Auto-Cybernetic Appliances

A Vulcan Stove Fan
A Vulcan Stove Fan

Around here wood burning stoves are very popular, and in the places where they are sold you usually find some variant of a device which uses a Stirling engine to power a fan. A Stirling engine uses heat differential as its power source, so if you sit it on a surface that is appreciably warmer than the surrounding air, (Such as the top of a stove) it begins to run. They are very appealing to a certain type of person (Me) for their self-sufficient elegance.

These engines set me to thinking that if you had an engine of sufficient efficiency, a thermo-electric cell akin to the solar power photo-electric cells but which generated electricity from heat rather than light, you could have air conditioning which was self powered, moving the air in the room whilst robbing it of some of its heat. This could, if it could be made cheap enough, not only bring a little comfort to millions of people who haven’t got, or can’t afford to use, an electricity supply. It could also have the significant beneficial effect of reducing the use of traditional air conditioning which uses enormous amounts of power and really only transfers heat from the inside of a building / vehicle to the outside rather than converting the heat into another form of energy.

So far so Sci-Fi, but reading this :- makes me think it may be nearer then we would at first expect. Of course an LED is not a motor, (And it needs an external power supply to engender the effect) but there are other ways than motors and fans to move air (The Dyson Air Multiplier for one) so maybe it can be made to happen.

I can’t, off the top of my head, think of any other solution to a problem that would use the problem itself as its source of power so elegantly. A virtuous circle indeed and pure poetry.


In the same way as people of my age write things down so that they will remember them, people of all ages now have a tool to write things down so that they can forget them. I refer, of course, to those brain purge events called Tweets. I use Twitter on my iPhone to follow a few people I like to read, but I could never post anything. I don’t really know why, just that, at my age,  it would make me feel that I belonged in the same category as teachers who wear jeans or vicars with guitars who want you to call them Dave.

This leaves me with only this blog as outlet for all the accumulated stuff, what programmers call cruft, cluttering up my head. The Twilight Home for the Bewildered that is Hay-on-Wye is a rich source of such clutter, and as I am going to bed, I am going to unburden myself of some. Feel free to ignore it, this is my therapy not yours.

Why do people who presumably dress quite normally to go for a stroll at home, dress as alpine climbers to walk the pavements in rural areas?

I strongly dislike people who wear backpacks in shops.

I am not too keen on them out of shops either.

Why do people on pedestrian crossings, seeing you waiting in your car, lean forward and go into a sort of trotting movement without actually speeding up?

Why do people using mobile phones go into a sort of trance and walk straight into roads without looking ? (Two last week)

How do people who pull out of junctions without looking (“But Officer, I always pull out of here at 10:30”) get to live to such a ripe old age?

Why is it wrong for someone who runs a global business employing many thousands of people to be paid as much as a badly behaved academic under-achiever who kicks an inflated pig’s bladder around for an hour and a half, once a week, for half the year?

Why do grown men buy replica sporting kit ? The only people entitled to wear it get it for free.

Better now, g’night.

The University of Life

Laurel & Hardy in A Chump at Oxford
Laurel & Hardy in A Chump at Oxford

I have just finished an upgrade to the Almanac app, completely re-writing some bits and adding some new ones, and it went through the approval process and into the App store today. I have been somewhat delayed in working on development as I was going through the Stanford University IOS development course on iTunes U. I had already been through the Fall 2010 course but the Fall 2011 one was completely updated with respect to the development environment, IOS and iCloud. Both have been excellent.

Being self taught in a technical discipline is often a bit like crossing a familiar room at night with the lights off, just when confidence builds, you bark your shin on something unexpected. Scientists are yet to develop terms which could describe the enormity of my ignorance on most subjects, but in this area I have just enough competence to get by, or to find out what I need.

So it is wondrous, now and again, to get a flash of insight like when your physics teacher pointed out that a refrigerator with the door left open would heat rather than cool the room. I’ve had a few of these in following the lectures and after each one was left with the feeling that things were standing on firmer footings. This is all very welcome at my time of life, to get past learning the trick of things to learning the nature of things.

The US is often represented in the UK media as a land of rapacious capitalists where those who cannot pay are left by the wayside. I recommend those who think that way to look at the riches that NASA has gifted to the world, and the way that a tremendously successful and profitable company has teamed up with some of the best universities on the planet to give US citizens and foreigners like me access to substantial parts of their lectures and course materials for free. Not because they know either me or any of the other thousands of users, or because they think we deserve it, but because they think it’s a good thing to share.