Pushing Boundaries

Visit the Ocean Bottom in a Vessel Full of Gasoline!

The deepest part of the ocean is a narrow trench known as Challenger Deep. It is 35,797 feet under the surface of the ocean. To put it another way, at the bottom there is a column of water almost 7 miles, or just over 10 kilometers, above. Humans have only visited this pitch black, cold, and viciously hostile environment once – considerably less than humans have visited the moon. And we did it in a submersible loaded with twenty-two-and-a-half-thousand gallons of gasoline and nine tons of iron ballast, in 1960. How did this manic contraption work, anyhow?

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Shutdown: Blue Steel Edition

They share the same name. One is a come-hither look, one is a stand-off nuclear device fitted to British V bombers. Can you figure out which one is which?

Avro Blue Steel


Baby, I’m Smoother Than Fused Silica

That’s because this is fused quartz. This sphere, produced for the Gravity Probe B relativity gyroscope experiment spacecraft, is considered the most perfect sphere ever constructed by humans. The size of a ping pong ball, its surface diverges from the shape of a perfect sphere by only 40 atoms of thickness. Were the […]


Tech Etymology: the Battery

Image source BenFranklin300.org

While Ben Franklin didn’t invent the Leyden jar, an early capacitor that stored static electricity for later discharge, he did come up with the name for a group of the devices together: the battery. His inspiration was the name for a group of other devices whose discharge could be similarly […]


Shutdown: The Intersection of Velvet and Plastic

Steampunk mods. A polarizing subject, clearly. Also one where some very skilled DIY folks pull out all the fabrication stops and make objectively interesting (but subjectively questionable) gear. The process also produces some interesting juxtapositions, like the image above.

Anyone else have a favorite technically-impressive-but-aesthetically-problematic mod they’re fond of?

Steampunk […]


Shutdown: Damn the Torpedoes!

Ever wondered where the word torpedo came from? Wonder no more – you’re looking at it. Torpediniformes are an order of sea rays that possess an electric organ, enabling them to release a powerful electric field biochemically through special cells called electrocytes. Basically, it’s the oceanic equivalent of an electromagnetic pulse, and it […]

Stealth Week

Can’t See It, Can’t Catch It: The CIA’s OXCART Dart

While the transparent behemoth that I wrote about earlier is probably the first aircraft designed with a form of stealth intentionally built-in, the Lockheed family of supersonic lawn darts starting with the A-12 pictured above were the first operational aircraft engineered to reduce their RADAR profile – what we currently picture as stealth technology.

Continue reading Can’t See It, Can’t Catch It: The CIA’s OXCART Dart


Shutdown: Stealthy “D’oh!” Edition

Before RADAR existed, “stealth” had a number of meanings – quieter flight, using terrain as cover, and reducing your visibility to human eyes. The Linke-Hofmann R1 was a WWI-era attempt to make an aircraft partially transparent using Cellon. Unfortunately, the Cellon reflected sunlight, turned yellow due to UV light, and was generally a […]


Shutdown: Sketchy Signals Edition

Ever wondered what the first successfully tested radar set looked like? This is the Watson-Watt device, tested in the Daventry Experiement in a contemporary “illustration” produced by his assistant Wilkins.


Shutdown: Italian for Overkill

In case you thought the Cizeta-Moroder V16T had the most complicated engine configuration this side of a Bugatti, the Fiat AS.6 has got you beat: two V-12s rigged together as a V-24 driving a pair of props through co-axial shafts. This is also the era that brought you seaplanes as the fastest machines […]