Cheap Thoughts: flash magnetism

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could “flash magnetize” ferrous metal? Put a current or magnetic field into something, magnetize it, remove power/field and STILL have it be magnetic? And more importantly, demagnetize it instantly. Passive electromagnetism. I know you can impart magnetism into certain things but how strongly can this be done?

This may all be simple stuff to others, I don’t know. It’s been a while since I’ve played with magnets and motors so I’ve forgotten a lot. Seems useful to have an electromagnet which only uses electricity to change its state.

Update: This is exactly what I need: an Electropermanent magnet. Interesting!

Cheap Thoughts: Microcell towers

A microcell site outside of the gas station at Raleigh’s Costco.

I’d been a bit puzzled by all of the microcell sites I’ve seen popping up around town. The first I found was the one behind Adventure Landing on Capital Boulevard a few years ago. Since then, more and more have appeared at locations like Hillsborough Street near N.C. State, Cameron Village Shopping Center, Red Hat Amphitheater, St. Augustine University, outside the Subway on Creekside Drive, and the one pictured above outside of Costco on Six Forks Road near Wake Forest Road.

Many of these new towers sit almost literally in the shadow of massive, existing towers. Why were all of these micro towers going up in places that already have clearly good coverage?

Then the Eureka moment hit me. These cheap, utility-pole cell sites are poaching cellphone users away from the massive towers and collecting the connection fees!
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Cheap Thoughts: Time of Use for Water

Falls Lake at the worst of drought, December 9, 2007

On Saturday my family and placed four tons of grass sod in our backyard. As I fired up a sprinkler for the first time in several years (a decade, perhaps?) I thought about how much our next water bill was going to cost us. The City of Raleigh has tiered water rates, meaning everyone gets their base allotment for the same price but the price quickly jumps beyond that amount. The idea is that economics will compel water customers to conserve which is a worthy goal.

But what about the times conservation isn’t needed? Right now Falls Lake is full. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water from Falls Lake at a rate of 6,000 cubic feet per second, which I’ve heard is about the most it will release at any time. This onslaught of water is causing issues downstream, flooding neighborhoods that haven’t yet recovered from last month’s initial round of heavy flooding.

It doesn’t appear that conservation is an issue at the moment, so what if our water bills could reflect this? What if Raleigh residents could give The Army Corps a hand by putting that water where it could good some good: on everyone’s lawns and gardens, not just those unfortunate few who live close to the raging river? What if the City reduced water rates on a temporarily basis while the river release was underway? I know there’s more to water use than simply supply (it has to be treated, for instance) but tying water rates to our supply might make sense.
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Cheap Thoughts: Rethinking sidewalks

An unusable sidewalk

On my way back from dropping the kids off from school last week, I waited at a Hargett Street intersection while a man in a motorized wheelchair passed by me, riding in the street. I wondered why this man chose not to ride on the sidewalk, which seemed much safer. He had no lights nor reflectors and seemed an easy target for an inattentive driver.

I’ve also seen several disabled people in wheelchairs riding in Johnson Street between Glenwood and Boylan Avenues, probably residents of Glenwood Towers. Why do they choose to ride in the road when there’s a perfectly good sidewalk right there?
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Cheap thoughts: discouraging nighttime thefts from cars

Saturday night as I lay sleeping in the bedroom just above, a thief quietly slipped up my neighbor’s driveway to his car, tried the door handle, and slipped away. He and his buddy found my other neighbor’s door unlocked and ransacked the car.

This happens from time to time when you live in the big city. You either keep your car locked (always a good plan) or suffer potential thefts. There aren’t many tools to it from happening.

Being a law-and- order-minded geek, I have been considering ways to catch some of these crooks. One way involves altering the battery pack on a laptop to conceal a GPS-enabled smartphone, which would lead cops directly to the thief. Why the battery? It does no permanent damage to the laptop and the remaining cells in the battery could power the laptop long enough for a crook to be convinced it works.
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Cheap Thoughts: variable-current EV charging

I’ve been mostly happy with our Siemens Level 2 EV charger. It’s simple to use with only two buttons, which I rarely need to press. Still, there is one feature the Siemens does not offer that I wish it had: the ability to adjust the current used based on my electricity rate plan’s Time of Use schedule.

Duke Energy offers a Time of Use – Demand (TOU-D) electric plan (which I’ve discussed in-depth before), meaning an electric customer gets socked with high fees based on how much electricity gets used at the same time.
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Cheap Thoughts: God and consumerism

It occurred to me this evening that God and consumerism are diametrically opposed in at least one way. God tells that we’re perfect just as we are, while consumerism tells us we need that new car, house, or shiny new toy to be complete.

Funny how when we do get that new car, house, or toy, there’s always another car, house, or toy that will really complete us. Anyone whose God is the almighty dollar is doomed to be perpetually disappointed.

Cheap Thoughts: Food Labeling

I was packing the kids’ lunches today, putting in a pack of granola bars as I normally do, when I became curious. These Nature Valley “Oats ‘n Honey” granola bars from General Mills are tasty and have an appealing photo of the bars next to a fat spatula dripping with honey goodness.

Nature Valley Oats 'n Honey granola bar box

Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey granola bar box

Putting aside the fact that the dry, brittle granola bars in the packaging look absolutely nothing like the moist granola bars in the package photo, I had to wonder how much “oats ‘n honey” were actually in these bars. A look at the ingredient list told me all I needed to know:
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