As deep as any ocean …

• “It takes only 3 seconds to lift the weight which powers GravityLight, creating 30 minutes of light on its descent. For free.”

• Arsole, Cummingtonite, Sparassol, Domperidone … and many other “Molecules with Silly or Unusual Names.” (via Steve Buchheit)

• The funniest thing here is that I don’t for a moment doubt that his math is actually correct.

• “Ecklund’s findings sketch a portrait of a scientific community that is much more religiously diverse than previously thought.”

• “F is for Futalognkosaurus” … “G is for Gigantspinosaurus” … “H is for Hagryphus” … “I is for Irritator.”

• And, related to the above: “Know Your Prehistory.”

• “The Obama administration has for the first time opened up large areas off the Atlantic Coast for offshore wind farms.” That’s a positive step, but still, it’s almost 2013 and the United States of America has the same number of offshore wind farms as landlocked, impoverished Malawi.

• “I believe that, you know, that weather elements are controlled maybe by different things.” Sigh.

• Jim C. Hines and John Scalzi strike a pose for charity. Hilarity, feminism and a good cause — what’s not to like?

• The Baptist Code: A math major makes a big contribution to American theological history.

• Awesome new word I’m eager to try to work into my daily conversation: “frass.” So many possibilities.

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  • • Arsole, Cummingtonite, Sparassol, Domperidone … and many other “Molecules with Silly or Unusual Names.” (via Steve Buchheit)

    I always love it when the organic chemistry profs highlight this in their classes. It’s a funny moment in the middle of chemistry which can usually be boring as anything. :-P

    Fucitol! ;)

  • aproustian

    The pose-off with Jim Hines and John Scalzi has in fact occurred, posted here:

    It’s just as hilarious as I’d hoped, including the book’s author, Vicki Pettersson’s response (fairly far down the page).

  • “Mathematician Cracks The Baptist Code”, now that title’s just crying out to be made into a Dan Brown ripoff. 

  • Aeryl

    If you like the Hines-Scalzi pose off, may I recommend, The Hawkeye Initiative.  

  • Victor
  • And of course there’s the classic:

  • Victor

    And of course there’s the classic

    Hey Alex, “I” think that Fred really over did “IT” this time so what do ya think folks? :)


  • stardreamer42

    It’s perfectly possible to be religious and a scientist at the same time. What it’s not possible to be is a Biblical literalist and a scientist at the same time. Most other forms of religion recognize that they are talking about different things than the ones addressed by science. 

  • “Biblical Literalists” I wish we’d stop calling them that (especially the rapture/tribulation fetishists), cuz they’re really not.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Gotta respect self-identifiers, and that’s theirs. We do not get to say that they are not using and/or cannot use it as a thing to call themselves, and we should respect their choice of thing we should call them.

    None of which means we cannot point out at every turn that it’s a really fucking inaccurate descriptor.

  • Victor

    (((None of which means we cannot point out at every turn that it’s a really fucking inaccurate descriptor.)))

    EllieMurasaki that reminds me of the year of 1982 in Victor’s so called year of his lord when his welding class decided to show him what life was all about and so long story short, we gods con vic by placing “Fucking” on the door and then showed Victor the universaty dictionary saying that “Fucking” simply stood for Darn……


    OH! What are ya going to do Victor! Cry to the teachers like ya did back then to have “IT” removed butt we got even with ya and called a recess in the real world and your entire graduation year of welding went down the drain. Right?

    Give “IT” UP sinner vic! You’re not really a god, “IT” was just “Bad Luck” that a recession broke out in Canada and after “IT” was over in Canada me, myself and i had simply given UP on becoming a “Weld her” I mean Welder! :(

    There’s “NOTHING” wrong with Victor Fred! “IT” is the rest of the world! :)

    Not funny sinner vic!

    Go Figure! :)


  • David Starner

    Okay, so I scraped through college physics. So can someone else show me exactly what the math is on that weight lamp? Assuming a person is putting out one horsepower for 10 seconds, that’ll give you 15 watts for 8 minutes or 10 watts for 12 minutes. That’s a fairly low-power CFL bulb for 8-12 minutes.  (Phillips is advertising their newest LED consumes 23 watts for a 100 watt incandescent equivalent. That’s cutting edge.) To get the half-hour they claim, it’s a mere 4 watts. Humans can produce 1.2 horsepower in brief bursts, but I don’t see how you’re getting even 10 seconds of full-exertion out of lifting that weight.

    Can someone check these numbers? As far as I can tell, this GravityLight is way overreaching modern technology, or outright fraud.

  • OriginalExtraCrispy

    Can anyone else figure out what Victor is talking about?

  • There have been 13 W (60W incandescent equivalent) for a long time now. You can get an 8 W (60 W equiv) for 8 bucks at home depot. The ODESAN 0A-0101N outputs 436 lumens (roughly 75% of a 60W bulb) for 4.75 Watts.

  • Rarely.

    The only point of reference to the broader conversation I can discern here is their reaction to Ellie’s use of “fucking.” Everything else seems to be mostly internal monologue relating to a welding career interrupted by an economic downturn in Canada.

  • Tricksterson

    Don’t try.  It will only hurt your head.  My reccomendation is to either ignore it or view it as zen poetry.

  • Tricksterson

    “I believe tha, you know, that weather elements are maybe controlled by different things”

    Like wizards!

    But seriously, the woman is a professional politician, who has risen to statewide office and she can’t be more articulate than that?  Not to mention that her level of coherency is about equal to Victors.

  • Don’t underestimate how much light you can get from 4 watts or less if you’re not having to conform to picky westerner’s ideas about what colour temperature the light should be.

    The kerosene lamps that this is intended to replace have outputs in the vicinity of 40 lumens, which can be achieved with less than one watt with high-efficiency LEDs. So the back of the envelope says: a 100 kilo weight falling 2 meters giving half an hour’s light: 1960 J of mechanical energy converted at (assumed) 75% efficiency to 1470 J of electricity giving 0.8 watts at 50 lumens/watt for just over 1800 seconds.

  • The thing with Ecklund’s study is that it found, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, that American scientists were substantially less religious than the American public, both in terms of proportion of atheists and in terms of degree of fundamentalism amongst believers.

    But pointing that out that would obviously make it harder to continue sucking on the Templeton funding teat, so Ecklund has gone on at great length about how, in the most religious of developed countries, scientists are not actually all raging atheists. (duh.)

  • Oh, and I found wildly divergent figures for lumens/watt from LED lighting, so I picked the most conservative reasonable-looking value. Adjust to taste.

  • No, and I’ve followed him for a while. He also shows up at the Splendor of Truth website:

  • David Starner

     That seems more plausible, but they say 20 lbs (~10 kg) and their pictures don’t look that high; lifting 100 kg over the head is more believable to power the light, but it’s also nontrivial and possibly less safe then the kerosene lamps.

  • cjmr

    It looks to me from the video like the light uses the weight like a clock uses a clock weight, using advantageous gear ratios.  IANA engineer, though.

  • I may have been too conservative on the lumens/watt figure – Cree have parts for sale at over 180 lumens/watt, and claimed R&D results of over 250 lumens/watt, which is about at the theoretical practical limit.

    0.2 watts at 180 lumens/watt would still be a close match to kerosene lamps, and that’d be only 25 kg on my (possibly pessimistic) assumptions. Going to 250 lumens/watt would make that 17.5 kg.

    Best case (removing my 75% efficiency estimate), 10 kg / 2 meters / 30 mins would be about 0.11 watts, 27.5 lumens at 250 lumens/watt; that’s still in the right ballpark for comparing with a kerosene lamp.

  • David Starner

    Okay.  I still regard it as oversold; I suspect many of the people who buy a copy for themselves won’t be entirely satisfied. I also wager a guess that there will be a descending power curve and that it will need recharged in practice long before it goes out in 30 minutes. But I’ll accept it as not fundamentally impossible.

  • EllieMurasaki

    It doesn’t exist to be the latest shiny for wealthy people, and I note that the fact that you have access to an Internet-capable computer makes it really likely that you are, for purpose of this discussion, wealthy people. It exists to be at least as effective as, at least as cheap as, and safer than kerosene lamps, for the use of people who currently rely on kerosene lamps because they do not have electricity. And if it goes out after ten minutes instead of the promised thirty, who cares? Three times minuscule effort is still not terribly great effort.

  •  Yeah. I first heard of the gravity light a few months back, and that objection came up almost instantly. It looks like this version uses a more substantial counterweight, but I still would expect the light put out by this to be more on the order of “oil lamp” than “light bulb”

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which is not exactly a problem for people who are used to oil lamps, not light bulbs.

  • Water_Bear

    It’s possible but very unlikely. 

    The lowest figure I’ve ever seen was that ~75% of scientists were atheists / agnostic / irreligious and the higher ones go up to 97%. If those numbers are even remotely accurate that means we’re closer to a consensus on the non-existence of the supernatural than on how gravity works.

  • It seems to me to be reasonable to use gravitational energy to run light bulbs. If I had a little dynamo I could even test the idea for myself, I suspect.

    But I suspect a physics student or three are going to try and reproduce this idea if only to be able to test it out and see if it works.

  • P J Evans

    If clocks can run for a day on gravitation, with careful  gearing, then I would think that it shouldn’t be any more difficult to build a low-power lamp that can use a similar mechanism. (We have crank flashlights and radios. Why not gravity powered?)

  • Which is why it makes a lot more sense in this context than the original one, which was “Outrageously expensive floor lamps for hipster douchebags”

  • David Starner

    They’re taking money to do something; I don’t think it unreasonable to ask if their advertising copy is really telling the truth, and be concerned if it’s not.

    As for who cares? Getting up from what I’m doing every ten minutes to recharge the lights is not minuscule. I would be surprised if many people who had abundant cheap material for a fire would switch to something they had to mess with every ten minutes. Even kerosene lamps are going to be an economic issue; I suspect the haves are still going to use kerosene despite the danger.

  • EllieMurasaki

    You do know you’re supposed to get up every twenty minutes just to make sure your desk job doesn’t fuck with your health, don’t you?

  • P J Evans

     You have to mess with a fire about every ten or fifteen minutes anyway, to keep it burning properly. (Unless you live someplace where you can get really large-diameter firewood without paying an arm and a leg for it.)

  • B

    I’m wondering what happens when the thing breaks.  Is it easily reparable?

    Yes, I said “when.”  It’s an inexpensive mechanical device fastened to a 20-lb weight that’s being hoisted up and dropped again every 30 minutes (less if you’re trying to something radical like read by it, it sounds like).  It’s going to break sooner or later.

    I mean, it’s a really neat idea, I’m just wondering to what extent gravity is really the most practical, cost-effective, and non-economy-breaking way to bring light to people in the developing world, and to what extent the creators just thought that a light operated by gravity is a really neat idea?

  • David Starner, do you actually consider the reality for people who are not you and not living like you are? Or are you just that anxious to whine?

  • The main issue is that electrification usually requires a lot of standing infrastructure. If the country you’re in can’t be arsed to come up with a decent way to bring electricity to your house (which really says something about the government’s priorities; even the Soviets weren’t stupid enough to neglect this, and their economy was not the most well-managed), then the alternative is some kind of easily-used, scaled-down technology you can put in your house.

    It strikes me the better alternative would be to make this thing last longer, so that less time is spent moving a rather large weight.

    The only other reusable source of gravitational potential energy is the hydrologic cycle, and in regions without adequate rainfall or rivers, hydroelectric power is no go.

  • Donalbain

     The target market for this light do not tend to have desk jobs.

  • Donalbain

    I am led to ask, what problem is the gravity light solving that isn’t already solved in a better way by clockwork technology? No.. I am not really that impressed.

  • Münchner Kindl

     Wow. Do you consider it possible to enquire about the motives of a company that wants to earn money selling their invention given that an alternative to kerosene already exists and is being distributed in places that need it?

    This is not a binary choice between Kerosene lamps or gravity light, or between kerosene and full electrification. It’s also possible to sit at a desk with internet access in the first world and yet be informed about the needs and projects in other countries (even help the already-working solar projects), and therefore be sceptical of this new project.

    Because, despite the mischaratisation of the solar projects that the gravity light project gives, it doesn’t require a community effort or is prohibivtly expensive to provide solar. Quite contrary. My church group, for example, provides (1) solar panel to charge + (1) lamp with batter to connect to charger + (ca. one dozen) different plugs to charge mobile phones with, for 30 Euros. (And mobile phones are not a luxury: for the same reason – a lot of empty space and poor people as customers, plus possible theft of cables etc. – that power companies don’t put up wires, phone companies don’t put up wires for infrastructure in Africa, Asia and Latin America.) Charging a mobile phone while the sun is shining is a way to earn a few cent for shop owners who have the solar charger. So there is more than one use for a charger than just “using it when the sun shines”. In some countries, they use it to dry products or power other machines. Because it produces a steady current during the day for no cost (no gasoline for a generator), it provides much more use than a machine that only produces light if you lift it.
    The other accusations, that the rechargeable batteries are expensive and hard to replace, are also not generally true. It depends on which product is bought. It’s quite easy and cheap today to buy seperate rechargeable batteries for lamps instead of the soldered-together, proprietery ones we know from camcorders or laptops.

    It’s also not true that it’s difficult for poor people to buy solar products. The charity groups usually work with existing structures like community banks, but the people already save dimes for kerosene. So one credit is given to buy one lamp, and the dimes used to buy kerosene instead pay off the credit. After a few years, the credit is paid off, and the sum is used to buy the next one, and the next family pays it off.

    That’s because the many, many different groups who distribute solar products are charities, not producers of solar products. (Sometimes producers of solar products donate a part of their production, but the standard is that the charity collects money, buys the products and distributes/ installs them).

    Whereas this group apparently produces and sells the gravity light product themselves. This makes the whole thing quite different and worthwhile it to ask questions about how much better their product is necessary before spending a lot of money.

  • Münchner Kindl


    The main issue is that electrification usually requires a lot of
    standing infrastructure. If the country you’re in can’t be arsed to come
    up with a decent way to bring electricity to your house (which really
    says something about the government’s priorities; even the Soviets
    weren’t stupid enough to neglect this, and their economy was not the
    most well-managed), then the alternative is some kind of easily-used,
    scaled-down technology you can put in your house.

    Um, that’s the invisible, beneficial hand of the free market you see at work there. Large distances + poor customers + high possibility of theft = not worthwhile for private companies to build infrastructure.

    If the government had the right priorities, they would either have to nationalize companies – then everybody would scream “socialism” and cut off funds – or ask them nicely and get nowhere. Or pay millions of money to build their own, which they don’t have given other priorities like schools and hospitals.

    And the alternative is leapfrogging over the need for cables: by using mobile phones and off-the-grid generators: wind and solar. Which charities are busy distributing. So if you want to help, give money to these charities. Because a windmill or solar product produces electricity in general, to which a variety of machines can be hooked up to, unlike this gravity light, which apparently only produces light, no power output.

  • Clocks can run for a day on gravity power because they have very low power consumption. Clockwork radios are possible because only milliwatts of power are needed. For lights, though, there is a minimum power requirement because light is energy. (Crank flashlights do work but require a relatively large amount of cranking.)

    “Lumens” are defined in terms of the light power at a given wavelength multiplied by a factor representing the sensitivity of the eye at that wavelength. The theoretical limit is 683 lumens per watt, but that requires a pure green light, not very useful in practice. For approximately white light, the limit is about 300 lumens per watt, with over 250 having been demonstrated in the lab.

    A litre of kerosene has an energy content of, under ideal conditions, about 37 MJ. A small kerosene lamp without a mantle will probably not do better than 0.3 lumens/watt, so a light output of 35 lumens would need about 120 watts. At that performance, one litre of kerosene would power the lamp for about 86 hours (this may be optimistic; actual studies of kerosene consumption in India suggest 40 hours, which is plausible since any number of factors could further reduce the lamp efficiency down to the region of 0.15 lumens/watt).

    But imagine instead that you convert the kerosene to electricity at, say, 30% efficiency (e.g. in a fuel cell), and use it to power a small incandescent bulb (say 18 lumens/watt for a low power tungsten halogen bulb). Now you only need 2 watts to get 36 lumens, and your litre of kerosene would last you more than 1500 hours – over two months of continuous use, or a year at 4 hrs/day. Even if you used a generator rather than a fuel cell and added a bit more loss from battery storage you could still get over 500 hours.

    Make that a high-efficiency white LED rather than an incandescent bulb, and now you only need 0.14 watts to get 35 lumens, and your litre of kerosene would last for more than 2.5 years continuous use.

    But this is probably all moot, since solar is almost certainly a better option: solid-state, no mechanical wear, standardized parts, cheaper to build and maintain than small generators or fuel cells. A modest-size PV panel will easily generate enough power in only a couple of hours sunlight to charge dozens of efficient battery lanterns for several hours usage each.

    My conclusion is that this gravity power thing is probably not worth the money.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, but David was complaining about how he would feel if he were using that light, and I bet David does have a desk job.

  • Liralen

    Energy storage systems of any kind are of interest to power grids,which generally lack it. They are also of interest to wind and solar due to poor availability relative to fossil fuels.

    Not that I plan to invest in this project.

  • cjmr

    Solar cells are extremely resource intensive to produce, for all their cheapness.  And require adequate daily sunlight.  This gravity light will work even if it has been raining for weeks.  I see a market for both.

  • In terms of the offshore wind issue, there’s more good news.  The Department of Energy announced a bunch of new offshore wind projects.  Sadly, they won’t be functional for commercial operation until 2017 (permitting and building these things takes forever), but it’s another good step forward:

  • B

    I realize that, I’m just wondering whether this is really the best solution.

    First: mechanical things break, and if you actually use this for light you’re going to be hoisting that bag up and down a lot.  I’m wondering how durable it is and how easy it is to fix when broken.

    Second, I’m far from an expert, but from reading Fred’s blog and links I’ve gathered that charity to underdeveloped countries is more complicated than it first appears, especially when it involves gifts in kind.  My understanding is that one problem with in-kind donations is that what middle-class Americans think people in underdeveloped areas want is not not necessarily what the people in underdeveloped areas actually do want.

    So that’s why I’m wondering — to what extent is this gravity light something the target audience actually wants?  If the people they’re trying to serve really do think this is genuinely an awesome idea, than sure, go for it.  (Assuming they’re not wrecking the local economy in the process, of course.)

    But maybe the people in question would prefer to have a solar device that would provide a light bright enough for their kids to study by without having to quit doing homework every 10 minutes to lift the bag again, and that they could use to charge their cell phone to boot.  (From the video it seems that the 30-minute time is only for a very dim light — if you want a study light, it’s going to run down much faster.  And looking at some of the math people have done on other sites, it doesn’t sound like you can use thing to charge a cell phone.)  Or maybe they’d rather have a brighter, more efficient kerosene lamp than the one they’re currently using.

    I think it’s a cool concept, I’m just wondering to what extent it’s actually the best solution to the problem.

  • Münchner Kindl

     Ah, the usual double standard: complain about the resources to produce solar cells, but don’t complain about the resources for the “alternatives”.

  • Münchner Kindl


    Second, I’m far from an expert, but from reading Fred’s blog and links
    I’ve gathered that charity to underdeveloped countries is more
    complicated than it first appears, especially when it involves gifts in
    kind.  My understanding is that one problem with in-kind donations is
    that what middle-class Americans think people in underdeveloped areas want is not not necessarily what the people in underdeveloped areas actually do want.

    Actually quite the opposite. The problem is not charity in itself, the problem is some (American) charities (catering to American middle-class emotions) who do it wrong.

    If you support PLAN or Brot für die Welt or Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft or half a dozen others, they do work with the people, in that case, explaining to them the pro and cons of solar lamps, and let them decide. And, as I said, they do it with credits, so that people feel the value themselves and don’t feel like being recipents who have to be thankful only.

    Two further small facts: if you buy a cordless solar desk lamp from IKEA (at least in Germany, but I think all IKEAs) have pledged to donate a second lamp to their partnered children charity.

    And: while not solar light, solar cookers are imported into Africa for over 10 years by a group in the Allgäu trade school. They build one model, take it to an African city or village, show the people how to assemble and use it, show the mechanics how to make it (a metal welded frame plus metal leaves cut out of spare metal) and then let the people distribute it in the area by building and selling. Saves hours of times for women and children not collecting wood; saves women and children from the diseases of breathing wood smoke; saves the trees that stop erosion.

    But yes, only works when the sun shines. Which happens a lot in Africa.