Each Friday attendee to the conference was allowed to choose two tours. The two titles that appealed to me were “Modern IT for Workplace Connectivity” and “Solar House.”
Eugene Rutz, Director of Distance Learning for UC, covered online tools such as professional/social networks, wikis for collaborative content, and virtual worlds. It became apparent that he wanted users to discuss how these were being used in the workplace, and out of nearly 15 people, only three or four really participated. Some advance notice might have been useful here.
For professional/social networks, he brought up Facebook (social) and LinkedIn (professional). Using Facebook for corporate business seemed a bit foreign to the class, and a better example than Rutz’s jogging photos would have sparked professional imagination.
The wiki discussion got the most discussion about professional utility. I proposed that wikis could be one way out of “version hell” — trying to keep a document current among lots of people. It might be one way our company could produce technical manuals for its software. People could add “workaround” documentation if they had trouble with a feature.
One user had a bad experience with a wiki. She downloaded a virus from a wiki, and it tooks several weeks to get rid of all of it.
Rutz finished up with virtual worlds. He showed us his avatar and several rooms in Second Life. The class agreed that it might be useful to demonstrate product ideas, but the demonstration of real things would be best left to cameras and equipment that actually showed the results. I saw potential for training for hostile environments like a drilling rig. It was easily apparent that one could input more details into an environment than were really necessary.
The Solar House Tour began with a lecture by Mike Kazmierczak, PhD, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UC. The house was built for a Department of Energy contest held every two years in Washington, D.C. About 20 schools participated in the contest, including my alma mater, which finished in the middle of the pack. Darmstadt University of Technology from Germany won the contest.
Houses were scored on 10 pieces of criteria, such as comfort, energy independence, and marketability. Cincinnati’s house was unique in that not only did it get electricity from the sun with solar panels, it also used glass tubes to heat water near boiling. It could then use that hot water for heating and air conditioning through evaporation.
UC placed in the lower third, suffering from a design flaw and what I would call “user error.” The house’s hot water tanks were built inside the house, and the heat from them kept overheating the house. The user errors came when the house’s batteries were not allowed to fully charge before the contest. In the future UC is looking to use piezoelectrics to provide hot and cool water at the same time.
UC’s house would cost about $500,000 for its 800 sq. ft. of living space. Through various donations they were able to get it down to around $310,000. Darmstadt won the competition with a $2,000,000 house. Europe is in the middle of a movement to be self-sufficient with energy, so Darmstadt wanted the bragging rights at all costs.
Technical note: Solar panels generally run about 10-15% efficient in converting solar energy to electricity. The solar hot water tubes ran about 60%, which I think is pretty good. It will be interesting to see how well the piezoelectrics work.