Thursday, February 11, 2010

Coincidence...or Convergence?

Did you notice the recent announcement from Google about edging into the Internet Service Provider (ISP) space? This is earth-shattering stuff...viewed alongside other recent announcements from the tech world an interesting image of our near future emerges.

With this experiment, Google is giving incumbent ISP’s like AT&T, Qwest, Comcast, Cox and others a significant nudge in the direction of better, faster, richer, open internet service provision. A broadband notion that has been hotly debated but otherwise constipated for decades.

What This Could Mean For Us

The Google experiment targets between 50,000 and 500,000 people in the US with internet speeds of 1,000 Mbps (1Gigabit per second - 1Gbps)...roughly 100 times faster than most internet subscribers receive today...promising a reasonable price. From the announcement, Google divulges three key elements to their initiative. In their words:

  • Next generation apps: Google wants to see what developers and users can do with ultra high-speeds, whether it's creating new bandwidth-intensive "killer apps" and services, or other uses we can't yet imagine.
  • New deployment techniques: They will test new ways to build fiber networks, and to help inform and support deployments elsewhere, they will share key lessons learned with the world.
  • Openness and choice: They will operate an "open access" network, giving users the choice of multiple service providers.

This is really powerful places the traditional incumbent ISP business model of slow cable plant deployment with glacial and expensive ratcheting up of internet speeds  in peril. Google’s stance will certainly turn heads and cause sleepless nights for those milking the US customer base for cash while the rest of the globe surges ahead in the bandwidth race.

Google mentions several “killer apps” in their blog including the ability to transfer full length BluRay movie files in under five minutes...enabled by 1 Gbps transfer speeds. Astonishingly fast relative to current DSL and Cable Modem ISP rates.

If we look at what else is happening in the world of technology the story becomes more interesting.

Enabling Technologies

A recent post, “Light Peak and You”, discussed Intel and their activity with emerging  “Light Peak” optical technology. Intel is making fundamental changes to optical circuitry that promise orders of magnitude cost reduction compared to similar telecommunications grade devices.

Why is this a big deal?

Well, you may not recall when USB crept into every computer and peripheral...we hardly noticed it...but all now use USB and benefit as a result. “Light Peak” has the potential to do the same but with orders of magnitude performance enhancement and far greater physical reach. A game changer.

These advancements enable extremely fast data transfer between devices with greater distances (300 feet) than the latest in USB, version 3.0. The new chips are tiny with projected costs low enough to make sense in consumer electronics.

Remarkable performance. The Intel products will enter the market with speeds of 10Gbps and scale to 100Gbps within ten years. Targeting spaces within the home or office, that’s ten to one-hundred times faster than the transmission rates predicted by Google for long haul applications. Comparing these speeds with that of Google’s ISP plan suggests file transfer of the same BluRay sized files in seconds...not minutes.

What isn’t obvious is that the optical fiber Google relies upon for the long haul (intercity and directly to the home )applications is capable of similar simply adding high speed transmitting/receiving equipment at the ends of the links. Therefore it’s conceivable to have similar speed on the Google network feeding incredibly rich content, on demand, across great distances, anywhere. Consumer choice.

Connecting the dots

Rumor mills are rife with suggestions that both Sony and Apple are courting Intel and the soon-to-be-released “Light Peak” chips...suggesting that their consumer electronics will soon offer staggering performance.

Lots to think about...lots going on in the world of technology. Some questions to mull over:

  • Is it a coincidence that 3D-HD (larger files than traditional BluRay) was all the rage at the recent Consumer Electronics Show? A technically savvy way to solve digital rights management hurdles and an astounding development for consumers to bring into the home.
  • How rapid is global data growth? The Data Deluge:
    • How about Apple’s new iPad...a neat little handheld computer with a killer high resolution screen...what would it take to add a new “Light Peak” chip inside?
    • Would adding new chips to the Apple line of iMac and other desktop computers with cinema quality monitors be too difficult?
    • Sony? Well, they know a thing or two about high definition television...3D-HD production...and distribution of content.

    There are certainly more examples to raise...more dots to connect...but the same conclusion remains. In the end it comes down to an accelerating need for more bandwidth...bigger, faster pipes to carry rapidly expanding volumes of the long-haul...and within the home.

    Google’s project gets at removing a recognized bottleneck in the long-haul networks and encourages traditional players to accelerate their efforts. Once improved, the bottleneck itself will shift from outside to inside the home or building. It seems Intel is preparing for this with “Light Peak” and I suspect their direct customers (consumer electronics suppliers) will quickly follow suit. Ultimately, this means wiring upgrades within the home for applications we can’t even envision today. Evolution.

    Are you familiar with the new eXapath™ system from Homepath Products?

    Coincidence...or convergence?

    The observations and opinions herein are that of the author, cofounder of Homepath Products LLC...with admiration for but otherwise no affiliation with any of the companies mentioned.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Part 3: Staggering, Remarkable, Stupendous!

    Well, admittedly, it’s not cold fusion, perpetual motion, or antigravity...but this experiment has been worthwhile for the kids and also for Homepath Products.  We’re pleased with results and they confirm our beliefs.

    The experiment we’re running with the help of the kids delivered some interesting information...and an opportunity to learn more with further study.

    For background on this project see the earlier posts, Part 1 and Part 2. The investigation answers an important customer question about how eXapath affects the energy conserving qualities of insulated walls.

    Specifically - ”If that thing (eXapath) is in my wall displacing some insulation, what affect does it have on energy conservation?”

    As described in the earlier posts, our test chamber sits outdoors and was designed to create a large temperature gradient between the warmth contained and the cooler outside air. Using a fully insulated cube (Demilec SEALECTION™ Agribalance sprayfoam insulation provided by USInsulation) with an incandescent light bulb as a heat source, we installed the eXapath™ in-wall cable pathway system within one wall and minimized air infiltration with commonly available firestopping caulk and putty. Doing so emulates a typical home installation (see photo), allowing us to determine the affect the eXapath system has on a fully insulated exterior wall.

    Once the chamber was built and checked to ensure that everything worked properly, we set it outside, allowed it to stabilize, and began to examine how the system reacted with direct exposure to the cold New England weather. Given that insulation serves only to slow down the process of heat transfer we knew that all surfaces would allow some level of heat energy to escape. We predicted that the various materials making up the walls would generate unique surface temperature profiles and the experiment sets out to demonstrate that. To determine the differences we devised a method for logging the surface temperature for three distinct locations on the walls for comparison to the outside air temperature:

    • Intersection of eXapath, insulation and outer sheathing
    • Intersection of insulation and sheathing
    • Intersection of 2 x 6” stud and sheathing

    For temperature readings we scanned (6:00 AM, 2:00 PM, 10:00 PM) the target areas daily on the outside surface of the chamber using a Ryobi Tek4 Professional Infrared (IR) Thermometer. The data was tabulated in a spreadsheet and compared to the internal and external air temperature as shown in the chart below.

    Through the first four weeks of testing (tests ongoing) the internal temperature fluctuated between 75.3 and 102.5 ℉. The blue line on the chart shows the internal temperature.

    During the same period the outside air temperature ranged from a low of 6.0 ℉ to a high of 53.9 ℉. The 100 Watt incandescent light bulb allowed us to drive a consistent level of energy into the test chamber and served to convert that electricity to heat. Consistent heat generation allowed the chamber itself to react to the external temperature...isolating insulation performance to the outside air temperature only. The large difference between the internal and external temperatures provided the strong temperature gradient necessary to force heat transfer to occur between the warm interior and the cool exterior.

    The Bottom Line

    As anticipated, all surface temperatures remained near to but slightly higher than the outside air temperature. It is hard to discern because the readings were all very close, but the lower line on the chart displays:
    • Outside air temperature
    • Surface temperature where eXapath, insulation, and sheathing intersect
    • Surface temperature where insulation and sheathing intersect
    • Surface temperature where 2 x 6” stud and sheathing intersect
    The bottom lines, literally, show that the section of wall where the insulation displacing eXapath system is installed performs as well as sections of wall completely filled with insulation. This confirms the hypothesis that installing the eXapath system in the exterior walls of a sprayfoam insulated structure is not detrimental to the energy conservation of the structure itself. Slight variation was shown by each material but temperature profiles of each construction material combination were very close...almost indistinguishable graphically.

    A Closer Look at the Data

    To assess the relative performance of the various building material combinations we sorted the data table by outside temperature in descending order. Doing so helped to reveal the performance trends more clearly. After that, we compared the variance between the external temperature and the various building material combinations...this step amplified the reported results revealing a bit more about how each material fared relative to the others under test. In essence, the outside temperature records become a reference line (zero) and the temperature difference for all other materials is plotted against the external temperature to highlight performance differences.

    The main finding with the second chart is that temperature variance, compared to external air temperature, falls largely above the blue reference line...slightly higher temperature than the outside air. This is what we expected to see given the large temperature gradient between inside and outside the chamber. In cases where the surface temperatures fell below the blue reference line there is a strong correlation to rising outside these instances we believe the temperature changes of the construction materials lagged behind the more rapidly rising outside air temperature.

    The interesting point, and the primary purpose for running this test, is that the eXapath system shows no real performance degradation despite displacing some of the insulation within the wall.

    Questions Remain

    It should be noted that IR thermometers offer an accuracy of ± 1.5% compared to the actual reading. In addition, the operating range for the thermometer itself ranges from 30 to 122℉. While making measurements, care was taken to keep the temperature of the IR thermometer within the operating range recommended by the manufacturer to maximize accuracy.

    The Experiment Continues

    To confirm the trends revealed in the experiment and support the findings of the IR thermometer we are extending the experiment to verify our findings.

    While having an energy audit performed at our site we asked Chris Rhodes of Right Angle Home Inspections, a Building Analyst certified by The Building Performance Institute (BPI) and certified Level 1 Thermographer, to use her FLIR B-360 Infrared Thermography Camera to evaluate the test chamber. Our hope was to create visual identification of thermal bridging occurring through the test wall of the chamber in order to show differences between building material combinations,

    The photo to the right is an infrared image of the test chamber that reveals "hot spots" or areas where heat energy is leaking out of the chamber. For clarity we've labeled the positions where the eXapath system is installed, where only insulation exists, and where a 2 x 6" stud intersects with the outer plywood sheathing. This image confirms our findings.

    The three small purple patches indicate the position of digital temperature sensors we've added for phase 2 of the experiment. In phase 2 we hope to generate more detailed information to gain a more precise understanding of the differences between each building material combination.
      So the experiment continues...after our "furnace" burned out the kids and I peeled caulk from around the cover seam and removed the heavy provided the curious sensation of opening a sarcophagus. We added a new 100 Watt light bulb, replaced and resealed the cover, and are ready for phase 2 readings.

      Please check back with us for more updates soon.

      Wednesday, February 3, 2010

      Part 2: Kids Don't Suffer Self Imposed Limits - We Can Learn From Them

      This is part 2 of a series addressing the great questions customers ask.

      As mentioned in an earlier post, we view this investigation as a unique way to bring science out of the classroom and into the real world. A way to engage the creative minds of our kids in a practical exercise that reinforces what they are learning in school while we answer a question that our customers have.

      Whoa! Did You Say Hollow?

      ”If that thing is in my wall displacing some insulation, what affect does it have on energy conservation?”

      The short answer is that the eXapath in-wall cable pathway system does not present a problem with energy conservation...but it’s a complex question that deserves thorough investigation and a complete response. Getting to that answer is, well, a science project in heat transfer, an adventure into the second law of thermodynamics.

      Our Investigation

      We assembled the gang, discussed the main question, and then probed more deeply, encouraging the kids to think of approaches to investigating the affect of the eXapath system on energy conservation.

      The kids learned about home design and construction. We discussed framing, sheathing and all the stuff hidden in walls. Namely - insulation, drywall, vapor barriers, siding, wiring, pipes, vents, etc. We then discussed various heating systems  and how insulation helps slow down the process of heat transfer from warm to cold...inside to outside during the cold winter months. To make it official I uttered “the second law of thermodynamics” one time only, noticed the kids eyes rolling, and reverted to energy conservation and the importance of efficiency in homes.

      Much of the discussion revolved around insulation and how it takes advantage of the thermal properties of air to slow down heat transfer. We showed the kids several types of insulation including fiberglass batting, cellulose, and a relatively new form called sprayfoam. For our project we selected sprayfoam for its unique ability, when applied, to find its way into all cracks and voids that might otherwise allow air infiltration. The foam cures in minutes while trapping air and offers high R value (resistance to heat transfer). For this experiment we needed to emulate insulation in a full scale home so we contacted local insulation experts for advice.

      Air that is moving or circulating is ineffective as insulation but “trapped”, “still”, or “dead” air offers good insulation. A key goal in construction and weatherization is to minimize air exchange or infiltration. With eXapath, the preferred installation includes firestopping caulk where the system penetrates the shoe or plate of a wall. In addition, the exposed eXapath pipe is blocked with a cap or pliable firestopping putty.  An unintended benefit of firestopping is the creation of a closed system containing still air...a good insulator.

      How Good is Good?

      To answer the question of how the eXapath system affects an insulated wall we needed a way to control some variables and isolate the effect of the eXapath system. We turned to the kids for their ideas and were enlightened by their grasp of the complex variables involved...they truly see no limits.

      The kids envisioned building an estate tricked-out with geothermal HVAC, solar photovoltaic electricity, wind power, abnormally thick walls to hold more insulation, a heated pool, horses, lots of horses...and a piranha infested moat.

      I did my best to explain that their ideas were terrific but slightly beyond the scope of our plan and budget. After negotiating a bit we settled for an insulated 5 foot cube with 2 x 6” walls, floor and cover. For a heat source we opted out of geothermal and chose a top-of-the-line 100 Watt incandescent light bulb powered by mundane but readily available AC electricity. The idea is to create a strong thermal gradient between the warm internal temperature and the cooler outside air. We anticipated that the “system” would constantly fight to reach equilibrium as outside temperatures fluctuated and that by checking the temperature along the wall precisely where the eXapath was installed we would learn more about the affect of eXapath on energy conservation. In addition, using traditional framing, we could collect additional data from a wall section backed by only insulation and where a 2 x 6” stud met the sheathing. Doing so should allow us to compare traditional construction methods with those using the modern eXapath system.

      Building the Chamber

      All walls, floor and cover are modular and built by Bogaert Construction using 2x6” framing materials with 1/2” CDX sheathing. Local experts from USInsulation filled the modular wall cavities with 5 1/2 inches of Demilec Sealection Agrilbalance®, a 3/4 pound semi-rigid sprayfoam.
      The six components (walls, floor, cover) were then assembled by the Homepath Products team, kids included.
      We added the light bulb and installed an internal temperature sensor. After giving the system a dry-run to test the heat source and internal temperature sensor we sealed all internal joints with Great Stuff™. To minimize convection we added HILTI CP-618 firestopping putty to plug the exposed pipe of the eXapath system and then sealed all external seams with silicone caulking.

      What We Expect to Find

      For data collection and to allow meaningful comparison we plan to use a number of temperature sensors. One is housed inside the chamber to keep tabs on the internal temp and to verify that the heat source is still functioning. We also plan to monitor the outside air temperature. Ideally, the skin of the chamber should equal that of the outside air temperature, indicating that the insulation is 100% effective in conserving energy. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that heat transfer can never be stopped, only slowed down.

      Therefore we expect readings from the skin of the chamber to be slightly higher than the outside air temperature. This will confirm that some heat is escaping through the materials within the walls. For external readings we plan to use an Infrared (IR) thermometer to monitor target markings for the wall section where eXapath, insulation only, and a 2 x 6” stud are located. The chamber itself is oriented so that the target wall faces north away from direct exposure to sunlight...this minimizes solar radiation as a variable in raising the skin temperature.

      After the initial shakedown we moved the chamber outside into the cold New England elements and allowed it to stabilize for forty-eight hours. Once stablized we began logging temperature readings.

      The testing is underway, please check part 3 of this series for interim results.