Mystery Pipe

A puzzle that the steam locomotive enthusiasts among you (you’re out there, right?) might stand a chance at solving:

The picture below is of “6040”, the last steam locomotive to be built for the Department of Railways New South Wales in Australia. She was in service as a coal/goods transporter from 1957 through 1967 before the increase in the use of diesel on the railways lead to the death of steam. She was eventually rescued and displayed by the New South Wales Railway Museum, which is where the photo was taken. There, starting from her 50th birthday, a team of volunteers have been restoring her. But that’s perhaps not the thing that’s most-unusual about her, or her class (AD60).

New South Wales Government Railways' AD60-class "6040", with mystery pipes highlighted
New South Wales Government Railways’ AD60-class “6040”, with mystery pipes highlighted

I’ve highlighted on the photo a feature that you’ve probably never seen before, even if you’re of an inclination to go “Ooh, a steam loco: I’mma have a closer look at that!”. What you’re seeing is an open pipe (with a funnel-like protrusion at one end) connecting the area behind the leading wheels to the cab. What’s it for? Have a think about it as you read the rest of this post, and see if you can come up with the answer before I tell you the answer.

AD60 "6012" under steam.
AD60 “6012”, seen in this 1950s photo, had not yet been fitted with the “mystery pipes”, which were added later.

These pipes weren’t initially fitted to “6040” nor to any of her 41 sisters: they were added later, once the need for them became apparent.

If you’re thinking “ventilation”, you’d be wrong, but I can see why you’d make that guess: the AD60 is an extremely long locomotive, and sometimes long steam locomotives experience ventilation problems when going through tunnels. Indeed, this was a concern for the AD60 and some were fitted with ventilation pipes, but these carried air from the front of the engine back to the cab, not from down near the wheels like this mystery pipe would. However, the pipe does connect through to the cab…

AD60 "6029"
“City of Canberra”/”6029”, restored to functionality (seen here in 2015), either never had or wasn’t refitted during restoration with the mystery pipes.

It’s worth taking a moment though to consider why this is such a long locomotive, though: you may have noticed that it exhibits a rather unusual shape! The AD60 is a Garratt locomotive, an uncommon articulated design which places a single (usually relatively-large) boiler straddled in-between two steam engines. Articulating a locomotive allows a longer design to safely take corners that were only rated for shorter vehicles (which can be important if your network rolled out narrow-gauge everywhere to begin with, or if you put too many curves onto a mountain railway). Garratt (and other articulated steam) locos are a fascinating concept however you look at them, but I’m going to try harder than usual to stay on-topic today.

OpenTTD slope building
Just go around the mountain! (Around and around and around…) Oh damn, I’ve gone off topic and now I’m thinking about OpenTTD.

And by the time you’re articulating a locomotive anyway, engineer Herbert William Garratt reasoned, you might as well give it a huge boiler and two engines and give it the kind of power output you’d normally expect from double-heading your train. And it pretty-much worked, too! Garratt-type articulated steam locomotives proved very popular in Africa, where some of the most-powerful ones constructed remained in service until 1980, mountainous parts of Asia, and – to a lesser extent – in Australia.

Illustration of a garratt locomotive
Each of the forward and rear engine bogies in a Garratt design pivots independently; the boiler and cab are suspended between them.

Indeed: it’s the combination of length of this loco and its two (loud) engines that necessitated the addition of the “mystery pipe”. Can you work out what it is, yet? One final clue before I give the game away – it’s a safety feature.

While you think about that, I direct your attention to this photo of the Я-class (of which only one was ever built), which shows you what happens then the Soviet Union thought “Da, we have to be having one of these ‘Garratt’ steam engines with the bending… but we have also to be making it much bigger than those capitalist dogs would.” What a monster!

Page 116 of the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 1
Minutes of the meeting at which Cowper demonstrated his invention (click through for full text via Google Books).

In the 1840s, engineer Edward Alfred Cowper (who’d later go on to design the famous single-arch roof of Birmingham New Street station which lasted until its redevelopment in the 1960s) invented a device called the railway detonator. A detonator is a small explosive charge that can be attached to a railway line and which will explode when a train drives over it. The original idea – and still one in which they’re used to this day – is that if a train breaks down or otherwise has to come to a halt in foggy conditions, they can be placed on the track behind. If another train comes along, the driver will hear the distinctive “bangs” of the detonators which will warn them to put on the brakes and stop, and so avoid a collision with the stopped train ahead.

They’re the grown-up equivalent of those things kids used to be able to buy that went bang when you threw them on the ground (or, in a great example of why kids shouldn’t be allowed to buy them, at least in the case of a childhood friend of mine, detonated them by biting them!).

But when your cab is behind not only the (long) boiler and (even longer and very loud) articulated engine of an AD60, there’s a very real risk that you won’t hear a detonator, triggered by the front wheels of your loco. Your 264-tonnes of locomotive plus the weight of the entire train behind you can sail on through a trio of detonators and not even hear the warning (though you’re probably likely to hear the bang that comes later, when you catch up with the obstruction ahead).

Detonator on railway track
I heard pop-pop on the railway! (The very fact that I call it that tells you that I’m not ready.)

The mystery tubes on the AD60 were added to address this problem: they’re a noise-carrier! Connecting the area right behind the leading wheels to the drivers’ cab via a long tube makes the driver more-able to hear what’s happening on the rails, specifically so that they can hear if the engine begins to roll over a detonator. That’s a crazy bit of engineering, right? Installing a tube along most of the length of a locomotive just to carry the sound of the wheels (and anything they collide with) to the driver’s cab seems like a bizarre step, but having already-constructed the vehicle in a way that introduced that potential safety problem, it was the simplest and lowest-cost retrofitting.

In other news: this is what happens when I finish the last exam I anticipate sitting in a long while, this week (I know I’ve said that before, last time I was in the position of finishing a final-exam-before-a-dissertation). Clearly my brain chooses to celebrate not having to learn what I was studying for a bit by taking a break to learn something completely different.

Underground and Overground in the City of London

Despite being only a short journey away (made even shorter by the new railway station that appeared near by house last year), I rarely find myself in London. But once in a while a week comes along when I feel like I’m there all the time.

British Rail branded poster from an abandoned tunnel under Euston Station, circa 1960s.
Bargain travel to London from the station around the corner! Don’t think this poster is up-to-date, though.

On Friday of last week, Ruth, JTA and I took one of the London Transport Museum‘s Hidden London tours. Back in 2011 we took a tour of Aldwych Tube Station, probably the most well-known of the London Underground’s disused stations, and it was fantastic, so we were very excited to be returning for another of their events. This time around, we were visiting Euston Station.

Our tour group gathers around the corner from Euston Station.
Stylish hi-vis jackets for everybody!

But wait, you might-well say: Euston station isn’t hidden nor disused! And you’d be right. But Euston’s got a long and convoluted history, and it used to consist of not one but three stations: the mainline station and two independent underground stations run by competing operators. The stations all gradually got connected with tunnels, and then with a whole different set of tunnels as part of the redevelopment in advance of the station’s reopening in 1968. But to this day, there’s still a whole network of tunnels underneath Euston station, inaccessible to the public, that are either disused or else used only as storage, air vents, or cable runs.

Disused lift shaft under Euston Station.
This lift shaft used to transport passengers between what are now the Northern and Victoria lines. Now it’s just a big hole.

A particular highlight was getting to walk through the ventilation shaft that draws all of the hot air out of the Victoria Line platforms. When you stand and wait for your train you don’t tend to think about the network of tunnels that snake around the one you’re in, hidden just beyond the grills in the ceiling or through the doors at the end of the platforms. I shot a video (below) from the shaft, periodically looking down on the trains pulling in and out below us.

No sooner were we back than I was away again. Last Saturday, I made my way back to London to visit Twitter’s UK headquarters in Soho to help the fantastic Code First: Girls team to make some improvements to the way they organise and deliver their Javascript, Python and Ruby curricula. I first came across Code First: Girls through Beverley, one of Three Rings‘ volunteers who happens to work for them, and I’ve become a fan of their work. Unfortunatley my calendar’s too packed to be able to volunteer as one of their instructors (which I totally would if it weren’t for work, and study, and existing volunteering, and things), but I thought this would be a good opportunity to be helpful while I had a nominally-“spare” day.

The coffee lounge on the administration/marketing floor of Twitter's offices in Soho.
Twitter’s offices, by the way, are exactly as beautiful as you’d hope that they might be.

Our host tried to win me over on the merits of working for Twitter (they’re recruiting heavily in the UK, right now), and you know what – if I were inclined towards a commute as far as London (and I didn’t love the work I do so much) – I’d totally give that a go. And not just because I enjoyed telling an iPad what I wanted to drink and then having it dispensed minutes later by a magical automated hot-and-cold-running-drinks tap nearby.

Twitter's reception with its "tweet wall" sculpture.
I’m not sure I ‘get’ the idea of a sculpture of tweets, though. Wouldn’t a “live display” have been more-thematic?

And that’s not even all of it. This coming Thursday, I’m back in London again, this time to meet representatives from a couple of charities who’re looking at rolling out Three Rings. In short: having a direct line to London on my doorstep turns out to be pretty useful.

TIL that in 1970, British Rail patented the design of fusion-powered interstellar spaceship

This link was originally posted to /r/todayilearned. See more things from Dan's Reddit account.

by an author

British Rail flying saucer

The British Rail flying saucer, officially known simply as space vehicle, was a proposed spacecraft designed by Charles Osmond Frederick.

Purpose

The flying saucer originally started as a proposal for a lifting platform. However, the project was revised and edited, and by the time the patent was filed had become a large passenger craft for interplanetary travel.

Design

The craft was to be powered by nuclear fusion, using laser beams to produce pulses of nuclear energy in a generator in the centre of the craft, at a rate of over 1000 Hz to prevent resonance, which could damage the vehicle. The pulses of energy would then have been transferred out of a nozzle into a series of radial electrodes running along the underside of the craft, which would have converted the energy into electricity that would then pass into a ring of powerful electromagnets (the patent describes using superconductors if possible). These magnets would accelerate subatomic particles emitted by the fusion reaction, providing lift and thrust. This general design was used in several fusion rocket studies.

A layer of thick metal running above the fusion reactor would have acted as a shield to protect the passengers above from the radiation emitted from the core of the reactor. The entire vehicle would be piloted in such a way that the acceleration and deceleration of the craft would have simulated gravity in zero gravity conditions.

A patent application was filed by Jensen and Son on behalf of British Rail on 11 December 1970 and granted on 21 March 1973.

The patent lapsed in 1976 due to non-payment of renewal fees.

Media attention

The patent first came to the attention of the media when it was featured in The Guardian on 31 May 1978, in a story by Adrian Hope of the New Scientist magazine. There was a further mention in The Daily Telegraph on 11 July 1982, during the silly season. The Railway Magazine mentioned it in its May 1996 issue, saying that the passengers would have been “fried” anyway.

When the patent was rediscovered in 2006, it gained widespread publicity in the British press. A group of nuclear scientists examined the designs and declared them to be unworkable, expensive and very inefficient. Michel van Baal of the European Space Agency claimed “I have had a look at the plans, and they don’t look very serious to me at all”, adding that many of the technologies used in the craft, such as nuclear fusion and high temperature superconductors, had not yet been discovered, while Colin Pillinger, the scientist in charge of the Beagle 2 probe, was quoted as saying “If I hadn’t seen the documents I wouldn’t have believed it”.

Wikipedia

The Danville Public Service Announcement

I don’t visit Facebook often. In fact, I usually only log on once or twice a month to clear out the billions of requests to install applications (and block those applications) that people don’t seem to have noticed that I never accept, or to check up on a mis-placed phone number or e-mail address for some infrequently-contacted friend. But in any case, I’m not up-to-date with what’s commonplace on Facebook any more. But this unusual bulge in my list of friends amused me for a moment:

That’s four friends, in a row, who all set their “statuses” to something resembling the lyrics of a well-known song. Kieran may well be the colour of the wind, of course, but he’s still a ginger. I’m not in a position to comment on Owen’s body odour, and I’m doubtful that Adam is the one and only (although it’s genuinely possbile that there’s nobody he’s rather be). And Gareth’s apathy is… well, pretty much standard.

But it doesn’t seem so regular that a block of people adjacent to one another on my seemingly-randomly-sorted (I assume there’s some kind of clever hashing going on at the back-end for speed, or something) would all independently (none of them know one another, to the best of my knowledge) choose to have their statuses inspired by songs. Nobody else on my friends list is demonstrating this.

Perhaps I’m seeing patterns where they don’t exist, like seeing the face of Jesus in a balding dog’s back, or something. Just thought I’d share.

It’s been a busy week or so. Last Wednesday I went out to the first night of the Ship & Castle‘s real ale festival with Penny and Ele, on account of the fact that (a) Yay! Dozens of cask-conditioned beers! and (b) I hadn’t seen much of either of them for an aeon or two. The pub was completely packed, but that didn’t stop us from sampling a good selection of the beers and ciders on offer. Once one became available, I stole a stool to sit on.

Now it seems that some strange wizard must have enchanted that stool on some previous visit to the pub, with a mysterious spell of popularity, because it suddenly appeared that every fucker in the pub wanted to talk to me. The folks I knew (one or two more turned up), the folks I barely knew (“I’m sorry, but I can’t remember how I’m supposed to know you?” territory)… even strangers seemed to know who I was or, failing that, want to. Two people said “hey, you’re that guy with the blog,” as if that in some way cuts it down in this town (abnib disagrees). One woman waved as if I’d known her for years but I can’t place a name to her face. Another chap – his flirtatiousness outdone only by his drunkeness – almost coerced a blush out of me with a particularly charming compliment. And it just kept on going, and going…

When the pub finally kicked us out (and we’d added Lizzie to our party), we hunted for another pub but without success, and so we scooped up beer and wine and took the party to the living room of The Cottage, where we talked all kinds of bollocks, drinking and listening to music – and joined for awhile by Tom, who came in looking drunk and stained with ash, drank half a bottle of beer, urinated in the back yard, and left again – until it was getting close to 4am and I thought it really ought to be time for bed, considering my planned early start at work the following morning. How Penny survived (she started work even earlier) I haven’t a clue.

A major difference between being in your late twenties and being in your early twenties, in my experience, is not one of having less energy for a late night (or early morning) of drinking, but one of responsibility. As a 27-year-old, I’m quite aware that I can still survive an all-night party (although it’s getting harder!). But when somebody spontaneously suggests something like “Let’s stay up and party and watch the sun rise,” instead of saying “Yeah!” I say, “Hmm… I’ve got work in the morning… maybe…” It’s easy to be made aware of this distinction when you’re in a student town, as I am, and it’s easy to be made to feel even older than I am. On the other hand, it helps to give every opportunity to pretend I’m less aged than I actually am.

So then Thursday was the anticipated long day at work, followed by a quick dinner before a rush up to the Arts Centre to see Steeleye Span, on JTA‘s recommendation. Steeleye Span are a “proper” folk rock band: y’know, they’ve had every single member replaced at some point or another and still keep the same name, like Theseus’s ship, and they’ve written songs that they don’t play any more, but that other folk bands do. That kind of definition. They were pretty good – a reasonable selection of songs from the usual slightly saucy and sometimes unintelligble varieties that they’re known for, and a particularly strong finish to the concert with a rousing sing-along rendition of All Around My Hat (which, I later discovered, they played as an encore the last time my dad saw them, about a decade or more ago – I guess that’s the third characteristic of a “proper” folk rock band: that your parents have seen them perform, too).

By now, I was getting to a point where I was tired enough to not be making much sense any more when I talked (as if I ever do), and I slept well, although not for long, because I had to make an even earlier start at work on Friday morning to make sure I got everything I needed to get done done before travelling up North in the evening.

So yeah: Friday evening we travelled up to Preston and had pizza with my folks, and then on Saturday morning I found myself taking my sister Becky‘s place in the BT Swimathon. She’d been suffering from a lung infection for a week or more, now, and had to pull out, so – despite having barely swum at all for several years – I pulled on my trunks and a swimming cap and contributed 1750m to the team effort. And then dragged my body out of the pool just in time for Claire and I to rush off to Formby for her godmother’s funeral, which is what we’d actually come up to the North-West to do.

Oh yeah, and I got a medal, which I’ve been wearing ever since.

I can’t say much about Claire’s godmother’s funeral, because I only met her once, and then only briefly. Her husband – she’d been married for 52 years; they’d been teenage sweethearts – was quite obviously finding her death difficult, yet still managed to deliver a beautiful and moving eulogy for his dear departed wife. Apart from the religosity of the service (not to my taste, but I suppose it wasn’t really there for me anyway) it was very good, and the church building was packed – this was obviously a popular woman.

Her body seems to be going “on tour”: she’s having a second service – the actual funeral – in Norfolk today. I wonder if it’ll be as full. Not many people get two funerals. Perhaps the popularity will wane after the first. On the other hand, you might get groupies… seems to be what Claire’s doing, as she’s down in Norfolk now and presumably went to the second funeral, too.

Later, we found ourselves in Manchester. We’d hoped to go guitar-shopping (Claire’s looking for a new one), but ended up there just barely in time to eat some noodles and go to meet my family, and each of my sister’s boyfriends, at the Odeon IMAX cinema to see Shine A Light, the Rolling Stones concert film/documentary. The film was… better than I would have expected, and the resolution of the IMAX filmstock really showed during long pans and high-detail closeups on the band in concert, although I wasn’t particularly impressed with the editing: too many cuts, too much crossing the line, and (on a huge screen) almost nauseating thanks to the bumps and bounces the cameras made. It was also a little too-much concert and not-enough documentary, perhaps because the band have never really interviewed very well. In one old BBC clip, Keith Richards is asked what has brought the band it’s initial success, and he simply shrugs. In another – in the early 1970s – Mick Jagger‘s only answer about the band’s future is “I think we’ve got at least another year left.”

A few games of Mario Party 8 with my family later (one of which, amazingly, my mum won!), and we were back on the road. Claire dropped me off at Birmingham New Street station so I could catch a train back to Aberystwyth, as I needed to be back at work this morning, and she carried on to Norfolk to visit her dad and to attend the other half of her godmother’s funeral.

My journey back to Aberystywth was pretty horrendous. Trains are cancelled between Shrewsbury and Aber right now, and replaced with a bus service, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been on a less pleasant bus journey in my life. Five-seats wide, I was squished into falling half-off my uncomfortable seat even sat next to somebody as small as Matt P (who I’d happened to bump into on the journey). There was barely any knee-room, and the air conditioning only had two settings, neither of which was particually pleasant but for reasons of completely different extremes.

We finally got back to Aber just in time to join in at Geek Night, where Ruth, Penny, and Rory were just finishing a game of Carcassonne. JTA arrived, too, and the six of us played the largest game of Settlers of Catan I’ve ever played. We also managed to have a couple of games of Hypercube Hop, Ruth’s dad’s first board game published under his new Brane Games label. For those of you that missed it, I’m sure there’ll be an opportunity to give it a go at some future Geek Night.

Then today I posed for topless photos for Ele. But that’s another story and I’ve got to go and eat dinner so I’ll leave it at that.

Off To Malawi!

I’m off to Malawi!

I’ve found my bus ticket (stupid train strikes), my passport (stupid immigration laws), my juggling balls (stupid… no, wait… juggling is good)… I guess I’m ready to go.

Contrary to my assumption that my bus would be leaving from the bus station, it’s apparently leaving from Plascrug… which is… somewhere… hmm…

Anyway, y’all, take care, have fun without me, blah blah blah, be thinking of you. Will try to update this blog (or at least phone-in an update that can be appended as a comment) while I’m on the road. And sorry I couldn’t get Product ‘X’ working better than it does before I left.

Hugz & kittenz;

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #52:

Ride a train through water several feet deep, at 5mph, after the station at Dovey Junction becomes flooded, and, using traditional Welsh logic, it is decided that it makes far more sense to plough through it (making waves, for God’s sake!) than have to organise buses all day. Blurrgghh!

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #46:

Go for two days on minimal sleep (a catnap on the train) and maximum alcohol (the secret joy of the London nightlife)… Well? It’s two of my friends birthdays!

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.

This Cool Thing Of The Day was later featured as an On This Day article that I published in 2010.