Sunday, July 15, 2012

Wind Turbine Project, Part 17: Post Mortem

I have a great job. I get to teach engineering students about design and renewable energy. We talk about ways to use engineering to serve poor people in developing countries. Back in 2008 we decided to build a small-scale wind turbine to generate electricity.  We got the plans for the blades and the alternator online, but we designed the tower ourselves! Too bad it fell down. Yes, too bad. Too bad it continued to haunt me for years, an annoying reminder of my own limitations, resonating around in the back of my mind, a public failure. It joins the list of the most embarrassing things I have done that race through my head on nights when I can't sleep. The worst memories on this list are the public humiliations and high-visibility failures.  Like that time in eighth grade when my "girlfriend" and I were roller skating. It was a couples skate and we were the only ones on the skate floor.  All the adolescent eyes at Skateworld were upon us as we made the first loop around the rink. Brimming with overconfidence, I decided to show off my skating ability and turn around and skate backwards, holding her hands as she skated forwards facing me. It was a Scott Hamilton moment on wheels. I'm sure my eighth grade friends would have broken out in applause if they hadn't been so jealous of my coolness. Of course, I flubbed the turn around and did a face plant to roars of laughter while she skated away in her own humiliation. This memory still makes me cringe.

But I digress. The wind turbine project was good blog fodder for years and I have enjoyed going back and looking at my blog posts about it. They started in January 2008. My kids were smaller then. Here's a picture of the boys mixing concrete.

[The boys helped me several times on this project. Here they are mixing concrete. Great memories.]

[Here is the cool hinge we made back in 2008.]

[Here is the same hinge in 2012. The rust was the result of a design failure on our part. We couldn't see it, but water was collecting inside on an unpainted area, and it rusted enough to weaken the structure.]

[This video shows the wind turbine spinning and generating electricity!  I made this video and set it to the Kansas song "Dust in the Wind." Tonight when I watched it again, I was struck by the last lyrics you can hear in the video: "All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see."  Is that foreshadowing?]

[You can see the tower broke in half and the top, now upside down, dangles by the large copper wires that were inside the tower. It sat like this for over a year while we talked to the folks at the farm where we built it.  Every time I saw it I had to roll my eyes with more than a touch of embarrassment.]

[Finally, we got the go ahead and the spare time to take all the pieces down. No longer do they stick up out of the field as a mocking insult. It was redemptive in a way, thought the concrete pads that remain weigh over 1000 pounds and are buried in the earth. We will need a jack hammer or a back hoe to remove them. That means they aren't going anywhere.  That's OK, the grass will cover them.]

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