Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Collegiate Wind Competition 2017!

The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory host an annual Collegiate Wind Competition, in which undergraduate university teams design and build a small (~10W) wind turbine to given specifications. In even years, it's collocated with the American Wind Energy Association's annual conference, and the competition is much larger, involving more money, and a team of business and marketing students who develop a business plan for the turbine. In odd years, the competition is "technical" only, and it takes place at NREL's National Wind Technology Center.

And the team is only engineers. There is no "open call" for competitors; the competition consists only of teams from the prior year. Historically, UAF has performed much better on the engineering side, and not so great with the business and marketing side of things, so I was excited for the opportunity to serve as faculty advisor to a team of only technical students. They worked very hard in the weeks leading up to the competition, often putting in 50+ hours per week, on top of their regular coursework.

The other competing teams generally are from much larger universities with very large wind education programs. In fact, many of them build the turbine competition around a particular class, so the participating students get course credit for the time put in. UAF, in contrast, does not at present have the resources to host the team as a class. They do use the turbine design and build for their senior capstone projects, but the competition requirements for the report and presentation are different from the course requirements for the same, so the students end up putting in excess work and time.

UAF's turbine is typically very conservative in design. The students, either deliberately or subconsciously, reflect their surroundings of a harsh environment with very little fault tolerance. Alaska typically is not the first location to test a new design of anything, be it a wind turbine, car, pair of mittens, chain saw, or flashlight. We want a product to be "tried and true" in less harsh conditions first; then we will add the additional challenges of ultracold weather and austere conditions.

Thus: The UAF turbine typically has three blades and a horizontal axis, and points upwind. In the "technical only" years, the Competition rules allow the team to utilize the prior year's turbine, but add whatever is required by the new "surprise" rules that they add every year. This year, the basic turbine was rated to 10 Watts, had to fit within a certain spatial envelope, and had to meet other mechanical and electrical requirements. The "surprise" was that the turbine needed to be able to yaw into the direction of the wind.

The UAF team opted to redesign the entire turbine, except for the blades, from scratch, eliminating serious flaws from the 2016 design. It was a tough labor of love: the UAF team was working until literally the last hour before heading to the airport at 4 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight to Denver.

When we arrived, we were assigned as a working space, the office of an NREL employee who was on vacation. Last-minute tweaks continued:

The competition consisted of a test in the wind tunnel:

Photo credit for this photo: EERE

(The control system and brilliant electrical team made the power output match the competition specification at each wind regime, 100%. They got 40/40 for that! They did not do as well with the yaw mechanism, which was the only one of the teams to have "actively controlled" yaw instead of just a huge wind vane. The competition wind regime ended up involving a tornado, which the active yaw could not cope well with. Oh well. They did, however, get qualitative points from the judges for having an active yaw.)

And a formal presentation:

(That went surprisingly well. Even the nerdiest of the nerds were poised, well-paced, articulate, and well-modulated.)

And a private Q and A session with the judges:

(That went very well. The judges heaped on compliments and were disappointed when time had run out!)

They won third place! Beating every other team except Penn State and Kansas State, which both have dedicated wind programs, huge teams, and huge backing. The lean and nimble UAF team beat every other comparable team!

They also won an award at a surprise competition... an NREL representative asked to see each team's rule book, presumably to see how dog-eared and post-it-tabbed they were. UAF won a special award for having theirs in a binder with all of their drawings, design specs, and notes. :) DL would have been so proud of the electrical packaging, particularly in comparison with the other teams... All of the other teams either had a plastic cover which hid all of the guts, or had their electrical circuitry and wiring in a mess of spaghetti. One team had a breadboard and was using probes (!!). UAF alone had the electricals uncovered, and yet nicely and safely packaged. :)


Sunday, April 23, 2017


Came home the other day to find that my snuggly buddies were all snuggling each other!

Starbuck then reached out to hold my hand.

So of course I had to join in!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Starbuck luuuuuurves snow!

Even when it's pretty hard and icy, she still loves to roll around in it.

oooooohhhhhh snnnooooowww!

ooohhhhh snow, I love you sooooo!

soooooo sooooo muuuuccchhh!

oooooohhhhhhh snnoooooowwwwww!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Likely last trail walk of the year

Trail conditions: Every day, the snow turns to slush, and every night, it refreezes. It's icy now, so we can no longer ski. But we can walk. However, it may be the end of our walking for the season as the creek behind our house is freezing less and less every night, and thawing more and more every day, and soon it will be impassible.

The trails are still pretty nice:

Although the snow is rotting:

Cricket loves to run!

Look at all the overflow on the creek!

And on either side of the packed trails, you can posthole up to your knees!

Except for the dogs... their paws are like snowhoes, and they run around all over the place like it ain't no thing!

Have I mentioned Cricket loves to run??

Friday, April 14, 2017

Public Service Announcement

When you microchip your pet, you need to register it or else it's worthless. If your chip is a 9-digit number, it's with AVID; if your chip is a 10-digit combo of letters and numbers, it's with HomeAgain. If you already paid to have your Friend microchipped, surely you should find it worth your while to pay ($20) to make the microchip useful.

You can and should also call your local animal shelter and let them know your pets' names, descriptions, and microchip numbers, and they'll keep a record in case they ever get lost. 459-1451 is ours (Fairbanks). They even said I could send a photo.

I was shocked to find that I had never registered Starbuckeroo's, and Cricket's had never been registered either! Apparently it's very easy to overlook!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spring: warmer temperatures, mud, and ennui

Roo sez, "Does spring have to come? Does the snow have to go away? Does it have to Warm All Day? Nnnngggghhhhh... Sssssiiiiiggghhhh...."

"Hold my paw."

Cricket's got lots of paws:


Life is peaceful at home:

Starbuck selfie!

Cricket selfie!

Starbuck and her paws!

Cricket and her paws!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Proper Uses of Pillow

Week 3 of retirement is when former sled dogs learn about Proper Use of Pillows. It comes after Maintaining Physical Health, Managing your 401k Distributions, and Proper Use of Couches.

Proper use:

Proper use:

Variation of Proper use:

Expert use:

If you don't have this training, you could utilize your pillow incorrectly:

Another "Before" photo:

See the difference good training can make to ergonomics!