Archive for July 2011

Poor Design Workshop: SolarWorld

Welcome to another edition of Poor Design Workshop!

I saw this poster in the BART yesterday.

It’s kind of a nice poster… until you actually read it.

It’s time to put the sun to work
Power from the sun
400 000 000 000 000 000 000
kilowatts per second
America’s largest solar manufacturer since 1975

First, “kilowatts per second” is a non sequitur here. (reference) Though granted there is often confusion about terms like this. Try to think of it this way: kilowatts is a rate, like “miles per hour”. You don’t say “He was driving at 55 miles per hour per second“… because, well, that’s stupid. Similarly, a 60 watt light bulb uses 60 watts, not 60 watts per second. With electricity, 1 Watt is equal to 1 Joule per second.It’s kind of OK for a layman to make this mistake, but not so much for America’s largest solar manufacturer since 1975.

Ok, let’s just sweep the “per second” thing under the rug and look at that big number with all the pretty zeros. “400,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilowatts” = 4.0 x 1023 watts. Let’s assume they meant to say that the earth is being hit by 4.0 x 1023 watts of energy from the sun. The trouble is, if that were true, our planet would boil off into the vast nothingness of space in minutes. In actuality, the earth catches 1.8 x 1017 watts (reference) from the sun. Their number is off by 6 orders of magnitude… a million times!!!

Ok, maybe that big number isn’t supposed to represent how much power that hits the earth, maybe they were talking about how much power the sun generates in its totality. Yeah, maybe instead of my small minded approach of erecting earth-bound solar panels, they are talking about enveloping the sun in solar panels or maybe putting it in a big bucket of water to make steam and drive a turbine. Uh huh. Ok, let’s do the numbers… Oop! Wrong again! The sun generates 3.7 x 1026 watts (reference, and), which is only 3 orders of magnitude different from their 4.0 x 1023 quote, but still waaaay off. Now our planet is cast into an eternally bleak cold night freeze. Did you see the 2007 intense science fiction thriller Sunshine? It was pretty awesome, riveting and haunting; my mind still conjures up images from the movie; it is definitely worth seeing and it is just like the dark world the SolarWorld people apparently live in.

All this goodness from “America’s largest solar manufacturer since 1975”. Nice.

Space Avalanche

Eoin Ryan is the force behind the comic strip Space Avalanche. Each one takes a while to digest and that’s part of the fun. Follow his strip!

This one is no exception. If it takes you less than 30 seconds to get it, then milk isn’t coming out your nose!

As his site requests, I bought him a well deserved beer.

Light Twitter on Fire

I love this partially because this upcoming Crucible event will be cool, partially because of the awesome graphic:


Help us set Twitter on fire about Inferno: A Fire Circus for a chance to win a pair of tickets to the show!

Each day this week (July 11-15, 2011) we will look to see who has tweeted about Inferno using the hashtag #firecircus and randomly choose a winner. The more you tweet, the better chance we have of seeing you. And while on Twitter, make sure you follow us to keep up with all our fiery antics.

Looking for PDFCreator Replacement

PDFCreator lets you create PDFs by simply printing to the “PDFCreator” printer. Lately, PDFCreator has held some optional adware, and just today… well, here is the comment I put on Sourceforge, where PDFCreator is hosted:

PDFCreator should be removed from Sourceforge. Today PDFCreator tried to install adware on my computer several MONTHS after I installed it; when installing, I chose to not receive the adware. This adware includes searchsettings.exe, applicationupdater.exe, and pdfforgetoolbar.exe, among other detrius.

What is a good replacement for PDFCreator for Windows?

Strengths and Weaknesses

My greatest strength and my greatest weakness: I’ll do anything with a friend; I’ll do nothing on my own.

Goodbye Space Shuttle

The last space shuttle launched yesterday, July 8th, 2011. I watched the launch on UStream. It’s rather amazing that I watched a live video feed from low earth orbit on my computer.

I had a big Space Shuttle poster over my bed when I was a kid, I saw the Challenger disaster in high school, felt and saw motions moving away from the Shuttle. And experienced the mind boggling Hubble Deep Field and Hubble Ultra Deep Field which was made possible, in part, by the Space Shuttle. I look forward to continued space discovery by mankind!

Hubble Deep Field

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

Killing the Van Allen Belt

Everyone knows about the very real dangers to astronauts and satellites that come from the Van Allen Radiation Belt, so I don’t need to talk about that.

While watching the Space Shuttle launch yesterday, and surfing, I came across this plan to clear the Van Allen Belt of dangerous high energy electrons and protons! “…Preliminary analyses indicate that a HiVOLT System can reduce the MeV particle flux in the inner electron belt to 1% of its natural levels within about two months….”

Talk about terraforming! Right here on Terra!

RIP Van Allen Belt, 3.5 billion BC – 2050AD

Dynamite Sledgehammer Festival

Pick 3 crazy words to google for… like “Dynamite Sledgehammer Festival”

Ask a crazy question and get a Very Bad Idea for an answer.


local version:



This weekend I spent some time studying math with Schuyler. Highlights included

  • Spending 20 minutes discussing exactly why negative 2 times negative 2 equals 4.
  • finally realizing (I remember getting this wrong in high school and never learning it correctly) this one little tidbit about reducing fractions with fractional exponents. (hint, remember that if you’re using two different constant bases, those are not like terms!)
  • spending an hour and a half hacking on one fairly simple problem and then BAM! getting it right and knowing why it was right.
  • After 5 hours of sitting in chairs, we were both exhausted.
And on the fourth, it was nice spending time in Golden Gate Park with Schuyler, Michael and friends!

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-07-03

  • @tjic thanks for pointing out the article. As for "the law", the judge has lots of leeway and it doesn't "really" matter if a 71 year… in reply to tjic #
  • @tjic old get 25 years or 150. So he had to…. hey wait, read the article, it explains it pretty well. I want to know why no body else… in reply to tjic #
  • @tjic in the firm has gotten in big trouble! David's Friehling wikipedia article is the first one I've seen that is out of date in a very in reply to tjic #
  • @tjic long time… because he hasn't gone to frigging jail. PS. Twitter is a horrible communication medium. in reply to tjic #