Oh my – Ivanpah meets Margaret Hamilton

I have no idea of what to make of this, except to make a quick post here. Margaret Hamilton is a computer scientist/software engineer responsible for much of the on-board Apollo computer system, a rather amazing piece of technology from the 1960s that got Apollo astronauts to the moon and back. Ivanpah is a thermal solar energy system comprised of many mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a tower to power a heat engine that makes electricity.  It’s a rather amazing piece of 2010s technology that has never quite worked right.

What do you do with the mirrors at night? Apparently make a tribute to Margaret Hamilton in the moonlight.  I suppose it’s the thought that counts.

Ivanpah solar mirrors configured for moonlit artwork

See the full story at Her software put men on the moon. Fifty years later, Margaret Hamilton got a glowing moonlit tribute.

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76 thoughts on “Oh my – Ivanpah meets Margaret Hamilton

    • I understand why it had to go but I do miss the “edit” function. 😎

      [I appreciate having the power! However, there’s a mostly invisible force that makes demons start looking over one’s shoulders when fixing a main post. WUWT does a good job of admitting and preserving mistakes in serious posts. On the plus side, it’s good impetus to not post a mistake in the first place! -Ric]

    • It’s better as paid billboard space than taxpayer money pit that never worked right.

      Fixed it for you.

    • At least they’ve found some use for it as it doesn’t do what it was built for!

      James Bull

  1. At last! Some use for that rent-seeking kludge! Of course, the bird incinerator is otherwise a monument to rent-seeking virtue signalling, rather than a reasonable effort to have an actual power supply.

  2. Lot’s of people’s software put men on the moon…. and not all of it worked as it should. Apollo 11’s Lander’s main computer kept shutting down during the landing because the programming didn’t allow it to compute the altitude and radar data as it was supposed to… etc.

    So in the wasteful world of subsidized “Renewable” energy, we are subjected to the political vanity of women writ large on mirrors in the moonlight….. Fitting and ironic.

    • Using up the energy saved in batteries they generate during the day to move the mirrors around at night?

      • I would wager they’re using grid energy for the display. Ivanpah is useless… a display meant for a point in space where a drone is stationed to snap a picture. Precious…

        • Ivanpah has natural gas generators to keep the sodium in a liquid state overnight. As a side effect, it generates power all night long. The excess power is fed into the local grid, making the entire “solar” power system somewhat profitable.

          • 1) use ONLY gas generators
            2) build it nearer users

            Tada, somewhat profitable … even without the subsidies.

          • Hmmmm…. maybe skip the massive amount of natural gas it takes to keep the sodium liquid and just generate electricity instead.

            No, that’s crazy talk.

  3. Ivanpah is good for something.
    Now they can start selling rights — Pepsi, Apple, Tesla, Sanders . . .

        • at 3,500 acres it’s the worlds largest bill board. “The only billboard which can be seen from space “. Great potential.

          Maybe Anonymous can hack it and do us a Snowden tribute for next month !!

      • Outstanding ideas there, both of you. Ivanpah is the worlds largest billboard !

        That could help them pay the penalties for failing to fulfill contractual minima for electricity production.

        I’m not a negative as most here about this project but designing it without storage was stupid. Failing to address the question of frying birds, one wonders why. It’s an obvious problem. They spent so much time and money worrying about moving tortoises but could not work out about the birds.

        Like so many such projects, it was designed to fail.

        http://ivanpahsolar.com/

        Service Unavailable
        The service is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

        Classic. I guess they have a solar powered web site. Come back when the sun is shining !!

      • The Milwaukee to San Francisco flight goes right over it. At least the three times I’ve taken that ride it did.

          • R Shearer July 20, 2019 at 6:14 am
            That doesn’t make sense. Ivanpah is SW of Las Vegas.

            Maybe there’s another solar/mirror farm that I saw. After looking at a photo I took this last time
            https://i.postimg.cc/XvPdLm4f/image.png
            it is a different solar array (-:

            Thanks for pointing that out. I had always assumed it was Ivanpah

        • That picture looks more like Crescent Dunes. another solar project that is a dismal failure.

    • Good thinking. Charge on a 14 level sliding scale: Prime time pricing on a full moon, prices dropping to zero on a new moon. Perhaps Citizen Sanders could get in down there somewhere. : > )

  4. Be nice, people – someone actually found a practical use for that boondoggle.

    I have no issue with it being Margaret Hamilton, either. Unlike today, female programmers in those days had to have much bigger cerebral parts to get to the top, not just the parts that are attached lower down.

    • I think there was a greater percentage women in the software field then than there are now in large part because everyone was new to the field and business in general and “didn’t know better.” I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I suspect that shoot-em-up games and things like Grand Theft Auto turned girls away from computers. At one point my job included a female peer, we reported to a woman I had recommended we hire while at another company before it hit Chapter 7, and she reported to another woman, the cost center manager.

      At another company, we had a black female programmer. While Massachusetts rules required it, the company wasn’t allowed to count her twice in EEO data. I assume the Commonwealth figured out new rules.

      • I’ve employed quite a few programmers over the years and the best ones seemed to be English majors for some reason. The two best of the best I ever had was both a guy and a girl.

        The most interesting thing in the programming world is you either have it or you don’t. Not a lot of in-between. Maybe there is a gene that controls it. Kind of like those people who can pick up a foreign language in a week versus me who has issues with just one language.

        • After graduating (Computer Science) I stayed on to try my hand at a PhD. Not having any grant, I worked for the department giving a few courses, running lab sessions and taking some tutorials.

          As lowest on the totem pole, I got what they considered the oddball cases, people doing non science stuff like English, Psychology, Politics etc. (This was a dual honors University).

          I agree that people doing languages did better. I think it had a lot to do with their better understanding of the relation between language and the semantics that it is representing.

        • The most interesting thing in the programming world is you either have it or you don’t.

          I do not understand that – however I completely agree with it. The dichotomy was more clear in my college days – the inconvenience of keypunching card decks and napping in the computer center’s lobby while waiting for the program to run (or at least compile!) discouraged a lot of people from that career.

          In my freshman programming course using Univac 1108 Algol at CMU there were only a few of us who discovered we could think like the computer. In helping some of my classmates I was astounded at how poorly designed and incomprehensible their code was. For the most part, it was people’s least favorite course.

          OTOH, my first recreational programming project was to simulate the Apollo flight to the moon. I abandoned it after Christmas break after not getting beyond Mercury, but I learned a tremendous amount from it. The next year “structured programming” became a “thing”. I look at that old program and concluded its structure was fine. A couple years later I took a simulation course and took another look back. Some of the decisions I made for adjusting the time step size to make comet orbit work well were things that we never considered in the course.

          To this day I have no good idea how to identify people who can become great programmers. I like to think they discover that before going to college. One aptitude I have is a good ability to remember pairs of nonsense words, I think that may carry over to remembering the relation between program fragments, and it may also be shared with your English majors turned programmer. However, there’s much, much more to it.

          My career has focused on operating systems, primarily networking and file systems. It’s an arena where we have only top tier people who don’t mind feeling average most of the time. 🙂

          • Generally I’ve found that people who are ADHD or somewhere on the mild side of the autistic spectrum make the best software engineers.

      • Women, at least one woman, were in the very forefront of computer programming even before electronic computers had been invented. Remember Ada, Lady Lovelace?

      • Ric

        In that era there were many women working for Rockwell programming ICBMs as well. I met one once and she told me they wrote programmes in Assembly language and were always on the hunt for a way to save a as couple of bits.

        I asked why and she said targeting was pretty clumsy. When Kennedy was threatening to nuke Moscow the precision of the landing about a 150 mile radius. Huh, I replied? Why so inaccurate?

        She replied the earth is not round, gravity varies, and the ICBMs were guided by the stars so targeting was based on a star map loaded into memory just before launch. As memory in a rocket was only 4KB there wasn’t much room for precise calculations, or maps. Try it sometime!

        All those sable-rattling threats were so much puffery. The only way to hit Moscow was statistically, throwing 50 of them in that general direction.

        Not many code jockeys these days have seen Assembly written from scratch! Who could follow it?

        Back in the day my buddies and I started with Fortran 4. These women were apparently neat and careful. Lots of men are not. My son sums up Canadian coders up as “lazy and sloppy.” That can’t be generally true, I hope.

        If you go to Tennessee and see who applies alcohol stains to furniture in the factories they are typically women over forty. It is very difficult. They have the calm touch required, I was told. We are not created equal. I support the “either are, or are not” assessment.

        • “sable-rattling”

          Are sable really that intimidating? Though I’m having a laugh picturing what this might look like.

    • I agree. It’s there. Offer us a little Nostalgia. Better than nothing (assuming it produces enough power to reposition itself. How about if it can track airliners to give the passengers a treat.

  5. Kudos to her! So much innovation to make it all happen. In the entire scheme of things, Armstrong and Aldrin were almost just along for the ride, something Armstrong humbly suggested many times.

    Being it CNN, I see we have to acknowledge bring your child to work one day and a child’s contribution to Apollo. I am sure she would never thought about the safeguard without the child. /sarc

    I am surprised that we are not hearing that she was earning half what men programmers earned at the time. /sarc

    • Chuck Yeager called astronauts “spam in a can”
      as they did not do any real piloting. Now they do some landing on the moon was a good example

  6. It IS late and I HAVE sipped but I still believe I can overthink it.

    I read the Ivanpah headline and immediately decided it must refer to The Donald .. you know.
    … PA of IVAN-ka?

    “What was he doing meeting Margaret Hamilton and what was his latest ‘Oh My’? ” thought I.

    • Ric

      In that era there were many women working for Rockwell programming ICBMs as well. I met one once and she told me they wrote programmes in Assembly language and were always on the hunt for a way to save a as couple of bits.

      I asked why and she said targeting was pretty clumsy. When Kennedy was threatening to nuke Moscow the precision of the landing about a 150 mile radius. Huh, I replied? Why so inaccurate?

      She replied the earth is not round, gravity varies, and the ICBMs were guided by the stars so targeting was based on a star map loaded into memory just before launch. As memory in a rocket was only 4KB there wasn’t much room for precise calculations, or maps. Try it sometime!

      All those sable-rattling threats were so much puffery. The only way to hit Moscow was statistically, throwing 50 of them in that general direction.

      Not many code jockeys these days have seen Assembly written from scratch! Who could follow it?

      Back in the day my buddies and I started with Fortran 4. These women were apparently neat and careful. Lots of men are not. My son sums up Canadian coders up as “lazy and sloppy.” That can’t be generally true, I hope.

      If you go to Tennessee and see who applies alcohol stains to furniture in the factories they are typically women over forty. It is very difficult. They have the calm touch required, I was told. We are not created equal. I support the “either are, or are not” assessment.

  7. Ok, I’m guessing whom ever it is babysitting Ivanpah after dark actually used power from the grid (Southern California Edison) for this display.

  8. To judge by the number of bright pixels on that image ( and assuming that there are a similar number of mis-oriented dark ones which do not stand out ), there is a significant percentage of failure in the drive mechanisms to the mirrors.

    Such a night view with a test pattern may be a good way to identify them and get a maintenance crew down there !

  9. For this installation, on a clear, full-moon night at its zenith, what is the temperature when all mirrors are concentrated on the tower compared to the same with the sun at its zenith during the day?

    • A grossly over simplified 10 second calc — Nameplate for the plant is 392MW and full Sun is about 400,000 times brighter than full Moon so that leaves about 980 watts. Of course the 392MW is power output after all the thermodynamic loss in electric conversion, not gross energy on the towers, so if all the mirrors were tracking the moon there might be a few kW hitting the towers. Not any real power but it might be bright enough to blind any stray night flying owls.

    • That answer begins with a full moon being about 400,000 times dimmer than the sun. What’s interesting to an amateur astronomer is that while in the eyepiece of a common telescope a bright moonscape seems exceptionally bright to a reasonably dark-adapted eye (and so invites some filtration to reduce the intensity), it is no brighter than a typical sunlit afternoon landscape (and therefore photographs with similar exposure settings).

  10. What a pity she didn’t work on climate models afterwards. Those could have done with someone who knew what she was doing.

    • yeah well the second part…someone who knew what they were doing…
      is why she DIDNT get the climate model job;-))

  11. Magnificent! What a fabulous creative idea!

    Regardless of anything else (appropriateness, economic value, etc) the IDEA is so strikingly CREATIVE

  12. Catchphrase; “mirror”.


    “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairer of all?”
    “I the mirror on the wall am the fairer of all,,, oh well since July 1969, that is,,, hah.”

    cheers

  13. The bottom line? A total waste of money – a total boondoggle

    Yes indeed.

    When George Orwell wrote “Animal Farm” he chose the windmill to represent the boondoggles that oppressive governments promote in order to create an appearance of progress.

    • Capacity factor
      23.2% (2018 actual) / 27.4% (Planned)

      Considering the fact that it’s a solar power plant in the fracking desert, it couldn’t possibly suck any worse. The “planned” output doesn’t even reach p!$$ poor… and the fracking bird-frying monstrosity has never even achieved p!$$ poor.

        • 23% capacity factor for a solar power plant in a southwest US desert is not “doing fine,” 27% wouldn’t even be “doing fine.”

          Much less expensive and far less destructive solar PV power plants in similar settings routinely top 33%. The fracking average capacity factor for solar PV plants, including those idiotically built in places like New York is 29%.

          This is like saying that Robert Hoover’s GPA was “doing fine”…

          The world’s biggest solar-thermal power plant is finally producing enough electricity.

          The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in Southern California initially failed to meet contractual obligations, and a yearlong forbearance deal with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. expired Wednesday. After fine-tuning the complex facility that uses 170,000 mirrors, output is up and it’s no longer at risk of defaulting on the deal, according to David Knox, a spokesman for operator and co-owner NRG Energy Inc.

          Contracting for p!$$ poor performance was stupid. Describing barely achieving p!$$ poor performance as “doing fine” is Bluto Blutarsky stupid.

  14. Last year Albert evaluated the performance of various CSP projects:

    https://qualityassuranceofclimatestudies.wordpress.com/2018/05/02/solar-tower-with-thermal-energy-storage-a-consolidated-technology-with-a-single-plant-of-decent-size-built-on-earth-producing-less-than-30-of-the-planned-electricity/

    “Ivanpah has no thermal energy storage, but boost by combustion of natural gas. So far, it has been able to reach a 21.29% annual capacity factor only not accounting for the significant natural gas combustion. As the natural gas can be burned better in a combined cycle gas turbine plant, the actual annual capacity factor is reduced to 14.42% when corrected for the consumption of natural gas in a combined cycle gas turbine plant.”

    Plant level output data will be updated by the EIA tomorrow.

    Pete Danko discussed how the natural gas use at the plant was increased a few years back-

    https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/ivanpah-solar-plant-falling-short-of-expected-electricity-production

    The division of rate payer advocates recommended that the PPA contracts with PG&E be renegotiated a few years back. http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Published/G000/M159/K638/159638029.PDF

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