Saturday, 12 September 2020

A summer of battery and vegetables

Well it feels like a long time since last posting - much longer than it's actually been. Summer came and went, temperatures reached records, home working and home schooling have placed a few extra demands on life, but hey hey, I'm still here. 

I also haven't posted here much because the stuff I used to write about - cables, batteries, phone power management, etc - have largely been pretty robust. The larger, 60W solar panel from last year mean I haven't worried about running out much, and the balance between generating energy and using it has been fairly settled. Score! 

Some things have changed though. First up, I've been playing with the Allpowers 372Wh battery a bit more, and have been seeing how long I can run a laptop off it without having to plug into the mains. 



This feels like a nice 'step up' in terms of experimenting - I like using my phone for some things, but hate writing text on it, and I've decided I want to do more of my writing on a proper keyboard, but solar powered. But laptops often have a lot more energy overhead, so I already have to 'take that decision' to use extra power for a more comfortable writing experience. But also, just thinking through the purpose and efficiency of a laptop in general.

(The laptop is from Entroware, running Linux with some power-saving tools applied. I do also use it for some games, which is a whole separate post or two.)

Charging the big battery takes around 2 or 3 days of full sun to charge, so I'm working out a new routine - I want power available to the laptop when I need it, and the Allpowers can charge everything else, but I also want the option to charge my smaller batteries for more nomadicism when needed. I tend to charge the big one up if it's less than 50% full.

So that's been happening since about the start of June. I think I've plugged the laptop into the mains once in that time. Not bad.

The second thing happening is just more time outside in general. Working from home has meant being able to spend a bit more time looking after my meagre veg patch, and I've noticed more Permaculture ideas and posts seeping into my Beamspun newsletter.

This is actually quite exciting to me - exploring where our tech and energy comes from seems to sit very neatly alongside where our food comes from. In fact, both are just forms of energy, so in a way it makes no sense to separate them in the first place!

I haven't got any 'formal' ties between the two, other than the solar panels sit among the courgette plants, and there is a sense of ability to wander - to be able to use tech while among nature, rather than being detached from it. 

More soon.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Slow Path of Learning

Sometimes I feel like I'm making this little adventure harder for myself by figuring it all out on my own. A few books here and there, but I haven't been very active about actually taking to people and asking questions. So sometimes, simple things happen and I think "wow, I'm really stupid" and I have to remember that maybe actually that's just part of learning, and it takes time, but each time I think I'm stupid, it means I've just made that tiny bit of progress. 

Today's case in point is actually pretty exciting. Remember way back when I hinted at a new battery? I've been testing the power out to charge laptops since then, but didn't have a way to hook up my 60W cells to it - the input on the battery is an Anderson connector which is fairly common, but searching for info on it mostly just brings up connectors and cables for sale. 

I'd bought a cable to fit about a month ago, but it seemed like it was the wrong one - lining up the reds and blacks, it seemed I needed a female connector instead maybe. But nobody sold converters, like you might find with media cables. HOW ODD. I figured solar people just made their own cables. 

I ordered a separate DC-to-Anderson cable from the company I got the battery from, and they've been delayed and delayed due to coronavirus, apparently.

With the Sun out so much, I was afraid the new cable would arrive just as summer turned into storms. I woke up today figuring it was only wiring, that I could just strip the cable I had and re-crimp it somehow. Or order a new connector. I should definitely be able to make my own cables. 

Then I was browsing connectors and realised THERE ARE NO MALE/FEMALE CONNECTORS, they just flip over to pair up. Oh damn, I feel stupid. Part one. 

Giving this a go, this was true - the connectors connected, but the reds and blacks were all wrong. I tested DC polarity coming from the panel instead of just plugging it in to see if it works (I'm glad I read that multimeter book now). Yup, not what I need. Maybe I could pull the connector apart and rewire it? 


Look at that. How clever. Cleverer than me, possibly. They just slide right off each other and slot back together again, like a toy. 

So switch them over, hook them up, and woop, 18-20W being registered on the battery. 

The moral of the story is not to worry, whatever you're learning to do. It feels like information and forums are so ubiquitous, and that there are so many knowledgable people in the world right now. That's a lot of pressure to "know things straight away". 

Yet you can't jump ahead. Learning takes time, and experimenting, and a bit of reading, and some talking and asking and bluffing, and lots and lots of sleep. 

If you're really interested in what your doing, then you'll know you're in it for many years - a lifetime, even. If something takes a few months to figure out, then that's nothing. 

There's always a Grand Scheme of Things to be in. 

Friday, 8 May 2020

Solarpunk / Taopunk Values, big and small

Jaimie gives a little tour of his islands:

However, what I really like about this is not what Jaimie directly gets up to on video, but the way his attitude mirrors mine. Leave the house, check on the growing things, clear the weeds, take in the sounds of nature: These can all be done on an island scale, on a garden scale, or even within a room, if you're in the right mindset. What is this mindset? How can it be summed up? I think it comes down to a handful of values:
  • Resourcefulness: Understand what's at your disposal, and use it if you can (but don't over-use it)

  • Seeding and Nurturing: You can be responsible for helping things grow. In turn, the things that grow will look after you.

  • Appreciation: You will not always have everything, but can survive on very little. Anything extra is a luxury.
Perhaps this is all we need.

And maybe I should do a little garden video?

Saturday, 2 May 2020

All the windows run off battery power

Strange solarpunk/indieweb interaction side-effects: Turns out a lot of device syncing software  is background-based, and can often turn itself off until the device is in 'full battery' mode.

So if you're used to running in Battery Saver mode like me, adding in a 'sync window' when you're chanrging up needs to go on the list, alongside the existing 'backup window' and 'software upgrade window'.

Things getting complex.

(tech note: Trying out syncthing currently, amongst many others.)

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Testing conditions

Been non-stop sunshine recently. So guess which day the cable arrives to charge up the new battery, of course...