Real Data on the Solar Eclipse

As the 2024 solar eclipse dimmed the United States on April 8, 2024, every solar installation in its path experienced a dip in production. For me, the most exciting part of the eclipse wasn’t the actual eclipse, but rather watching the energy output on my solar panels dip and then rise, not only EXACTLY when NASA said it would, but even by the exact amount NASA predicted.

On the morning of the eclipse, I checked the NASA Eclipse Explorer for what to expect for my location. It gave me the following:

(https://eclipse-explorer.smce.nasa.gov)

It would start at 12:51pm, peak at 2:06pm, and end at 3:19pm, and cover at most 87% of the sun. Shortly before totality, I went over to the local hackerspace Sector67, where Chris had a telescope hooked up, some viewing goggles, and welding helmet glass. This was the view from the welding glass; basically a green crescent.

The small green crescent is the sun through the welding glass.
Chris set up a telescope, and the image is projected onto a screen.

While we were there, Air Force One left Madison and flew directly overhead, so we got to see that as well.

It wasn’t until after it got dark that I could collect the coolest graphic out of all of them; the solar panel output.

The small spikes are the occasional wispy cloud going overhead. Typically the graph looks very round, and it never has a beautiful dip like that in the middle of the day. So how did it match NASA’s prediction? For times, I picked the point where output started dropping for the start time, the lowest power output for the peak time, and the highest point where it ended. For % coverage, I first compared the power output value at the peak time against the power output at the start time. It’s clear that power output was already falling in the afternoon once the eclipse was over since it never recovered to the same level as before the eclipse started, so that’s not perfect, and it gave me the overestimate of 90%. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the power output WOULD have been at 2:06pm, but we can approximate it to somewhere around 2.4-2.5 on the graph. That gives us an approximate decrease in power output of… 87%.

NASASolar Panels
Start Time12:5112:53
Peak Time2:062:06
End Time3:193:15
% Coverage87%87%

Isn’t that amazing?

The Multiverse of Future Bobs

I have a problem. I spend a lot of time on projects, whether it’s house projects, electronics projects, hobbies, cooking, even in preparation for social events. I research the heck out of everything. And I do it because I’m taking care of the multiverse of future Bobs. It’s exhausting, and I need to stop and take care of present Bob more than all the future Bobs I’ll never be. Let me ‘splain.

We’re all familiar with the idea that any decision leads to a branch in the multiverse, where each choice is made in the different branches. Each branch is a different multiverse, and each one of them (hopefully) has a future Bob in it. Present Bob is the one who is making decisions that branch off. Past Bob is the only possible branch that could lead to Present Bob. Pretty simple, but here’s a diagram:

Now, here’s where the problem lies. Present Bob is working on a project, and is in the planning phase. Say he’s working on preparing for a solar panel installation on top of his house. There are a lot of decisions to make, such as how many panels, what kind, whether to do the work or hire a contractor. If he decides to do the work, that opens up lots of new decisions involved in the specifics of the installation, like which exact electrical components to purchase, how to acquire the tools, how to do the wiring, etc. That one decision was a huge branch that had lots of additional decisions to make. But Present Bob is also thinking about decisions he doesn’t have to make now, but may make in the future, such as additional solar power needs or getting an electric vehicle. Now, Present Bob would like to make sure that the Future Bob that decides to get an electric car will have the infrastructure in place to make that easy. After all, it would suck to install solar, only to have to make significant changes down the road to support that new decision. So Present Bob starts to research electric vehicle power consumption and charging and what’s needed, to satisfy the needs of a Future Bob that doesn’t exist yet.

But there are a lot of Future Bobs, so Present Bob is going down lots of rabbit holes thinking about future plans and making sure that decisions made in the present will be compatible with future decisions. Essentially, he’s future-proofing as much as he can. And this is a problem because it’s too much research. It’s too much planning. It takes away from Present Bob’s enjoyment of life. And it’s inefficient because there are decisions in the future that will have new information and new options that I can’t predict now. For example, what if solar cells get way more efficient and I can upgrade merely by replacing the panels to generate enough power for an electric vehicle? What if we never get an electric vehicle and never need to upgrade? It doesn’t make sense to try to consider and plan for every possible option.

My experience doesn’t agree with this assessment, though. Present Bob has thanked Past Bob countless times for considering something in advance and preparing for it. Past Bob has done a great job of taking care of Present Bob because Present Bob takes great care of all the Future Bobs. But the question is; is the amount of effort Present Bob puts into taking care of Future Bobs worth it? Present Bob doesn’t enjoy it very much, and he’s only ever going to be one of the Future Bobs.

The answer is to limit the amount of time Present Bob is willing to spend for Future Bobs, to make decisions based on information available at the time without thinking excessively about decisions Future Bob will have to make. I’m not sure how to do that yet, but I’m hoping to figure it out. I need to take care of Present Bob a lot more and worry about Future Bobs a lot less. If Present Bob is taken care of, he’ll become a Future Bob that’s taken care of.

The Wacky Dancer Army

I’ve always wanted to create an army of Wacky Dancers. I still have quite a bit of inventory left from when we sold them commercially, and a couple of each color, and I thought it’d be amazing to have a bunch of them dancing down the street in a parade. I posted to the Madison, WI subreddit that I was amassing an army and seeking bodies, and the post blew up. I got nearly 30 people expressing interest, and I only had planned on a dozen costumes. I didn’t want to turn people away from being in it, so I spent the next three days putting together every costume I could, going through unsold inventory and leftover unfinished (because they were rejected due to errors) costumes, and repaired them and finished them up. They weren’t good enough to sell, but they were fine for an army.

On the day of the Willy Street Fair, I packed up the car with 28 costumes. It was as many as I could possibly prepare because that was how many frames I had.

As soon as I arrived at the meeting spot people showed up and we handed out the costumes and helped people hem them and put them on. Everyone was having a great time.

I was smiling the whole time. We were right behind the band, and people were really into it. I was able to collect a few photos from people, and there was a followup thread.

I learned the Rubik’s Cube

I’ve always known that it’s a matter of learning the algorithm. It’s not that people who can solve it are geniuses, it’s just portrayed that way on TV. I came into one and really wanted to say I knew how to do it. So I went to a tutorial and practiced. Over and over. There are some basic steps: white face, second row, yellow cross, yellow centers in their place, yellow corners in their place, and finish. Each one of these steps has a set of about 8 moves that you do to get to the next one. It’s just a matter of memorizing those sets of moves.

Once I memorized them through repetition, I practiced even more, taking it with me on my morning walks, doing it during meetings, any time I could just to get the patterns memorized.

It takes about 3 minutes to do it, and I’m using the beginner’s method, but that’s all I ever wanted. I can say I know how to solve a Rubik’s cube, or if I forget the patterns in the future I can say I used to know.

I’m Not OK: An Update

An update: over the last couple days there has been an outpouring of support, and I am extremely grateful to everyone who has reached out to me. It will take me a while to catch up with everyone, and though I am fortunate enough to still have a full time job with some flexibility, the number of hours I have available means I have a new and welcome challenge. I’ve learned a lot recently; some things worth sharing:

  • It’s clear that people care about me, and that’s pretty cool.
  • I am not alone in my experience. It’s sad hearing about all the other people who say they’ve gone through similar things, but I appreciate the sharing. This is shitty; depression sucks.
  • A lot of the guilt and shame I’ve felt about not keeping up with people, which has made it harder to try to reach out, has evaporated. It turns out it’s ok to say “dude, we haven’t talked in almost 15 years. What has happened in your life? Get me up to speed.”
  • My friends are awesome! I’ve been missing out by not being more involved.
  • I have successfully curated an image that has convinced other people that I’m put together and confident and busy, but that was a mistake on my part. I have been like every failed startup; make everybody think you’re doing great up until the moment you are out of runway and crash spectacularly. It turned out that vulnerability was the important part I should have been showing more of. Convincing everyone I was doing fine wasn’t getting me what I needed. I just had to ask for it.
  • My life is pretty good right now. Talking to people and catching up I have been describing a pretty rosy situation in which I have a good job, a good house, and a good partner. Part of this is definitely my habit from the previous point leaking through, but there’s a lot of truth to it, too, and I find myself feeling guilty for being depressed. All the rock star movies portray a person who has it all still suffering depression, so I guess it can happen to anyone. Just like the rock stars, I had impossible expectations for myself and shallow connections and craved human connection.
  • I still have a long way to go. The self-awareness and reaching out is a sign of an upward trend, but it’s a deep valley I’m in. I’ve taken some steps and have momentum, and I’m not doing this alone.

Thank you all.

Friends, I’m Not OK

Friends, I’m not ok, and this is a call for help. I’m not in danger, and I’m not thinking about hurting anyone or myself. For a long time I’ve been depressed, though the optimist in me always found reasons that it wasn’t depression and that it would just be ok once ___ was over. But there was always a new ___, and it wasn’t until an intervention in January by a loved one when I realized the extent of my depression. The tests had me so close to severe on the scale that even when I went back through to see if I could tweak the results I was still firmly in depressed-land. This was before COVID. Now the random bouts of sobbing is inconvenient, the things that were causing me problems before are magnified unbearably, and the effects on those who have no choice but to be around me are undeniable.

I’ve been seeing a therapist. I’ve been doing research and reading books. I’m working on appropriate medication (which has not been easy. The first attempt had side effects that had me rolling in pain for a week). I had a plan before the pandemic. I was going to get out more, be more social, find a squad. I had even taken a new dance class and was starting to get involved in that community. I was anxiously awaiting summer so that I could try to find an ultimate team to join. I knew it was going to be hard to stick my neck out, but the current situation hasn’t been tenable for some time.

Even before COVID I spent so much time at home working on projects and side hustles and so little time interacting with people. This whole thing has changed my lifestyle surprisingly little, and that’s telling and terrible. Part of me yearns for human connection while the part of me that usually wins celebrates being able to go grocery shopping without interacting with anyone. My throughput and volume of projects is still high, but I rarely feel worthy enough to share. My loneliness and feelings of having no impact are crushing me, and the lowered confidence and self-esteem makes me think I have little to offer. The voice in my head is the meanest bully you can imagine, and he’s really hard to escape.

Now the call to action; please schedule something with me. Any amount of time, and most days and times are ok. You can just tell me about your day if you want. Call or video or even text or email. If it’s been a while since we’ve talked, that just means we have more to catch up on. I need to get over the hump of this depression and anxiety and feel like there really are people out there who want to spend time with me.

Thank you.

There should be more love in our politics, like there is at the library

The news has been filled with hate and anger lately. My normal sources of information are overflowing with it, and it makes the world seem like a terrible place.

This weekend I went to the Verona Public Library¬†on a tour. My friend was so proud of it and wanted to show it off. I’ve been a fan of the Dane county libraries, but what I saw at this one was inspirational. If you want to skip to the point of the post, it is this: libraries are where we should be putting our tax dollars and attention. The community building, the learning, the understanding, the savings: the Verona Public Library represents who the average American is and what they do and care about, and how deep down we’re all loving people who just want to live a decent life and pursue interests like raising children and fantasy football.

Everything about this library is finely tuned to be awesome. The building is gorgeous and spacious. On walking in there is a book return with an automatic sorting machine that reads the tag and deposits the book into a specific bin for shelving. I know this because it’s behind a huge glass window that shows it off. Also near the entrance is a section for Wisconsin authors, popular new releases, and books for sale. My friend showed me where she votes, and the table that had all the appropriate documents for filing taxes. There was a computer lab, a reading room with a fireplace and all the latest magazines and newspapers. We walked by a giant shelf full of holds for people to pick up the books they had reserved online. The movies section rivaled Netflix (maybe not in volume, but definitely in the number of quality films, and many that weren’t available to stream). For adults, this place had everything, and if they didn’t have it, you could use the inter-library loan program and get it delivered there.

Then we went in the kids section. It was chaos, but perfectly organized for it. A giant castle in the center had little nooks for reading, and play areas distributed around the giant room were loci for congregating kids, with seats around them for parents to rest and mingle. There were piles of toys and books. The books were organized by ages and categories, and so many of the categories were really powerful and important, like bodies, Jewish, military family, countries like Pakistan, Iran, Korea, and Vietnam, and parents were reading to their kids from seats all over.

THAT’s what this country is and should be about. Teaching our kids about other cultures, learning about ourselves and others, and sharing resources. The place was safe and full of people who cared and weren’t afraid of other people and who understood the value and benefits of the library.

As we left, we checked out at the kiosk, where we were able choose our language to start the process. We chose pirate, because how freaking awesome is it that pirate is an available language at a kiosk? I still get a little choked up thinking about the library. There was so much love in that place. So much intellect and opportunity and community. That’s who we are as people, not this crap on the news every day.