Thursday, October 30, 2008

Same title as the last post

God, the air was filthy on my run this morning. I've even run through this exact area before and it wasn't nearly as bad the other time. It's not easy to find perfect running routes around where I live if my criteria involve safe neighborhoods and lack of pollution.

I went to a talk on the use of human-powered technology today (human physical power, stuff like hand-powered blenders and bike-powered washing machines). It was at the Chicago Center for Green Technology Training Center (Richard M. Daley, Mayor), which is at an odd location next to a Metra railyard on the west side. Also adjacent to a stretch of the boulevard system, which these days mostly provides confusing and poorly-configured extra lanes on roads that don't need them. Anyway, the most interesting parts of the talk for me were examples of its use in remote areas, and the note that the low power requirements of today's portable electronics make it much more feasible to use manual generators to power gadgets.

I also had an opportunity to display my pretty good instinct for understanding people and my complete incompetence at communicating. One chart in the presentation showed the relationship between power and endurance, how much power a typical person could generate while sustaining for various lengths of time. One questioner was confused that more power was generated over shorter lengths of time. It sounded to me like she wasn't clear on the difference between power and energy. The presenter wasn't helping much, so I chimed in to try to explain, but only convinced the presenter that I didn't know the difference between power and energy.

EDIT: More things I'm remembering from the presentation. Because mechanical energy is pretty cheap in the developed world our development of human-powered devices often lags behind that of motorized ones in convenience, efficiency and ergonomics. But some recent efforts, like the OLPC's "yo-yo" generator, buck the trend. Carousel-powered water pumps whose maintenance is ad-supported. WEIRD. Even where there's no running water, we must get ads to the people. Oh, and a bike-powered washing machine is just silly. The guy that set it up said it's pretty hard to keep up the tempo for the spin cycle. Well, duh! If you're going to wash your clothes with manual power, why do it in a washing machine designed around a very non-human motor? People have washed their clothes manually for ages using techniques more suited to comfortable levels of exertion.

And I met up later with Nisha, from the relay a couple years back, who was in town for a conference. Good to catch up. We wound up talking a lot about politics. Seems to be in the air.

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