Archive: 2016

Gravitational Waves

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Written by: Tony Harris, February 11, 2016


So it seems that Einstein was right. Did you doubt him? Today it has been announced that for the first time ‘gravitational waves’ have been detected. Einstein predicted their existence in his theory of General Relativity. But, he didn’t think that we would ever be able to detect them. However, it seems that the collision of two black holes caused gravitational waves large enough for us to detect, with our most sensitive measuring equipment.

What is a ‘black hole’ anyway? The earth is not one. But if you want to leave ‘Planet Earth’ you need to overcome the earth’s gravitational force. To do so you need to be going above a certain speed. The amount of speed you need is proportional to the mass of the planet. If you are on the moon and decide that it is time to go home, you don’t need as much speed. Just think about the speed at which the Apollo rocket took off from the Kennedy Space center and think about the speed at which the ‘lunar module’ left the moon. That was much slower, as the mass of the moon is so much less.

So what happens if you have a planet that is so massive that its gravitational pull is so great that the speed that you need to leave it is faster than the speed of light? Well there’s a problem because nothing can go faster than the speed of light – so nothing can ever leave it. It is like a whole planet that is Hotel California; it is programmed only to receive. This type of planet we call a ‘Black Hole’. The well known physicist, Stephen Hawking, (well known due to his appearances on ‘Big Bang Theory’) likened it to Niagara Falls. You can get close and then turn around and go the other way, but get too close and… you fall in.

Imagine then you have two black holes and they start to get close to each other and even too close. They collide and there is a massive increase in gravitation of the resulting planet and a major disturbance in the surrounding fields and this produces waves bigger than Niagara Falls. This is what scientists detected on the 14th of September last year and confirmed today.

Cold Tea

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Written by: Tony Harris, February 5, 2016



Latent Heat of Fusion must be one of the most boring topics in physics. They throw in words like ‘enthalpy’ and discuss ‘total energy’ and ‘pressure-volume systems’ and wonder why the class has fallen asleep.

I was fortunate. I had a magnificent physics teacher. He would make everything exciting and simple. We walked into class and he had an ice cube that was being held in the air by two clamps on his desk. There was a piece of steel wire with weights on each end. He placed the wire over the top of the ice cube and let the weights dangle so the wire began to cut into the ice.

He then asked us all what we thought would happen. Some people said that the ice would melt and fall off the clamps, I, like others, said that the wire would cut through the ice splitting it into two pieces.

We watched – spell bound. Not one of us had predicted what actually happened. The wire did indeed cut through the ice and fall onto his desk, but the ice cube had fused back together and was one piece of ice! How the hell did that happen? We certainly weren’t going to let our teacher out of the class room until he explained the magic behind his trick.

The simple question is: can you have water at zero degrees centigrade or is it ice? If you have some ice at zero degrees centigrade and heat it up, does it turn into water at zero degrees? If it is still zero degrees, where did the heat you put in go?

Well you can have ice at zero degrees and you can have water at zero degrees and you have to put energy into ice to turn it to water and vice versa. So the wire melts the ice as it cuts through. But it needs energy to do this, so it takes the energy from above it as it moves down through the ice cube. Because it takes energy away from the water above it, the cube re-freezes. So it’s not magic after all

You can have water at 100 degrees and steam at 100 degrees. You have to put energy into water at 100 C to turn it into steam. Are you still awake? This is called latent heat of vaporization. If you put your hand to your mouth and blow on it, your hand doesn’t really feel cold. Now lick your hand with your tongue, still not really cold.  Now blow on your hand where you licked it – cold huh? That is due to the latent heat of vaporization.

When you blow on your hand you feel the temperature of your breath, when you lick your hand you feel the temperature of your tongue. But when you blow on your wet hand, you cause the water to evaporate and it takes from your hand the heat required to vaporize – or the latent heat of vaporization.

So if you have a nice hot cup of tea and you leave it out in the open, the air will move across the cup and vaporize the liquid, taking from the tea that is left in the cup, the heat required – the latent heat of vaporization.

And so you have a cold cup of tea.

“Ah” you may say, but maybe the waiter just gave me cold water in the first place. The problem with that argument is that you can’t make tea with cold water. The making of tea actually involves a chemical process called infusion. In order for the herb, in this case tea, to release its active ingredients it must be allowed to stand in boiling or, at very least, hot water.

Oh I’m sorry – I think I may have poured cold water on your argument!

May the Force Be With You

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Written by: Tony Harris, January 31, 2016


As storm troopers march on, heralding the biggest ever Hollywood box office success, we should perhaps ask ourselves what is ‘force’. There are actually only four known forces in the universe. Gravitation is a force. This is a force that exists between any two objects of mass. Since the earth has such enormous mass, it is readily experienced in our daily life as all the objects that we come into contact with are attracted to the earth. Then there are the ‘weak’ force and the ‘strong’ force. We don’t really experience these much. Well, only insofar as they hold atoms together and so we actually do experience them in everything we see, touch, smell, taste and hear! But it has always been our experience that atoms tend to stay together so we don’t think about them much.

Electromagnetism is the last force. Once we had thought that there were two forces, electricity and magnetism. However, in 1865 the Scottish physicist, Maxwell, produced equations demonstrating that they were actually different phenomenon of the same force. Then he took one of those leaps in understanding, which defy any logical progression, that elucidate the fundamental fabric of world in which we live. He showed how their combined action produced electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves cover ‘radio frequency’ (where E&I play) and lower frequencies, up through microwave, to light, to x-ray, gamma waves and higher frequencies. Everything that we see or can detect emits or interacts with electromagnetic waves.

So that is everything right? Well not quite. There is this stuff called ‘dark matter’. Although it might sound like a skeleton in grandma’s closet, it is actually a little more copious; depending I suppose upon your grandmother. It is thought that ‘dark matter’ actually constitutes almost 85% of the matter in the universe and frolics about in the Milky Way amongst other places. We are not even sure what it is made up of. We only know that it does respond to gravitational forces but not electromagnetic.

Indeed, there may be other forces on the ‘dark side’ which we are yet to learn about. Adjusted for inflation, ‘Gone with the Wind’ is the currently highest revenue grossing film. Time will tell if the Star Wars will supersede the Civil War.

Fantastic Voyage

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Written by: Tony Harris, January 29, 2016


Do you remember the movie? Raquel Welch was in it, if that helps. She and four men were ‘miniaturized’ and injected inside a human body to carry out a few ‘repairs’. Fanciful stuff indeed. I mean; how could you miniaturize four guys let alone Raquel, and would you really want to? It certainly seemed a thing of fiction and ridicule.

But imagine putting a drug inside a small vehicle, injecting it into a human body and then when it gets to the part of the body that needs the drug, it is activated. Then a mechanism pushes the drug into the tissue that needs treatment. Fanciful stuff indeed.

But that is what Dr. Christian Coviello and his colleagues are doing at Oxsonics. I was fortunate to meet with Christian, Dr. Sean Finn and Dr. Edward Jackson, last week and they explained to me their version of the Fantastic Voyage.

Sonotran is their invention. It enables one to deliver cancer drugs to solid tumors. The drug is transported in a microscopic ‘cup’ and when it reaches the tumor to be treated, is activated by ultrasound. The mechanism of cavitation actually pushes the drug into the tumor. Tumors grow quickly and have a positive pressure, but the effect of cavitation overcomes this pressure and enables the drug to be delivered where it is needed.   

It was great to have a tour of the Oxsonics facility and see the work that they are doing. I could not have been more intrigued. Well, unless perhaps Raquel Welch had been there.

Homeward Bound

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Written by: Tony Harris, January 26, 2016



So the plan is LHR-IAD-ROC 24th of January on United. I have a good friend Rose Bompardre who is a flight attendant for UA. Her comment was “Yep that’s not happening.” Another good friend and mentor of mine, John Stratakos, keeps sending me helpful tidbits of news to the effect that DC is going to be paralyzed until at least Monday. It is presently Saturday 23rd and I am listening to some music – courtesy of United Mileage Plus club. I have been on hold for 17 minutes and so far the music has been interrupted about 5 times to tell me that my wait time will be greater than 30 minutes.

24 inches of snow are forecast to be dumped on Washington DC between Friday afternoon and Saturday. Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

In Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, he writes:

“But helpless pieces in the game He plays
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days
He hither and thither moves, and checks … and slays
Then one by one, back in the Closet lays”

There is a sense of predetermination that in some aspects is almost comforting, as I rest my hopes, well being and fate in the hands of others. There is little one can do even: “If” as Kipling would say: you can force your heart and nerve and sinew, to serve your turn long after they are gone. We are basically at the behest of others.


Four flight cancelations later, I finally arrived in Rochester at 23.30 on Monday 25th. Not bad considering the turmoil that the airline industry had been thrown into.

Makes you see how fragile our technologies are when set about by the Chione, the god of snow.  Not one to irk the gods – but I hate snow…

Thomas Hardy

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Written by: Tony Harris, January 16, 2016



Last Tuesday I had the serendipitous fortune to visit Thomas Hardy’s birth place in Higher Bockhampton near the town of Dorchester in Dorset County, England. I’d recently seen the film ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. Here is a poet and author whose writings elucidate life in Victorian England and which are spiced with influences of Elliot and Dickens. He is undoubtedly a literary giant of his times.

So why, you might ask, was it serendipitous fortune that caused me to happen upon his birth place? Well I was actually looking for Precision Acoustics.

Precision Acoustics is hidden away, but I did finally find it. It was great to be shown around the facility, meet the team and look at all the exciting projects that they have going on. I learned a lot about transducers and hydrophones. It always is nice to see E&I amplifiers in action at a customer’s site and they have quite a few.

Life & Times

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Written by: Tony Harris, January 15, 2016


All life has a concept of time. Most humans will glance at a watch or clock several times a day to‘re-calibrate’ our internal clock. Dogs, they say, use the strength to a scent to determine time. I am not sure how they know that. Animals and plant life use the varying time of daylight and darkness to determine the change season, along with other factors.

Then governments outside of equatorial regions impose this inane concept of ‘summer time’ or ‘daylight savings’ to confuse us. We have George Hudson to thank for that, he invented the concept in 1895. In 1874 Benjamin Franklin tackled the issue of economizing on candles and suggested just getting out of bed earlier; seems to me a much simpler solution.

Alas, I digress. The problem with the use of the hours of the day for time, as in the combined hours of daylight and darkness and so the earth’s rotation, is that the Earth’s rotation is irregular and the solar day (The time taken for a full rotation of the earth on its axis with respect to the sun) is actually getting longer. So we need a more accurate method of measurement.

The first Atomic clock was invented at the NPL in London, UK. The National Physical Laboratory recently celebrated its 60 year anniversary.

Louis Essen (right) with Jack Parry (left), who designed and build the world’s first working caesium atomic clock at the NPL in June 1955


Today there are several atomic clocks at over 50 research labs worldwide and the official time standard or TAI (International Atomic Time) is set by comparing these via a GPS signal and then averaging of them. Most of us use GMT or UTC as our standard. But the TAI is now 36 seconds ahead of UTC. So if you feel that time is getting ahead of you – it is.

I was lucky enough to visit the NPL last week; I met with Christian Baker who is working there on a project to develop better techniques for full breast screening. He is using E&I’s custom 14P50 RF amplifier unit to drive his array of transducers as part of his phase insensitive detection system.

A lot of ultrasound research is being carried out at NPL. It certainly has a rich history and a vibrant future.

The Age of Innocence

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Written by: Tony Harris, January 7, 2016


I got into engineering management at the age of 29. The first thing I did was to make the designs that I had put into production, obsolete. Hide the evidence – cover my tracks, no one could question the robustness of my designs, all that remained were data sheets.

I wanted to become a manager as I was frustrated by management. Rather than help engineers they seemed just to put obstacles in our way. My manager at the time used to smoke a pipe and kept it in his mouth when talking, so I was never really sure what he was saying anyway. He would spend most of his time in his office.

The wonderful thing about being an engineering manager is that you can get out of your office. Leave the spread sheets behind close out of Power Point presentations. You can skive off and go into the lab and talk to all the engineers about what they are working on and help them solve whatever problem they have. The best part is; and this is really cool, no one can complain as it is part of your job!

So I have to go now. They are testing E&I’s new Class D, 1000 Watt amplifier today. They may need my help…


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Written by: Tony Harris, January 5, 2015…err..2016



So how many times I wonder, am I going to write the year as 2015. How many times will I get frustrated with some on-line form that I fill in, as all the data is wiped out because I typed in the incorrect date at the end?

E&I’s fiscal year began on Oct 1st so we already have a quarter behind us. And it has been good so far. Activity seems to have picked up especially in China. Next month of course will see the traditional Chinese New Year – The Year of the Monkey.  Max, Nigel and Marley are very excited about this. They seem to think that it is in their honor. Especially Nigel who as I am sure you know, actually comes from Beijing and Marley who although he comes from Jamaica, his father, Bob, joined E&I from Shanghai.

I am off to the UK on Friday to visit customers there; Precision Acoustics and NPL. But, don’t tell Max, Nigel or Marley – they’ll want to tag along.

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year

That Sick Feeling

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Written by: Tony Harris, January 4, 2016



There is nothing more that makes me sick to my stomach than when I get an e-mail, or one of my employees tell me, that one of our amplifiers has failed in the field. You may think I jest, but I do not. A feeling of panic and nausea overwhelms me. It does not seem to matter whether the unit is under warranty or not. It really is quite irrational.

As the old adage goes; it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. We always address the issue and ensure that it is dealt with expeditiously, completely and, most importantly, that the customer is more than satisfied with our response.

E&I amplifiers seldom fail and I should know by now that our response will be such as to really “wow” the customer. So I should know that, as my mother would always say: it will be alright in the end. But none of the rational arguments prevail when I am told that a unit has failed. I am not sure whether they ever will or if I will ever overcome the feeling – I hope so.