History of the Conservation of Energy: Booms, Blood, and Beer (Part 2)

Part 2 of a trilogy of posts describing the history of the discovery of conservation of energy, inspired by my research on “Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics.” Part 1 can be read here.

In 1798, Count Rumford presented the first significant challenge to the caloric theory of heat, arguing that the seemingly endless amount of heat that could be generated by boring cannons was inconsistent with the idea that heat is a fluid that lies latent in all materials — and can therefore be exhausted.  Rumford subscribed to the alternative, and it turns out correct, theory: that heat is the observable effect of random motion of particles.

But Rumford did not significantly shift the scientific consensus. In the view of most researchers, the evidence still strongly favored the caloric theory, and Rumford’s results were viewed by some as actually bolstering that theory.

It would be a number of years before the next true milestone in the idea of conservation of energy, and it would also come from an unlikely source: a physician, serving as a doctor on a ship sailing to the Dutch East Indies.  Julius Robert Mayer would introduce the first formal statement of what we now know as the conservation of energy — by making an amazingly astute observation about blood.  His discovery, however, would cost him dearly in the long run.

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Dreadnought, by April Daniels

A young girl, who is alienated from her friends and family because she feels she must hide who she truly is, witnesses a battle between the world’s greatest superhero, Dreadnought, and a mysterious powerful new enemy.  In the end, Dreadnought falls. Before he dies, however, he passes on the power of Dreadnought to Danny, who must now decide what to do with this incredible gift.

It is, in its broad strokes, a familiar story.  But in April Daniels’ 2017 novel Dreadnought, Danny is a trans girl, born into a male body. The power of Dreadnought transforms Danny’s body into the form that she knew it always should be — but this comes with its own challenges, which pile on top of the burden of having inherited the mantle.

Though, as I said, the origin story of Dreadnought here is a broadly familiar one, April Daniels spins it into a fun, fast-paced, and enjoyable tale, with an impressive amount of world-building and interesting twists.

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Way of the Worm, by Ramsey Campbell

Over the summer, I blogged about the first two books in the “Three Births of Daoloth” trilogy by Ramsey Campbell, an ambitious work of cosmic horror that spans decades and follows the struggles of Dominic Sheldon against a family that threatens to destroy not only his family and life but the very world.

This October, the third book in the trilogy, The Way of the Worm, was released, and I wasted no time in reading it.

In my humble opinion: Ramsey Campbell has accomplished a rare and impressive feat: the creation of a compelling, intriguing, and haunting trilogy of horror.  As I noted in my previous post, it is relatively rare to see trilogies in horror that are a single, complete story arc.

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History of the Conservation of Energy: Booms, Blood, and Beer (Part 1)

Another post inspired by my research into my Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics book!

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but merely converted from one form to another.

Such is a typical statement of the law of conservation of energy, one of the most important unifying principles of physics.  We constantly experience its effects in our day to day lives, whether we recognize it or not.  When we accelerate our car, for instance, chemical energy in the fuel is converted into rotational energy in the wheels (with some lost as heat), which is in turn converted into kinetic energy — energy of motion — which carries us from place to place. When we step on the brakes to stop the car, that kinetic energy is converted into heat and some sound energy.

The conservation of energy proves the non-existence of perpetual motion machines: in order for a machine to provide unending motion, it must have an inexhaustible source of energy to power it. Or, in other words: you can’t get more energy out of a machine than you put into it.

An illustration of a perpetual failure, via volume 1 of The Harmsworth Magazine, 1899.

The conservation of energy has even led to important new discoveries. In the 1920s, physicists realized that energy (and momentum) was seemingly not conserved in the process of beta decay, in which an electron or positron is emitted from an unstable atomic nucleus.  Though some physicists (looking at you, Niels Bohr) were tempted to throw out the principle of energy conservation altogether, Wolfgang Pauli suggested in 1930 that there must in fact be another particle released in the decay — chargeless, nearly massless, and hardly interacting with ordinary matter. Experimental searches confirmed the existence of the neutrino, which is a key component in the current “theory of everything,” the Standard Model of Physics.

Though the conservation of energy is of fundamental importance in physics, it is a relative newcomer in the history of the subject.  Isaac Newton’s Principia was published in 1687, marking the start of quantitative theoretical physics, but conservation of energy was not established until the 1840s, over 150 years later.

Even more curious is the manner in which the three key discoveries were made. The earliest major breakthrough was made via cannon-boring, the next work was done by a doctor, and the conclusive research was done by a brewer! Hence, a simplified history of the discovery of the conservation of energy can be described as booms, blood, and beer!

In this post, I’ll summarize the early history of the subject, and talk at length about the “booms” part of the history. In the next two posts, we’ll cover “blood” and “beer.”

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Burnt Offerings, by Robert Marasco

For many years, I marveled at what appeared to be a genuine dearth of quality haunted house novels.  There are a number of undeniable classics, such as Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror (1977), Stephen King’s The Shining (1977), Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959), and Richard Matheson’s Hell House (1971), but beyond these it becomes much harder to find good examples.

It turns out that there are, however, plenty of amazing haunted house tales; they’ve been lurking, just out of sight, for years, lost and largely forgotten like the houses they describe.  My friends at Valancourt Books have been leading the charge in reprinting some amazing work, such as Michael McDowell’s The Elementals (1981), Jack Cady’s The Well (1980), and Archie Roy’s Devil in the Darkness (1973), the latter of which I wrote an introduction for!

But my reading habits are fickle, and for some reason I put off investigating another classic released by Valancourt back in 2015, Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings (1973).

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RIP Simon, 2002-2018

It has been a hard year in many ways, but the worst of it has been the loss of numerous loved ones.  Last night, our beloved kitty Simon passed away suddenly at age 16, apparently from a heart problem.

Simon in September of 2015.

It is hard for me to write about the loss of another kitty, after Fluff and Sabrina earlier this year, so this post may not be as long as I’d like: it’s just too painful.  But I wanted to share some memories of this beautiful boy, and convey how much I’ll miss him.

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Of Men and Monsters, by William Tenn

I’ve noted a few times already that the series of SF Masterworks released by the Orion Publishing Group is a great way to get exposed to some great science fiction that has otherwise fallen off the radar in recent years. I’ve read Brian Aldiss’ Non-Stop (1958) and Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite (1992) in this reprint series, and being pleasantly surprised have gone through a number of others that I will blog about in due course.

One of those that I read some time ago and am only getting to writing about now is Of Men and Monsters (1968), by William Tenn.

The story is set in a distant future in which titanic, technologically-superior aliens have conquered Earth. Human civilization has collapsed, and the remnants of humanity have devolved into a primitive tribal state, living in the walls of the aliens’ homes.  From there, they make forays out into the dangerous living spaces, looking for food and supplies to subsist on.

Yes, humans are the mice in the walls of the aliens’ houses.

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