Monday, December 15, 2014

(#75-1) December 15 2014. Christmas is a very special time as far as I am concerned—but I have other thoughts on my mind today—solar power for one.




Ever since I tried to set fire to things at school with a magnifying glass (lots of luck in cold, wet, windy Yorkshire, England in the winter) I have always believed in solar energy. And no, I didn’t burn ants and small multi-legged creepy things. That was never my thing.

I was much more concerned with two legged creepy things of the human variety—and by the time I went to Ampleforth, my school in Yorkshire, I was big enough not to have to resort to weaponry. Also, there was very little physical bullying bullying there—a fact which stands greatly to the credit of the school.

Yes, I was badly bullied for years—but that was at my previous prep school in Ireland, St. Gerards,  where I was just too damn small to defend myself ( because I was sent to boarding school too young). Fortunately I both grew and learned The Sheepman principle.

What is that? Sometimes, if you want to be left alone, you need to make an example. In my case a number of examples were involved, but the principle was the same.

The Sheepman was a 1958 Glen Ford movie which starts with Ford picking a fight with the biggest man in the saloon he can find (he wins, of course) just to make the point that he can look after himself. He needs to be able to. He is bringing sheep into cattle country. Shirley MacLaine played the female lead.

Apropos of nothing except name-dropping—I was to meet Shirley some years later at a neighbor’s party in Ireland. We had some interesting neighbors. This one was a movie producer called Kevin McClory who was to gain fame by suing Ian Fleming for the movie rights of Thunderaball—and winning. He went on to make the movie. Look down at the poster—bottom left—there he is.

I had a teenage crush on Kevin Mclory’s wife, Bobo—an heiress and drop dead gorgeous blond—which I am not sure I’m quite over.

Well, its only been about 55 years.

She spent a great deal of time at our house when the Ian Fleming case was on—it was a very tense time for her. The trial only lasted nine days—more is the pity. Having Bobo hang with us certainly spiced up the day.

Years later, I summoned up the nerve to invite her to lunch (I have no idea what excuse I used, and I am truly surprised I was that courageous). She and Kevin were divorced by that time—and I have rarely had a more delightful meal, or pleasanter company.

After the lunch—which lasted until mid afternoon—I got a kiss, and an invitation to stay when I was next up in Dublin—I was living in my thatched cottage in West Waterford at the time.

I never followed up. It’s hard to top perfection. Bobo was not only beautiful—with sex appeal to match (they don’t always go together) but she was a thoroughly nice human being. She still is, I hope. She married a prince—and I lost track of her.

She deserved to marry a prince—and I can think of no finer princess.

It’s quite a thing when you meet someone who is that attractive—whose character seems to match.

Where men are concerned—since I am still in name-dropping mode, Gregory Peck, Alec Guinness, and Kenneth More come to mind—all thoroughly nice people. Regarding women. I think instantly of Peggy Lee.

As doubtless you know, being thoroughly nice is not always the case where where celebrities are concerned. That said,now I think of it, most of the movie stars I have met—and the few I have got to know—have been pretty agreeable, and, once talking, very human.

I suspect being a celebrity today is more difficult. We now have the twenty-four hour news cycle with a celebrity oriented culture to match—and that must fray the nerves.

But enough of such memories. What I really wanted to comment on is the amazing progress of solar power. The University of New South Wales (located on Crocodile Dundee’s continent) has achieved efficiencies of 40 percent—which is just plain bloody remarkable!

No, I’m not using bad language. I’m just speaking Australian.

"This is the highest efficiency ever reported for sunlight conversion into electricity," said UNSW Professor Professor Martin Green, Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP).

The record was achieved using a combination of technologies, including heliostat mirror "power tower" concentrators from Australian company RayGen Resources and high-efficiency photovoltaic (PV) cells from Boeing subsidiary, Spectrolab, but the key component to achieving such a high-efficiency was in the use of a specifically-designed optical bandpass filter used to reject certain components of the light spectrum whilst improving the capture of others. This helped to vastly improve the conversion of light to electricity at a higher efficiency than possible using PVs alone.

"The new results are based on the use of focused sunlight, and are particularly relevant to photovoltaic power towers being developed in Australia," said Professor Green.

"We used commercial solar cells, but in a new way, so these efficiency improvements are readily accessible to the solar industry," added Dr Mark Keevers, the UNSW solar scientist and manager of the project.

Median installed system prices for residential PV Systems in Japan, Germany and the United States ($/W)

History of PV roof-top prices since 2006. Comparison in US$ per installed watt.[4][5]

RED Japan

BLUE United States

GREEN Germany

I recall having a conversation with my friend, Greg Wilcox—who then worked at SRI—and he referred to work his organization had done and said it didn’t look too encouraging.

I thought otherwise.  I’m rather glad I’m being proven right. Inexpensive solar power is going to transform our lives for the better in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.

Funnily enough, Greg phoned a day or so ago, and we had a long chat about military matters. There, I bow to his superior experience and distinguished career. He served no less that three tours in Vietnam—despite being severely wounded during his second. He is a man of true courage—and a fascinating military thinker.

As someone who hasn’t served in the military—other than have been in the equivalent of the ROTC—why do I think I can make a contribution as well?

Though I have been in harms way on several occasions, and have lived with terrorism for many years in both the UK and Ireland, I don’t pretend for a moment that my relatively brief periods of exposure to danger parallel the sustained exposure of warriors like Greg.

But what I can bring to the discussion is considerable knowledge, adequate experience so I have a sense of things, keen interest, and a creative mind. In addition that those assets, I have perspective—an extremely useful attribute. Perspective is a fine thing in itself—but I try and link it to an open mind. The military mind has many strengths, but openness is not one of them. The pressure to conform is great and questioning the status quo is scarcely career enhancing.

I guess I bring two other assets to the fight. I have an extensive network of military friends—and I can summarize their disparate ideas and communicate them.

Fundamentally, I guess, my role is to communicate. I feel honored to be allowed to do so. It’s hard not to loathe the end results of what the military do—we are talking destruction, death, grievous bodily injury, and misery here—but most of the military I know dislike these aspects as much as I do—and are fine people.

Or maybe I am just fortunate enough to have terrific friends. In truth, I think the truth is a mixture of both—but it is a fact that that the demands of the military—especially in the early years—do stretch people to their limits and beyond—and the outcome can be character-building and impressive.

Unfortunately, defense involves money—truly massive quantities of it—which all too often leads to careerism and  corruption. It is personified by the MICC—the Military Industrial Congressional Complex—but that is a story for another day.

My closing thought is a question: Is money always corrupting?

Well, that particular issue is rarely a problem for writers—not that I am complaining. The satisfaction I get from writing more than compensates.

As for money, I am reminded of what Lord Acton says about power.

All power corrupts—and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

VOR words 1,400.

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