Empires rise and fall, alliances swarm and splinter, and for five hundred years, the Swiss have remained armed and neutral, dangerous to any invader. Popular wisdom holds that Switzerland doesn’t have an army or forts, Switzerland is an army, the country itself is a fortress. The Alps in their natural state can be as forbidding as any place on earth, and enormous though invisible military improvements have been built deep in the mountains.
Continue reading The Labyrinthine History of Secret Swiss Bunkers
The dawn of jet age came with the scream of six J35 turbojets on December 17th, 1947. It was 44 years to the day after the Wright brothers’ first flight, and after four years of rapid development, Boeing’s new bomber was ready for its first flight. It was only eight years after the first jet powered aircraft had struggled into the sky, and only five years after the introduction of the B-29, the most advanced bomber of World War II. Though heavier than the B-29, the XB-47 looked much more delicate. Its thin, swept back wings had their root in captured German research, and had no room for fuel. It was so radical that even Bob Withington, the aerodynamicist who had designed and built Boeing’s wind tunnel, and proved the benefits of the 35-degree sweep angle, looked at the taxiing prototype and thought “That’s a mighty strange-looking airplane. I wonder if it will actually fly.”
Continue reading Boeing B-47 Stratojet, The Untouchable
Language, The Second Oldest Technology
Modern English can be considered the second language of the world. It is frequently the lingua franca of business, governance, and popular culture. Cultural tourists notice the American Top 40 song playing in a kebab shop in Majorca, and film scholars notice that all foreigners, historical figures, and many futuristic societies speak with some British accent.
Continue reading LOL OMG WTF TR?
The first modern fountain pen was created in 1883 by Lewis Edsen Waterman, who had spent two years inventing a new feed to control ink flow. His design uses capillary action to keep ink in three grooves. Alongside, air flows back to the reservoir. The small size of the grooves means that the adhesive forces between the ink and the surface of the feed is balanced with gravity and the cohesive forces that form the ink into one continuous drop or stream. This same balance keeps ink in the slit of the nib. Ideally, no ink will flow until the tip of the nib touches paper, which breaks the surface tension as well as offering many new capillary channels to wick the ink into the paper.
Continue reading Pens vs. Airplanes
Not seen at Burning Man. Way too mindblowing.
On July 16th, 2012, Rick Cavallaro was at the controls as the Blackbird land yacht, powered only by the wind, accelerated from a stop to 20 mph. However, the 10 mph breeze was blowing directly in his face for the entire run, giving the Thin Air team the first North American Land Sailing Association (NALSA) record for traveling directly upwind at a speed faster than the wind itself.
This new record has attracted far less attention and controversy than Blackbird’s spectacular downwind speed record, set in 2010. But some people still believe both runs were faked. While the ideas that the wind could push against itself or push something faster than itself seem obviously impossible, I’m confident that this is not a hoax, and I arrogantly believe I can explain upwind and downwind carts to my fellow Toasters. 
Continue reading Faster Than The Wind And Flames
I was lucky enough to be in Paris last year. Wandering around unsupervised, a group of us stumbled on the Egyptian obelisk in Place de la Concorde. We stared not for the majesty or heritage, but in disbelief; as engineers, our first instinct was to try to figure out how to move such a monument with appalling 19th-century technology. 
Continue reading Installation Is The Reverse Of Removal
Certain songs and albums anchor memories, while others fall into that all-important category: “Road Music”. When you’re reaching for the horizon, sometimes there is no substitute. Even in the 1950’s, radio didn’t cut it. Good luck trying to get your request played while you’re on the road pre-cellphone.
Continue reading Factory In-Car Turntables