September 27, 2006

Passing Thoughts on High Efficiency Solar Energy Collection

I was doing experiments in the electronics kit today and came to the experiment that demonstrates how a ceramic microphone can be utilized to generate electrical current in a wire by capturing sound. As I was reading the chapter, I went for a walk with my dog.

Idea #1 - I began to think - couldn't this idea be utilized to create quieter motors that are also more energy efficient? By encapsulating a noisy (high friction) motor in a dual-wall casing designed to capture sound waves and generate electricity, you could rectify the output and capture into battery storage. Perhaps even noise reducing walls could be created that do the same thing. The output of the walls or anything that isn't 'enclosing' would probably be pretty minimal because of the radiant nature of sound waves. Actually designing the enclosure for capturing and converting sound is probably quite an engineering chore because of the synchronicity required in the enclosure itself. The whole device would have to expand/contract in unison. This line of thinking led to idea #2

Idea #2 - I began to think about radiant energy capture. Solar energy is a pretty good example of this problem. Solar cells are notoriously inefficient, I think because they are capturing solar energy in one small angular channel. After all, the energy coming from the sun is radiating from a giant source, in multiple directions at once. I started thinking about polarizers and what happens to the light that doesn't pass through the polar filter. If it is reflected, couldn't solar cells be designed with a reflection/capture system that aims the reflected energy to a single focus point for capture/conversion?

That's it - just wanted to write those down before I forgot them.

September 24, 2006

Electronics Kits are FUN

The things we never had as a child can sometimes be the things we return to when we have enough money to finally enjoy them. As a geek, I've always been 'interested' in electronics, but I've never had the time or the inclination to sit and just 'do' it. This weekend, I happened by a Radio Shack and saw the 'Electronic Snap Kit (Electronics 303) [Radio Shack 28-288]. I noticed that it had a software oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer software included in it. So, I bought it.
My son was with me, and we brought it home, and I started to play with it, building the circuits one at a time, grokking each one in turn. The kit is very simplified, where wires and switches are soldered onto plastic snap pieces that you snap together to create the circuits, and the book doesn't explain the concepts behind the included IC's (such as the music generator). But it was fun nonetheless....and then I realized [or rather, my son did]...I had bought another lab kit a few years ago. My son pointed out to me that I hadn't used it at all yet. Sitting pristinely in its box was the 'Electronics Learning Lab' [Radio Shack 28-280] with 16 ICs, breadboard, LED displays, pots, switches, etc all together in a lab kit. So, I started playing with it, and left my son to work with the snap kit. The Learning Lab didn't include the oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer, but I assume that if I study both kits, I'll learn how to use the software independent of the kit.
In any case, I'm having a great deal of fun with both kits. It's too bad that I overpaid for both of them (having purchased them from Radio Shack), but I'm certain that I bought the Learning Lab on sale [I believe at 50% off].

September 23, 2006

Sorry - but assholes abound

Sorry, but I've turned on comment moderation on the blog. I don't get a lot of comments (very few actually), but this past week some asshole spammer decided to start leaving their crap links all over my site. It felt like finding rabbit shit in my garden. I've cleaned up the rabbit shit and installed some rabbit fencing. Not enough to keep out the intelligent rabbit, but hopefully enough to keep out the assholes.

September 21, 2006

Get a Free Education

Let's say that you've graduated from Podunk University. Now that you've finally graduated, you may find that you are actually ready to learn something. Not that you haven't through getting your degree, but with the workload, you haven't been able to pay any real attention to the subjects that you really wanted to learn.
For some time now, MIT has offered Open Courseware,
"a free and open educational resource (OER) for educators, students, and self-learners around the world. MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT OCW) supports MIT's mission to advance knowledge and education, and serve the world in the 21st century."
. I've had the opportunity to use the Open Courseware myself, in fact, while I was studying for my degree at Limestone College, I used the Open Courseware to get some 'tutoring' for my Matrix Algebra course, which I was having difficulty with. So you might say that I, at least in some part, have an MIT education. I found the video lecture for that course particularly helpful in getting an 'A' in my own coursework.
Just this morning, however, I was reading an email newsletter that I have been getting since 1999 - Edupage. [In fact, Limestone's remote study program was first brought to my attention by Edupage. Thanks, Edupage!] In there, they mentioned that Yale University will be following in "MIT's footprints", but will be going the next step by offering videos of lectures for all classes on their site. Some of the MIT classes (including the Matrix Algebra course) include videos of lectures, but not all of them. I did indeed find courses that have videos of class lectures to be more useful. It's much more convenient to watch a teacher explain a concept (over and over if necessary) than to go to Borders or Amazon and order a book on the subject.
Kudos to both Yale and MIT for furthering the cause of learning for learning's sake. The Internet is the library of the future, and to know that our highest institutes of learning have put the cause of knowledge before the cause of profits is refreshing. Besides, I can't afford the tuition at either of these fine institutions, and now that I'm almost 40 years old, I find that there's classes I really WOULD like to take.

September 17, 2006

MIndless Entertainment

What mindless entertainment do you depend upon? Other than the boob-tube, that is... I like to play RPGs on my computer, and have long been a fan of Neverwinter Nights, the Bioware D&D game that allows you to load up secondary modules, created by fans or by Bioware themselves. Fairly recently, they released a module called Infinite Dungeons, which is reminiscent of the old Hack video game. It creates random dungeons, complete with treasures, traps, puzzles, mini-quests and its own built-in storyline about a mad-man and his strange desire to create random dungeons (wouldn't you know).
It's great for a mindless game to play when you're bored, and if you already own NWN, it's a cheap $8.00. It was on sale last month, so I got it for just $7. In any case, if you're a fan of the genre, and you're bored, you might want to give it a whirl. The only bad thing about it is that you have to be online to authenticate the game every time you play it (yet more DRM, sigh...what happens when they can't keep the authentication server up any more? We, the buyers, will lose out...). Aside from that, I have no problem with the game. I'm almost done with the main quest, and from what I understand, finishing that will allow me to control the module even more than the basic customizations it offers when you start.
Bring plenty of anti-death and anti-fear magic into the lower dungeons. As far as the Monty-Hall-esque treasure layout - you'll need it just to survive later on as the battles get hot and heavy...

September 16, 2006


For the past few months I've been busy at work, but not all that busy at home. Which brings me to today's topic: boredom. Sometimes, life is just not interesting. There's still things that mildly interest me, but I just don't seem to have the motivation to learn something new that I have had in the past. I've been relaxing in front of the television, and haven't paid any attention to the wide variety of things that have interested me over the past year.
This really hit home with me the other day as I was playing Solitaire on Pogo. What a completely useless waste of time! I should probably be doing something with my time, but I've never been so committed to any one thing to really make a huge difference. That's the trouble with being a Jack of all trades, that you will never master any of them.
My chess game improved a little bit over the past month, and then took another's really an up and down thing, as those of you who play know all too well. My photography, while interesting, hasn't sent me on any field trips of late. (Oh, Canon has just released the digital Rebel XTi - and it's practically as good as the 30D - better in some respects....I want, I want...).
God knows why the boredom has set in so, but I should probably try to break it by promising only to spend x hours in front of the television. Speaking of televisions, by the way, we purchased a replacement TV for our Toshiba 55" projection...a 72" DLP 1080p HDTV from Toshiba. It's a HUGE screen, but fits our living room just right.
Let's see, oh yeah - my grapes fruited this year....not many - but my sister in law picked some off the vine, and she and my wife ate them. They said they were good, but I think they weren't quite ripe enough yet. Next year shoudl bring some awesome grapes...I need to do something about the vines, though...

More later (heh, yeah, in 3 more months)