26 Sep 2003 Bram   » (Master)


Orsot Scott Card says:

Twenty years after the author's death or the author's hundredth birthday, whichever comes last -- that's a workable standard to provide for the author and his or her immediate heirs.

Among the many obvious things wrong with this statement is a more subtle and alarming one. He's making the implicit assumption that money must come dribble in over time, as if it's impossible to save and invest. There is a very deep-seated belief in the consumer culture of the united states that any money one has must of necessity be pissed away, and the only way for old people to survive is to receive a pension which they can't borrow against when they're younger.

Those of you who understand savings may have trouble beliving anyone actually believes that. Let me assure you, most people do. The next time someone makes a statement which implies that savings is impossible call them on it. You'd expect them to say that obviously you misunderstood them, but more than likely they'll actually arague with you.

Solar Energy

Solar panels are expensive. I've come up with an idea for how to change solar energy into electricity which at least sounds cheap. There's probably something completely impractical about this scheme, but I'd like to hear what the practical difficulties might be from someone who knows more about mechanical engineering than I do.

There is a big tray of water with an airtight enclosure around it. During the day, sunlight heats the water inside. Air is pumped out of the enclosure until the water inside boils because of the low pressure. The resulting steam is sent through a pipe where it turns a turbine which is used to generate electricity, then through pipes in a water tank which is kept in shadow beneath a mirror to cool off. When the vapor condenses back into water it's funneled back into the tray. At night, the heat shielding on the coolling water tank is taken off so it can cool off again for the next day.

It's a big mostly passive device which generates electricity as long as the sun keeps running. It sounds cheap and efficient, but I don't know anything about the difficulties of making a vacuum chamber that big, pumping out that much air, or keeping the water from boiling directly back into the coolling tank. I suppose the boiling back could be fixed by making the process two stage; First the water boils off and is changed back into water in the coolling tank, then the coolled water is let back into the tray en masse to be heated again.

Update: Of course I realize right after posting that that you could set up a bunch of mirrors to make a really big solar oven so the water boils at normal atmospheric pressure rather than having to play pressure games to get it to boil.

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