Science

Stringing Me Along

twinkle lightsNo doubt you have your lights up.   The annual ritual of hanging Christmas lights started about seven minutes after Master Bradford cleaned the last buffalo wing off the Thanksgiving plate in New Plimouth, in 1621.   Since that very day we, as a reasoning people, have been asking ourselves why we get sucked into buying more of those little twinkle lights every year.

These insidious strings have over 100 small, incandescent bulbs stuck in little sockets like poison darts.   At the store they appear smartly  packaged in plastic frames, efficiently coiling 25 feet of 3-ply electrical cord.   The bulbs are lined up like little glass medical phials, waiting to be plucked from their beds.   There is even a bonus packet containing a blinker bulb which, when engaged, turns the whole string into a tawdry window display for an all night pizza stand.

Lynch House.jpg

And the price for this residential street weapon: dirt cheap.    So it’s not hard to throw a couple more strings into the shopping cart during the weekly trip to ACE Hardware.   The rationale behind the purchase is that this year we are really going to show that supercilious twit across the street how we can tart up our roof gutters, window frames, mail box and chimney wreath better than him any day, hands down.

Which gets to the nut of the problem.   Once the tangle of a thousand lights has been festooned across every stationary object on our front yard including the lawnmower, we turn on the power.   Just like the movies, three strings don’t fully light.   150 bulbs are freezing dead black, at the top of the crabapple, and wrapped in and around a downspout.

string of lights

They worked fine when we tested them in the garage.  The act of hanging however has a terminal effect   I’m sorry–  I can’t begin to explain this many-layered pun to you.

It is the conundrum I repeatedly face: how can a civilized and sophisticated species like ours invent machinery that can create such elegant packaging, but can’t get the blinking (sorry) lights to work??

Christmas Lights

Anyway, moments before the recycling truck came rumbling down our street yesterday, I salvaged the three “dead” strings from the bin, and took them back to the basement.    I threw them onto the workbench like a bushel of seaweed–  this green tangle of plastic, copper and glass spikes.   I plugged in a set, and fingered down the glowing string until I came to the block of 50 dead lights.

Then I did something radical, and unwittingly logical.   Unplugging the string, I cut the dead block of lights off with my pliers.   Plugged the string back in, and the first 50 bulbs lit up, with no spray of sparks or numbing jolt up my arm through the back of my head.    Encouraged, I cut the the other two strings, and smiled at my thriftiness.   I had three strings of lights, shorter, but working.

Getting braver, I wondered if I could save the three dead strings too.   A little more tricky, I attached a new plug to one of  the severed strings.   Flying on one wing now;  metaphorically, driving 60 miles an hour into a fog bank.    I plug this string into the wall, but the lights don’t go on.   In fact, all the lights go out.   Not on the string, but in the house.

Uh-oh.

I am pretty sure that the circuit breaker in the darkest part of the basement hiding behind a curtain of cobwebs will be switched off, and if I am quick, I can get it back on.    This is not the problem.   The real challenge is to re-set the clocks:  the stove clock, the microwave clock, the alarm clock and then endure a 7-minute blackout on the TV waiting for our beloved cable company to resume its flow of NCIS re-runs.   And then–  to reset my ears.   They have been pinned by my better half, the lady who grudgingly allows me not quite enough rope to hang myself on a daily basis.

This year, I am going to let “Sparky” across the street have his moment in the glow of 18,000 lights.   With any luck, the electric company will make him a “preferred customer”, and send him to Niagara Falls to take notes.

Mean time, I am going to ACE.

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Economics

Breezy Money

Following up on my amazement yesterday about the glut of wind farms…the whole thing about wind farming is that it looks so easy. Like dew worm farming. Or mushrooming. You just put up a fan, and the wind blows it, and a little machine turns it into electricity. And it’s free! Almost growing wild on the beach.
beach-money

Like many, I was so enchanted with the concept of getting easy money that I did some figuring –not my strong suit– but I calculated that if I had just one of these giant wind turbines, say the 250-footer, I would have a 2- megawatt wind farm. A megawatt turns out to be a thousand kilowatts, and just to explain it in terms you understand, a 100 watt bulb costs about 55 cents up at ACE Hardware, and it’s good for a 1,000 hours they say.

incandescent-light-bulb

Rounding that all up, I stood to pull in about $43,000,000 per year, before taxes. Mind you, there are no taxes because the government is subsidizing the whole thing for me.

Actually, I may have that slightly wrong. On good authority, I learned my new turbine would really cost $3,500,000.

If I borrowed the money from friends, my operating costs, maintenance and loan interest would work out to $290,000 per year. Which is, admittedly, more than I am making now, so I am really interested in selling one of these contraptions to somebody else.

But nevertheless, once it’s all in place, it is guaranteed to deliver 5,260 Megawatt Hours of power per year. I am just thinking about the batteries I am going to purchase to hold all that electricity. When all is said and done, my cost to produce a Megawatt hour is around $55. That’s like, only 100 lightbulbs, which I can handle.

When I whittled this down to Kilowatt hours, which I know is more comfortable for you, it’s a measly 5-1/2 cents each.

Awesome, right? Now you’re up for it, I can feel it.

This is where it gets interesting though. I looked at the latest ransom note we received from Commonwealth Edison, and they are only demanding 4-3/8 cents per Kwh. Hah! No wonder they can’t make any money! If they sold my wind farm product, they could shut down Niagara Falls, and still be in the black by Tuesday.

american-falls

Niagar Dry

As a practical business person however, I am doing nothing at this time, pending sage advice from my accountant who is allowed one phone call a week.

If you are eager to get in on this, but looking for something a little more in your income bracket, there is a company out there now, Southwest Windpower, which is installing back yard wind turbines faster than you can say “Oklahoma” .

Their Skystream 3.7 goes for $12-$14,000, and they are flying –haha– off the shelves.

Myself, I am forever teetering on the innovative edge. I am preparing a personal, hand-powered turbine. This one is all natural, 100% environmental, multi-directional, and can be used on the calmest, or windiest of days without pause.

Slick Whimmy

See, I told you this would be easy.

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