Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Promise of White Paint

Its been known for a while now that Titanium dioxide is a photo-catalysts - it can attract smog compounds like NOx and other Volatile Organic Compounds from cars and industry and use sunlight to break them down.

There are restrictions - there must be a high surface area ... often by coating a mesoporous surface (think of Pumice stone) and other compounds (like soot) can accumulate and inhibit its abilities. On the other hand, bacteria and biofilms cannot adhere to this in part to how TiO2 attracts water as well under UV and breaks it into OH and H compounds that kill them off easily. When night falls, the un-energized TiO2 molecules release the H20, carrying off bacteria and other contaminants. And if that's not enough for you, we can use TiO2's properties to cool houses down very easily. If water is slowly applied to the surface, we can cool the building and everything inside through evaporation - just like the Human Body does with sweating. (There's a wonderful paper from Hong Kong called "Photocatalytic construction and building materials: From fundamentals to applications" ... I can't link the .pdf, but it might be out there on the internet somewhere.)

So, I see a few things coming out of this. First, highways and roads can have median barriers replaced with something resembling a 'sponge', printed with a Dshape. TiO2 would either be part of the material, or applied later. I suspect that we could get higher surface areas that with precast, and thus passively clean air better.

Another one uses TiO2s properties to cool housing efficiently and thus saving money on AC. I'm really amazed by this possibility....mostly because it provides another reason for using 3D printing. Small holes for water would be part of the structure ... placed strategically to cool the whole building. The massive savings on energy costs would be a big part of selling large-scale 3D printing as a better bet in construction.

Anyways....i've been trying to figure out how to 3D model an ordinary Concrete median with Voronoi diagrams to get my idea across.....Meshlab keeps on crashing..woot! Autocad 2011 for Mac is still giving me trouble.....Having a mac is not the best for 3D design sometimes...

Lo vemos.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Me and Maircos

After an hour on a hellish road in mountains of rock, bushes and the house/farm, you immediately notice the solar panels. To be specific, a steel tower with 6 170W panels lined up in a row, topped with a small wind turbine. Over the red clay roofs of Qoturi’s school, and framed by high mountains, it seems out of place. However, many outlying buildings had simple solar panels, indicating that clean energy was not a new technology to these parts. The wind turbine was a new aspect. Right next to the tower was a small white shack, which housed the batteries, the fuses and the controllers. What appeared to be an air vent chimney was in fact the post for the satellite connection that is promised to come within months.
A simple green fence is all that keeps people out, although, with a simple leap from the road above I could get inside. The entire design within the shack was neat and organized. A mysterious bird (or animal?) had made its nest within the tower, in the shade of the 6 170W panels. After some short deliberations, we decided to leave it be.

Adjacent to the installation was a 4 room 1 floor building with a kitchen, storage space, a room with a fridge and water filter system and a large room with 5 computers, a printer and a router. The computer room looked unused and cluttered. Thieves through a window had stolen 4 of the original computers weeks earlier, yet they left the power supplies, keyboard and mice. Steel bars and better locks had been added as a new precaution.

Laptops were placed on simple office tables with no chairs in sight. After logging onto the one computer that had not been stolen (and thus, most likely to be used) I found no evidence that kids had been using them. My failing was to not talk to the teachers about how the lab was being used. I expect that they are waiting for internet, but I have no clue at the moment. According to Marcelo, this installation got computers only 3 months ago. A projector was also stolen, yet replaced. Ricardo demonstrated it to local people (no children) with someone else translating to Quechua. I was not completely present because I was cleaning the solar panels.
I had a very revealing experience with a 4 year old named Maircos (sic?) who spoke some Castellanos but preferred Quechua. As I tapped away on one of the computers in the lab, he hung out with me and watched. I asked him whether or not he used a computer befor…. From his mute response, either he misunderstood me or maybe he thought he shouldn’t answer because no one had been allowed to use it. Clearly nobody had used the one leftover computer – there were no saved files of any sort or recently opened files in Word, Paint or MediaPlayer. Yet I could see his clear interest in me the Gringo and the weird looking TV. So I stopped and pulled out my Ipod Touch. As soon as I unlocked it with the slider, he smiled widely with bright eyes directed at me. I showed him how to go through photos and watch a video. I took a pictures of us two with the front-facing camera.

Later on I had to help out in the battery/control shack. A small appreciable crowd of local farmers, wives and schoolchildren stood on the other side of the fence while we ran through checks of the system. Maircos followed me inside the fence and clearly wanted to play more. For the benefit of him and the entire village it seemed, I showed him more. I opened the piano app and played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. As soon as the first note was pressed, there was a small, yet audible murmur of surprise. After Maircos screwed around with the piano, I showed him Twinkle Twinkle and he got a bit of it. He was clearly enjoying himself, and to my slight relief, everyone present let me and Maircos have fun. I didn’t want to anyone to destroy the great times we were having, him and I. As we noodled away, the little kids stood very pilotely and watched, the women talked a little among themselves and the men looked on. The best part was the Sketchup App. At first, I drew a smiley face to demonstrate. Then I made a new page and let him draw. He drew a misshapened head with big eyes. Soon it turned into a game.

¿Esto hombre, él tiene una boca? (I point to my mouth)
(Maircos draws a mouth)

¿Esto hombre, él tendría un nariz? (I point to my nose)
(Maircos draws a nose)

¿Esto hombre, claro que sí él tendría pelo? (I lift a few strands of my hair)
(Maircos messily scratches out some hair)

After the whole ‘portrait’ was done, I showed the whole crowd what was drawn, which made them laugh loudly. Maircos was smiling, and so was everyone else. By then, other things had to be done, and we moved on. To his obvious sadness, he could not keep it. And my sadness as well.

To my obvious delight, it goes to show teaching kids computer literacy is a matter of prodding rather than lecturing. You have to show them a few things at first, but after that, you have to be a mentor rather than a teacher. Bless Señor Jobs for creating an intuitive user-interface. (and all those app-developers). I think if I had more time with Maircos, I would show him more of the Sketchup tools but in a round-about way. Instead of opening a certain tool, I’d say, “Nos debemos tocar esa botón. Vamos a ver que pasa!”

Indeed, what would happen?