Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Privacy and the Shotgun Approach to Databases

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About a week ago I got a letter addressed to me, from some distant purveyor of goodness knows what. The odd thing was that my current addy was correct, but it had the addition of Apt 4. This used to be the case when I lived in San Francisco, but out in the foothills of the old west, I am located on a ranch I own, no apartments here at all, just a ranch house.

Today I got a letter addressed to;

Alicia Freeman Lewin
(my rural address)

It was for a high school reunion, at a high school I'd never heard of in Southern California.

Now my ex wife of 32 years (Alicia Freeman), who's charming second husband Ronald Lewin died about six years ago, does exist, but never at this address.

Somewhere along the line some programmer rigged the system to find the faintest sort of connection possible, and then issued a letter. For all I know all her ex byfriends and goodness knows who else got invites as well. I would say that this kind of data mining as gone a bit too far...

Plantronics Solar Photovoltaic Installation

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Hmmmn, this one is hard to publish. Is there some secret code that says I cut and pasted a big chunnk ?

The largest solar power system in Santa Cruz County sits atop the roof of Plantronics Inc., the headset company based in Santa Cruz.

The 262 kilowatt system is four and a half times larger than the previous largest, a 57 kilowatt system installed by West Marine in 2003. Construction finished last week on the massive Plantronics project and the system will start capturing the sun’s rays June 5….

And getting a hold of that many solar, or photovoltaic, panels was not easy, he said. Solar Technologies bought the panels from Schott Solar, a German company with offices in Rockland.”There’s a worldwide shortage of photovoltaic products,” Denault (the designer) said. “It was like a major international intrigue to get all the panels together for this project.”

As big as it is, the system will only provide about 20 percent of Plantronics’ energy needs….

The project cost more than $2 million, but with all the rebates available from the state, the company only had to pay about 25 percent of that, Denault said. And with the money it will save in PG&E bills, Plantronics will pay off the system in about five years, Denault said….

Ron Swenson, owner of ElectroRoof, said “Plantronics was very visionary to do a project like this, and we were glad to provide a solution.”

This article tells us a number of interesting things about the alternative energy market:

1. Even with today’s oil prices, unsubsidized solar would take 20 years to pay off - not yet a rational business move.
2. And this is in sunny Santa Cruz, California - where the economics of solar power should be at their strongest.
3. However, interest is strong enough to make it difficult to obtain enough panels for a large project.
4. Still, today’s adopters are “visionaries.”

We can then extrapolate a few other nuggets:

1. Given that solar power is a silicon technology, it will get cheaper in future iterations.
2. The strong demand is likely to result in new investments, which will increase capacity and also lower prices.
3. Oil prices are likely to continue rising for several years if only because it takes that long to develop alternate technologies.

If oil rises to $100 (42 percent from current levels) and solar power costs are cut in half over the next five years (both of which seem to us to be within the range of reasonable expectations) the payback on solar power systems will be 7 years without subsidies. At least in places like Santa Cruz. And that kind of potential is what keeps venture capital dollars flowing.

I am still working on finding the base numbers to truly understand the economics of solar power, but this analysis is interesting. You non-believers, nuke choir members, have to ask yourselves, "Why are the otherwise intelligent folk at Plantronics wasting their money on this non nuke boondoogle ?"

Now I'm supposed to remember the whole html phrase for inserting a tag, bother! back in a minute....

Tagging for Dummies

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It used to be that simply blogging something got all the words in each blog piece indexed in technorati. A brief experiement seems to indicate that now to ever get listed you have to use "tags."

A long time ago, in 1973 to be exact, I came into contact with this process at ERIC, the Educational Research Information Center, an off-shoot of the moon shot's technology. They indexed all the technical articles for the moon shot and made it possible to search by "key words" (tags). As a proof of benefit of the space program to the earth bound, they applied the same technique to everything in written in the field of education. I used it to generate instant bibliographies for each of my college students at SFSU, crossing their individual area of specialty with technology and education. I have to wait a week for the stack of printouts, which were about 4 inches thick. My students and myself were blown away by the process, now taken for granted as a Google type search.

Back to the future:

this is the current model for do it yourself indexing. It is not clear to me just what to put where, so I shall experiment. For my first experiment, I have replaced tagname with the word "helicopter," dumping the brackets. This will probably fail, but the technorati instruction were not step by step.

Actually, the instructions are there:

"The [tagname] can be anything, but it should be descriptive. Please only use tags that are relevant to the post. You do not need to include the brackets, just the descriptive keyword for your post. Just make sure to include rel="tag"."

This last I read to mean, "Your religion is 'tag'."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Tea Cozy for the Space Shuttle

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Maybe a two part foam cover for the shuttle would increase the safety of the space shuttle launchings.

If you made a heavy outer foam dome, and whisk it away at the last minute via helicopter, you would reduce the weight of the remaining foam, thus lessening the potential for accidents, and you would increase the payload of the shuttle by a few pounds. My understanding a while back was that it cost about 1 million dollars for each usable pound thrown into either earth orbit or landed on the moon, I don't remember which, but in any event it would certainly allow for one more high school science experiment to go into space.

The only design problem would be the two layers sticking together, and I would solve that with a radial array of compressed air tubes that could be expanded with a blast of compressed air, provided by the helicopter.

Dear NASA, sorry to be so late in offering a solution, but you've got 16 more flights to go, so maybe it can be used for them.


Doug Keachie