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Replace your computer with a Raspberry Pi?

Posted by admin on Feb 25th, 2013
Feb 25

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be working on replacing my full sized desktop computer, that used a 500w power supply, with a couple of credit card sized full function computers called Raspberry Pi. This little guy won’t be able to fully replace my desktop or laptop, but only because flash for web browsers doesn’t work on it because it hasn’t been compiled (nor will it ever, apparently) for the ARM V6 processor that the Pi comes with. The up side, though, is that the Pi’s are rated for 5V and .5-.7 amps – which should be well below the power requirements for my desktop.

I’m going to post a full update on what I did with them and which accessories I used. I’ll also show what the power consumption savings is by doing this. To be fair, I’m not a normal computer user…I don’t play video games usually and I run linux everywhere I possibly can. I don’t need a fast CPU generally and I plan to use multiple Pi’s to accomplish what my desktop did. Updates forthcoming.

Micro-VAWT Experimentation

Posted by admin on Aug 2nd, 2010
Aug 2

I’ve been starting to experiment with micro-wind turbines lately and have been trying to think of turbines that are complact and not very noticable. This is mainly for my wife’s sake, as she wasn’t exactly fond of my last attempt at a VAWT. I’m also trying to keep the cost as low as possible by reusing items that are on their way out to the landfill or recyling plant – things like paper towel rolls, old cd’s, cardboard, etc. We’ll call it a prototype development phase. There are so many things to consider when attempting to engineer these micro-power plants, things like motor size, regulation, “blade” size, etc. That’s why using items from the trash to experiment with is a great prototype method. Right now I’m focusing on the VAWT template because it’s very appealing to me, since I live in an apartment and would have a much easier time getting away with putting up a VAWT compared with a traditionally bladed turbine.

I have a used computer fan that I’m using as my base generator. It’s got minimal output potential – 12v and about 0.12A, or about 1.5 watts. It’s a good test bed though as it doesn’t take a whole lot to turn it, so I can focus a little more on design first rather than just coming up with something that will actually turn the motor. It may seem a little backwards, admittedly, but in my attempts in the past I was unable to successfully build an efficent VAWT that would turn itself very well, let alone a motor at the speed needed.

I initially created a VAWT using a tp roll, but it was way too small. I then turned to an empty oatmeal container. This is showing to have a lot more promise due to sheer size, but it is way bigger than the motor so it’s not as efficient as I would hope. Below is a picture. I put it all together using paperclips, an old cd, cardboard under the cd to raise it up a bit, and double sided tape to secure the base to the motor. I’m still going to do more experiments with it and try some other configurations, but fornow this is where I’m at.

Hypermiling on a Harley, part 2

Posted by admin on Jun 20th, 2010
Jun 20

It’s been a few weeks since I started my hypermiling experiment. Unfortunately I decided to make two changes at the same time so I’m not sure which one has been more beneficial to my efforts. To cut to the main point of these posts, I’ve been able to go from getting 39-40mpg on my Harley, to getting 45-46mpg. How? I’ve dropped my freeway speed from around 80mph to 70mph, and I’ve been doing some hypermiling as well.

The problem with what I’ve been doing is that I’m not certain which one has added the most benefit. I’ve attempted hypermiling before but haven’t had much success on the Harley, so I suspect the added 6mpg has been due to the speed limiting primarily. To gather more useful data, I’m going to forgo the hypermiling on the next few tanks of gas and see what the results are. Any deviation from my current improved mpg will at least indicate that hypermiling does have some benefit.

Two side notes that I feel need to be added to this post. First – I am far from impressed with the coasting abilities of the bike. On the freeway when I take my exit to go home, going downhill, I go from 60mph to 45mph in about 300 feet. This may be improved by putting the transmission into neutral in addition to pulling in the clutch, but I shouldn’t have to do that.

Second – dropping my speed down 10 miles an hour (going from 80 down to 70) has done two things. 1) has afforded me a MUCH more relaxing ride – I really appreciate the time I spend on the bike now instead of focusing on just getting where I’m going as fast as possible. And 2) has shown me just how f**king crazy the drivers are on the road in L.A.. For some reason, when I was going 80 then most of the other drivers seemed somewhat sane. Now they all seem to ride each others asses, drive like they are vying for pole position at Indy, or are just plain rude.

Be back to report in a couple more weeks on this topic.

My first VAWT is born

Posted by admin on Apr 5th, 2010
Apr 5

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about building some type of a wind turbine solution in hopes of eventually taking my detached garage off of the grid. Being in the San Fernando Valley we get a fair amount of afternoon wind that can be utilized by such a device. I did some testing with a traditional turbine, which showed some potential, but I eventually decided that a VAWT (Vertical Access Wind Turbine) would be the best option. The reason I came to this decision is because of how the wind swirls in from so many directions around my backyard, as is seen by little makeshift cardboard wind direction pointer.

I had mentioned before that I was working with pvc tubing and 5 gallon bucket lids as the materials of choice for my contraption – well forget all of that. It wasn’t turning out to be as practical as I had hoped. I was trying to use easy to find and cheap materials for the project but I just couldn’t seem to find a good solution for attaching the blades to the lids. I ended up going to my local electronics junkyard (Apex Electronics – amazing place) where I found literally hundreds of wheels from electric scooters that would be perfect for the blade mounts. Unfortunately the wheels are only about 9″ in diameter, but they are good enough to use for my prototype VAWT. I bought four of them at $5 each, which was a little more than I wanted to pay but still within budget and they would end up making the assembly process much easier (even more than I had imagined – as you will see later). I only needed two, but as they say in the movie Contact – why build one when you can build two for twice the price.

Today I started the assembly process. A month or two back I bought 2 – 10 foot long 2 inch diameter pvc tubing. I cut the pvc tubes into thirds (i.e. 3 feet 4 inch long each) and then cut them in half, which left me with 12 – 3 foot 4 inch long “blades”. As luck would have it, the blades fit very snugly between the spokes of the wheels, which meant that I didn’t have to use any fasteners at all. Here’s a grainy phone picture of the blades set in the spokes:

VAWT blades wedged snugly in the wheel spokes. Click image for a larger view

The hardest part to this whole process was attaching the blades to the second wheel. Once I got that accomplished though then all I needed to do was build a quick frame to mount it in, which was made from scrap wood I had laying around:

Completed prototype, with my dog Loki running by trying to generate a breeze to start it moving.

So it’s completed and ready to go… but there’s no wind. There’s a storm heading in to SoCal tomorrow that’s supposed to bring lots of wind with it so hopefully I’ll get some decent feedback on its performance. I already have some doubts about how efficient it currently is, but I also have some improvements I’m thinking about as well. No matter how good or poor it performs, I’ve only used about $15 in parts on the project so far – 2 x wheels @ $5 each and 1 x 10′ @ 2″ diameter pvc at about $3.50 each. I’m going to use the rest of the parts for a second VAWT eventually.

UPDATE: I cleaned up my math a little – I was a bit off on the tube sizing and the amounts.

Back to my eco-projects again

Posted by admin on Feb 14th, 2010
Feb 14

Even though I haven’t posted anything in a really, REALLY long time, it doesn’t mean that my eco-projects haven’t been poking me in the brain to give them some attention. Things that I have on my list: solar oven, micro turbines, a second effort towards my insulation project, and building my own solar panels.

For now, here are a couple of links to some cool products that go hand-in-hand. The first is called T.E.D. – a.k.a The Energy Detective. It’s a device that you can hook up to your breaker box and it reports on the whole house energy consumption. If you get the upgrade from the base package, you can use Google’s PowerMeter software with it. Being a techno-geek, I want this really bad.

Solar oven part three

Posted by admin on Oct 10th, 2009
Oct 10

I have been an avid subscriber to the Instructables email list for a few years now and occasionally there is an instructable that catches my interest. This week’s edition had two such items – The Office Workers Portable Solar Oven and Non PV Solar Power. I’ve only read partially through the second one, but the first one, the solar oven, has re-kindled my intentions to rebuild my first attempt and second attempt (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) at a solar oven. I think this time I’ve got some pretty good ideas and, as usual, I’ll take some pictures and document my trials and tribulations in the endeavor. My goal this time is to pop popcorn!

The Office Workers Portable Solar Oven Instructable apparently wasn’t highly successful, but that may be due to the projects strict guidelines of using only what was readily available around the office that he worked at. I believe his biggest downfall was using a piece of a clear garbage bag as the cover for the top instead of being able to use glass or plexiglas. He did have an amazing amount of technical information provided on how he calculated the efficiency of the oven – which I’ll try to duplicate in my reporting of my third attempt.

The christening of the crapper

Posted by admin on Jan 30th, 2009
Jan 30

It’s been nearly a month since I started the unavoidable demolition and remodeling of our guest bathroom, which had been brought on by a water leak in the wall. The plumbing has been fixed, the walls have been put back up, the new fixtures are mostly installed, and finally – last night – we put the new Toto Aquia II dual flush toilet in. In a house that currently has 5 people and only 1 toilet, this was a BIG deal. We were all fighting to be the first to use it.

It was surprisingly easy to install, considering there are lots of complaints in various forums about how hard it is to get it to seal properly to the flange which can cause it to leak. I even read replies from plumbers on some forums who say they charge double to install these toilets. We didn’t have any trouble at all.

My wife was the first to have the honor of using it, while we waited patiently outside the door with anticipation of her review of the experience. A resounding thumbs up from her.

I’ll update with pictures and a bit more of an in depth review after it’s been tested a little more thoroughtly. For now, though, we did notice that the dual flushing mechanism is going to be something we’ll need to get used to. For the light flush, if we just push and release the button then there isn’t much water released into the bowl. If we hold the button down then it will release all of the water into the bowl – all 1.6 litres of it. We must be doing something wrong, but again, I’ll give a better review after the break-in period is complete.

Generator exerbike 2000

Posted by admin on Jan 14th, 2009
Jan 14

It seems that the projects I have planned always take a lot longer than I expect them to. It’s not that I’m not motivated to build these things, it’s more a matter of time and resources usually. For example, two weeks ago I heard water leaking in the wall of our guest bathroom. After opening the wall and finding/fixing the issue we needed to then replace the tiles that I had to take out in order to get to the leak. This turned into a demo of the shower area, which turned into a demo of the rest of the bathroom, which turned into rerouting some plumbing and vent tubes. Now, a little over two weeks later, we are finally starting to put everything back together again. Whew.

On a somewhat positive note, I accidentally broke the toilet when a huge chunk of concrete and tile fell from the ceiling (the ENTIRE bathroom was covered in tile and about 1.5 inches of this concrete type stuff). The positive part is that we replaced it with a new dual flush toilet from Toto. Once it’s installed and has been taken for a few “test drives” I’ll give my review. I’ve read installation is extremely difficult on tile – like what we are doing – and that the flush is powerful enough on the low setting for most of what needs to get flushed. So good and bad, we’ll see.

That is just one example of unexpected things coming up which prevent me from working on my eco projects, there have been quite a few lately. Fortunately I have been able to find some time to finally put together my generator bike that I mentioned here and here, currently dubbed the GB2000. I used an old bike I had laying around. I pulled off the back tire, had to do some magical alteration and rerouting of the the rear tension gear, got a lawn tractor v-belt, and attached it all to a 12v 4.5amp water pump motor. I still have to figure out what to use for a regulator (I can get over 24v of output pretty easily without a regulator) and also some kind of diode setup so the power flow is only out to the batteries and not in to the motor. I’m leaning towards using a controller for an electric scooter, which also has a battery charger hookup. Most of them are 24v or higher, which is fine since it would allow me to charge two batteries at a time in series.

Here are pictures of the bike. I used some scrap 2×4’s I had and bought some deck joist ties from the local hardware store to hold the back of the bike up. It’s because of the joist ties that I had to reroute the tension gear.

View of the deck joist and the chain tensioner

View of the deck joist and the chain tensioner

Insulation project

Posted by admin on Dec 24th, 2008
Dec 24

We live in a home built in 1952, which apparently is before the concept of insulation. Last spring we tackled insulating our attic. It was probably, at best, insulated to an r-value of 5 in a couple of areas and completely devoid of insulation in most places. Now it’s probably somewhere between an r-value of 30-35 with 8-10 inches of blown in cellulose insulation. It cost us about $350 for the materials ($325) and blower rental ($20) and about 3 hours of our time one afternoon. It was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t have much of an effect in the heat this summer since the walls aren’t insulated.
One of the big projects I have slated for this winter is to finally insulate our walls. I’ve been looking into all of the different insulation methods and narrowed it down to two in particular – denim cellulose and spray foam. Both of which are (or at least can be) green, and I can do them myself. Without going into too much detail, the decision was ultimately made based on ease of installation and overall r-value. Cost was also somewhat of a factor initially, but comfort won out over cost in the end and I decided on soy foam insulation. Here are the basic comparisons base on 1200 sq ft of wall space (@ 1 inch deep):




    • installation requires at least 2 people and a hopper that can be turned off/on by the person applying the insulation


    • total cost for 1000 sq linear ft = $1050 (sorry, can’t find the link at the moment)


Spray foam (soy) Thanks for the correction Jamie!



    • single person insulation is feasible


    • total cost for 1000 sq linear ft = $1370


So for about $300 more than cellulose insulation we’ll be getting twice the rvalue per square inch. The decision was pretty easy in the end. There is one other “honorable mention” that I should point out. It is still green in the long run and a little closer in price to the cellulose insulation at about $1050 as well, although you will need to keep in mind that the foam I listed above includes shipping and 17 installation tools, while this kit does not (at least not at the time of this writing). I’m hoping to complete this project by mid-January.

Idle power control – phase 2 complete

Posted by admin on Nov 18th, 2008
Nov 18

So phase 2 of the idle power consumption testing is complete, and with some surprising results. It seems that the X10 appliance module didn’t consume hardly any electricity going by the Kill-a-watt numbers. Unfortunately the time measurements aren’t exactly the same, but they are close enough to get a fairly conclusive result.

phase 1 test results (XBox plugged into an outlet):
Test hours = 172
kW used = 0.30

phase 2 results (XBox plugged into an X10 module):
Test hours = 168
kW used = 0.30

If I had let the test run another 4.5 hours to mimic the phase 1 test then it *might* have added another 0.01 or 0.02 kW maximum. So the overall consumption of the X10 module is actually, and surprisingly, negligible.

Phase 3 will involve the XBox plugged into the X10 module, and the module will be turned off for several hours a day to see how much electricity is actually conserved. It is starting to look like it will be more than I initially expected, at least going by the phase 2 results.

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