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!

The Synopsis

This document aims to describe the current movements in PSB’s (Public Service Broadcasters) and how their circumstances are affecting changes in technology. This is an incomplete document so far and I have posted it here for discussion, I could easily be wrong about so many things, but I have been working on all sides for enough time to have made some observations that need to be discussed.
Continue reading “PSBs in Free To Air Environments”

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”


The purpose of this document is to describe a model for housing that firmly
embraces the 80’s ideal of ‘property ownership for all’ but which avoids uncontrolled
spiralling property values and creates affordable housing which stays affordable. It
enables all socio-economic groups to benefit from affordable housing without the
need for discrimination and does not rely on social exclusion. Additionally embedding
communities at the heart of the design and not making affordability a special case.
It is not intended to be a communist approach to the property market but to be
a business model which is designed to be sustainable economically and
environmentally, but yet socially aware. Many of the statements in this document
include observations based on the past two decades of the property market by the
authors who have had varying levels of involvement in property and construction but
are presently unable to purchase due to the state of the current property market.


Continue reading “Economically Sustainable Housing Proposal”

My brother just wrote an interesting post about hybrid cars saying how the current measures for economy we see aren’t really effective.

He has a good point, but also what worries me about hybrid vehicles is the environmental impact of them over their life-cycle. Most hybrid vehicles have batteries, these batteries are often made with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. How long do the batteries last? What happens with them when they are expired? I know my laptop battery, after two years of heavy use, is now at half its’ capabilities so how long will the very expensive batteries in a hybrid vehicle last?

Apparently if the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) used in F1 was applied to London Underground they would use 50% less electricity, but like in hybrid cars where would this charge get stored? Certainly not with conventional batteries because they can’t absorb charge quickly enough and have trouble with the discharge power for fast acceleration; that said Altairnano and Hitachi both claim dramatic improvements in this area. Super capacitors suffer leakage so this wouldn’t be very efficient for a standing vehicle. One of the most effective stores of energy is actually mechanical storage because conversion losses can be reduced substantially and this would be the best solution for London Underground. Fit a large spinning mass under the train and store the energy recovered in breaking deceleration directly on the mass, then couple the mass to the drive train during acceleration to give it that extra boost.

However, we can’t all carry round a huge mass in our cars because it will have a worse affect on the efficiency of a car compared to the constant stop-start of the Underground train.

Some new technology is needed and I don’t know where it will come from but, like mechanical storage, I think we will be surprised and it will come from the past!

Matthew Bloch is one of the key team behind Bytemark and he has posted about what he sees as a lack of progress in the development of email as a technology.

On his twitter feed he asked what people thought, I posted a response but it seems to have been moderated out, so I will copy it here:

I am one of those who wanted customisation of their mail handling, my family has followed me and is using my host because the majority of mail hosting companies couldn’t account for connection oddities. I use MailWatch to track MailScanner filtering quickly and tweaking the filtering has been very important. I have one domain of mine hosted with Google Apps just because I can and it is good but perhaps it lacks the granularity for heavy business use?

If a mail hosting company was able to provide the same granularity of control as MailScanner + Postfix + PostfixAdmin + Mailwatch + MySQL + Dovecot1.2 then I think it would give businesses a case to drop their internally hosted servers. Adding RequestTracker into that mix would just be the final leap to give them a feature not available with most off-the-shelf systems.

On the mail client side what I have come to realise is that I can’t navigate my email quickly enough. I have many GB of email and at work I have thousands of emails waiting to be sorted into the myriad of sub-folders. I think the answer is tagging and bayes suggestions but I think tagging hasn’t truly been leveraged to it’s maximum. I think it should be possible to browse tags with depth to narrow down the emails. Thus the initial view should have every mail, there should be a tree list of every tag; then each tag should have every tag which is shared with the previous tag. Thus a matrix hierarchy of tags can evolve and with Bayes suggestions mails can be tagged as they arrive (I already use the Bayes sort add-in for Thunderbird). In this way the mass of mail can be filtered down to the target quickly and more importantly mail can be in many places! An email might be to do with marketing but also to do with a client.

Perhaps I need to blog this….

Anyway, good posting!

I’ve been thinking about this concept for a matrix mail client for some time and I think I need to write a white paper about it so that I can see if I can drum up interest in developing it! I will see what I can do.

In light of recent errors of judgment by members of government it has been determined that all staff should be made aware of revised guidance on personal expenses:

1) Staff are not permitted to use company money to pay for accommodation beyond that required directly for business. In order to remove all doubt this includes the paying mortgages with salary. Staff are expected to use their savings or take supplementary employment (subject to approval on the grounds of conflict of interest) to fund their lifestyles.*

2) Manure: by-products of grazing animals may only be purchased with company money where required for normal business operations. No authorisation is required for the purchase of modest quantities of bovine manure for sales staff or support staff.

3) Pornographic videos may not be hired by spouses of employees and be claimed on expenses, only by employees themselves for their own use.

4) Plumbing services may be provided on the company account providing sufficient evidence is provided of the problem before hand and 7 days of notice given of any unexpected work.

5) Employees may employ their relatives only where that relative is paid through the off-shore shell account funds normally reserved for bribery.

6) Bribery will no longer be tolerated, instead the practice will be retitled: external non-declared incentives.

7) Due to previous abuse of the system a maximum number of days of ‘away from home’ subsistence may be claimed in one year. This limit is now set to: 400 days per annum.

8) Staff will be expected to hand all gifts to the finance department for placing on eBay. This includes personal presents for the following events/holidays:
– Birthdays
– Christmas (and other religious festivals)
– Weddings (except for those in junior grades or director grade and above).
Income from the sale of these items will be put towards to executive training and development fund maintained by our contractor:

* Acceptable forms of secondary employment not considered a conflict of interest include but are not limited to:
– intimate massage
– private escort services
– sale and distribution of narcotics
– sale and distribution of videos (especially for pornography or blackmail)
Employment which is considered a conflict of interest with company business includes (but is not limited to):
– Fraud
– Organised religion
– Children’s entertainment
– Murder, arson and/or pillage

Please ensure you follow this guidance in future.

Kind regards,

Finance Department

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device


There pop-up on the forums from time-to-time, and they complain why we don’t have one feature or another. In the latest thread on DigitalSpy they complained that our product didn’t feature 1080p, or DiVx decoding. So, I thought I wanted to post something on DigitalSpy, however common sense and experience tells me if I post it there I might regret it because it could be a reactionary posting by me, so I will post it here to vent:

It depends on where you are targeting a product in the market as a manufacturer. We pay a licence for all technology we use (this may be different than you experience) for example we even have to pay a royalty for the use of Phono connectors. It would be a cost for us and eventually for the consumer, we already have people complaining about cost, should we limit our market further?

I won’t defend the scaler in the product, I have been over this issue countless times. Personally I recommend if you aren’t satisfied with the scaler to use the “Original” mode. We manufacture Televisions as well, and I know that the scaler chip we use can cost as much as the entire MPEG decoder chip (in a good TV). In a TV part of the cost you are paying for is the scaler, if we put a dedicated scaler chip in our STB product you would effectively be wasting the money you spent on your LCD TV and paying double.

An experience of using the scaler in a DVD player is more about ensuring the quality of the output of the DVD decoder and is mostly enhanced by using HDMI output for a digital-to-digital movement of signals.

In the end it comes down to a matter of choice, as a manufacturer we make choices that we have to balance (costs/sales) and the consumer has to make a choice to decide if the product is right for them. We make the product we feel most appropriate to make, we even take feedback, but ultimately the we are responsible for the choices and how they affect our sales. Some might even say they don’t have a choice because we are the only manufacturer of Freesat approved HD PVRs, that is still about choice, you don’t have to buy anything or you can buy a non-Freesat product or you can wait until another manufacturer decides to make a product.”

At least here I can remove it…

I saw someone on DigitalSpy advocating the use of SpinRite for fixing a damaged HDD. I had to point out that Spinrite is a steaming pile of something but I wanted to use J.Navas’ website to do that. However I note that the site is now off-line and so I recovered the details from the internet archive and will post them here until I am instructed to remove them:

Taken from Continue reading “SpinWrong mourning the passing of”

Our call centre isn’t big, but then again it is very efficient and rarely has dropped or missed calls. Plus we have sufficient measures in place to allow us to call people back as soon as things slack off.

However, yesterday a client called to ask about something (which being a broadcast problem wasn’t our problem and wasn’t our fault), and he called during a busy period. After being on old for 4min 31seconds he was offered the opportunity of being called back rather than waiting, he could leave a message with his details and normally we call back within a couple of hours at most. He left this message:


Pleasent chap to use that kind of bad language to some people who are there to help and who weren’t actually responsible for his troubles. But it’s our box they are using it must be our fault.

He was called back, around 10min later, funnily he hadn’t left his phone number on the message but everything is logged anyway. He was very sheepish and humble; surprised to be called back by someone so helpful.