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scientific developments, inventions, design, sci fi


Posting’s been thin today because of the building – making progress.

One of the things I had to do was finalize the rig dimensions, particularly the sails and it came down to two choices – a junk rig and a traditional square sail and jib affair.

Advantage of the junk is that with those heavy slats, yards and boom, plus the thick mast, there really is almost complete control but the downside is very flat drive in the sails.

Advantage of the traditional is that the area is broken up into smaller chunks, more handlable by someone older and allowing a large number of combinations. With 9 sails, 3 to each mast, would I be wrong in saying the combinations are 9! ? Downside is more work to raise and lower but it’s also an upside as sails can be tucked away in a storm.

So it’s swings and roundabouts and I was dithering, to be honest.…

Birds versus climate change

Something new for the lefties:

Federal investigators in California have requested that BrightSource — owner of thermal solar plants — halt the construction of more (and bigger) plants until their impact on wildlife has been further investigated.

“Unlike many other solar plants, the Ivanpah plant does not generate energy using photovoltaic solar panels. Instead, it has more than 300,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door. Together, they cover 1,416 hectares. Each mirror collects and reflects solar rays, focusing and concentrating solar energy from their entire surfaces upward onto three boiler towers, each looming up to 40 stories high.

The solar energy heats the water inside the towers to produce steam, which turns turbines that generate enough electricity for 140,000 homes.”

The concentrated solar energy chars and incinerates the feathers of passing birds. BrightSource estimates about a thousand bird die this way every year, but an environmental group claims the real number is much higher.

Model aircraft carrier

This is a tribute to James. For so long now we have been following all the details he has given about his boat-build.

He is not alone in the endeavour despite working alone. Others have been working for quite a while too.

Some years back some boat modellers built a model aircraft carrier and made a pretty poor stab at launching a model plane from it. The utter fiasco that eventuated resulted not in dismay but in the very best Higham spirit. They built a bigger and better one so that they could launch a plane that could be flown off and land back on the carrier again.

They are not far off the day.

It remains to be seen who finishes first.

The four videos  below are mercifully short and well edited. They bring us up to date.

More info on the father-son effort at:

[I inserted Amfortas's link here - JH]

The Knight & Drummer Tavern


Self-steering vanes can be hugely expensive and as with every other bit of equipment on board, there are a set of simple questions to apply:

1. If it’s so expensive, is it also complicated? Complication means one more thing to go wrong at sea;

2. Is it delicate, exposed and easily broken;

3. Is it a thief magnet;

4. Is there a far cheaper and 70% to 80% as effective alternative?

With electronic self-steering, as the chap says in the vid above – yes, there very much is an alternative which has been proven to work in most conditions. It just takes manual setting up and adjustment from time to time.

While the electronic version does the job well until something breaks, there are downsides, in line with the general 4 point principles above:

1. It relies entirely on the electrical system not wavering or failing and chews juice up like it’s going out of fashion;


Haiku on Friday


Vital breakthroughs?

1.  Translucent solar panels?

The Spartan scientists have developed a transparent, colorless method for collecting the sun’s rays and converting them to electricity, claiming that the tech’s applications could be used pretty much wherever clear materials are needed. The system relies on a coating of organic molecules that soak up ultraviolet and near-infrared rays. From there, the rays are pushed to photovoltaic solar cells at the edge of the surface where they’re converted into electricity.

2. Discarded car batteries the new low-cost solar cells?

Thankfully, a team of MIT researchers has discovered one way to recycle lead from car batteries, and the end product is something very, very useful: long-lasting solar cells. We’re talking about a new breed of solar cells in particular, one that uses a compound called perovskite, which needs lead to be manufactured.

3. And in a shift in the battle of who’s the more conceited – The NFL Is Asking Artists To Pay to Perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show.…

Interview with Obama’s facilitator

He’s the one:

President Obama owes Mikey Dickerson two debts of gratitude. Mr. Dickerson was a crucial member of the team that, in just six weeks, fixed the website when the two-year, $400 million health insurance project failed almost as soon as it opened to the public in October.

Mr. Dickerson, 35, also oversaw the computers and wrote software for Mr. Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, including crucial last-minute programs to figure out ad placement and plan “get out the vote” campaigns in critical areas. It was a good fit for him; since 2006, Mr. Dickerson had worked for Google on its computer systems, which have grown rapidly and are now among the world’s largest.

But last week Mr. Obama lured Mr. Dickerson away from Google. His new job at the White House will be to identify and fix other troubled government computer systems and websites. The engineer says he wants to change how citizens interact with the government as well as prevent catastrophes.

A snapshot of time at McDonnell

Don’t know about you but I can look at old pics like this for up to ten minutes, just drinking in the time. Thank goodness so many of them are being published of late:


While you’re taking in the machinery, I’m looking at the man lower left and wondering where his family is that day, what events happen in his life, what he listens to later when he gets home and so on.…