This is the place for my rants, raves, reviews and just general "stuff". May you be amused, enlightened, and perhaps even a little pissed off.


Michael Brown Consulting

I see that former FEMA Director Michael Brown is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm. Some people just don't get it. Next thing you know Monica Lewinisky will be starting a dating service and the Menendez brothers will be penning a followup to Dr. Phil's "Family First". With "Brownie" (nose color?), it isn't just the results of his organization being caught unaware, inspite of years of warnings and scenario-based analysis, it was his conduct revealed in his emails during crisis that are extremely telling. When the going really gets tough in the midst of a real crisis, he's trying to figure out how to quit and planning his wardrobe for biggest aesthetic appeal. Such actions are extremely shallow and pathetic and certainly is not the best that the US has to offer.

And what does having "Brownie" as your disaster preparedness consultant say about your company? I certainly hope that someone keeps track of those companies so that they can be blacklisted from the commerce of people with greater than room temperature IQ's. The mind boggles....


Compact Fluorescent Project - Part 1: Economics

Just the other day my wife happened to be watching an "Oprah" episode where a Hollywood-type was pitching energy conservation to save the earth "before its too late", in an almost breathless manner. I am more likely to laugh and point at such drama than to stop and listen, but I had been thinking about converting many of the lights in the house to Compact Fluorescent (CF) bulbs. I hadn't spent much time thinking about it in earnest, nor had I done the analysis to figure out whether it made sense. Consequently I decided to do it as a project and fully analyze and optimize along the way, for your viewing pleasure.

I approached this project with two goals in mind. First, it should save me real money, not penny's here and there. Secondly, I should be able to have my quality of life impacted atleast neutrally, and hopefully positively, by the results. At the outset I had a hunch that it would be economical, but any quality of life improvements would only be a result of not spending as much money.

My first task was to assess how many potential incandescent bulbs that I could replace and what their average usage was so that I could calculate whether it would make economic sense to replace a particular bulb. One aspect of our household that makes this project easier is that we have quite a number of lights that are on timers and thus go on and off automatically. This practice makes it very easy to determine how many hours specific lights are on and thus accurately figure monetary effects. I factored in seasonal shifts for the outdoor lights that we would obviously change according to dusk and dawn, given that the difference between minimum and maximum daylight in our area is about eight hours. I discovered that there are quite a few lights that are rarely turned on and it didn't make sense to invest in replacing those.

It hadn't really occurred to me before, but we already have quite a bit of fluorescent lighting in our house. The original owner of this home was a facilities engineer and surprisingly used it in a couple of places. The master dressing area, the laundry room, and the guest room are all lit with the traditional 4 foot commercial fluorescent bulbs, for a total of 14 bulbs. For the dressing area I had replaced the standard bulbs with natural light versions for light quality reasons. In addition to the what we found in the house when we moved in, we have installed further fluorescent lighting for a variety of reasons. For instance, we installed a CF fixture in our son's room, not for economics reasons, but because we liked the fixture and it was very low profile so the room looked taller. We also installed fixtures that used the thin, short fluorescent bulbs under our cabinets that were also low profile and gave off very little heat which would be transferred into the cabinets above.

Our outside light fixtures, which I figured would be likely candidates for big savings, all have two heads. For a long time we have had only one of the lamps is occupied with a functioning light, as having two was overkill and just doubled the pleasure of replacing burnt out bulbs. This made it easy for me to replace the bulbs with their CF counterparts. I would move the working incandescent light to the non-functioning lamp, leave it unscrewed, and that would provide a nice backup or extra souce of light if we needed additional light temporarily.

Once I had figured out how many of the bulbs in the house that I was going to replace I started shopping. I targeted the bulbs that I thought would have the biggest impact, both in terms of economics and quality, like my office. I also wanted to focus initially on bulbs that we would be dealing with frequently so that I could experience the different bulbs and make subjective assessments about aspects like light quality and how many lumens are "enough" in the different areas. Over a week period I made several trips to Home Depot, Menards, and Target to acquire the bulbs. Their selections were quite different and allowed me to pick specific bulbs for different needs that I ran across. There wasn't much difference in pricing between the stores. I did come to hate the stupid clamshell packaging around the bulbs that unceremoniously drew blood on a couple of occasions.

Additional considerations.

As I was thinking about the economic impact of the project, rather than just considering the energy that they consume, I need to mention the cost of the bulbs themselves. When considering the ultimate expense of the new bulbs, it must be said that I frequently use good full spectrum bulbs and that are more expensive than normal bulbs. Consequently CF bulbs aren't that much more expensive than the bulbs I normally use. If I used crappy standard incandescent bulbs, the price difference would have been dramatically more. I guess I am either more sensitive to light quality, or perhaps I am just picky.

Economic Conclusions.

In the table above, the economics of the CF bulbs are pretty clear in many cases. With energy break-even point median value of under one year, you can get your savings right away.

Next: Compact Fluorescent Project - Part 2: Quality

Compact Fluorescent Project - Part 2: Quality

In part two of this series, I approach the project from a quality of life perspective, rather than simple economy, although that does figure into some of it.

Problems and redux.

I quickly found out that the new CF lighting in my offce was overwhelming, both in quantity and quality. I replaced Reveal full spectrum bulbs with CF bulbs and the new light was very white and very harsh. It hurt my eyes right away and detracted from the ambiance of my beloved office that I spend so much time in. Immediately I turned off half the new bulbs (a further energy savings) and strategically moved the remaining two Reveal bulbs to places that illuminated my most frequently used work areas, namely my desk. I will do some further research to find better full spectrum CF bulbs that don't have such harsh light. When all the CF bulbs were on, it was like going from a dark room to bright outdoors, it was just a little overwhelming. I eventually got used to the change in light quality.

The most surprising problem that I had was that a 60w equivalent CF bulb was too tall for a small lamp in the living room and the bulb stuck slightly over the shade and was aesthetically unpleasing. Had the lamp been in some place other than central portion of the living room, I would have probably left it. The replacement didn't pass the wife test and warranted a "you aren't going to leave it like that" look rating. With further shopping I was able to find a spiral CF bulb that was not only considerably shorter, and fit nicely, but also much lower wattage that worked perfectly for the location. A nice additional monetary perk.

In the master bath area over the sink we replaced the 60w Reveal bulb with a 60w equivalent CF bulb. Right away we could see that the results were unacceptable on a number of accounts. First, the startup time was way too slow for our quick moving, getting ready in the morning routine. We might just be really impatient, but remember that I set a goal of not impacting my quality of life negatively. Also, the light took a while to get up to full intensity, and the type of light was not appealing in the least. It was almost as if we were jaundiced, a real problem when you are getting yourself up and motivated for the day. I quickly switched back to the Reveal bulb.

In the laundry room, over the washer and dryer, I experimented with several bulbs to get a level of illumination that was right for the task area. Once I was happy with the bulb in the fixture, I had my wife test it out. Unfortunately the light temperature was wholly unacceptable because she was unable to match socks of similar color. The level of illumination was adequate, its just the color of the light that the bulb gave off made it hard to differentiate between the dark navy blue socks and black socks. To solve this issue I shopped further for bulbs and got a daylight CF that gave off much better light for the task. Its still a little harsh and makes you feel as if you are in a refrigerator, but atleast you can correctly match socks.

Good things.

Rather than simply consider this a task requiring action to complete, I spent more than a little time considering the qualitative aspects of what occurred and more specifically the good things that came out of it.

My first big win came early in the experiment. The amount of light coming from the outside CF flood lights was exceptional. It was atleast twice the lumens for a quarter of the power. As we get used to it, there are places that it has almost too much light and we will have to do some balancing of the areas. Our front porch definitely has the feel of a theater stage about it. While its nice to have lots of light, it is wasteful.

Truly one of the most positive aspects of this project was the signficiant reduction of heat in my office. I had previously noticed that it would be much cooler when I entered the office after the lights had been off for a long time. I also had previously noticed a marked drop in temperature when I moved from two 19-inch CRTs to two 17-inch LCD monitors. I have nearly ten cpus worth of computing gear in my home office, so there is lots of heat being generated regardless of what else is going on in the office. I figured that changing to CF would have a slight affect, but nothing major. Boy was I wrong! The difference was dramatic and right away. I no longer felt hot in the room after a long period of working in my office and was no longer sweating. Apparently the office was normally right at the perception tipping point of acceptable and hot, with the additional heat from the lights putting it into the hot category. Moving four 50w bulbs to a net two 11w bulbs is a nearly 10-fold reduction in power usage and much of that power we converted to heat.

Not all the positive aspects of this project were specifically about the lights, but instead about installing the lights. We have one bulb that is a real pain to get to. It's location is inconvenient and requires me, inspite of me not being the most limber camper on the planet, to do some gymnastics to install. Furthermore, this bulb is installed by walking on a second story walkway, which tweaks my slight fear of heights. I think you get the point, its a pain to change that bulb. Now, with the long life bulbs, 4 to 8 times longer, I don't have to change it nearly as often. For that reason alone I would pay the extra cost of the bulb.

Subsequent experimentation.

As I live and work in this newly fluorescent world, I have been tweaking things from time to time. For instance, as I mentioned previously, I reduced the number of powered CF bulbs from four to two because the light was more than adequate. I am also contemplating upgrading some of the bulbs in key areas to daylight bulbs, or atleast something closer to full spectrum, to improve the quality of the light in the areas.


Could I be a better conservation story? yes. But recall that the aim of this exercise was to save money and not negatively affect the quality of my (or my family's) life. After I had finished replacing the bulbs that I wanted to focus on, I looked around and was surprised by the number of incandescent bulbs remaining in the house. I was able to count atleast another 31 standard bulbs in the house, 19 candelabra bulbs that would be harder to replace with CF, 4 standard bulbs in the garage, and 10 unused floodlight sockets around outside of the house. The remaining easily replaceable standard bulbs in the house were all well below the five minutes per week usage level, which makes the break-even point for them well over 500 years. I am, unfortunately, not nearly that patient.

Anybody who knows me will tell you that I am definitely not a treehugger. I do, however, think that you should sometimes do the "right" thing, but not out of some faux crisis promulgated by a vapid celebrity from Hollywood. In other words, just do it because its easy, it works, and it will save you money. In my case it was approximately $185/yr, but your savings might be much greater if your power costs are higher.


What is the word "grunt" in Korean?

My young son has been taking Tae Kwon Do at a local place for just about a year. Recently there was a Grandmaster and a Master that came over from Shiheung, South Korea to do training sessions with the students. In honor of their visit and a visiting Korean trade delegation there was a martial arts show to be given by the students of the various arts that are taught at the center. The center is sort of like a big family and I decided to bring small Korean Turtle ship statue type gift that I received for my participation, many years ago, in the benchmarking and eventual sale of a very large Cray-2 supercomputer to the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). It was the first supercomputer on the Korean penninsula.

I thought it would be nice to make a connection with their culture, especiallly with something that they were extremely proud of in their history. The turtle ship was the worlds first iron clad battleship, circa 1592. During the Im Jin War between the Koreans and Japanese, it dominated the seas. But I digress.

The demos went well and there were all kinds of presentations of plaques back and forth between the delegations. After the festivities were over I took the turtle ship over to the office manager. Seeing it, she was absolutely blown away. She quickly brought me over to a woman who was apparently a translator for the trade delegation and had me explain the circumstances behind how I received the turtle ship. She listened intently and once I was done she hustled over two gentlemen from the trade delegation (one of which was reputed to own 4 city blocks in Seoul) and showed it to them. She went into a long explanation in Korean, which I didn't understand in the least. As she was speaking, their faces became longer and more amazed. At the end their was almost a look of shock on their face. They hailed several others from the trade delegation and told them what appeared to be the shortened version of what the translator had told them. Before I knew it, I was swept into the group for a series of pictures with the whole group. This was the same style of picture that had been taken with the President of the Rochester City Council.

Given that I was in an old t-shirt, jeans, and sandals, I wasn't exactly expecting that to happen. There was lots of reverent handshakes with me, which only made me more bewildered. I talked to the office manager who I had taken it to in the first place and asked what just went on. She thought that it had been explained by the translator that I was responsible for the first supercomputer in Korea. Apparently the word 'grunt' doesn't translate very well into Korean. I just pray that the pictures don't end up in the paper or anything.

To be clear, I worked quite a bit on the benchmark, mostly doing menial type tasks like writing tapes and assisted the various other benchmarkers, but was certainly in no way responsible for it being sold. There were lots of other people that were considerably more responsible than I.

It's an odd cautionary tale about different cultures and foreign languages.

To Start Things Off!

I thought I would start things off by posting some of the backgrounds derived from photos that I have taken. They are available as 1280x1024, 1024x768, and 800x600, which should cover most peoples needs. If you wish other sizes, feel free to contact me. Currently there are images from Scotland and French Polynesia. I will add more as some goes on. Enjoy!