December 31, 2013: Bright Idea Day, anniversary of Edison’s light bulb

December 30, 2013

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we celebrate a variety of historically holy days.  December 31, by tradition, is Bright Idea Day, the anniversary of the day Thomas Edison demonstrated for the public a working light bulb in 1879.

100,000 people gather in Times Square, New York City, tonight, and millions more around the world, in festivities for the new year made possible by the work of Thomas Alva Edison.

Here it is, the invention that stole sleep from our grasp, made clubbing possible, and launched 50,000 cartoons about ideas:

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey - Wikimedia image

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey – Wikimedia image (GFDL)

The light bulb. It’s an incandescent bulb.

It wasn’t the first bulb. Edison a few months earlier devised a bulb that worked with a platinum filament. Platinum was too expensive for mass production, though — and Edison wanted mass production. So, with the cadre of great assistants at his Menlo Park laboratories, he struggled to find a good, inexpensive filament that would provide adequate life for the bulb. By late December 1879 they had settled on carbon filament.

Edison invited investors and the public to see the bulb demonstrated, on December 31, 1879.

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb.  Library of Congress image

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. CREDIT: Thomas Edison, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction number LC-USZ62-98067

Edison’s successful bulb indicated changes in science, technology, invention, intellectual property and finance well beyond its use of electricity. For example:

  • Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, offices and laboratory were financed with earlier successful inventions. It was a hive of inventive activity aimed to make practical inventions from advances in science. Edison was all about selling inventions and rights to manufacture devices. He always had an eye on the profit potential. His improvements on the telegraph would found his laboratory he thought, and he expected to sell the device to Western Union for $5,000 to $7,000. Instead of offering it to them at a price, however, he asked Western Union to bid on it. They bid $10,000, which Edison gratefully accepted, along with the lesson that he might do better letting the marketplace establish the price for his inventions. Other inventive labs followed Edison’s example, such as the famous Bell Labs, but few equalled his success, or had as much fun doing it.  (Economics teachers:  Need an example of the marketplace in action?)
  • While Edison had some financial weight to invest in the quest for a workable electric light, he also got financial support, $30,000 worth, from some of the finance giants of the day, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts who established the Edison Light Company.
  • Edison didn’t invent the light bulb — but his improvements on it made it commercial. “In addressing the question ‘Who invented the incandescent lamp?’ historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison. They conclude that Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve (by use of the Sprengel pump) and a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.”
  • Edison’s financial and business leadership acumen is partly attested to by the continuance of his organizations, today — General Electric, one of the world’s most successful companies over the past 40 years, traces its origins to Edison.

Look around yourself this evening, and you can find a score of ways that Edison’s invention and its descendants affect your life. One of the more musing effects is in cartooning, however. Today a glowing lightbulb is universally accepted as a nonverbal symbol for ideas and inventions. (See Mark Parisi’s series of lightbulb cartoons, “Off the Mark.”)

Even with modern, electricity-saving bulbs, the cartoon shorthand hangs on, as in this Mitra Farmand cartoon.

Fusilli has an idea, Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Brilliant cartoon from Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Or see this wonderful animation, a video advertisement for United Airlines, by Joanna Quinn for Fallon — almost every frame has the symbolic lightbulb in it.

Other resources:

Patent drawing for Thomas Edison's successful electric lamp.  Library of Congress

Thomas Edison’s electric lamp patent drawing and claim for the incandescent light bulb CREDIT: “New Jersey–The Wizard of Electricity–Thomas A. Edison’s System of Electric Illumination,” 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-97960.

Yeah, this is mostly an encore post.

Even More, in 2012 and 2013:


Selling wind energy leases off the coast of Virginia: Is this a good idea?

September 16, 2013

Contrary to the claims of President Obama’s critics, his administration is proceeding to develop energy resources in new areas.

Just a couple of weeks ago experimental wind energy sites off the coast of Virginia were auctioned off.

Wind power farm at sea; Clemson University image, of unidentified ocean-based wind farm.

Wind power farm at sea; Clemson University image, of unidentified ocean-based wind farm.

Can these tracts be developed responsibly?  I have not followed the issue, and I have not read the Environmental Impact Statement on this sale (surely there was one, since this is a “significant federal act” with great impact on these waters and the coast of Virginia).  Surely this is safer and cleaner than oil leases; enough cleaner?  Far enough away to avoid destructive effects on wildlife and other resources?

What do you think?

Here’s the press release from the Department of Interior:

Interior Holds Second Competitive Lease Sale for Renewable Energy in Federal Waters


Historic Sale for Wind Energy Development Offshore Virginia Advances President’s Climate Action Plan

09/04/2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to create American jobs, develop domestic clean energy sources and cut carbon pollution, the Interior Department today completed the nation’s second competitive lease sale for renewable energy in federal waters, garnering $1,600,000 in high bids for 112,799 acres on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Virginia.

Virginia Electric and Power Company is the provisional winner of the sale, which auctioned a Wind Energy Area approximately 23.5 nautical miles off Virginia Beach that has the potential to support 2,000 megawatts of wind generation – enough energy to power more than 700,000 homes.

The sale follows a July 31 auction of 164,750 acres offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts for wind energy development that was provisionally won by Deepwater Wind New England, LLC, generating $3.8 million in high bids.

“This year’s second offshore wind lease sale is another major milestone in the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy and demonstrates continued momentum behind a robust renewable energy portfolio that will help to keep our nation competitive and expand domestic energy production while cutting carbon pollution,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “Today’s sale is the result of a great deal of collaboration and planning with the Commonwealth of Virginia, which has been a leader in advancing offshore renewable energy for the Atlantic coast and an enthusiastic partner in this effort.”

“Today’s renewable energy lease sale offshore Virginia is another significant step forward in the President’s call for action to address climate change and the Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Tommy Beaudreau. “I congratulate Virginia Electric and Power Company and we look forward to overseeing their development of the Virginia wind energy area, which will create jobs, increase our energy security and provide abundant sources of clean renewable power.”

Efforts to spur responsible development of offshore wind energy are part of a series of Obama Administration actions to increase renewable energy both offshore and onshore by improving coordination with state, local and federal partners. The Virginia Renewable Energy Task Force has been a leading agent in intergovernmental collaboration for wind energy development offshore Virginia.

Since 2009, Interior has approved 47 wind, solar and geothermal utility-scale projects on public lands, including associated transmission corridors and infrastructure to connect to established power grids. When built, these projects could provide more than 13,300 megawatts – enough energy to power more than 4.6 million homes and support more than 19,000 construction and operations jobs.

As part of the President’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan, he has challenged Interior to re-double efforts on its renewable energy program by approving an additional 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy production on public lands and waters by 2020.

At the same time, under the Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, domestic oil and gas production has grown each year President Obama has been in office, with domestic oil production currently higher than at any time in two decades; natural gas production at its highest level ever; and renewable electricity generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources having doubled. Combined with recent declines in oil consumption, net oil imports in 2012 fell to the lowest level in 20 years.”

BOEM auctioned the Wind Energy Area offshore Virginia as a single lease, containing 19 whole Outer Continental Shelf blocks and 13 sub-blocks. For a map of the Wind Energy Area, click here.

The auction lasted 1 day, consisting of 6 rounds before determining the provisional winner. In addition to Virginia Electric and Power Company the following company participated in the auction: Apex Virginia Offshore Wind, LLC. Following the auction, the Attorney General, in consultation with the Federal Trade Commission, will have 30 days in which to complete an antitrust review of the auction.

The lease will have a preliminary term of six months in which to submit a Site Assessment Plan to BOEM for approval. A Site Assessment Plan describes the activities (e.g., installation of meteorological towers and buoys) the lessee plans to perform for the assessment of the wind resources and ocean conditions of its commercial lease.

After a Site Assessment Plan is approved, the lessee will have up to four and a half years in which to submit a Construction and Operations Plan (COP) for approval, which provides a detailed outline for the construction and operation of a wind energy project on the lease. If the COP is approved, the lessee will have an operations term of 33 years.

BOEM is expected to announce additional auctions for Wind Energy Areas offshore Maryland, New Jersey, and Massachusetts later this year and in 2014.

For more information on what’s going on offshore Virginia, visit BOEM’s website.

23 miles puts it far enough out that it’s generally out of sight from shore.  Out of sight, out of mind?  Out of danger?  Out of disaster potential?

Does a coal-power company’s winning these leases suggest a scheme to keep wind power from being developed, to improve the case for coal?

More:


Electricity in the air, times 2

September 1, 2013

Spectacular photo of Glen Canyon Dam, in the early morning, with a thunderstorm to the north.  This photo was taken close to the spot where Norman Rockwell painted the dam about 40 years ago.

 Electricity is in the air at Glen Canyon! Although the Glen Canyon Dam produces hydroelectric power around the clock, an early morning thunderstorm really cranked up the voltage earlier this month. Use caution when planning your upcoming outdoor activities as intense thunderstorms are common this time of year. (Photo Credit: David Bailey)

Electricity is in the air at Glen Canyon! Although the Glen Canyon Dam produces hydroelectric power around the clock, an early morning thunderstorm really cranked up the voltage earlier this month. Use caution when planning your upcoming outdoor activities as intense thunderstorms are common this time of year. (Bureau of Reclamation/Interior Facebook entry; photo Credit: David Bailey)

More:

Norman Rockwell's tribute to the Glen Canyon Dam.  Bureau of Reclamation image

Norman Rockwell’s tribute to the Glen Canyon Dam. Bureau of Reclamation image


Wind power fastest growing energy segment?

August 6, 2013

It was a Tweet from the Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, so it must be so:

Wind Technologies Market Report 2012, from the U.S. Department of Energy

Wind Technologies Market Report 2012, from the U.S. Department of Energy

Generally good trends.  Chris Clarke and the Californians defending the deserts think windfarms are blots on the California deserts — and they’re right — but we can find lots of other places to put them in.

Texas showed greatest growth in windpower among the states.  South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas now get more than 20% of their electricity from wind generation.

Work needs to be done to make these bird-friendlier, especially friendlier to raptors. Solvable problems, I think.

What do you think?

More:


December 31, 2012: Bright Idea Day, anniversary of Edison’s light bulb

December 31, 2012

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub we celebrate a variety of historically holy days.  December 31, by tradition, is Bright Idea Day, the anniversary of the day Thomas Edison demonstrated for the public a working light bulb in 1879.

100,000 people gather in Times Square, New York City, tonight, and millions more around the world, in festivities for the new year made possible by the work of Thomas Alva Edison.

Here it is, the invention that stole sleep from our grasp, made clubbing possible, and launched 50,000 cartoons about ideas:

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey - Wikimedia image

The light bulb Thomas Edison demonstrated on December 31, 1879, at Menlo Park, New Jersey – Wikimedia image (GFDL)

The light bulb. It’s an incandescent bulb.

It wasn’t the first bulb. Edison a few months earlier devised a bulb that worked with a platinum filament. Platinum was too expensive for mass production, though — and Edison wanted mass production. So, with the cadre of great assistants at his Menlo Park laboratories, he struggled to find a good, inexpensive filament that would provide adequate life for the bulb. By late December 1879 they had settled on carbon filament.

Edison invited investors and the public to see the bulb demonstrated, on December 31, 1879.

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb.  Library of Congress image

Thomas Edison in 1878, the year before he demonstrated a workable electric light bulb. CREDIT: Thomas Edison, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction number LC-USZ62-98067

Edison’s successful bulb indicated changes in science, technology, invention, intellectual property and finance well beyond its use of electricity. For example:

  • Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, offices and laboratory were financed with earlier successful inventions. It was a hive of inventive activity aimed to make practical inventions from advances in science. Edison was all about selling inventions and rights to manufacture devices. He always had an eye on the profit potential. His improvements on the telegraph would found his laboratory he thought, and he expected to sell the device to Western Union for $5,000 to $7,000. Instead of offering it to them at a price, however, he asked Western Union to bid on it. They bid $10,000, which Edison gratefully accepted, along with the lesson that he might do better letting the marketplace establish the price for his inventions. Other inventive labs followed Edison’s example, such as the famous Bell Labs, but few equalled his success, or had as much fun doing it.  (Economics teachers:  Need an example of the marketplace in action?)
  • While Edison had some financial weight to invest in the quest for a workable electric light, he also got financial support, $30,000 worth, from some of the finance giants of the day, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts who established the Edison Light Company.
  • Edison didn’t invent the light bulb — but his improvements on it made it commercial. “In addressing the question ‘Who invented the incandescent lamp?’ historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison. They conclude that Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve (by use of the Sprengel pump) and a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.”
  • Edison’s financial and business leadership acumen is partly attested to by the continuance of his organizations, today — General Electric, one of the world’s most successful companies over the past 40 years, traces its origins to Edison.

Look around yourself this evening, and you can find a score of ways that Edison’s invention and its descendants affect your life. One of the more musing effects is in cartooning, however. Today a glowing lightbulb is universally accepted as a nonverbal symbol for ideas and inventions. (See Mark Parisi’s series of lightbulb cartoons, “Off the Mark.”)

Even with modern, electricity-saving bulbs, the cartoon shorthand hangs on, as in this Mitra Farmand cartoon.

Fusilli has an idea, Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Brilliant cartoon from Mitra Farmand, Fuffernutter

Or see this wonderful animation, a video advertisement for United Airlines, by Joanna Quinn for Fallon — almost every frame has the symbolic lightbulb in it.

Other resources:

Patent drawing for Thomas Edison's successful electric lamp.  Library of Congress

Thomas Edison’s electric lamp patent drawing and claim for the incandescent light bulb CREDIT: “New Jersey–The Wizard of Electricity–Thomas A. Edison’s System of Electric Illumination,” 1880. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-97960.

Yeah, this is mostly an encore post.

Even More, in 2012:


Rude giant: Jail him, or make him a tax payer?

September 4, 2012

What do you do with someone who is obnoxious and rude, and a giant besides?  You can’t duke it out with him . . .

More than just a clever ad for an electricity company, this piece really gets at the heart of the differences between the Republican view of the world, presented by the Romney campaign, and the Democratic view of the world, as exemplified by the Obama administration.

Romney Signs Wind Turbine In Iowa

Yeah, but he didn’t think anyone was watching: Romney Signs Wind Turbine In Iowa (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service) (Now Mitt thinks he built it, ignoring the union guys and other laborers who did.)

First, the obvious comparison:  Romney promises to kill subsidies for wind power, doubling down on America’s dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil.  To the GOP platform, wind is a rude giant, perhaps worthy of ignoring, but in not case worthy of giving a job to do.  To the Obama administration, every watt of power generated by wind is a watt that doesn’t need to be generated by coal, oil or gas, freeing up those fuels for other work, and decreasing U.S. dependence on oil imported from Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Which treatment is more likely to increase the nation’s energy security and move the U.S. towards oil independence?

Second, the story carries metaphorical value, for the rest of the agendas of the two campaigns.  Consider the Rude Giant as an out of work person, someone who is unemployed.  The Romney campaign’s answer is that this fellow needs to become an entrepreneur, change his ways, change his behaviors, develop some other talents other than those God gave him, and maybe he’ll be successful; to encourage him to change himself, the Romney platform calls for pulling the rug out from under the poor guy so he’ll have to do something different or die.  Democratic platform stands for retraining, great education in the first place, good benefits and a safety net that works — to get the former taxpayer back on his feet and, coincidentally, paying taxes again soon.

Guess which plan is cheaper to taxpayers, in operation?

What’s the reality:  This past summer I drove through ten different states and the District of Columbia.  Only in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. did I not see vast new “wind farms” of windmills, or pass on the road the massive truck trailers carrying parts for wind turbine installations.  As it turns out, that was because I didn’t drive to the area of Maryland and Virginia with wind farms.  Only D.C. lacks a windfarm, out of the states I visited (Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado were the others).  Wind is big business and growing.

Why would any candidate try to choke off windpower growth, in tough economic times?

More:

Update on resources, September 13, 2012:


White House notes advances in light bulbs and energy conservation

August 14, 2011

L-Prize-winning bulb from Philips North American Lighting -- a 10-watt LED bulb to replace 60-watt incandescent bulbs

L-Prize-winning bulb from Philips North American Lighting -- a 10-watt LED bulb to replace 60-watt incandescent bulbs

From the White House blog, something you probably didn’t see in your local newspaper and/or Tea Party organ:

Bright Ideas: Thomas Edison would be amazed. The conventional light bulb now has some serious competition. Philips Lighting North America has invented a revolutionary 10-watt light emitting diode (LED) bulb. Phillips is the first winner of the Energy Department’s Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize(L Prize). The L Prize challenged the lighting industry to develop high performance, energy-saving replacements for conventional light bulbs that will save American consumers and businesses money.

Some business gets an award for lights that conserve energy?  Rats, there goes Rand Paul’s raison d’etre — all but for the lack of a toilet Paul could flush on his own.

More: 


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