Just published at CNET, How Surge Protectors Keep You Safe.
Your appliances and gadgets love electricity. It’s the stuff that brings them to life, but too much can be a bad thing. If the voltage of the electricity coming in over your wires suddenly rises, that can damage them. Electrical engineers call this kind of problem a transient voltage surge, because it comes and goes quickly. This can happen when something like a transformer blowout or a faulty appliance sends a sudden spike of energy into your home wiring. This is why many people use a surge protector to block these surges.
In my second column on Amazon’s Alexa service, I dig into how Alexa learns to understand and obey you.
In my last column, I looked at how Amazon’s Echo device and the Alexa voice service allows you to control things with your voice. You speak, it understands and obeys. Alexa is just part of a new wave of services that allow you to control things with your voice, from cell phones to intercoms and thermostats. You can even do things now likeask her to start your car. So, how do these listening devices transform your mellifluous voice into computer commands? The answer lies in two new fields of computer science, called machine learning and natural language programming.
In my latest Appliance Science column, I look into how Amazon’s Alexa service captures your voice and translates this into commands.
There are plenty of things in my house that I yell at. Some of them answer back these days, though, and even do what I ask. My dog is still a work in progress as far as that goes, but my Amazon Echo has just about nailed it. The Echo is a device that uses speech recognition to perform an ever-growing range of tasks on command. Amazon calls the built-in brains of this device “Alexa,” and she* is the thing that makes it work.
Just published on CNET, Appliance Science looks at the science of smoke detectors.
Smoke detectors save lives. By warning the occupants of a house when a fire starts, they give them more time to either deal with the fire or evacuate. But there is an increasing debate about how they are best used, and what type of smoke alarm is the best type to use. Let’s look at the science behind these early warning devices, and what this means for you.
I am quite proud of these two columns on the odd phenomenon of Spherification, where you can make edible spheres of liquids using simple chemicals. The first is about the science of Spherification, while the second is a how-to on making your own spheres.
I just drank a cup of water. Nothing unusual there, but this was without a cup or other container. Instead, the water was held in a clear, edible membrane that I popped into my mouth and bit down on. It tasted, well, just like water, because this clear sphere was made just from water and two tasteless chemicals.
I made this strange sphere myself, using a process called spherification. Using the reaction of these two chemicals, I created a tough membrane on the outside of the water that held it in place. In effect, the water became its own water bottle.
For my CNet column Appliance Science, I take a look at the physics of ice makers.
You might think that making ice is a simple business: just throw water into the freezer and it turns to ice. Simple, right? That’s true if you just want to make a single tray of ice, but most of us prefer to have ice available on demand. That’s why we have ice makers, devices that can make ice consistently for the many years that you will own your fridge. That takes a bit more engineering than a simple ice tray. Let’s take a closer look at how the humble ice maker creates the ice to keep your summer drinks cool.
How do you make the perfect scrambled eggs? For my CNet column Appliance Science, the results of my experiments with sous vide scrambles….
The joy of sous vide is that you can produce this sort of differentiation. While a chef might train for years to learn how to cook like this without a precise temperature controller at his or her side, a sous vide setup puts it just a few button presses away . And it does it with the consistency that no chef can match: it doesn’t have bad days or get distracted.
My latest Appliance Science column at CNet looks at the physics of espresso coffee.
That’s because the process of making espresso is complicated and finicky: get something wrong and you’ve ruined the delicate balance.
Espresso is, to coin a phrase, what happens when engineers make coffee.
My latest Appliance Science column at CNET explains how induction cooktops work, heating your dinner without direct heat. Plus a special section on frog levitation.
Induction cooktops are also more efficient than other types of cooking methods. Because the heat is generated inside the base of the pan, they use less electricity than conventional electric cooktops, and can heat things quicker. They are also easier to clean, because the flat glass or ceramic surface has no gaps or grills to collect spilled food, and the food doesn’t get burned onto the surface. If you spill something, one quick swipe with a damp cloth will clean it up.
The next appliance to come under the Appliance Science microscope is the microwave oven, which has a history connected to radar, melted chocolate and exploding eggs.
Ever since humans first dropped a chunk of mammoth meat onto a fire and liked the result, we have been looking for new ways to cook things. One of the more recent developments in this race to taste is the microwave oven, which uses microwave radiation to heat and cook your food.
Because it uses less energy and is much quicker than a gas or electric ovens, the microwave has found a spot in most homes. In fact, it is thought that that by the beginning of the 21st century, over 90 percent of homes in the US had a microwave oven. That’s pretty good progress for a device that was invented by accident 55 years ago.