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rickard

I’m busy as Santa in the EVTV shop vainly striving to tease clever out of not very good C++ code. Surrounded by too much equipment costing far too much to do so little. Fumbling with my blighted mind and recall, bereft of friend or assistant, and mired in an overwhelming sense of disorder and detail I’ve failed to address. My aging carcass failing to meet the call…

And as quickly, my own ingratitude smights me across the face with a sudden violence left gasping.

In truth, and oblivious, I preside over 12 or 13 various kilowatts of power ebbing and flowing at the whim of the clouds into and out of a Tesla Model S 85kWh battery pack on the wall with a cavalier indifference to the most humbling miracle of our age. The harnessing of electricity to do our work itself a scant 140 years recent of some 13,000 years of recorded or at least vaguely alluded to human history. As luck would have it, encompassing the brief three score and ten alloted me personally, and perhaps another ten if able.

And here I am with the power of 18 mighty equine steeds at my beck, call and fingertips in our little TEST setup designed and ordered not precisely to DO anything, but just to allow me to play with software and hardware to measure and direct its direction and flow. Assembled for my personal entertainment. Sunlight, silent as sin converted to electricity, measurable in flashing red LED, to iron shafts turning in the breeze.

Never mind that at the moment, it is powering every activity in our 14,500 square foot building. But most of all, that it comes and derives from everywhere and at the same time nowhere, conjured out of the ether, and available while the sun doth shine on both the good and the evil, and now when it does not as well thank you Elon Musk and John B. Goodenough.

What a privilege and miracle of our age. That with magic rocks we can bend the will of the very stars to do our bidding, be it as mundane as to turn the blades of a fan to relieve the heat of the day of the same sun. To sit at comfort and ease while in control of the world surrounding, even to its temperature and a fair wind. All measured in brightly lit red LED numerals for my entertainment.

This mangled mayhem comprised literally of junk pried out of the boneyard of discarded damaged cars and boxes of equipment that travelled 8000 miles to my shop floor on giant metal birds hurled into the air by other men. We give it no thought at all. It would be otherwise? To switch tirelessly 20 million times per second striving to guess my wonder and desire minute by minute and second by second. And to dance to whatever story I type onto the screen and assemble to other magic rocks.

On the roof lie quiet slabs of heroism, baking themselves in the horrendous rain of radiation from the sky, to part electrons from their rightful places in the very substance and heart of matter itself and redirect them to their destinations enroute to the wandering whims that might dance across my fancy.

And 140 years of belching billowing clouds of smoke and ash and thousands of miles of strung copper beads across the sky, the investment of two lifetimes of striving men, might as well never have been and likely shortly will be no more. All the power I might ever need falling silently on the roof structure above me, designed to shed the rain, never a thought to glean the sun. No roaring turbines. No pounding pistons. No thunderous roar of falling water. No thrumming of giant generators. Not even a hum. The silence of sunlight and the flashing red LEDs’. A few lines of courier text flickering on a laptop display. And more power than I can ever use, charging cars and making ice and light.

Our little controller is working well to communicate with the Tesla Model S battery BMS. The Chinese MPPT charge controller capably producing the full merit of 40 Panasonic HIT 325 watt panels. And a boxy, large Chinese 20 kW inverter, opened to allow me to admire huge old-fashioned transformers doing their work. I left all the lights on in the shop last night, to add to the two refrigerators that run day and night, in the hopes I could find our battery at low ebb this morning. It hardly marked it. Some strange glitch in my software that causes it to jump tracks in the night preventing my early morning autopsy, but it matters little. We don’t appear to have dipped below 70% state of charge, and by 2:00 in the afternoon we are back to a full larder of anxious electrons ready to loose the hounds of hell on any I direct.

What miracle is this? What age do we live in? The corrosively destructive negativism making noises on our little boxes strains to alter our view of reality. Whispering death and destruction to family and hearth of men. But it cannot. The evidence envelopes me. A beneficient universe overflowing with plenty, if we but put out hand to it… lightly and easily. Not to plow or strain or carry the weight of the world on our very backs, the stones of our churches nor the lumber of our cities. No more. With a waive of our wrist, inexhaustible power to fly to the very stars at whim. Or go to Schnucks grocery for a couple of quarts of V-8 juice. Your choice.

Some 15 refineries were going off line courtesy of Himicane Harvey, from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Port Arthur, Texas, the Energy Department reported. The list included the largest refinery in the U.S., the Saudi-owned Motiva plant in Port Arthur, which began what it called “a controlled shutdown.”

Taken together, the closures represent about 25% of U.S. refining capacity. With 15 Houston refineries closed as of Wednesday due to flooding, gasoline prices are rising. The national average hit $2.43 per gallon as of 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, up 7 cents from a week ago, according to consumer information site GasBuddy.com.

The irony is absurd. Would you believe the shutdown is largely a function of loss of electrical power? Once it hits the evening news, Americans across the land will rush to the local gas stations to fill up, potentially triggering a year-long “gas shortage” that makes no sense at all. We currently have a RECORD 500 million barrels of crude oil on hand – a glut by any other name would smell as light, sweet, and crude.

I’ve made the claim in the past, to no ones wondering ears, that I can move farther on the electricity used to refine the gasoline than I can on the gasoline itself which you may keep by the way. It would appear a lack of electricity is bringing the iron wheels and bubbling pots of the refineries to a screeching halt. While they actually sit in the baleful glare of the Houston sun – enough power to do anything they want. So arrogant and mighty they fail to know just WHAT to want…

Harry Shilling is working heroically to wrest my virtually abandoned aircraft hangar and aircraft from the clutches of a group of American Kestrel’s. His daughter was actually on television announcing Anheiser Busch’s decision to can and ship hundreds of thousands of cases of WATER to the gulf coast. A lot of the locals wish they had stuck to plan and shipped beer instead. She’s done well as brewmeistress.

I was in San Diego during the last gasoline shortage in 1978. Starting out, it really wasn’t much of a shortage. A few gas stations closed an hour earlier each day as their deliveries were a little short of what was ordered. They were “on allotment” as supplies were just a tad low. Then it hit the televised evening news and in the apartment complex where I lived at the time I could actually HEAR the engines of ALL the cars in the complex start up in a simultaneous crescendo of rumble and belching smoke.

And off everyone went to fill up before it was gone. Ironically, nearly half the storage capacity of gasoline in the country resides in our own vehicle tanks. Nominally half full, if everyone fills them up, it sucks up 25% of the gasoline in the land. By morning, it WAS gone. Four hour waits inline for a rationed maximum of 10 gallons. One enterprising Mexican hero hauled 80 five gallon cans of gasoline up two flights of stairs to his one-bedroom apartment, Exhausted, he sat down for a quick RC cola and a moon pie – and a Pall Mall cigarette. Took out two blocks and 30 people killed or injured.

They instituted a bizarre law that you could only go to the gas station on alternate days based on whether you ha license plate ending in an even number or an odd number. This immediately gave rise to a burgeoning black market trade in stolen license plates. A pickup truck without a tank in the back was unsaleable. Diesel cars became all the rage. The microscopic Honda car recently introduced was going for twice the sticker price on two year old models. Tempers were short and the sound of gunfire announced the gasoline waiting lines. It was over a year before the place returned to normal.

Johnny Carson actually cracked a joke about a potential toilet paper shortage in New York City and by morning there was not a square to spare anywhere in the city.

So no, 2017 has no particular intellectual property rights to the concept of silly. Even if a shortage of electricity in a sunbaked Houston causes a gasoline shortage to go along with the stench of drying flooded ground.

I sit surrounded by all the pieces necessary, not for society, but for any single man with a clue to free himself individually and by his own hand of all of that. And the costs have declined to the point where it is all obtainium even by mere mortals. And if current trends prevail, I can see a day within a half dozen years or so where it can really be done at a rational cost anyone might consider. With electricity generated precisely at the point where it is needed and used.

And the question of distributing it, even two blocks away, would cause an immediate question as to why? Doesn’t the sun shine there?

This past August 21st we were visited by a total eclipse of the sun. Cape Girardeau resides in the path of totality. But Carbondale Illinois and Southern Illinois University were dead smack in the middle of the path and so would see the longest duration total eclipse. Worse, they were designated an event center by NASA and a big splash was planned in their football stadium for the event. They lorded it over Cape Girardeau for weeks leading up to the event. Their day in the sun so to speak.


The morning of the 21st dawned with cobalt clear skies both places. But about 20 minutes before the event, the skies closed and a light rain began in Carbondale. It continued until about 20 minutes after the end of totality. I couldn’t help it. I laughed till I cried.

I had recently purchased an Azure Dynamics eTransit Connect that had been sitting in Boise Idaho for several years inoperative. At a loss as to how to make it go, the guy finally called and wanted to know if I would make an offer. I offered him $2500 for it thinking I could use it for odd parts we don’t have for our own eTransit connect as they are total orphans at this point. Azure Dynamics went bankrupt in 2012. Would you believe that that was NOT ENOUGH for the vehicle. He valued it higher than that and wanted MORE. He had no idea what it was worth, just whatever I thought plus some MORE. So we settled at $2750. People never change or vary very much from the norm.

So I invited Byron Izbenhard of Kalamazoo down for the solar eclipse. He fixed mine the last time with a wake on charge module-ectomy. Thinking he might at least take a look at it to see if it could be resurrected. He stopped in Illinois to join Kevin Smith and his buddy Kyle and they all came down to stay. No hotels were available for a 100 miles and the cottage I offered had a fouled air conditioner which made for a hot night. So they all stayed in Kevin’s camper, parked INSIDE my set room, which is air conditioned as it turns out.

In any event, we all had a great time playing with the toys. Incredibly, there is a wakeup signal to the battery which is routed through the inertia switch on the van. After actually removing the battery and inspecting it we could find nothing wrong with it – 342 volts in both halves. So we reinstalled it and Byron found the inertia switch and reset it without much hope of a change. Presto, we had a working AZD van. Actually a second one. By pressing and resetting a rubber button.

The eclipse commenced here at 11:54 AM and reached totality at 1:21 PM for a bit less than two minutes. But I have to say, while I pretty much knew what would happen, it has been 99 years since such an event on the U.S. continent. And it took me by surprise. A surreal twilight, cicadas broke into evening song, birds were diving for their roosts, the temperature dropped 15 degrees. It was one of the most bizarre sights of my life. And video/photos don’t touch it. It is famously difficult to video or photograph for one thing. But it just doesn’t ecompass the eerie twilight and change in temperature that accompanies it.

It is the nature of humanoids to treat all miracles as ordinary, and all manner of misfortune as exceptional. But to have the sun go dark and actually FEEL the loss of radiant energy puts a point on just how much energy falls on our heads. We are familiar with both the cool of the night and the heat of the day and give it little thought. But to FEEL in the course of two minutes, the midday sun go dark, makes the point in a way no other event can.

The entire thing is really a miracle. And while everyone is pretty aware that it is a rare event, I doubt 1% of the population is really aware of how very rare in the entire universe it really is. Indeed, the odds against it happening at all are actually just preposterous – like winning 1400 Powerball lotteries in a row.

Objects vary in their apparent size to our eye based not only on their true size, but their distance. The sun is 864,576 miles in diameter while our moon is 2,159 miles in diameter. And so if they were the same distance away, the sun would naturally appear to be 400.452 times larger in the sky.

Of course they are not the same distance away. The moon is about 238,900 miles from earth. The sun is 92,960,000 miles from the earth, give or take. Incredibly, this is about 389.125 times farther away. What are the chances, eh?

And so the apparent diameter of the moon, is just SLIGHTLY smaller than the apparent diameter of the sun, and it can block out the sun’s radiant disk, leaving the corona visible around the moon in a once in a lifetime visual. The odds of this unlikely distance/diameter ratio being repeated ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE are PREPOSTEROUS. If you did have TRILLIONS of GALAXIES, and we really probably do not, that really probably isn’t enough.

Coincidence? You know, I’ve just never been good at the whole coincidence thing.

But wait, there’s more. Would you believe there is going to be ANOTHER total eclipse of the sun in North Amerian in just seven years? The next total eclipse for North America will come on April 8, 2024. It will run almost 90 degrees, at right angles, to the path of this one. And would you believe, speaking of irrational odds, where the dead stroke CENTER of the path of THAT eclipse will be??????

Cape Girardeau Missouri… and would you believe, Carbondale as well. I’m predicting rain for Carbondale again.

Thus far in 2017, as of the first week of September, our little planet has generated about 286 million billion British Thermal Units of energy based on crude oil, coal, and natural gas – the fossil fuel triumvirate. Solar production is a relatively infinitesimal 803 thousand billion BTUs’ Removing all the brazillians of zeros, picture 286 to 0.80. Another impossible ratio. But in my tiny shop in the eclipse-crossed midwest, it feels like the first moments of dawn of a new age. With a whispered sense of a secret…known to just a handful. Harnessing the power of the very stars…

And so my Canticle of the Sun…

Jack Rickard