Monday, September 21, 2009


This weekend I went to see the documentary, CRUDE, and saw the director, Joe Berlinger, give an Q&A.. See the trailer to get a good idea of the film.

It's about the court case that the natives who live in Amazonian Ecuador have brought against Texaco / Chevron.

One scene struck me. There are many, many health problems that the locals are facing, now that their water has been tainted by oil. One baby was shown that was only 20 days old, and covered in sores. The nurse said that about 15 babies of 20 were born that way! Awful!

It is a fabulous documentary. Highly recommended. Go see it!

Plug In 2009

Plug In 2009

August 11 to 13, I went to the Plug In 2009 conference at the Long Beach Convention Center, south of Los Angeles. Much of the time I was helping out with Plug In America's booth.

Bright Automotive was there. Unfortunatey, they didn't bring their new vehicle with them. :( I really wanted to see it. Next year.

On the public night, was a panel discussion with the hosts:
Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Chris Paine, the director of Who Killed The Electric Car. And Chelsea Sexton, the former GM employee, who was featured prominently in the documentary.

A lot of the heavy hitters in the electric vehicle space were there. The big topic of discussion seemed to be intelligent grids, connecting utilities and electric vehicles. The idea of the smart grid is, charge the electric vehicles at night, when wind energy is strongest. During the day, you drive your car to work, and plug in at work also. Then, when the demand for electricity is strongest, around noon, the power company would draw on the stored energy in the many thousands of car batteries.

The benefits: more use of renewable energy. Smoothing of energy demand on the power plants, since the utility will be drawing peak power from the car batteries, not from burning coal. Fewer power plants need to be built. There still are a number of issues to work out. One being that batteries at this point, are still not designed or warrantied for this kind of use.

I didn't get to see as much, or meet as many people as I would have liked to. The trade show floor closed in the early afternoon the day before the conference ended. I hadn't expected that.

Friday, August 14, 2009


"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
Arthur Schopenhauer
German philosopher (1788 - 1860)

It's amazing how many scientists are ridiculed when they come up with something new. Even so many things we now take for granted. Check out some excerpts from a small compilation here:

Ignaz Semmelweis (surgeons wash hands, puerperal fever )

Semmelweis brought the medical community the idea that they were killing large numbers of new mothers by working with festering wounds in surgery, then immediately assisting with births without even washing hands. Such a truth was far too shameful for a community of experts to accept, so he was ignored. Semmelweis finally ended up in a mental hospital, and his ideas caught fire after he had died.

Chladni (meteorites in 1800)

The scientific community regarded Meteorites in the same way that modern scientists regard UFO abductions and psychic phenomenon: quaint superstitions only believed by peasant folk. All the eyewitness reports were disbelieved. At one point the ridicule became so intense that many museums with meteorites in their geology collections decided to trash those valuable samples. (Sometimes hostile skepticism controls reality, and the strongest evidence is edited to conform to concensus disbeliefs.) Finally in the early 1800's Ernst Chladni actually sat down and inspected the evidence professionally, and found that claimed meteorites were entirely unlike known earth rocks. His study changed some minds. At the same time some large meteor falls were witnessed by scientists, and the majority who insisted that only ignorant peasants ever saw such things were shamed into silence. The tide of disbelief shifted... yet this important event is not taught to science students, and those ignorant of such history repeat such failures over and over, as with the hostile disbelief regarding Ball Lightning.

Stanford R. Ovshinsky (amorphous semiconductor devices)

Physicists "knew" that chips and transistors could only be made from expensive slices of ultra-pure single-crystal semiconductor. Ovshinsky's breakthrough invention of glasslike semiconductors was attacked by physicists and then ignored for more than a decade. (When evidence contradicts consensus belief, inspecting that evidence somehow becomes a waste of time.) Ovshinsky was bankrupt and destitute when finally the Japanese took interest and funded his work. The result: the new science of amorphous semiconductor physics, as well as inexpensive thin-film semiconductor technology (in particular the amorphous solar cell, photocopier components, and writeable CDROMS sold by Sharp Inc.) made millions for Japan rather than for the US.

Check out the rest.

The Wright Brothers

Recently, I reread the story of the Wright Brothers.

What struck me was that, the Wright Brothers were not scientists. They were inventors.

Their background was running a bicycle shop, and they operated on limited funds.

Others working on the issues of flight were wealthy or government-funded: Ader, Maxim, Langley and Santos-Dumont. Samuel Pierpont Langley, the nation's "foremost scientist" had received more than $50,000 in government funds to create his man-carrying Great Langley Aerodrome, which plunged twice into the Potomac River.

The Wright Flyer however, cost less than $1000.00 to build.

The real success of the Wright Flyer was the control mechanisms. Many had experimented with gliders. And so many had crashed because they could not control the machine.

"The brothers' fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became standard and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on unlocking the secrets of control to conquer 'the flying problem', rather than developing more powerful engines as some other experimenters did. Their careful wind tunnel tests produced better aeronautical data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers more effective than any before. Their U.S. patent 821,393 claims the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulates a flying machine's surfaces."

They did a lot of systematic and scientific testing. Not unlike I do in tech.

Most of their development was to build gliders that could fly and be successfully controlled. They cautiously didn't even man them, but flew them like a kite, controlling them by cords from the ground.

"They built a six-foot wind tunnel in their shop and conducted systematic tests on miniature wings from October to December 1901. … The devices allowed the brothers to balance lift against drag and accurately calculate the performance of each wing. They could also see which wings worked well as they looked through the viewing window in the top of the tunnel."

"The Wrights took a huge step forward and made basic wind tunnel tests on 200 wings of many shapes and airfoil curves, followed by detailed tests on 38 of them. The tests, according to biographer Howard, 'were the most crucial and fruitful aeronautical experiments ever conducted in so short a time with so few materials and at so little expense'. An important discovery was the benefit of longer narrower wings: in aeronautical terms, wings with a larger aspect ratio (wingspan divided by chord—the wing's front-to-back dimension). Such shapes offered much better lift-to-drag ratio than the broader wings the brothers had tried so far."

They questioned the constant for the Smeaton coefficient equation that had been around for 100 years. "The Wrights—and Lilienthal—used the equation to calculate the amount of lift that wings of various sizes would produce. Based on measurements of lift and wind during the 1901 glider's kite and free flights, Wilbur believed (correctly, as tests later showed) that the Smeaton number was very close to 0.0033, not the traditionally used 60 percent larger 0.0054, which would exaggerate predicted lift."

Smart! And truly scientific. Look at the data, and make inferences from the data. Not the other way around: attempting to make the data fit a preconceived notion.

I doubt any venture capitalist would fund them today. The Wright Brothers don't fit the "profile": a masters degree and a consistent history of other business and career successes.

Yet, they successfully developed one of the most important and influential inventions of the modern world.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Shift Happens

Shift Happens

This presentation blew my socks off!

It was originally created to help
school administrators think about what curriculum they should be creating for this day and age.

It contains examples of how demographics and exponential functions are affecting the USA and the world in very big ways.

Ie. In 2006, 1.3 million students graduated from college in the USA.

3.1 million graduated in India.

3.3 million graduated in China

India has more honors kids than the USA has kids!

The population of China with the top 25% IQs is bigger than the entire population of North America.

China will soon become the number one English speaking country in the world.

We are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist using technologies that have not been invented in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet.

And stats on how the explosive growth of the internet and information is affecting us all. Google, Ebay, Myspace, Youtube, publishing.

See an earlier version here:

And definitely check it out!

More info here:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jonathan Goodwin and Neil Young's LincVolt

Jonathan Goodwin’s other big project these days is the LincVolt, a modification of Neil Young’s 1959 Lincoln Continental into a plug in hybrid.

On November 2, 2008, Jonathan Goodwin and Neil Young presented the LincVolt at the DreamForce ( conference in San Francisco, and made a big splash.

In the video, Neil talks about his visionary ideas, and Jonathan talks about how he has implemented them in the car. The 500 horsepower electric UQM motor runs on batteries, which can drive the car over 80 miles. When the car runs of battery power, the batteries are charged by a Mazda RX7 rotary engine, fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG). By running the rotary engine on CNG, it is even more efficient than with conventional liquid fuel.

Goodwin says that the energy concept for the car, is very similar to how diesel electric trains are powered. And pointed out that diesel electric trains are some of the most efficient vehicles in the world.

The rotary engine drives a 75 kilowatt generator, which is a LOT of electricity, charging the batteries really fast. You can also plug the car into the house to charge the batteries. However, Jonathan claims that you could also power six houses off the car’s battery! Smart grid, here we come.

The Lincvolt also has multiple sensors in the car from Perrone Robotics that monitors the car. It also sends wireless RSS feeds are sent to the website, which is powered under the covers by There, the general public can see stats such as: MPG, altitude, position, and others. How’s that for web 2.0?

Neil Young has also appeared on Charlie Rose, and David Letterman

One of Neil’s big goals is to eliminate roadside refueling. By using CNG, which is found in the states, we don’t need to import the oil from overseas. These strategies will eliminate much of the distribution cost of the fuel.

Not only that, he’d like to create a car that actually creates its own fuel; onboard refueling. And, not take energy out of the electric grid, but put energy back into the electric grid. If everyone owned a car like this, there would be no more brown outs in the electrical grid. Visionary and ambitious!

One of his thoughts is that just to build a new car requires a certain amount of fuel; about 1000 gallons by his estimate. If he can modify his existing Lincoln, less gasoline is used in the conversion. Not only that, he likes his 1959 Lincoln very much, considering it a work of art.

Jonathan and Neil are now thinking of even better generators for the newer versions of the Lincvolt. So advanced, it’s a little hard to describe. Neil Young says

“We’re putting in a special generator set in it that we are developing in Australia with a scientist and some aeronautics guys that make airplanes that do … long, long, long range airplanes, like a single engine type of prop plane that flew around the world. Both ways, up and down, and around. Very interesting. They use a lot of stuff with heat recovery and everything to make it incredibly efficient. And we use this to … it’s an electric car, so we use this generator for the long range part of it.”

Some other ideas they are considering: using multiple blended fuels at the same time, and displacing part of the fuel with water.

They are looking to win the 10 million dollar X prize, for breaking the 100 MPG barrier. But it’s a labor of love. Because it’s such a big collaboration, it’s not something that any backyard mechanic can do. Partly by using the web, the Lincvolt project is working with companies such as UQM for the electric motor, Uli Kruger and Roger Davies in Australia, robotics expert Paul Perrone,, Sun Microsystems, among others. And, via the Lincvolt website, enthusiasts around the globe send in their ideas.

How is that for collaboration?

Check it out:

Motorhead Messiah - Jonathan Goodwin

It’s hard to summarize all the things that Jonathan Goodwin has been doing with cars, but it’s all really very exciting. And when I say very exciting, I really mean VERY exciting.

He has been converting many large vehicles to be both fuel efficient, and more powerful, at the same time! No trade offs here. Kind of like, twice as fast, with half the work.

His website says that he routinely modifies large “Hummers from gasoline, 325 hp, and 8-12 mpg to eco-friendly biodiesel 650+ horsepower and around 25 miles per gallon.”

One project has been to modify a '65 Chevy Impala, and when the conversion was done, he'd doubled its mileage to 25 mpg and increased its pull from 250 to 800 horsepower.

It was so powerful it actually beat a Lamborghini on the racetrack. Who would have ever thought???

When not modifying Impalas and Hummers into powerful fuel efficient diesels, he is experimenting with a lot of new ideas: converting large vehicles into plug in electric hybrids, lithium ion batteries, compressed natural gas, hydrogen, and turbine engines!

One project is to turn a Hummer into an electric hybrid. But instead of using a diesel engine to charge the batteries, it will use a turbine engine, that you might otherwise find in a military helicopter. “Whenever the truck's juice runs low, the turbine will roar into action for a few seconds, powering a generator with such gusto that it'll recharge a set of "supercapacitor" batteries in seconds.” He estimates that the truck’s horsepower from 300 to 600. Cool!

As far out as all this sounds, Goodwin says that he uses mostly off the shelf parts from GM. And that "Detroit could do all this stuff overnight if it wanted to."

"I can go next door to Ace Hardware and buy a DC electric motor, go out to my four-wheel-drive truck, remove the transmission and engine, bolt the electric motor onto the back of the transfer case, put a series of lead-acid batteries up to 240 volts in the back of the bed, and we're good to go. I guarantee you I could drive all around town and do whatever I need, go home at night, and hook up a couple of battery chargers, plug one into an outlet, and be good to go the next day.

Jonathan’s other big project is the Lincvolt, which is intriguing enough to have it’s own entry.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009


PESWIKI is a cool website highlighting many alternative energy technologies.

See their list of
Top 100 energy technologies here:

Many are really unknown, but very cool, such as the Tiny Yet Mighty engine

"The MYT (Massive Yet Tiny) Engine by inventor Raphial Morgado, is an internal combustion engine of new design the features multiple firings in one cycle, producing enormous torque in a small area.

With 40 times higher power to weight ratio, low parts count, low maintenance, high mechanical efficiency, and low pollution, the MYT™ Engine will benefit airplane, big ship, 18 wheeler, SUV, passenger car, even down to carry on power generator applications. The MYT™ Engine as a pump/compressor also exceeds existing pumps/compressors in providing massive pressure, volume, and flow, all in one unit.

The first prototype model exerts 850 cubic inches of displacement even though the size is only 14" diameter by 14" long, weighing 150 lbs, compared to 3000 lbs for a comparable engine of conventional size capable of that much power output."

Check them out!

My Model Stirling Engine

Check out the model stirling engine I bought from Kontax.

On a single cup of hot water, the flywheel turned for almost 3 hours! And on a single cup of ICE water, it turned in the opposite direction, for over 2 hours! Cool!

See what I wrote about Stirling Engines here:

(Hmm. Is this writing, or reading?)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

If you have have already seen all the documentaries I've noted, here is a great site where you can watch more documentaries for free!