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A Brief History of Transformers (Not the Robot Kind)

I have always disliked exaggerated claims of imminent scientific and technical breakthroughs, such as inexpensive fusion, cheap supersonic travel, and the terraforming of other planets. But I am fond of the simple devices that do so much of the fundamental work of modern civilization, particularly those that do so modestly—or even invisibly.

No device fits this description better than a transformer. Non-engineers may be vaguely aware that such devices exist, but they have no idea how they work and how utterly indispensable they are for everyday life. (A transformer is a device that transfers electricity between two circuits while changing voltage, that is the “pressure” of the electric current’s power.)

The theoretical foundation was laid in the early 1830s, with the independent discovery of electromagnetic induction by Michael Faraday and Joseph Henry. They showed that a changing magnetic field can induce a current of a higher voltage (known as “stepping up”) or a lower one (“stepping down”). But it took another half-century before Lucien Gaulard, John Dixon Gibbs, Charles Brush, and Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti could design the first useful transformer prototypes. Next, a trio of Hungarian engineers—Ottó Bláthy, Miksa Déri, and Károly Zipernowsky—improved the design by building a toroidal (doughnut-shaped) transformer, which they exhibited in 1885.

The very next year, a better design was introduced by a trio of American engineers—William Stanley, Albert Schmid, and Oliver B. Shallenberger, who were working for George Westinghouse. The device soon assumed the form of the classic Stanley transformer that has been retained ever since: a central iron core made of thin silicon steel laminations, one part shaped like an “E” and the other shaped like an “I” to make it easy to slide wound copper coils into place.

In his address to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1912, Stanley rightly marveled at how the device provided “such a complete and simple solution for a difficult problem. It so puts to shame all mechanical attempts at regulation. It handles with such ease, certainty, and economy vast loads of energy that are instantly given to or taken from it. It is so reliable, strong, and certain. In this mingled steel and copper, extraordinary forces are so nicely balanced as to be almost unsuspected.”

The biggest modern incarnations of this enduring design have made it possible to deliver electricity across great distances. In 2018, Siemens delivered the first of seven record-breaking 1,100-kilovolt transformers that will enable electricity supply to several Chinese provinces linked to a nearly 3,300-kilometer-long, high-voltage DC line.

The sheer number of transformers has risen above anything Stanley could have imagined, thanks to the explosion of portable electronic devices that have to be charged. In 2016 the global output of smartphones alone was in excess of 1.8 billion units, each one supported by a charger housing a tiny transformer. You don’t have to take your phone charger apart to see the heart of that small device; a complete iPhone charger teardown is posted on the internet, with the transformer as one of its largest components.

But many chargers contain even tinier transformers. These are non-Stanley (that is, not wire-wound) devices that take advantage of the piezoelectric effect—the ability of a strained crystal to produce a current, and of a current to strain or deform a crystal. Sound waves impinging on such a crystal can produce a current, and a current flowing through such a crystal can produce sound. One current can in this way be used to create another current of a very different voltage.

And the latest innovation is electronic transformers. They are much reduced in volume and mass compared with traditional units, and they will become particularly important for integrating intermittent sources of electricity—wind and solar—into the grid and for enabling DC microgrids. Without transformers we would not have the age of ubiquitous electricity, and be stuck in the era of oil lamps and telegraph.

From Numbers Don’t Lie by Vaclav Smil, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Vaclav Smil.

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Author: Vaclav Smil
This post originally appeared on Backchannel Latest

Review: Rain on Your Parade – A Refreshingly Brief But Saccharine Shower

This post originally appeared on Nintendo Life | Reviews

Rain On Your Parade wants very much to be the next Untitled Goose Game. It so desperately needs to be that quirky breakout hit, the virtual talk of the water cooler, the “have you seen that cloud game?” game, spawn of a trillion thinkpieces.

To be fair, it’s a strong concept. You take control of a rain cloud and, er, rain on stuff. Each short single-player stage sees you given one or more objectives, usually along the lines of “soak X” or “don’t soak X”. Things are complicated by the erratic (not erotic) reactions of the “hoomans” you happen to rain upon, and their interaction with the physics that can cause objects you need to soak to get kicked off-screen in a panic, or otherwise simply get in the way of your cloudy goals.

So, yes, a good idea, in theory. Our problem is that we found it all came across as rather uninspired in its execution and occasionally downright irritating in its presentation. Mostly, it’s just a little bit boring, in much the same manner as a wet weekend. Perhaps that’s intentional.

Moving with the analogue stick, you press and hold ‘A’ to rain. There’s a water metre on the right of the screen that empties as you do the same, but it can be refilled (on certain levels) by hovering over a source of moisture (usually water, but you’re also able to rain poison, oil and other substances). Later, you’re also able to create a tornado, blanket the world in snow and unleash lightning strikes. Despite these, there’s never a whole lot to it and we got the impression that the aesthetics and humorous writing are intended to fill in the blanks. They don’t. In fact, we found the tone and writing of the thing a little bit… what is it the kids say now? Oh, yes – cringe. It’s all very twee and affected in a wearyingly familiar sort of way.

However, despite the whole thing feeling a touch lacking, Rain On Your Parade absolutely isn’t without merit. As the game rolls on (like, well, a cloud), your objectives get a fair bit more diverse and require at least a little puzzle-solving and exploration; a school-based level is an early highlight, seeing you undertake multiple disparate objectives as a pleasant preview of the more complex demands to come. There’s also something to be said for the game’s unpredictability; you won’t know where you’re going or what you’ll be asked to do next, and some of the diversions are good for a smile – there’s a full-level homage to a popular stealth series that was enjoyably out-there, and despite a few other whole-level references to other games (Katamari Damacy, etc), Rain On Your Parade feels very much its own thing.

It’s nice, and a bit of a reversal of the usual outcome, to find a game with such an inauspicious start turn into something better. It’s far from perfect – and, to be frank, only just scrapes “good” – but the aforementioned variety does go some way towards making even the dull-as-rainwater early stages more palatable; they may be a bit rubbish, but you’ll be playing them for about a minute apiece, tops. Just like the weather, this one keeps changing.

The quickfire variety does the game a lot of favours, but you’ll smirk and snort with recognition at a Resident Evil reference or momentary flash of invention, rather than laugh out loud at the carnage as per the likes of Untitled Goose Game. Barring a couple of minor difficulty spikes, the whole thing will last you three hours at most, not counting the pretty decent post-game content – new challenges on existing stages and a brand new mode that changes things up in a vaguely interesting way.

Visually it’s all quite slick, with an interesting cardboard aesthetic and a generally smooth framerate – things struggle just a touch on the larger stages, but it’s nothing to kick up a fuss about. We weren’t particularly impressed with the sound design – the sound of rain hitting a surface is (to this writer) one of the most relaxing in existence, and hearing different kind of pitter-patter depending on what you choose to soak would have been a relatively simple-seeming way to immerse the player in the game’s world just that little bit more.

You can also customise your cloud’s default colour and, in a neat touch, manually draw a face on it. It’s a cute feature that allows you to affect a bit more of a personal touch on the game, or just draw genitalia on your cloud as so many of you are no doubt desperate to do.


There’s something just a tiny bit cynical about the “please like me!!” cutesiness of Rain On Your Parade, but despite our best efforts we ended up doing so. Just. It coasts on “what will they do next?” novelty rather than any kind of meaty, significant gameplay, but sometimes that’s okay. It’s something new, which is appealing, and the toybox feel of the proceedings lends itself to a broad appeal – we can see young kids and people who vibe with its twee presentation getting a kick out of it. If you’ve had your fill of ‘cutesy’, though, you might find yourself hoping for a break in the clouds.

Pep Guardiola had brief Man Utd title fear as Man City three wins from toppling Liverpool

This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Sport Feed

Manchester United may have been a real threat to Manchester City‘s chances of winning the Premier League had the Citizens not found a way past Aston Villa on Wednesday night, admits Pep Guardiola, who says he briefly feared United were real title rivals before his charges recovered for a huge victory.
City found themselves 1-0 down inside just 21 seconds at Villa Park after John McGinn’s effort as the hosts started strong.

Guardiola’s men recovered though and were 2-1 up heading into half-time thanks to Phil Foden and Rodri’s strikes.

But City were cut to 10 men before the break after a John Stones yellow card for a foul on Jacob Ramsey was upgraded to a red following a VAR check.

Just 11 minutes into the second half Villa also lost a man however as Matty Cash picked up a second yellow and City were able to maintain their one-goal lead until the full-time whistle.

Victory means City move 11 points clear of second-placed United with five matches left, though the Red Devils have played a game less.

Still, City are now just eight points from their third Premier League title in the past four seasons after winning in the Midlands, and will hope to dethrone current champions Liverpool as soon as possible given their Champions League ambitions.

And Guardiola admitted had City not managed to come from behind for their first Premier League win after conceding the first goal since December 2019, United would be “dangerous” to their title bid.

Defeat would have allowed United to trim the gap to five points, though City’s superior goal difference now essentially means two wins and a draw from their final five should be enough for yet another triumph, the club’s fifth in the Premier League era.

“Losing today would have made the last games dangerous,” admitted Guardiola, who also told BBC Sport that City are “so close” to the title after beating Villa, in his post-match press conference.

“Because United are in top form, winning a lot, and I have the feeling that if they needed to win, they are going to win.

“We deserved to win for the way we have played so far this season to have this advantage, and when you arrive in the last five games depending just on yourself, it is a good boost.
“We know exactly what we need and that is the way we played today. I saw the team, they were committed and knew that we were close.

“After our two defeats in different competitions, we knew how important it was – and for the preparation for the [Carabao Cup] final and for the Champions League game.

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“It’s close, the most difficult season of our lives we make an incredible consistency and have to finish this chapter and have to finish the few games.”

City now have a League Cup final to look forward to on Sunday against Tottenham, who sacked Jose Mourinho this week.

Ryan Mason oversaw his first game as Mourinho’s temporary successor as a Spurs side without the injured Harry Kane came from behind to beat Southampton 2-1 on Wednesday night.