Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Present made from Broken Glass

Norah turned 1 the other day and as a belated response to a suggestion from her Mum, I made her a present out of broken glass. A bottle, with a hole drilled very carefully into it, an LED shoved inside, filled with broken glass, then capped. Voila! Night-light for Norah and Mabel!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Tracking Utilities

Although I'd love to spend hours on end setting up Arduinos to monitor everything at home, lately I've felt that my time has been better spent re-watching The West Wing. But I do check the meters every so often, and I thought I may as well publish the results so the whole world can watch the impact 46 Ross St is having.

These graphs are coming from the Google Docs that I use to track these things...

Water Use
First of all, data from our bills. You can clearly see when we bought the house - October 2009. Before that there were 8 students living here. Since then there have been generally 6 or 7 people (admittedly two of those people are very little) but still, a pretty amazing reduction in water use. We put a tank in October last year - just for watering the garden at the moment. It may have had some impact but it's hard to tell.

The following is water use as logged monthly by reading the meter - I will keep this updated.
Gas Use
Now to natural gas - which runs our hot water (storage type system) and one cooktop. You can see that the bill readings went whacko for a couple of billing cycles - I think they misread the meter as the mistake seemed to correct itself.

Now onto my favourite... however it's just got complicated with the addition of our solar panels. We haven't received a bill yet, but it's looking like we're going to generate about as much electricity as we've consumed, which means our next bill should include a cheque!

Here are the bills so far...

And this one shows readings from the new import/export meter. Will be interesting to see whether import or export wins in the long term. (Import is the electricity we use from the grid when there is no sunshine. Export is the excess electricity we export to the grid during the day when we are generating more than we use).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Beyond Zero Emissions Article - Brisbane Line

I wrote this article for 'The Brisbane Line' at the request of the Brisbane Institute, after they heard about Beyond Zero Emissions and the fact that Engineers Without Borders at UQ were organising a forum which I presented the plan at.

Hope you enjoy it!

By the way - I'm presenting the plan again in a few weeks - details here.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Live Output Up and Running

Finally have our new installation streaming to pvoutput.org. The below should be live data being updated every five minutes during the day. Click on the below graph to see the interactive version on pvoutput.org

Thursday, May 26, 2011


After a false start last year when we realised that we should get a new roof before we put solar panels on it (the old roof was about 90 years old), and after months of delays this year as bad weather and time-underestimating slowed down our new roof, we FINALLY have solar panels on our roof - 3kW worth.

Rob and Russ at Local Power were our chosen provider as they have the best bits, most reliable record and, let's face it, they're our mates.

In the next week or two I hope to get their electricity production streaming online at pvoutput.org - stay tuned!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Back in Brizzy

As usual, while life carries on as usual in Brisbane, my blog lies ignored as I only really seem to update it if I happen to be in another country. That probably won't be happening for the time being, so I thought I'd put some effort telling my loyal blog followers what has been happening for us in Briz Vegas. Nepal is now but a distant memory...

A New Job
I guess the biggest development in terms of how I spend my time is that after two fantastic months 'off' keeping busy with various things, I am now working for the man - but I'm pretty excited about the role. I'm an 'Energy Specialist' - spending my time reducing energy usage in large commercial buildings. I'm learning about heaps of energy efficiency, renewable energy and smart grid technologies, getting back in touch with a few thermodynamic principles that I haven't looked at since university and learning to navigate the systems and politics of a huge US multinational company. An added bonus is that it's located at Cannon Hill, close to where Di works so we can ride our bikes to school together!

A New Cause
One of the things I'm most excited about is a group I've been doing some volunteer work for - Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE). A not for profit, consisting of mostly volunteers in relevent professions has put together the first part of the Zero Carbon Australia plan to take Australia's economy to zero carbon emissions within ten years using technologies that are already commercially available. Amazingly ambitious but surp
risingly achievable and such a welcome change from the depressing political and media debate. In contrast, BZE has simply says, "What does the scientific consensus say we should do?" and works out how to do it.

So my contribution is presenting this Zero Carbon Australia plan to whoever will listen. So far it's been friends/family, an Engineers Without Borders group and my local TEAR group, but I have a few more lined up with a Rotary Club, at the UQ Engineering Department, at a sustainability festival in Toowoomba and at the Ecosciences Centre at Griffith University.

I'm sick of people's skepticism about climate chang
e and skepticism about whether we can do anything about it. Humanity is innovative and resilient and we can sort it out.

Engineers Without Borders
I'm still involved with KAPEG back in Nepal - encouraging and assisting them as they continue with the wooden LED desk lamps. I'm also working on a low cost, cell-phone connected wind turbine data logger which will be handy to monitor test installations of wind turbines in remote locations in Nepal. I've also been presenting to a few audiences on our experiences in Nepal and getting involved in the local EWB chapter activities.

The photo below shows my colleagues from KAPEG selling wooden lamps at markets in Kathmandu.

That's a snippet of life here in Brizzy, without talking much about the fun of being back here, and some home projects (eg new roof, solar panels - and an energy monitoring system I'm building to match it). I'll try to post some more nerd stuff once I get something working!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Just thinking about that steep hill...

Just thinking about that steep hill we pushed our bikes up at the end of a 9 hour day.
The below screen shot from EveryTrail (GPS sharing site) shows the profile of the day - see that steep blue line at the end of the graph? That's about 1000 metres up in around 8km horizontally. Phew...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Last Day in Dhulikhel

The Himalayas put on a show for my final day in Dhulikhel - fantastic - especially considering that they have hardly shown there faces over the past two weeks. Himal ramro chha!!

Mountain Biking the Valley

NOTE: If any of the below links to GPS tracks do not load, try refreshing the page, or clicking on them anyway - it should take you to www.everytrail.com where the GPS tracks / photos are hosted.
The final adventure I've been looking forward to (aside from a final bout of food poisoning I am now experiencing in Kathmandu) was a multi-day mountain biking expedition around the valley. This country was made for mountain biking - and I need to come back and do more one day.

Day one was a nice leisurely 2 hour ride down to Kathmandu from Dhulikhel, on the back roads to avoid crazy traffic. Straight through the middle of Bhaktapur, including a cheeky dash through Durbar Square without paying the entry fee (hey I've paid it at least twice while I've been here, and I don't think the guy at the gate saw me).

Scotto and his -24 degree mountaineering gloves

I met Scotto in Kathmandu for lunch then we both tackled the 800m climb up to Kakani at around 2000m. Apparently Kakani is one of the best places to see the Himalayas from the edge of the valley, but we were treated to nothing more than mist - with the slightest hint of massifs the following morning. Oh well - we're here for the comradery and the mountain biking, not the views. Actually, that's not true... we wanted the views!!!

Liz and mountain biking MACHINE Freya met us at Kakani later that evening ready for Saturday's big ride.
This was the big one - less than 40km, but rough, overgrown single-track - with occasional snow remnants from the week before - followed by fun rough tracks that could sometimes pass for roads. The final kicker was having to descend to the valley floor 500 metres below for a final climb of 800 metres up to Chisopani. This was mostly done by us (and occasionally local kids) pushing the bikes. About 9 1/2 hours on the trail all up - tough, but a memorable day. Special accolades go to Scotto who made it through without eating due to happy fun food poisoning. It was about 7pm when we stumbled into Chisopani in the dark. Cold as it was, a beer was definitely appreciated.

Freya holding a snowball

Me, Scotto, Freya, Liz

The mountains finally showed themselves on Day 3 - waking up in Chisopani to some nice views. The trail to Nagarkot was mostly fun up and down dirt road with more views and dodging the occasional hikers (note - if you where an ipod while hiking, you may get the occasional shock - sorry!). We said goodbye to Liz and Freya halfway through as they went to Kathmandu. Scotto and I continued up to Nagarkot - a punishing climb, but after the 800 metre uphill walk from the day before, it was tolerable. The mountains were out at Nagarkot, and as it was only early afternoon we spent it relaxing. Kathryn, an EWB volunteer recently arrived in Nepal met us up there to take in the views as well.

Day 4 of 4 - Nagarkot to Dhulikhel

Woke up in Nagarkot to more fantastic views, so had to invade the roof of the nearby Fort Hotel to enjoy them. After the initial bitumen road climb (still painful!) today's ride was pretty much all downhill through pine forest and villages. It seems to be wedding season at the moment - I actually saw 4 weddings and a funeral.

Saying goodbye to Scotto once we'd descended (he was heading back to Kathmandu), it was back 'home' to Dhulikhel to clean my bike, pack up my stuff and get ready to head home to Brizzy.

A fantastic few days - I definitely could have continued on around the south of the valley for a few more. For another time I guess... for now it's goodbye to muesli bars and trail mix and back to Oz.

Some more photos...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Final Days...

So five months flies by pretty quickly. In some ways. In other ways it seems like this is just life as normal now. This morning when I came up onto the roof for breakfast, it was about half an hour before I actually looked out the window and went "Wooah...".

Di went home on Friday and had her first day back at school today, so I'm sitting here in our little Himalayan mansion sipping warm gl├╝hwein (made partly because it's so cold here and I need the warmth and partly to disguise the taste of old cardboard-box wine purchased in Kathmandu). A particularly exciting moment during it's making was when I discovered that heating it on a gas stove can cause secondary combustion as the wine boils and the alcohol vapour ignites.

It's been great to make some real progress on my project recently - lamps have been designed, prototyped, are under manufacture and a few have been pre-sold. If you want to check them out, see here. They're not perfect, but if there's one thing I've learnt over the last few months it's that you have to pick an idea and run with it - even though you know it's not perfect. It never will be. Ok, so that's not limited to Nepal - I've also learnt that over the last 9 years working in reality as opposed to what university seemed to teach about perfect solutions...
Tomorrow's my last official day at KAPEG. Then it's 4 days of mountain biking around Kathmandu Valley with a few friends (which I'm totally hanging out for), followed by a last visit to Dhulikhel to pack up. Australia Day will be an anti-climax, as the local Australian Embassy has decided not to celebrate Triple-J's countdown and the invasion of our great land. So it will be a couple of days killed in Kathmandu enjoying last cheap-eats, pollution and cold, electricity-less mornings.

See you soon wifey, Bristanbul and Australia! Nice work hanging in there through the floods. Hope there's not too much more pain this season.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bogged in Tibet

Just a little addition to the Tibet post... here's some highlights of our experience being bogged in the ice on the way to Everest Base Camp.