Air Crash Investigation – are all pilots now unsafe?

Air crash Flight 800 July 1996


Air Crash – bad news travels faster than a jet liner

With the tragic loss of the Germanwings Airbus A320 last week airlines are scrambling to change their policies with regards to minimum requirement of crew in the cockpit at any one time. Experienced airline pilots are baffled by this.  It’s reasonable to expect airlines to allay fears of seasoned travellers but the fact remains, pilots crashing aircraft deliberately are few and far between.

Read Aviation Safety Network for more information regarding possible deliberate crashes.

Air crash Flight 800 July 1996
Reconstruction Flight TWA800 – Wiki (This work is in the public domain in the United States)

In an air crash the pilot is innocent until proven guilty

While the latest crash is made all the more tragic because of the many people on-board, including children, this ‘supposed’ selfish act is therefore by no means the only one and the NTSB and other worldwide safety boards must be working frantically to find a solution. I say ‘supposed’ here because the investigation is not over and the co-pilot is assumed to be at fault – the news media forget that everyone is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. This applies to pilots as well.



The safety lockout mechanism was designed to keep bad people out and good people in – as simple as that.  The mere fact that a pilot may have to leave the cockpit for a few seconds compromises the security – going to the toilet is a natural event, not hijacking an aircraft.  The pilot can put the aircraft into a nose dive which will only take a few seconds – this did not happen in the case of the Germanwings disaster. Also to this date nobody knows what happened to flight MH370. Everything is driven by the news, conspiracies or not. Speculation is rife. Nothing sells faster than bad news. An air crash is always a spectacular news seller. With social media now being the number one driving force, the headlines have to always be that much more spectacular.

Pilots are human too

Most countries and their airlines carry out routine drug, alcohol and physical/mental fitness programs for their pilots. Just one forced air-crash through deliberate pilot intervention is one too many – but let’s not paint with the doom and gloom brush. Pilots are only human after all.


Boeing and no doubt Airbus may have the means to control an aircraft remotely but I fear that we are throwing just a little too much emphasis on modern electronics and snake-oil – the pilot is and should be a highly trained individual. The first and last resort to flying safety, like the driver of a motor vehicle. Would you trust most drivers in the seat of a jet airliner?  Yet they kill more people on the roads than a pilot on the ground or in the air. It may be an unfair comparison but if a driver is as highly trained as an airliner pilot we would have fewer road deaths. Period.


For now, making all these drastic changes to company policy is over compensation. An average crew member taking the place of the captain or co-pilot is possibly as clueless as Joe Soap in the cockpit. Pilots should be commended, not create a scenario where we believe them all to be psychopaths, waiting for the cockpit door to be locked so they could crash the aircraft. If I was a pilot I wouldn’t like this element of mistrust through management. (read Science on the Web – Dr David Warren).

Read South African Sunday Times article on SA pilots here – the more one reads about this the more paranoid we become. Although the article has been written responsibly (I think) the fact is that too many permutations into how this may be construed remains. South African pilots are amongst the best in the world. Will Qantas and British Airways be next?

For now then, wait for the actual report into this sad incident and don’t jump to conclusions. An air crash is taken seriously and in most cases there will always be a recommendation. How about some insight by a pilot? Interesting and intelligent article about what domestic pressures an airline pilot may face on Philip Greenspun’s weblog





An Express Guide to the Motorcycle Wiring Harness

wiring harness - start run logic control


Looms and the Motorcycle wiring harness

We spruce up our wheels, add aftermarket kits, get more horsepower, polish until the paint comes off but the wiring harness is the most neglected part of the motorcycle. What to do, what to do.

Schematics  and wiring diagrams

wiring harness - start run logic control
Start Run Logic – Wiki Commons credit IngerAlHaosului

Motorcycles and automobiles share one thing in common – an almost unreadable schematic designed for another type or model. Motorcycles are often shipped complete from the factory for a specific country, certain models to Canada and the USA, some to the UK, some to Australia, South Africa or maybe Cambodia. These models often don’t differ that much but it’s amazing how many times you may think you have the exact manual for your bike only to find that the wiring diagram differs.  When ordering a manual for your bike remember that they differ, the vintage is important, the country destination is important and any suffixes or prefixes to the model are important. Haynes manuals usually cover more than one model and can be country specific. The original workshop manual is obviously the best but they are expensive.

So you don’t have a manual, you are stuck in the sticks with a dead system. Or like myself you find that the battery has run down – riding all day with the headlight on and not an inkling that the charge circuit has failed. Yet the charge light was off.

All roads lead to Rome or ground or the headlight.



If you don’t have a manual:

First of all get a manual for any motorcycle and study the schematic or Google it, look for a small bike and not a Goldwing (which may appear to be that of a Boeing 747).  Multi-cylinders and single-cylinders are virtually the same except for the mono or multi-spark/ignition system.

Most electrical problems in a motorcycle are caused by the following:

  • loose wiring – intermittent
  • chafed wiring – watch that loom! Most motorcycles have the loom terminated in the headlight bucket with individual connections feeding switches and rockers.
  • bad earth – dim lighting, unswitched lights come on with a switched circuit

Not all motorcycles follow the same charging circuit design as that of a motor-car e.g. alternator, rectifier (ac-dc), regulator, battery. In some cases they are downright primitive. Although simplicity is key, car systems are very reliable – not all motorcycle charging circuits are.  Over simplifying means cost cutting and unreliability. The older GS range of Suzukis were prone to frying the charge circuit. The alternator can put out out tens of Amperes and will burn thin gauge wiring very easily.

So where to start?

How accessible is the electrics on your bike. The saddle comes off, the side panels come off, the tank comes off, the fairing comes off. If you are fortunate and have an old bike this should taken under half an hour. Modern bikes just look better because they have a million and one parts. Usually covering the electrical system. Sometimes, not always.

Must Haves

A 10W lightbulb with wire connectors and crocodile clips is indispensable.  Some times more so than a multi-meter. Why?

The multi-meter, especially the digital units have a very high input impedance – designed not to load sensitive electronic circuits. A multimeter may show a potential of 12V from a live cable to ground but a light bulb may not illuminate or just be dim – if there is a poor connection (high resistance) the meter will not reflect the poor connection, the light bulb will glow dimly or not at all. Where there is a poor ground, for instance in an indicator circuit, the supply will look for a ground to complete the circuit, often through the earthing of other circuits e.g. another light-bulb. You may see this in flashing tail-lamps when the indicators are on, brake and tail lamps coming on simultaneously (both dim) or a dim headlamp bulb.

Dim lamps, if caused by a poor connection means local heating around the poor connection. If your headlamp is 60W and measures only 2V across it, you have 10V across the poor connection, assuming the battery voltage is 100%. This may mean power is dissipated at the poor connection, limited only by the headlamp resistance, which can cause a fire.




Check your earth strap! Check your battery pole connections!

Assuming only a 1 Ohm drop in circuit wiring, which is substantial, will mean nearly a 1/3 drop in voltage across the head light-bulb. (this is an estimation). Enough to warrant a serious investigation into the cause of a dim headlamp.

In many single cylinder bikes, spark is derived from a magneto arrangement or pulse from a coil fired by the spinning of the crank.  In multi-cylinder bikes this may be through two pulses or four or more from the spinning of the crank. These pulses feed the CDI or capacitive discharge ignition system which feeds the high voltage ignition coil.  The CDI system is very reliable. Wiring from the magnetic pick up circuit may not be. Check for frayed connections. The CDI system can also run at a very much lower voltage than nominal battery voltage to enable the engine to start while cranking – CDIs also eliminate contact bounce as in older ‘points’ systems.  They can run effectively on a low battery voltage so the rider assumes all is good. As sophisticated as they may be they do not like reverse polarity – always make sure your battery is put in the right way round. This may sound a very stupid thing to do but this occurs more frequently than one may think. Owners will never disclose this however. Under dim lighting conditons red and black look pretty much the same. So be warned.


A typical charging circuit is a regulator positioned between the alternator field coil and ground, with one output to the battery. (i.e. the field coil sits between ground and regulator output). The alternator output may be a single coil unit feeding one diode for rectification (ac to dc) or multiple coils, multi or three-phase, as in most motor cars. From half wave rectification to three phase full wave, they all serve one purpose – supplying direct current to charge the battery. Three phase is more efficient. The regulator serves to charge the battery and power all electrical circuits from the alternator without an over-voltage situation. The regulator also has one connecting wire going to the charge lamp on the console or idiot panel.

Regulation and the GS Suzuki Series

The regulator is essentially a device which controls the current through the alternator field coil. The output voltage of the alternator is sensed, fed back to a zener (silicon diode voltage regulator) and output transistor which controls the current through the field. This is a very reliable circuit and has been used for many decades. The Suzuki GS however did not have a reliable charging circuit – what made them veer off a tried and trusted design we’ll never know.  If you do have a GS series Suzuki it’s best to do the modifications. I looked for this on the GS Resources website but they are in the process of updating and making changes so could not find anything there. The forum may carry it otherwise go to the kendoll website.  Some owners report of getting an excess of 30V from the charging circuit when regulation was lost – this fries the battery, bulbs and of course alternator windings.

GS Series Regulator
GS Series Regulator

An old trick:  Park the bike with headlamp shining against a wall. Gently throttle the machine to about 3 000 rpm, the headlamp should grow brighter but not excessively. Build your own regulator here (will not work with a permanent magnet field e.g. magneto)

What does the wiring harness connect to? Some simple circuits to whet your appetite.

Indicator circuits are simple, usually with a mechanical ‘blinker’ relay or electronic with switching semiconductors. Indicator lamps are usually two wire devices, one side been grounded through a wire (common) in the loom. Loose or flaky wiring systems usually cause more than just the two switched lights (L or R) to flash.

Brake lights are usually switched via means of a mechanical or pressure switch.

Some switches on the handlebars are grounded – clean these connections if you can. Be careful not to lose balls and springs.

The starter or cranking circuit is nearly always done via means of a push button switch, relay (starter relay or solenoid) and starter motor. The low current side may or may not go through the gear shift selector and/or clutch making the engine impossible to crank whilst in gear or when the clutch is engaged and in gear. Because our trusty motorcycle no longer has a kick starter this can become a bit of a bind if the battery is flat and you stall at an intersection.

Modern motorcycles are released with some very interesting gizmos in their electronics.  Usually totally unnecessary for the engine to kick over and run. When it comes to wiring always look at the basics first. Power to the CDI and the engine cranks. Always handy to have a 3 ft piece of 2.5mm wire with croc clips in your tool kit.

If you do come across wiring which has become chafed, replace it at your earliest convenience – never just insulate. Always find out why the chafing took place. Never replace fuses with a higher rating. Never use galvanised bolts in place of glass fuses, neither jumpers for flat fuses (blade).

When replacing bullet or spade terminals the general rule of thumb is to solder and crimp. When in the field this may not be possible – keep connection blocks handy in your tool kit. Make sure you have the right sized screw driver in your kit. Along with spare headlamp bulbs.

Motorcycle batteries are killed deader than dead and very quickly if left uncharged for any length of time. They are designed to be used. In fact they last longer if used.

If you do have a jumper with a bulb and a multimeter the correct way for diagnosing dead electrics is to ground the one terminal (jumper or negative probe), go from battery plus, to ignition switch, to starter relay coil (+) – then to battery (+) on solenoid. If all is good, push starter switch and check solenoid main contact out to starter. If this relay just clicks without the motor turning over the solenoid has burnt contacts. You can open a solenoid and burnish the contacts but you will need to unsolder the coil – this can be tricky. Solenoids should not be expensive to replace.

Most wiring can be checked fairly easily – if you are at home and have the tools. Wiring is something you do need to check regularly on older machines, bike wiring is especially susceptible to the elements and any bike older than ten years (even some newer bikes) will have wiring problems. The most common is in the charging circuit and intermittent running. The electronics is very reliable, unfortunately the connections not always.  Sea air is a big killer. Some scientists even ride their off road bikes into the sea as a test of durability. Whilst after a six pack or two this is a novel idea, it’s not a long term solution to the longevity of the bike.  Upcountry and a thousand miles from the sea purchases are always better than from a coastal town.

Rewiring the wiring harness

If you do decide to rewire your bike there’s one very important fact that you need to get right first time – cable length. If you have a loom you can work off at least then you have a workable ‘template’. If not, run the wiring as you would from point to point, no longer or shorter than is necessary. Longer means you can trim, never shorter. Do not kink the wiring and use the correct wiring gauge to carry the current. Remember that when running a common black wire (-) from a central point to ground then the wire to chassis must be capable of carrying the total current of all circuits in operation. Your charging circuit ground is usually hard wired to chassis already (sometimes internally) or use a thick black cable, as short as possible. Likewise battery negative and positive poles must have the shortest possible length and thick gauge wire, from negative to chassis and positive to starter solenoid – solenoid to starter motor. Main ignition (+) also must be the same gauge as the common grounding black wire (not battery negative to chassis, these are very thick). Always fuse the main positive ignition line, preferably at the battery. I like motogadget’s mUnit-v2, this will make your build more professional and safer.

Do not use twin core flex (I have for a temp fix) – they are not heat rated and are very prone to brittleness and damage.  Wire used in auto electric work is expensive, rightly so. Use proper connectors and not the lightweight terminals from the DIY store. No parts of the wire or connector, positive or negative ground should ever be bare. On older machines the stator windings of the alternator may have aged to the point where heat has taken it’s toll – usually seen in colour change, brittleness etc. Have this rewound professionally or look for aftermarket kits. Modern stock is more reliable and capable of higher current ratings than vintage models. Switches may still work but become unreliable or show excess mechanical wear. Replace with aftermarket kits, or replace the entire lever assembly with switches.

The headlamp bucket is a great place to bunch up wiring which can cause connectors to pull loose. If the wiring is not dressed properly terminals will pull loose when the front wheel is moved hard over to either direction. Wiring must remain slack at any angle of the wheel. This can be a nightmare – be patient and make sure wires are not intertwined.

Ensure that the loom does not hang anywhere, the loom must fit snugly against the chassis, preferably on top. Loose wires hanging from the now tightly wrapped or shrink wrapped loom is also a big no-no. If the bike falls over the wiring should not be damaged. If the bike is involved in an accident wiring should not be exposed and if it does, the main fuse should rupture if there is a short.

Wiring your old bike, possibly even making up a new loom should be a fun exercise. If done properly it will last another ten years.



Reading matter:

The Wiring Harness Manufacturer’s Association and IPC/WHMA-A-620Acceptability of Electronic Wire Harnesses and Cables







Studio Desk – drawings and design

Studio Desk - Abbey Road Studios

Studio Desk – workstations in progress

A common request on the forums is for plans to build a recording studio desk for the amateur or professional musician or recording engineer. Whilst there are many desk designs to choose from we have added a list of links which more or less covers the best looking desks and work stations out there. Please feel free to write to us if you have your own design which you would like to advertise or  even better, can supply free plans and a “how to build it” guide.

Studio Desk - Abbey Road Studios
Abby Road Studios – image from Wiki / Flickr commons licence: Josephenus P. Riley

Some things to understand:

  • A studio desk will change the room acoustics. This is common knowledge.
  • Some engineers like a bridge, some don’t. It’s important that the desk is solid and does not resonate – it will if light density wood is used and it will if anything is loose.
  • Many desk designs are too wide to fit into an apartment so high density speaker stands are sometimes not an option, it’s a must have. Will cover that as well.
  • Pricing varies, a nice design does not have to be expensive, a professional finish will though.
  • Many designs cater for the 100 dollar market. This will seldom work out practically because of first timer learning curve. Paints are also very expensive.
  • Try to build modular – expandability is key. Making a rigid once off design is a problem when you get more gear.
  • Cables need to be laid out properly – also ensure you have a safety trip on the desk if you use multiplugs or a central connector.
  • Check that you can get to your hardware sockets easily – there’s nothing worse than to dismantle something to get to a socket.
  • Note from the doctor: look straight into your monitor, not down or up, this is inviting muscular problems.

The projects listed here in some cases can be built from the images, it’s not always necessary to buy a plan if you have a good eye.  Artists have an uncanny eye for detail – if you have a bud whom is into graphics invite him or her over for a pint – nothing like getting into someone else’s  head. Don’t forget the spouse.

GoatIn a Tree – really awesom design with all the cutting specs and designed for corner placement Designed is copyright, ARIOGRAPHICS. Although 2003 it shows that desks don’t age. is a good place to kick off – plans for sale

Wood Working Talk – nice project and will throw in some ideas.

Jason Miller’s page at Recording Studio Central is a great place to start. We really like the design and for all intents and purposes, will give the DIY guy or gal a great step in the right direction.

Topic Now – a series of YouTube videos to whet your appetite.

A website with desk designs for purchase can be found at The Home Studio Guy. Purchase and plans page found here.

Jack Daniels Recording – photo blog to give an idea as to how a professional desk is built. The pictures are really worth ten thousand words so let your imagination run wild.

Use MDF to build your project? Some great tips and building advice found at the Project Studio Handbook.

Larry Marrs website – the link here gives the drawings and specs needed to build a professional desk with speaker mount. Video below:


Miloco Builds – a professional studio design and build contracting company gives some really exceptional insight into their projects. For someone wanting to build their own studio, lots of information in their projects pages.  Again, pictures are worth many words.

If you want to buy, how about ehomerecordingstudio, possibly not better than a home built unit but enough to wrap your head around. 10/10 for the Studio RTA Producer Station.

To wind up, a professional studio desk will cost a lot of money.  Most home built units are designed for a specific location, not all of us are fortunate enough to have ample space. Take your time with the design, check measurements twice and do get input from more than one source.  Many suppliers will do the cut for a nominal fee – this will be expertly done (hopefully) and if you have the patience you will be well rewarded.



Top Gear – Eco trashbag of Political Incorrectness, we love it!

Top Gear - Toybota


Top Gear tries to cull The Voice of Reason

There has been a lot of fuss about Jeremy Clarkson’s suspension by the BBC recently. Amidst all this, BBC are losing a fair share of revenue in this new venture. Whilst I applaud their stand against an employee whom punched a colleague, Oisin Tymon, over a dinner issue one can only wonder about the supposed real issue – possibly in house politics? Sure, where Clarkson goes there is bound to be politics but isn’t this what the show is all about. Love him or loathe him the fact is there also two other stars in the show, May and Hammond. The show is just not the same without any of them being there, not just Clarkson. Clarkson May just be a Knob, but we love the guy!

Top Gear - Toybota
Toybota (wiki image credit nahtanoj)

Is Top Gear overrated?

We doubt it, this is entertainment, real entertainment. With over 6 million UK viewers this series is frighteningly appealing. The stars are bright and funny, add ridiculousness in a world full of do-gooders and tree-huggers, light fires where there is no wood and don’t forget the power of British humour.

On the subject of Top Gear, what other popular car TV series are there?


Well of course you have the USA version with Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust and Rutledge Wood gearing up for an American audience. Quite good really but with very little politics from any of the crew to add to the fun, the presenters rely on their individually honed skills which they have in spades. Foust is a world champ in many areas, this adds credibility to the program.

Top Gear Australia did not enjoy the viewership of the British and American series and was cancelled in 2011. However there have been threats to re-vitalise the series.

Fifth Gear, originally on channel 5 features Tiff Needell, Vicki Butler-Henderson and Jonny Smith. Although a popular show it does lack the political incorrectness of Top Gear.


On YouTube we have “Drive” featuring Chris Harris.  Always on cue, Harris is witty and straight to the point – website found here chris-harris.kinja.

There are countless other programs geared up, pun intended, to enrich the viewer but none seems as enthralling as the BBC Top Gear. Most petrol-heads step over the hype and focus on reality, the brute power, top speed and gadgets that really work.  Most petrol heads also have a sense of humour, in house political correctness will not have much support because who really wants to see a silent solar powered car eating bio fuel going around a track at 50 mph. Bring on the Maclaren’s, Porches, Ferraris and Lambos.




What exactly are fuel cells?

Fuel Cells - Proton Exchange Membrance Fuel Cells


Fuel cells – water, water, everywhere

After labouring over rechargeable batteries and believing that just possibly the Lithium Ion cell with all the modern advancements in technology thrown at it may be king we have the fuel cell, in some cases the PEMFC or the use of Polymer Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells.  Is this really just genius or hype? Do we really need to have a bank of Lithoum Ion batteries that needs to be recharged or can we just top up with water instead of a fossil fuel?  We may have a shortage of water but not of sea water. So many questions, so few answers.

Fuel Cells - Proton Exchange Membrance Fuel Cells
Fuel Cells or PEMFC – image credit wiki/ Kpengboy

Whilst searching for the ever green renewable fuel source we come across a couple of snags. In the motor industry we need a lot of power and this power must always be on tap. A trip into the wilderness in your electric car may prove to be just a one way trip, the wilderness has no rechargeable outlets leaving you and your expensive vehicle stranded. Hybrids of course are much more serious and they won’t leave you stranded unless you run out of gas, petrol or diesel. Rechargeable vehicles are charged from the same source as that used in heating your kettle – from a coal fired steam driven alternator.  The hybrid is still using fossil fuels. Hybrids and their associated fuel economy may be a thing of the present but in some cases road tests have proven that they are not as efficient as claimed. This leaves us then with the fuel cell.





A battery, cell or stack produces electricity by a chemical reaction.  That is, electrodes anode, cathode and the electrolyte e.g. positive and negative poles in the lead acid car battery.  Not wanting to plagiarise, readers can get reading material from, an authoritive website on this highly technical subject. Fuel cells do not cover an exhaustive topic, they are ever changing and technology has in many ways favoured them over other forms of providing an energy source because the basic emission is pure water and heat. (lead acid gives off hydrogen gas and the electrolyte is highly corrosive).

Alternative Fuelsthe alternative energy concept

Fuel cells have two main disadvantages, cost of manufacture of the cell and fuel and of course, fuel accessibility.  Whilst many countries do ship hydrogen, how plausible is it to manufacture the gas at a refueling station? Manufacturers of hydrogen currently use hydrocarbon reforming of natural gas through a superheated steam process which releases hydrogen but the apparent disadvantage is that more power is used in this process than which it can deliver.  This still remains the main disadvantage of using hydrogen as a fuel. Whilst the gas itself is not toxic it is also highly flammable.  Anyone having read about the Hindenberg will be fully aware of the pitfalls. However propane gas is also flammable, is toxic and has been shipped via pipeline or tanker for many years, mostly without incident. Manufacturing onsite is still the most viable however.  The Alternative Energy website covers the pitfalls of manufacture and the use of solar energy to manufacture hydrogen.

Samsung to the rescue

The idea of generating hydrogen gas from water is an exciting one and globally there should be more interest, more so than enticing participants in the space race with millions in prizes. A company such as Samsung (the electronics division), which would in any event be looking at alternative energy to push profits may be in the best position to offer a 10 million dollar prize to the harbinger of new age technology to derive hydrogen from water. I doubt we would find investment from a solely listed petroleum company – but who knows. Of course the company keeps the profits.




Money spinners and no more hybrids

To our mind, hydrogen fuel cells would take us into the 21st century, fossil fuels are old hat but huge money spinners.  We don’t want to see fossil fuels used in the hydrogen manufacturing process, neither a fuel injected gas or petrol engine driving a generator driving an electric motor coming to us at a premium price. Simplicity is key and it may be under our noses.

The manufacture of Fuel cells just remain too attractive and the disadvantages too few not to be taking this alternative form of energy very seriously. Water water everywhere not a drop to burn.

Read: Why a Hydrogen economy doesn’t make sense – (Dec 2006)

(see part one)



Rechargeable batteries – The weak link (part one)

Rechargeable Batteries - the fuel cell


Rechargeable batteries – Lithium Ion is King

Through the years there has been huge progress in the manufacture of lightweight high density batteries. Much of modern day tech is around the Li-ion or Lithium Ion battery with Sony being the first company to commercialise rechargeable Li-ion batteries. Sony was also the first company to have a mass recall on their batteries in 2006 when through impurities in the manufacture process the cells were sometimes rapidly discharged (internal short) causing thermal runaway, venting and rapid disassembly.  During a rapid discharge or short circuit the older Li-ion cells which use Cobalt cathodes become unstable (> 150 deg C) causing the cell to ignite and vent flame. Newer cells use Manganese instead of Cobalt, can hold a much stronger discharge flow and is stable up to about 250 degrees Celsius. These higher discharge currents therefore makes the battery more suitable and safer for cordless drilling machines which place huge stress on the battery when very high torque is required or there is lock up.

Rechargeable Batteries - the fuel cell
Direct Methanol Fuel Cell NASA – photo credit Stahlkocher Wiki Public Domain

Lithium for rechargeable batteries from seawater

Whilst Lithium Ion cells have given most manufacturers headaches in trying to attain the highest density and/or power to weight ratio, the Li-Ion cell has now also proven to be very safe and reliable. They, however, are costly. A common misconception is also that Lithium, atomic number 3 on our periodic table is very scarce. Lithium is a soft white metal, easily dissolved in seawater, which makes this in actual fact fairly abundant. Scientists predict that this is key to getting the numbers up, in one case the South Korean government and steel giant POSCO are already in the process of extracting Lithium from seawater. Although this process is very costly, Korean technology is regarded as being the best in respect to efficiency at extraction, a fact not lost in the battery making industry where it is believed that are racing to dominate the market.



Common battery types

So is Li-ion really the be all and end all of our latest battery technology? Ni-Cd was around for years, Ni-MH was a step up, Lead-Acid has been around for 150 years and the NIFE cell still has a huge following.

Both NiCd and NiMH have a mature market and are used where reliability and lower cost makes them more attractive in certain market sectors, the video camera being just one of them.  In many cases the rechargeable Alkaline cell is all that is required and suffices for kid’s toys and in lower current equipment, for example a wireless keyboard and mouse setup. The rechargeable Alkaline cell has a very low self discharge rate.

Lead Acid Cells

The lead-acid cell is the most common battery in use today where weight is not of concern such as in car and general auto electrics and certain electric vehicles. Handling high discharge currents for short periods of time, as in engine cranking, they are prone to damage through lengthy discharge periods and high current charging. Although versatile, lead-acid cells are not ideal in situations which require reliability for mission critical equipment. The lead acid cell also vents hydrogen gas which in itself makes it unsuitable in many situations. Gel batteries in many instances have become more popular than the flooded cell type.

Rechargeable batteries – Nickel Iron

With more and more houses now been equipped with solar panels the most popular form of storage has become the deep cycle lead acid battery. The question that arises is often, what has happened to the NIFE cell? Indeed, this is a good question because NIFE cells carry a bad rap.

The NIFE cell, also known as the Edison cell is to our mind very underated and besides all the plausible arguments against using nickel or potassium hydroxide, NIFE remains a firm favourite of many die-hards because they have proved to be reliable and very robust and will therefore stand the test of time. Possibly the hardiest of the bunch. To get more information go to the Edison Nickel Iron Battery website. NIFE cells may not be used in lightweight drones but for solar energy storage may be the answer.

The right path?

The problem with battery manufacture is not just in the cell technology and R&D; manufacture may be a very expensive process but are we really on the right path?  Should we not be looking at another way to get energy, not just through solar, charging circuits, storage units and inverters.

Rechargeable batteries should last the lifetime of the equipment. We believe NIFE fulfills this criteria for solar charging systems. The next step is Polymer Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFC). [part two]



Energy Losses from Utility to Home

Energy Losses - the AC problem


Energy losses – The great DC versus AC debate

(Editor’s Note:  This article is not written to disprove any theories about AC transmission lines. We need to be a lot more skeptical about talking DC when the advantages and disadvantages of DC and AC were known about more than a century ago. We talk energy efficiency when most vehicles driven to work are single occupant vehicles. We really do have our knickers in a knot. This article does emphasise DC in the home although common engineering practice would be AC to DC (high voltage) and then back to AC using the advantages of both DC and AC).

Although we are so accustomed to having power at the press of a button many engineers are now rethinking the way in which we get power. There are huge energy losses in the AC transmission line from utility to the home or factory, mostly brought about by the inherent nature of alternating current flow through a conductor. The major concern years back was in the inversion process, converting DC back to AC. Thomas Edison’s first power supplies only carried DC but at the time AC was seen as being superior because of the ease at which voltage levels could be transformed.

Energy Losses - the AC problem
Substation Transformer – photo credit Magnus Mansk (Wiki Commons)

Now, fast forwarding to 2015 we find that because there is a lack of energy, because the supply is not meeting demand we start seeing the drawbacks – how to simply feed power back to the grid from the renewable domestic energy source. DC seems like the best answer. Controlling current from source to load using DC is just far simpler than AC. From grid to home or home to grid. However, in all the papers examined the engineering of these DC power lines consists of the source being AC (generator), rectification, transmission, inverter – load. With AC we only have generator, transformer to high voltage, transformer to low voltage – load. Transformers are remarkably resilient, more so than any solid state inverter.  Also, what are cost implications? Inverters are dirt cheap when one looks at entry level, low power units but shifting into the mega Watt range one has serious doubts as to the overall price / reliability advantages over straightforward AC transmissions.




Energy Losses – an off line grid tied system

Looking at modern trends, which will include a grid tied inverter system, the lack of an efficient and economic storage system seems to be the major downfall. Just how much power does the utility company save when all the domestic and industrial voltaic panels are generating maximum power when possibly the load is at the least? Massive amounts, according to analysis. In one industrial area tests proved conclusively that at mid-day, outages were most common. With a grid tied system this means one would lose power in any event to prevent islanding, or backfeed.

With current generation grid-tied systems the big advantage is an economic one, not back-up power. Industrial power still needs huge three phase generators to supply backup power, lead-acid cell accumulators are by no means economic at any level. The problem we still face is not whether the power supplied is AC or DC but storage, even if DC is as efficient as proven. Many grid tied systems do not co-exist with generators, the inverter is shut down when the generator is running.  Most auto start generators have no minimum current sense inhibiting start up if there is no load, also a wasteful exercise.

Battery Storage – Nickel Iron and Potassium Hydroxide

Deep cycle (lead-acid) batteries do not have an infinite life-span. In the real world we need to be looking at accumulators being made up of the purchase of individual cells, not one 6 cell unit. Often batteries are recycled only when one cell becomes defective. Many years ago NIFE cells were used in most emergency circuits, they were very durable and lasted upwards of 20 years.  Ask any company that service batteries used on ships. Emergency generators still need batteries (not compressed air) to start. NIFE is a life saver. They are more expensive but then again why promote something which is so reliable.

In the home most appliances can be designed to run off DC. Even simpler, the DC voltage is the RMS of the peak rated AC voltage. This would therefore equate to the RMS of sine. Pump motors are designed to only run off AC. This is far more reliable (and cheaper) than using a commutation circuit. Inverters designed to power pump motors from DC are not expensive and if properly rated will last the lifetime of the motor. In high current industry this may prove to be another problem altogether. Three or polyphase supply circuits are very efficient.  For the same power draw, three phase conductors are going to be much thinner than a DC connection.




Volts that Jolt

Many people believe that it’s current that kills, not volts. This is woefully wrong. Ohm’s Law dictates that you will have no current if there is no voltage.

Is DC safer than AC? We know that very little current through the human body will kill. With ground fault interruptor circuits the electricity in your home is much safer than 50 years ago. But still not fail-safe. With DC we do not have the jolting affect of AC in case we do accidentally do touch live, but we can get serious burns. Either form of power is dangerous and will kill if used negligently.

The Cost of non-standardisation

So although we may be embarking on a complete new strategy to get power to the homes and industry we need to look at the cost implications first. It took years for us to have a standard yet we still remain unstandardised.  In fact, very much disorganised.  All countries should use a common line voltage, e.g. 60Hz and 220V. 50Hz is very inefficient. 110V in the USA may have evolved from T. Edison’s monopoly of DC power but AC at the time just had the upper-hand. 110V uses very thick conductors to power most homes. Just have a look at the myriad plugs, sockets and earthing types available world-wide. 110V is really no safer than 220V.

Before we even think about moving on to the next great thing (which has been available for more than 200 years) let’s talk standardisation,  storage and cost implications. The most expensive lesson we can learn is to not remember the past. Both Tesla and Edison were geniuses – maybe, just maybe we should go back to the drawing board. Energy losses within AC circuits was known about a very, very long time ago.





Gadgets for 2015

Gadgets - the game changing ECC83 dual triode


Gadgets – further exploration needed

Forget about gadgets for men, forget about gizmos for women, or kids for that matter – how about some wizardry for dogs?

One that caught our eye was the Dual Doggie Pet Leash found on Amazon for about $35.  I have tried the two leashes in one hand trick but it didn’t work. Interesting to see this one in action. The canine shower stall is another interesting take in getting your pooch all clean and fresh. Of course there are many GPS trackers out there, I do believe that it is better than just chipping your extended family member. The Tagg GPS Tracker is sure to be a winner.

Gadgets - the game changing ECC83 dual triode
Not just a gadget – ECC83 Dual triode game changer. Photo credit – ScAvenger

Parrots are amazing aren’t they? Highly intelligent, they move into our hearts and souls faster than a hot knife through butter. Conures are the most beautiful of the bunch. Until you have one at home and realise that there is no off switch. Bird lover be warned, they make a noise. However, on to better things – we just love the poop-pouch, diaper or more fancy Flightsuit. Possibly a design around the units built for astronauts? Flightsuits also come with Flatliners, which looks like and is a pad.

Apple, Intel, Windows and Google gadgets

But enough about animals, humans love gizmos, electronic gizmos. In testament to this, my watch has failed and now I just use the iPhone. It is believed that watches are so ‘out’, smart phones are in. Tell that to Apple and THE watch – release date about now…. (from Apple, at Apple go here).



From Froyo to KitKat, now we have Lollipop, version 5 of Google’s Android currently in Beta.

Microsoft, not to be outdone are beaming in version 10 of their Windows platform – version 10 is a free upgrade to all users that have purchased 8, 8 or 8.1 over the last year.

The Intel® Compute Stick – things are just getting smaller. Interesting fact, modern technology makes things so much smaller. But the monitor sizes must be bigger, every year the bar goes up one inch. Oh yes, comes with Linux or W8.1.

Chinese motorcycle parts, spares and accessories. Manufacturers have promised even a bigger supply of everything which may not fit your bike. Over 6 million hits on Google and counting.

Wonderful free energy at our fingertips. Here is a device by a German student which harvests energy off the grid without even tapping into it. What makes this even more interesting is that the crystal diode detector was discovered five thousand years ago by the Greeks. Actually, one of my all time favourites, old Nikola was on top of this in 1901 already. See Nikola’s patent.

Although we are well aware that scientists have built driverless cars and this by 2020 may well be mainstream for a few hundred thousand dollars, the electric tram or train could teach us a few things. If planes can do it, my money is on drones. Faster, cheaper and hopefully collision free.

Yes, the phone takes wonderful shots of the landscape and of your latest party, much which makes its way onto Facebook but the clear winners are always cameras which are designed to be just that, a camera. Canon’s Powershot G1X Mark II is just one of those. The Nikon D5300 is another one to add to your wishlist. Drool on.



Lord of the Rings – forget about smart rings – point a ring at the screen to change channels, communicate furtively with a girlfriend in your wife’s presence and switch off the lights. Gimmick or gadget?

Emiota’s Belty is more in our line – a belt that automatically resizes to make the user more comfortable during the hamburger eating contest. There is no shame in that!

The Consumer Electronics Show is held in Shanghai during May – maybe we will see you there. How about seeing something a little more original like a computer which cannot be hacked, a car which cannot be stolen, headphones which won’t blow your ears off, sound systems for cars which limit SPL to safe levels and an intelligent monitoring system for CCTV surveillance.

Out of the thousands of gadgets seen at the CES next year in Las Vegas or the Shanghai CES the winner will be a device which can keep a conure quiet.






The Steam Engine – the way to the future



The Modern Steam Engine – Rankine and Schoell

There has always been a fascination about steam engines. Kids had them, adults dreamed about them, engineers built them and scientists re-invented them. In some countries they are still indispensable in the transport process. Nintendo may have pushed the steam engine off the popularity charts but the fact is, all kids still want one. Table top steam propulsion units are no longer popular, costs and dangers associated to these ‘toys’ have made parents wary, causing the popularity of PlayStations and X-Boxes to spike. Although a child’s imagination can run wild with a PlayStation it is no substitute for a steam engine or electric motor and batteries.

Steam Engine - HMS Warrior 1860
HMS Warrior – 1860 – contribution: the HMS Warrior


After more than a century of steam propulsion we come to the point in our lives where we do see them dying out – or are they? Steam is still used to drive turbines, electricity generation being one of the most popular. External combustion engines such as in the reciprocating steam locomotive require both heat and water, the Diesel, only fuel. The trade-off is much lower torque at low RPM compared to the external combustion’s massive torque at very low RPM. This makes steam totally indispensable under certain conditions.  High pressure turbines work at very high speeds and are relatively efficient, some putting it at 40% compared to the petrol (gas) IC engines 25%. Emissions of steam engines are also lower than the petrol engine for a given power. This is driving expert thinking into backing steam technology in the 21st century but it is not without huge criticism.

The Cyclone Engine (Waste Heat Engine or WHE) – it’s still a steam engine!

Waste heat is by typical example that of the high temperature exhaust gases from an internal combustion engine which are released into the atmosphere, high temperature furnaces and even your barbecue.


The Cyclone engine is also known as the “Schoell Cycle Engine” (after Harry Schoelle) which follows the Rankine Cycle model, a closed loop system which uses water as the working fluid. Simply put, water is heated via means of igniting atomised fuel which burns around a cylindrical arrangement of pipes. In a few seconds the steam is pushed into the cylinders connected via a ‘spider’ bearing to the pistons. Steam is exhausted through a port into a condenser, where the by-product, low pressure low temperature steam is fed back into the ‘flash’ boiler via a high pressure pump, completing the loop. A common theory is that a petrol or gas engine can develop about 1 HP per 1.5 cubic inches of cylinder capacity, the Cyclone 3HP making this engine certainly more efficient than the standard IC engine.

The cyclone engine is not without it’s fair share of cynics however, many claim that the final result has still to be seen, i.e. return on investment has been very low. Raytheon and the American government will disagree. So do we.  What is incredible is that the Cyclone engine can run on most combustible fuels, emissions are very low and it is almost silent. Huge torque from standstill which means no clutch or gearbox, lesser parts and more reliable.  The Cyclone is also much lighter in weight than an IC engine of comparative torque and HP.

The WHE engine could even be added to the internal combustion engine exhaust outlet to add extra power whilst the primary form of propulsion is working hard, for example up a hill.

Although a steam turbine is known to be fairly efficient compared to the automobile petrol or diesel engine the steam turbine is very expensive to manufacture.

Recycling Heat

This is not a new process, steam turbines and reciprocating steam engines could harness waste which is fed back to the boiler through a pump. Although this may improve efficiency the question that always arises would be around heat transfer from the furnace or firebox to the water to make steam.

The Flash Boiler

The monotube boiler is oft called a flash boiler but although they work on a similar basis, the flash boiler tubes are run at an extremely high temperature causing incoming water flow to turn to steam, the monotube has water continuously. Modelists use the term interchangeably. High speed model hydrofoils use flash boilers to get to insane speeds over a very short distance. A really great bit of insight can be found at Steve’s Workshop or On the Wire.

Internal or External?

Whist we focus on electric motors, hybrids and nuclear power,  steam power is still seen as archaic.  Hopefully in the next decade our inquisitive minds will find a way to create the near perfect efficiency form of propulsion. The Cyclone engine is by no ways a near perfect example of new technology but a certain call to have a re-look at the steam engine.





Heat pumps vs Solar heating



There has been much written about heat pumps in lieu of solar energy, many believe that the best is to have both.  The question here is which do you prefer and how much do you save?

In our own research there are many in favour of heat pumps but the question will always remain, how well do they work when there is no electricity?  Likewise, solar is supposed to be the Messiah, how well do they work when there is no sun?

Do you find gas cheaper than electricity? We understand, have tested and found conclusively that a gas cooker is cheaper overall than electricity – how about gas geysers?

We’d like to set up this debate – comments please dear readers…