Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Retro-grouch Gets His First Smartphone

Just in case I haven't said it often enough: late adopters rule, and early adopters drool. That is how I am feeling after finally finding a telephone/internet plan that I liked. Walmart was offering a pre-paid Verizon plan that can serve as my internet and phone plan, after I bought an inexpensive Android smartphone to serve as a hotspot for the laptop computer.

My goodness, I have held off for years! Because some people think a retrogrouch is either afraid of new things or is just a chronic curmudgeon who aims his curmudgeon-ness at technology, allow me to say a word in their defense. The problem was always the high price of the plans, not the smartphone itself. 

Actually it was fun and easy to learn how to use the Android smartphone. (Must I add that I wasn't even tempted to debauch myself with an overpriced iPhone?)  

Better yet, there was a certain vindication in being a cranky preacher against excessive motor vehicle usage. Look at how everything on the smartphone is aimed at tracking your location, and tailoring advertisements and maps towards getting you into the next fast food joint or Starbucks. It confirms what I have always said: that the car keys are the enabling technology for setting off a chain of unnecessary spending.

Because the 'medium is the message,' smartphones exacerbate bad habits, besides driving around in a city and squandering money. They bend your communications into one-liners and quips. They encourage you into an addiction to trivial, bite-sized 'news' and distraction: "Dude, how R U? Howzit hangin?" Eventually it will be deemed too slow or inconvenient to say, "Howzit hangin?" so it will be replaced with an emoticon-hieroglyphic. We can only imagine what that will look like.

Actually you can do just about everything better on an "old-fashioned" laptop. 

The smartphone is so synergistic with driving a car that one wonders how long it will be before old-fashioned key fobs are no longer needed to unlock and drive off in your car, and instead, there is an app on your smartphone to do it.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What If You ALMOST Need a Generator?

Long-suffering readers know that I like to poke fun -- gently I hope -- at campers who are Gandhi or Thoreau wannabees. They also know that I am not a solar purist. A rational and professional camper uses technology up to the point of diminishing returns. (Or more correctly, the point of diminishing marginal utility.)

And yet there are solar purists who make it work for them. People who have vans or motorhomes probably don't count, since they can always charge their house batteries from their engine battery on a cloudy day. So let's only discuss trailers.

A trailer-puller can connect their tow vehicle to the trailer, and run the engine. But that charges too slowly, perhaps 7 or 8 Amps.

So what do you do when you finally admit that even Arizona is not sunny every day, and that you occasionally park under trees, or near the perpetually cloudy Coast? Buy a windmill? Never heard anything good about them. Besides, you need to supplement a solar system with a secondary system that doesn't depend on the weather.

You could always suck it up and pay to camp at some place with electricity. But let's not give in to defeatism. We will remain loyal to the Cause.

What is so bad about good generators?, such as a quiet-running Honda 1000 watt inverter generator. Well of course, there is the $850 cost.
  1. You must put it inside at night, worry about it walking off, or increase your insurance. Lifting a 30 pound device into a vehicle is asking for a back injury. You must be careful.
  2. Do occasional maintenance, and drag a gasoline can around. Invariably you will forget to fill the gas can when you fill your vehicle.
  3. Find space for it. (probably in a plastic tub, that won't leak oil.)
You must also get a 30 amp, three-stage, battery charger. Of course you need one of them to plug into shore power, although it could cost less.
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So I tried an experiment:
  1. Hook an inverter to the battery of the tow vehicle, and run the engine.
  2. Run the output of the inverter to a battery charger for charging the house battery.
Obviously I run the van's engine when the inverter is sending 500 Watts to the battery charger in the trailer. I use a common outdoor 25 foot long extension cord to connect to the charger in the trailer.


The furring strip screwed to the bottom of the plywood keeps the whole thing from sliding off. I added an external fuse to the positive line of the inverter and the charger.

So far, so good. Remember, this is only to be used occasionally, as an alternative to buying a generator. (About 20 days per year.)

I did learn not to take the nominal ratings literally [1].  So I downsized the battery charger to a Samlex 30 amp charger [2]. Initially it eats 500 Watts from the inverter. After 15 minutes it has charged four flooded golf cart batteries to the point that they are going into the second stage -- so called "absorption" stage -- of charging, and the power falls gradually. I plan on shutting everything down after 20 minutes total.

You might consider this solution a bit of an extravagance: the pure sine wave inverter did cost $250, after all. Perhaps a modified sine wave inverter would have sufficed, and cost $100 less. But I have had mixed with results with these. 

And the new inverter will be my backup inverter, and perhaps be able to power a 110 VAC tire inflator or powerful tools with it. If it were really necessary, you could get double duty out of your house inverter, if you made it easy to remove.
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[1] A 45 amp IOTA battery charger was too big for a 1000 Watt pure sine wave inverter (Xantrex ProWatt SW 1000), even though the nominal ratings would suggest otherwise.

[2] I always buy electrical controllers, inverters, etc., from DonRowe.com in Oregon. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Retro-Grouch's Bold Leap Forward

Who says there is no drama in the life of a retro-grouch? Every now and then, the retro-grouch finally decides to give in on something that 99% of the population gave in on, years ago. There is a gravitas and honour to this ritual.

How many years has it been (?) since Sony tried suckering the world into more expensive Blu-Ray discs, rather than perfectly adequate DVD discs, which are excellent when played in an up-converting DVD player.

It was probably ye olde "Give 'em the razor -- sell 'em the blades" business model. Oddly enough, many of the customers resisted this trap. Why pay twice as much for a Blu-Ray disc, when up-converting DVD players and HDMI televisions produced excellent results?

But over the last decade, DVD players became cheap throw-aways. They are as noisy as a lawnmower, to the point of distracting the viewer from the movie. Also, Walmart started putting inexpensive Blu-Ray discs in a bin. I reasoned that Blue-Ray players must be built to better tolerances, and with better components. Thus I finally surrendered to 'progress.'

But what would be the first movie that I bought for this new Blu-Ray player? Only 1 out of 50 movies in Walmart's cheapie bin is worth getting. I always look for classics or at least semi-classics. Howard Hawks's "Rio Bravo" seemed the best I could do.

When I popped it into the Blu-Ray player, my retro-grouchery was immediately validated: I couldn't tell much difference between a Blu-Ray and an up-converted DVD disc. So I was wise to hold off for years and years.

But at least the movie pleased me. More on that later.

But say, this is the Nth time in my life that retro-grouchery has proven beneficial. Why doesn't everybody do it?