hot bath at the onset of solar winter
Monday, November 7 2005
If one were to divide the year into four equal pieces based on the length of the day and the average angle of sunlight, you'd have a "solar summer" bisected by the summer solstice (the beginning of true summer), a "solar fall" bisected by the late September equinox, a "solar winter" bisected by the winter solstice, and a "solar spring" bisected by the late March equinox. Solar winter, then, would begin on or about November 7th and last until about February 14th, and would include the quarter of the year when the days were the shortest and the sun was the lowest. For people trying to collect solar energy, solar winter is the biggest challenge. Today, though, at the onset of solar winter, skies were perfectly clear and I was able to collect enough sunlight to heat the 53 gallons of water in the hot water tank to somewhere between 114 and 107 degrees, which then allowed me to take a bath entirely heated by the sun. Those two measurements, by the way, were of water entering and leaving the tank's hydronic coil respectively.
This evening during dinner our Tivo lacked any of the shows that Gretchen and I like to watch together (such as the Daily Show, South Park, or the Colbert Report), so we watched an episode of Nova (one of my shows) instead. It was a long two hour program giving the backstory of Einstein's famous equation E=mc2. Unusually, though, for cite>Nova, was the addition of a lot of seemingly-unnecessary dramatization depicting the love-lives of various famous physicists. I don't believe I'd ever seen a dramatization of Einstein kissing a girl before, but there it was, a big-budget period production. I know the intent here was to portray these gods of science as complete human beings, yet despite the effort I suspect they were somewhat less complete than most. I've noticed a trend in recent cite>Nova historical pieces to emphasize the role of women in the history of science, and this program was no exception, starting with Emilie du Châtelet and ending with Lisa Meitner.
In the parts that weren't padded with frivolous historical accuracy, the program did provide an unusually solid explanation of Einstein's famous equation (without, unfortunately, ever mentioning the importance of units). Tonight I learned, for example, of the basis in Maxwell's equations for the intellectual leap that Einstein took, one that doesn't seem as dramatic knowing how far Maxwell had taken him.
Meanwhile, Gretchen was learning a lot too. The early part of the show dealt with Faraday's experiments with magnetic fields, which led me to stop the show and explain how electricity serves as a great "currency" for energy exchanges because of the ease with which it can be measured and converted to other forms of energy. In explaining the conversion back and forth between electrical and mechanical energy I became mired in an explanation of how an electric motor works. It's not easy to explain how commutators and brushes work without visual aids, so I went into the laboratory and returned with a simple DC motor that I proceeded to tear apart.
Today Gretchen had a conversation with one of her colleagues at the community college where she has been teaching a remedial English composition course. The colleague complained that he had just busted one of his students for plagiarism. He'd seen something suspiciously well-written in the student's work and so had Googled the phrase and found the original. So then tonight, completely coincidentally, Gretchen read two papers just turned in by one of her students that had clearly been plagiarized. While I was rummaging around in the laboratory trying to find that DC motor, Gretchen did a little Google-based investigation and quickly found the sources of their unedited material. They had both been crudely copied and pasted (grammatical errors and all) from web pages evidently found using Google, because these were easily located again within seconds. The lesson here is an obvious one: if you're going to plagiarize, use an obscure search engine to find your original material and then check to see if the phrases it contains can be found using Google.
My main computer has five or six fans in it keeping hot things from overheating. Recently one of those fans started making an occasionally moaning noise indicating a failing bearing or an accumulation of dirt. Not knowing which fan this was, I performed a series of tests that involved jabbing a wire into the blades of each fan to see if I could stop the sound. Unfortunately, though, when I did this to the fan on my Athlon 64 processor one of the blades snapped off and the fan refused to run from then on. I am able to improvise the broken fan's functionality for the time being, at least while the laboratory remains unheated.
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