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The Pandora's-Volt incident

Discussion in 'Electronic Design' started by Max Hauser, Jun 19, 2004.

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  1. Max Hauser

    Max Hauser Guest

    The intrigue of mysterious, forbidden boxes seems to be timeless. An
    ancient precedent probably informed the 1955 US film-noir _Kiss Me Deadly,_
    an intense, sinister movie directed by Robert Aldrich, and credited with
    inspiring the French New Wave film movement of the late 1950s. (Its
    particular Box is vague, radioactive, and Bad News.)

    One of the memorable anecdotes in the analog electronics world is an episode
    in the late 1960s with another Box, this one benevolent. (It illustrates
    the costs of accuracy.) The Box was a US standard voltage reference in use
    for the Apollo manned space-flight program.

    This particular reference was a registered primary standard cell, requiring
    monthly trips to Washington, DC for certification by the US National Bureau
    of Standards. (A technology later superseded at NBS, I understand, with the
    combination of Josephson junction and Cesium clock.)

    A laboratory near Boston used this cell, and monthly a technically skilled
    courier carried it to Washington for certification. The cell, actually
    cells (triplicate), in their carrier, made up an impressive Box with chrome
    and heavy leather strap. It took a separate seat on the airplane.

    On this particular run, the courier job fell to an employee who had never
    done it before, I'll call him Herb. All was organized in advance; Herb got
    instructions. Car will take you and Box to airport, another car will meet
    you in Washington, etc.

    Herb and the Box were strapped into their adjacent seats on the airplane.
    It was a serious, unusual-looking cargo. It could even be mistaken for
    something sinister. (For example, what Gert Fröbe, a few years earlier in
    _Goldfinger,_ had called a "device.") On a flight to Washington. A
    curious stewardess asked what it was. And what of all possible things did
    Herb answer? "A bomb."

    The flight attendant was professional, said nothing, made the required call;
    the plane waited. Police arrived. They looked at Herb and at the Box and
    were not reassured. "Come with us, please." Herb balked. He was on an
    important mission for the Space Program, he had his duty. Things got tense.
    The situation was explained to him more plainly, and Herb came along.

    At a room in the airport, they demanded to know what was in the Box. Herb
    told them. "OK," they said, "open it up." Herb balked again. (You don't
    unseal a registered primary standard cell.) Another standoff. Herb
    persuaded them to call his laboratory, where exasperated personnel got in
    touch with their own government connections, leading to yet a further
    impasse as one set of officials wanted to have their way with Herb and his
    Box, and the other to liberate the pair. Eventually Herb was released to
    his own officials. (What they thought at the time of his sense of humor I
    don't know).

    Herb came out of it OK in the circumstances, though with a great deal of
    ribbing. The Box resumed its monthly trips; accuracy prevailed. Herb's
    first experience escorting it was his last.

    Max Hauser

    Copyright 2004
  2. [snip]

    And another lesson on not joking around at inappropriate times

    Another anecdote:

    A previous employer, the local power company, had recently withdrawn its
    plans to build a nuclear (nucular?) power plant following bad publicity
    from Three Mile Island. A couple of field engineers were surveying a
    location for a pole and a local resident walked up and asked, "Watcha

    "Looking for a site for a nuclear power plant", one engineer answered.

    The local said nothing and walked away. However, the next day, following
    phone calls that had escalated through the regional press, the engineers
    were both called into the CEOs office and explained the value of
    maintaining a good corporate image.
  3. Simon Hosie

    Simon Hosie Guest

    I'd like a device that would instantly vaporise the head of anyone that
    said that pseudo-word.
  4. Bill Bailley

    Bill Bailley Guest

    This mis-pronunciation is so common that the operation of a "Head Masher"
    may put a serious dent in the population.
    Even the man with the worlds largest "nucular" arsenal at his fingertips
    cannot say this word properly.
    I can only think that there is a tiny genetic brain kink that produces this
    supreme irritant.

    I shall pray for deafness. "Beam me up Scotty" doesn't work.

  5. John Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    I recall one interesting HP Journal article, 1960's vintage maybe,
    wherein two HP cesium clocks were synchronized, and then an HP
    engineer took one, battery-powered, on a flight around the world; it
    had to have its own seat, of course. After the trip, the
    well-travelled clock was fast (or slow... I forget) by about the
    amount that Einstein predicted.

    That HP is no more (sigh.)

  6. Ken Smith

    Ken Smith Guest

    The clock that was accelerated was slow and the one that moved slow was

    I hope this helps.
  7. John Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    Wouldn't it depend on which way they went around?

  8. Ken Smith

    Ken Smith Guest

    I'm fairly certain they flew in the direction of rotation.

    It only sort of matters which way they went. I think if you do the
    numbers, the earths rotation doesn't have much effect in the final result.

    It is very hard to come up with a way to take a clock from a place and
    bring it back there without it having been accelerated more than the one
    that stayed on the surface of the earth.

    There is no absolute frame of reference. If we ignore gravity, we can
    project a straight line of flight at a tangent to the surface of the earth
    that undergoes no acceleration during the time of the experiment. Then
    you can work both sides of the problem with that as a reference and
    subtract the two results to get the difference seen.
  9. Simon Hosie

    Simon Hosie Guest

    But if we destroy them now we may stop it spreading. It's worth the
  10. JeffM

    JeffM Guest

    Is anyone else nervous that the folks that
    don't even know enough about the subject to pronounce it properly
    seem to have the most opportunities to use the word?

    ....and how about in-TEG-ral?
  11. Paul Burke

    Paul Burke Guest

    The adoption of US pronunciation in the UK often accompanies a change in
    meaning. For example, my mother often complained that we children were
    harassing her. That's HARassing. Then in the 80s, other women complained
    that men (not me I hasten to say) were harassing them. That's harASSing,
    and was NOT what we were doing to Mum.

    Paul Burke
  12. Rich Grise

    Rich Grise Guest

    On the TV news they talk about "Sexual Harrisment", presumably because
    the correct pronounciation has "her ass" in it.

  13. Don Pearce

    Don Pearce Guest

    The correct pronunciation has the stress on the first syllable HARRass
    - I presume that is what you mean for your news quote. I'm afraid the
    "her ass" pronunciation is quite wrong.

    Pearce Consulting
  14. Max Hauser

    Max Hauser Guest

    Glad to see this interest in the Pandora's Volt incident! ;-)

    Don't blame everyone in the US for this. (Statistic in a moment, stay with
    me.) It's an accent shift. Words start out in established form
    (HARRassment, LAMentable, PATina) and for whatever reason, probably people
    seeing them written more than spoken, the accent adapts to the speaker's
    vocabulary. Many people in the US use those original British pronunciations
    (though those who don't tend not to know this, and to find them strange or
    affected -- I made the mistake of bringing this up with someone at a weekend
    lunch party and got the usual argument in such cases, widely considered
    definitive today in the US: " *I* never heard it that way!").

    The full-size 1992 AHD (a very popular dictionary for US English among
    people who work much with words) has a Usage Note on "harrass" mentioning
    that its diverse Usage Panel split 50-50 between accenting first and second
    syllables, and added "... each side regards itself as an embattled
    minority." Touché!

    Max Hauser
  15. Paul Burke

    Paul Burke Guest

    What's it like in Harrisburg then?

    Paul Burke
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