DIY Learning – Experimental Solar Air Heater, Part 1

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LearnThis has always been about discovering and learning new skills and helping others to do the same.  Those skills can be learned in a variety of formats, where a blog normally consists of reading and writing, I’ve always been an advocate to practice skills, learn by doing and whenever possible, put those learned skills into action on a regular basis.  I do exactly that by building things and fixing things that I can learn about myself. Home repairs, renovations, handyman.  I’ve done a lot of carpentry, metal work and several times now, small solar energy projects.  In this three part series, I’m going to outline 3 home solar projects I’ve done.  Hopefully they serve as an example of how you can use a do it yourself (DIY) approach to learn a lot about a subject.

First DIY Solar Experiment – Battery Backed Photovoltaic

The first solar experiments I did about 15 years ago with a small solar panel that I used to mount on my home’s roof to power a vent fan that would help to cool the attic, using air exchange anytime it was hot and sunny out.  I used a 15W 12V panel, to drive a 12V high volume fan and wiring it up to an old mercury thermostat.  The cool thing about an old mercury thermostat is that it works on gravity, so you can mount it upside down to reverse its operation. What normally activates the heating cycle if the temperature drops, upside down it behaves as a cooling unit, activating the cooling when it gets above a specific temperature instead.

I quickly realized that my 15W panel was a LOT more power than the 5W fan was using for air exchange. I figured I could try to extend the use of this power with a battery pack.  I did quite a bit of research and was a regular reading the magazine “Home Power” to find some ideas and sources of information.  I looked at and purchased a simple circuit board kit that I could solder and build myself, since it was only about $20 to buy.  The board was a charge controller, with low load protection and over voltage protection that I hooked up to a small 7AmpH 12V gel battery.

The additional 10W took a few days to fully charge the battery, but then I was able to use that to operate several compact fluorescent lights in my basement laundry room.  I used a small 175W inverter that was nearly zero no-load draw. I was able to drop the wiring down from the attic along side the house plumbing vent stack right to the basement so I could put the charge controller, battery and lighting in the basement for the roof mount solar panel.

I ran it for quite a few years and it kept the attic at least 5-10 degrees cooler with the active cooling fan and the added light in the laundry room was great to operate for essentially free from the battery.  Overall, it was a great experiment and fun to build, yet I never proceeded doing photo voltaic again, due to the high cost and low efficiency of the panels. I sold the panel and battery used when selling the house, to another solar experimenter to hook up and play with.

Second DIY Solar Experiment – Active Solar Air Heater

I’ve always been interested in efficient energies from the sun.  The most common is solar photo voltaic, however it continues to be a fairly costly solution. Capturing the sun’s energy with photo voltaic unfortunately has very poor efficiency. However, cost of panels has reduced rapidly so for DIY-ers, they have become much more affordable. Commercially installed PV systems are still very expensive still with around 20 year payback periods.  One problem with PV panels is that their energy efficiency is only around 15% for most commercial panels.

I looked into building a passive solar air heater for additional heating on our tack room / barn.  It is heated by electric baseboard heaters to keep the room from freezing (and the cats warm) in the winter.  I found some examples of home built popcan solar air heaters on youtube so I decided to start with one of those.  I picked up a bunch of free windows being given away on a local classified site, and so had a 2 foot by 3 foot glass panel to start a small heater from.

Next, I built a simple plywood box to house aluminum cans which when painted black, could collect the sun’s heat nicely and act as a heat exchanger.  This DIY concept is very simple, cold air comes in the bottom of the box or panel, which has a glass front facing the sun, with black cans inside to absorb and radiate the heat into the air inside the panel.  That hot air rises so can exit out a top vent to create continuous heat output.

I built and tested this in the sun and while a passive design worked to raise the temperature of the air by over 30°C (86°F) continuously, the air flow was very low.  I decided to add a couple of small 12V computer fans to blow the hot air out into the room where I needed the air.  It worked great and I exhausted the hot air into the barn through a window which I built a sealed panel for with insulated air ducts to reach it.

The heater’s fans were mounted in a series circuit with a $2 snap disc I found on ebay.  These engage the circuit whenever the temperature was above 25°C (77°F).  A cheap 12V power supply (also from ebay) ran the fans whenever there was heat in the box.  I enclosed the end with tin to seal it all up from weather and to connect my air duct vents to the barn when it was actually installed.

Overall, the heat was great on a small DIY device like this, considering I didn’t even insulate the box.  Its surface area gets about 660W of sun radiant heat (about 1KW/m2). My estimate of efficiency after doing some math on the air flow and heat increase as well, was about 65% so this device was able to output a continuous 400W or so.  Not bad, for a diy experiment that cost me about $20 to make since I had most of the parts already.

Outputting 400W for 5 hrs a day, meant it produced about 2KW per full day of sun.  Saving $0.18 per day of operation, it only needed 111 days of operation to pay off.  I installed and had it operating for 4 yrs.  This equals about 125 days per year of sun so it more than paid off and even saved me an extra $70 on electric heating for the barn.  SWEET!

12 Leadership Tips for When You’re Not the Boss

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In most companies, employees are promoted using a criterion that has been put in place by the managers of the organization. Typically, an employee that has been seen to exhibit leadership qualities is given priority when promotions are being handed out. So it is likely, that if you were part of the applicants that were recently hired, you will not be getting promoted any time soon. However, this should not leave you discouraged because patience is critical for a new hire. These leadership tips will help you exhibit your leadership without having to be the boss, in any position:

1. Be goal oriented

Goals are very important for anyone that aspires to be a leader. When your goals are clearly defined it makes them much easier to achieve whether in life or career. Most times, when you are focused on achieving your goals, you are likely to influence others to do the same and they end up achieving theirs too. This should be quite rewarding if you enjoy helping others see their goals come to fruition.

2. Practice humility

A true leader is humble and this is often seen even before a person begins to speak. Always carry yourself with a lot of humility which makes you open to anyone regardless of their position in life. When people perceive you as humble they are able to take direction from you in the office whenever you are working together, thus making you a leader.

3. Always see the bigger picture

Work on achieving the end goal of any project regardless of the many channels that will be used in getting it done. Allow the team to work in a way that they are comfortable but always reminding them to keep focused on the end result. If the final result is satisfactory, then the process used to get there will not matter much.

4. Have excellent communication skills

Say what you mean in a clear and concise manner. Many times, people appreciate getting all the information beforehand to help them get things done as they have been instructed. On the other hand, avoid getting upset when things don’t fall into place but rather communicate what should be done to get things back on track.

5. Be dependable

Although you desire is to rise to the top, do not get there by stepping on others along the way. Whenever someone seeks your help for a task, ensure that the assistance offered brings value to them and the project that they are handling. If you are considered to be a reliable person by colleagues or group members, they are likely to support your projects as well.

6. Embrace your slip-ups

It is always hard to admit that we have failed in one way or another. In most cases, we shift the blame whenever we make a mistake instead of acknowledging it. As a potential leader, try and accept correction when an error is pointed out, even by a subordinate, and seek out ways to improve yourself in that area.

7. Talk less. Listen More.

True leaders allow others to speak their mind at all times regardless of their position in the company. Listen intently and ask questions in areas where you may need some clarification. If you need ideas on the project that you are working on, then ask for suggestions but it does not mean you have to use them. You can then give your input at the end while acknowledging the information already presented by others.

8. Be a risk taker

Taking risks even when they have no idea of the outcome is common for leaders that want to scale new heights and succeed in their profession. However, it is important to evaluate every situation before taking the risk as this will increase the chances of success and even if you fail, the damage will be minimal. Calculated risks always have a way of paying off in the long run if the lessons learnt are used well.

9. Ask for help

Seek help whenever you start feeling overwhelmed by tasks so that you do not make mistakes you might regret. If possible, avoid being the one that has to fix every situation that goes wrong and let others offer solutions as well. Most times, the help offered will stop you from panicking and making the situation worse as you work to find the solution together. Don’t be afraid to ask for leadership tips from other leaders in your organization as well.  Showing interest help you learn and get recognized.

10. Recognize the effort of others

Nothing is accomplished alone and this should be your mantra when seeking a leadership position. Most tasks are achieved through group effort and it is only fair that every team member be acknowledged for the role they played in the success of a project. In most cases, this recognition makes other members feel appreciated and will most likely look forward to participating in other projects.

11. Always speak up

Be firm and respectful whenever you have to disagree with another person and do not let them walk all over you. When addressing people in an uncomfortable situation, aim to speak slowly and clearly while explaining the reasons for your decisions. When you treat people with respect, they are likely to do the same during your interactions in and out of the office.

12. Avoid asking for favors

You will always gain a lot of respect when you earn everything you have through hard work. Most people will consider you a leader because they have seen you put a lot of effort in your office work. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid looking like you are being favored by the boss, whether true or not. In general, leadership is not necessarily connected to a certain position but to the amount of influence you can have over other group members. When you have the power to direct them towards a certain direction without having to be the boss, then you are a true leader. This is the type of leadership that every employee should aspire for when working for their preferred organization.

 

These leadership tips were submitted as a guest article, written by Aaron Ramsey of eapplicants.com.  If you’d like to see more of his helpful tips and articles, you might want to check out his target interview tips here.  You can find other resources for job seekers on his site as well.

Book Review: Hidden Strengths

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Unleashing the Crucial Leadership Skills You Already Have
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Author: Thuy Sindell and Milo Sindell

This book is a concise and straight forward leadership development book with a bit of a twist to the normal personal development focus.  Most of us know that focusing on weaknesses can be less fruitful than focusing on our strengths, as in “Now, Discover Your Strengths” and I’ve certainly used that coaching people for personal development.  This book adds the advice to also not focus only on your strengths but instead, find the ‘hidden strengths’ that you can develop and gain more broad capabilities with less effort and time.  This is done by the help of a skills assessment by the author and then a breakdown of 28 skills in 4 main categories:

  1. Leading Self
  2. Leading Others
  3. Leading the Organization
  4. Leading Implementation

The Sindell authors provide descriptions of each of the 28 skills, advice on how to use and develop them through numerous stories or case studies of business development where the characters develop hidden strengths to improve their roles in leadership.  These hidden skill stories give believable evidence of how everyone has more hidden strength to draw upon and use in our personal development journeys.  The only thing I didn’t like about these short stories is that they seem too easy in some of the cases where skills focus made significant impact in just days or a few short weeks in most cases.  I personally haven’t ever found this to be the case, they usually develop and cause impact over the course of many weeks, or even months or years.  Skills just don’t have that immediate of impact in organizations and in all the people I’ve coached, it typically takes longer for them to even practice and develop the skills.  Hidden strengths I think is a great place to find opportunities for personal development, however, lasting skill development should not be understated, it needs to be practiced and practiced to get good at to truly develop into a strength that can be applied in one’s leadership.  This is especially true since leadership skills reveal themselves often at the point of adversity and challenge.

The book is in three main parts to lead your through these discoveries and examples:

  1. What are hidden strengths?
  2. Finding your Hidden Strengths.
  3. Hidden Strengths into action.

So, overall I enjoyed reading the book.  Its 78 pages is  a pretty quick read and the free skills assessment with the book will have you thinking carefully about how you can too, develop some of your hidden strengths.

Book Review: Creative Anarchy

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How to Break the Rules of Graphic Design For Creative Success

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Author: Denise Bosler

I received another offer to review a book just recently and couldn’t pass it up.  The cover and title sounded very interesting to me and certainly with my graphic design and 3D animation business, I thought there would be many things to learn and discover in the book.

First, the book is a large book and about 140+80 pages (more on that later) and a quick thumb through it leaves you impressed with the many visuals and color pages, yet scratching you head as to how its put together.  The reason; This is NOT an ordinary book.  And I loved that aspect of it.  From the first few pages to the back of the book, you quickly encounter the fact that the book reads from both ends and has what you normally expect at the start or end, quite out of order.  This showed me the creative aspects and anarchy topic of the book right from the first few pages, which I thought was just great.  The first half is about graphic design rules and what is typically done and why. It flows through 10 rules, exploring each topic with examples, tips and content to learn.  I found most of this information fairly uninspiring, but nonetheless, good information and some useful tips and examples, as well as at least few new points of knowledge on each of the 10 rules.

The back of the book (flip it around and read it backwards) then covers the anarchy aspect, labelled, Break the Rules.  These chapters cover:

  • advertising
  • branding
  • posters
  • publication design
  • promotions
  • packaging
  • interactive

They include many inspiring stories, examples and exercises you can do to expand your thinking and designs into what is beyond the normal rules of design.  It sparks a lot of ideas reading through the many examples and business cases described, so should help instill new ideas and methods to any design artist or creative individual.

The thing that left me wanting were branching into other graphic areas, like animation, computer illustration and 3D design.  Animation was not even mentioned and 3D came from a sense of physical 3D, not computer graphics or 3D printing.  As a 3D artist doing graphic design solely  in 3D animation, I was disappointed that these areas were not covered in a current book on design and creativity.  However, there is more than enough references to other styles and methods that this did not take away from the book and the creativity it helps tap into.  There were a number of examples of design for websites, but again, there was very little coverage of workflow and usability, which I consider to be the critical piece of creative design as a software developer.  I think concepts from the rest of the book can be applied here as well, but I would have loved to see more on the design aspects and creative aspects of software and computer imagery.

Overall, I think there is a lot to learn from this book and although it covers traditional print design thoroughly without exploring new design concepts like 3D print or animation, I think it has more than enough to spark new creative vibes and gives a load of examples and inspiring content to help any designer bring some new methods and ideas to their own workflow.  The whole concept then of breaking some of the rules to find that creative success is an excellent one and nice to see that this book make a great example of what it is teaching by breaking the rules itself.

Book Review: The Martian

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Author: Andy Weir

I rarely read fiction compared to the many non-fiction titles I devour.  Anyway, I had caught up on books I brought with me while travelling recently and so needed something new to sink into while doing some business travel.  I have to say, most of the fiction rack didn’t interest me at all, either romance or books about someone’s dog it seems.  At the time, I thought The Martian was the best of the worse, since nothing really interested me.  Anyway, I was quickly taken into the depth of this intriguing book and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Basically, the first chapter tells you the start and end of the whole book, which I couldn’t quite figure out why so much climax was put in at the start.  It definitely hooked me though as I quickly learned the astronaut, Mark Watney is left for dead isolated on Mars after a freak space accident with his crew, which they had to abandon him (having every indication and belief that Mark was in fact dead).  Mark quickly reveals how ingenious and inventive he is as he saves himself from death and begins what will be a very long isolated adventure on Mars.  From obvious limitations of food, water, air and company, Mark seems to face everything Mars can throw at him with his engineering mind set to solve each problem and move past it.  I certainly connected with the engineering aspect and some of the science behind his many inventions (I’m certainly no space junky however), and the author has certainly down his research in making every scenario, every experiment and every problem as realistic as you could expect, which I felt really help to draw me into the Martian world.  Mark logs his adventures from his own perspective and the book jumps between his solitude on Mars and the other parties involved from NASA to the crew to families back on Earth.

The whole story is quite an amazing adventure and the incredibly resourceful Mark Watney makes the whole book amusing and gripping. He is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever read and I just couldn’t put the book down.  Each setback and problem, left me wanting to see Watney escape and figure out yet another impossible problem.  Its brilliantly written and I hope to see more books from Weir, as this is his first.

So, I hope you pick up a copy if you have any interest in space, science, adventure or even human ingenuity and resourcefulness, as this book has all of those.

 

Book Review: Wins Friends and Customers

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Relationship and Business Success from Empathic AcknowledgingClipboard Image (3)-814x1200

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Author: Lawrence Bookbinder, PH.D.

This book is a short and easy to read book with what is often otherwise complex content and terminology.  Bookbinder presents a wide scope of examples and context around the idea of using empathic communication (primarily listening) as well as acknowledging during conversations to help the reader better connect and understand how to show interest in relationships.  The book jumps between numerous examples, some repeated, to highlight different aspects of conversation that teach how to bring more empathic (the same thing as empathetic) listening into common situations.  People are so often focused (even in private conversation), on what they want to say in the conversation, it is common for neither party to ever really hear what the other is saying and even more rare that they connect and engage on the “important” portions of a conversation.  The techniques in this book help to demonstrate that and give methods and subtleties that can be practiced to change that and be more empathetic in conversation with others.

The acknowledging focus then in the book is essentially recognizing and repeating what another person is actually saying and a more advanced version of that, is to interpret some feeling or meaning from that that connects with the person sharing the information.  This is again a conversation technique and can be used while listening to confirm what has been heard, or to connect and engage the other on what or how it has impacted them, if that can be determined.  The author describes many advantages and disadvantages of each of these techniques and provides some great insight as to when to use them or when to refrain.  I thought these guides were quite refreshing and helped to lay a better context around when these tools should actually be used, as obviously they do not always make sense.

I enjoy reading books on different communication techniques or tools and this book was an easy read, quick to understand and I think one that will be very useful to me as I actually now do some practice with these methods to see where I can better connect and engage others in not just any conversation, but meaningful conversation.

One thing I found very odd about the book, was how much content is in the appendixes and how some of them are written.  They describe the book, they outline why you should read it and they seem to go into great detail to convince you to read it, almost to a defensive stance, which I could understand this on the cover, on the preface, but not in the appendixes.  I, like most people read the book from start to finish and so reading these aspects in the appendixes after reading the book, made me question what I had just read, since it seemed like the author was defending the book and perhaps even himself, despite any reason or challenge to do so.  I found that quite odd and not something I’ve seen before in a book.  If you do pick this up, I’d recommend starting in the appendixes and then reading the main book afterwards.

Copyright © 2016 Mike King