The Big Think

November 30, 2011

Light Up My Life

Filed under: Disclosure,Maker — jasony @ 7:08 pm

So in an effort to cut our annual electricity bill from 12000kWh to 10000kWh next year, I have successfully installed two LED outdoor security lights, an LED front-of-house candelabra style light fixture, and FOUR interior 40 watt LED bulbs (2 of on sale for $10 and 2 high performance $30(!) bulbs). Payback on all this will be about 15 months, at which time it’s all gravy. The old backyard security lights (100watt bulbs) ran about 15 hours per day at 50% dim. So:

100 watts (2 bulbs at 50%)
15 hours/day
365 days
547,500watt hours/year
at .14 cents/kWh, the backyard lights cost us $76.65/year. Add in the front lights and we’re talking a little over $120/year to run. The new lights cost about $250 so that’s 2 years to pay them back. Still looking for a good LED replacement to go over the front door (preferably dimmable somehow).

We also got front and back storm doors, which will hopefully help in reducing drafts and air leakage. I also fixed a great big (1″ x 3″) hole in our front door frame a few months ago and it’s been a big help- mostly because now we don’t get overrun by rolly-poly bugs every few weeks.

I wish they made candelabra LED bulbs in a real-world 60 watts. I tried the “40 watt equivalent” type yesterday and they were dim and ghastly, so back they went. My office lights are a pair of 40 watt candelabra style that run about 15 hours per day. Total annual cost there is $60 in electricity (438kWh). If I replaced them with 10 watt LED’s I could cut that down to $15 (109kWh).

We’re just trying to grab some of the low-hanging energy fruit around here in an effort to lower the bills. We’ve even looked at a grid-tied solar panel system, but the roof isn’t the best for it (too many pipes jutting from our south-facing surface). The water heater needs to be replaced in the next year or so, so paying for a solar water heater might work, but our current heater is gas and the replacement will be so efficient that even if we added a solar heat backup system, the amortization time would be a couple of decades. If it was an electric heater we’d do it, but gas is still really cheap.

The thing I’d really like to do is replace our super cheap windows with good dual-pane argon filled ones, and then build supplementary interior thermal insulation panels to further increase insulation. But, wow, are new windows expensive. A full-house retrofit would cost about $15,000 and we’re not going to be here nearly long enough to justify that. Even so, standard walls have an insulation value (R-value) of 19. Our super cheap builder-grade windows have an R-value of…. one. Yes, one. So even adding a single layer of thermal insulation via a built-up interior window insert could save us 30% on our heating and cooling bills (according to online claims I’ve seen). That works out to hundreds of dollars per year for something that’s very cheap to build. The cheapest way is a wooden frame with plastic heat-shrink stretched across it. With my woodworking skills I think I could do much better than that- I’m thinking plexiglass laminate inserts with a second layer of plastic stretch material on the inside. This would create a double layer of insulating dead air space. I figure I could do it for about $50 per window. $600 for the whole house with a 2-3 year payback period.

The other obvious thing is to add insulation in the attic, which is probably in the cards sometime. I just wish we could super-insulate the walls, but that ship has sailed.

I would dearly love to take a few years and plan out a completely off-grid, super-insulated and self-sufficient house on paper and then build the thing myself. The thought of being free of all utilities– electric, water, gas, etc— is pretty appealing.

So that’s where we sit now in our energy conservation quest. 12000kWh last year, goal of 10,000kWh next year. A roughly 17% reduction in electrical use and an annual savings of almost $300. I’ll report back in a year and run the numbers to see what happens.

Do It Yourself

Filed under: Business,Maker — jasony @ 6:47 pm

Do It Yourselfa>: “”

(Via .)

November 29, 2011


Filed under: Music — jasony @ 4:35 pm

One of those days where you just sit at the desk for hours until the muse decides to visit. I’ve found the best way to be “creative” is just to keep my butt in the chair until she gives up and comes for a visit. Stubbornness for the win!


Filed under: Business,Education,Maker — jasony @ 9:26 am

November 27, 2011

Where the Jobs Are

Filed under: Business,Education — jasony @ 2:16 pm

A very interesting (and short) post over at Insty about the current job market. It only reinforces my guess that the future belongs to those with “skills”. What used to be (and are still somewhat) looked-down-upon trade skills are actually in very high demand as an entire generation bought into the assumption that the “knowledge economy” wasn’t going to need tradesmen, plumbers, welders, or other hands-on workers. Read the whole thing (and the linked article).

What I found interesting was this:

“I would hire 5 more guys right now if I could. However, it is virtually impossible to find anyone with skills anymore. The number one skill we are missing as a society is a work ethic. I speak to employers all the time and we all are looking for the same potential employee–someone who is honest, hard working, and who has reasonable intelligence. In other words someone who willing and able to learn new things and admit it when they screw up. Notice education is not on the list.”

Education is good, though I’m still on the fence about whether or not everyone needs a full 4 years of college. I’m grateful for my 3 degrees, though I still maintain that I’ve learned more in the 20 years since graduation than I ever learned in school. After all, 8 years of undergrad and post-grad is a lot less than 20 years of post college. If you’re not constantly learning, what have you done with the time since school? Reminds me of several people I’ve talked to who consider it a badge of honor that the last full book they read was in formal schooling. It’s just my opinion, but that seems like a real waste to me. Surely there’s something to be passionate about after formal schooling?

Some of the greatest minds of human history have been attached to autodidactic brains (and yes, I meant to write it that way). I think the #1 thing we could teach isn’t math or science or even logic. It’s curiosity. Teach a generation to be curious about everything and then watch out.

November 26, 2011

Adventures in Thought

Filed under: Humor and Fun,Science — jasony @ 8:29 pm

November 25, 2011


Filed under: Disclosure,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 3:25 pm

NerdKits – learn electronics with our educational microcontroller kit: “”

(Via .)

Great Christmas present idea!

November 24, 2011


Filed under: Education,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 7:20 pm

Happy Thanksgiving

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 8:28 am


November 23, 2011


Filed under: Friends,Technology — jasony @ 12:09 am

A very cool Kickstarter project for internet enabled sensors.

h/t Sean

November 22, 2011

Fraley’s Robot Repair

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 2:05 pm

Fraley’s Robot Repair: A public art installation by Toby Atticus Fraley: “”

(Via .)


Don’t miss the great detail pics here.


Filed under: Education — jasony @ 10:20 am

“I noticed about 1990 that some students in my classes at CSU were both clearly illiterate and yet beneficiaries of lots of federal cash, loans, and university support to ensure their graduation. And when one had to flunk them, an entire apparatus was in place at the university to see that they in fact did not flunk. Just as coaches steered jocks to the right courses, so too counselors did the same with those poorly prepared but on fat federal grants and loans. By the millennium, faculty were conscious that the university was a sort of farm and the students the paying crop that had to be cultivated if it were to make it all the way to harvest and sale — and thus pay for the farmers’ livelihood. How could a Ponzi scheme of such magnitude go on this long? . . . But what cannot go on will not go on — at least for most universities without the billion-dollar plus endowments. The present reckoning is brought on not by introspection, self-critique, or concern for our increasingly poorly educated students, but by money, or rather the lack of it. Higher education is desperately searching for students with cash, loaned or not. And it is, by needs, panicking and will ever so slowly start changing.”


November 21, 2011

Good for Revenue Enhancement

Filed under: Business,Disclosure — jasony @ 5:02 pm

Yeah, you know that invoice you think you sent two months ago? The one that covered all that work you did for us in a big hurry? The one you’ve been eagerly going to the mailbox every day for six weeks waiting for so that you can replenish some of the money you floated us in materials to make that thing you made for us (which we love, by the way)? Yeah… turns out we never got that invoice. Or it got misdirected. Or we just don’t understand it. Or we lost it. But thanks for the six weeks of interest on your money. Go ahead and resubmit it and we’ll put it on the bottom of the pile.

Maybe we can lose it again! Talk to you in another two months!

This would be only slightly distressing if it hadn’t happened to me twice. On two different invoices.


To those of you who envy my self-employed, freewheeling ways: witness the downside. At this point, some of my major clients have proven themselves to actually be less responsible than 20 year old college students.

November 18, 2011

Roller Coaster

Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 10:55 pm

Crouching Tiger and Turtle – The Roller Coaster Walkway ~ Kuriositas: “”

(Via .)

Yes, Please

Filed under: Current Reading,Education — jasony @ 9:49 pm

The 35 Most Amazing Libraries In The World

We’ve been to #18!

November 17, 2011

Just a Bunch of Dead White Guys

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 5:37 pm

“I’d just as soon get rid of the Commerce Clause and have a simple constitutional principle: “The Federal government can do anything a state government can do, and if there’s a conflict the Federal rule wins.” It would shorten legal textbooks considerably. Unfortunately, it’s not what the document at issue says.

Nevertheless, in the course of arguing for the constitutionality of Obamacare’s “individual mandate,” Einer Elhauge pretty much rules out the possibility that limiting the federal government to the regulation of “commerce … among the several states” inhibits the feds from doing anything. To counter the charge that then Washington could make you buy broccoli, Elhauge argues … um, Washington could make you buy broccoli! But don’t worry, there are other limitations . . . Well, OK then! As long as we can just leave it rotting in the fridge. … But it’s a little suspicious–-and surely not a selling point–-that under Elhauge’s argument the only limits on government would be the rights — like “bodily integrity” and privacy — that liberal lawyers have dreamed up but not the limits — i.e. whether or not something is “interstate commerce” – the Founders dreamed up.”


November 14, 2011

Confessions of an Engineering Washout

Filed under: Education — jasony @ 6:23 pm

Engineering professors are perfectly happy weeding out undesirables with absurd boot-camp courses that conceal the inability of said professors to communicate with words. Fewer students will pursue science and engineering majors, and the United States will grow ever more reliant upon foreign brainpower to design its scientific and manufacturing endeavors. I did my part to fight this problem, and for my trouble I got four months of humiliation and a semester’s worth of shabby grades that I had to explain to law schools and employers for years. Thousands of college students will have a similar experience this fall.

So engineering is suffering in this country? It deserves no better.


The View from There

Filed under: Space — jasony @ 2:17 pm

Wow. Watch in HD if you have the iron for it.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

November 13, 2011

Project Done

Filed under: Business,Music — jasony @ 2:18 pm

After 10 months of work on a giant project I’ve just sent off the final song. Last February I was contacted by a major Texas university. They hired me to write 30 songs for their science and teaching curriculum. Over the past 10 months what started as me writing some simple music to already existing lyrics slowly evolved into me writing or rewriting all of the lyrics, writing the music, recording and producing the vocal tracks, and doing final mixing. Today, the final song (and one of my favorites) went out to the client.

It’s been an absolute, unconditional blast to be involved in this project. Not only have I gotten to write music, but it was science based, for pete’s sake. How perfect is that? I got to really utilize the vocal booth I built a few years ago as well as really dig into vocal editing and mixing. Through this whole thing the client has been ecstatic with what I’ve done. They expected rinky-dinky piano and some cheesy Midi instruments but I was able to give them some of my best stuff. I’m extremely proud of it.

I’ll try and get permission to post some excerpts. There are still contractual reasons why I can’t talk publicly about the who/what/where of the project since they’re still in the process of selling the final product. The good news, though, is that it’s virtually guaranteed at this point to be heard by several million K-12 students across the country. What fun!

Thanks to Erin for putting up with me while I went through an entirely unusual period of several months of crazy music writing. She’s had to take care of everything non-musical around here (basically everything from keeping us fed to making sure I actually get up and move around once or twice a day). As of now I’m pretty much back to my normal busy November schedule (which I’ve also kept up with), but I wanted to write a post to mark this milestone. Hooray!

November 10, 2011

Early Adopters

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 8:50 pm

“Being an early adopter isn’t just about being first; it’s about being an active participant in technological progress. Those early purchases help jump-start manufacturing. And ­feedback from early adopters helps engineers get the bugs out before products go mainstream. It’s been that way for radios, TVs, computers and pretty much every other piece of technology. Without early adopters, we’d wait longer—perhaps much longer—for new technologies to arrive.”


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