Monday, August 31, 2009

Be your own customer service advocate

Freedom of the press belongs to the person who owns one, but the power of the press does, too. And in the Internet era, anyone can own a press.

Many major newspapers and TV stations have customer service features: a reader or viewer writes them with a customer service problem, they take it up with the vendor and essentially use the threat of public embarrassment to get the problem fixed. Heaven help the hapless vendor if the victim is actually a journalist.

But what happens when everyone can be a publisher, and many many people can command an audience of hundreds or thousands? Stuff like this, in which incompetent customer service confronts the power of Twitter, and loses, big time. (Sleep-deprived new parent rant. Contains shouting, some bad language, and references to baby poo.)

Full disclosure: I have occasionally played the journalist card myself. But it's always a last resort. Like many such weapons, it loses effectiveness if used too often.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Enough records to go around

It's easy to achieve world record solar performance. You just have to define your niche properly. The following records were all announced recently:

  • Most efficient solar cell: a five-junction concentrator device from the University of New South Wales. 43% efficient.

  • Most efficient triple-junction cell: a concentrator cell from SpectroLab. 41.6% efficient.

  • Most efficient screen-printed monocrystalline silicon production cell: more than 18% efficient, from Suniva. The "screen-printed" qualifier is important, as SunPower's non-screen-printed production cells top 20%.

  • Most efficient multicrystalline silicon panels: 15.6% efficiency, achieved by Suntech Power. Though this is a lower number than the other records, it's actually pretty interesting. It's for a complete panel, not a cell, and beats Sandia's longstanding record.

Update: But wait, there's more! I missed this one...

  • Most efficient flexible CdTe cell. 12.4%, achieved by a group in Switzerland. This one is important because it uses a low temperature process, compatible with roll-to-roll processing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two great buzzwords that work great together

This is interesting.

Carbon nanotubes have properties that make them very interesting as possible channel materials for advanced transistors. Unfortunately, precise placement of trillions of nanotubes is a difficult problem.

Enter DNA. DNA is very good at self-assembly, so it's (relatively) easy to make an array of DNA structures. It's also easy to modify a DNA molecule so that it will bind to, say, a carbon nanotube.

At least that's the idea behind recent work at IBM. So far they're still working on the DNA scaffold, but the potential is very cool.