Jam Jar Seismometer and a Springy Coincidence

One key aspect of this project is the detection of seismic events. Yes, I want to play with the online data from proper seismo stations, but as I’m primarily concerned with the earthquake risk at a given location, some kind of local system is very desirable.

A quick search of the Web for seismographs shows that one design seems most popular, essentially a heavy weight on the end of a swinging arm, with some restraint (& damping).


It’s relatively simple, but, is rather large and only captures earth movement on one axis. Amongst my project aims/constraints (which I’ve yet to write up) are to keep things small and to capture as much info as possible, within an emphasis on simplicity.

Yesterday, while enjoying a pint on a sunny afternoon in Maryborough, Victoria, I wrote down what I have in mind for my Version 1 sensor. Call it the:

Jam Jar Seismometer


(Erm, ignore the top-left text, that was Mish brainstorming some unrelated promo text)

So essentially a ball of steel dangling from a spring in a jar of oil. On the horizontal axes it should act like a (damped) pendulum, on the vertical like a (damped) weight on a spring. Minimal physics.

To measure the movement of the ball, the obvious setup would be a coil and magnet, like an electric guitar pickup. But as it happens, the other day I bought a Hall Effect sensor, just out of curiosity on what natural magnetic fields it could pick up. (It has a built-in preamp and gives a linear output, sensitivity 1.3mV/G. Given the earth’s magnetic field is in the region of 0.5 Gauss, it should be sensitive enough to be interesting). These things are very small and fairly inexpensive (~$7). Having each backed by a little rare earth magnet should give a reasonable output. Not sure where I’ll source a big ball bearing, must have a suitable spring around somewhere. While veggie oil would probably be inert enough, mineral oil may be wiser. (Italian hardware shops sell a food-quality mineral oil for air-sealing demijohns of wine, that’ll be my plan A).

Trying this setup out will likely reveal silly or subtle flaws I’ve not thought of, but there are two sources of potential problems I can see right away. First is that the magnets will pull the weight towards themselves. Hopefully the physical issues should be fixable by using a different spring; electromagnetic, fixable in electronics/software.

The second thing that came to mind is the effect on the output of the Hall Sensors when the magnetic field is off-axis. I couldn’t see a mention of this in the data sheet. If the resting position of the ball is (0,0,0) in physical space, and a hella quake hits and pulls it to (1,1,1), will this be reflected in the output of the sensors?

I suspect that this would definitely be a problem were the goal to be to record the x,y,z signals as individual, absolute, calibrated values. But presumably the true measures will be some weird, probably non-linear function (over time) of the 3 detected values, so this shouldn’t cause information loss. As I intend to use a fairly deep neural net on this data, any weird polynomials will (hopefully) get flattened out so the processing system just sees the perturbations of interest.

Magnitude 3.0 Coincidence

enough to be noticed, but not weird enough to trigger a psychotic episode

So I sketched my plan yesterday morning. In the afternoon we visited a charity shop (Op Shop here down under) and I bought this book.


I’ve looked at these kind of sums before, mostly around about 1987 when the book was published. But my maths is seriously rusty, and this is stuff I should really be fluent with. I did cover such material in school (in the contexts of analog electronics & acoustics) but in the days before Chaos Theory stuff threw a spanner in the works. After that I did a bunch of informal research & even magazine writing on chaos in analog systems, but never went far with the maths. Now, of 9 chapters in this book, 7 of them are written from a post-chaos perspective.

I digress. The coincidence is between my sketches above and what appears in the first chapter of this book:


Page 6/277. I’ve a way to go yet…




Author: Danny Ayers

Web research and development, music geek, woodcarver. Originally from rural northern England, now based in rural northern Italy.

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