Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Two exciting things (DII and DWFTTW)
The first thing I got excited about recently is the news announcement that roughly 20 big German companies are talking about investing €400 billion in the Desertec Industrial Initiative. What is thrilling about this announcement is that it involves a sum of money that is in the right ballpark for a genuine plan to get off fossil fuels. So often, government announcements have involved 1 million here, 10 million there, and (rarely) 100 million. I reckon the cost of putting together a new energy system for the UK must be roughly 400 billion pounds, or 10 billion pounds per year from today to 2050. This is much more than millions; but it is still perfectly affordable, given that we already spend 80+ billion per year on energy and 80+ billion per year on insurance. I'd love to see details of what the German companies think they could buy for their 400 billion euro.
The second exciting thing was to discover, thanks to James from Isentropic, what I now consider to be the two best videos on ther internet. Namely: Downwind Faster than the Wind (DWFTTW) [which demonstrates that it is possible to make a wind-powered vehicle that goes directly downwind faster than the wind] and Under the ruler faster than the ruler [which explains with a nice simple model how faster-than-wind travel works].
What intrigues me philosophically about the wind-powered-travel expositions is that it reveals how fragile and weak "understanding" can be: I thought I understood wind-powered travel, and I already knew about wind-powered vessels that can sail directly upwind (eg, Revelation II, pictured). But I got the answer to the question "is DWFTTW possible?" wrong! - even though the principle by which upwind travel works is just the same as the principle of DWFTTW travel. So it seems that when I "understood" upwind travel, what I really did was append to my stack of physics heuristics another heuristic, permitting upwind travel; I didn't add a piece of knowledge that was capable of working in new situations.