Saturday, January 17, 2009

Earth Hour - I just don't get it

I'm loathe to say - it's that time of year again.  I think the popularisation of Science is a great objective, there should be more done and more often.  For a few years now there has been an event called 'Earth Hour'.  If you don't know of it, what essentially happens is that people are asked to turn off lights for an hour.  The event itself originated in Sydney, Australia.  The event became national and then international and I think in concept it is a good idea.  However the organisation that runs it wasn't the first.  A bit of research would uncover I think Sydney Observatory attempting with some success to get Sydney City buildings to turn out their illumination and then in latter years some amateur functions managing the same.

In essence though 'Earth Hour' is simply a Green marketing event, a feel good exorcism of Green and energy wasting demons.  Like the concept of World Peace the participants cry 'If only it could be every day - then the world would be a better place'.  Soon a lot of energy will be wasted promoting this event and the event itself will cause much wastage of energy as people are encouraged to go out and organise events for 'Earth Hour'.  I can only think that the act of turning off lights is a visible signal that something is happening or maybe it's just the imprint that a neurotic Grandmother or Grandfather has had or some poor kid - who now inflicts the neurosis on us.  Then nothing more is heard for another year - and someone in the meantime is getting fat.  All that is achieved is a glowing, energy wasting example of viral marketing.

The outcome of Earth Hour is that people feel OK over wasting energy.  I think this year they've managed to run it outside daylight saving and twilight.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Quest for Power

Over the last twelve months my astronomy has been more of a course in electronics - something that in my university days I saw as nuisance and relevant only to the propeller heads in Elec. Eng. Add to that total and complete colour blindness and I'm sure you'll agree it was probably fairly pointless putting a bunch of resistors and capacitors in front of me. I was and am, much happier at a larger component level.

In the quest for significant amateur astronomy the old telescope was disposed of for a you beaut computer controlled model - a Celestron CPC8. All sorts of back-end gear was added - a filter wheel, temperature compensated focuser, field rotator (just to complicate it). Of course everything is powered and it all can be computer controlled. So everything needs power. All the electronic components use DC power and one objective was to be portable. After a few shake-down runs success looked achievable - soon however some gremlins started to show. The heavy duty marine GEL battery still capable of powering an electric outboard on a small boat - couldn't cope with the draw of most of the gear - OUCH1

So the solution is to use a Laboratory Power Supply, at least when within range of a residential power supply. Still this meant acquiring or building a distribution box for the 12V supply. This was completed with a lot of burnt fingers, cursing and trepidation. All this was fine for 12V requirements, and of course there is the few components that require odd voltages and need a step down DC-DC transformer - simple to say , however fraught with difficulties. The most significant issue is that the excess power needs to be shed and disposed of, and this is done by converting it to heat - well this is simply the outcome. The bigger the voltage drop the more heat. The problem this creates is that the electronics to handle the DC shift are compact, the cooling heat sink fins can be large. Correspondingly the housing box goes from small to large. Anyway the bottom line is a complete redesign but I should achieve a reduction in long cables thus removing another risk factor of something that trip up the scope in the middle of a run.

So I'm still out of action and almost back to step 1 but about to make a come back.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Reality of Light Pollution revealed.

Here’s a quick blog, some of the detail may be lost to the fog of my mind but the conclusion is important. I’ll try to work on developing this over the next few days – before work catches up with me.

The great advantage of a few days (okay a couple of weeks ) off work – it is finally possible to catch up with unfinished projects and start a few more that can stay unfinished until – Easter I guess! It is also a chance to gather a few thoughts together. My compatriots in SOLIS (Sydney Outdoor Lighting Society) have been busy collecting and collating bits if information on the scourge of ‘Light Pollution’ . Still however, the idea that loose and extraneous photons could be a form of pollution is probably a long way off understood. When SOLIS was first formed in 1988 (that long ago) we took the fight upto City Hall (Sydney City Council). Often the response to SOLIS was one of ‘incredulity’, from the people who understood the issue especially the street lighting distributors - they tried to blind us with ‘engineering logic’ which doesn’t stack up to real science. When The City of Sydney was in full swing for 2000 Olympics many building projects had lighting components. By this time lighting was required to shown as a separate Development Application – SOLIS would like to think that this was our achievement.

It is an interesting parallel to identify extraneous lighting as pollution. Often these parallels are drawn to the CFC issues and the hole in the Ozone layer of the 70s & 80s, as well as current parallels to wastage of energy such as inefficient light bulbs. Everyone thinks the problem is about light that goes up into the atmosphere maybe even on a voyage into Outer Space. The problem is really about light coming back into us, the light is returning from out there! And that’s the rub – light travels in straight lines, when the noise level that is the random signal swamps the real object signal – the object is lost to our sight. Think about it.