Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cat on a cold van roof

Well that is the first scare I've had in a very long time. Middle of the night, dead silent, quiet and very safe suburban neighborhood. I heard a thump, and the van shook. I heard scratching and tapping on my van. I look out the window, and see nothing. What? Then I hear more banging on the metal. I do my usual bellowing "HEY!!" bark. And I see a cat quickly climb off the roof of my van, down the windsheild, onto the hood, and leap to the ground, meowing the whole time. Great. I just yelled my fool head off... at a cat.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tie rod ends and ball joints

My tie rod ends are shot again. WTF? I just redid my whole front end in September: ball joints, tie rods, brakes. And now my steering is rattling around, and my van drifting all over the road again. I think some nasty potholes and road seams around where I live are the culprit. This sucks. Money's mostly dried up for me, as I'm trying to make the transition from doing hourly contract work to attempting to get some entrepreneurial businesses off the ground. I'm gambling building a business that'll make money for me while I sleep. But it's nowhere near ready to launch yet. I'm probably going to be $200 in the hole for parts and alignment to fix this one-- not a huge problem, but not what I wanted right now either. Grr.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Solar electrical statistics/charts

I put up some statistics and charts on my solar electrical system performance here, if anyone is interested.

Some explanation. The dip on 12/8/12 was due to me replacing the dead battery bank. That was my 420Ah huge bank that was too big for my 210W panel array to charge up in the wintertime. I replaced it with a smaller 210Ah battery bank.

The other dip around the end of December is when I stupidly disconnected the panels-- in the rain-- attempting to check the wiring. Turns out the wiring was fine; winter just sucks here for solar.

The dip in Feburary was due to me forgetting to save the data out of the SunSaver. It only keeps 30 days of data. I have to manually download it every 30 days. If I forget to do that, I get a data gap. Oh well.

I was going to fancy-up the charts some more and play with Flot, but I'm busy with other work at the moment. Maybe sometime soon.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Watts of Spring

Spring is here, the rains have stopped, and my whole winter-electricity emergency is over.

I'm sitting here at 9am and getting 3A of charging from the panels. Used 10Ah last night so I'll have my batteries recharged well before noon, with plenty of sun to spare for whatever.

The sun just cleared the mountains, and already the SunSaver MPPT says the panels are putting out 50W of power as of the last sweep.

That whole panic/emergency/anxiety/expense I went through over the winter, appears to have been for nothing.

Technically we can still get rain here for a few more months, with some minor rain straggling on for longer, but it's been 100% sunny and bright for weeks now. I now have more than enough juice to spare. I can work, and not worry.

I can probably even put the genset into storage, or maybe even flip it if I needed cash. Since I'm working right now, I'd rather keep the unit as a backup anyway, so I'll hold on to it.

If I decide to stay at a park/campsite somewhere, they're always shaded in, so I'll have the generator for that.

And, I'm ready for next winter.

Friday, January 4, 2013


I finally gave in and bought a Honda EU2000i generator.

So, after 5 years of mostly successfully banishing gasoline from my life, I'm back on the stuff again, at least partially, and minimally, and perhaps even temporarily.

I needed it for rainy winter days like today, when the most my solar panels could put out was 2A, and only for a limited number of hours (sun sets at 5pm here this time of year), and I have a refrigerator that wants 5-10Ah/day and I need to run my laptop for 4-8 hours today and tonight at 1A/h, and the most sunlight I can get out of my 200W array in the rain seems to be 5-10Ah, given the hours of "daylight" (more like rain-dark) available.

Despite my intense dislike of gasoline, and the environmental destruction and wars required in order to obtain it, and its volatility and flammability and odor, and its short shelf life, this generator makes dealing with the stuff almost pleasant. It's a very well engineered product. Runs 4-9 hours on a gallon of gas, is light, quiet, and stows away nicely. It'll get me through the winter for sure.

It's a nice unit, well-regarded, with its own thriving community of users-- and hackers. I've seen posts by guys building boxes for it, mounting it in RV's, adding external exhaust pipes, and doing mods like adding an hourmeter for maintenance tracking, adding an external fuel cell for months of operation, or-- most to my interest-- a mod to make it run on propane. Propane isn't much better environmentally than gasoline, but it sure does stay longer, and I could run propane inside to my kitchen and mount my stove permanently, add a heater, and run the genset, all off of the same fuel source, which is appealing.

I ran it for a half-hour today, in the rain, and it seemed pretty happy. It put out enough juice to bring my batteries up to full charge, after which my solar panels more or less trickle-charged them for a few hours afterwards.

I will have to mount the generator somewhere, hidden, and soon. I only really need it in the rain; it's pretty well weatherproof, but running outside to deal with it in the rain is not fun, and laying a big 110V cable out in wet weather isn't so great either. Also, it feels weird having it out: it's a big red obvious theft waiting to happen. Not so much in a paid park where RVers congregate, or on a campsite at a campground-- I can lay it on the ground a few feet away from my van, with a big yellow cable running to it, and run the thing for a couple hours without looking too badly out of place, worrying about it getting ripped off, or making any enemies. But I sure can't run it in the suburbs in stealth mode, and I'm never going to take it out when in the city, it'll be gone in minutes.

Then again, I don't really need it in the city or suburbs; I have some places to plug in to get 110V for a few hours a day in a pinch if needed. The purpose of this unit is to keep my batteries from getting killed when I'm away from civilization in the rain in winter, or when I'm at my favorite campgrounds in the summer which tend to be very shaded. And I think this will do very well for those purposes.

UPDATE: A day later, a scruffy guy on a bicycle who is obviously living on the beach, came by and said "Hey, you can pump up your tires anywhere!". Obviously mistaking the generator for a compressor, and he seemed pretty harmless, and this is a safe-ish spot, but still, within the first day, someone with the Means, Motive, and Opportunity to rip me off, noticed this conspicuously noisy red "please steal me" object. NOT COOL. If he noticed it, everyone who may be a threat to me did too. Time to get a box, now.