For some time now I have been worried about the present batch of “Alternative Energies”, their biggest problems are to do with efficiency and their ability to deliver energy when it is needed rather than just when it is available. Great savings can be made in energy efficiency in order to reduce our need for energy but fundamentally in order to achieve a low-carbon existence we need ways to make “Alternative Energies” work for us, and by “Alternative Energies” I mean taking advantage of natural sustainable sources of energy such as wind, wave and solar power. Making best use of these sources is even more important since the German Government decided to shut down all of it’s nuclear power generation earlier than planned, because now European fuel prices have to rise dramatically because Germany will now be vastly more dependent on Fossil Fuels until they can fill the gap with viable alternatives.

Currently the way we store energy if there is an excess in the grid is to convert the excess electricity into potential or kinetic energy until it is needed again later. There are many water storage facilities in the UK which pump water up-hill to large reservoirs in a technique called “Pumped Storage Hydroelectricity“. By pumping the water up-hill when you have excess energy you can then let it come back down again and recovery the energy with hydroelectric turbines. Each time you do something like this you waste some of the energy because of energy conversion inefficiencies.

Wind energy is interesting, when the wind blows we get a fair amount of energy returned by the gigantic wind turbine. The most you can ever capture from a wind turbine is 59% of the available wind energy passing through, this is a fact of physics proved by Albert Betz in 1919. However that is the upper limit, in reality there is conversion from kinetic energy (the motion of the wind) to electrical energy and such conversions always result in a loss of efficiency in gears, dynamos and power couplings. Because this energy is available “When The Wind Blows” and at no other time there have been issues where the National Grid has had to shut down turbines because they weren’t needed and this is a great waste of their potential.

Solar energy is another area of great interest to many people and I struggle to get excited about what should be a great source of energy because everyone gets excited about Photovoltaic (PV) energy which uses chemically doped materials to directly convert sunlight into electrical current. The reason I struggle to get excited is that PV isn’t very efficient, typically high quality solar panels are about 14-17% efficient and that really isn’t very much. Also solar PV cells need various exotic chemicals in their production of which only a portion is recycled and they aren’t exactly “low carbon” in their transport around the world. Solar energy is logically only available during the hours of sunlight and again, logically, is subject to the intensity of the sun in the location.

In an “Off Grid” environment, where a home owner has no access to mains electricity from the grid, it is quite common to store energy in batteries so that the peak energy availability can be disbursed over a longer period. Not everyone has access to a source of large quantities of water and a reservoir pond (or two) to store it in. Batteries are great for our mobile phones, they store energy in chemical form for good periods of time and release it on demand. Some batteries can release their energy quickly or some can release it slowly over long periods of time. But fundamentally batteries are flawed because they depend on harsh chemical processes which break down the components over time and can result in failure of the cell. Also you can only really discharge a deep cycle battery to 70-80% before you start causing premature damage to the battery cell, thus you need to be careful with your management of supply and demand.

Some time ago I started to wonder: why don’t we store more energy as directly coupled kinetic or potential mechanical energy? Wind farms, for example, I wondered if it wouldn’t be a good idea to install giant clock springs under them (or in their stems) so that we could regulate the release of all of that good mechanical energy. Now, giant clock springs sound silly at first, but actually many companies use kinetic energy storage as a power backup medium. In computer data centres, when you have a power failure it takes time to start the local on-site diesel generators and you need something to keep all the equipment going until the generator is up to speed. Some companies use giant banks of batteries which they carefully maintain and monitor, but I have seen a few UPS failures and they get rather messy and expensive. Plus batteries can release hydrogen gas which could cause harm to operatives working in the UPS battery room. The alternative that some companies really do use is to use a motor to spin a giant “fly-wheel” on a very efficient bearing, when the power fails that mass still has a great deal of momentum, and as the motor is no longer supplying force to keep it spinning it can be used as a generator to take that kinetic energy and turn it back into electricity. There can be enough energy in the momentum of a large enough mass to keep a data centre alive until the generator is ready to take the strain. This spinning mass technique however somewhat depends on the problem that you can’t store such kinetic energy for long periods, the friction of the bearings causes momentum to be lost over time and affects efficiency but it is great for short-term non-toxic energy storage. Some buses around the world are now using spinning masses as a means of kinetic energy recovery in breaking and they can then use that energy to help move the bus away from the stop before the engine takes over again, a nice and clean “Start-Stop” technique.

This application in buses and the idea of the hydroelectric storage leads me to another angle. The disadvantage of water as an energy store is partly because it can’t be compressed, it takes up a great deal of space and the disadvantage of kinetic energy is that the spinning mass can’t spin forever. Well, what about storing energy in a static way, under compression which can be quickly released on demand. This leads us neatly to: Compressed Air Energy Storage. Now of course I don’t declare to be the first to propose such an idea, because it is already in industrial use around the world to a limited degree. But what I would like to do is highlight the concept because it deserves more attention and also because I think it might have some interesting applications as a battery replacement technology.

In an off-grid situation we could see a tank being placed in an out-building which has a store of highly compressed air, this is generated through wind, solar or other inconsistent energy supply. In addition I think that some kind of Sterling Engine arrangement could supply the mechanical work for solar energy without needing to waste energy on conversion to and from electricity just to achieve compression. What about automotive situations? Many companies are installing very expensive and potentially unreliable batteries in cars, what about compressed air tanks which could be used as a kind of compressed air transmission instead of a gearbox? Directly drive the gears with the compressed air perhaps? Just put a 600CC compressor in and regenerative breaking, should have a snappy little number!

Each year for the past twenty years I recall someone mention the idea of moving the UK’s time zone to CET, or changing daylight savings or some other such tinkering with the clocks. As I have come to understand time more and more this confuses me more and more. Not that I am confused by the concept of changing a clock, I’ve done that enough that it doesn’t matter to me, but my confusion is to why we need to change a unit of measure rather than changing our attitudes. One of the arguments for changing timezones or using DST is for “safety”, the idea is that if it is too dark in the mornings people going to work or school are more at risk. It is also said that energy can be saved because people wouldn’t use so much lighting if the clocks were different.

What this fundamentally ignores is the fact that time itself is not really variable, not on a scale that matters to our daily lives anyway, in each SI day there are 86,399, 86,400 or 86,401 seconds (yes there are not exactly 24 hours in a day because the earth isn’t perfect). When people talk about fiddling with the time they are really just doing it for political reasons, to assert themselves and their own importance. If it really mattered about the time at which children went to school then schools could open earlier or later, businesses can make their own decisions about when to open and operate. I currently work at a business that opens at 08:30, but I have started at 05:00, 08:00, 09:00 and 10:00 in differing jobs. Delivery drivers, bakers, presenters and many more people get up at a time that suits their work (Shift Work). I once worked with a team that didn’t even assume a 24 hour day, they worked on a short but intensive cycle over many days, living on site and then had a long period off at home.

I imagine the counterpoint to the argument is that if schools started earlier then people would be in difficulty if their employer didn’t change the hours. But already it is difficult for people who are constrained by employers who enforce archaic working practices, changing the clocks isn’t going to make better employers and if children went to school earlier then it wouldn’t be as bad for parents worrying about getting to their 8am start at work. There is supposedly evidence that indicates that some deaths on the road, especially those of commuting school children, can be attributed to poor light levels. Well, I would point out that if the children were to leave school when it was more light (irrespective of clocks) then they would be equally likely to be outside on the streets (doing whatever children do) afterwards which wouldn’t make it much more safe.

Dear Readers,

I know I have neglected this blog and website for some time, but now is probably an opportunity to use this page to explain myself in more than 140 characters.

Four years ago I was a moderately disgruntled Senior Lecturer at Ravensbourne College, I was referred to speak to a head hunter by a friend on the basis of my broad experience and knowledge. As a result of two interviews I was able to obtain the position of Chief Technologist at Humax Electronics in the UK. Humax is one of the top five manufacturers of set-top boxes in the world and the UK’s top manufacturer of digital television recorders. This role has seen me drink a great deal, socialise a great deal and most importantly it has seen me gain a great deal of knowledge about a sector which I had very little experience of; in addition it is perhaps worth saying that as a broadcast engineer by training I had very little appreciation for this industry which I now see differently. I have a better understanding of commercial issues as a result of my work with my colleagues and most especially my boss, Graham North, who is among one of the most respected people in the business.

Now, four years have passed and it is time to move on. It is not for me to explain here the motivations for my moving on, but I have opportunities that I can follow. I hope I can reveal further details about my mysterious new employer once I have started but for now I must concentrate on doing the best for Humax until I leave.

I will miss my colleagues, I will miss my work and the opportunities that it brings to meet new and interesting people. But as one door closes another one opens and I have little doubt that I will meet many of those that I know again because this is a small business.



Last weekend I had a loss of connection and while diagnosing I started a ping to see what was alive, I forgot about it and here is the output 6 days later:

— ping statistics —
363846 packets transmitted, 335684 received, +1 duplicates, +2 errors, 7% packet loss, time 512087867ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 13.156/19.034/1042.580/12.497 ms, pipe 2

Sorry OpenDNS, it was an accident!

So, let me get this straight:


  • Google sent cars driving around the world to gather data about the areas they pass through.
  • Amongst things they captured:



  1. 3D topographical data
  2. Panoramic photographs
  3. Wireless signals
  • They sniffed for any wifi signals that were being broadcast in the proximity and captured the raw signal.
  • Some people don’t have security enabled on their wireless networks
Thus, because Google sniffed whatever was about and because some people don’t use security on their networks their information was gathered. It was gathered in much the same way that anyone could and frankly these people who were snooped were broadcasting their details to anyone who could hear.
Last time I checked it wasn’t illegal to receive/record broadcasts, let alone those that are unencrypted! The entire process of prosecution of Google for this is a preposterous farce which the press can enjoy and which can give civil servants something to keep them occupied.


I know that winter comes as a surprise to so many people, one moment it is sunny and the next it’s really quite cold. Then all of a sudden strange white stuff falls from the sky: what a surprise! Who would of thought that in the UK the temperature could drop bellow zero in winter?! I am sure it didn’t used to happen like that.

An open and sarcastic letter to my council, but it might easily refer to any other from what I have seen…


Continue reading “Asking Surrey Council for help”

This is a proposal I am working on with some people, I have put it here because it might protect me a little to have it published online:


Continue reading “Virtualised broadcast infrastructure”

A little while ago I purchased a second hand Fujitsu-Siemens Scaleo EVi 2535 Home Theatre PC which ran Vista and now runs Windows 7. I recently upgraded it from the original 1.86GHz Core2Duo processor and 2GB of RAM to have now a Q6600 quad core 2.4GHz processor and 4GB of RAM (using a Zalman fan to keep it at a good temperature. I also supplemented the on-board Intel graphics with an nVidia GeForce 210 graphics card with 512MB of GDDR2 RAM (capable of also sharing 1.1GB of system RAM). Overall the only thing left to upgrade is the noisy DVD drive tobe a quiet BluRay.

I wondered if I could do better than Windows 7 and so I looked towards Linux. I installed Kubuntu 8.10 easily enough, but getting the nVidia drivers working was a pain, then when I installed LinuxMCE it took me hours to try and resolve the dependencies. After this it finally launched, but got stuck in a loop because it didn’t install correctly and you can’t un-install it.

I then re-installed 8.10, in order to use MythTV and updated the OS to 9.04 as it suggested. Then I also had to have the nVidia packages installed and that was grief because the wifi refused to authenticate for most of the time I had allocated. Then when I got the nVidia drivers installed it started freezing at random. So, I removed the hard disk and returned to Windows 7. Windows MCE isn’t perfect and I like Linux as a server but overall I can’t live with dependencies like that.

I will continue to look at Linux and welcome any suggestions but overall I can’t spend days of my life just to get something not working.


Anyone who is claiming that the Royal family isn’t a draw for tourists has clearly not spent enough time out of the UK nor actually spoken to many tourists. Perhaps the 2.9 million people who, in 2008, visited the sites managed by HRP were just there for the architecture alone? I spend more time with international people than with British because of my work (unrelated to tourism or royalty) and I can testify that the royals are significant figures internationally.

Continue reading “Why be a Republic?”

This June there will be local government and European Parliament elections in the UK, this will occupy many peoples minds and for the first time it will challenge me personally. Mainly because it looks like for the first time ever: I will be voting.Yes, I am twenty nine years old and I have not yet voted. Personally I have always disliked the idea and these are my reasons:

Continue reading “Politics in the UK (or anywhere)”