R.I.P. Nifta The Cat 1992-2012

Nifta The Cat

Today is a sad day. Our amazing 19 year old cat, Nifta, passed away.

He’d been ill for a short time after making a miraculous recovery from a major stroke just over a year ago. We thought we’d lost him back then so he’s done well to keep going for so long.

He brought so much happiness, enjoyment and love to our family over the last 19 years so he will be greatly missed.

I’m just thankful I was there at the end. He died in my arms – I felt his last breath and heartbeat.

Goodbye Nifta. Rest in peace.

Our best solar PV generation day so far

It’s been a glorious early Spring day today with continuous sunshine from dawn til dusk, and as a result it’s also been our highest solar PV generation day since the system was installed just over a month ago. You can see this from the chart produced by my automated data gathering and chart generation tool running on my Linux server:

As you can see we generated a total of 20.81 kWh of electricity throughout the day, peaking at an output of 3.17 kW at around 1:30pm. With the feed-in tariff (FiT) rate now confirmed as 43.3p/kWh for our installation and a deemed export rate of 50% of generation at 3.1p/kWh, this makes a total daily income of £9.27. That doesn’t include any savings on electricity that we were able to use ourself during that period instead of having to import it from the grid.

Although it’s still early days for our system and we are only just into Spring, things are looking promising for meeting or exceeding the estimated output for the system over the next year.

Energy from Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR) – too good to be true?

I’ve spent a lot of time recently reading up about energy generation because of something which is going on in my life right now (the details of which I won’t go into here). I’ve never really paid much attention to or known much in-depth detail about the various methods of large scale energy generation but I’ve taken the time to learn more about them. And on this little voyage of discovery I’ve encountered the concept of the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (abbreviated as LFTR and commonly pronounced lift-er).

Now I’m no physicist, chemist or nuclear scientist but everything I’ve read about LFTR and Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) in general means they are something that the world needs to be exploring and investing in massively NOW. They appear to have the potential to be able to revolutionise the way we produce energy.

One of the most public and vocal advocates of this technology is a guy called Kirk Sorensen who is an ex-NASA employee who previously had nothing to do with nuclear energy but then found out about this stuff a few years ago and has since devoted his life to evangelising about it. He has a blog called Energy From Thorium which I urge you to read. As part of his campaigning he’s done numerous presentations and tech talks, many of which are on YouTube. I read his blog and watched some of these videos and found them fascinating, which is why I’m blogging about the subject now.

Another guy called Gordon McDowell has also produced some excellent remix videos combining the best bits from lots of different presentations about energy from thorium and I include one here which I hope you will find as compelling as I did. It’s a feature length video (just under 2 hours long!) but don’t let that put you off. Just start watching it and see how long you find it interesting for… hopefully it will draw you in and you’ll end up watching it all (or at least a good chunk of it). And more importantly I hope it will encourage you to find out more yourself and convince you of the need for the world to start looking at this technology seriously.

Operation Nürburgring Nordschleife – Achievement Unlocked!

I’ve just got back from a 3 day trip to the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife motor racing circuit in Germany with my good friend and neighbour Rich Hayden and some new found friends, Rich Bromley, Andy Montgomery, Nathan Bower and Andy McWilliams. And what a trip it was!

I’ve always fancied a trip out there so when Rich H asked me if I wanted to go for a long weekend and a bit of Nordschleife (German for “Northern Loop” apparently) action, notionally to celebrate his birthday, I jumped at the chance. I knew I’d enjoy it but I didn’t expect to enjoy it anywhere near as much as I actually did. I put this down to several things…

Primarily, just the whole atmosphere of the place and the whole experience of staying very close the circuit (in the Hotel an der Nordschleife, very close to the Adenau bridge), and being able to walk part of the circuit. If I’d known how easy it was to get onto the track I’d definitely have packed my can of spray paint so I could add my name next to the thousands of others on the tarmac.

Secondly, the great company I was in had a big influence on the whole atmosphere. The fact that 3 of the other guys had two Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale’s and a 360 Spider between them helped too! The drive down there through France, Belgium and Germany, and then back through Germany, Holland (via Antwerp airport), Belgium and France was like one long Top Gear road trip. Awesome.

Track time

On the second day there, we hired some race cars from the excellent rental company Rent Race Car. Rich H and I hired a Renault Sport Clio Cup (201 HP) and the other guys hired two Suzuki Sport Swifts (130 HP) between them. Now these sound quite tame but they were perfect for our first few laps of The Ring – I’m glad we didn’t get anything bigger.

We each had 6 laps of the circuit in the race cars spread out over the whole day and were also lucky enough to experience changing weather throughout the day, from dry overcast conditions in the morning, through a damp circuit early afternoon and finally pelting rain late afternoon. We also managed to get in a couple of steady laps in the Ferraris.

We saw a fair few accidents while we were on the circuit, thankfully none involving us – although Nathan managed to spin his 360 Spider at one point and collected some souvenir Ring mud around his wheel arches. Andy McW was the passenger alongside Nathan at the time and I think it’s fair to say he experienced a bit of “soiling” himself too, if you catch my drift 😉

Here are a couple of videos shot by Andy M which are up on YouTube. They were shot from one of the Suzuki Swifts – I’m driving the Clio in front in the first clip 🙂 (apologies for any fruity language – I have no control over that!)

A few words about GT5 on the PS3…

I’ve got to say that having done a lot of laps of the Nordschleife on the PS3 version of Gran Turismo 5 I had a decent recollection of the circuit, although not quite enough confidence on the first few laps for every single corner, particularly the blind ones, to be able to not back off the throttle and carry the speed through the corner.

People had told me not to place too much importance on having done laps on GT5 but I feel I definitely benefited from it. The most notable thing you lack on a virtual version of the Ring is the sheer scale of changes in height around the circuit, steep inclines and cambers and changes in road surface. After experiencing it for real, however, I did have to jump on GT5 as soon as I got home to compare… and at times I was actually back on the real circuit rather than in a console simulation 🙂

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, mug and car Ring sticker…

How could I have experienced The Ring without maxing out on merchandise!

For more photos check out my Flickr photostream:


If only all IT problems were this easy to solve…

I recently installed a couple of new packages on my trusty HP ML115 G5 internet facing Debian server. This server is normally virtually silent, only occasionally getting louder when under increased load (oh, apart from when it is rebooted when it sounds like a Boeing 747 taking off for 20 seconds or so as the fan is run at full speed!) However, after this recent update I noticed that the fan noise was significantly louder than normal even at idle. I couldn’t believe that installing these new packages had any link with the increased noise but I didn’t have time to investigate further until a couple of days later…

After eventually proving that the increased fan noise was not down to increased load on the CPU I decided to pop open the side panel to take a look… and it was then that I noticed a ball of fluff and a fair amount of dust on the CPU heatsink and fan. The fan was running smoothly, but faster and noisier than usual. So I gave it a quick blast of air, the dust and fluff was removed and within a few seconds the fan noise reduced to almost silent again!

After so many years living and working with computers I can’t believe I didn’t check the stupidly obvious. So, from now on, whatever the IT problem, I’m going to check for dust and fluff first!

Automated solar PV stats

Following on from previous posts about our new solar PV installation, I have now implemented an automated process which pulls stats from the SMA SunnyBoy 4000TL bluetooth-enabled inverter, stores the stats in a MySQL database and then makes a daily chart available showing solar PV generation, looking something like this:

In a little bit more detail…

  • Everything is hosted on my Debian Linux server.
  • I use the excellent open source sma-bluetooth package (http://code.google.com/p/sma-bluetooth/) and the bluez-tools package to connect to my inverter via bluetooth. The smatool program within this package stores the data it downloads in a simple MySQL database.
  • I have a cron job which runs this data extraction every 5 minutes.
  • I then wrote a simple PHP script which uses the excellent pChart 2 library (http://www.pchart.net/) to generate a daily output chart which is hosted on my personal web server.

So, I can now keep track of how much electricity I am generating wherever I happen to be!