With Grading Done, I’m Preparing for a Hot Summer with a New Attic Fan

One afternoon. One attic fan installed.
One afternoon. One attic fan installed.

I am trying to get a jump on a hot-hot summer, because last summer was a scorcher. While there are a lot of things that I would like to do to our house, some things are more affordable than others. My attic fan installation project today was one that had potential to help out without costing too much.

Last year, Y and I sealed up every seam and joint that we could find inside the house, and we cut R-Matte Plus-3 insulating boards–covering the edges with metal tape–to cover the south and west facing windows (the east windows get a good amount of shade from trees across the street).

This year, I kicked off our preparations by installing an attic fan. I had thought about installing one a long time ago before graduate school, but I never got around to it. I had experimented with an industrial fan pointed at the gable, but the blown air couldn’t adequately escape.

I picked up a Master Flow 1600 cfm attic fan with thermostat, wire, and wing nuts from Home Depot. To cover the gable opening and mount the fan, I pulled up old 1″ x 4″ boards from the attic floor and cut them to the needed sizes (these are old boards left over from shelving the previous owners had built–I disassembled them years ago and used them for flooring). I began by framing the opening for the fan. Then, I installed the fan in the frame before filling in the rest of the gable’s triangular opening with shorter boards (everything was put together with Deckmate screws). I wired the fan into an existing circuit and set the thermostat to 70 degrees. It ran a couple of hours and shut off automatically this evening. Now, the attic is cooler than the upstairs rooms. I am hopeful that tomorrow, the fan will help the upstairs area remain cooler (it isn’t a whole house fan so it won’t suck air through open downstairs windows and fill the house–another option that I considered but decided against due to high humidity later in the summer–which can make it feel warmer than it is and can support book lice).

Besides caulking windows and openings and installing the attic fan, we use fans to wick away moisture and cool us naturally. Outside the house, we’ve removed most bushes that were adjacent to the house and blocking the crawlspace vents. Unfortunately, we have a long house facing north to south (the south side is where I installed the attic fan–the north side is bricked up with no gable opening), but there is no space between our house and our neighbor’s house to the south to plant shade trees (a tremendously good investment for natural cooling).

Soon, we will reinstall a window air conditioning unit upstairs to lower the temperature upstairs. What tips do you have for cooling a house without increasing humidity? Please leave your thoughts in the comments to share with others.

A Few Reading Strategies for the Science Fiction Novice

Underlying many definitions of science fiction is the fact that reading science fiction requires some level of apprenticing and learning of the key concepts, tropes, and concepts that appear in much of the genre’s works. Damien Broderick formalized this in his book Reading by Starlight, in which he argues that there is a ‘science fiction megatext’ that authors borrow from and give to that science fiction readers learn over time. Thus, reading science fiction can be a daunting task for someone not yet accustomed to the genre and its many elements.

However, this is true of any literature that you may read whether it be mainstream fiction from one particular historical period versus another, or another genre such as detective fiction or the western. Any reading requires a certain amount of heavy lifting on the part of the reader to engage the story and its characters. Perhaps with science fiction there is an additional attendant requirement to figure out the science, technology, and estranging qualities of the story, but the reader’s success at figuring these things out is part of the joy of any kind of revelation.

Below, I have written out some strategies for reading science fiction that can equally apply to other literatures. If you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

  • Read slowly and carefully. Reading is not a race to the finish. You may have to read something more than once to completely understand the story, and you may have to read it a further time in order to uncover any greater meanings lying beneath the surface.
  • Keep a notebook handy as you read. Jot down ideas with the page numbers that attend those ideas.
  • Diagram the characters and actions in a flow chart or story outline to better make sense of a complex narrative. Who are the characters? Where do characters go? Who do they encounter? What happens to them? What do they do?
  • Keep a web browser open with two tabs: one for your favorite search engine and the other for dictionary.oed.com. Search terms that you have not encountered before.
  • Be smart with your reading. If you don’t have the time to read and re-read something, you should search the Lexis Nexis database for reviews of the novel. Wikipedia also has a number of plot summaries. However, I cannot warn you enough that these serve as a guide or introduction only; you should read the work at hand in order to fully understand it and experience the novel itself through the act of reading.
  • Don’t always think literally, and vice versa. When you come across something like, “She turned on her right side,” it could have more than one interpretation. She could turn over onto the right side of her body, or it could mean that she powered up the right side of her body (cybernetic implants, computers, etc.).
  • Pause during your reading to imagine what it is you are reading. This can be hard work, but it does get easier as you encounter it more often.
  • You only build new and powerful connections in your brain through challenging and unique experiences. The readings in my classes are intended to be just that. If you don’t do the heavy lifting though, you won’t get any of the long term benefits of engaging and surmounting these challenges.

Increasing Your Battery Life on a MacBook

Laptop batteries are a fascinating work of engineering. They live, they die, and then they are resurrected. I have always struggled with prolonging each brief recharged life in my laptop batteries ever since my first Powerbook 145B back in 1993.

Now I have a late 2008 aluminum unibody MacBook (MacBook5,1). I am a little displeased with my battery life, which usually tops out between 4-5 hours (I believe I was promised at least 6 hours when I purchased it). However, I have figured out a few things on my own and read others on the net that may lead to longer battery life for your MacBook or MacBook Pro.

  • Power cycle your battery. I do this each time that I use my Macbook. What this means is to run your MacBook off its battery until it goes into deep sleep. Then, plug your power cord in and let it recharge completely. This keeps the battery properly calibrated.
  • Turn off your radios. When I’m on the go, I always turn off Bluetooth, because I don’t carry my wireless Mighty Mouse with me. Also, I only turn on Airport when I plan on surfing the web.
  • Reduce your screen brightness. I lower my screen brightness to the lowest level, which works fine in good indoor lighting.
  • Run fewer concurrent apps. This means not only running fewer apps that you directly interact with, but also keep background running apps to a minimum. If something is eating up processor cycles, then it is eating power from your battery.
  • Streamline your browser. During the school day, I usually only leave Safari open as I go from class to class teaching. Flash is terribly inefficient on MacOS X (I say this, because it is hard to imagine how Flash ads can cause Flash to take upwards of 100% processor use, leading to more heat expenditure, and increased fan use). Make sure Flash is up to date, and install Safari AdBlocker (64-bit) and ClickToFlash to reduce ad trash and invoke Flash when you want it. Also, I only use one tab/window with Safari 4 to reduce its memory footprint and hopefully processor time.
  • Try other browsers. In this article, AnandTech demonstrated that your choice of browser and the things that you browsing will affect your battery life. However, they tested a number of browsers on PCs, and not Macs. Obviously, the underlying hardware on the newer Macs and PCs are similar, but the applications themselves on the two platforms will be affected by the OS, APIs, different library builds, etc. So, I don’t know which browser works best on Macs to increase battery life, but I do hope that someone out there will run a methodical test to determine which browser at the moment saves the most juice. If you do this, please post a comment with a link to your results.
  • Leopard vs. Snow Leopard. I am currently running Snow Leopard, and I do not find an appreciable difference in run time between the two OSs. However, there is a tremendous amount of debate over this issue online. This is something else that requires methodical testing to determine, and I have not found anyone to have done so on a baseline piece of hardware.
  • Be radical. Some folks online have removed their optical drives in order to save a little power, and others swear by SSDs at saving more power than traditional HDDs. My MacBook has an Apple supplied SSD, but I do not have another MacBook identical to mine to compare run times.
  • What did I miss? Leave a comment below.