me November 9, 1965. Jan was then an Air Force brat at Westover AFB in MA. She said they all thought it was either Russians or the Martians.”

Passport America, Save 50% on Campsites

Now the authorities will try to tell you that it was the failure of a 230 kilovolt power line near Ontario, Canada that failed and cascaded down south. But now you know the real story.

Oh, and the answer is 5.

My one and only full power test burned through 5 Gillette razor blades and dimpled a sixth.

The Word of the Day is: Arete 

Thought for the Day:

“Eastasia has always been at war with Oceania.” – George Orwell


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