Thursday, May 21, 2009

All things faradayan: Faraday's, Faraday, faradic, faradaic, and farad

The adjective faradayan relates to Michael Faraday (1791-1867), the English bookbinder, chemist and physicist who advanced the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. This adjective is used in expressions such as faradayan principle. Instead of using the word faradayan, the possessive form Faraday's or simply his name is often taken, as in the terms Faraday cage and Faraday constant. The adjective faradic (a spelling variant is faradaic) relates to electric current. For example, the term faradic current denotes the current of an electrolyte solution, for which the current is proportional to the concentration of the electrolyte. Yes, the derived adverb has meaning as well: current can be faradically induced!
And then there is the SI unit of capacitance: Farad (symbol F), for which F = A·s·V-1.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From local to global: Hubbert's Peak versus Peak Oil

The term Peak Oil is now used to refer to the point (Oil Peak would be more appropriate, but sounds greasy) at which the maximum of global oil production is reached and production starts to decline. This is or will not be the end of oil, but the end of efficiently produced (if it ever was) and cheap oil. The term Hubbert's Peak refers to the local maximum (peak in U.S. oil production) that was predicted in 1956 by geophysicist M. King Hubbert to happen in the early 1970s, when indeed an oil crisis was experienced.

Suggested Reading
[1] Charles A. S. Hall and John W. Day, Jr.: Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil. American Scientist, May-June 2009, 97, pp. 230-237.
[2] Kenneth S. Deffeyes: Hubbert's Peak. The Impending World Oil Shortage. Revised and Updated Paperback Edition. Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540, 2001.
[3] Paul Roberts: The End of Oil. On the Edge of a Perilous New World. Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003, 2004.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

With prefix nar and no ending in e: narwhal

The prefix nar in the name narwhal has its origin in the Old Norse word nár, which means corpse. The plural form is narwhals [1]. When together, they build a narwhal pod, which can range in size from a few to 100 narwhals. Narwhals differ from other whales not just in terms of spelling [2]:
The alabaster belugas's dark cousin, the narwhal is not a conventionally beautiful animal. Its unlovely name means “corpse whale,” because its splotchy flesh reminded Norse sailors of a drowned body. This speckled complexion is “weird,” says James Mead, curator of marine mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural Histrory (NMNH); usually, he says, whales are a more uniform color. And unlike other whales, narwhals—which can live more than 100 years—die shortly in captivity, greatly reducing the opportunity to study them.
The scientific name is derived from Greek, although their are no narwhals in the Aegean Sea: Monodon monoceros, meaning one tooth, one horn. An occasional male has two tusks (most females have none) and the NMNH has two rare double-tusk specimens [2]. The function of this characteristic helical tusk is still vividly debated. Unfortunately, it also is the reason why the narwhal's fate resembles the fate of elephants. However, recent research and protection gives some hope.

Note and reference
[1] The spellings narwhale and narwhales can be found occasionally.
[2] Abigail Tucker: In Search of the Mysterious Narwhal. Smithsonian, May 2009, Vol. 40, No. 2, p. 34.

Greenlandic narwhal vocabulary
angisoq tuugaaq large tusked narwhal
quernertaq tuugaalik tusked narwhal
quernertaq narwhal

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A limit on long last names—somehow

Longer last names take more space than shorter ones. If a last name gets too long, it may not fit on a name tag or into a fill-out form anymore. Very long names also fill up a lot of space in author lists of article headings and reference sections in publications—without contributing to the subject. What should the maximum length of a last name be? In Germany, a supreme court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) decision (May 5, 2009) reinstated the existing regulation of having no more than two names. After marriage, a couple may combine their two names, but only, if each partner has a single name. Well, how long can a single name be? Two long single names combined can be longer than a chain of three or four short names!