Solar 1

  • December 29, 2008
  • General

Sagebrush Systems “world headquarters” is fortunate to be located in a building with passive solar heating. A large expanse of south-facing windows direct sunlight onto adobe walls and bare brick floors for heat storage.

The furnace hasn’t been turned on for over a decade, so we save a good deal on heating costs. (In full disclosure, the solar adobe construction of our building does not provide complete warmth at our latitude at 5000 feet elevation, but we throw on an extra sweater and become accustomed to somewhat lower temperatures than the 70 degree F office workers expect. For a couple of weeks each year we get consecutive days of overcast weather, requiring the fireplace to be used.)

We plan further energy independence, with solar hot water, possibly a supplemental solar hot air heater, and eventually a grid-tied photovoltaic system to supply all electricity needed by Sagebrush.

Our latest energy project was to install a solar hot water heating system. The area is blessed with plenty of solar exposure, averaging over 300 days of sunshine a year. A few periods in winter might have cloudy days extending for a solid week or two. We do have hard freezes, so a glycol system is necessary. (A drain-back system might work here, but based on the number of burst water lines we needed to fix in supposedly drained water lines running up to our evaporative cooler, we decided to use a glycol system.)

Active glycol systems can use an electronic controller to monitor temperatures and turn the circulating pump on and off, or use a pump connected to a photo-voltaic (PV) panel which runs the pump only when the sun shines. We wanted a PV system, based on the experience of a friend with a system installed a few decades ago, whose original manufacturer no longer exists and has difficulty getting the controller serviced. We also confess to a pyschological satisfaction of using no utility energy, even the minimal amount needed to run a circulating pump.

We wanted a kit-based system, so we could participate in installation and learn better how to maintain and use the equipment– and because it’s a challenge. Someday perhaps one could go to a big-box “home improvement” store and buy a solar hot water system in kit form or completely installed, but that day is not here, so we have to shop on the Internet. This system from looks well-engineered for do-it-yourselfers, with a complete step-by-step installation manual and no soldering required. Their solar panels are also extremely light-weight, which should be an advantage for high slanted rooftop installations. Ultimately we decided against this system because of the plastic glazing: We get a LOT of UV radiation here, hard on plastics, and we recently replaced an acrylic sun roof that was thoroughly destroyed after twenty years of sun exposure. Perhaps these solar panel glazings have superior UV resistance, but how can a buyer prove that?

Ultimately we purchased a solar kit with tempered glass panel glazing, ordered from the venerable AAASolar, located in nearby Albuquerque. It doesn’t come with a complete install manual like the system above, but they did offer to provide reprints of articles from Home Power magazine dealing with installation. The article “DWHW Installation Basics Part 2” from June 2003 was particularly helpful. We also save on shipping charges, since they are so close, allow local pickup, and we have a truck available. The kit includes solar panel, storage tank, PV panel, pump, assorted valves and gauges. You supply plumbing available from your local hardware store. Propylene glycol and pipe insulation are extra.

In future posts we document our adventures (and minor missteps) in installing the system:

Solar 2: Installing the panel.
Solar 3: Connecting everything.
Solar 4: Starting up and running, lesson, and future.

Related Posts: Power to the Programmers

Random Friday: What We Graze 2

Sheep help trim grass on Village of Corrales soccer fields in a sustainable manner.

Related post: What We Graze

Pro Birthday

RecAll-PRO version 1.0 was released ten years ago today.

A spin-off from standard RecAll with many advanced features, PRO became our best-selling public software product within a few months, and has remained so to this day.

RecAll-PRO v1.0

RecAll-PRO Now

Related Posts: Happy Birthday First Product

No Way

  • December 16, 2008
  • General

Noism: the practice of referring to oneself in the
plural as “we”.

“Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have
the right to use the editorial ‘we’.” Mark Twain

(image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

We do this a lot when blogging…

Purrcast is a podcast of a cat purring. Quite soothing. Just ask Wonty:

link [kudos boingboing]

Related Posts: Nature Sounds for Leopards, Felis catus Theremin

Random Friday: What We Pet 3

Related Posts: What We Pet, What We Pet 2


  • December 11, 2008
  • General

How do you read QR codes if you don’t have a mobile phone handy? This on-line reader will run on your JVM (Java Virtual Machine).

Untangled Web

  • December 10, 2008
  • General

With a web site maintained for several years now, we had fallen behind somewhat in best web practices. We only made limited use of CSS cascading style sheets, and relied on tables with lots of ALIGN and BGCOLOR parameters for layout. (At least we didn’t use tiny invisible GIFs for layout. What a hack.) With cruft accumulating over the years in our HTML, it was time for a makeover.

Strange Banana showed us how a random CSS generator could radically change the appearance of a web site with no changes to the XHTML files. Zen Garden showcases many elegant CSS designs for the same site. Delving further, we discover A List Apart, with a wealth of articles on CSS tricks and web design best practice.

We grabbed the HTML Validator add-on to Firefox (based on Dave Raggett’s Tidy, also available as a web service), which displays a check-box icon on the bottom-right corner of the browser window when a page has no markup errors.

How surprised we were to see so many errors on our own web site! Hold on, are we not coders? Do we not revile syntax errors? This must not stand!  We resolve to correct our mistakes and earn that cute little W3 code correct icons.

Other Firefox add-ons we found useful included IE Tab (for previewing HTML in IE while staying in the Firefox browser) and also Firebug.

AOLPress, the ancient WYSIWYG HTML editor we used was set aside for something with better CSS support. The open source multi-platform Amaya has reasonable WYSIWYG capabilities (although we now tend to use it with split pane web view/source view mode and edit the source code directly). Amaya also includes the Tidy code, to automate some HMTL clean-up and automatically check for valid code with a similar icon to the Firefox add-on mentioned above.

Once we converted the main web site pages, we still needed to work on this blog, which uses WordPress non-hosted. We switched to the Fluid Blue theme which conforms to strict XHTML, but we still got errors whenever a video was present. using the pb-embedFlash Media Manager fixed this last problem and we now get correct XHTML code.

Now if I could only learn good website layout design…

Environmental Sounds: The Dark Side

Nature sound generators like WaveSong can have beneficial effects: masking outside noise, relaxation, … What happens when the forces of good turn to the dark side?

The Annoy-a-tron 2.0 from ThinkGeek is a tiny 2.5″x1.5″ circuit board easy to hide, with 6 different sound selections, including “Mosquito” and “Grating Electronic noise”. Good for driving your cow-orkers mad… slowly!

ThinkGeek [via Gizmodo]

Related Posts: Ambient Sounds for Masking, When Ambient Sounds Go Bad

Flashback: Theremin Patent

On this date 84 years ago the original theremin patent was filed in Germany.

The USA version of the patent was filed December 5, 1925, almost a year later. Read the English language HTML version here.

Related posts: Original Theremin Patent Filed, Big 80 for Theremin Patent, Theremin Patents