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... 


Saturday, 18 April 2020

New separate site for link round-ups

ICYMI, I'm now sending out a weekly link round-up over at new site Beamspun, to keep it separate from my general ongoing experiments.

Email and RSS options available. Link suggestions welcome.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Reading material

Absorbing some helpful information courtesy of a recent charity bookshop find, while waiting for some cables to arrive. 

Seems good so far, at the right level I want, with early chapters going into traditional heating / cooling techniques, basic physics, and moving onto more passive approaches. It's from 2007 and mostly US-centric, but I figure things won't change toooo much across time and space, at the scales I'm thinking about 😀

It has, though, got me thinking about what the thermal inertia is like of Max's room in "Where The Wild Things Are"... 

Check out those trees. 

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Sunday Sol Set

As mentioned previously, I've been wanting to bring together some solarpunk links somehow, so I figured I'd just start out and see what happens. Right now, every time I wake up, it feels there is some sort of layer-on-layer parallax-scrolling-style weight of doom running past the window. Everyone seems to be waiting for the world to either sort itself out, or end us in the next few years. And honestly, I gave up that sort of pessimism years ago, back when I realised that if you look into the abyss, you'll end up there in pretty short time.

So let's turn this around and get on with whatever the fyck needs doing. We live in a time of massive change and upheaval, and if this isn't a solarpunk opportunity handed to us on a plate, then what is? And on a yang-pagan-christian-ritual note, Easter Sunday just felt like a perfect day to bring new energy into the world. Take your symbols seriously.

Some quick house rules: Format may change drastically in future. Timing may be weekly, fortnightly or monthly, TBD. Feedback and chatter welcome! - scroll down for contact deets, but I also get final say over what links make it in. Subscribe via RSS or email on the original blogger page, but a proper newsletter might turn up one day.

As this is a first, experimental, effort, the links below are a mix of my own bookmarks, things which have inspired me, and posts on Twitter and Reddit which piqued my curiosity.

Otherwise, enjoy...





Sol food

Ribbons strung between trees, over a stream in green woods





Get in touch

For any feedback, suggestions, comments, or general 'hi there' type stuff, leave a comment, or you can find me hanging out in any of these places:
More options, including email are over at my contact page.

Fun fact: This post should auto-publish the minute the sun comes up over my home town.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

1 year later...

Badoom. The sun is reminding us it's the Lord of Easter right now. 20 degrees C outside like something out of early June, even though April fools' day has only just passed, and the equinox is in recent memory despite the world going into shutdown. Solarpunk is about more than just battery technology - it's a reminder that we are intrinsically tied to the our weather, that we come from sunshine, that the gradual tick of the year is the difference between life and death. Solarpunk is about gaia, wu wei, paganism, animism, wicca, and everything else that ties us to the sky, to the roots in the ground, to the green of the leaves.

It's too warm out there for this time of the year, but the bumblebees are fat, and the apple blossom has revealed its pink. My seedlings have turned from whispers to voices over the last few days, and the ants are back.

With the rising of life comes a fresh renewal. The current experiment in running of solar power has now come full circle, one whole year. I feel like celebrating! And yet, the world does seem like a time or place for celebration at the moment. Nevertheless, this means we should celebrate our own victories and successes all the more, to maintain our sense of thriving humanity. Hurrah! Huzzah!

The more permanent home has proven its worth, even now that I'm confined to the house, and can more easily swap over batteries. I've been running at full capacity for the last few weeks, and the only slight issues have been some ants in my DC port, oo-er, and my phone playing up with charging a little bit. Hopefully they'll both just fix themselves...

I'm turning to the future now, as the current setup seems pretty stable. There are some things I want to do next:

1. Power something new. OK, I'm going to admit it - I celebrated by indulging investing in a rather large 372Wh power tank. I figured, rather than just add more 'little' battery capacity, it was time to take it up a notch. I have enough running off straight USB power for my little life (see my current kit), and there are things I do which don't fit in yet. I"m not quite decided - maybe power a laptop, or try to power my photography, or even try to transfer the Raspberry Pi that hosts my tt-rss and wallabag efforts, to tie in with some ongoing thoughts on intermittent networks.

I'm going to spend time testing the new gizmo, and need an adapter cable to charge it, so I'll come back to that in due course. Expect a quick review soon though, once I have it running properly. Here's a sneakly peek though:

HELLO indeed.

2. Do more around solarpunk.  Start posting more links. Maybe start a newsletter. I think the world is ready, and while there's some good stuff out there, I'd like to share it with people, keep the movement alive, inspire ideas and discussion, etc etc etc. Expect more links here to start with, maybe a weekly round-up. Then we'll see where it goes - life has too many plans and too much uncertainty at the moment.

So plans plans plans. This is doable. We can do this. The Sun's out, and even now, it's hard not to smile.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

11 Months, Going on 3 Years

1st of March. White rabbits white rabbits white rabbits. A tickling of spring traditionally, but the year is 2020 and the season brings "the Allweather" - wind/rain/hail/blue-skies have all been gushing in over the last weekend. 

I'm a month off going through a whole year, and the Allweather is giving my solar panels a good test to celebrate. I've left them out in much of the rain and hail, propped up by a couple of wooden planks and grim hope for the future. Mostly when some sunshine is forecast, but hiding them away if not, or if the weather looks too fierce. 

It's odd, knowing there's this direct connection, the joining-at-the-hips between batteries, communications, electronics, and weather, all the way up to the planet's forces changing around us. Around me. 

I'm feeling an increased awareness, that this way of life - consumption, convenience, comfort - cannot last. Aiming for these as our middle class values will get harder and harder, will start breaking us down as we are denied the things we think we've earned. I feel like this year, this is the edge of the tipping point. Everything will be different by March 1st 2022 (yes, 2 years, 2 more cycles for us to learn the new contexts). 

But... Different for whom? For me? For my circles? My family? My town? My country? 

Friday, 7 February 2020

A handbook for floating solar arrays

A Floating Solar industrial handbook launched - see the full PDF.

Probably more of academic interest if you're not into larger scale stuff, but interesting for things like its assessment of sites:

Simple frameworks like that can be really helpful at a small and individual scale too, and are great for getting new people on board. I've been thinking about doing something like this for USB-centric solar power which, despite its deliberately small scale, still has its challenges and contexts to consider.