Whorled View

January 7, 2009

Think your web colors are okay?

Filed under: programming,Technology — lullabyman @ 10:48 pm

Sometimes you think you have a great website design, and well … a couple tweaks from an outside opinion can make a world of difference.

Take this website for example: www.probertson.com

For demonstration purposes I hope the author hasn’t changed it (I told him it was problematic, and he said he was too busy to take 60 seconds to modify his CSS file to fix it).

The website looks great really from a formalist standpoint.  From a purely aesthetic perspective I love his rich invigorating blue background (color: #000044) .  From a functionalist standpoint I find it painful.

Fully saturated backgrounds are just plain bad despite how beautiful and invigorating they may be, unless they’re very very dark (#000027) or very very light (#FFFFE3).  Saturated colors are indeed beautiful and invigorating but when entire backgrounds are beautiful and invigorating they distract from the content.  Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m all for fully saturated colors in sidebars, icons, borders, titles, Header images, Header backgrounds, etc, but it’s hard to read content when it’s smothered in an invigorating background color.  When it comes to text backgrounds dull is good, interesting (saturated or any texture beyond barely perceptible) is bad.  Of course, there’s an exception (isn’t there always) if the text background is in a small windowed box … but never for large amounts of text … the main course of a typical website.

Add to that his gray text color … and again it looks attractive but after reading his content for a minute (and he has great content) well … I want to claw my eyes out.

A couple tweaks in Paint Shop Pro and this is what I get:

attractive vs. professional and freindly

attractive vs. professional and friendly

Which image is more aesthetically pleasing is a matter of opinion.  I think most web designers would agree however that interesting backgrounds (color-wise or texture wise), while attractive, give websites an amateur look and feel.  You’ll never see professional websites where content competes with the background it overlays.  That”s why the version on the right intuitively looks more professional to most people.  That’s not to say professional websites have to look boring (take the americanexpress website – both attractive and professional and one of the best looking websites in existence imho) … but if you want to add pizazz, don’t do it with a distracting text background for large amounts of text (again -small text-boxes are an exception becuase there is less text to focus on, whereas when there is a lot of text to focus on the reader must be able to have no underlaying distractions).

If you don’t know how to tweak colors like this or don’t have the tools, and don’t know how to change the colors on your website either don’t fret.  Irfanview is a free program that allows you to easily tweak the colors of an image.  Print-screen your website (you probably have a key that says PrtScr), paste the contents into irfanview (start  Irfanview and then click CTRL-V) and then click Shift-G to tweak the colors.  When you get the image the colors you like save it and send the image to your website designer (or your neighborhood geek) and they’ll match or help you match the new colors.

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January 2, 2009

New Years Resolution tickler.

Filed under: Communications,Health,Lifestyles,Miscellaneous,Sociology,Technology — lullabyman @ 10:40 pm

How do you keep a goal forefront in your mind so you’re always motivated to work on it?  I’ve tried all kinds of things in the past … as I’m sure most people have.  Quotes and reminders seem great, but they eventually seem to become lost in the noise and get ignored.  I also don’t like parading my goals around for everyone to see – goals are personal.  The idea should rather be to keep goals where they’re most visible to the goal-setter and not to everyone else … and to make it move, shake, or shimmy around and continually remind the goal-setter of the vision that motivates them.

So this last year I came up with something that does that.  It’s a little program that scrolls through a list of text and images that motivate me to achieve my goals.  It automatically boots up and sits on top of all other programs in the top of my computer where the title-bar usually goes (it can also be dragged around my desktop).  It also flashes at various times of the day to remind me to work on certain things.  It also gauges how much time I  have left in the day (starts out green, turns peach).  Below is a screenshot.

tickler
If anyone else is interested let me know.  I’ve been thinking about making a version where the content can be added on the fly (currently I have to recompile it with each change).

September 18, 2008

In 2030 Japan will have the most powerful WMD, and in Space

I’ve previously posted about space based Solar Power, which converts sunlight into ludicrous-power lasers that are beamed back to earth.  We’ll, Japan is serious about doing it:

http://energycentral.fileburst.com/EnergyBizOnline/2008-5-sep-oct/Tech_Frontier_Solar_Space.pdf

Now, of course, this is intended to be a technology to save the planet (it’s solar power for heaven’s sake), but will require little to no effort to instantly start using it to selectrively fry whole neighborhoods without any warning and with breathtaking accuracy.

It seems this is a technology we should be working on – if only to safegaurd ourselves against others with this ability.  Remember Japan is still the only country which attacked us on our soil in the 20th century.  They’re utterly peaceful now, but that’s not stopping them from building the world’s first Star Wars technology death ray.

Here’s the amazing thing … by thier own admission it will cost much more per MW than conventional earth-based Solar plans so is there an alterior motivation here?  Let’s just hope that Iran doesn’t start building one of these.

There is one good thing about having a geostationary death-ray, though.  They are easy to shoot down (provided that you send enough bombs it’s way to make the death-ray too weak to defend itself).

May 1, 2008

Free Enterprise Gone Badly Awry

Filed under: finance,Lifestyles,Miscellaneous,Sociology,Technology — lullabyman @ 7:53 pm
Tags:

What in the name of all that is holy …

Why is that baby (is it human?) in a cage in the middle of the bed? And what happened to that baby’s legs and why does it’s face appear violently smashed flat by a steam roller? Notice how the caged baby is strategically placed between both parents so they can take both nuzzle up to the cold hard steel bars encasing their baby while simultaneously keeping the other parent at bay. And what’s with the evil smirk on the father’s face, I mean … is he facing the other direction as to not reveal to his blissfully clueless wife that this clever scheme was just a sick way to dupe her for some previous mishap? Then you have the mother … lovingly caressing the cage that’s pinning down their poor psychologically doomed infant. My friends, this is free enterprise gone badly awry.

Actually on paper this contraption must have sounded good … good enough that the artist-inventor (I can’t imagine anyone other than the inventor drew the picture … unless it was their 7 yr old) paid THOUSANDS of dollars to get it patented. The intent of the invention (let’s call it “the baby cage”) was to reduce the risk of SIDS. At least that’s what I gathered from it’s description at www.totallyabsurd.com … a website that mocks absurd patents like this one. It was probably invented by a traumatized parent who’s child died of SIDS, who now unfortunately thinks the answer is to put you baby in some cage on your bed, instead of a well designed crib. Never mind that all the doctors say that your mattress and padding is too soft and will increase the risk SIDS. Never mind that all research indicates the children raised in impersonal environments (read: cage) have an increased risk of SIDS. Never mind that your child’s first memories will be of being pinned down with steel bars, preparing them for a life of looking from behind similar looking bars.

While I hope I’d have the sense to never invent something like the above, I am ever increasingly aware how non-representative I am of the general public (which by the way fills me with a great sense of pride). Unfortunately I must also accept that being breathtakingly more intelligent than just about anyone else also qualifies me to come up with wonderful ideas that nobody else would get – and so my inventions simply wouldn’t sell as they’d likely be well “before their time”.

That’s why you do market analysis, people, no matter how intelligent or creative you are. All the baby-cage inventor would have needed to do is ask a dozen people at random what they thought, and they would have saved themselves a lot of money. Unfortunately I’m sure this person only asked his friends who responded with comments like: “Interesting” or “Wow. That’s creative.” or “You think of the most amazing things.” … all comments which the inventor surely took to be compliments and evidence that they’d be a complete idiot to not patent this infant-death-trap.

So I’ve compiled a list of what people fail to do before making it into the innovative hall of shame:

Rule #1) When you ask people about your idea, ask lots of complete strangers for their opinion, instead of asking your freinds. If I hate the idea I’ll lie to you. At least if you’re my friend that’s what I’ll do. Sorry. Yes, I’m a wus. It’s just that once I made the mistake of honestly answering my boss once when he asked about his design for a million-dollar machine. Two things happened: 1) He went ahead and used his design despite my criticism, which cost 10X more than expected, never worked, and eventually drove the company into bankruptcy, and 2) he never asked my opinion about anything else. Ever. That’s a true story.

Rule #2) Don’t be so paranoid. There are two kinds of inventors: 1) those with 1000’s of ideas, and they’ll share them freely while pursuing them … like Ben Franklin did, or like Thomas Edison did, and 2) those with maybe three ideas total in their little self-absorbed mind, and they guard these ideas with their lives. Sorry to break this to you, but if you’re of the second group your inventions suck. That’s just how it works out … less than 1/10th of 1% of inventions have any hope, and out of the other 99.9% there are many awesome ideas that didn’t sell for one of a million different reasons. If you aren’t producing 100’s of good ideas all the time, it’s doubtful that you’ll ever produce a winner.

Besides, if your idea was so great and unknown chances are it needs tons of development before it gets patented and nobody is willing to do that work except for you. Usually. Yes, there are stories, and they’re true, of multinational conglomerates stealing inventors ideas … but creative independent people will almost never steal another persons novel idea because they are so invested in their own ideas. And uncreative people are too stupid to know what to do with a great idea. So loosen up … and share your idea. Preferably you would share it with a potential partner who is interested in forming profitable and long-term relationships with unusually creative practical and intelligent people. I suggest http://www.evergreenip.com/. No, I’m not associated with them, but my Uncle, a lifelong inventor, works with them and they’re doing a number of his inventions.

Rule #3) Chill out. By this I mean write it down and forget about it. Go to a nice park. Walk around the park. Get involved in life. Again, forget about the idea. Then come back and look at the idea with fresh eyes. I’m sure had the infant-death-trap inventor had done this they’d have privately cringed in shame instead of publicly doing so. You know … once it’s in the patent database it’s there forever. You can’t remove it. It’s out there for all posterity to see and respond, “Gee what was that guy smoking?!” (which is a tad bit less encouraging than “Wow, you have quite an imagination”). Unfortunately inventors tend to think that great ideas grow on trees enough that if they don’t do something immediately someone will beat them to the punch. That’s not true. Take the iPod. There were MP3 players, many which were nearly as good, years before the iPod. Being first isn’t necessarily best. It’s being best that’s best.

Rule #4) Find out if a patent is the right thing. According to Newsweek “patents are usually worth less than the paper they are printed on”. This is because they’re either unnecessary, invalid, or just very weak.

Rule #5) Be prepared to spend a TON of money to do it right. DON’T DO IT YOURSELF, AND BE CAREFUL WHO YOU HAVE DO IT. Most patents are worthless because they were written poorly and are either too non-specific to have any valid claims or are so specific that they can easily be rendered useless.

Rule #6) Remember that protecting patents are 100X more expensive than acquiring them. Be prepared to pay this price, or at least give the patent the professional appearance that you are able to pay this price. THERE ARE NO PATENT POLICE. You are your own Patent police. Companies do the math … and if you look like some joe-nobody inventor they’ll calculate it’s worth walking all over you. This is one of the reasons you don’t want to do it yourself – to scare away unscrupulous corporations. Be prepared to fight multi-national corporations with bottomless pockets even if your patent is unbelievably well written. Often it’s worth it to them to drag it out as long as possible until you have less than nothing left.

Rule #7) Do a thorough search before spending too much time on it. I’ve made this mistake to find out someone already had a very thorough patent on an idea of mine. It was a CD case storage that doubled as a universal remote-controller for any mega-CD-player, so when you pressed on the CD case the CD would play. I’d spent hours making mockups and putting the idea online. It was already patented, and the patent holder was just sitting on it. I could have spent that time walking in the park and getting involved in life instead of wasting it on something that was already patented.

Gee … now don’t you have some warm feelings about just what a free enterprise we live in? Don’t get bummed. Keep thinking … and eventually one of those 1000 ideas of yours will be a home run.

April 25, 2008

REALITY CHECK: Electric Vehicle Fueling Stations

I thought this wasn’t doable until I ran the numbers. See … it depends on how the Electric Vehicle (EV) is built. You can trickle charge them overnight, or you can rapid-charge them in a matter of minutes if you have enough juice, but the battery must be designed for one method or the other. Right now they’re all designed for trickle charging overnight.

The problem with rapid (5 minute) charging is the amount of energy throughput required. The electrical grid would need some massive restructuring to provide the kind of throughput needed, which is very very expensive. The other option, which is far more likely than to get the power companies to do anything, is to generate it onsite via wind power or solar power.

The wind power is a slam dunk. Just one of these windmills can easily generate enough to charge 6 cars at a time … assuming it’s windy enough. This would be a no-brainer in many places. The Windmill will be around $500,000. The whole thing (including infrastructure power conditioning, and storage) should cost around $1.5 M. Not bad. No wonder wind power is by far the fastest growing renewable.

Solar is a little trickier. Ideally you’d put your panels over a parking lot for a shopping center or supermarket. You could also put them directly on top of the shopping center or supermarket, but I think a covered parking lot would be desirable enough for the shoppers such that the owners would probably provide the parking lot solar space for free. To support rapid filling 6 cars simultaneously you’re going to need about 6 acres of panels. A large parking lot should provide this, assuming that the panels will only cover parked cars. If more space is needed, a patchwork could be put over the low-traffic areas.

That’s not bad (I expected the space requirements to be more demanding). How about cost? About $3.5 million just for the solar array. Add another $2M for infrastructure (including panel supports, wiring, energy storage, and power conditioning) and you’re into it about $5.5 million. Sounds like a lot (especially compared to wind power), but if you charge $0.05/mile, which is about 1/4 of what gas currently costs for most Americans right now, you can turn a profit.

How much profit? At $0.05/mile you’ll be selling energy at twice the rate that grid normally costs, or $0.17/kWh. Assuming that the cars will be charged at a rate of 500kW (167W/car), and that you’ll charge an average of 3 cars (a generous assumption, imo) at a time between the hours of 7am and 10pm (15 hours), you’ll gross about $465k/yr from motorists. Then you’ll sell the excess back to the grid generating an additional $150k/yr (remember you’ll be using some of this excess in the evening and in some seasons). That’s not bad, but it’s not spectacular considering your loan and the costs of running such a business. In fact, it’s not much better than what you’d make just selling all the electricity back to grid, which is what you’ll do with the excess anyway. If you sell it back to grid you’ll still make about 70% as much per kWh, without having to deal with the bother and costs of running an EV Fueling Station.

Here’s the kicker though … just about the time you’ll have the original loan paid off … say in 20 years, it will be time to replace all the solar panels, costing you another $1.8M in today’s dollars (assuming solar prices will have dropped in half), but at least after that your net will be higher than it was with the original loan.

Still every penny counts when you run a business, so it looks like a good deal, and you’ll be providing a service to the EV community. It is however contingent on three extremely critical things: 1) that it’s sunny, and 2) that they build cars for rapid charging 3) that people will rapid charge their car at 2X the cost of what it costs them to do it at home overnight.

This last point sinks the whole deal for me. If convenience and the mighty dollar is king (and I think it is) people would prefer to just plug in their car when they get home, saving them money over the cost of rapid charging at the supermarket. If someone forgets to plug in their car at night, they’ll just generate their electricity on the fly with a built-in gas-powered generator. That is, incidentally, how they’re making the next generation hybrids, and all future EV’s will likely have that feature so you’ll never be stranded.

So there you go. Conclusion: Based on my analysis EV’s will NEVER be rapid charging nor will Electric Vehicle Fueling Stations exist for rapid charging purposes. That is unless all the solar cell manufacturers are bought up by the oil companies who then will then get into bed with the auto manufacturers, who will then agree to only make rapid-charge EVs that can only be charged in EV fueling stations (not at home).

Now that’s a scary thought. If that happens (doubtful) then this is a viable business. Due to the high upfront costs it’s maybe twice as profitable as a normal gas station is today (based on my google research). But in this scenario where Automakers produce only rapid-charge EVs, which I think is unlikely, this would be a sure thing. Note that there will be limited places where this can be done: shopping centers and supermarkets where there is enough space to also put a gas-station-sized EV station.

PS- here’s the math for those who like math:

Solar Array Energy Generating capability:
Most of the EV cars over the next 10-15 years will likely have 15kWh storage capacity as Advanced Li-Ion batteries. These batteries can be made to completely charge in 5 minutes, but that’s like 15kWh in 5 minutes, and if you have 6 cars doing that simultaneously, that’s 90kWh in 5 minutes That requires a energy generation capability of 90000Wh *(60min/h)/(5 min) = 1MW (approx).

Solar Panel Space Requirements:
On average a good 3×8 panel will provide about 100 Watts, so you’ll need 10,000 of these panels (minimum) assuming it’s sunny all day (1M/100=10,00 panels). That will take up 6 acres of panels (3ftx8ft*10,000 = 240,000ft^2 = 6 acres).

Solar Panel Cost:
Today if you buy in bulk and if you’re lucky you can get solar panels at $3.5/Watt. This cost has not changed much in the last 10 years. It isn’t expected to drop much in the next 10-20 years even with an explosion of supply simply because demand is so high, and as soon as the price drops demand increases to stabilize the price. 1 Million W at 3.5/Watts = $3.5 Million just for the solar array (infrastructure not included).

Gross Annual Income:
($0.17/kWh which is what you’re charging) * (500kW used to charge 3 cars continuously) * (15 h/day) * (365days/yr) = $465k

April 14, 2008

Solar Cells on Cars … wouldn’t it be … lame?

Filed under: conservation,earth,ecology,economics,energy,environment,solar,Technology — lullabyman @ 6:31 am

“Solar cells on cars! Wouldn’t it be great?! I can’t wait to get mine and stick it to the man and never have to pay for gas ever again!”

This is probably one of the most common things I hear when I talk to most people about electric cars or solar technology (both subjects I know just a little about). I admit … it is a great dream. It is also a dream based on the assumption that solar cells are getting somewhat close to being about to provide the power to operate a car, which incidentally consumes a tremendous amount of energy to transport you from “A” to “B”. This is a concept that most people have no clue about: gasoline packs an amazing amount of punch. The energy density found in this liquid that you just pump out of the ground is phenomenal.

Then you have solar cells, the alternative. The sad fact is that the best commercially available solar cells only convert 20% of the sun’s energy to electricity. Try this: go outside when it’s sunny and notice how hot the sun feels on your face. Then stand behind some tall trees that filter out about 80% of the sun’s direct rays. Suddenly get cold? That’s about how much of that energy is available to you with the very best (ie. ugly) commercially available solar cells. Sexy solar cells (black and curvy) are at best half as efficient (less than 10%).

So the next question is: how far will that take you if you tile them all over you your Tesla Motor’s Roadster (a super efficient Electric Vehicle)? I’m thinking around 4 miles/day. Tesla Motor’s did the analysis though and said you don’t want to put them on the hood, so you’re looking at 2 miles/day. See the math for yourself (they did it so I don’t have to )<:).

So using the best commercial solar cells possible on a very efficient road-worthy EV you get a range of 1 mile per day from where you live (remember you have to drive both ways).

Hmmm … One mile? Why don’t you get a bicycle instead.

But what if …. what if some quantum-dot nano-particle super-ultraconducting-lattice PV solar cell was invented that was 80% efficient? Yeah, that would be cool… very cool. You’ll be able to drive 16 miles per day in your Tesla Roadster (up to 8 miles from your house)! Of course, you could only do this when it’s at least moderately sunny. Also, your car is going to be hot and muggy inside because it sat in the sun all day. Plus, your car would probably cost a million dollars and won’t be available for 50 years or more when just such efficient solar cells are invented (not being a pessimist … just a realist).

But hey … you’d get bragging rights. 😉

“My car is powered by solar. Neener-neener.”

“Oh is that right, Smarty pants?”

“Yeah, powered by solar, you knuckle dragging galoot.”

“Actually I’m more of a car-pounding galoot”. [smack!] “He he he … Now what is it powered by, Smarty pants?”

Yeah, Ouch! High efficiency solar cells are quite fragile. That’s also why you don’t want to put them on the hood of your car. Or on the trunk. Or … maybe anywhere on your car.

So what about the solar car challenges that schools compete in every year where they race their solar cars over 100 mph and travel like 100’s miles/day? Have you seen those things? They’re marvels of engineering.

They’re also very fragile, designed for one very cramped person with extremely limited visibility, maneuverability (designed to only go straight), no AC, no heat, no lights, and no safety (relatively speaking). Consider this … in 2004 Andrew Frow, (from U-of-Toronto) was driving the winner of the American Solar Challenge Safety Award when he unexpectedly swerved into oncoming traffic and was instantly killed. A tragedy for sure that should never be trivialized. What’s important though is that similar accidents happen at events like this on almost an annual basis (although that was the only one to collide with a car resulting in a death) and the racers and designers are indeed as careful as they can be but these cars are built only to win competitions, not save lives.

No, using the Solar Challenge Cars as justification for Solar powered commuter cars is kind of like jettisoning airplane passengers over destinations because people successfully sky dive. I’m thinking you probably want your car to be 1) comfortable, 2) fit multiple people, 3) have AC, heat, air, 4) windows, 5) good visibility, 6) maneuverability, 7) safety features, 8) survive a crash from any side, 9) have room for groceries, 10) look good, 11) be in your favorite color, and 12) be functional after a basketball bounces off it.

BUT YOU CAN HAVE THAT IN A SOLAR POWERED CAR TODAY! Just get an electric vehicle and charge it’s batteries with solar panels on your house. Go with the Toyota Prius (or hold out for the Chevy Volt if you want to look cool). Better yet, if you live near the Mojave desert in California then forget about solar panels because the electricity in your house is already solar powered.

A MUCH CHEAPER WAY TO DO IT: Yes, in fact, if you put solar panels on your house you can sell the electricity back to the grid at a 2:1 price. So why would you put solar panels on your car anyway? You save twice as much $ putting them on your house.

NEV: Now, admittedly I’ve been a curmudgeon about this issue, and I should at least throw the “pack your own solar” fans a bone. There is a viable “pack your own solar” Car in the form of a “NEV” (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle), but I’d be scared to drive it on any of our streets. Still, if you like electric golf carts and you live in a leisure neighborhood and you don’t like to walk it might be just what you’re looking for: http://www.sunnev.com. It’s cheap too!

They say it does 3 mi/day. The economics works because it’s so light, and it’s light because it’s a glorified golf cart. With increased weight the power requirements will go up porportionally. A comfortable sedan is about 10 times heavier and will additionally have a lot more friction (internal and against the road).

Don’t get me wrong. Solar is great. I personally think it will play a very major part in the future of the world’s energy solution, including mobility. Just not in the way that you probably envisioned it.

In fact, eventually some (may be all) cars will have solar cells embedded in their design but they just won’t really do anything other than keep your battery from going dead, or maybe power a fan that will keep your car cool on the hottest days while it’s parked in the sun (they’ll probably be integrated into your rear window). They already sell after-market window units that do this (you have to slightly unroll your window where the device is located).

In short, sometimes it’s good to remember that when you take the best of all technologies and mix it all together into a single unit, the sum is less than the parts. Solar is one of those things that sometimes acts that way. I’d gladly be proven wrong though by some genius who figures out how to cheaply squeeze a lot more energy out of the sun than our current commercially available solar cells do. Until then, have an extension cord ready, because EV’s will be giving internal combustion engines a run for their money within the next 5-10 years and you’re going to need a lot more juice for them than an affordable solar array will provide.

February 16, 2008

The Homeland Production Agency: An idea who’s time has come.

Filed under: economics,Technology — lullabyman @ 9:11 pm

We should be getting a nice fat tax rebate this year thanks to the economy being in the toilet. I should be grateful but I can’t help but think that this tax rebate will have little effect on the economy while it balloons both inflation and the deficit. Most of everything we buy today is made overseas so all the rebate will really do is put more money into the pockets of our Asian neighbors. Very little of it will end up staying here in the US of A. What good is it if everyone buys a flatpanel TV where only 20% of that rebate stays in the country (as Walmart’s markup), which remainder Walmart employees will use to buy the foreign-made Nintendo Wii to use with said foreign-made TV.

“…only 20% of that rebate stays in the country (as Walmart’s markup), which remainder Walmart employees will use to buy the foreign-made Nintendo Wii to use with said foreign-made TV

The other problem with the existing rebate (besides the dangerous impact on inflation and the deficit) is the removal from circulation by nervous consumers. With the bleak future constantly thrown in our faces people are likely to conserve as much as possible.

To stimulate the economy you must put money in a system that keeps it in the country and keeps it in circulation. President Bush’s current stimulus package does very little if anything to this effect.

My solution came from an idea I had while visiting www.madeintheusa.com. It has a quote in the side bar which says, “There are 293 million people living in the United States. If each one would shift $20 a month in spending from foreign made products to American made products, that would create 5 million new jobs.”

“There are 293 million people living in the United States. If each one would shift $20 a month in spending from foreign made products to American made products, that would create 5 million new jobs.”

Wow. Adjusting $20/month from one brand to another will create 5 million new jobs – and thats without any “new” spending. Imagine if the whole stimulus plan (roughly $1200/family) could be used for only domestically made products. The economic effect would be enormous. But how do you earmark that money for domestically manufactured products? $150 billion is a lot of money, so the corruption to acquire would be an acceptable risk for many (if not most) companies with foreign products. In short, it would necessitate yet another government entity (booo!) to monitor business and corporate supply claims: the Homeland Production Agency or “HPA”.

But it’s time has come. Being a Republican who has some John Birch leanings I shudder to think of creating another government agency, nevertheless it is an evil necessity. There must be an agency that has as it’s main goal the encouragement of production in our Homeland. Such an agency would work closely with the IRS (which it would eventually replace – so really no additional bureaucracy is being created) to provide tax incentives for companies to incorporate US made parts and pieces. Because of tax incentives, corporate taxes must account for which supplies are imported or domestic, and the HPA must verify those claims. Each product then gets a HPA rating where 0% means it is wholly foreign made and 100% means it’s wholly domestically made, all parts and pieces included. Lastly, the HPA would be responsible for making sure tax rebates go toward domestically made products as much as possible.

“Each product then gets a HPA rating where 0% means it is wholly foreign made and 100% means it’s 100% domestically made – all parts and pieces included.”

This last item seems the trickiest (although it isn’t as I’ll show below). How does the HPA make sure that 100% of your tax rebate goes toward purchasing domestically produced products? Simple (although in practice it will be a task initially costing 100’s of millions): by making the HPA pay for the products directly, and through a system already in place that facilitates the power of internet database processing.

It would involve using a modified version of Paypal as the payment system, and your Social Security number gives you access to an HPA-paypal account to where your tax rebate will be deposited. You may even add to this balance if you wish. Any website can implement the HPA-paypal system – as simply as adding any other payment module (as an ecommerce programmer, let me assure you that this is very easy to do).

“Any website can implement the HPA-paypal system – as simply as adding any other payment module (as an ecommerce programmer, let me assure you that this is very easy to do).

For example, let’s say you get a letter from the IRS that your HPA rebate has arrived, so you log onto amazon.com (or any e-commerce website). Let’s say that you want to buy a leafblower, a trampoline, a Wii, a doodad, and a Schwinn ten-speed. You select “HPA-Paypal” for my payment method and check out. HPA pays 100% for the leafblower and trampoline because they’re both made entirely in the US, but only for half of the Schwinn because of the foreign parts, and nothing for the Wii, made entirely outside the US. HPA won’t pay for the doodad either because the doodad manufacturer didn’t register their product with the HPA and so it isn’t in the HPA database. Note that amazon.com doesn’t need any of this information – it’s all taken care of at check-out by HPA when they pull the info from the HPA database. At checkout you enter a credit card to pay for the remainder of the balance that the HPA won’t pay (for foreign manufactured products). Piece of cake … for everyone concerned.

“You log onto amazon.com … select HPA-Paypal for my payment method … and enter a credit card to pay for the balance that the HPA won’t pay. Piece of cake.”

Ten years ago funding domestically made products like this would have been impossibly difficult. Today such a system can be put into place within months (at least on a limited basis initially), and become a necessary and powerful tool to be used down the road to address future economic issues. All the pieces are already in place. It could, in fact, provide the framework for a less intrusive, and consumption based tax method as we begin to deal the the problems inherent in today’s income tax methods.  At that time there would be no more need for the IRS, so we’d end up with no greater bureaucracy than we currently have (it would actually shrink because the HPA based consumption tax would be far easier to administer than an income tax system).  It is, in short, a no-brainer.

January 24, 2008

70% Solar Energy by 2050: Scientific American

Probably one of the best layman articles on the subject from a contemporary perspective except for one major problem. Nevertheless it’s worth a good read. Check it out: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan

The problem: Once again it places more emphasis on Solar PV than Solar thermal. It pretends to justify this by throwing around some magical numbers that at this point are pure theory and highly unlikely. Compare that to Solar thermal where the numbers are even better and are proven.

Case in point: It says Cadmium Telluride (nanosolar film) will be able to produce electricity for $0.05/kWh by 2020. This is based on the theory that they can get efficiencies up to 14%. I’m sorry, but I’m quite convinced that in order to do that they’ll have to enable some technologies that will up the price of the manufacturing enough to blow that number out of the water. They think they can improve the efficiency by 40%, based on what? Silicon solar efficiencies have improved maybe 10% in the last 20 years? Sure Cadmium Telluride went from 8% to 9% in the last year, but they’re approaching a ceiling that will get extremely hard to raise. My guess is that it will top out at 12%, which leaves solar PV maxing out at $0.06/kWh assuming all other costs stay the same, which they won’t. Add to that $0.04 /kWh for storage and you get 0.10/kWh, AND YOU HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL 2020 TO SEE THAT RESULT.

Compare that to Ausra’s Solar thermal technology which by 2013 should produce electricity, including storage, at $0.07 /kWh.

HELLO!? Am I the only one running these numbers? Solar Thermal is so superior. Nothing, I repeat: NOTHING should go toward the development of something that will cost more near term and long term than Solar Thermal will.

Two more reasons Solar thermal is better:

TIME TO MARKET: Unlike any kind of Solar PV solar thermal uses no fancy technology. It uses no special materials that require special processing. The materials and the parts and pieces that make solar thermal plants are found all throughout existing industrial parks across America -and at bargain prices. All you need is the money to buy them (tons cheaper than what Solar PV factories cost), and people to build them (requires no special training or science). All these things are in stark contrast to the supply problems that have plagued the Solar PV industry. Solar PV, whether it’s thin film or otherwise, will never be able to scale up at the rate that the Scientific American author suggests. The materials and processing equipment demands are just too great even if the money was there … can’t be done.

LIFETIME: A solar thermal plant lasts almost forever if cared for correctly. Sure parts of the turbine needs replacing as with any turbine including the ones used by SolarPV to reconvert pressurized gas to electricity, but thats about it. No solar cells to replace. The mirrors last forever. The dewar tubes containing the molten salt or H2O (Ausra’s technology) should last a very long time if maintained right. Compare that to SolarPV where the life of the Solar Cells is 20-30 years at the most. Also you’ll have to replace the compressors as well as the turbines parts in the Solar PV plant (incidentally solar thermal needs no compressors – another bonys). Can you imagine that? With a Solar PV plant you’re replacing practically the whole plant every 20-30 years. Not so with Solar Thermal.

In short, media bias favoring Solar PV once again garners unworthy support, thereby siphoning off the funds from Solar Thermal, possibly in order to fatten the wallets of those who invest in Solar PV (Al Gore) or work for the industry. Solar PV, even in Cadmium Telluride thin films will forever be inferior, less efficient, and a more expensive technology than Solar thermal. Articles like this that have some fantastic information and promote the use of the Sun’s rays almost do more bad than good by obfuscating the issue and guaranteeing that our hard earned tax dollars will be taken away from Solar Thermal and reinvested in Solar PV assuming that Solar PV will someday meet the magic numbers that it was supposed to achieve 20-30 years ago, and neither will we solve our energy problems as quickly as we could if all the funds went to something like what Ausra does (www.ausra.com).

December 13, 2007

DOE finally funding CSP

It’s about time. The most promising energy technology and they’ve finally decided to commit some money to it.  Check it out: here

Some of this money is intended to go to linear Frensel-type reflectors like Ausra is doing, which gets my vote for the energy of the future.

November 14, 2007

Solar Thermal Energy: the claims just keep getting better

According to this CNN article released today Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) that harnesses the heat of the sun (not the brightness of the sun, which is what Solar PV does) just keeps looking better. Among the claims:

1) Electricity produced by CSP can be as cheap as 8 cents per kWh. That’s about 20% cheaper than most people are paying in the united states right now for electricity. That’s1/4 the cost of electricity produced by the ever so much more popular Solar PV panels.

2) A 92 x 92 square mile CSP farm placed in the empty barren desert in the SW United States could produce all the energy needed by the whole United States.

3) It could easily solve the desalinated water shortage crisis – which for many countries is a much bigger problem than any kind of oil shortage crisis.

4) Only 0.3% of the Sahara desert is needed to power most of Europe and upper Africa, resulting in a 70% carbon reduction for the region. It will save astonishing amounts of money too as cities must otherwise relocate costing of 100’s billions of dollars, whereas it could all be averted with a CSP plant in the $10 billions of dollar range.

5) Since 90% of the world lives relatively close to desert or to substantial power grids connected to such areas then 90% of the world’s population can be served by this breathtakingly economical and clear resource.

Strangely enough some of the biggest opponents to CSP appear to be a group of environmentalists and key Democrat politicians who seem to be letting expected tax incentives lapse. Based on my last post, you’ll see that this comes as no surprise to me. For 30 years they’ve been trying to keep CSP in the background so industry experts could make money off new alternative energy startups that will never compare with respect to efficiency, cost, and time to market.

These tax incentives for the power companies are vital. Even though CSP may be cheaper than filthy fossil fuels, power companies are making tons of money on fossil fuels. They have the right to jack the prices as high as they need, and at times like now when there is no shortage, but the cost is high due to political concerns, they make all the money. Why? Because they already own such a huge interest in the reserves. The only way to get power companies to build CSP farms is to financially encourage them – and that isn’t happening.

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