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The LED rundown

March 22, 2013 2:16 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Articles | Comments

The life of a light-emitting diode (LED) isn’t as simple as some advertisers may lead you to believe. Manufacturers offer numbers like 100,000 hours as the expected lifetime of high-powered LEDs, but those numbers reflect calculations done using optimum conditions and specification points.

Soldering and other tools

March 22, 2013 9:17 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I don't have a lot to say today. I'm busy on the bench building things. But I have come across a few good tools and soldering helpers, so I thought I'd provide a few links. Harbor Freight has a couple of good items. Yes. I know it is easy to buy junk there, which is why I thought I'd mention these two items.

Green energy pirates

March 15, 2013 9:26 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I got an e-mail from a friend recently railing against what he called (loosely translated by me) "Green Energy Pirates". Let me quote one sentence from his e-mail. "There is a whole slew of companies that move from subsidy to subsidy globally and then abandon 'green projects' when the subsidies dry up."

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Array fracking extracts oil safely and effectively

March 8, 2013 12:27 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

It looks like we may have more available oil than we thought, thanks to a new procedure called array fracking. What does that mean? It means that the oil boys are drilling the oil holes closer together. And since fracking is about horizontal drilling, that means the wells are parallel to each other.

A bug in the drone wars

March 7, 2013 12:52 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

A new element is being added to the drone wars: Micro Drones. You can watch a five-minute video by the Air Force that looks at the development of M.A.V - Micro Killer Drones. Done in the usual dominating voice that the people promoting superior military technology seem to like for their videos.

A drag on windpower

March 1, 2013 5:02 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

ECN recently published an article from Eurekalert! on the limits of large scale wind power. I thought it might be a good idea to go to the source to find out if the posted article reflected the actual paper. The first thing I found without any effort at all (it was in the abstract) is that the Eureka people got the previous maximum-estimated wind source number wrong.

Software patents are evil

February 28, 2013 10:08 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I was planning to write about software patent trolls and was entering "software patents" in my search engine when it offered the suggestion "are evil" to complete the phrase. I'll buy that. So to encourage more traffic here, that is the title of this post. Yes. I have been blogging for quite some time.

Hydrogen fuel cells get a lift

February 27, 2013 9:16 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I was reading one of the logistics magazines I regularly get and found out something amazing. By about 2020, roughly 80 percent of the lift trucks in America will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The fuel cell advantage is constant voltage output and longer continuous run time.

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Finding a needle in the solution

February 19, 2013 9:01 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Back in 1968 when I was just starting out as a very junior engineer, I worked for Chromatronix designing sensors for and building High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) equipment. In those days, "High Pressure" was 500 psi going up to 1,000 psi with research on 3,000 psi equipment well underway.

Is the atmosphere a giant steam engine?

February 7, 2013 11:40 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

As a former Naval Nuke, I was intrigued by a recent paper on climate. It looks at atmospheric circulation in terms of water vapor condensation. A steam engine if you will. The paper claims that winds are driven by the condensation of water vapor, and the resultant variations in local atmospheric pressure that the condensation causes.

Not so very cool

January 31, 2013 10:31 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

A recent press release at ECN, NTU research embraces laser and sparks cool affair, prompted me to go looking for the source of the report, which was an article in Nature Magazine. The article explains a lot of things. One of those things is that the cooler is not the panacea described in the press release.

Speaking of speakers

January 25, 2013 9:14 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

The Consumer Electronic Show (CES) has been in the news at ECN, but boy was I surprised when my home town paper featured a CES story on its front page this past week. The story was mainly about Prescient Audio, a local company that has designed a new type of bass driver that will reduce the volume such drivers take up in cars.

U.S. energy usage and Jevons' paradox

January 18, 2013 11:21 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

ECN recently published a piece slamming Texas for passing a law that "allows Texans to make and sell the old-fashioned inefficient kind of bulbs". The author further states that the goal of the national law Texas is opposing "was to lower U. S. energy usage." It will do no such thing. It will increase electrical usage. We have known this since Economist William Jevons discovered the principle in 1865.

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Are we running out of wind?

January 15, 2013 8:53 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

The first mate gave me a heads-up about about the state of wind energy locally. Gamesa USA is pulling out of a proposed wind farm development in Ogle County, Illinois. saukvalley.com reports....

Delving into superconductors

January 14, 2013 8:29 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Ever since Polywell Fusion caught my attention, superconducting magnets have been a large side interest of mine. I keep track of papers published in the field through IOP Science - Superconductor Science and Technology. They post a list of papers every month which are freely available for personal use for the first month after publication.

What is wrong with programming?

January 2, 2013 8:32 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Poul-Henning Kamp, "one of the primary developers of the FreeBSD operating system", has written a long screed about the current state of programming. He discusses Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and the Bazaar (Eric chimes in with a comment) and has this critique of the Bazaar....

Designing just for fun

December 20, 2012 3:58 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I'm in the process of designing and building a 10 MHz time/frequency receiver to pick up the WWV signal and to see if I can accurately reproduce the signal frequency for general lab calibration purposes. Yes, there are better ways to get accurate frequency calibration.

Exploring the potential of watch crystals

December 14, 2012 9:14 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Watch crystals are amazing devices. Typical 32KHz clock crystals are very stable in frequency if you can keep them close to their turnover temperature. If you can hold the crystal to within 1 degC of the turnover temperature, it is +/-.04 ppm from the frequency at turnover.

UN looks for an Internet "fix"

December 6, 2012 3:45 pm | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Quite a few of the member states (colloquially known as "Dictators 'R Us") of the UN want to change the rules of the game. The Internet Game. They want to be able to shut down Internet traffic at will. And they want to do it legally. Whatever that means in the context of nations. Anyway, here is what they ( the miscreants) are proposing.

“Sustainability” is inherently unsustainable

November 29, 2012 9:50 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

I recently came across a site (no link will be provided for reasons that will be obvious shortly) that proposed that engineers design products for sustainability (how long is that?). They also propose going one better for really advanced products. Those would be products that pose no risk to society.

Long lines on a PCB

November 28, 2012 12:17 pm | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

On a list I belong to (which prefers to remain anonymous), there has been a long discussion on how to terminate lines on a PCB that uses parts with fast rise times. Of course, circumstances vary and it depends on the rise time, but for rise times on the order of one nanosecond (TTL, AHC, LVC, etc), a resistor from 22 to 50 ohms in series with the source seems to work well.

Giving thanks

November 21, 2012 9:12 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

M. Simon, freelance writer extraordinaire, shares some of the things he's thankful for this holiday. "A few of the things I'm thankful for this holiday. In quasi random order": Atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison and his assistant Nikola Tesla....

The future of nanotechnology is now

November 16, 2012 8:57 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

I count several popular science fiction writers as friends. I share a political/whimsey blog with one of them, Sarah Hoyt. I was visiting Sarah's personal blog, and the question of the future of nanotechnology — given the upcoming fiscal cliff — came up in the comments. Sarah was of the opinion that the technology would be delayed indefinitely.

It's about time: Timing and frequency issues in engineering

November 13, 2012 9:30 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

Time and timing have been long term interests of mine. Especially so since I got my start measuring tenths of a nanosecond in 1967. I was looking around the www for information on time and frequency and came across a group of amateurs interested in time standards. One of the favorites of these amateurs is buying surplus rubidium clocks on ebay and bringing them to life.

Companies I enjoy doing business with

November 9, 2012 9:20 am | by M. Simon | Blogs | Comments

My very old Ungar 8800 soldering stand had a cracked ceramic iron holder from decades of use/misuse. So I went looking for Ungar on the www. They are no longer with us. But I found that they are now owned by Weller....

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