Geeking Out

I’m still a kid at heart. DW can testify to that. I enjoy games. Sport games. Video games. Board games. Word games. Picture games. Though my taste in toys has changed over the years. No longer do I ride Big Wheels (though I more than likely would if they made them my size). No longer do I play with Speak-n-Spell (though I probably should because my spelling can be atroshus). Now my toys involve a bit more technology.  It will come as no surprise for two items on my “after we get rich” list. Naturally, these are items strictly on my “want” list. There’s no way I need these things other than to make life a bit more fun. But still… I can’t wait to get rich.

The first item is kind of like something I already have except about a million times better. You may have seen a video I made with this techy toy. It’s a small drone. When I say small, I mean that it doesn’t have any bells and whistles. We’re lucky if the battery lasts ten minutes. It has the power to carry a GoPro, but if I lose sight of it, it’s gone. If a gust of wind blows, it’ll be gone. So we’ve limited ourselves to flying it just in the backyard. It’s still fun. But this new one, this high tech one called a Mavic that’s made by DJi, has all the bells and whistles. The battery lasts for nearly a half hour. It folds up small enough to (barely) fit in your pocket. It has a wicked camera. It has GPS so that it can hover in one spot no matter the wind speed. It can fly 4 miles away and return with the touch of a button. It can follow you! Okay, so it costs as much as a new computer, but how much fun would that be? Granted, I’d still be filming our family 99% of the time with it. However, imagine filming yourself, or the kids, or all of us, from the air as we go zooming down the best sledding hill our town has to offer. Imagine a birds eye view you could of yourself, of the kids, of all of us, kayaking a forested, lazy river. It’s taking home video to levels never seen before. If anyone knows where I could get my hands on one, I would LOVE to fly one of these. 

The second toy I have my eye on is a new gaming system. We have a Wii and have had it for many years. It’s easy to use. Both of our boys were using it by the age of 2 or 3 (with supervision, of course). Lately, we have spent two or three nights a week having a “family night” after supper and before bed playing four player Mario Kart. The boys laugh and laugh when DW lets slip a bad word because she fell off the track, again. In March, Nintendo has a new system coming out that’s getting a fair amount of hype called The Switch. It seems to be part tablet and part console in the sense that you can dock it to your TV to play, but once undocked you can continue playing your game as a tablet. It even has controllers that fit the tablet portion. I’m curious to see if it can still play four player games locally without having to be online like the Wii can. Also like the Wii, it relies on controller motion, not just joystick movement and button pushing of it’s competitors. Crash has asked me to print a chore chart again so he can start earning an allowance to save up for this. I’m curious to see how it does once it hits the market.

What’s on your wish list?

Photovoltaic Geeks

More sunlight hits the Earth in one day than every person on Earth could use in 27 years!

~Bill Nye

Today’s lesson is on Photovoltaic cell. Or for us normal people, solar cells.

I’m sure you’ve all seen them. Or at least a picture of them. Like these…

solar panels

They provide electricity at no cost. No fuel required. There are zero emissions, zero pollution, zero noise. So how do they work?

First, you already know electricity is the movement of electrons – those negatively charged particles of an atom. When they move, we get zapped.

Second, silicon is a metalloid  which means it’s sort of a metal. So it can sort of conduct electricity.

A solar panel is basically a silicon sandwich- negative and positive silicon (like peanut butter and jelly). Where they meet is where the action is. The trading of electrons could be described as some peanut butter getting in the jelly and some jelly getting in the peanut butter.

There’s a whole lot of science involved and I’m trying not to get too pvtechnical. But, to simplify it as much as I can; the negatively charged electrons join with the positively electrons in the middle of the sandwich. Sunlight then causes them split up again. When the panel is connected to a circuit the divided electrons flow through the circuit and meet up again in the “sandwich” and start the process all over.

When many panels are joined, you get an array, like the one shown in the first picture. These arrays can be used to power everything electrical in houses. If this house creates more electricity than it uses, that electricity is sent back to the power company. In many areas, power companies are required by law to pay the user for any electricity that is returned to them.

Most solar panels are only 11-15% efficient. This means that only 11-15% of the sunlight that hits the panel is converted into electricity. While this may sound low, it’s more than efficient for a few rooftop panels to create enough electricity for the house to be self sufficient.

Now let me entertain you. The reason for this science lesson is because Crash already got one, sort of. I haven’t really explained this all to him because I, myself, just learned it as I was typing this. Hence, I’m no expert.

Anyway, Crash received a solar power kit for Christmas. This thing can be built into 14 different robots and they all move of their own accord under the power of direct sunlight.

The first thing he wanted built was a car. But first we had to assemble the motor box (that’s the box under the solar panel “head”). It wasn’t easy because those parts were small. After we completed the motor we were supposed to test it. Unfortunately, it snowed for five days, so it sat for a while. We played in the snow in the meantime.

Anyway, when we had a sunny morning we opened the front door and direct sunlight beamed in. We grabbed the car and set it up and IT WENT BACKWARDS!

Crash and Bang laughed at that. I did too. I thought I put gears or the motor or something in backwards. Confused, I switched the positive and negative wires. Guess what? That made it run forwards. I seriously had no idea switching the wires would cause it run in the opposite direction. But now that I know how solar panels work, it makes sense. Those electrons are going to flow, unlike a battery, in the same direction (hence it’s called direct current). Switching the wires simply changes the direction of the flow.

Anyway, Crash and Bang played with it until the sun didn’t shine through the door anymore. And Bang was getting a kick out of cast a shadow on the panel to make the car stop.

We’re certainly not setting any land speed records here, but we are learning!



Geeking Out

Our local library is not just for books any more. It also contains a geocache. It also has a 3D printer.

If being a geek means I know how to use computers, I know how to fix computers, and liking Star Wars, then I enjoy being a geek. I found out last winter that our library has a 3D printer. It went through a phase of always being broken down. So I didn’t get print anything for a long time. This winter? I have printed.Merry_Christmas

The librarian told me to use the website Thingiverse to find stuff I wanted to print. And find stuff I did. Being Christmas time, the first thing I printed was a Christmas tree ornament. Nothing fancy, but pretty enough for our tree. What tree isn’t complete without a 3D printed ornament? The librarian set up the printer for me while I used the computer program the printer communicate with. It was really easy.

On my next visit the following week, I just had to start printing the ultimate 3D printable. It’s not fully operation, by any means, but still…


It’s a Death Star! How cool is this?

IMG_4237Apparently I’m not the Princess Peachonly geek in the house. Crash wanted something printed as well. Back to the library we went (we were taking books back, anyway). What did he want printed?

Steve. From Minecraft.

We’re going back to the library today so the third geek, Bang, can print a Princess Peach. She’s his girlfriend, he says. Except he wants a golden Peach, not blue. I can do that because I learned how to change the filaments so we can use any color the library provides – which is actually quite a few.

We’re a family of geeks and I’m okay with that. These are just simple figures that we are printing. There are much more complicated builds. The Death Star was three builds – it printed in three separate pieces to be glued together. Each build takes about an hour. The more complicated builds would take several trips to the library. There are builds with actual working pieces – like the nut and bolt we printed last summer. And then there’s this marble race! It prints in seven different pieces. It’s on our wish list.

What would you 3D print?