Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The weather of last few weeks of May Was relatively sunny, here in Belgium. Nevertheless, the solar energy production of the past month ended up (slightly) below average, and below the target of 290 KWh that I hoped to achieve.

(Click the image to see a full-size version)

What our cells need, is lots of sun and temperatures that don’t go into the high twenties or more (Celcius!) – but that combination is rather rare here in summer.

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Quick update on our solar energy production: April 2017 produced a “below average” number of KWh. The total is similar to last year, but almost 15% below the average of the past 7 years. That’s three months in a row dragging down our averages – let’s hope the rest of the year does not go the same way.


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As Engadget writes:

It’s a tragic time for both music and technology. Ikutaro Kakehashi, best known as the founder of Roland Corporation, has died at 87. The engineer turned corporate leader got his start making electronic drums and rhythm pattern generators, but it was after he founded Roland in 1972 that he hit the big time. His company quickly became synonymous with electronic music effects, and the machines built under his watch didn’t just become popular — they changed the cultural landscape.

It’s safe to say that digital sound as we know it today would not have been the same without Kakehashi.

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National statistics may say that March 2017 was sunnier than “normal” (statistics since 1830 or so), but on our roof the numbers are different: March 2017 generated less solar electricity than the average of the previous 7 years (178.345 Wh). Still, it could have been worse: the first half of the month made it look as if the system would not even make it half way to the average. So in the end, I guess the conclusion is that March was more or less “average” when it comes to the sun. The good news, of course, is that Spring is in the air, with flowers and blossoms and fresh green all over our garden.

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Each time I hear a “trendwatcher” or a “futurist” explain what tomorrow will look like, I cringe a little. I am looking to the future with optimism, but I do not pretend to be able to predict the future – as a historian, I know how hard it is to know the past, let alone extract the correct lessons from it. It’s hard to predict something as simple as election results… So what makes trendwatchers think that they know what is going to happen as a consequence of the progress in information technology (and technology in general)? The PC did not make paper disappear; social networking tools do not only bring people together; etc.

In “Our Gutenberg Moment” Marina Gorbis writes:

At a very deep level, changes in our basic communications tools and technologies alter existing power dynamics; they re-define who has the power of voice, the power to shape our dominant narratives, and the power to influence how we think and act. While acknowledging that we will likely see dramatic social changes, Dewar warns that such changes will result from unintended consequences of technological advances, rather than deliberate technological design, as was the case in the past. “The Protestant Reformation and the shift from an earth-centered to a sun-centered universe were unintended consequences in the printing press era,” he wrote. These unintended consequences will likely re-shape the basic elements of our society and culture.

“Unintended consequences” are what we may expect. Like the impact of human activity on our climate, I suppose. Makes me wonder how we, as a global species, will react when the climatic changes thoroughly disrupt the weather?

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When I was young, my best friend told me his grandfather had explained to him how everything mechanical could be repaired using only a hammer. Well, some Australians use an axe as their tool of preference, but it seems to work just as well. Just have a look at this movie, courtesy of BoingBoing: “Watch Australian bush mechanics get a wrecked car rolling“.

Click the image to see the video on YouTube

And for more tips on how to “repair” your car while on the road in the outback, try this movie: “Australian Bush Mechanics – BEST SCENE“. Do note that this one looks a bit more professionally scripted and directed – but good tips anyway!

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Ars Technica published a nice overview of the current state of solar power technology: “The future of solar power technology is bright“. As owner and user of a solar panel installation I am happy to see that research on this topic has not halted. The current weather here in Belgium makes it clear, to me at least, that we will also need panels – or something else – to generate electricity when the skies are cloudy.

I wonder: having technology is one thing; making sure it is applied in the best way is something else. If we want more solar energy here in Western Europe, we will need to find a way to turn our rooftops and perhaps even south-facing walls and windows into solar panels. If we want developing countries to avoid a dependency on coal and petrol, then we’ll have to help them install appropriate systems for generating electricity rather than exporting our old cars and trucks to them.

Talking about cars: our family currently owns/uses two cars, both more than 10 years old but still in good working order. We are contemplating replacing one of them by a small hybrid or even full electric car. But that market is still immature, and many of the cars offered are still quite expensive. Replacing my diesel-powered car by an electric will make me feel good, but what will happen to the old car? If it’s moved to another part of the world and continues polluting the environment, does that really improve the world?

Is this part of the long-term future?

How hard would it be (or is it) to replace the petrol engines in current cars with something more environment-friendly, like an electric engine? Can petrol engines be converted into hydrogen engines? Could I add a solar panel on top of my car to help the battery? Or… well, you get my drift. I assume that the “economics” of such transformations have already been calculated by car manufacturers. Of course, they will not like such an operation, because it would result in less sales of new cars. The cost of doing nothing (and just continuing what has been done for a long time now) is becoming more apparent every day – even China is now committed to do something about air pollution.

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