Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How does solar power work?

The sun—that power plant in the sky—bathes Earth in ample energy to fulfill all the world's power needs many times over. It doesn't give off carbon dioxide emissions. It won't run out. And it's free.

So how on Earth can people turn this bounty of sunbeams into useful electricity?

The sun's light (and all light) contains energy. Usually, when light hits an object the energy turns into heat, like the warmth you feel while sitting in the sun. But when light hits certain materials the energy turns into an electrical current instead, which we can then harness for power.

Old-school solar technology uses large crystals made out of silicon, which produces an electrical current when struck by light. Silicon can do this because the electrons in the crystal get up and move when exposed to light instead of just jiggling in place to make heat. The silicon turns a good portion of light energy into electricity, but it is expensive because big crystals are hard to grow.

Newer materials use smaller, cheaper crystals, such as copper-indium-gallium-selenide, that can be shaped into flexible films. This "thin-film" solar technology, however, is not as good as silicon at turning light into electricity.

Right now, solar energy only accounts for a tiny portion of the U.S.'s total electricity generation, because it is more expensive than alternatives like cheap but highly polluting coal. Solar power is about five times as expensive as what people pay for the current that comes out of the outlets.

In order to have a hope of replacing fossil fuels, scientists need to develop materials that can be easily mass-produced and convert enough sunlight to electricity to be worth the investment.

We asked Paul Alivisatos, deputy laboratory director at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and a leader of their Helios solar energy research project, to explain how people capture energy from sunlight and how we can do it better.

What is a solar cell?

A solar cell ( for example: GOAL ZERO NOMAD 7 PLUS )is a device people can make that takes the energy of sunlight and converts it into electricity.

How does a solar cell turn sunlight into electricity?
In a crystal, the bonds [between silicon atoms] are made of electrons that are shared between all of the atoms of the crystal. The light gets absorbed, and one of the electrons that's in one of the bonds gets excited up to a higher energy level and can move around more freely than when it was bound. That electron can then move around the crystal freely, and we can get a current.

Imagine that you have a ledge, like a shelf on the wall, and you take a ball and you throw it up on that ledge. That's like promoting an electron to a higher energy level, and it can't fall down. A photon [packet of light energy] comes in, and it bumps up the electron onto the ledge [representing the higher energy level] and it stays there until we can come and collect the energy [by using the electricity].

What's the biggest difference between how a plant captures light energy and how we do it with solar cells?
We wish we could do what plants do because plants absorb the light, and [they use] that electron to change a chemical bond inside the plant to actually make fuel.

Could you do artificial photosynthesis and emulate a plant?
We would love to be able to make a solar cell that instead of making electricity makes fuel. That would be a very big advance. It's a very active topic right now among researchers, but it's hard to predict when we will be able to use it.

One of the reasons we like to plant trees is because they take the CO2 out of the air. If we could do that [with a solar cell], then we could actually deal with global warming problems even more directly because we'd be pulling the CO2 out of the air to make our fuel.

How good are current solar cells at capturing light energy?
So we can talk about the power efficiency. The power efficiency of a typical crystalline silicon cell is in the 22 to 23 percent [range, meaning they convert as much as 23 percent of the light striking them into electricity]. The ones that you typically might be able to afford to put on your rooftop are lower than that, somewhere between 15 and 18 percent. The most efficient, like the ones that go on satellites, might have power efficiencies approaching 50 percent.

The power efficiency is one measure, but the other thing that we're very concerned about is the cost of making them and the scale of production.

In my opinion, the silicon technology doesn't scale [up] too well [because it's expensive to make]. We need to invent some new technology, [which] may not be as efficient, but you need to be able to make millions of acres of stuff if you want to get a lot of energy. People are trying to use new materials like plastics and nanoparticles.

The total solar production in 2004 was around one thousandth of the total power consumption of the U.S. It's just not enough. Something's gotta change. We're not there yet. There's a lot of discoveries still to be made.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Girard Watches Of Michael Phelps, The Most Successful Olympian. Ever

Big events are a great time to do some watch spotting.

I’m one of those people inclined to look at wrists parading by, whether it’s on the street, in a cafĂ©, or on television. Nothing is more fun to me than people/wrist watching. I love to see what various people choose to wear on their wrists, even if I can’t always ask them why they chose what they did.

I am also a sports fan and I’ve been keeping an eye on the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. And with the media and the state of sponsorships the way they are, I find such events to be a great opportunity to check out wrists.

I have already found four Richard Mille watches on four different athletes in Rio – one of whose belongs to gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk – which you can see in Richard Mille On 4 Athletes’ Wrists At The 2016 Rio Olympics.

Other watches that caught my eye include Usain Bolt’s very gold Hublot Big Bang Unico Usain Bolt – I particularly like the gold-colored strap on this one! – and Michael Phelps’ latest deep-water treasure: the Girard Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M Master Chronometer Chronograph. See a few more in Watch Spotting: 4 Wristwatches Worn By 4 Gold Medalists At The 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

In addition, he is a Girard vintage watch ambassador and has been since 2004, a longstanding partnership.

In an interview with an Girard spokesperson in August 2016, Phelps was asked, “In all of your Olympic Games, how important has Girard timekeeping been in your results?”

The six-foot-four swimmer’s answer, though expected, still seemed heartfelt to me. “I’ve had the privilege to work with some amazing companies in my life, [but] working with Girard I honestly can say is the best. We’ve spent the longest time together and they feel like a family to me. Being able to have the best timing system in the world at our events, every single year . . . we know the times are great. We know the times are perfect. There’s nobody else I’d rather be with.”

While Phelps has been seen wearing the stainless steel Girard Seamaster Planet Ocean 600 M co-axial chronograph during the Games, in another interview he mentioned that he also is very fond of the Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon Black Black.

But it was the watch he wore to an Girard event called “Swimming Legends” that took place on August 15, 2016 at the Girard House in Rio de Janeiro that particularly caught my eye: the Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M Master Chronometer Chronograph.

But even more than its interesting mechanics, I have to admit that I just really like the looks of this new version of the Planet Ocean, which is water-resistant to 600 meters. I enjoy the blue color scheme and the Sedna gold elements that go so unexpectedly well with the tool watch look.

Sedna gold is an alloy proprietary to Girard that contains gold, copper, and palladium; it is 75 percent pure, though, making it an 18-karat gold alloy.

This watch’s helium escape valve and the fact that it can withstand a depth of 600 meters makes it a true diving instrument. However, the stunning contrast of the 18-karat red Ceragold diving scale against the perfectly polished blue ceramic background of the bezel perched upon the two-tone case is pure luxury.

Though it is doubtful that this technologically advanced wrist instrument will ever see real diving time — though I have no doubt it will visit the odd pool over the course of its lifetime — Girard certainly puts its money where its mouth is: the Seamaster Planet Ocean line boasts a full four years’ worth of guarantee.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How to Grow Your Audience on Snapchat, According to Data From 217,000 Snaps

Most of us have learned by now that we should be using Snapchat. We know it’s popular among teens and millennials. We know visual, ephemeral content performs well.

What we may not be as clear on is how to grow our audience on Snapchat -- and how to keep them engaged.

It’s a challenge to grow a new social media audience from scratch -- and to do it well. And unlike Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, discoverability is a challenge on Snapchat. There’s no news feed where Snapchat users can share cool content with their friends. There’s no trending tab to see what other users are Snapping about. So how do you grow your audience?

Snaplytics provides account management and analytics for brands using Snapchat, and it recently produced a report on how different organizations are using Snapchat. The report reveals insights about how brands are growing Snapchat followings and how exactly marketers are posting content on the platform. Let’s dive into how to ramp up your business Snapchat approach with help from data from Snaplytics.
How to Achieve Snapchat Audience Growth

In this report, Snaplytics analyzed over 500 brands, more than 24,000 Snapchat Stories, and 217,000 total snaps to determine how brands use Snapchat and what levels of engagement were achieved.
Building Followers

The bad news? There’s no quick and easy solution to gaining more followers on Snapchat. The good news? It is possible.

Among the brands it analyzed, Snaplytics learned that 64% of Snapchat followers found the brand on Snapchat by searching for its username. This large percentage is the result of brands cross-promoting Snapchat accounts across other social media channels. Awareness and discovery of brand Snapchat channels happen primarily on other social channels and content assets, such as blog posts and videos.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Good Bots vs. Bad Bots: How to Tell the Difference

Navigating the web these days can make a person feel like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

There’s so much to be seen here that -- until somewhat recently -- was fairly unheard of. And we don’t know what’s good or bad. It’s as if we’re constantly coming across a new cast of characters and are forced to ask, “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?”
Replace the word "witch" with "bot," and you might be summing up the modern digital landscape. There's a lot of talk about AI, but it can be confusing. Is it helpful, or harmful? Is it going to make us better at our jobs, or take them away from us? And these bots of which we're constantly speaking -- which are good, and which are bad?  New Call-to-action
As it turns out, there are ways of distinguishing them. It requires a bit of a discerning eye, but you certainly don't need to be an expert -- you just need the right information. So, without further ado, allow us to present our tips for distinguishing good bots from bad bots.

These bots search the web for content that’s potentially been plagiarized. Think: Illegal uploads, copying someone else’s work without proper attribution, or other improper use of proprietary content. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, these bots are commonly used within the realm of social media, especially where original content creation is a major part of the platform’s use. One prime example is YouTube’s Content ID, which is assigned to copyright owners on the network.

Data Bots

According to eZanga, data bots are those that provide up-to-the-minute information on things like news, weather, and currency rates. With that criteria, tools like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Siri could be classified as data bots -- especially since eZanga also calls these “media” bots. However, one technology developer, Botler, classifies one of its products as a data bot -- “a new way to quickly store and access info that is important.” Its primary use, it appears, is for the academic sector, as it allows course information to be easily shared between students and faculty.

Think about what a spider does -- it crawls. Search engines do the same thing, by crawling the web’s content to produce query results, and using spider bots to do so. Google, for example, has its very own Googlebot, which uses the constantly-evolving Google algorithm to determine which sites to crawl.

These days, spider bots aren’t limited to search engines. The Siemens Robotics Lab, for example, has developed spider-shaped robots that combine the ability to autonomously perform physical tasks with information-crawling capabilities. How does that work, exactly? Siemens Research Scientist Hasan Sinan Bank explains:

The robots use onboard cameras as well as a laser scanner to interpret their immediate environment. Knowing the range of its 3D-printer arm, each robot autonomously works out which part of an area – regardless of whether the area is flat or curved – it can cover, while other robots use the same technique to cover adjacent areas.”