Oct 25, 2015

Edwin Drake (1819-1880) – “Father" of the petroleum industry

He was an American petroleum engineer, credited with drilling the first productive oil well in the United States. Born in Greenville, New York, Drake held many different jobs as a young man, including railway conductor, steamboat employee, and hotel clerk. He became interested in oil after investing $200 in the stock of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, which was formed in 1854 to exploit oil resources in northwestern Pennsylvania.

At the time, oil was often used for its presumed medicinal properties. Techniques for tapping underground oil were so undeveloped that it was primarily gathered as ground seepage, a method used by Pennsylvania Rock Oil. Drake was convinced, however, that he could collect oil in far larger quantities by drilling for it as others drilled for brine, a natural combination of water with a high salt content. He studied brine drilling and set off to Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Drake leased the land at Titusville that he thought most likely to produce oil. He worked for months to bring together the equipment and operators he needed, in the meantime enduring ridicule from local people who scorned his enterprise as “Drake’s Folly.” The actual drilling began in June 1859. One of Drake’s innovations in the procedure was a device used to sink a pipe casing down to bedrock in order to protect the drill from sand and clay and the well from water seepage. After weeks of drilling, Drake and his team reached a depth of 21 m (69 ft), where they struck oil. The initial yield was 40 barrels a day.

An ineffective businessman, Drake did not patent his methods for petroleum drilling, and he lost his operating capital by making bad investments in later oil operations. He survived during the last years of his life on a pension granted by the Pennsylvania legislature.
(Adapted from Encarta Encyclopedia)

Oct 18, 2015

First oil well drilled in USA

The Drake well at Titusville, Pennsylvania, was completed on August 28, 1859 (some sources list the date as August 27). The driller, William "Uncle Billy" Smith, went down 69.5 feet (21.18 meters) to find oil for Edwin L. Drake (1819-1880), the well's operator. Within 15 years, Pennsylvania oil field production reached over 10 million 360-pound (163.3-kilogram) barrels a year. 
(Adapted from ‘The Handy Science Answer Book, compiled by the Science and Technology department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh)

Oct 11, 2015

The Mind's Eye

The phrase "mind's eye" refers to the human ability to visualize, i.e., to experience visual mental imagery; in other words, one's ability to "see" things with the mind.

The brain converts the outside world into the minimum it requires: a sense of three physical dimensions plus time. It can convey several more dimensions, as Escher does in his visually paradoxical paintings, and it can think abstractly about still more dimensions, as physicists sometimes do, using mathematical symbols as mental handrails. Just as a two-dimensional painting or photograph conjures up a four-dimensional world, the brain envisions itself in space and time. But only as much space and time as it needs to survive, given its senses and limits. I often wonder about the senses of life-forms in other solar systems, how many dimensions their universe might seem to hold, depending on their biology and culture. If they have a culture, and an awareness of the outside world, and if they value truth.

We cannot know. Faith eases that strain. Faith in most anything, but especially in religion, science, and love, because they're so good at providing useful and pleasing patterns and rewards. Certainty feels sweet. Especially the certainty of knowing who and what goes where in a chaotic world. In the mind's eye, that ancient seat of imagining, neurons appear to branch like trees, and angels have taffeta bird wings.

Oct 4, 2015

Supercell thunderstorm

Storm chasers photograph a spring supercell thunderstorm near Texline, Texas. Supercells are severe, potentially dangerous storms that have a vortex of rotating air known as a mesocyclone. They produce hail, strong rain, and occasionally tornadoes. (National Geographic)