electricity

The Electric Ark

What if the Ark of the Covenant was actually a bronze-age machine capable of storing an electrostatic charge? It almost certainly wasn't, but the idea is a great excuse to explore the understanding of electricity in the ancient world. Join Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick for another Ark-themed episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind. 

From the Vault: Early Days Electric, Part 2

Electricity lost its magic over the course the 18th and 19th centuries. The "invisible fire" steadily transitioned from a mysterious force of wonder to a mundane reality of daily modern life. In this two-part edition of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Joe explore the various electrical experiments, stunts, inventions, performances, innovations, occultisms and atrocities that transformed the tractable thunder. (Originally published Feb 11, 2016)

From the Vault: Early Days Electric, Part 1

Electricity lost its magic over the course the 18th and 19th centuries. The "invisible fire" steadily transitioned from a mysterious force of wonder to a mundane reality of daily modern life. In this two-part edition of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick explore the various electrical experiments, stunts, inventions, performances, innovations, occultisms and atrocities that transformed the tractable thunder. (Originally published Feb 9, 2016)

Tractable Thunder: Early Days of Electricity, Part 2

Electricity lost its magic over the course the 18th and 19th centuries. The "invisible fire" steadily transitioned from a mysterious force of wonder to a mundane reality of daily modern life. In this two-part edition of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Joe explore the various electrical experiments, stunts, inventions, performances, innovations, occultisms and atrocities that transformed the tractable thunder.

The Holy Amber: Early Days of Electricity, Part 1

Electricity lost its magic over the course the 18th and 19th centuries. The "invisible fire" steadily transitioned from a mysterious force of wonder to a mundane reality of daily modern life. In this two-part edition of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Joe explore the various electrical experiments, stunts, inventions, performances, innovations, occultisms and atrocities that transformed the tractable thunder.

Can electric eels power my car?

Robert Lamb blogs about electric eels and electric cars.

Did electric eels power Marlon Brando's house?

A few years before his death in 2004, eccentric Hollywood legend Marlon Brando summoned actor/environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. to his Mulholland Drive estate. According to Begley, Brando wanted some feedback on a scheme to power his home with electric eels. Dumbfounded, Begley said he wasn't sure it could be done. "Everything's no with you..." grumbled Brando in response, according to the New York Times.

How a Thunderstorm Won American Independence

Happy Dalibard Day! Yes, it might not be marked as such on your calendar, but May 10 is a pretty important date in not only the history of atmospheric sciences, but also in the American struggle for independence from the British. Not that anyone realized this at the time, mind you, but looking back with a butterfly effect-tuned mind, we're now able to appreciate the impact of one random French naturalist, an insulated iron rod and a thundercloud.

My relationships with plants are often a bit strained. I manage to drown tomatoes. I wind up mistaking hibiscuses for weeds year after year and either hack them to death myself or pay the neighborhood kid to do it. If you're a member of the vegetable kingdom, then I'm afraid you and me simply weren't meant to be. But it all comes down to communication, right? Why can't you plants, say, just tell me when you need watering instead of passive aggressively withering on me when you're thirsty? Am I being unreasonable? Well, not according to the makers of Botanicalls, the new telecommunications system that enables your plant to send you texts, e-mails or tweets when they need watering. Of course, your plant's not actually going to send out tweets -- though I can't imagine their messages would be any more mundane than the average human Twitter user. Botanicalls makes use of an Ethernet-enabled soil probe. According to Science Daily, the probe sends out electrical waves through the soil and the amount of moisture in the soil affects the overall voltage level. TreeHugger has a good graphic of the system here.

The prefix "micro" in no way fits the current utility-driven electric industry. The companies that supply power are big; the plants that make power are big; and the grid -- that collection of transmission wires that crosshatches the nation -- is massive. That's why I found Fast Company's recent article on the "microgrid" so interesting. Distributed power (the microgrid) is the antithesis of the behemoth utility company. While it might take years for a utility to build renewable energy power plants and connect them to the grid through miles-long, high-voltage connections, it's relatively easy (if somewhat expensive) for individuals to outfit their homes with solar panels or small wind turbines. Produce enough power, and you can start selling the extra juice back to the very same power plant that used to supply you. Running the meter backward is called "net metering," and it's of obvious concern to utilities that would rather send out bills than checks.