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March 17, 2008

Downtown Tornado

Today I was able to see some of the tornado damage for myself. Walking around near the Capitol I could see several building with windows out. The Equitable building had a lot of windows out and covered with something white (drywall?). The Georgia Pacific building had a handful of windows blown out. Some other building had windows out as well, but I don't know their names. A newer building had a patch of stucco torn off the side that looked like it was about 10 feet in diameter. As I rode home on MARTA (I forgot to look out this morning) I went by the cotton mill lofts and saw the corner of that building all fallen in. Also some new apartments going up had the roofing felt torn off, but I don't think the shingles had been put on yet anyway. There were also a number of billboards damaged and as we rode by Oakland Cemetery you could see some big trees blown over there.

Other buildings were fine. The Capitol showed no damage, nor did Grady. A tower crane near Georgia State was still up and all of the buildings at Georgia State seemed fine. The tornado must have skipped over that area because it was directly between the downtown damage and the damage near the lofts and cemetery.

March 5, 2008

Solar Prius

It is getting close to time to replace my 1998 Honda Civic. One of the cars on my short list is the Toyota Prius. There has been a lot of talk about plug-in hybrids which, unlike the current Prius, are not powered by gasoline alone, but are plugged into an electric socket to recharge the batteries and then run on electric power alone for as much as possible.

The current Prius keeps the charge of the batteries somewhere in the middle and never seems to charge them completely nor let them drain down completely. I think that is the most efficient way to keep a charge on the batteries and also avoids complete charging cycles which shorten battery life.

So the problem with a plug-in is that you will need to top off the batteries and probably run them down much further in order to run the car solely on electrical power. This will shorten battery life. Also there is some inefficiency in using coal to produce electricity and then use the electricity to charge a battery and then use the battery to run the car. You lose a little power with each step. Additionally, by using electricity you are just transferring the pollution from the tailpipe to a powerplant somewhere (which would at least help Atlanta's air).

So it occurred to me that instead of a plug-in hybrid, it would be better to put solar cells on top of the car and charge the battery that way. One reason this occurred to me is because my car is parked in the sun all the time, whether that is at home or in the MARTA parking lot.

One guy put a bunch of solar cells on a plate and attached that to the top of his car, ruining the aerodynamic shape of the Prius. Another company has a kit that is about $4,000 that fits the roof better, but adds a lead-acid battery to hold the solar charge. They claim the cost can be offset by tax credits, but only when you combine that with a solar electrical system for your house (which qualifies for the credit by itself). With that logic, you get a credit for buying a Hummer and a system for your house. The extra battery powers the car for a few miles before the car converts back to a regular Prius (so you don't mess up the built-in batteries), but that means you are carrying around a big battery and it adds to the cost. Ideally, the solar cells would charge the car's batteries directly. Yet another company sells two strips that install on the roof, but this $1,600 system (plus labor) increases overall mileage by 10% at best. Someone calculated that it would take 427,000 miles to recoup that investment with gas at $3.

Something else that is a great idea, but nowhere near ready for prime time.

March 4, 2008

RAS Syndrome

When Jeb and I were over at Mom and Dad's this weekend working on their computers, I brought up GNU licenses and Jeb pointed out to Dad that GNU is an acronym that refers to itself (GNU's Not Unix), so really you can substitute any letter you want for the G and it would come out SNU, ONU, or whatever. I knew there was another of these but couldn't think of it this weekend. I did some research and the word I was thinking of is LAME:

"LAME is an open source application used to encode audio into the MP3 file format. The name LAME is a recursive acronym for LAME Ain't an MP3 Encoder, reflecting LAME's early history when it was not actually an encoder, but merely a set of patches against the freely available ISO demonstration source code." -Wikipedia

Nowadays, it seems, LAME *is* an MP3 encoder, but they haven't changed the name. That's irony, right? PHP was another example and there are a number of others. Apparently the whole thing started at MIT in the 70's. The article on Wikipedia for recursive acronym has all of the examples including fictional ones. In Dilbert there was the TTP project which stood for "The TTP Project".

That got me thinking about whether there was a name for redundant letters like in "ATM machine" where the M already stands for "machine". Well, I found out that this phenomenon is called RAS Syndrome (where RAS is Redundant Acronym Syndrome.) I also found a humorless person who has a list of examples and calls his site the Redundant Acronym Phrase Project or RAP Project when, clearly, it should be RAPP Project. PIN number and DC current are the most common examples of other RAS words.

March 3, 2008

Austin Update

This weekend, Jenny from work asked if she could keep Austin. You might remember that the first time she kept him, he broke her nose. Anyway, that never affected how much she adores Austin. Here's an e-mail I got from her today . . .

He has been very deprived as you might suspect. After you left, he had homemade mushroom and cheese pizza with some homemade mac and cheese and chicken. You know he hated that! Yesterday, he had sliced chicken mixed with the yucky hard crap [dog food -ed.] for breakfast and a Bruster's snack after the traumatic experience of seeing other dogs at the park. For dinner he had 3 helpings of roast with potatoes and carrots! Oh and a biscuit and banana pudding for dessert. Today he had roast and chicken with his hard crap and he's been responding well when I say "uhuh" to the huge water intake so he only urped a little yesterday. He really likes vanilla wafers. We've done a fair amount of walking. He's been his usual angelic self, cute as a bug and responding fairly well to excessive petting. He has turned into a little snore bird; must be the company he keeps. He really likes soft covers and robes. At any rate, that's the update.