Auto psycho analysis of a guitar player

Written by peterkienle on October 19, 2009

This is going to be a very personal item. That doesn’t mean it will contain juicy details or revelations of secret information. It just means it might not interest anybody else but myself – hence the ‘Auto psycho….’.

In my professional life I pretend to be a guitar player – for the past 35 years or so. I can’t believe that myself. If you care to suffer through my long bio you would notice that I never played in a very successful musical group. I also never played music in a highly profitable band – such as a cover band or a wedding band. I am sure that was partially due to my own conviction that my art was somehow ‘pure’, however stupid that sounds (and some of the music that comes out of such a conviction.) And somehow potential employers must have ‘smelled’ that I wasn’t cut out to emulate somebody like a Carlos Santana or Eric Clapton.

So now, after all this time there are close to a thousand tunes I have written, plus about 90 works for Classical Guitar and a handful of quite esoteric CDs I recorded. And there comes a time when one has to figure out why a career went the way it did. When I was still a greenhorn on the guitar but good enough that I didn’t have to think about every note I played, when things started to ‘sink in’, as they say, I was already playing occasional jazz gigs. Jazz mainly because it wasn’t as restricted as most other music styles I knew at the time. I relatively quickly started listening to myself and the band I was with as if I was sitting in the audience. “Would I get bored now by the guitar solo if I was in the audience?” I would ask myself as I was playing. As my abilities developed this avatar of mine, sitting in every audience I played for, started listening to the whole group. And it was greatly influencing what I was playing and many times whom I wanted to play with. This had really two distinct but connected effects:
1) Rather than looking at the actual audience reaction I judged the performance by my avatar’s reaction
2) Since I tried to impress my avatar, and he was me, I really played for myself

In the past years I have often heard from people who come to our concerts that they admire my style. They say I play like nobody else. I don’t know about that but at the same time it’s flattering. I have many influences in my playing and don’t deny that if I hear John Scofield play a cool thing I like I’ll try to figure it out and use it. Obviously my narrow mindedness carries much of the blame that I fail to impress a broader audience – I don’t play for them!

Now, all of this sounds like it’s a true disadvantage. After all, it looks like a perfect way to forgo fame and fortune in favor of a self-serving artistic goal. I don’t want to talk about artistic integrity or some such high-flying claim. And I don’t really believe in reincarnation, a soul, telling the future from tea-leaves or something along those lines. But I can see something decidedly ‘supernatural’, out-of-this-world in the recognition that now I am the guitar player I went out to see when I was in my teens. Because back then I was the teen who went out to see a guitar player in concerts. This teen would imagine to be that guitar player. This teen probably didn’t even listen to what the actual guitar player on that gig played but rather what he (the teen) would play were he in his (the guitar player’s) place. And then, over the years, this teen slowly, and unnoticed really, evolved into that guitar player and today looks into the audience and finds that one person who he used to be.

To become utterly philosophical you could say that this would have created two poles. You don’t get much of an interchange with one pole. It’s silly, really, but I am still striving to become what that teen saw in that guitar player 35 years ago. Or simply said, I now realize that I am the carrot that was once dangling in front the teenager I used to be.

Rebooting Reality, part 1

Written by peterkienle on September 11, 2009

I have often wondered what would happen if we could start over with something. For example language. Let’s say we wind back time to the beginning of the development of language – assuming, for the moment, there is such a thing as a starting point. If we let it run again from that moment how would it develop? Would it develop pretty much along the same lines? Totally different?

Now, take something like Mathematics. Push the RESET button. Do we expect the exact science of Mathematics to develop the same way it did? Maybe it will develop along different ways but still end up with the same formulas, constants, rules, etc. One would expect the latter if Mathematics is as universal as it is usually made out to be. Wouldn’t we feel utterly betrayed if somehow these RESET mathematicians came up with a consistent, workable and applicable system that is totally different from ours?

Think of a house. Over its lifetime the owner will put on a new roof. Floors might be ripped out, walls torn down. Additions might be built. A second floor added on. When you get to the thought of adding passive and active energy savings measures such as insulation, windows that reflect the sunlight at just the right time of the year and let the light through at other times, solar panels? geothermal heating & cooling? – you get the idea – one might find that the original dwelling was built at a very odd angle to the sun that doesn’t allow easy usage of sunlight. You might find out that there is not enough room to run the water pipes from a roof installation of solar hot water panels – the rafters might be too weak to carry the weight anyhow. There comes a point when the owner realizes that if she really wants go ahead with all the upgrades it would be much more efficient to start over. Tear the old house down and build a new one – doing it right this time.

Another interesting target for such speculations is the wide field of Physics. Especially Theoretical Physics. This is a field which interests me tremendously yet I must admit my actual understanding of the whole thing is pitiful. I tend to read these really cool articles in Scientific American and various other magazines. While I read I go “Yeah, right. I get it this time. Makes total sense.” But as soon as I am supposed to tell somebody else in my own words what the article was about I can’t put it back together. What is probably the most outlandish aspect of it is that it’s all so small. Not only can’t we see any of the quarks, leptons, let alone force carriers such as photons. Somehow all of that seems so removed and irrelevant to our everyday lives. And yet the interactions between all these different forces and particles produce our reality. What if we press RESET for Theoretical Physics? One would imagine that while we don’t know how, when and by whom various effects would be discovered and what language would be used to express this knowledge there still would be someone to figure out the theory behind electromagnetism (James Clerk Maxwell did it in our reality). You would think that somebody would eventually uncover E=mc squared although we don’t know what mathematics she would use to describe it. Could it be that the building of Theoretical Physics might be constructed in a different order and thereby would actually come out differently? Impossible, you say, physics describes the underlying rules of reality but maybe our physics only describe the tip of a huge iceberg. RESET physics and another tip of the iceberg might be sticking out of the water.

One subject of interest to me is music. How could music develop differently after a total RESET? (Assuming of course that music would actually develop in the first place.) Since music is a subject I have a bit more expertise I want to offer an idea I have been elaborating on for a few years now. Assuming a piece of music – for the moment this could be one of the simpler, shorter and clearly structured compositions of J. S. Bach – we know what theoretical background it comes from. We know the key, the meter, how the melody relates to the bass notes, how the notes in between create a harmonic movement. We know how, through the circle of fifths, the major and minor keys relate to each other. Seemingly the composition of the piece is more or less an application of general rules mixed with personal preferences on the musical raw material which has been fine-tuned and formalized over hundreds of years. So, now assume that some alien digs out a recording of that piece. No other materials are found. No reference points to what culture that music came from. The piece of music clearly has structure. It clearly works according to certain rules. But which rules? Can the alien figure out by that piece of music alone what the underlying system of rules and customs that led to its composition were? Could it actually be that this alien might come up with a totally different underlying system for the creation of the piece? I guess if these aliens find more music they will develop a better and better handle on what concepts it’s based upon. Or really? Maybe after a piece of music has been composed or created in some way it’s roots are best forgotten. On the other hand I wonder if it could stand all by itself, apart from the culture that brought it forth.

Finally, for part 1 of this train of thought, think how science actually developed over thousands of years from mythology, religion, superstition, etc. People wanted to know. What knowledge they didn’t have they filled in – by connecting the visible dots, consequently ignoring countless little details in between. Obviously nowadays we know much more about the details in between the dots. And much of it actually seems to be correct since we can use the theories we came up with and reliably predict how certain things in reality will behave. We use these theories to work out what will happen if we put together two chemicals in specific quantities We use them to calculate how to construct rockets to deliver satellites into space and figure out where to put them so they appear to stay over the same geographical location all the time. We use them to program the algorithms that let our GPS navigation systems use these satellites to guide us through big city jungles of one-way streets. So the theories we have work on various chunks of reality. None so far seems to pull it all together. There are still dots hidden and one wonders if in a RESET reality other dots might be found first.

Legoland – which part don’t you understand?

Written by peterkienle on August 30, 2009

When I grew up in Germany during the 1960s and early 70s there was hardly any programming on TV. Computers? Internet? Yeah, right!

But there were LEGOs. Practically every kid I knew had a box full. I had a big box. And every day after coming home from school and finishing my homework I just built stuff. At that time there wasn’t quite such a huge selection of different LEGO elements as there is today. But we still built airplanes, ships, castles, spaceships, rockets, trains, you name it.

The time came when other things became more important in life than building LEGOs. I guess my mom gave the LEGO box away when I moved out. But little did I know back then that several decades in the future I would take my very own kids to Legoland in Ulm, Germany.

Here some of the impressive mini-towns and cities built entirely from LEGOs.

The first three shots are in the Berlin set.

Berlin Reichstag

Berlin Reichstag

Berlin Cathedral

Berlin Cathedral

I like this train bridge

I like this train bridge

Many of the settings include rivers and lakes featuring real water.

Netherlands scene, love the boat

Netherlands scene, love the boat

Venice with lots of canals

Venice with lots of canali

The famous Rialto bridge in Venice

The famous Rialto bridge in Venice

And upon closer looking you find out that all the plants are alive! Trees, shrubs, grass covers. Once you build the structures they stay there. They are glued together. But there are actual gardeners pruning and tending to all the green stuff. That makes everything look so real.

All trees, shrubs, grass, etc. in Legoland are real, 100% organic

More trees in teh Netherlands set

More trees in the Netherlands set

Check out the grass, lovely

Check out the grass, lovely

real grapes, probably not, but real plants nonetheless

Real grapes? Probably not, but real plants nonetheless.

You gotta go when you gotta go. The little things you see these Lego people do.

You gotta go when you gotta go. The little things you see these Lego people do.

Airports, harbors, trains, hundreds of cars and trucks, I spent hours finding new stuff to look at.

Frankfurt airport with a cut-open Airbus A380

Frankfurt airport with a cut-open Airbus A380

Hamburg harbor. Check out the soar panels on the roof to the left.

Hamburg harbor. Check out the solar panels on the roof to the left.

The solar cells make power for that ferris wheel.

The solar cells make power for that ferris wheel.

What's this riverboat doing here?

What is the riverboat doing here?

Frankfurt with it's skyline in the background

Frankfurt with it's skyline in the background

This stadium is in a smaller scale

This stadium is in a smaller scale. There must be thousands of the small Lego people.

Summit station up in the Swiss mountains

Summit station up in the Swiss mountains

...and right behind the station in the woods, a fracking UFO with green aliens.

...and right behind the station in the woods, a fracking UFO with green aliens.

Fractals in action? From the distance this looks like it’s made up of pretty big Lego technics elements. But if you get closer you notice that the big blocks are themselves built from real, smaller blocks.

Lego technics dino, big Lego blocks, right?

Lego technics dino, big Lego blocks, right?

....see the details? All the big parts....

....see the details? All the big parts....

...are themselves built from real Lego blocks.

...are themselves built from real Lego blocks.

I hope you enjoyed this little trip to Ulm, Germany.

UFOs have landed – and they are….WTF?

Written by peterkienle on July 21, 2009

After listening to the 11/23/2008 episode of Tim Harold’s  Paranormal Podcast featuring an interview with Stanton T. Friedman I had some more thoughts about the relationship of the UFO phenomenon with Science.

I want to say upfront that while I more often than not highly disagree with Tim Harold’s guests he is an excellent interviewer who somehow manages to keep a straight face (or tone of voice) while his guests tell the most outlandish stuff. I have heard Mr. Friedman interviewed on other shows before, I have checked out his website and viewed some of his video material on youtube. While I actually agree with him and many other ‘fringe’ or paranormal people that there might be more to a certain phenomenon than current scientific knowledge can explain I find the way they on one hand condemn scientists, universities and research in many fields when it contradicts their ideas while on the other hand eagerly striving to be scientific themselves to be a little inconsistent. Alright, I think I understand where they are coming from. People like Stanton Friedman used to work in a scientific field. They believe the stuff they research now is for real, too. What struck me with that particular interview was that Mr. Friedman spent a whole hour telling how close-minded scientists are when the subject of UFOs comes up. He specifically mentioned Brian Dunning, who produces the excellent Skeptoid podcast. I have listened to every episode of Skeptoid. I find them well reasoned, thoroughly researched and occasionally disturbing (I am a vegetarian and the episode about organically grown food didn’t go down easy.) Mr. Friedman also mentioned Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute who produces a podcast called ‘Are we alone’. The SETI Institute listens for intelligent signals from outer space (remember the movie ‘Contact’?) The podcast deals with scientific topics around that. I have learned much about robotics, astrobiology, physics, etc. listening to that show. Stanton Friedman called the search for extraterrestrial life a ‘religion’.

When I found out about podcasting I was surprised how many science shows there were. Scientific American offers two podcasts. Groks Science Radio Show is a great podcast with different guests each week. Not to forget The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, Skepticality, Geologic Podcast, Quirks and Quarks. There are many more but they don’t all fit on my iPod. The days are too short to catch them all. All of them have one thing in common: I actually learn something from them. And they actually talk about real things, or sometimes hypothetical things. It’s about stuff that has something to do with my reality. The people on these shows are not whining about not being accepted by the general science community (probably because their research has passed the peer review process?) Funny, too, when they talk about the fringe stuff (at least they do on the skeptics’ shows) the consensus is that if there was a real flying saucer or compelling evidence for ESP or life after death scientists wouldn’t hesitate to probe the subject in depth. Anyway, to make it short: podcasts or TV documentaries, books or magazine articles dealing with UFOs have often been about how serious scientists ignore the evidence for alien visitation accompanied by a few blurry or inconclusive photos, and the demand that more research needs to be done (and that the US government must release all the secret documents pertaining the Roswell incident.) I haven’t really learned anything new or conclusive from the UFO guys. And it’s not that anybody prevents people like Stanton Friedman from producing their own weekly podcast. I might actually tune in, in search for new information but for some reason I think it might be a bit repetitive after a few episodes when the reality I live in somehow turns out to have no relationship with what they talk about on the show. It just doesn’t hold much water to see a light in the sky and to extrapolate from that observation that grey aliens and reptilians are at war, etc. I know it’s oversimplified but my call goes out to the UFO folks: If you have real things to report about then produce your own podcast and convince me with compelling evidence.

An un-american speed limit?

Written by peterkienle on July 8, 2009

Recently, as I was pedaling to town on my bike I had an interesting thought. Having  just passed a ‘Speed Limit 40 mph’ sign I quietly chuckled thinking  to myself that at that moment I would not have to pay attention to any speed limits because unless I strapped a rocket to my back I would not be able to go any faster. When I got home that thought expanded itself into the idea of self-enforcing speed limits.

Practically it works like this: You pass a speed limit sign in your car. There is a chip embedded in the speed limit sign and your car will pick the signal up, and magically refuse to go faster than the posted speed limit. At least superficially workable – except that everyone I mention this to thinks it sucks. And come to look at it closer I too have a strange feeling about it.

From a logical standpoint it makes total sense. If there is a speed limit you are not supposed to go faster – it’s against the law!
Just like Religion – you are not supposed to commit sin. Why then did God leave the sin-enable switch in us in the ON position? Or, in regards to the speed limit situation, why does everybody hate the idea that they could NOT go faster if the wanted to, even when it is against the law?

Could it have something to do with ‘free will’? Does such a self-enforcing speed limit evoke the notion of a driver who is ‘guilty’ by default? Rationally it makes total sense to me – as would disabling the sin-switch – and yet there is something weird. Could it be that committing a sin/breaking the law is *fun*?

Call the Police – UFOs have landed!

Written by peterkienle on July 2, 2009

Around 1976, back in Albstadt, Germany, I heard about UFOs for the first time. Being interested in all things space I immediately took to it. There wasn’t a lot of information available but I managed to write a short paper about the topic for a class in Gymnasium. I did get an 1+ for it which corresponds to an A+. The paper was pretty critical about the whole thing. There was just not enough information to make up one’s mind.

Then in 1978 I saw my one and only UFO on a night hike a few kilometers from my mother’s house in the woods. It was a light, hovering in the air like a helicopter some distance off over a valley. The thing that was strange was that there was no sound. There is a military practice grounds pretty close by and we were all familiar with the various sounds and sights from the different flying contraptions used in the practice. Seeing airplanes or helicopters at night was pretty common. My sighting happened during a clear and cold night in November. No crickets. Germans go to bed early. No cars on the road where I was walking. Dead silence. I think even at a distance of several kilometers I should have heard some sound. There was no wind. But for some reason, while I wished for it to be a spaceship that would pick me up, nothing much happened. I could see that mysterious light for 30 minutes or so as I was looking over my shoulder while walking back home. I lost sight of it for maybe 15 minutes until I went to the living room window of our apartment on the 6th floor. The light was still there. Moving about a little. When nothing further happened I went to bed. A good camera would have been nice.

A true Unidentified Flying Object. I don’t know what it was. At the same time jumping to the conclusion that it was an alien spaceship seems a bit far fetched. Other people have been taking this subject much more seriously. Since, in 1947, Kenneth Arnold reported his famous ‘saucer’ it developed its own mythology. There are UFO believers, UFO skeptics, UFO researchers and books, movies and documentaries dealing with the subject. There are claims, people who honestly think they saw something or were even abducted, fraud, faked photographs and videos, books full of unchecked, anecdotal stories. I don’t personally have an opinion about it other than people seeing something and jumping to conclusions. In the small cracks of our reality there are quite possibly countless things we don’t know about yet which together might turn the image we have about that reality upside down many times over. While I don’t know if there is other conscious life out there on some planet or if Earth is actually the only place in the known Universe bearing life my personal feeling is that we are not alone. However, what this other life looks like and how far away from Earth it developed is another question. The assumption that beings from another world have, or are visiting Earth has been been investigated for over a century by science fiction in written and later filmed form. In the written variety of science fiction one can find fantastic aliens, truly different. At the same time many alien cultures depicted appear almost ‘human’. Skipping to SciFi (the cinematic form of science fiction) popular TV series like Star Trek have a long history of depicting beings from other worlds. Most of these have more with us in common than Eskimos with Australian aborigines. Alright, they tend to have different foreheads. In many of the classic SciFi movies aliens – who often look just like us – visit Earth in their flying saucers. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some cross breeding of ideas going on. When the expression ‘flying saucers’ came up it was quickly adopted by movie makers as the obvious form for alien spaceships. And then people who saw something in the sky they couldn’t explain had an easy label to put on their observation. Herein of course lies the rub: UFOs in older photos or videos mostly look like hubcaps and lamps as do UFOs in movies made at that time. It’s hard to tell a real UFO photo or video from all the fakery, fraud and prank. And then don’t forget that UFO means Unidentified Flying Object but when people say they saw a UFO they usually do mean an alien space ship. The well is poisoned as in other ‘paranormal’ stuff such as ESP, near death experiences, ghosts, etc. It seems we try to impose archetypical explanations, thousands of years old, on a very thin layer of actual data. By the time a report of some paranormal activity actually goes on record the actual experience has been blurred, interpreted and totally mutated out of proportion and any sensible inspection is futile.

Perhaps there is stuff going on. Things our senses can’t really pick up because our eyes only see a narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum and our ears have a pretty limited frequency band and range. Our mind (or brain, consciousness, whatever) uses all these inputs to fabricate the image of our reality from these inputs. That’s a pretty complicated task come to think of it. It doesn’t seem at all far fetched that small fluctuations in an input stream might trigger funny interpretations. There might be a lot more fluctuations on a small scale than our crude senses can perceive. Atoms are quite small and it takes a lot of them to form any visible structures. The overused but effective comparison with what you see on your computer screen comes to mind. You don’t think about all the electronic components involved in showing a youtube video in your web browser. One dead pixel on your LCD screen may not have too much of an impact but you do notice when a hard drive starts acting up or a virus or malfunctioning system extension spoils your experience.

Before any labels are put on anything we need to make sure that there actually is something to put a label on. So we are really dealing with two big problems:

1) sort the ‘actual’ physical phenomena taking place outside of the observer, from imaginations, deliberate fakes and other artifacts

If there are actual physical effects provoking observations which then get interpreted as UFOs its signal-noise-ration is very narrow. It may be even harder to come up with a good theoretical framework for these effects than it is in traditional physics because there is hardly anything to build a theory from. And it seems literally out of this world to base the gigantic theories surrounding alien interference in Earth matters on such thin data.

2) drop our preconceptions of what these phenomena might be, follow the data

Forming preconceptions is a human thing and it helps our minds to create the ‘inner’ picture of reality by drawing on previous experiences and acquired knowledge. At the same time, once we have a deep enough storage of preconceptions we tend to apply these first to make sense of what our senses pick up.

UFO and aliens in Legoland

UFO and aliens in Legoland

‘Call the Police’ video contest

Written by peterkienle on May 7, 2009

Ok. After building a greenscreen in my basement, enlisting my kids as actors, digging deeper into Final Cut Express, Toon Boom Studio and a few other applications I noticed that I still would need some “authentic” footage to put together a video about UFOs. Luckily there is youtube which is full of obscure (and not so obscure) footage from various sources. That it still took me over six weeks to fabricate this not quite four minute piece of *your pick here* is a testament to my stellar inability in all involved skills. To add insult to injury I don’t know which movies or documentaries most of the youtube footage came from. And since this video is actually a music video featuring the tune “Call the Police” from my new CD Peter’s Money I thought it might be appropriate to send a free CD to the first person to identify a certain clip used in the video.

So:

1) Can you identify the original movie or documentary a certain clip came from?

2) There are four distinct short musical quotes from well known movies or TV series in the song (actually they roughly correspond with the visuals….) – do you know the source of these?

If you know one, please, post the time when the clip/sound appears (minutes/seconds) and what movies, TV series, documentary it is from right here in this topic. Please, only one answer per post although post as many as you want. Whoever identifies the material first gets a free CD but should refrain from posting more answers. Just to give everybody a chance.

Here’s the video from youtube

Call the Police screen shot

'Call the Police' screen shot

Improvising with LEGOs

Written by peterkienle on March 7, 2009

My wife actually got me a set of LEGO Mindstorms for my birthday. I am done buying guitars. For those who don’t know what Mindstorms are:
These are LEGO Technic (not the blocks but the parts that let you build all sorts of vehicles, airplanes, cranes, robots – probably guitars if you push it). The set comes with a few motors, sensors and a small computer which holds programs that control whatever robot – or thing – you build.

Here’s the musical analogy part:
As I am toying around with this I realize that having all the hundreds of parts in one big box really slows things down. Especially finding these very small pins takes time. On a trip to the hardware store I bought a few compartmentalized boxes people use to hold screws and other small stuff on their work benches and then I sorted all parts out and now I can find them quickly.

Somehow that whole process of learning what actually to do with this stuff reminded me of learning about jazz.

1) you start with a big, unsorted box of LEGOs

2) you put together small things from a few blocks to see how it works

3) you look at existing models and try to copy them

4) you start getting a little experience, what parts you can use for which job

5) you start organizing parts so you don’t always have to search in the big box

6) you become aware of what you actually CAN build with what you have

7) you organize your LEGOs in various compartmentalized boxes

8) you develop a ‘style’, things you like to built

9) you start re-using subsections you developed

10) your perception of what you CAN and WANT to build is intimately connected to how you organized the components

11) over time you might actually store pieces you NEVER use in a separate box

blah, blah

This could go on and on. From my perspective this is pretty much how we learn to improvise. Seems the main thing is to not sort our parts too much. You want to keep access to the big, unsorted box of ideas.

I guess I am getting old and a bit bored by ‘what scale goes over what chord’.

Solar Power bucket of salt (part 7)

Written by peterkienle on

(continued from part 6)

After all the good vibes coming out of our solar installation I really need to reinforce something I knew long before I decided to spend almost $15,000. You can’t really predict the weather so we can only estimate our yearly average power production. Right now, in mid-February, on a cloudless day my PV system produces about 5.5Kw from sunup to sundown. Let’s assume during the summer we might get up to 8Kw per day. That’s an average of 6.75Wh and for simplicity round this up to 7Kw. If we have 365 cloudless days we would produce 2,555Kw in a year. At a cost of $0.105 per Kwh that should save me about $268 in a year. I realize that I can only get realistic numbers after monitoring my power output for a year but this amount is pretty close.

Here are two facts to consider about PV panels and alternative energy:

1) If I can produce all the electricity I need at my home during the day with my panels I will still need power after the sun sets. There is just no way around it, I will need the power from the grid until something better comes along. My PV installation will only cover about 15-35% of my usage unless I increase the number of panels four or five times and buy a few tons of batteries for storage. A system of that magnitude would cost me close to what I paid for the house.

2) Driving through my rural neighborhood I notice that many homes have outside lights. And more than half of them are on whenever I drive by. Day or night.
Now assume that’s a 200W bulb in there. Leave it on for 24 hours and your meter will move by a whopping 4.8Kw. That’s almost as much as my PV system makes at the moment in a day. If you leave that turned on 24/7/365 it will use 1,752Kw in a year. Now throw in another 100W for phantom loads such as VCRs, DVD players, cell phone chargers – all stuff that’s not turned on but still sucks a few watts while it is connected. All of a sudden you are looking at 2,628Kw per year that you could save just by switching that outside light off and investing in a few switchable outlet strips. That’s $263 in a year. Pretty close to what I save with my panels! And you almost get it for free!

There are a few reasons why I got the panels anyway.

1) In the long run – 20 years or so – I’ll break even and then the system still has 15-20 more years which will be savings in my pocket.

2) I wanted to learn how this is done. The digging, the wiring, all of it. There is nothing like some hands-on experience.

3) I wanted to do something else than just donate a few bucks to various political causes.

4) Not a week goes by without somebody stopping and asking about that strange thing in front of my house.

But frankly, unless there are some seriously cheaper and more efficient panels, a modern power grid and practical storage of overproduced electricity I don’t see how solar panels can make a significant impact in the overall energy budget. It’s a drop in the bucket as are many other alternative technologies at the moment. Of course many drops also fill the bucket eventually. But I think whoever claims solar power alone, or wind power alone can replace all the nuclear and coal power plants is delusional. At the same time it’s equally delusional to think that things will just go on as they have been.  Lots has to be done and everyone has to be more conscious about energy usage.

If nothing else, the PV installation in my front yard, and several others in and around my town show that things are changing. People are waking up. We should have paid attention after the oil crisis of the early 1970s. We could have altered our course a bit after 9/11/2001. Instead, we stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything is cool.

To conclude: For me the installation of a PV system in my yard is only a beginning and not the solution – but it can be a seed for a small part of a solution.

(continued in part 8)

Solar Power (part 6)

Written by peterkienle on January 28, 2009

(continued from part 5)

We’re still waiting for some insurance details to be cleared up. But at least finally the people from SCI-REMC, our electric utility, were here to do an inspection and a test run of the system. A nice, warm day (for January) enabled Alex and me to swing the mount to its proper angle of 45 degrees. Now, that really looks imposing. The people on my street finally know what’s happening.


It was very sunny that day and on the test run the inverter showed close to 1100 watts. That’s pretty close to maximum. I plan to keep track of electricity production once our system is officially running. The panels were pretty dusty since the ice, sleet and snow of the past two weeks weren’t able to slide off while the assembly was horizontal. Unfortunately the garden hose was still frozen so I couldn’t clean them.

We did get a new electricity meter. Pretty cool one. When we moved into the house in 1995 they still had to come to the meter, read the numbers and write them down. Then, a few years ago they installed a new meter which sends the reading wirelessly to the person driving by with a truck. This new meter sends its data through the power lines. It will measure how much electricity goes INTO the house as well as how much my PV system generates back into the grid. That probably isn’t a lot most of the time. It cycles through these five modes:
1. Kw – REMC delivered energy in 30 day billing cycle.
2. Kw – Peak or total consumer used kW over the last 15 minute period.
3. Kw – total energy consumer generated back onto REMC’s grid.
4. Kw – peak demand during peak period.
5. Kw – consumer generated energy back to the grid during peak period.

Plenty of numbers to be able to analyze how this will be working out.

I hope to be able to keep you updated on our status.

Copyright © by Peter Kienle