Category Archives: engineering

How a man losing his hearing was the first to capture sound

Before the light bulb, Thomas Alva Edison was famous for inventing the phonograph, a simple device that was able to record sounds and then play them back. The phonograph had come to existence while Edison worked to develop a commercially viable telephone.

Edison noticed that when a paper tape was ran through a telegraph transmitter at high speeds, it would produce sounds that resemble spoken words. Instead of using paper, Edison would use a tinfoil cylinder that would be hand-cranked. This cylinder could be written onto or read by a metallic stylus.  Finally in 1877 Edison completed this idea and recorded himself reciting the nursery rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb”.

Edison with his second Phonograph
Edison with his second Phonograph in 1878

Though Edison became famous for his work on sound, Edison was almost deaf. He had lost his hearing at age 15 when he was working as a train boy to raise money for his chemistry experiments. Rather then dwelling on the loss, Edison saw how the loss of hearing would in the end give him a wealth of advantages.

In telegraphy being hearing impaired meant that he could only hear the machine in front of him unlike his fellow telegraphers who would have to focus to tune out the noises of the machines around them. Edison’s love for telegraphy would translate into a career of invention as his first patents were ways of improving the telegraph. His handicap also forced him to focus on reading and became more contemplative. Since Edison couldn’t hear the outside world, he spent more time thinking about how different ideas could be combined into a new product. In the case of the phonograph, Edison had invented a telegraph machine that could record telegraph messages years earlier, would it be possible to create a machine to record phone calls? Ultimately his deafness allowed him to invent.

Edison's Improvement on the stock ticker included a device that would allow for quick printing of stock prices
Edison’s Improvement on the stock ticker included a device that would allow for quick printing of stock prices. This machine would take telegraph messages of stock prices and then print the name and price of a stock on a long tape of paper. This device was invented by Edison in 1867.

Though handicapped Edison didn’t see deafness as a disadvantage. He instead focused on what he knew and what he could do with his ideas. Thus through great focus and ingenuity Edison would spearhead the creation of the Electric industry, founding what is today General Electric. He would create film industry and gave great strides to the music industry with his invention of the phonograph.

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Pi Day Countdown

Dear readers

H! This is WuFeng and I would like to talk about Pi. Pi, 3.14159… is one of the oldest and most famous mathematical constants known to humanity. It is simple in definition yet has so many intriguing facts, details and applications.

Pi has many applications in computing, engineering and science. It raises many questions and facts in mathematics and computer science. This number has been a part of human scientific and engineering achievement since the early days of civilization as there are evidence of this number even during Babylonian times.

For us this number had inspired the Famous Numbers column as well as an article called “Importance of a circle“.

For two weeks starting on March 1, 2015 to March 14, we will be posting each day one new post about Pi as a count down to Pi day on 3/14/15.

With best Wishes


PS: For more Pi Day countdown articles, visit the fun corner

The Proportions of Notre Dame

The Cathedral of Notre Dame, finished in 1345, is one of the most famous icons of Paris, France. It is one of the first Cathedrals to use flying buttress which is an external architecture structure designed to reduce the load on each wall. It is also backdrop of Victor Hugo’s famous novel, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. A Gothic moment taking a century to build, the proportions of the Cathedral also the Golden Ratio.

The western facade of the Cathedral

The Golden Ratio can be seen in many parts of the Cathedral but one of the most famous examples is on its western facade.

Notice the ratio of b and a is approximately 1.61 and the ratio of d and c is also the golden ratio. More examples of this proportion can be found throughout western facade.

\frac{b}{a} \approx \frac{d}{c} \approx \frac{1+\sqrt{5}}{2}

Because of its beauty and majesty the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris (“Our Lady of Paris”) is among one of the famous examples of Gothic architecture.

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The Secrets of the Pyramids: Pi and the Golden Ratio

For ages the Great Pyramid of Giza as stood as the tallest man made structure and the only monument of the seven great wonders to remain to the modern era. Once clad with finely polished limestone and capped in gold, it struck awe and wonder into travelers across the world. Though built in the fourth Dynasty for Pharaoh Khufu, some believe that the pyramid required help from other worldly beings. One reason is the fact that the proportions of the Pyramid create two of the most famous numbers in math, \pi and the Golden Ratio.

These constants can be found in various ways. The height of the Pyramid divided by half the length of the base was equal to the square root of the golden ratio (\phi = \frac{1 + \sqrt{5}}{2}). The perimeter of the base of the Pyramid divided by height of the Pyramid was approximately 2 \pi.

Approximate Proportions of the Great Pyramid of Giza
Approximate Proportions of the Great Pyramid of Giza

It is actually possible to create these proportions with simple measuring tools available to the ancient Egyptians of the time period. This means that there is no need of other worldly beings or aliens. Also the base of the pyramid is only an approximation of \pi because it is impossible to construct the exact value of \pi meaning that the Egyptians did not “square the circle”. Finally the question is made on whether or not these two values were planned into the Pyramid or was it merely a byproduct.

Aside from the values of embedded into the Pyramid there are many down to earth theories about the Pyramid’s construct that are all plausible and require no other worldly forces.

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Fractal and Beyond Part 3 – The Julia Set

Julia sets are a fractal known for its beauty and intricate designs, however unlike other fractals, Julia Sets are not created by using self similar patterns. Rather Julia Sets images are generated by taking each pixel on on that image and calculating a color value based off of an equation.

The Julia Set video above is generated using the complex equation:

z_{n+1} = z^2_n+c

Since complex numbers are always in the form a +bi, we take the a part to be our horizontal values and b as our vertical values, which means z is a pixel on our image. For each point, the value will be plugged back into the equation over and over again until z is smaller then 2. The number of iterations is then counted up and used to assign to that pixel a colour value.

The higher the Max iteration value the more detail that can be obtained. Here the default value is Black.

However due to that fact that for some z and c values, our function will never return a value smaller then 2 so as a result an upper limit or max iteration must be placed to stop calculations and automatically assign a default color.

To generate different Julia sets, one only needs to vary the c value. The video above are all values of c such that c = .7 \cos(x)+ .7i \sin(x).


For more images go here, or visit the Fun Corner.