Monday, August 24, 2009

Solar Evolution

Our interest in solar energy started with a gift card for from my brother Brian. I went to the site and found a solar charger for cell phones and small appliances. That was cool enough to get me interested in doing more things with photo voltaic panels. I bought a 15 Watt panel from
and began using it to charge my Mac. After running the laptop for months exclusively on solar power. I bought three more 15 Watt panels. That led to our experiment with solar ice.

With the success of a solar powered ice machine we began to discuss what else we could do with solar. I had seen an electric motor scooter that could be recharged with PV. I tried to charge it with the four 15 Watt panels but they ran the deep cycle battery down every time I tried, so I bought two 64 Watt panels. They were powerful enough to charge the scooter but the panels were lying flat on our driveway and in danger of being run over by various service people who came to the house.

We talked about how to get the panels up on the roof and then decided to go all the way and cover the roof with PV panels. We contacted Michael Brown of Solar Ray and contracted him to install a 5.4 kW PV system using Outback charge controllers and inverters. Once we got that going and began monitoring our power usage we discovered that the pool pump took $90.00 a month to operate from the grid. We called Solar Ray again and had Michael install four more 190 Watt panels and a solar powered pool pump that runs all day when there is daylight. So now we have a 6.2 kWatt system.

After getting our PV system grid tied, that is selling back energy to the power company, our power usage came to $0.00 per month with a small utility charge for administration and a serge protector for the whole house.

We have two refrigerators, and a five ton air conditioner set to 78• F. Our usage increased in August as we live in the house. We recently added a new scooter, the XB700Li.

One other thing we noticed when we were monitoring our power usage, we found that the electric range used a shocking 60 kWh of power to cook a pot of meat on the small burner. As a result of this we ordered a solar oven. We have had a chace to use the Sun Oven for a few weeks and it's been a delightful way to cook! We use it every day and save thousands of Watts!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Why 4 GPS Units?

Back in the last century we used a Garmin eMap GPS unit connected to a laptop, running Windows 98 and a map program called Street Atlas 4.0. As the years passed we upgraded the software to Street Atlas 7.0. We tried several subsequent versions of Street Atlas as they came out but they weren't as good as 7.0 because for some reason they had abandoned the Windows desktop structure in favor of some generic one. We loved the way 7.0 worked with keyboard shortcuts and it did everything we needed. It tracked our position on a moving map, told us how far it was to our destination, and talked to us. The way it talked reminded us of our friend Bill's son, Andrew. Andrew talked quite a lot when he was a toddler. The computer talked a lot too and was frequently amusing in its pronunciation of some words like "scenic" which it insisted on pronouncing "cynic." It made funny little mistakes, like telling us to make a right turn onto a road from the middle of a bridge, where the road was 100 feet below us. In spite of these minor shortcomings, we named the GPS / laptop combination "Andrew" and kept him.

Last year we got two new GPS units, "Nancy" and "Bob." Nancy, named after Nancy Drew - the teenage detective, is a Magellan 700 with a built-in 10 GB hard drive containing all the maps of North America. She talks a lot but is usually correct, both in her pronunciation and directions. Bob is a Garmin

GPS 76 CS hand held unit who can't speak. Bob beeps instead, so his nickname is "Beepy Bob." He's capable of showing detailed directions, including turns. We use him mostly as a speedometer which is much more accurate than the one provided by Ford.

Nancy and Bob live on the dashboard. We take them in at night for security reasons. In the morning my job is to get Nancy, Bob and Andrew powered up and running. Nancy comes right to life and Bob is pretty quick, but poor Andrew sometimes takes up to five minutes to wake up. This used to present a problem when he was our only GPS because we would have to wait for Andrew before we could head out. Now we're on the highway in a matter of seconds.

We've become increasingly more dependent upon Nancy. Sometimes I don't even know where I'm going when I'm driving, because Nancy knows. This can be troublesome when a police officer asks you where you're going and you can't come up with a good fast answer, as I found out one afternoon on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The State Troopers wanted to bring their dogs to search our van when I couldn't tell them where we were going. We were profiled for having Florida license plates.

Another great thing about using a GPS is being able to get around traffic snarls. You can leave the main road with complete confidence and you'll never get lost. We love to drive the back roads of America and now we can take more of them than ever thanks to GPS technology.

Our hand held GPS came in handy in London last year when traffic was so backed up during a taxi ride to the BBC that we had to get out and walk. I had marked the location of our hotel on the GPS and when we got to the radio station we realized that our hotel was less than two miles away, even though the taxi ride had been an hour. We were able to enjoy a leisurely walk back to our hotel thanks to our GPS.

I just celebrated my birthday on July 13, and Camilla got me a new GPS. It's a Magellan 760 like Nancy, but has a 20 GB hard drive and many improved features. We named her "Cherry" after Cherry Ames, another fictional sleuth from Camilla's youth. We always name our GPS's because as Camilla says "Things just run better when they have names."

All the best,



Here are some tech gadgets and podcasts that I've been into lately.

I just got Delphi's MiFi hand held XM satellite radio.

It's about the size of an iPod and receives satellite radio without external power or antenna. It also records 5 hours of programming for times when you're not able to pull in the satellite signal. I love it! It's perfect for listening to XM on bike rides or walking. I use it in my office and in the car with an external antenna as well. Great little gadget!

I recently bought two TV tuner cards for my computers, both from ATI. One is for a desktop. The other is a USB 2.0 device that plugs into any computer. I use this with my Dell Inspiron 8200 notebook as kind of a Tivo. I like to record shows and burn them to video CDs to watch in the van. These TV cards are great as free alternatives to the subscription services for TV recording. I was thinking of installing a Linux PVR called MythKnoppix but decided that I didn't want to dedicate my laptop hard drive to Linux or even create a dual boot.

If you would like to play with Linux but don't want to install it on your hard drive, there are over 100 alternatives. I love Knoppix live CDs! FREE Download:

Because my iPod Photo is linked to the Apple G4 Cube that Woz gave me a few years ago, I wanted something to link my iPod Photo to on the road. The iBook G4 12" was my choice. I love this little box! It ships with a mere 256 MB RAM but I've added 1GB additional RAM to give it 1.25 GB thanks to birthday money from Mom.

The way it comes to life from "sleep" is truly amazing. For someone who's worked with Windows laptops all my life, this was a revelation. My Dell Inspiron 8200 takes a few minutes to wake up from "hibernation." The iBook wakes up instantly. It looks so cool too with its white polycarbonate shell. They say it's the stuff they make bullet prof glass out of. iBook

Speaking of the iPod, iTunes
now has the Folk Den in its podcast section. It works with both Windows and Mac platforms. You need to download the latest version 4.9 to get podcasts. This is the easiest way to get them and a great way to subscribe to the Folk Den and have the new songs come into your iTunes podcast folder automatically every month. Click here to Subscribe to the Folk Den iTunes Podcast. It will ask you to open iTunes if you have it or download it if you don't. Don't worry, it's OK to open it.

Here are some of my favorite podcasts: This Week in Tech with Leo Laport,
TWIT podcast

TWIT Podcast No. 21.

Diggnation w/ Kevin Rose, CommandN,
and The Mac Observer's Mac Geek Gab.

Keep your eye on Kevin Rose. He's a bright enterprising guy. Kevin quit his paying job at the G4 TV network to go out on his own and follow his dream. Kind of reminds me of Woz, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates some 30 years ago.

Ed King Story

While in Eugene Oregon we stayed at the King Estates Winery. Director of Sales, Steve Thomson loaned me a book about the founder Ed King Jr. Ed was a friend of Bill Lear, the inventor of the Lear Jet. He told some amazing flying stories. One aviator friend of Ed's ran out of fuel but was able to land his Lear Jet "dead stick" that is without power from over 50 miles away from the airport.

Mr. King was an active pilot for forty years and flew his own jet until age 71. He is very proud to have assisted the Rutan Brothers in accomplishing their dream of circumnavigating the globe by airplane on one tank of fuel. Using King's products exclusively for navigation, flight control and communication, their Voyager aircraft flew around the globe on one tank of fuel in 1986. The King name is proudly emblazoned on the side of the Voyager which now hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

(Ed King Jr. hand testing his radios)

The King Story

Someone once said that the greatest inventions come from creative, free thinkers who haven't been told that "it couldn't be done" by experts. In a way, this is how King Radio Corporation was born. In 1952 Ed King Jr. fulfilled a lifelong desire by earning his private pilot's license. However, for King a 1943 Kansas State University graduate in electronic engineering, was only the beginning of an interest in aviation that would eventually lead to King Radio Corporation.

Ed, who owned and flew a Beechcraft Bonanza for pleasure, quickly became dissatisfied with the poor quality radio gear offered to the private pilot in the early to mid-50s. The best selling NAV/COMM on the market at that time offered a continuously tuned receiver and only 27 transmit channels, and still priced well over $1000. King knew there had to be a way to build a low cost NAV/COMM that offered the same optional features that the expensive airline equipment provided. However, as a president of his own highly successful electronics company, Communications Accessories Corporation, he just didn't have the time to do anything about it, so it took a back seat to other business interests.

Finally, in 1956 Ed sold Communications Accessories Corporation to Collins Radio and agreed to stay on and manage the company. Between 1956 and 1959 king tried to interest Collins in light aircraft avionics designed with some of the same features as the expensive airline equipment. However, Collins was heavily involved in the growing airline business and couldn't spare the time or manpower to pursue the light aircraft avionics products.

As a result, in 1959 Ed King left Communications Accessories Corporation and formed King Radio Corporation where he designed and handmade the first low cost 90 channel crystal controlled VHF transceiver for light aircraft. That same year he sold five units to private customers for $845 each. Since his model had a lower price and far better performance than comparable radios of its day, Ed had no trouble finding customers and well established agents willing to sell and service his product so Ed set up for "mass" production in an old dairy farmhouse on the outskirts of Kansas City, with production and shipping on the ground floor, engineering and testing on the second floor, and service parts in the attic.

In February 1960, King had 30 employees and production was on the rise. By 1961, King Radio Corporation had moved out of the farmhouse to a plant in Olathe, Kansas, and continued to climb to become a major factor in the light aircraft avionics field. The KY 90 VHF COMM Transceiver soon had the reputation of providing crystal clear communications, and was installed in almost every type of American-made light aircraft, including such famous aircraft builders as Cessna, Piper and Beachcraft. With the success of the KY 90, King quickly introduced compatible navigation receivers and was soon able to offer a complete line of Navigation/Communication.

The creative atmosphere at King Radio has yielded many important firsts. King brought the first all solid-state transceiver for airline use to the market in 1966, the KTR 900: the first digital ADF for general aviation, the KDF 800, in 1969; and the first low cost all solid-state TSO'd VHF NAV/COMM unit, the KX 175, in 1970. The company also pioneered the use of digital frequency synthesizers which replaced bulky crystal banks in NAV/COMM units and allowed the widespread use of 720/200 channel NAV/COMM's in general aviation. King has led the industry in the design of Large Scale Circuits (LSI chips), small chips about 3/32" square which do the same work of literally hundreds of transistors. The subsequent use of LSI technology in various systems has resulted in a significant operational and cost break-through while reducing the size and weight and increasing the reliability of new avionics systems.

In the process of striving to respond to more needs of general aviation and the airlines, King has experienced rapid growth in its 25 years since Ed King hand-built the first King radio. It is estimated that King has invested more in research and development for general aviation electronics than any other company in the industry. While sales were continually increasing, King enlarged its manufacturing facilities in Kansas, Its present headquarters in Olathe, Kansas, plus a facility at nearby Johnson County Industrial Airport and plants in three other cities in Kansas, occupy a total of 557,000 sq. ft. of space. Employment has increased from 30 in 1960 to 2,850 in 1984.

As growth in the general aviation industry began to level off, King embarked on a bold diversification plan. This began with the formation of King Marine Radio Corporation in Clearwater, Florida. From its inception in late 1981, King Marine has grown steadily to establish a firm position in the competitive marine electronics market. In addition, King began an aggressive plan to penetrate the military avionics field. The high value of King products and the strong engineering and technical base were responsible for a number of military contracts, and today military avionics make up an increasingly larger portion of King business.

During this exciting period of growth and diversification, the avionics product lines were constantly being upgraded with the latest technology. In addition, new products were added, bringing King quality to an ever increasing number of light, commercial, and military aircraft. Today King Radio produces a full range of avionics products, including Communication Transceivers, Navigation Receivers, Automatic Direction Finders, Autopilots, Flight Directors, Airborne Radiotelephones, Air Traffic Control Transponders, Compass and Weather Radar Systems. The company's Silver Crown product line is in its fourth generation and is used in light aircraft while the Gold Crown III product line is in its third generation and is designed for turboprops and business jets. In addition, King also produces five products for commercial airlines. These products are currently being used by more than 141 of the world's leading air carriers.

Each year King Radio has improved the high technology base that supports its diverse product offerings. In 1981 a CAD/CAM computer aided design and manufacturing system was added. This system allows King to develop new products quickly and efficiently. The latest in automatic test and manufacturing equipment was purchased regularly, maintaining King's leadership position in manufacturing technology creates a very fertile environment for new product innovation and assures a promising future for King Radio.

In 1982 a Mobile Communications Division was formed to develop a product line for the rapidly expanding Land Mobile Radio field. A team of top professionals was recruited from the industry to utilize King Radio's high technology base for a bold new line of microprocessor based two-way radios.

The King Mobile Division is housed in a 76,000 sq. ft. facility on a 57 acre tract in Lawrence, Kansas. From this facility will evolve the base for all engineering, marketing and manufacturing efforts.

As is typical of most King innovations, these new mobile handheld portable communications units will bring the very latest in features and technology (frequency synthesizers, keyboard programming, channel scanning, liquid crystal displays) down from the highest price levels into the low-to-medium cost range.

When complete, the line will comprise a full range of mobile units, the base stations and portables, in both VHF and UHF to assemble a complete mobile dispatch system using King Land Mobile equipment exclusively.

The use of advanced C-MOS micro-processor design and automated surface -mount component manufacturing techniques will not only enable King to produce a radio that is smaller, lighter and more reliable than other units on the market today, it also affords some rather significant production economies that can be passed on in the form of lower pricing.

In 1983, King Radio opened a 24,000 sq. ft. engineering and manufacturing facility in Singapore. This facility is presently engaged in major sub-contract work, along with the manufacture of VHF 7000 Transceiver and King 8001 Loran C for the marine market. They presently employ 175.

One has to wonder how a company like King Radio could have flourished amid huge conglomerates with almost unlimited resources. The answer is simple--Ed King and his ability to surround himself with employees possessing the same insatiable desire for excellence. Ed has always seen technological achievement and improved used benefits at reasonable cost as the challenge. According to Ed, "If you have highly innovative, reliable products at competitive prices, a lot of your marketing problems are solved."

(Photo By Camilla McGuinn)

We went from Oregon down through California Wine Country (more in Camilla's Roadie Report) and got to San Francisco just in time to appear on the first live TWIT podcast.

TWIT Podcast No. 21.

I talked about my amazing Samson C01U USB condenser mic, recording on my iBook using Audacity the cross platform audio editor, and many other tech related subjects.



We use meters every day for lots of things. You probably have one on your wrist right now (a chronometer) for measuring time. There are a number of meters on the dashboard of your car for measuring speed, fuel level, oil pressure and engine temperature etc. Some cars have trip computers that tell you how far you'll get with the amount of fuel you have, under the current conditions.

It's fun to know what's going on, so I have a collection of meters for measuring all sorts of things. Not only can I do what one might normally do with a thermometer, that is tell how warm it is outside in January, here in sunny Florida, (almost 70 F) but now I can test the temperature of our freezers, air conditioners, ovens and grills with this professional Thermocouple Thermometer.

For testing temperatures of hard to reach places, I have this Laser Thermometer. All you have to do is hit something with the laser beam and the correct temperature will bounce back to the infrared sensor and show up on the LCD display. It even reads below zero temperatures of the sky when there is enough moisture for it to get a reading. Some of the applications are measuring temperatures of:
  • Electrical panels, circuit breakers, generators and gearboxes
  • Gasoline and diesel engine cylinders and railroad axles and bearings
  • Industrial maintenance
  • Refrigeration applications and depleted media
  • ISO 9000 maintenance
  • Electrical work
  • Registers air stratification and duct leakage
  • Food, frozen food preparation, safety and storage
  • Icing and de-icing on planes and asphalt
  • Bearings and motors
  • Power Distribution

  • Temperature range: -18 to 260°C (0 to 500°F)
  • Distance-to-spot: 6:1
  • Backlit display
  • Selectable °C or °F
  • Optional wrist strap and soft carrying pouch

I need to check the voltages of so many things and even test transistors with this multi meter:

There are a lot of two way radios around here and it's good to know on what frequencies they are broadcasting. This frequency counter does the trick.

Camilla and I walk every morning and we have often wondered just how fast the cars are going filled with the people rushing to start their day. This hand held radar gun was just the tool we needed. I haven't taken it on the road yet, but it might be interesting to see how fast the cars that speed by us are going.

What is radar?
Radar is an acronym for radio detection and ranging.

How does the Speedster work?
Once you press the trigger, the Speedster sends out 24 GHz radio waves at the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second. It measures the difference between the signal it transmitted and the signal bounced back to it and relays this information to the DSP to quickly calculate the speed of the object with an accuracy of +/-1 mpg.

How is speed calculated?
Speed is calculated using the difference between the transmit frequency and receive frequency (also known as the Doppler shift).

Many times when playing outdoor concerts there are local laws about how loud the sound coming from the stage can be. Once several policemen approached Camilla and told her they were pulling the plug on the concert. At first she laughed because she thought it amazing that I and my lone guitar could possibly be exceeding the local sound ordinance, but she soon realized they were serious. She begged them to let me finish the song and that she would go to the stage after it was over and tell me to end the concert. They agreed. She smiled as she approached the stage, I was already singing the last song of the show. This Sound Pressure Level Meter is great for keeping it all legal.

Have you ever wondered how much radiation is bombarding your brain cells? Well with this handy radiation detector, you never have to wonder again. We find it interesting that the radiation level in some hotels registers up to ten times the normal level. "It is difficult to account for a reaction like that." said Dr. Clayton Forrester.

* Protect against leaks and contamination
* Measure contamination of accident spills
* Survey groundwater for radium content
* Secure freight, transport and storage areas
* Monitor shielding and personal exposure
* Test for potential radioactive materials
* Check internal medical test levels (iodine-125)
* Monitor environmental air and water quality
* Maintain regulatory safety compliance
* Demonstrate radioactivity / nuclear principles
* Locate lost dangerous radiations sources
* Verify radiation levels at landfills and dumps
* Measure ambient background radiation
* Check watches, jewelry, and household items
* Check for safe food and water while traveling