Fun with Solar Power

I normally charge an 18 AH sealed lead-acid battery to run small things like lights, and to charge my cell phone, radio, etc.  Well a couple months ago this battery died.  It was old, and sulfation had set in. I decided to upgrade to an AGM battery (the old one was a gel cell), and picked out the 49 AH version.  Since I am away at school most of the time, and don’t have the space to take the battery and set up a solar panel I had to wait until this week to go and start solar charging it.  So, here is my temporary setup:

This is just temporary.  I eventually want to get the panel mounted somewhere, and the battery inside.  But this is great for the time being.  The battery does well in cold temperatures (I’ll bring it in at night, of course), and should be able to hold enough that I can rely on the system a little more heavily once it’s more permanent.  This is just one 32 watt panel too, with the other one added it will be even better.

Small Scale Solar, and Other News

Well, for those of you in the Rochester area I will be talking a bit about a small solar power system I put together this Saturday at BarCamp.  This is my first time there, and I wanted to do something a little different than the other things that were on the list.  First, though, I have to make up a presentation, which will probably mostly happen tomorrow after my test.

But I have been thinking about it, and so I guess I’ll post a little preview here.  My system is small, utilizing a 10 watt solar panel.  Energy production, obviously, depends on how much the panel is in the sun; since it is not a permanent system, I don’t really have a fixed answer to that other than I’ll take it outside for an hour while we go to play frisbee.  The system is just the panel, a batter, and a charge control.  I use it to run some lights, charge my cell phone and radio, and my laptop.  I guess you could add an inverter too, but I find that most things I want to run I can do directly off of 12 volts (or through a DC-DC boost converter in the case of the laptop, which likes 16 volts to charge the battery.)

This system could be nice to take camping, or to an event of some sort.  While it might not anihiliate your electric bill or make you an ecoviking, it can be useful during power failures and emergencies.  And of course it’s a great learning tool; if nothing else it makes you aware of the fact that electricity has to be produced some how.  (After all, they don’t just pump it out of a hole in the ground, amiright?  At least, never that directly.)  We’re so used to electricity being that cheap stuff that comes out of the wall to power our digital lives, and kill us if we fuck around with it too much.  Well, there is something neat about making your own power.  So come on down to learn more.

Now for some other news.  It is actually starting to warm up a bit here.  The temp has been in the 50s quite a bit, even the 60s sometimes.  That’s a ncie temp, IMHO.  Sun’s out more too.

It was warm in our apartment too.  Warm and steamy, actually.  I went home for Easter, and came back Sunday night to find that the bathtub faucet was leaking, providing a steady stream of hot water for a decent chunk of the weekend.  My roommates had put in a maintenance request, and they finally fixed it on Monday.  It was actually pretty neat, aside from the gigantic waste of water and gas.  Our entire apartment was warm and humid, like a tropical paradise.  The sound of water was also kind of nice, though it was kind of lucky that I couldn’t hear it from my bedroom.

So that’s that.

Battery Life and Other Nonsense

As I mentioned before, I have switched my laptop to Gentoo again after getting a new battery for it.  When I first finished my Gentoo install there was this beautiful feeling of euphoria…  It was just a raw Linux system, somewhat optimised for my machine.  It could be a normal Gnome desktop, it could be a mobile server…  It could be a workstation with no GUI at all…  So much potential, so many things I could do without having a predetermined computing environment like what Ubuntu provided.

Yeah, I ended up putting Gnome on it, along with the other types of apps normal people tend to put on their laptops: OpenOffice, Firefox, Pidgin (thus completing the desktop publishing-Web browsing-instant messaging trifecta), etc.  And now I find myself trying to replicate a lot of the things Ubuntu did configure out of the box.  Things like PulseAudio, multimedia codecs, and power management settings.

Actually the power management was a bit of a sticking point with Ubuntu.  I mean, it did provide decent control over LCD backlight brightness, and it configured CPU frequency scaling out of the box.  But at the same time I still never got the battery life I got in Windows.  The same is true for Gentoo.  I can get maybe four hours of life, which is nice.  But the older, smaller battery was rated for about this also.  Yeah, I know that rating’s a bit optimistic, but I sitll got maybe three of those hours on XP.  I’d like to get about 5 or 6 with this battery.

So I have some tweaking to do, no matter which distro I use on here.  I really do like having a less-bloated system, and at the very least Gentoo is a little more encouraging of tweaking, and is more familiar to me, so I may as well try diferent power saving methods on here for a while.  (Yeah, compiling software takes a bit of juice, but I do that when I’m plugged in anyway.)  Ubuntu 9.04 is coming out soon, and I’m thinking I might go and try it on here.

So, that’s that.  On an lighter note, the sun is coming out more and more here in Rochester.  We’re finally starting to get some Spring weather, even though we also just got some snow.  (I woke up one morning and it looked like it was winter outside.  It didn’t last long, but it was still weird.)  Though I do enjoy winter I am looking forward to the warmer weather a lot.  Soon it will be summer, and I will (hopefully) be working.  Getting away from class will be nice.

Reflections on a New Laptop Battery

Now, Linux isn’t exactly known to get you amazing battery life on laptops.  (Yes, when the distro and hardware are specially designed this there are some exceptions.)  However, in my Toshiba Tecra the battery life was getting to be horrendous, getting maybe 20 minutes tops before needing a charge.  So, I went online and ordered a new battery, at twice the original capacity of the old one from LaptopBatteryStore.com.  The new one is great.  I can actually use the computer as a laptop.

So now I have thought of the possibilities.  I mean, I could go a lot of places with this computer now, and do whatever.  Type, photo edit, you get the idea…

Maybe, just maybe, this will allow me to reach new levels of productivity in a variety of locations.  Or not, we’ll wait and see.