My grandfather was actually a student of Dr. Richter's at CalTech, and I have a couple old Richter scales that were "rehomed" when the present CalTech seismology lab was built and the old scales were replaced. The ones I have probably date to the mid-1930s and are in good condition except for a few scratches on the wooden parts. The wiring is original, and no one has used them for years, but I'm sure it would be possible to replace a few parts and have the scales up and running. Great conversation pieces!
I keed. The Richter scale is a mathematical formula, not a type of seismograph. And the math up above? That's a scale, too: the moment magnitude scale, introduced in 1979 by Tom Hanks [the other one] and Hiroo Kanamori as a successor to the Richter scale. The terrible earthquake in China on May 12 measured 7.9 on the moment magnitude scale.
I was born and raised along the San Andreas Fault, which will tend to make a person interested in earthquakes. My favorite first stop for all kinds of totally fascinating earthquake material is the U.S. Geological Survey's awesome FAQ. A few of the questions appear in the screen grab below:
Also check out [and bookmark, so that you can fill out and submit the "Did you feel it?" form after the next shaker] the USGS Earthquake homepage:
Thousands of children in Sichuan died when their school buildings collapsed during the earthquake. How do U.S. schools measure up when it comes to quake safety? See Turning Schools from Death Traps into Havens.
Yep, there's a USGS Earthquake Preparedness FAQ, too. And you can always access the USGS earthquake pages via the