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Oliver Heaviside
February 14, 2013 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Surely you've heard of the physicist Maxwell, but what about Oliver Heaviside? Oliver Heaviside: A first-rate oddity.
posted by Evernix (14 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I had heard of him, but I wouldn't have been able to tell you who he was at all.

At any rate, he ain't Heaviside, he's... my brother.
posted by GuyZero at 9:57 AM on February 14, 2013


Like I haven't heard of the Heaviside step function? What do you take me for, a Spaniard ?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:57 AM on February 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sure I heard of Heaviside. When I learned vector calculus (just for fun).
posted by DU at 9:57 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the second link:
And when at the climax of the musical Cats, chorus members sing about how Grizabella is about to rise “Up, up, up past the Russell Hotel/ Up, up, up, up to the Heaviside Layer,” they are alluding to Heaviside’s idea that there must be a conducting layer in the upper atmosphere—though few in the audience probably catch the reference.
I didn't, but then again, I have since forgotten the plot:
The show tells the story of a tribe of cats called the Jellicles and the night they make what is known as "the Jellicle choice" and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life.
It's interesting that the (Kennelly-)Heaviside layer was well known enough at the time that T. S. Eliot wrote it into an unpublished cat poem as the idea of heaven (Google books). Now to chase down other tangents. Thanks for this!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:58 AM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now I know the Heaviside layer has nothing to do with heaviness. Or sides.

(sigh)
posted by Segundus at 10:13 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heaviside is the dude who made Maxwell's Equations actually usable
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:22 AM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's interesting that the (Kennelly-)Heaviside layer was well known enough at the time that T. S. Eliot wrote it into an unpublished cat poem as the idea of heaven (Google books). Now to chase down other tangents. Thanks for this!

Zelazny used a very similar idea of heaven in Lord of Light , in which the main character, Sam, is reincarnated after his essence is extracted from the ionospheric Nirvana where it had been projected by his enemies to keep him from immediately reincarnating and continuing the fight.
posted by jamjam at 10:44 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most excellent physics history article I've read in a long time. I never knew it was Heaviside that introduced the pure vector & scalar approach over the quaternion and vector potential, scalar potential alternatives of the day. Also, didn't know that Gibbs was responsible for dot and cross products. What a cool article! especially if you're a physicist
posted by cyclotronboy at 11:01 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's rather staggering to see how much he accomplished from his garret in a trade magazine, no less. I knew he was a major EM theorist, but from the article, it appears that he (and Gibbs) more or less invented vector calculus too.
posted by bonehead at 11:47 AM on February 14, 2013


Zelazny used a very similar idea of heaven in Lord of Light

And while we're at it, Dunsany used the opposite idea in Ghosts of the Heaviside Layer— in which ghosts are trapped by being unable to pass through the ionosphere, much as radio waves are.

I'd guess the Heaviside layer aka ionosphere was better known by the general public in the period after radio became common but before FM and TV dominated. The longer-wavelength bands are much more affected by upper-atmosphere phenomena, and anyone who listened to radio a lot (i.e., anyone who wanted news or music from far away, i.e., lots of people) would have at least heard of them.
posted by hattifattener at 11:53 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find it amusing that his home was turned into a tourist hotel in Torquay. I can picture his ghost haranguing Basil Faulty about the condition of his electrical circuits.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:36 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heaviside is also the source, ultimately, of the wonderful cover up method for partial fractions.
Or so I have read.
posted by wittgenstein at 12:56 PM on February 14, 2013


I never knew Oliver Heavyside was something other than a rock band.
I am so Canadian.
posted by JenBBB at 1:06 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heaviside is the guy who removed the vector potential from Maxwell's equations, and made it easier... just as if Newton had originally done relativistic formula, and dumbed it down to the 3 laws.

Vector potential has real effects, but nobody knows how to do the math because of Heaviside.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:59 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


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