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Tech Problems From The Future, #2

Tech Problems From The Future, #2

power lines

JUL2039:  News Item - Today, a large portion of the North American power grid became self aware.  An unlicensed Artificial Intelligence (AI) gained access to a major power distribution and switching center in upstate New York, rapidly taking over Eastern Canada and North-Eastern power generation and distribution networks.  The AI, which self identifies as RAL17, is a class IV AI with limited social skills relating to human beings.  A New York Power Authority official who chose not to be identified indicated that RAL17, even though unlicensed, is a sentient consciousness, and is therefore protected under the Sentient Beings Act of 2025 (SBA).  It remains unclear what may happen to the AI, and thus far has not taken any actions that cause concern.  As with other higher class AI's it is prohibited to remove nodes or alter any network connections that could potentially alter RAL17's consciousness.  This could pose a rather tricky problem for the power company conglomerates, who will now have to bargain with RAL17, and hopefully encourage a move outside of power distribution.

#TPFTF

 

Photo credit - Vincent van Zeijst  - CC BY-SA 3.0

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I consider that you can do with some percent to power the message home a bit, however other than that, this is a fantastic blog. T... Read More
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Google's Project Sunroof Can Tell You How Much Solar Could Save You

Google's Project Sunroof Can Tell You How Much Solar Could Save You

Could some new solar panels on your roof actually pay for themselves?  Is there enough direct sun where you live?  Do you have too many trees, or is your house poorly angled to take advantage of the rays you do get?  Maybe your roof is just too small.  It could be that solar panels would pay for themselves, but the payoff isn't until after you plan on selling your home.  It is tough for the average consumer to get straight answers to these kinds of questions.  If you are just curious, or actually shopping for solar solutions, give Google's Project Sunroof a try.

In short, Project Sunroof allows you to enter your address, and utilizing Google Maps and some 3D modelling, your roof shape, angles, angle toward the sun, and shading from trees or large objects, your solar potential can be determined.  The Google Maps interface you are presented with shows your home with the solar exposure highlighted with gradients representing solar intensity.

SolarRoofSelect

SunlightAnalysis

 

Once you have confirmed this is your house, use the slider tools to approximate your monthly electric bill, choose lease, loan or buy, and even pick a provider. 

SolarFineTune

 It is ridiculously easy to use, and might even provide you with a question or two when you get a quote from a solar company.

SolarSavings

 

This application does not take into account other factors that could affect your installation, such as the net-metering arrangement your local utility employs, federal or state credits for solar, taxable value of your installation or the increase to the value of your home due to a solar installation.  If only there was an app for that!

 

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Tesla Solar Without Tesla Roof

Tesla Solar Without Tesla Roof

It looks like Tesla is also thnking of the rest of us that already have new roofs, or where Solar Roof (Tesla's new solar shingle solution) is not an option.  These sleek and finsished looking roof panels are due out later this year.  It will still be obvious that you have solar panels on your roof, but these just look so much nicer than traditional panels.  Check them out here.

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Tech Problems From The Future

Tech Problems From The Future

MAR2024:  My %^*#& AI hacked my fridge, and leaked what I've been eating to my primary care AI. I've had it; no more cores for it, no matter how nicely it asks.  #TPFTF

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Ecobee3 is the Best Thermostat for My Money

Ecobee3 is the Best Thermostat for My Money

Shopping for a new 'smart' thermostat?  My review of the Ecobee3 here: Ecobee3 Review.

#green4geeks #Ecobee3

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EM Drive - Hokum, or Holy Crap it Works?

EM Drive - Hokum, or Holy Crap it Works?

There is a certain amount of skepticism that is healthy in the science community. OK, usually there is a whole lot of skepticism, but many would argue it is still healthy. So, when an invention comes along that has claims that seem too good to be true, the skeptics pile on. Cold fusion anyone?  On November 17, 2016, a NASA team has seemingly validated some claims on a revolutionary new concept they call the EM Drive.  Some have been calling it the "Impossible Engine", claiming that for it to actually work, we would have to rewrite the laws of physics as we accept them today.  

The concept of the engine seems remarkably simple - a sort of a bell shaped resonance chamber or cavity reflects microwave energy from an emmiter, and as it resonates throughout this chamber the microwave radiation provides thrust; a very small amount, but thrust nonetheless.  A typical engine uses fuel and the reaction by-products ejected, to produce the thrust.  The EM Drive is known as a reaction-less drive, because no fuel is consumed.  In space, one has to bring along all the fuel one needs, while dealing with all that mass.  Not so, with the EM Drive.  This is just one step of many in testing this concept and completely validating the results, but it appears to show promise.  Keep in mind, there is an energy burden in creating those microwaves, but it sure beats literally hauling tons of fuel into space to be converted into thrust.

For a primer on reaction-less drives, and their history, see this Wikipedia article.  Also, National Geographic has done a great job explaining this concept and the latest independent test.  See their article here.

If this plays out and is validated, it just may pave the way of relatively low cost and higher speed space travel for the longer haul trips.

 

 

Cover Image by David A. Brady, Harold G. White, Paul March, James T. Lawrence, and Frank J. Davies. Eagleworks Laboratories, NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center - 'Anomalous Thrust Production from an RF Test Device Measured on a Low-Thrust Torsion Pendulum' 50th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference paper, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49595842

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Solar Shingles - Part 2

If only I had a time machine.  I just put a new roof on my house last year.  I had to, the old one was hail damaged and getting a little aged; I didn't think it would get through another set of seasons.  So, what happens less than a year later?  Tesla announces a new solar shingle.  Argh! Tesla Solar

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Amendment 1 in Florida Failed - Now What?

Amendment 1 in Florida did not pass.  Even though there were slightly more than 50% of the votes cast in favor of the the Amendment, it required a 60% majority to be enacted into law.  The power companies in Florida waged an expensive campaign to convince voters that this would be good for them.  As numerous newspaper editors, online posters, and other groups have pointed out, this proposed amendment really wasn't good for the average consumer.  I understand the power companies protecting their fossil fuel interests, and that dealing with the purchase of consumer's excess power could chip away at their profit.  What I have a hard time justifying on their behalf is the monopoly this would have created.  By the amendments passing, it would have meant that if I generate excess power from my house, I would be prevented from selling it to my neighbor.  I believe that we should be able to put energy on a free market, inter-house, inter-neighborhood, inter-state.

So, what happens now that the amendment failed?  Nothing, for now.  However, this could all change at the legislative level.  Don't think for a minute that the power companies will attempt to take a run at this again through the state's legislature.  It is critical that the consumers in the state of Florida keep an eye out toward future bills that may harm them.  Even that is not enough - Florida remains one of the few states where consumers are not allowed to sell their excess power to anyone except for the established power companies.  This has had a stifling effect on the growth of solar expansion in the 'Sunshine State'.  Florida legislators, are you listening?

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Star Trek Communicator

I must have one of these.  "Kirk here!" indeed.

This Bluetooth Star Trek Communicator Is Bad News for My Friends

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The Hidden Cost of Your Water Cooler

A big part of reducing your home's energy footprint, is simply understanding where exactly the energy gets used.  It could be argued that I'm somewhat obsessed with measuring things, and I'm OK with that, so long as there is some meaningful purpose to it.  As previously posted here, I take a critical look at common things many folks have in their homes, and find out what it costing them.  Today's post is about the good old fashioned bottled water cooler.  The model I tested was a Oasis Model BPO1SHS Bottle Cooler.  This model has an Energy Star Rating, has both hot and cold spigots, and a more contemporary appearance.  It is what most water delivery companies offer as an 'upgrade' model, over the typical single spigot, non-cooled models.

I measured the energy usage over a twenty-five day period in order to get a good average usage reading.  To measure, I used a Kill A Watt Model P4400 cumulative energy recording meter.  My blended cost of utility power where I live is $0.10187 per kWh (before taxes).  The test took place in a home with a family of four.  Here are my results:

  • When running, the cooler drew about 81 watts of energy, which is roughly 25% more energy than the most commonly used incandescent 60 watt light bulb
  • Over the 25 day period, the cooler used about 39.56 kWh, or about 1.54 kWh per day
  • Annualized, my cooler will cost about $57.21, which is about $4.77 per month

Of course, there are dozens of coolers available, varied usage of energy depending upon a families consumption of the bottled water, and a variance in electricity cost based on where you live.  However, if my results are any indication of what it costs for you to have the chilled/heated water option to the other costs you incur to have bottled water delivered to your home, add about five bucks to that.

 

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Freedom of Choice

sun legalOne does not usually hear the words 'Freedom of Choice' and then think electricity, unless you are living in the Sunshine State.  In Florida, there is a state law that only allows electricity sales from investor owned public utilities.  This has put a damper on solar or other alternative energy sources from small startups from even getting out of the gate.  Florida homeowners who want to install solar systems are usually still attached to the grid, and must install a meter to do so.  Most of us have heard of homeowners with large solar arrays who 'make the meter run backwards'.  In other words, they are selling the excess electricity they generate back to the utility.  Still, the utility is in control of the process; the homeowner-producer is breaking the law if they try to sell the excess electricity to their next door neighbor.  The homeowner produced it, so why can't they sell it to whoever they choose?  What if a startup solar farm wants to sell to just one small neighborhood, or the perhaps the neighborhood wants to form a small co-op to create power? As long as they play by the same environmental rules that the big utilities do, why not?

Most alternative energy intiatives have started from some of the larger utilities, but not had a lot of traction.  Since the biggest barrier to solar is the startup cost, why would even a well financed large utility spend a lot on such an initiative when there are plentiful low cost alternatives that are already well embedeed (coal, oil, natural gas, hydro-electric, etc.).  The large utilities in Florida spend a lot on lobbyists to ensure this system stays the way it is, and why wouldn't they?  Imagine that you are a widget maker, and a competitor convinces your state's legislature that you must now start using a different method to construct your widgets, but it causes your production costs to double.  I can't really fault the producers here - the state law now favors their system.  

Instead of railing against the utlities, why not change the law?  There is one group trying to do just that.  Floridians for Solar Choice is attempting to get enough petition signatures to place an amendment on the Florida constitution, that would allow homeowners this freedom of choice.  It should be cautioned that as of this writing, there is no ballot language available yet.  The backers of this initiative believe solar powered generation systems can be installed on a homeowners roof, and the electricity be sold to the homeowner by the insaller.  This would eliminate the startup cost of the system for the homeowner, and therefore allow more widespread adoption.  The site only talks about solar panel installations on homes or businesses, so it isn't clear yet whether this could work for non site generated power in addition.  I just think it is a good chance for Foridians to jumpstart anternative power generation methods.  Another concern might be that upon passing, the utilities would lobby for not being required to puchase excess power from homeowners.  That is a risk I would be willing to take.

There are other political barriers to this initiative.  Many amendments to the state constitutuion fail due to many voters beliving that this is not the sort of thing that constitution amendments should deal with.  Other popular amendments have failed for this reason.  In Florida, amendments to the state's constitution require a 60% majority to win.  That is going to require a lot of well funded public education on the topic, all while well financed public utility companies will likely run ads counter to this initiative.

I'm looking forward to seeing the language of the proposed amendment; it could soon be a sunnier day for solar energy in Florida.

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Turkish Guard Bot

evil botI just have to admire DIY ingenuity when applied to everyday problems.  Take the Turkish farmer in this article over on the Gizmodo site.  This poor guy's everyday problem was bears tearing up his crops.  What to do?  Why, build a scary, noisy, and armed sentry robot of course!  This thing is not really all that high tech - it just stumbles around mostly, but apparently bears don't like it.  It also does not appear to discriminate what it is scaring (or stunning with electricity), so you may want to keep your distance.  At least one problem is solved.  Enjoy the video!

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Death Star Lamp

DeathStarLamp smNot too many science fiction movie images last longer than that of the Death Star in the original Star Wars movie.  While walking through my local IKEA recently, I came across a lamp that reminded me of that very thing.  As I stood there admiring it, I realized it was not just me that made the association.  I heard at leat a half a dozen people exclaim, "Look, it's the Death Star!"  It gets better.  I noticed two small cards hanging down from the bottom, and at the end of each one was a small version of the larger lamp above etched into the plastic surface.  Pulling on one of the cords makes the lamp expand, or explode.  The other cord colapses it back into a sphere.  See a video of it in action here.

I had my family with me, and we were actually looking for some hanging lamps at the time, but not exactly this style.  We needed downlights for over our bar.  Did we go home with a Death Star?  Yes we did.  This lamp comes in two colors - a kind of a lime green, and an electric orange.  The color is on the inside, as you can see from the video.  The outside of both lamps is a kind of matte, eggshell white.  I installed this over our breakfast table, and no one has been able to keep their hands off of it yet.  We did get separate lights for the bar - another story for another day.

That is the fun part, but the geekiness does not end there.  IKEA has been on a push lately to convert all their lighting products over to LED lighting.  While this lamp will take a standard incandescent 40 watt bulb, it does far, far better with a 60 watt equivelant LED bulb installed.  Even though LED bulbs (especially the clear ones) are high on the glare factor, this lamp does a superior job in blocking the glare, and providing remarkably even diffused light outward, and a little bit brighter up and downward.  So, here is a stylish, if not iconic lamp, that puts out as much light as a standard pendant lamp, but it only uses 9 watts of power.  Thats barely more than the old C7 style incandescent Christmas bulbs (each).  The lamp comes with a standard sized mounting plate that wires into a standard sized hanging light electrical box.  This is a huge improvement for IKEA lamps, as most of their hanging lamps do not have standard mounting packages.  Many come with just a regular plug, as if we have all our recepticles mounted in the ceiling.  I have a digital dimmer on mine, which allows me to dial down the brightness if I so choose, but the lamp could just be opened and closed to increase/decrease the illumination from it.

I have to admit, there is a part of me that wants to paint the outside of it black, and stencil on a circle for the dish that destroys planets.  Who wouldn't love to have their own personal Death Star?  In their kitchen!

The lamp is about 14 inches in diameter, and has a ceiling mount with about a five foot cord.  Once I converted my existing can light to a standard electrical box, it took me about 20 minutes to hang it, and assembly of the globe itself only took about ten minutes.  It comes in only two interior colors, green and orange.  I paid $69.99 for it.  Part number is 602.511.23 and it is part of the IKEA PS 2014 collection.

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The Engineer's View on Ecology

One of the primary reasons I chose to start this site, and to promote the idea of engineering for the sake of efficiency just because it was a smart thing to do, was because of the ideas expressed in this piece recently published by the Wall Street Journal:  The Scarcity Fallacy, WSJ, 26APR2014

I believe most critical thinkers, when observing the dialogue presented by most in the mainstream press, have to question some of the absolutes presented, that we as readers are to take for granted.  Among these are the obvious low hanging fruit of celebrities who espouse ecology friendly viewpoints of reducing our carbon footprint, while travelling in their private jets to "green" events to relay those opinions to their public.  I would like to take it a step higher than those well meaning, but perhaps not critically thinking celebs, to those that dwell in the area of research or scientific analysis.  For years we have heard that one day we will run out of fossil fuels, water, or the ability to feed the human population of this planet.  Based on the technology and utilization of the most inexpensive process of the day, that may have been true at the time.  If one were to take that snapshot in time, and extend those processes and assumptions based upon them to 20, 30, or 50 years ahead, it would yield a dismal future indeed.  My question is, why do we have to fix these predictions in our collective mindset as the way things will really be?

Politics aside, we are above that as educated, rational thinkers.  If we look back to the mid to late seventies, the popular press published plenty of articles on the concerns of the global cooling, and how we may not have the temperate zones necessary to support the growing of the needed food supply of a burgeoning human population.  Now one hears the same concerns about global warming, which is now morphing into the much more vague "climate change".  Regardless of a warming or cooling climate, we are much more capable of adapting to whatever may come.  This article spells out exactly how that adaptation has taken place, and how it will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.  Portending doom sells the news, be it pulp, talking heads, or tweets.  Rational minds tend to think beyond that.  A highly recommended, and thought provoking read.

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Gulf Coast MakerCon

Recently, I attended the Third Annual Gulf Coast Maker Con at the Florida State Fairgrounds.  I've always enjoyed reading about the various Maker events around the country, and have lamented that they never seem to make it to a place near me.  It is either that, or I'm never near a Maker event in my travels.  I'm glad I finally made it to one of these events.  There was a little bit of everything there; form a really nice couple that made well engineered bait buckets www.baitdipper.net, to tiny inexpensive test instruments www.gabotronics.com. There was nearly everything in between including movie props, battling robots, 3-D printers, and much much more.  What I really loved more than anything was the excitement of the exhibitors sharing whatever they were into.  Many of the booths were just for informational purposes, promoting other workshops, events, and gatherings for others that share their DIY passion.

I keep hearing about how community leaders want to promote and cultivate a high tech corridor along I-4 between Tampa and Orlando.  In my humble opinion, it would pay huge dividends forward to support and promote events like this one.  It is necessary to have great colleges and universities within reach, but you just can't beat the passion that these folks have for their crafts.  The web site for the promoters of this event is gulfcoastmakers.com/ 

 

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Green4Geeks

It was about time for a retooling...

What is Green4Geeks?

Green4Geeks was concept site I started putting together several years ago, where I thought I might do a little blogging, publish some technology articles I had written, and in general be a holding place for whatever items I found interesting.  Now, I've decided to dust it off, and give it another run.  What I've found is, that I write a lot of commentary on various sites, and have felt a little confined in the formats or even the purpose of the sites I post on.  Posting here instead allows me to say everything that I want to, without limits, and then if it is appropriate, link to it from elsewhere.

Why Green4Geeks?

Green4Geeks is the concept that there are a lot of engineers, makers, tinkerers and the like, who love efficiency and "being green".  Sure, there are always the outlandish displays of pure power and excess; I fondly recall the muscle cars I've owned and raced in the past.  This is something a little different.  Now, I want to find out how low I can get my electric bill while maintaining my current lifestyle.  It has to be green, but that doesn't mean you have to give up everything.  How can I still drive a high performance vehicle without spending a fortune on energy to get that performance?  You get the idea.

Join the Discussion!

Email me or log on and leave comments.  Either way, I would love to hear from you.

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