Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Muahaha

Helloooo, 60W. [Amazon link]


It's pretty sunny recently. All batteries are full. A quick test shows this gets very nearly 2A (around 1.95A) in direct sun, where the 20W panels hit around 1.5A. Time to level up...

Monday, 13 May 2019

Solar-powered, Re-purposed Feed Reading

One of the key questions going through this exercise is on what next? I'm deeply aware I'm at the start of a personal journey - that others know more about electricity than I do, or have richer setups, or endure with less technology. But all experiments at this small scale should be a personal endeavour. So, in fact, the question is - what's next for me?

Solar-powered feed reading


At the end of last year, I grew a bit tired of trying to read RSS feeds and do emails on my phone. At the time, I made a conscious decision to do more email on my laptop instead - I love the feel of physical keys holding onto  my fingerprints. The travel and bounce seem to convery more speed and emotion than any virtual input device. It's a hard habit to shake. Moving to a laptop for email was pretty easy though.

This didn't work so well for RSS feeds though - laptops are too bulky and intensive for lightweight reading. I'd had a couple of tablets before (through work), and I also have an old Kindle which is OK for reading e-books, and I wanted something similar. I liked the idea of separating reading out into its own function, isolating it from other network activity. Distraction-free, I'd be able to lose myself in some of the longer form articles I've been saving up to read for months now.

So this was my plan:
  • Run off second-hand hardware - re-use is becoming a a new part of my tech ethics, which I'm slowly formulating.
  • Run off free software - free as in speech. I'd seen some discussion of LineageOS on-line, and wanted to try it out as an alternative. I really shoudn't need anything fancy to read feeds. I also already have a Tiny Tiny RSS server and a wallabag server set up, with associated apps on my phone via F-Droid.
  • Run off solar power for reading. Because, natch.
After some research on devices supported by LineageOS, I managed to grab a cheap 2013 Nexus 7 off ebay. Bonus marks - the seller had already installed Lineage on it! I was happy to pay an extra 5 quid to save a few evenings doing it myself...

So this is now A Thing. The reader device is great - F-Droid and ttrss and wallabag all installed within minutes. I'm resisting putting the Medium app on, but it may be useful. I'm also trying to find alternative routes to hook together ttrss and wallabag with other services - so far, I'e set up IFTTT to tweet out things tagged with certain text, or to save to Evernote notebooks. Eventually I'll look at replacing these with FLOSS as well. And the battery on the Nexus seems to hold well, only dropping 3-4% over a few days of non-use.

The Separation of Functions


Most of all, I have become fascinated idea with this initial idea of defining a use case for tech in my life - reading RSS feeds and saved links, in this case. I feel like that defines the value clearly, and from there, I can work out if it is a function which is - or could be - powered by my current solar setup (ie. do I get enough sun light, and can I get power to the device?)

In other words, by tying and restricting certain functions to particular software AND hardware, I feel like solar power is "sponsoring" certain of my activities now. The ttrss/wallabag server is still mains-powered, yes, but Raspberry Pi's are pretty lightweight. This way of thinking extends out to other things hopefully - anything my phone is primarily responsible for, and then the afore-mentioned Kindle, and then even things like portable gaming (thanks to the new USB cable for the old Gameboy Advance).

This feels easier than just trying to power everything, indiscriminately, into some vague solar-powered bubble. It means I can take a more considered approach to power management (both on the devices themselves, but also for panels and batteries) and prioritise between functions as the batteries run out. The eggs have been divided up into more basket, now.

So this feels good. Coming soon - I've received a new USB-A to USB-C cable, and I'm writing this post on a laptop charged up on solar power for the first time. Bring it on!

Monday, 29 April 2019

Fresh Hardware "Upgrades"

A brief post, as I'm a month in and not really finding the time or energy to blog at the moment.

The Sun has been tentative and diverse, swinging between June heat and April normality. I've not had much of a problem staying off the grid - mostly - but have been using the first month to get a few things in place. And, as you'll see below, a few things have meant I've not been as pure as you'd think...

Able cables

First up, I picked up some tiny cables cheap, as one of my older ones has worn at the connection point, and I only have one other short one. I like short ones, after last year's experiments proved themselves worthy.

I went for a pack of five 10cm ones sported as 'high speed charging' cables, but in practice I've been getting some iffy results - including charging apparently just stopping after a few minutes. Need to look into this - not sure if it's the cables or the power pack at the moment, hence my italics. Maybe they're overheating - I tried them on a very bright day. Hopefully I'll get a chance to do some tests soon though.

I thought I'd take no chances though, so have also picked up five 1-foot nylon braided cables as well. These seem pretty sturdy and clip in really firmly, so I'm pleased with these. And I figure a dozen short-length cables will keep me going for a while, even if I use some for battery-to-device instead of from the solar panels.


Packing it in


The very obvious downside of short cables, though, is that you have less room to maneuvre your power packs and devices. Which makes it more likely you'll put them in a precarious position. Which means they're more likely to slip, slide, fall off, and crash to the ground. AS HAPPENED.

'Big red', my 24000mAh pack took a bit of a fall. I knelt down to pick it up, and noticed the landing had popped the case open a bit, and further testing showed one of the charging lights not working. I'm hoping it's just the light, and plugged it into the mains to test the charging functionality - I think it is just the light, fortunately. But I had a go at popping the case open, so now I at least know what's inside. (Damn, must take a photo next time.)

I also figured, as I'm at full charge, that a new power pack would be economically a good decision at this point. I wanted something big, as I'm starting to eye up more devices and bigger panels. So I opted for the Rleron 25,000mAh pack - firstly because it has a (rather token) solar panel on it which looks cool, and secondly because it's red. Everything is going red, apparently. Why not?

So that's what's in the photo above. Red trim.

TBH, I've not had much success charging things up today, and not sure why. Maybe it was cloudier than I hoped - I still think charging circuits struggle with remaining plugged in but with intermittent shade. I need a morning at home to work some things out, but it's not looking likely - May is hectic.

Anyway, more soon...

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Springing back into action

*Blows dust from top of cardboard box*

*Gingerly opens large cardboard flaps*

*Takes blog out of box, sets it on the ground*

*Presses button, steps back, peers in.*



Hello blog. Can you hear me? You on? Great.

Date now is .. April 10th. It's sunny today! Yesterday was wet, and a few weeks ago it was the spring equinox. Before that, we had a balmy few days in February and people got proper spooked, I reckon. Since then, who knows? Hail, snow, storms, and sun. The shadows are getting shorter and the clocks have gone forwards. I'm reminiscing to the other side of the calendar. It's time to get this project running again.

So I decided to switch back off mains power a few days before April started. My USB batteries still had some mains charge in them though - I like to think of it all swirling around inside like soup, mixing with sun power as time goes on, like one juice drifting into another, yin into yang. Grid energy in increasingly homeopathic quantities.

Feels good to get the panels out again.




I'm starting back in slowly, no major changes. But in the back of my mind, I'm building up a list of things to do this year, from the tiny to the large. Here's my mental list currently:
  • Get more small USB leads (0.5ft or smaller) - I only have 2.
  • Get more power packs
  • Should I get more solar panels?
  • Should I make the jump and invest in some proper panels, like caravans have?

 In terms of what I want to aim for, there are some clear wins potentially:

  • Get some kind of permanent setup, rather than relying on putting panels out on a day-by-day basis. However, I think that might take a more permanent rig to be installed. Ideally this would go on the shed, but I want to replace the shed as it's falling apart.
  • Power more devices as a matter of course. I'm a heavy tech user really, but it would be great to extend the idea to cover not just my phone and watch, but also my headphones, and maybe my old Gameboy Advance SP - there are USB leads available. What else? I've recently upgraded my Macbook to one with a Thunderbolt port - could this run off solar, realistically?
  • What about passive solar tracking to get more efficiency? I saw a link on this last year, and this would be amazing to achieve.
  • Just learn more about solar panels and electricity generally, including where panels come from, recycling, and overall lifecycle costs.

So plenty of ideas, and a whole summer ahead...


Thursday, 20 December 2018

Winter Solstice: End of the Road

So the clouds and the dark are here in abundance now.



As Christmas rolls in on Atlantic winds, my ability to get panels in front of sunlight is diminishing. The odd nice day here and there provides maybe a couple of hours of weak light, which isn't quite enough. The risk of my phone failing when I'm somewhere random is pretty high, and the situation isn't helped by a recent Android upgrade.

(Fairphone released an Android 7 update recently. The battery management when not in use seems good, but I'm getting a lot of battery drain under normal usage, like writing this post. Yesterday I had a drain from 40% to zero in 10 minutes, indicating perhaps something more fundamental is wrong.)

So I'm going to call it for the year. I think I have just enough battery left to last till tomorrow, which symbolically is the winter Solstice and the shortest day. I like the synchronicity there, and so plan to use my phone as little as possible today, and end the solar cycle after 7 and a half months. Which ain't bad.

(My Pebble watch already switched back to mains a week or two ago.)

I'll use the next couple of months to take stock - maybe a review of the year, what I've learned, and what I want to do differently next year. With a bit of luck, the light will be ok again from February onwards, so I'd love to get my plan sorted out before then, ready to go. Maybe permanently in-place panels, more batteries, etc. That kind of stuff. Also, MOAR READING about electricity generally, probably.

So if you've been reading these posts, thanks for that. It's been a long time since the start of May, and hopefully this blog proves that it can be done.

To the future!