Sources of Heat, Life, and Everything

Same procedure as every summer: Science and tech blogging comes to a halt, and the daring ‘internet artist’ is summoned. But also unorthodox avant-garde art is rooted in down-to-earth engineering.

In summer elkement leaves the programmer’s cave (a bit) and sees the sun. The local elkemental microcosmos is a fully functional biosphere-2-like ecosystem with lots of life-forms. They interact with each other – and they interact with the collector and the ice storage tank. In 2018 it’s time for a retrospective!

As soon as the collctor was built, the flying descendants of the dinosaurs occupied it. As the white spots show, it has an important function:

Latrine seat

This is also a modern, innovative ecosphere: We provide co-working space and meeting rooms, also for the slimiest of life-forms.

The collector has obviously a positive impact on any life-form – not only the faunal:

According to a questionable theory byy crackpot hobby scientists, this can be explained by the collector’s true core: It is made up from life-forms itself – gigantic worms.

Taming the worms

We also had ghastly apparition of a very rare life-form integrated with the collector: The Solar Scorpion:

Solar Scorpion

Let’s not forget the ice storage part of the heat source: It is every bit as interesting as the collector for the technically savvy life-forms:


Now and then you can spot even human life-forms within the storage tank:

Irgendwer im Eisspeicher

The storage tank is giving something back in an eternal circle of life: Excess water is drained from the tank – and it is said to boost the vegetables!

Belebtes Eisspeicherwasser

This posting is like all the other soporific TV documentaries about animals roaming beautiful landscapes. Nature is cruel. Also the ice storage tank took its death toll.

Suicide or murder?

But life-forms strike back … and they target the heat source. Never underestimate an aggressive tree:

Fallen tree damages collector (in a storm)

Fortunately most living beings come in peace; some are particularly likeable and intelligent. Recently the collector had a surprise audit:

Collektor Inspector

Collektor Inspection

Finally the elkement knows what smart monitoring actually is:

Smart monitoring

Biology / Chemistry Challenge or: Should We Really Blame the Dead Frog?

We often say we operate in Leonardo da Vinci Renaissance Mode – given our odd ‘portfolio of diverse services’. But as much as the Chief Engineer does not like to work with mortar, cement, or any other slimy substances I tried to avoid pondering about the intricacies of living beings and chemicals so far.

But slimy, smelly species were to strike back.

For two years we could confirm with confidence that the water in our underground water tank / heat sink does never smell. Until two weeks ago when the water appeared a bit turbid and there was the signature ‘rotten eggs’ smell of hydrogen sulfide.

Water in ponds can ‘die’ – due to eutrophication: Algae bloom due to too much nutrients, die, and their decomposition by bacteria consumes all the oxygen in the water. This can kill fish and other species who need the oxygen.

Since the tank is dark there are no algae but there might be other biomass, subject to decomposition. The most recent rebuilding of the solar collector and brine piping has probably invited some curious or suicidal life-forms.

Dead frog or toad

Researching cisterns in a German forum (‘The water in our cistern stinks’) I learned the following:

“Clean your gutters and check your filters.”

“Install an air pump to supply the bacteria in the water with oxygen. Otherwise there will be anaerobic decomposition, such as turning sulfate into sulfide. The pump resolved this issue within two days.”

“Use chlorine, as for swimming pools.”

“Absolutely don’t use chlorine – cisterns are designed to work without intervention. We use a cistern for twenty years and never had to use chemicals.”

“If the black layer of mud at the bottom of the cistern gets too thick there will be anaerobic decomposition.”

“The black layer of mud at the bottom of the cistern is like a natural sewage plant.”

“Our cistern smelled, too, and we found six dead birds at its bottom.”

Insights are somewhat contradictory but there were more accounts of people advocating the additional supply of oxygen and otherwise letting the bacteria do their work. Proper filters and sealings should prevent the invasion of animals of course.

We still wondered about the coincidence of the H2S accident and recent repairs – was it only due to a sudden invasion of (more) worms, snails, and frogs because of some pipes that were open for a short period of time?

But several users reported that a small amount of brine from their solar collectors had trickled into their cisterns and gave rise to the rotten eggs smellWith cisterns brine could be collected by the gutters, from leaky collectors mounted at the rooftop.

And yes – we had a leak in the new part of the brine piping. The Chief Engineer had heroically cleaned the emptied tank and used the ‘synergy effects’ of being able to do some other maintenance.

Chief Engineer in the Tank

A few days after having refilled the tank the water showed turbid streaks again – and we finally spotted the leak in the new part of the brine piping. Now it is leakproof again!

The good thing finally is:

  • It all boils down to simply following ‘cistern best practices’.
  • The smell provides for a sensitive early warning systems that signals a leak in brine piping.

And we have a new gadget now:

Air Pump

Why is brine so detrimental? Brine used for solar collectors contains about 40% ethylene glycol – frost protection. This provides a feast for bacteria – like sugar. On airports the fluid used for de-icing airplanes is collected and then decomposed by bacteria in a biological sewage plant. It seems that in a tank bacteria reproduce like hell, die, and are finally decomposed anaerobically when there is no more oxygen left.

Tiny amounts of brine alone seem to be suffcient to trigger that chain reaction within days – whereas the occasional earth worm did not do any harm in the past years. But blowing oxygen into the tank with this tiny air pump obviously made the chemical reaction (and the smell) stop.

We hope we will be able to keep the right variety of bacteria happy in the future rather than fight them. However, as a child of the 1970s and fan of typical related cartoons and commercials I cannot imagine them other than this:

Fight Bac! (085 086) (7396068296)Edit: As I have asked about the treatment systems on airports: Treating glycol runoff from airport deicing operations

Microwave Ovens Are Not Rodent-Ready

It happened again.  It took me four years to cope with, and now I have to start again from day zero.

(Insert 2 minutes of silence and grieving here)

Any device we use on a daily basis is designed for safety. You find hundreds of little logos near the serial number of the device which tell you things like

This has been tested according to the Ridiculous Bureaucratic Standard 42. It can safely be used by children aged 6-9,5 and 11-12 in the European Union.


This is hot. If you burn yourself don’t sue us, we have told you!!

or you might get useful advice on implementation and operations:

This needs to be mounted with screws of type NCC-1701. If you intend to use any other screws note that you cannot hold us liable.

But the engineers and quality managers concerned with the manufacturing of microwave ovens have neglected an important target group (and the marketers and important market segment). Mice are attracted by microwave ovens due to the following (This is a speculative theory, don’t hold me responsible): Vapor saturated with all kinds of stuff from convenience food leaves the microwave through the vents in the rear panel. Vapor condenses. Not even Mr. Monk would clean the inner surface of the rear panel.

So the smell of the rear panel inside is tempting, and it attracts animals that fit in the larger vents. They will slip in the oven through the slits.

And then they will be exposed to the meanest mouse trap ever invented: An electrical chair equivalent for rodents. Several junctions carrying electrical power are not properly insulated. If a mouse touches two wires  on different electrical potential it will literally be grilled.

The electrical wiring of the house remains safe due to the limitation of leakage currents by the fault-current circuit breaker (limited to 30mA based on updated safety standards. Some years ago the mouse would have been grilled with 100mA).

This happened to the beloved little mouse I have featured in my previous post :-( 

This time the photo shows my particular mouse, though unfortunately post mortem. The flow direction of the electrical current is in parallel with the spine of the mouse:

Pitiable mouse has dug its claws into the holes in the rear panel drawing its last breath:

And all this happened despite warnings in three languages:

And it happened again: In the same microwave oven four years ago, another rodent selected two different junctions right below the top panel.

By the way: In case you do not know yet what it means when the fault-circuit breaker breaks in the middle of the night and no appliance is running: You will notice the rodent invasion very soon due to bad smell originating from the microwave. Depending on the junctions picked it might be difficult to clean the microwave and get rid of the smell easily. But you could buy a new microwave and keep the old one just as a mouse trap.

So I have proved by statistically relevant data (sample: N=2) that the microwave oven type SHARP R-775 is not rodent-ready. I suppose this also applies to similar household appliances. The manual does not give any advice on dead mouse removal. The following is loosely related:

Never adjust , repair or modify the oven
yourself. It is hazardous for anyone
other than a competent person to carry
out any service or repair operation
which involves the removal of a cover
which gives protection against exposure
to microwave energy.

Obviously the mouse was not a competent person.

In passing, I am also able to prove my theory that anything you consider original has already been published somewhere: If you want to see a horrid video on how to detect and remove a smelling mouse from your microwave see here.

How to Avoid Exponential Inflation or How to Respond Appropriately to an Award Nomination

I have been nominated for an award by a true philosopher despite the cartoon I have posted recently. More precisely, I have been nominated by Daniel who runs The Unemployed Philosopher’s Blog!

The award comes with some really tough conditions, I try to rise to the challenge:

(Italics: Questions designed by the unknown originator)

1) Thank the blogger who nominated you and share a link to that blog.

That’s easy. Thanks Daniel – I feel flattered to be nominated by someone who is a professional in deep thinking and whose blog is really highly recommended reading. Dan manages to link philosophy – a so-called ancient academic discipline – to the workplace and basically to real life, the universe and everything in an entertaining and informative way.

2) Attach the award icon to your site.

That’s more difficult but feasible.

(Comment from the future: As per 2019, it is super difficult! Dan’s article is offline now as well the original link I had hot-linked from somebody else in this playful award nomination chain. I removed the dead links, and I hope Dan would be OK with the link from I added above!)

I am re-using the image link on Daniel’s blog, but it hurts the perfectionist in me. I am not sure if this is the original or if the image has probably undergone some mutations already when being forwarded from blogger to blogger, such as resizing or screenshotting (screenshooting?). Searching for images  seems to confirm the mutation theory. Also the questions seem to be subject to mutations. So for now I do not need to respond to: Have you ever Googled yourself and been shocked at what you found?

3) Answer some specific questions. Unlike many awards which just ask for some random things about you, this asks specific questions as follows:

  • Your favorite color?
    Light with a wavelength of 555nm – glaring green. This is a) an appealing number b) the wavelength the human eye is most sensitive to, and c) very near the wavelength of the Argon Ion Laser (520nm). These geeky Star-Trek-/Star-Wars-like beams had once triggered my decision for specializing in laser physics.
Lab mouse mg 3263

This is not my mouse but believe me mine looks the same

  • Your favorite animal?
    The particular cute little mouse I currently share a house with. It’s too quick and too shy for a photo, unfortunately – so I need to add a generic Wikimedia mouse image. The mouse is clever and perseverant, and it has managed to invade the house again after having been cast out once (gently). I learned from Wikipedia that mice are active in the day only when they feel really save. Since I hear it during the day I take this as a compliment. Affection is mutual.
  • Your favorite non-alcoholic drink?
    I am a self-proclaimed nerd and geek. The answer should be self-explanatory.
  • Facebook or Twitter?
    “None of the above” though I have a placeholder twitter profile in order to reserve the nickname nobody wants to use anyway (Just google for “elkement” and you know why – “Did you probably mean element“?)
  • Your favorite pattern?
    Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities at the interface between liquids. I guess patterns in my favorite drink are also of this kind.
  • Do  you prefer getting or giving presents?
    “None of the above” – I can’t deny it: I am an Christmas / presents / consumerism denier.
  • Your favorite number?
    84. I have just generated it using this random number generator in order to avoid any resemblance with sensitive data such as passwords.
  • Your favorite day of the week?
    Wednesday – in the middle of the week – because I am fond of symmetry (which contradicts the statement on irregular instabilities as my favorite pattern. Probably I am not that honest here.)
  • Your favorite flower?
    Flowers which do not require any service, such as Hen and Chicks.
  • What is your passion?
    Trying to find out how stuff really works, trying to understand all kinds of fundamental physics from original works and text books, and trying not to be overwhelmed by the futility of these efforts. In addition: Playing with my ancient non-blog websites – editing text files directly is my true calling.

4) And finally, offer “pay it forward” nominations, advising those bloggers that they have been nominated and how to accept. I’ve listed my nominees for the award below. This is the best reason to accept blogging awards — to spread the word about other blogs we enjoy!

This is the biggest challenge.  As I said in my first response on the About page: If every blogger nominates 5 other blogs and the delay time is about a week, then in about 15 weeks everybody on this planet will have been nominated. I owe to for pointing out that you always have a choice.

But I think I found the loophole to beat the system of exponential growth. The conditions as forwarded through maybe thousands of blogs do not state that there is a minimum number of blogs you need to recommend. Probably this is due to an unfortunate mutation of the nomination text, but I will use it to my advantage. I will stop inflation here and turn the ever increasing number of bifurcations into a single, 1-dimensional world line:

Since I have been nominated by a philosopher I do nominate a single blog written by another pensive blogger:

The nomination goes to:

Who Is Bert