• Building a completely solar powered 120v outlet is...

    05/07/2022 at 20:35 0 comments

    ....harder than it sounds.

    Seeking to explore a new solar DIY project "hobby" to potentially power my entire home one day, a couple months ago, I set out to build a solar powered inverter using an adult sized panel,  a Canadian Solar CS6P-250PX, which I bought used on EBay in bulk last year. Not counting a 30 watt fold-out panel, with a built in charge controller (connected with a 15V DC/2Amp USB-C charging cable to a 178Wh Lithium Battery), this would count as my first modular system using off the shelf-parts.

    The hardest part of the project has been not obtaining parts, but figuring out which gauge, amps, and wires are compatible. Compared to building computers for 20 yrs, solar technology is a naked science- nothing needs to be prepackaged, and even if it is, there is still a lot of different standards that needs to be matched. With a computer power supply, only the modular cables need to be used with the same power supply brand. But even then, the cables connections/pins are all housed in convenient plastic away from the variables of lug sizes and battery terminals. 

    I've purchased the last 3 components today (tray cable, fuse holder, and fuse cable) and thus I have not yet begun assembling the setup, but I began this only after having found an already simplified tutorial, that explains it much better than some other ones. Finding a tutorial is only one part of the "puzzle." Another challenge is determining if enough alternative parts can be sourced at an affordable rate to make the project worthwhile. As a "mini" solar powered system using an 18Ah battery, and as a very first test project, I do not plan to spend more than $200 (If you exclude the $1644 I spent on the 29 other panels), and as of today, have remained about $25 under that budget. While I could use the same parts in that tutorial, there are some things/parts that are not explained since I bought the pre-made tray cables, and they made their own (and making my own cables is something I spent hours looking into a month or so ago, and was still left lost on the process) Also, there isn't a lot of information on how to connect ANL fuse cables to batteries, and which gauge and lug sizes are needed. For example the ANL Fuse Block says it uses 3/8" or 5/16" lug sizes, based on two Amazon reviewers. Buying the last component was hedging between whether a battery cable would fit 5/16" on one end and 3/8" on the other. Spending $9 on a pair at least let me feel I was getting a deal, and could repurpose them if they do not fit. 

    I decided to not use lead-acid SLA/AGM, and not just for environmental reasons, but for compactness, and safety (If I am going to mess up the wiring and cause an overcurrent, with Lifefpo4, at least it won't cause a caustic mess-at least I imagine it won't). I do use lead acid in a UPS for work (a CyberPower CP850PFCLD) and in a car battery, but those are prebuilt, and I do not modify them for practical reasons. The other issue with pairing a battery with a controller is not all controllers work with lifepo4, or at least require manual settings around 14V.

    Second, I wanted something that can power more than a lightbulb, and less than mini oven. The oven would be nice, but I don't feel like investing in tens of thousands of dollars for an off-grid-powered home with full heating capability. A practical use would be to have a UPS that can be recharged by a panel to power a modem and router, while using a laptop so there is an efficient and long battery during a possible power outage. My UPS lasts around 50-60 minutes, depending on how many monitors I am running. With a 65 watt CPU (an i3) it doesn't use a ton of power. But running a ultra low power laptop with a 6 cell battery, and using the UPC for just the modem, one could have almost 6 hrs of battery power, plus an additional 6-8hrs with a backup battery. Most power outages do not last that long, but it could save the...

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  • Open Source Car

    04/05/2022 at 00:01 2 comments

    I've been thinking long and hard about open source tech, and have been wondering, despite the many advances in technology, why there isn't an open-source car. The short answer, as many might suggest, is cost. But the more I try to chip away at conventional wisdom, I realized that there is a lot more to it. Fundraising and organizing are an organic process. It requires more than good luck and deep pockets. What I think is missing is the lack of standardization. I will focus on two endeavors, one closed source, and the other one open source, the former which is still technically in business, and the other, apparently defunct for over 15 years. I will also include both gas and electric cars, because I believe open-source should not be focused on a single technology at this time. I believe the two endeavors address a crucially missing aspect in personal transportation, and while there are many, many other examples of electric car startups that failed, I think there needs to be a different approach.

    First is the Elio car- yes, not an open source car, but it actually grasped something that was sorely lacking in American transportation- affordable, no-frills transportation. With semiconductors in shortage and gas prices increasing, now would be a great time to re-examine the feasibility of open-source automotive design and manufacturing- but adopting the concepts that the Elio used, into an open source platform. In the auto industry, there is such a thing, but it remains restricted to single conglomerates like VW's MQB

    "MQB is not a platform as such, but, rather, a system for introducing rationality to different platforms that have transverse engines, regardless of the ten body configurations the company manufactures for any of its eleven vehicle brands. Thus MQB coordinates a core "matrix" of components across a wide variety of platforms — for example, sharing a common engine-mounting core for all drivetrains (e.g., gasoline, diesel, natural gas, hybrid and purely electric), as well as reducing weight. The concept allows different models to be manufactured at the same plant, further saving cost.[4][5]"

    & Nissan/Renault's CMF. Imagine needing to install a server on multiple systems, but each system needed slightly different application software. In the linux world, one can package a server with just the software needed, without having to rewrite the entire OS. In automotive tech, the drivetrain frame can be used for various models, but according to a reddit user, the front suspension and rear axle cannot be swapped to different cars like components in an ATX PC. that I seek is to adopt the core components of what an Elio seeks/sought to become, and allow designers/engineers to work-interdependently on a platform resembling the ATX motherboard standard in computer building. Which brings me to the 2nd endeavor: OSCar

    OSCar is a concept that is more about standardization than emphasizing a specific design of car. This is crucial, however. What if the limitation of open-source cars is not the first car to make it mainstream and freely sourced, but the concept itself from being adopted? The Wikipedia page on open-source cars is quite barebone, compared to the multitude of open-source single chip boards. From the Guardian article, 

    "But OScar also makes another technological leap. Using a modular concept borrowed from computer manufacture, OScar uses six discrete parts. Each module - the drivetrain (the car equivalent of a PC's motherboard), body, engine, power, safety and information systems - are being designed independently and, crucially, just like a computer, each can be mixed and matched with other modular components, so a future manufacturer could swap parts as needed, easily adapting a passenger car to a pick-up truck."

    The limitation in developing an open-source automotive manufacturing platform is not just about the funding, but the amortized costs over time of using...

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  • Going Off-grid, In Town

    04/29/2021 at 22:41 0 comments

    A scene in Barton Fink has a Hollywood script-writer on payroll but without work because the studio head was so disappointed with his wrestling screenplay.

    The studio head says, "I want you in town Fink, but out of my sight."  Such are the absurdities of contractual obligations. 
    This isn't easily relatable to going off grid, except for one tangential aspect- when one is off-grid, they are not part of the "social network" that is the internet- but there are many other networks, as the pre-Internet screenwriting era of the 1940s. 

    I've had a power outage once for 5 days, due to a snow storm causing many trees branches to buckle under the weight of a flash precipitation event and causing downed power lines. The event was otherwise unremarkable, except for the realization of how much I didn't really need electricity. I happened to be fortunate to have a fully charged Nokia phone at the time, which had a superior battery life that lasted me throughout the entire outage, mainly due to powering it off and only checking messages every several hours. That said, any modern phone would not last as long, because that Nokia was from the pre-smartphone era. That era was markedly different in what was considered high-tech. Smartphones are ubiquitous today, but appear to define high-tech merely out of convenience, rather than any particular advantage that a 6" AMOLED has over a more versatile notebook. 

    In 5 days I was able to study for a mid-term exam and score much higher than my previous exams in a semester of graduate school. Involuntary offline living is a blessing in disguise for those who are unable to turn off or tune out. That said, environmental cues and peer pressure has a large effect on the influence of social networking. It is very possible that rural areas are more able to turn off the phone and computer since the external stimuli on a farm or arid desert are far and few between. Compared to a Bladerunner city where all matter is cybernetic, finding a balance in technology may require re-evaluating one's entire definition of home. 

    That power outage was many years ago, but recently I decided to try a mini-experiment for only 3 days. You could call this going off-grid, in town. I decided that before I moved to my new condo, that I would not turn on the electricity until I absolutely needed to. I could have skipped the wait before I signed up for electricity service, but I had some solar panels and non-perishable foods, thus I was not in urgent need of refrigeration. I also had a rechargeable battery bank so I was able to recharge my phone and make calls, and receive internet. Laundry was also a non issue, since I had enough clean clothes. I have an LED lantern with lithium battery, so midnight bathroom trips were not difficult, and even somewhat like an exploration.

    What I learned from having no electricity for 3 days is, I only really use a tiny fraction of it for really essential things. I have long stopped using a full-size refrigerator more than 4 years ago, because I have learned to use a mini-fridge with much less wasted food. But even if I didn't need to freeze or keep fresh produce, I would still be able to enjoy fresh foods if I chose to shop more often. I merely use a fridge to save on trips to the store, but only need to visit the grocery every 2 weeks on average. 

    The same applies for computers- A solar panel could recharge a very light laptop if only I used it for much of my productivity, but since I have 50 or 100amp service, I can power several computers and several monitors. 

    I also enjoy making coffee and using an electric oven, which wouldn't be possible without electricity.

    One thing I also learned to make without electricity is oatmeal- I would pour cold water into a cereal bowl, and a half cup of oatmeal would soak overnight. By morning the...

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