Monday, June 30, 2008

Floor is done!

This weekend I finally put the laminate floor in.

As I usually do, I screwed up at least one critical detail, but other than that, it looks beautiful. I love it! It's clean, it looks great, it's fun (and safe, now) to walk around barefoot on it.

I'll post pictures, most likely on the Vandweller's list.

The only thing I messed up, is that I forgot the proper dimension of the last row of floorboards. I measured 6 1/2", but then by the time I got the ruler out and started drawing cut lines on the boards, I remembered it as 5 1/2". So there's an inch-wide gap between the end of the floorboards and the moulding, on one side of the floor. No big deal, I'll live.

I also helped two friends move on two different days this weekend. It was interesting to fit an entire apartment worth of stuff into my van, in addition to my stuff. I had to be careful not to scratch the new floor. It already has one scratch; no idea where that came from.

It was a week of manual labor. I moved THREE people's stuff in and out of the van over the course of three days: first my own stuff got removed and replaced so I could do the floor, and loading and unloading all the possessions of two friends too. I didn't do it alone, obviously, but that's a lot of moving.

I slept on a futon whilst I had all my van stuff removed and was in the middle of the floor project. I like futons! I've shopped around a bit and I'm going to replace my homemade hack bed with a real futon. A twin-sized three-fold futon should fit nicely, and would use the mattress I already own. Plus, it'd give me a nice La-Z-Boy style couch when folded up.

I'm feeling hopeful about this whole adventure.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The batteries like being overcharged!

I've noticed that the numbers on my solar controller don't always tell the whole story.

My Lifeline AGM batteries really like being overcharged, hard-core, in bright sun. Even though they say 14.1 volts when fully charged in a dull fog, they aren't as fully charged as when they get to 14.1 volts in the blazing bright sunshine, and are subjected to that for many hours.

So, for example. It was really foggy a few weeks ago. It took me several days of sunshine and very little battery usage to get my batteries up to full charge. But, even then, they'd deplete very quickly! Sure, they'd charge up quickly too, but then they'd deplete quickly. I'd start the night out with 12.9 volts, and after a few hours of computing and Internet, I was down to 12.5 volts!

But then it got hot and sunny for a while. I deliberately parked my van in baking-hot sunshine, day after day. The controller was whining up a storm, and my batteries sat at 14.1 volts for days. Well after all that, I'd start those nights at 12.9 volts alright, but after being up nearly all night on the computer, with the hard drive going and a second Linksys file server going, it'd still be up at 12.7 volts by the time I called it quits!

This morning, the controller was pulling over 12 amps out of the solar panels, charging up those batteries. They got plenty thirsty!

So these AGM batteries have a very long tail on their charging. They get up to full charge quickly, even at low amps, but they really like to be charged up hard, with lots of amps, in order to hold their charge longer. The volts at charging, or after charging, don't tell the whole story. HOW the batteries got to full charge has a lot to do with how slowly they'll discharge.

It was the fuel

I figured out what was causing that awful hard starting problem and all those clogged fuel filters I had to change: I was getting crappy, low-quality fuel.

At the bottom of my biodiesel barrel, was a thick layer of sludge and grime. Unprocessed fatty solids, apparently. Disgusting. The guy who makes my fuel wasn't too surprised. Apparently that was in the fuel he was selling me all along, until he very recenly upgraded his equipment to use a better process.

Now that I'm getting better fuel, the hard starting problem seems to be dissipating. And the "WATER IN FUEL" light even goes off sometimes.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Dealing with solar in the fog

I think the party is over with the solar. Winter is here now, and it's foggy all day long. The sun is out until 9pm, theoretically, but you can't see it. I'm pulling 6 amps at noon, maximum. And for some reason my batteries seem to run out of charge a lot faster. Maybe I deep-cycled them a few weekends ago, and they've lost capacity as a result. I'd say that maybe it's taking longer to charge them, but I'm not seeing that. I can get them up to 14.1v easily still, by conserving electricity. But they seem to end up down in the 12.6 range VERY quickly now. Maybe I'm just using electricity more extravagantly? But I don't see how that could be possible.

Anyway, here's what I'm doing to help conserve:

I turn off the wireless router when I'm not going to be using it. It's silly to leave it on, even though it only draws 200 milliamps or so, just to keep it associated with a network.

I kill the inverter too. Also silly to leave it on, drawing I don't know what, but the manual says less than an amp, and the power supply on my monitor, and I don't know how much that draws either.

Those steps seem to help now that it's foggy. The laptop draws about 400 milliamps overnight when in sleep mode. I have to leave it in sleep mode because I haven't figured out how to get it to hibernate in Linux yet. But if I could do that then it'd draw zero amps when asleep, and that'd probably help keep the batteries fresh in the morning.