Category Archives: Technology & Gear

Satellite-to-Ground Quantum Key Distribution

Abstract

Quantum key distribution (QKD) uses individual light quanta in quantum superposition states to guarantee unconditional communication security between distant parties. In practice, the achievable distance for QKD has been limited to a few hundred kilometers, due to the channel loss of fibers or terrestrial free space that exponentially reduced the photon rate. Satellite-based QKD promises to establish a global-scale quantum network by exploiting the negligible photon loss and decoherence in the empty out space. Here, we develop and launch a low-Earth-orbit satellite to implement decoy-state QKD with over kHz key rate from the satellite to ground over a distance up to 1200 km, which is up to 20 orders of magnitudes more efficient than that expected using an optical fiber (with 0.2 dB/km loss) of the same length. The establishment of a reliable and efficient space-to-ground link for faithful quantum state transmission constitutes a key milestone for global-scale quantum networks.

Introduction

Private and secure communications are fundamental human needs. Traditional public key cryptography usually relies on the perceived computational intractability of certain mathematical functions. In contrast, quantum key distribution (QKD)1 proposed in the mid-1980s—the best known example of quantum cryptographic tasks—is a radical new way to offer an information-theoretically secure solution to the key exchange problem, ensured by the laws of quantum physics. QKD allows two distant users, who do not share a long secret key initially, to produce a common, random string of secret bits, called a secret key. Using the one-time pad encryption, this key is proven to be secure by Shannon2 to encrypt (and decrypt) a message, which can then be transmitted over a standard communication channel. In the QKD, the information is encoded in the superposition states of physical carriers at single-quantum level, where photons, the fastest flying qubits with their intrinsic robustness to decoherence and ease of control, are usually used. Any eavesdropper on the quantum channel attempting to gain information of the key will inevitably introduce disturbance to the system, and can be detected by the communicating users.

Continued…

Original article: Satellite-to-Ground Quantum Key Distribution

Walmart Modernizes The Shopping Experience With Scan & Go

Scan and go

A new Walmart just opened up a couple miles from my home. I’m not a fan of Walmart. I fought against allowing this Walmart to be built at all. Now that it’s open, though, I did go in just so I could try out the new high-tech future of shopping:

Walmart Scan & Go.

The concept is pretty simple. Using the provided scanners or the Walmart Scan & Go app on your smartphone, just scan everything as you put it in the cart. The app maintains a running total of the items in your cart. You can simply click a button to pay for your goods right from the app, and you’re done. Well, almost. You do still have to have a Walmart employee verify the receipt on your smartphone and clear you before you can leave. I’m not sure how it works with the in-store hand scanners, but I assume you would just hand the scanner over to a cashier and then pay whatever the total is.

Using the smartphone camera as a scanner worked more or less flawlessly. It quickly detected and identified the bar code and added the item to my cart. If you buy more than one of the same thing you can choose to scan each one individually, or you can just adjust the quantity in the cart after you scan the first one.

I was curious how Walmart could be sure I had scanned everything. I mean, there is a bit of an honor system in place and there was more than one occasion I threw something into the cart out of habit and had to pull it back out to scan it. Nobody is actually sifting through your cart or going through the list of items you’ve paid for in the app. They just look to see that you’ve paid and send you on your way—sort of like the useless receipt verification you’re subjected to when you try to leave Costco.

A Walmart employee explained that they conduct random periodic checks of customers to keep people honest, and suggested that there may be some customer profiling going on as well. Basically, the implication was that if someone looks “shady” they’re more likely to be singled out for a more thorough inspection. Walmart will also perform a more thorough check if you try to purchase any alcohol or age-restricted items like spray paint using the Scan & Go process.

The new and improved Walmart Scan & Go experience is currently available at only three of the Walmart stores. One in Arkansas, one in Florida, and the one near my home here in the Houston area. Walmart says that it is working on expanding to other stores, so keep your eyes open and maybe it will be available soon at a Walmart near you.

I will still gladly drive farther and pay more just so I don’t have to step foot in a Walmart or give the company any of my money. I do have to admit, though, that Scan & Go is pretty cool. I look forward to other retail chains that aren’t awful (I’m looking at you Target) adopting similar technologies to modernize my shopping experience and welcome the high-tech future of retail. Either that, or I can just continue shopping on Amazon and having items magically show up on my porch two days later.

Read more of my writing at TechSpective.net, and follow me on social media (links at TechSpective). You can contact me directly at tony@techspective.net.

From Forbes: Walmart Scan and Go

 

I recently got to use this great app in-store and it was wonderful.

No more checkout lines.

Great integration of tech into the shopping experience.

2017 Annual Forecast

The convulsions to come in 2017 are the political manifestations of much deeper forces in play. In much of the developed world, the trend of aging demographics and declining productivity is layered with technological innovation and the labor displacement that comes with it. China’s economic slowdown and its ongoing evolution compound this dynamic. At the same time the world is trying to cope with reduced Chinese demand after decades of record growth, China is also slowly but surely moving its own economy up the value chain to produce and assemble many of the inputs it once imported, with the intent of increasingly selling to itself. All these forces combined will have a dramatic and enduring impact on the global economy and ultimately on the shape of the international system for decades to come.

These long-arching trends tend to quietly build over decades and then noisily surface as the politics catch up. The longer economic pain persists, the stronger the political response. That loud banging at the door is the force of nationalism greeting the world’s powers, particularly Europe and the United States, still the only superpower.

Only, the global superpower is not feeling all that super. In fact, it’s tired. It was roused in 2001 by a devastating attack on its soil, it overextended itself in wars in the Islamic world, and it now wants to get back to repairing things at home. Indeed, the main theme of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign was retrenchment, the idea that the United States will pull back from overseas obligations, get others to carry more of the weight of their own defense, and let the United States focus on boosting economic competitiveness.

Barack Obama already set this trend in motion, of course. Under his presidency, the United States exercised extreme restraint in the Middle East while trying to focus on longer-term challenges — a strategy that, at times, worked to Obama’s detriment, as evidenced by the rise of the Islamic State. The main difference between the Obama doctrine and the beginnings of the Trump doctrine is that Obama still believed in collective security and trade as mechanisms to maintain global order; Trump believes the institutions that govern international relations are at best flawed and at worst constrictive of U.S. interests.

No matter the approach, retrenchment is easier said than done for a global superpower. As Woodrow Wilson said, “Americans are participants, like it or not, in the life of the world.” The words of America’s icon of idealism ring true even as realism is tightening its embrace on the world.

Revising trade relationships the way Washington intends to, for example, may have been feasible a couple decades ago. But that is no longer tenable in the current and evolving global order where technological advancements in manufacturing are proceeding apace and where economies, large and small, have been tightly interlocked in global supply chains. This means that the United States is not going to be able to make sweeping and sudden changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement. In fact, even if the trade deal is renegotiated, North America will still have tighter trade relations in the long term.

The United States will, however, have more space to selectively impose trade barriers with China, particularly in the metals sector. And the risk of a rising trade spat with Beijing will reverberate far and wide. Washington’s willingness to question the “One China” policy – something it did to extract trade concessions from China – will come at a cost: Beijing will pull its own trade and security levers that will inevitably draw the United States into the Pacific theater.

But the timing isn’t right for a trade dispute. Trump would rather focus on matters at home, and Chinese President Xi Jinping would rather focus on consolidating political power ahead of the 19th Party Congress. And so economic stability will take priority over reform and restructuring. This means Beijing will expand credit and state-led investment, even if those tools are growing duller and raising China’s corporate debt levels to dangerous heights.

This will be a critical year for Europe. Elections in the pillars of the European Union — France and Germany — as well as potential elections in the third largest eurozone economy — Italy — will affect one another and threaten the very existence of the eurozone. As we have been writing for years, the European Union will eventually dissolve. The question for 2017 is to what degree these elections expedite its dissolution. Whether moderates or extremists claim victory in 2017, Europe will still be hurtling toward a breakup into regional blocs.

European divisions will present a golden opportunity for the Russians. Russia will be able to crack European unity on sanctions in 2017 and will have more room to consolidate influence in its borderlands. The Trump administration may also be more amenable to easing sanctions and to some cooperation in Syria as it tries to de-escalate the conflict with Moscow. But there will be limits to the reconciliation. Russia will continue to bolster its defenses and create leverage in multiple theaters, from cyberspace to the Middle East. The United States, for its part, will continue to try to contain Russian expansion.

As part of that strategy, Russia will continue to play spoiler and peacemaker in the Middle East to bargain with the West. While a Syrian peace settlement will remain elusive, Russia will keep close to Tehran as U.S.-Iran relations deteriorate. The Iran nuclear deal will be challenged on a number of fronts as Iran enters an election year and as the incoming U.S. government takes a much more hard-line approach on Iran. Still, mutual interests will keep the framework of the deal in place and will discourage either side from clashing in places such as the Strait of Hormuz.

The competition between Iran and Turkey will meanwhile escalate in northern Syria and in northern Iraq. Turkey will focus on establishing its sphere of influence and containing Kurdish separatism while Iran tries to defend its own sphere of influence. As military operations degrade the Islamic State in 2017, the ensuing scramble for territory, resources and influence will intensify among the local and regional stakeholders. But as the Islamic State weakens militarily, it will employ insurgent and terrorist tactics and encourage resourceful grassroots attacks abroad.

The Islamic State is not the only jihadist group to be concerned about. With the spotlight on Islamic State, al Qaeda has also been quietly rebuilding itself in places such as North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and the group is likely to be more active in 2017.

Crude oil prices will recover modestly in 2017, thanks in part to the deal struck by most of the world’s oil producers. (Notably, no country will fully abide by the reduction requirements.) The pace of recovery for North American shale production will be the primary factor influencing Saudi Arabia’s policy on extending and increasing production cuts next year. And though it will take time for North American producers to respond to the price recovery and to raise production, Saudi Arabia knows that a substantial rise in oil prices is unlikely. This means Saudi Arabia will actively intervene in the markets in 2017 to keep the economy on course for a rebalance in supply, especially in light of its plan to sell 5 percent of Saudi Aramco shares in 2018.

Higher oil prices will be a welcome relief to the world’s producers, but it may be too little, too late for a country as troubled as Venezuela. The threat of default looms, and severe cuts to imports of basic goods to make debt payments will drive social unrest and expose already deep fault lines among the ruling party and armed forces.

Developed markets will also see a marked shift in 2017, a year in which inflation returns. This will cause central banks to abandon unconventional policies and employ measures of monetary tightening. The days of central banks flooding the markets with cash are coming to an end. The burden will now fall to officials who craft fiscal policy, and government spending will replace printing money as the primary engine of economic growth.

Tightening monetary policy in the United States and a strong U.S. dollar will shake the global economy in the early part of 2017. The countries most affected will be those in the emerging markets with high dollar-denominated debt exposure. That list includes Venezuela, Turkey, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia. Downward pressure on the yuan and steadily declining foreign exchange reserves will meanwhile compel China to increase controls over capital outflows.

Calm as markets have been recently, steadied as they were by ample liquidity and by muted responses to political upheaval, they will be much more volatile in 2017. With all the tumult in 2017, from the threats to the eurozone to escalating trade disputes, investors could react dramatically. Asset prices swung noticeably, albeit quickly, in the first two months of 2016. 2017 could easily see multiple such episodes.

The United States is pulling away from its global trade initiatives while the United Kingdom, a major free trade advocate, is losing influence in an increasingly protectionist Europe. Global trade growth will likely remain strained overall, but export-dependent countries such as China and Mexico will also be more motivated to protect their relationships with suppliers and seek out additional markets. Larger trade deals will continue to be replaced by smaller, less ambitious deals negotiated between countries and blocs. After all, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership were themselves fragments spun from the breakdown of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization.

Economic frustration can manifest in many ways, not all of which are foreboding. In Japan, the government will be in a strong position in 2017 to try to implement critical reforms and adapt its aging population to shifting global conditions. In Brazil and India, efforts to expose and combat corruption will maintain their momentum. India has even taken the ambitious step of setting its economy down a path of demonetization. The path will be bumpy in 2017, but India will be a critical case study for other countries, developed and developing alike, enticed by the efficiencies and decriminalized benefits of a cashless economy and who increasingly have the technology at their disposal to entertain the possibility.

From Stratfor: 2017 Annual Forecast

Debate

Argument

We are in a dangerous time, one in which even the oldest bonds will be tested.

Stay focused and measure every claim on its merits, and not how it makes you feel.

The majority of people claim they are thinking when they are really feeling.

Even some of the most self-proclaimed “rationalists” are very untrained in logic or the ordered examination of their propositions, and cannot debate in a calm and ordered manner. They always get mad, start shouting, hurling insults and break bonds. This conduct proves they do not believe what they are pushing.

Most people, especially the delicate egos of men, believe they are right simply because they want to be right, and will ignore any evidence that disquiets them or challenges their frail beliefs—they will not have it.

This is particularly true with people who fuse their identity to transient things like politics or presidential figures.

In this presidential cycle, just like the one before it, and the one before that, and the one before that…

Some people are wholly devoted disciples of “their man” or “their team” and will not countenance any slight whatsoever against their candidate. And the opposite is true: they will in no way accept any achievement, no matter how small, of any opponent to their side.

You must be able to judge every man moment by moment, deed by deed, word and word and not just swoon every time they walk in.

Analysis and a fair review is a live feed.

If you have one set of rules and expectations for “your side” and an entirely different set of rules and expectations for “their side” — congratulations! You are a fraud.

Worse, people will reflexively sing the virtues of “their man” or “their woman” even when it is patently clear something illegal is going on.

Not everything can be known, but the veracity of a claim can be grasped in the main with just a little bit of work. Sure, there are some hard questions and some mysteries that will never be solved, but to reject anything solely on the grounds some shade of its essence cannot be grasped is indicative of extreme idiocy and fear.

That is the first sign someone is profoundly terrified of a new premise.

Just like every guy thinks he’s the best fighter since Muhammad Ali or Bruce Lee, or the best lover since Don Juan, they believe they are the most logical mind to set foot on the Earth since Isaac Newton…

And just like the rest of the comparisons, they are dead wrong.

It is the hardest thing—without exception—to keep your intellectual reticle in the dead center.

Everything is trying to make it drift, including your own unresolved biases.

Stay sharp.

The Douglas DC-3

Douglas DC-3 B

On a spring morning in 1966, North Central Airlines flight 787 departed Eppley Field at Omaha, Nebraska, en route to Grand Forks, North Dakota, with seven stops along the way. On its first leg to Norfolk, Nebraska, the airplane cruised at a leisurely 155 mph.

Everything was routine until a sudden backfire startled captain Al Bergum and co-pilot Tom Truax. Black smoke and flames poured from the left engine nacelle. As Bergum rushed to shut down the engine and feather the propeller, the crew actuated the single-shot engine fire extinguisher. Still, the fire burned. Fifteen miles short of Norfolk airport, Bergum and Truax faced a tough decision—try to make it to the runway or land in a farmer’s field with 26 passengers and three crew on board.

The captain decided to put the plane down in the alfalfa patch. Luckily, it was a plane designed for this very situation. The commercial aviation icon, the war hero, and the aerial workhorse—the Douglas DC-3.

Hatching the “Gooney Bird”

There are thousands of stories about the DC-3. From “Gooney Bird” and “Dumbo” to “Spooky” and “Puff The Magic Dragon,” at least two dozen nicknames testify to its versatility and ruggedness. More than 16,000 DC-3s and military version C-47s were built in 50-plus variants. More than 300 are still flying today.

The DC-3 was born into a still-nascent commercial air travel industry—and traveling by air was much riskier and arduous before the DC-3 came along. The first airline flight in America was a 23-minute jaunt across Tampa Bay in 1914, on which a single passenger joined the pilot in a noisy, windy open-cockpit Benoist flying boat. By the 1920s, the Ford Trimotor reliably carried 13 passengers coast to coast, but its limited range (570 mi), slow cruising speed (100 mph), and modest instruments meant that the trip took 48 hours (though not all of it was aboard the Trimotor). In comparison to these early flights, the DC-3 was a quantum leap forward.

The Douglas Aircraft Company built the “Douglas Commercial 3” based on the 1933/34 Douglas DC-1 and DC-2. Around that time, American Airlines CEO, C. R. Smith, persuaded Donald Douglas to design a sleeper aircraft based on the DC-2 for long-distance flights. With a cabin two feet wider than the DC-2, it accommodated 14 to 16 sleeper berths or 21 passenger seats.

The new airliner first flew on December 17, 1935, and its expanded dimensions perfectly balanced load and revenue. Transcontinental trips from L.A. to New York could be made in about 15 hours, or 17 hours in the other direction. As Flying Magazine puts it, the DC-3 married reliability with performance and comfort as no other airplane before, revolutionizing air travel and finally making airlines profitable. Airlines like TWA, Delta, American, and United ordered entire fleets of DC-3s, finally establishing the airplane as the go-to method for long-distance travel.

Becoming a World War Legend

The onset of WWII saw the last civilian DC-3s built in early 1943. Most were pressed into military service, and the C-47 (or Navy R4D) began rolling out of the company’s Long Beach plant in huge numbers. It differed from the DC-3 in many ways, including the addition of a cargo door and strengthened floor, a shortened tail cone for glider-towing shackles, and a hoist attachment. In 1944, the Army Air Corps converted a DC-3 into a glider (XCG-17), and it significantly outperformed the gliders towed by C-47s on D-Day. C-47s served in every theater.

Large numbers of C-47s were freed for use after the war, but airlines swiftly adopted larger, faster DC-4s and DC-6s for main routes. Smaller regional airlines like North Central eagerly snapped up DC-3s sold off by major airlines, while surplus C-47s became an armada of cargo freighters, building the airplane’s reputation for being able to carry just about anything you could fit through the door. Douglas made a longer, more powerful, and faster DC-3S or “Super DC-3” in the late 1940s, meeting with little airline sales success though taken up by the Navy and Marines as the R4D-8/ C-117D.

But really the basic DC-3/C-47 configuration was so good it needed little improvement. Its two Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp 14-cylinder radial engines produce 1200 hp each, providing thrust enough to lift 20-plus passengers and baggage or a 6,000-plus pound cargo load. Cruising at 160 to 180 mph, the DC-3 can fly about 1,600 miles, land in less than 3,000 feet, and take off again in less than 1,000 feet. Its low-speed handling and toughness made it the go-to airplane for a myriad of jobs including military special operations.

That included going back to war. In response to increased attacks by Viet Cong on rural South Vietnamese outposts in Vietnam in 1963, American Air Commandos began assisting the defense of small villages at night by using their C-47 transport aircraft to fly in circles and drop illumination flares, exposing attackers to the defending troops. The practice inspired the idea of fitting the C-47s with firepower and ultimately an Air Force effort called Project Gunship I.

The Air Force modified several C-47s by mounting three 7.62 mm General Electric miniguns to fire through two rear window openings and the side cargo door, all on the left side of the aircraft. A gunsight was mounted in the left cockpit window. Orbiting a target at 3,000 feet and 140 mph, the modified “AC-47” could put a bullet into every square yard of a football field-sized target in three seconds.

Another C-47, used as a leaflet-dropping, loudspeaker-equipped psychological warfare aircraft in Vietnam was unofficially called the “Bullshit Bomber.”

Captain Ron W. Terry, an Air Force counterinsurgency warfare expert, led a team from the 4th Air Commando Squadron that flew the first AC-47 missions in December, 1964. They were the first of many between late 1964 and early 1969, during which over 6,000 hamlets and firebases came under the protective cover of AC-47s. Not one fell while the aircraft was overhead. Terry returned to the States in 1965 bringing with him information that would lead to development of the AC-130 Hercules.

The Carry-Anything Cargo Plane

By the early 1960s, turboprop airliners like the Convair 580 surpassed the DC-3s efficiency as a regional airliner. They could operate from the same short runways as the DC-3 with similar fuel consumption but at greater range, speed, and the added comfort of a pressurized cabin. In an era when Americans were flying to space, paying for an airline flight on a DC-3 seemed increasingly odd.

Despite vanishing from all but a few airline fleets, DC-3s were still ubiquitous in the 1970s and 80s, often seen on airport ramps alongside 747s and DC-10s working as cargo aircraft and freight forwarders. They fought forest fires as air tankers, brought odd-size cargo to metropolitan markets, and were the aircraft of choice for drug cartels. However, one of the C-47s most famous cargo jobs was supplying the city of Berlin with food during the Berlin Airlift, along with other aircraft like the C-54 Skymaster and the C-74 Globemaster.

The DC-3 remained on military duty until 2008—72 years—until the Air Force’s 6th Special Operations Squadron finally retired its turbine-powered Gooney. Other DC-3s continue to fly missions as sensor development testbeds for the military and as freighters with companies like Canada’s Buffalo Airways.

Nearly 100 countries have operated DC-3s and long-forgotten airplanes still surface including a wrecked C-47 discovered in northern Siberia just this spring. In addition to airliners and freighters, DC-3/C-47s have flown as VIP and executive transports, electronic intelligence gatherers, float planes, air ambulances, Antarctic research aircraft, and gunships to name a few.

Perhaps the best way to refer to a DC-3 is simply to call it a legend. People still scramble for a flight in one at airshows, and in remote areas, the arrival of a Gooney means help and support. It’s simple, rugged, and surprisingly relevant to this day.

One Story, Thousands More

On that spring morning back in 1966, Captain Bergum likely knew the storied history of his wounded aircraft as it limped across a Nebraskan sky. As he began his descent to reduce the chances of cartwheeling during the single-engine landing, Bergum kept the landing gear up. When fully retracted, the DC-3’s wheels still protruded from the underneath the airplane, providing a mild buffer in an emergency landing. Just before the field, he closed the throttle on the remaining engine.

Brushing—then plowing—through the green alfalfa crop, the DC-3 was cushioned by the thick vegetation. As it settled, both propellers dug into the soil, the tailwheel making slight contact as the airplane slid to a swift, straight stop.

Crew and passengers clambered out unharmed to the sound of an approaching John Deere tractor and wagon. Farmer David Dicke had seen the DC-3 straining to land from his kitchen. He invited the passengers back to his farmhouse for coffee and cookies. Bergum and Truax secured the airplane and assessed the damage. Aside from needing new engines and props, the DC-3 was largely unharmed. Transport to Norfolk airport was quickly arranged and, amazingly, all the passengers chose to resume the flight on another North Central DC-3.

Several days later, the farmer cut a swath through his field and another crew jumped in the airplane, flying the airliner out of the alfalfa to the nearby airport, and a couple weeks later, it was back in service.

Original article: The Douglas DC-3

I’ve always loved the lines on the Douglas DC-3 from the 1930s and 1940s.

The Remarkable, War-Torn, Spacefaring History of the Slinky

The story of the Slinky begins with a mechanical engineer, a shipbuilding factory, and a mishap.

It was 1943. The U.S. Navy needed ships for World War II as the Battle of the Atlantic raged in the oceans around Europe. The Cramp Shipbuilding Company was operating through all hours of the night to meet the demand. More than 18,000 men and women were working at the shipyard along the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

Mechanical engineer Richard James was trying to develop a new tension spring that could keep a ship’s equipment secure while the vessel rocked at sea. One day he accidentally knocked a spring off his worktable. The spring tumbled to the floor, landing on one of its ends, but instead of jumping back up, the spring flopped end over end, walking across the floor.

The experience gave James an idea: Something as simple as a spring could be a toy. He told his wife, Betty, about the experience, and she decided to come up with a name for the new walking spring. In 1944, when leafing through the dictionary in search of an appropriate term, Betty found a word meaning sinuous and graceful—just the way the spring moved and sounded as it flopped along. The word was “slinky.”

A National Sensation

James began experimenting to find the ideal spring tension and thickness. He toyed with different steel wires, adjusting their girths and lengths. In 1945, after about a year of tinkering, he found the perfect size: 80 feet of wire coiled into a two-inch helical spring. With the feeling that he was onto something, the WWII vessel engineer took out a $500 loan to start James Industries.

James had little trouble getting toy stock their shelves with Slinkys. But there was a problem. Sales were slow. Customers couldn’t understand how a spring could be a toy. The James family had to show the world what the Slinky could do.

They convinced Gimbels department store in Philadelphia to set up a demonstration in November 1945, and a ramp was set up in the toy department. Hundreds gathered around James, watching the Slinky elegantly stroll down the ramp, end over end. James had brought 400 Slinkys to the store that day. At $1 each, they sold out in 90 minutes.

After the war, as demand for the country’s hottest new toy grew, James developed a machine to coil the wire. A patent filed by James in 1946 and awarded the next year outlines the machine’s design and specifications. It could coil all 80 feet of a Slinky in 10 seconds. A Slinky, the patent said, could be used for both a child’s amusement and for “parlor games.” The best way to make a Slinky walk on an inclined plane, it also stated, was to cover the plane “with an anti-slip surface such as fabric” to prevent the Slinky from sliding down the hill. But if you didn’t have a ramp, a staircase would work just fine.

The toy became a national phenomenon by the 1950s. But as the decade wore on, James’s personal interest in the business waned. He became enthralled with a religious cult during a visit to Bolivia, and he began donating money to the group shortly after. One morning in 1960, James told his family he was moving to Bolivia to join the cult and serve as a missionary. All were welcome to join him, but his family—Betty and six children—chose to remain in Pennsylvania.

After James left for Bolivia, the Slinky rested solely in Betty’s hands. She served as the president of James Industries for the next 38 years, while her husband would pass away in Bolivia in 1974. As one of her first orders of business as president of the company, Betty established a factory in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. From there—the Slinky, the result of a simple mishap—cemented its reputation as one of the most identifiable toys in America. Its television commercials, which first aired in 1963, became a household mantra—”It’s Slinky, it’s Slinky. For fun, it’s a wonderful toy. It’s Slinky, it’s Slinky. It’s fun for a girl and a boy.”

The Versatility of a Toy Spring

Although the Slinky was invented during wartime, it never went to WWII. However, by the 1960s people realized this spring was good for more than amusement, and that’s when the Slinky went to the battlefields of Vietnam.

If you use a Slinky as an antenna, it receives at a frequency between seven and eight megahertz. So troops in the Vietnam War used them as impromptu radio antennas. Soldiers would clip the ends of the Slinkys onto radios and run the other end up a tree or toss it over a high branch. The lightweight metal coil provided a long antenna and a clear signal.

Today, the National Wildlife Federation recommends using Slinkys to protect bird feeders from hungry squirrels. Secure one end of the Slinky to the top of a feeder to cover the entire structure in the coiled metal wire. If a squirrel tries to jump on to steal the food, the Slinky will lower it down to the ground like an elevator ride.

The Slinky has even gone to space—though it doesn’t quite slink in microgravity. In 1985, astronaut Margaret Rhea Seddon tested the physics properties of a Slinky, as well as other toys including a yo-yo and jacks, aboard the Space Shuttle. “It won’t slink at all,” Seddon reported in a telecast at the time. “It sort of droops.”

Under Betty James’s watch, new Slinky products were also developed. Slinky Trains and Slinky animals—namely the Slinky Dog—were variations of the original toy. Each had a Slinky body. The train had wheels on each end of the spring, while the dog had its front and hind legs surrounding the Slinky. Strings were attached to the front of the train and to the nose of the dog, so they could be pulled around the house.

In perhaps James Industries’ biggest success, the Slinky Dog appeared as a character in “Toy Story” in 1995. Nicknamed “Slink,” the character is Woody’s loyal friend, always going the distance for his fellow sentient toys. James Industries only sold a few hundred Slinky Dogs per year before Pixar’s iconic movie premiered. In 1996, that number had reached 12,000, and the company had to scramble to manufacture more Slinky Dogs due to backorders.

Two years later, with the company still growing, Betty, then 80 years old, sold James Industries to Poof Products, Inc., in part to prevent her children from facing inheritance taxes. In her negotiations with Poof Products, Betty made one condition: The Slinky factory would need to remain in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. Poof Products agreed, and renamed itself Poof-Slinky, Inc. in 2004.

Betty’s Slinky was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2000. That same year, the Slinky was named the official toy of Pennsylvania. She passed away in 2008. Slinkys no longer cost one dollar, but one dollar in 1945 is equivalent to about $13.56 today. A single Slinky in a retro box costs $5.99, and you can get them in multi-colored plastic as well as the classic polished metal. But whatever it’s made of, you can count on one thing: Those springs will walk down your stairs, just as they did in 1945.

Original article: The Slinky