Programming + Design

Electricity directly from trees
Written by Brett Brewer   
Saturday, 19 May 2007

I have been speculating for years about alternative methods for generating electricity. Recently I was thinking about how plants are able to efficiently store solar energy as sugar and wondered if it might be possible to coax them into generating free electrons that could be siphoned off directly as an electrical current. I wondered if there might be some way to splice some genes from an electric eel or some other bioelectric organism and get a tree to produce a similar electrical field. Of course, this seems somewhat impossible since they biological systems in a tree are nothing like those in an eel. But after a bit of searching I came across this article which describes a method of extracting current directly from a tree using a method that most elementary school science fair participants will probably be familiar with from their "potato battery" experiments. Apparently Gordon Wadle, an inventor from Thompson, IL. was thinking about how lightning eminates from the ground, often near large trees. He basically did a variation of the "potato battery" experiment with a tree instead of a potato and it worked.

"Simply drive an aluminum roofing nail through the bark and into the wood of a tree -- any tree -- approximately one half inch; drive a copper water pipe six or seven inches into the ground, then get a standard off-the-shelf digital volt meter and attach one probe to the pipe, the other to the nail and you'll get a reading of anywhere from 0.8 to 1.2 volts of DC power," he said.

And apparently, no matter how many spikes you put into a tree, they all produce the same amount of energy, so a single tree is probably capable of putting out much more energy than the simple experiment suggests. Talk about a sure-fire way to get people to plant more trees! Anyway, the inventor and a company called MagCap Engineering, LLC. have applied for a patent, so hopefully we will hear some more about this in the near future. In the meantime, I think I'll see how much electricity the oak tree in my back yard is producing. 

Last Updated ( Saturday, 19 May 2007 )
Fix for Joomla MP3Player module
Written by Brett Brewer   
Tuesday, 24 April 2007

I had a small issue (several actually) with the Joomla MP3Player module . There are several out there based on the jeroenwijering Flash MP3 player , but all of them are a bit picky about how you configure them and they seem to fail to properly implement the options available in the original standalone player. In particular, the "repeat" option doesn't work right. Instead of using the values "true", "false" and "list" for the values of the "repeat" variable, the module uses "0" and "1" and completely omits the option to jump to the next playlist item using the value "list". So I made a slight change to two module files and am posting them here for your pleasure. 

Download the module files 

Just extract the two module files from the above archive and upload them into your Joomla "modules" folder, overwriting the old versions. Then go to the config screen for the mp3player module (or whatever you have named it in on your modules admin screen) and set the "repeat" option to "list". Now when a song finishes playing, the next song in your list will automatically start. If you have shuffle play enable then it will play the next random selection instead. Also, if you do not set the repeat option at all, it will default to the "list" repeat behavior. 

Please note that I DID NOT WRITE THIS MODULE or the player from which it is derived. I take no credit for anything, not even this patch. Use at your own risk, yada, yada, yada. 

To see the module in action, head on over to my music section

Last Updated ( Thursday, 26 July 2007 )
Roomba reborn!
Written by Brett Brewer   
Thursday, 29 March 2007
It seems like only yesterday I lamented the loss of my first Rooma, Lolita, as she descended into a schizophrenic seizure of starts and stops and half-circles. I cleaned her, I removed/replaced her battery and nothing worked. I had all but resigned myself to sending her back for a replacement when I decided to spray out her front sensor area with compressed air. A big chunk of dust shot out of the left side and suddenly, my sweet Lolita was back in business. My sweet Lolita has been reborn!
Last Updated ( Thursday, 29 March 2007 )
PHP $_REQUEST variables not showing up when you submit your form?
Written by Brett Brewer   
Thursday, 29 March 2007
Had an annoying little problem with some variables I submitted to a PHP script now showing up in any of the $_REQUEST, $_POST or $_GET arrays. After an hour or so of head scratching and echoing, and print_r-ing, I figured out that my form had some duplicate form elements with identical names and IDs. This seems to have caused Firefox to completely lose MOST, but not all of the form submission. I didn't delve much further to find out what exactly was going on, I simply fixed my form and the problem went away. Strange though. It seems like the last instance of the duplicate form element on the page should have simply overridden any previous values, but not cause the loss of other variables. I didn't test in IE, so it may only be a Firefox issue. 
Why Ion Sancho ROCKS!
Written by Brett Brewer   
Tuesday, 07 November 2006
As someone who has voted in Leon County, FL. for over 10 years, I can honestly say that we are incredibly lucky to have Ion Sancho for a Supervisor of Elections. Never have I met a government official that is so willing to talk to individual voters and to go out of his way to help people. 
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 07 November 2006 )
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