Tag Archives: technology

Remote Control Hummingbirds!

Mother Jones

It tuns out that one of features of my new camera is the ability to control it remotely with my cell phone. If you have even a gram of nerd blood in you, this should make you insanely jealous.1 It’s the coolest thing ever.

And yet, as cool as it is, it still left me twiddling my neurons trying to figure out what I could do with it. One possibility was situations where I need to minimize camera shake. Put the camera on a tripod and then snap the shutter remotely without actually touching anything. But that would be just another example of using a thousand dollars worth of technology to do what a ten-dollar cable release can do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Then Marian suggested I could set up the camera by our hummingbird feeder and wait for hummingbirds to fly in. So I did. Here’s what the setup looks like:

Then I went into the living room and watched Roger Federer play Stan Wawrinka at Indian Wells. Every time a bird showed up on my camera, I held down the remote shutter button and shot off a few dozen pictures.

Which did me precious little good. Damn, those little buggers are fast. Even with the shutter speed allegedly set at 1/2000th of a second, the pictures were blurry. Also out of focus most of the time, which was a combination of my fault and the camera’s fault. Still, live and learn. Here are the two best shots I got:

The top one is a male Anna’s hummingbird. The bottom one is, I suppose, a female Anna’s hummingbird. The bird folks can enlighten us in comments.

Anyway, I’ll have to try this again. It’s certainly a way of getting some good nature shots without sitting on my hump for hours on end in a muddy patch of dirt. Then again, since the WiFi range for the camera is about ten feet or so, maybe it just means I get a little better selection of where to sit on my hump for hours on end. I’ll have to think of some way to try this with the cats.

1Unless you already have a camera that can do this.

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Remote Control Hummingbirds!

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Can You Really Power Your Phone from a Solar Panel?

At approximately 4pm on Oct 18, my phone died. In our modern age, those words fill people with dread, as they mean your constant connection to the world’s information has been severed without your approval. Fortunately, I was near plenty of other computing devices, so I wasn’t entirely cut off, and I had ample access to power for recharging it. Whew, disaster averted!

Putting aside the argument of whether or not we’re too dependent on this type of technology, having a backup for charging your phone seems like a good idea. In my case, I had a small 6-watt solar panel available that I set up on a table outside. The setup was started at 4:25pm and less than an hour later, at 5:05 pm, I was able to power the phone up. It reported only 16 percent power, but it’s not a bad electricity haul for a partially overcast day and only 40 minutes of charging.

From this short trial, it was evident that one of these panels could be quite useful if normal grid power was unavailable. Another great use case could be mounting one of these to a backpack while hiking in order to keep your communication equipment active during a long trek.

Besides simply knowing that you can revive your phone in an emergency, another way to measure this type of unit’s effectiveness would be to calculate how long it would take to pay for itself and the power you’ll save using it. However, in the case of a phone at least, it would be a long, long time. According tothis on ZDNet, it takes only 84 cents per year to charge an iPhone 6 Plus, which has the biggest battery of the Apple phones. Similarly-sized Samsung phones would cost about the same, with older models costing less. My own very rough estimate of my phone’s power cost was .125 cents per charge, given a yearly cost of 46 cents per 365 days if charged every day.

Since my particular 6-watt panel cost nearly $70 with tax, this would mean a payback of roughly 150 years. If a good return on investment is your goal, perhaps putting your money into a savings account would be a better idea. Although things can always be better, it’s nice to step back once in a while and realize just how good we have it. The power for something that would have been considered a supercomputer 20 years ago can now fit in the palm of your hand and access a seemingly infinite amount of information. Each of these can be powered with roughly two quarters worth of power per year.

So a portable panel is a poor investment money-wise, but could be a good option if the power grid goes out. I did a little more testing at my house in the generally sunny region of Tampa, Florida. Tests are summarized in the following results:

Test 1 10/18/2016

My phone (Android Moto G) died. It was put out around 4:25 pm, with the panel pointed roughly toward the sun. I checked it at 5:05pm and was able to power it up. It was reading at only 16 percent at the time, and soon dropped to 15 percent, reporting a low battery.

Test 2 10/20/2016

I set up the charger on the table at 10:10am; it was collecting power within five minutes. Power initially read at 46 percent. It was placed on roughly the same spot as before, in a semi-shaded area, not really aimed towards the sun.

I checked my phone at 12:10pm. It was very bright at that moment and the charger was hot. The phone was resting under the charger to shield it and was warm. The phone read at 44 percentlower than before, but a two percent drop over two hours seems better than normal. The charging icon showed up immediately. Perhaps the charger did not give sufficient (or any) power to charge the panel during the earlier time, but the phone did start to charge later.

Test 3 10/21/2016

I set my phone on the same table at 12:50pm with a 53 percent charge. The panel was facing up, but it was not aimed toward the sun. I checked my phone at 2:21pm; it read at 72 percent power. It was still sunny out at the time, though a partial cloud cover was seen while checking. I checked again at 2:55pm and the phone read at 79 percent. It was sunny when the final check was made.

Test 4 10/24/2016

Hooked up an iPad 3 to the charger at 11:50am with a five percent charge. The sun was fairly bright, and when plugged in, I noticed that it read at six percent almost immediately after panel attachment, but the iPad didnt show as charging.

When I checked again at 4:52pm, it was in the shade from our house. Power read at 28 percent. The device had charged significantly, but it was definitely not at full power.

As you can see from these tests, charging from your house’s electrical grid is normally the best way to keep your electronics functional. On the other hand, though more costly, a home solar system can produce a much shorter payback period and give you some power backup options. If you just want a backup for your phone or tablet, perhaps one of these small panels would be a good fit!

Jeremy Cook is obsessed with tech and creating DIYs. He likes to test new gadgets, like the solar panel phone charger mentioned here, and gives some great advice on how to use them. To see a selection of Home Depot solar panel options,click here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Can You Really Power Your Phone from a Solar Panel?

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4 Reasons the Cost of Solar Energy Keeps Falling

The U.S. now has enough solar energy capacity to power 6.2 million homes, according to a recent report by the Solar Energy Industry Association. Solar power is growing at an unprecedented rate of 43 percent, year over year. The plummeting cost of solar energy is fueling a boom in popularity.

The mission of the SunShot Initiative by the Department of Energy is “to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of this decade, making this clean renewable energy resource more affordable and accessible to Americans.” The goal is to reduce the cost of solar energy to $.06 per kilowatt hour by 2020, and this appears to be very attainable at this point.

In fact, solar has already achieved price parity in 10 states. How’d that happen? Let’s look behind the scenes to gain a deeper understanding of price trends and how they impact the solar energy market.

1. Manufacturing Costs Taper Down

Solar panels, inverter costs and panel racking costs have come down at a steady pace each year, resulting in large declines over time. There are a variety of causes, including manufacturing efficiencies, a steep decline in polysilicone prices from their high levels a decade ago (a material used by the photovoltaic solar industry) and fierce competition among manufacturers.

This downward price trend is very common with new technologies. Remember how expensive new DVD players and cell phones were when they were first introduced? The cost per unit declines sharply once manufacturing kicks into high gear.

2. Solar Technology Advances

The greater the efficiency of the solar panels (and other equipment), the greater the overall energy production of the system. Although the most efficient solar panels available on the market have an efficiency of 22.5 percent, most panels are in the 14 to 16 percent range. This difference in efficiency means that one system can have a solar energy output that is 50 percent greater than a less efficient system. Some other associated costs are reduced by greater efficiency, such as racking system equipment, installation and transportation costs. Efficiency in turn fuels greater opportunities to sell more solar generation capacity, as many residential systems are limited by the space available for mounting panels.

3. Solar Investment Tax Credit

Since its passage in 2006, the Solar Investment Tax Credit has offered greater stability and a significant incentive for installing solar energy systems, for both the residential and commercial markets. The tax credit was created to support the rapid deployment of solar energy until it is cost competitive without it. The incentive offers a 30 percent tax credit for both residential and commercial solar energy systems. The credit was extended in 2015 and will be in effect until 2023, tapering off over time.

For residential solar systems, the tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the federal income taxes owed by the homeowners by 30 percent of the installed cost of the solar system. A $10,000 solar system can qualify for a $3,000 tax credit. This is different from a tax write-off and is more valuable to the taxpayer.

Homeowners who lease solar systems cannot take advantage of the tax credit directly, but the solar leasor can. In theory, some or all of the savings generated from the tax credit are passed onto the homeowners through solar leases with more-affordable terms.

GTM Research predicts the tax credit extension will boost U.S. solar energy installations by 54 percent through 2020 and add enough solar energy generation capacity to power 4 million homes. Although the tax credit doesn’t directly reduce the cost of solar energy, it does help create the economy of scale needed for solar panels to be cost effective and helps create stability in the market for companies wanting to invest in research, infrastructure and other investments with a longer return. It’s worth noting that some, however, argue that the tax credit stifles innovation by artificially lowering prices.

4. Synergy Allows for Greater Solar Energy Growth

The trends that have surrounded the growth of the solar energy industry continue, making future growth likely. Today’s solar systems are generating more electricity and  a larger percentage of total household energy use. EnergySage, the so-called “Expedia of solar,” gathers data on quoted solar systems, offering insights into the months ahead. EnergySage recently released the third semiannual Solar Marketplace Intel Report, which indicates that recent solar energy trends will continue. For example, the quoted H1 2016 solar systems have a payback period of 7.5 years on average, compared with 8.2 years in H1 2015. EnergySage reports that the average quoted solar system size is 7.9 kW, compared with the average installed solar system size of just 5 kW.

The lower the price of a solar system and the shorter the payback period, the more people will go solar. People also tend to install solar energy systems when their neighbors do, thus solar installations encourage greater growth.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova

is a renewable energy and sustainability journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Earth911, Home Power, Triple Pundit, CleanTechnica, The Ecologist, GreenBiz, Renewable Energy World and Windpower Engineering. Lozanova also works with several corporate clients as a public relations writer to gain visibility for renewable energy and sustainability achievements.

Latest posts by Sarah Lozanova (see all)

4 Reasons the Cost of Solar Energy Keeps Falling – November 21, 2016
Tesla’s New Solar Roof Is Pretty, But Is It Practical? – November 7, 2016
3 DIY Compost Bin Designs You Can Make This Weekend – November 3, 2016

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4 Reasons the Cost of Solar Energy Keeps Falling

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Ask a Science Teacher – Larry Scheckel


Ask a Science Teacher
250 Answers to Questions You’ve Always Had About How Everyday Stuff Really Works
Larry Scheckel

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: December 17, 2013

Publisher: The Experiment

Seller: Workman Publishing Co., Inc.

Fun and fascinating science is everywhere, and it’s a cinch to learn—just ask a science teacher! We’ve all grown so used to living in a world filled with wonders that we sometimes forget to wonder about them: What creates the wind? Do fish sleep? Why do we blink? These are common phenomena, but it’s a rare person who really knows the answers—do you? All too often, the explanations remain shrouded in mystery—or behind a haze of technical language. For those of us who should have raised our hands in science class but didn’t, Larry Scheckel comes to the rescue. An award-winning science teacher and longtime columnist for his local newspaper, Scheckel is a master explainer with a trove of knowledge. Just ask the students and devoted readers who have spent years trying to stump him! In Ask a Science Teacher , Scheckel collects 250 of his favorite Q&As. Like the best teachers, he writes so that kids can understand, but he doesn’t water things down— he’ll satisfy even the most inquisitive minds. Topics include: •The Human Body •Earth Science •Astronomy •Chemistry Physics •Technology •Zoology •Music and conundrums that don’t fit into any category With refreshingly uncomplicated explanations, Ask a Science Teacher is sure to resolve the everyday mysteries you’ve always wondered about. You’ll learn how planes really fly, why the Earth is round, how microwaves heat food, and much more—before you know it, all your friends will be asking you!

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Ask a Science Teacher – Larry Scheckel

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London is banning dangerous trucks — and that’s great news for cyclists.

The congressman accused the Securities and Exchange Commission Thursday of unfairly targeting the oil giant by investigating whether the company disclosed its financial risks from climate change and greenhouse gas regulations to investors.

In a letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White, Smith demands that the commission provide his committee with documents related to the Exxon probe by Oct. 13.

Smith writes that the SEC has advanced “a prescriptive climate change orthodoxy that may chill further climate change research,” which seems odd for someone who doesn’t actually believe in climate change.

Still, it’s about what we’d expect from Smith, a recipient of $680,000 from oil and gas over his career.

Smith — who, ironically, is both a climate denier and the head of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology — has used his position to aid Exxon before: He’s accused 17 state attorneys general of violating the corporation’s right to free speech by looking into allegations that Exxon has known about climate change for decades.

Why does Smith go to bat for Exxon repeatedly, despite risking political backlash? Gretchen Goldman, an analyst at Union of Concerned Scientists (one of the groups being targeted by Smith), has a theory.

“If you’re talking about climate change and doing anything to try to hold actors accountable, he wants to intimidate you.”

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London is banning dangerous trucks — and that’s great news for cyclists.

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