23 June, 2008

Ur errols, let me show u sum moar.

In the headlong rush to buy CFLs - how much of a footprint does it take to MAKE the bastards in the first place?

I haven't yet investigated this - but let's suppose that a filament bulb has a 2000 hour lifespan compared to a 10000 hour lifespan for a CFL of similar light output. (I know they claim to last ten times as long but I haven't seen this kind of lifespan yet. Your mileage may vary...)

Let's pick 60W incandescent which is about an 11W CFL. The incandescent will therefore consume 120,000KWh in its lifespan. The CFL will consume 110,000KWh over it's lifespan. That incandescent (and its replacements, up to four more, possibly) would consume 600,000KWh in the same time span as the CFL. But an incandescent bulb takes very to make. Some silica for the glass, piece of brass for the holder, some resistance wire. Wonder how much of a footprint these old school materials have? I'm betting we've perfected the humble light bulb and it's parts.

Now a CFL lamp has a formed tube, which has to be evacuated and dusted with some quite exotic (and poisonous) material, filled with a specific gas, and then soldered to a circuit board containing around a dozen parts, one of them being a pretty complex little transformer that has to be formed and wound with copper wire. Another is a chip or switching transistor and we're only just beginning to realise how much of a footprint such components have in manufacture, and then in the waste disposal cycle...

Now - another misconception, that by switching to CFL globes we'll save the planet. It's a crock, a misdirection, a way to make you feel as though you're saving the planet. Home lighting accounts for maybe 30% of the home's electricity use, if that. (That's an educated guess, I'm sure you could look up the actual figures online and get six different results, I'm basing this on back-of-the-napkin numbers gleaned from the house I'm in.)

And domestic use is wayyyyyyy under half of electricity use, I forget the exact figure but again it's on record and I'm guesstimating it to 30% again, once again you may find other figures online but I bet they are the same side of 50% as my guess.

You're only using about 1/3 of the electricity you'd have wasted on 1/3 of 1/3 of the power consumption each day, or in other words, saving about 1/27th of the energy bill. But then again, people feel virtuous upon installing nice environmentally friendly globes and tend to leave them on for longer periods, thus using more power... It sort of balances itself.

So I'm not advocating to not use CFLs - after all, we do need to reduce our electricity consumption. Awareness is important, and nothing reinforces that awareness like changing your light bulbs and doing your bit. And the more aware you are, the more likely you are to turn off the TV and stereo at the power point, or the unused ligthing in the office before you go home.

Just keep an eye on ALL sides of the coin and know that whatever we do there will always be a price to pay - just pick your least unacceptable alternative.

06 June, 2008

Generic Prescriptions and those emails...

I've made a discovery the last few months. Beware "bait and switch" medications.

Readers from wayback may know I use Ambien (Stilnox) on a regular basis to combat insomnia. I've been using Stilnox to help ne get to sleep on bad nights for almost six years now. I still only need half a tablet to enable sleep, I try and avoid using them when I've had more than two drinks, and they have worked exactly as the pharmacological company designed them to, for me.

About two years ago I switched from the specific to a generic brand, and it worked exactly the same, half a tablet and I was waking up refreshed the next morning. Then the last few packs of generic tablets were - a bit different, a different packaging, different shape... And, for some reason, despite supposedly being exactly the same thing, far less effective...

One of the things Stilnox are designed to be, is non-habituating. That means your body doesn't become immune to them and need you to take more and more for the same effect. Another thing they are not, is habit-forming, i.e. I can go out bush for weeks and all that happens is I go back to my old sleepng pattern.

So imagine how cheesed off I felt when I had to use a second half tablet almost every time. This is the same generic brand, just that they've changed something. To make it cheaper, no doubt. And thinking that no-one will notice because most people pop Ambien like a party drug, anyway. Just to prove the point I went back to original Stilnox and - half a tablet, every time...

So before you buy that online medication from some "reputable source" think on this - in the case of generic ambien, I am guessing they changed the type of binder to be cheaper, and it's somehow made the tablet less effective. And they are a rather large and respectable generic pharamcological house. Imagine how badly you can get ripped off by online scammers, including tablets made with some quite nasty binders and fillers. Is it worth it?

Cell Pwn "Dangers"

Taking a shot at Dr George Carlo now. Yes, I'll wait until you've watched this whole boring clip...

The thing is, is that I've worked with radio transmitters since I was 15, and have absorbed thousands of kilowatts, a few hundred watts here, a few kilowatts there, and have cancer-free fingers.

(Radio techs when tuning in aerials or transmitter finals stages invariably are close to generally high-power radio frequency [RF] equipment and most of us have at some stage expereinced a nasty "RF burn" where the radiated energy arcs across and burns a neatly cauterised hole, generally in one's finger cos that's the bit closest to the antenna or output stage of the transmitter.)

I can't see quite the phenomenally lethal effect Dr Carlo claims - after all, most phone handsets can only output between 0.5 and 2 watts, and I've been in proximity to 25 to 5000 watts as part of my job, for around 14 years.

The good Dr tries to make (bad) analogies that seem to demonstrate that he actually has little knowledge of the phenomenon of electromagnetic radiation, and my favourite malapropism is his analogy of the radio signal ("passing right through - the human body can't see it") as a clothesline, and then you go and put data on it and that's like putting clothes on the clothesline. Bullshit Dr Carlo.

He seems to think the data has some magical power that can increase the transmission. Look at it from this point of view, people - the batteries in a cellphone can only output a certain amount of power, over 50% of that power is going to be wasted as heat (ever notice your phone gets warm after a long conversation? Well that is power that *didn't* get radiated as a radio signal) and that means that no matter how you try to slice and dice it, there can't be more energy than that in the radio signal.

It may well be that because the signal is held close to the brain when the phone is in use and radiating, it could cause cell damage and cancer. Certainly, statistics seem to bear that out, and it's maybe worth your while to consider a headset for your phone so you can keep it away from your brain. But bear in mind that a bluetooth headset is also a transmitter, and you'd be sticking that inside your ear... While a low to medium cellphone user might not ever experience a tumour cause dby cellphone use, playing it safe and using a wired headset can't hurt.

But back to Dr Carlo's clumsy and somewhat inappropriate analogy. A clothesline is not "invisible" to human flesh and is nothing at all like a radio wave either. Unless you're whipping it up and down or sideways in lovely long waves, and then try standing near a peak that's whiping back and forth and tell me if it would be any worse if there were clothes on the line.

Try this - ride a motorbike full tilt into a clothesline with or without clothes on it, and either way it's not going to end well. So if the radio wave is going to do damage, it will do that damage whether it has clothes on it, data on it, or silence on it. Okay - there may be a way that imposing data (which has a square wave shape) on the signal might generate more harmonics - but as any good RF tech will tell you, if you have a harmonic then your signal power is getting divided between the signal you want to send and the harmonic. If you have a lot of harmonics, then your pitifully small amount of power you can suck out of the battery has to be divided up between all the harmonics and the desired signal equally, so you're going to have minute amounts of signal at each harmonic.

Next - that signal has to radiate in all 360 degrees, your head will intercept maybe 100 degrees worth, so about 1/3 of that small amount of power. move the phone three centimeters further away from your ear and your head will only intercept maybe 70 degrees (about 1/5th) of the signal, etc. Move it further away, say 6cm, and that drops down to maybe 25 degrees, or 1/12th of whatever radiation is coming out of the antenna.

That's why a headset is a good idea, no matter what. It gets the danger (if it is a danger) away from your delicate brain to the point where radiation from the cell handset is minute.

But the funniest thing I still think is the "clothes on the line make it dangerous" analogy, in other words it's the data that does the damage. If that were so, then being hit with a phonebook with all blank pages shouldn't hurt at all, while a full phone directory's worth of data printed on the pages would make it lethal...

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