Monday, December 3, 2012

You Say You Want a "Revolution?"

Over the weekend, I received word that my high school physics and homeroom teacher Jon Doughty passed away. I've had many teachers over the years, and many left an impression in some form or another. But it was Mr. Doughty who taught me how to take something that looks like this...

Visualize it as this...

And translate that into a scientifically based reason why our live shot dropped out when the wind picked up.

He was the guy who used Road Runner cartoons to demonstrate Newton's laws of gravity, or the violation there of. (It was Bugs Bunny who said, "I know this defies the law of gravity, but you see, I never studied law.") But he was also one of that rare breed of teachers who understood Real World application; he knew that every working electrical engineer walked around with Ohm's Law written on a scrap of paper in his wallet, or taped to the back of his calculator. He let us use these things...

knowing that we would in the Real World - and I do - but it would be no substitute for understanding what we were calculating.

And so, it was Mr. Doughty who inspired one of my favorite fictional creations. In honor of Mr. Doughty, it's time now for a visit from the man who spoiled "Star Wars," (in order to produce enough power to destroy a planet in one shot, the Death Star would in all likelihood destroy itself in the process. And besides, the "trigger" is clearly a Grass Valley video production switcher.) and asked us to ponder the inexplicable and trivial (Does Superman worry about tooth decay?) here now to ruin "Revolution" is


Riddle me this: a man walks up to you with a bottle in his hand. "In this bottle," he says, "is a miracle of science. Inside is a liquid that turns anything it touches invisible." How do you know he's lying?

To wit: If I tell you I have a device that will cause all the electricity in on the planet to disappear, and continue that state until I turn it off... how do you know I'm full of beeswax?

It's a paradox. In order to stop power, I need power... probably a lot more of it than I'm stopping. And then I have to figure out a way to keep the device from affecting itself. In order to stop electricity, you're building  a device that stops the flow of electrons. So, what stops it from destroying the flow of its own electrons, thus shutting itself down, or possibly even altering the nature of matter at a sub-atomic level within a near field of the device? In other words, I wouldn't want to be standing right next that thing.

"Don't take another step, Doctor Quest, or I'll throw this switch and everybody in this room will be dest- Ah, hell. I didn't really think this part through."

And then there are these pendants that, over a limited range, overcomes the electricity eating device. So now we have a device overpowering a device that is overpowering, oh let's call it The Laws of Nature. Wow. Somebody's pushing a lot of juice through a piece of jewelery. If it's anything like the CPU in my computer, I'll bet that thing gets pretty hot in a big hurry... too hot to hold in your hand for more than a second.

It is true that electrical disruption is possible over several hundred miles by detonating a nuclear bomb a hundred miles or so above the earth. This is called The Pulse, and it is the byproduct of sending a whole lotta superheated atoms with all their electrons scattering into the atmosphere at a very high speed. This is called electromagnetic interference. (EMI) But the effects are temporary, just long enough to shut off radio and television signals, screw up the Emergency Alert System, and cause general mayhem if not panic among the population... as the enemy attacks their true objectives.

Creating The Pulse requires an outpouring of power that truly represents the pinnacle - or nadir, depending on your point of view - of human technology, but at a terrific cost, and even then the effects are temporary. Imagine keeping that going for 15 years.Why would you bother? After about six months without electricity, a large part of a our population would be ready to kill to survive. Just ask anyone living in Rockaway.

It's fascinating to see a vision of how our society would devolve over time without electricity. It's true that we rely on it for a lot we take for granted. But I can't help but think that somewhere, maybe on college campuses densely populated by industrious students and professors, somebody would figure out all they have to do is build Faraday cages. Ohio State and other universities could build Faraday caged diesel engines and create a much more efficient revolution. Then again, it's my understanding that a number of military vehicles already are rolling Faraday cages with high-voltage ignition systems designed to - at least in theory - overcome a pulse. But that would make for a very, very short TV show.

So, we're asked to believe that the planet Earth has been robbed of all electricity, including it would appear lightning in a thunderstorm, for 15 years in order for "Revolution" to work; somebody pushed a button, and all the electricity all over the world just stopped, except when one of these pendants is activated. Uh-huh.

Go ahead. Try to stop this.

Fortunately for NBC, the creators of this show are keeping the exact science behind all this a mystery - the MacGuffin, if you prefer. That's a smart move, because other than providing a central mystery to arc over then entire life span of the series, it also conveniently gets the messy physics of such a scenario out of the way. Perhaps, in the end, it won't really matter how they did it. If the writers, actors, and everyone else pull this thing off right, we the viewers won't care. Like the final episode of "M*A*S*H," we don't really care about how the Korean war came to an end. All we care about is Hawkeye and friends.

Mr. Physics likes the bow and arrow stuff. It reminds me of Robin Hood and his merry band outwitting the Sheriff of Nottingham. And I like when a good guy does get hold of a gun, it often jams or malfunctions in some way, which is accurate. It's been 15 years since anybody made any gun oil.

But Mr. Physics has noticed that The Blackout hasn't stopped the manufacturing of toothpaste.


Greg Oen said...

Steve,you've out-done yourself. That was truely facinating.

Ralph said...

A nice tribute!

Ralph said...

A nice tribute!