Monthly Archives: September 2010

Hot Temperature Shuts Down L.A. Power

Chromasun’s solar thermal process cools buildings
Chromasun solar thermal process cools buildings.

You wouldn’t know that there were power outages by listening to radio so-called news reports, but the L.A. Times admitted that thousands were without electricity all afternoon and into the evening: “Record heat brings power outages, fire and light-rail delays

“Southern California Edison reported 11,000 customers without power Monday evening in cities including Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Diamond Bar, Alhambra, Glendora and Rosemead.”

You can include parts of Culver City. No lights, no fan, no news report, not a watt of energy. Maybe the shutdown was a drill for survivalist preppers.

Air conditioning and refrigerators account for most electricity use, but in these lean times strapped utilities aren’t prepared to meet the heavy peak loads they’ve handled in the past.

Sometimes it seems that Valley Electric in my home town of Pahrump, NV has planned weekly power outages. I’m sure that’s an exaggeration. When I traveled to the Los Angeles area this week, Vegas style hot weather must have tagged along with me and overwhelmed L.A. DWP with record high temperatures.

Speaking of off-grid power, Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast published a timely video a couple of days ago, “Wagan 400-Watt Power Dome EX – Power Inverter Test One.” That would certainly keep a fan running for longer than the ten minutes the computer’s “uninterruptible” power supply lasted here. A similar outage happened to me a few L.A. visits ago, “Power and Water,” after a small earthquake, but it was transient and much less traumatic.

Ever since I watched the video of Adam Grosser giving a TED talk in 2007 about absorption cooling, I’ve wondered if a similar process could cool buildings without all that grid electricity used by our typical refrigerators and air conditioners.

A simpler, already deployed low tech “pot-in-pot” refrigerator is described at my blog with the headline “Non-Electric Zeer Refrigerator Transforming Life.”

There are several different kinds of absorption chillers, such as ammonia, lithium bromide (seen above), and silica gel.

There are also other recent advances in air conditioning efficiency, including the m-cycle indirect evaporative system, magnetocaloric refrigeration, and thermoacoustic cooling to name a few.

Autonomous Cars and Growbots

  Wikimedia Commons
Desert to City robot car
If there’s any life in the new car industry in the near future, it looks like any sales will come from the long anticipated finally maturing technological revolution of robotics.

Nobody seems as impressed as I am that several production cars and trucks you could actually buy at a dealer for the last couple of years can freakin’ parallel park themselves! (with some limitations).

Slashdot reports that on the same day a completely unmanned car successfully drove over tricky mountain terrain, a manned aircraft filming it for a commercial crashed. Read the story, “Helicopter Crashes While Filming Autonomous Audi” and the PopSci article it links to for all the details.

I remember reading a similar story a few years ago about the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007. Here’s a link I just found to that description in the The Sunday Times in the UK, in a long article titled “What’s your place in the brave new future?.” Futurist Paul Saffo is quoted in this excerpt:

“The same morning as the Darpa challenge there was a 108-car pile-up on a California freeway. The simple fact is that people shouldn’t drive,” said Saffo.

The writing is on the wall. Human driving will be outlawed–robots only. Skynet said so. Check out Will Smith in I, Robot for another movie with an army of autonomous drivers. Here’s a Wikipedia entry about the DARPA Challenges, with the quite challenging goal for 2007.

“The Urban Challenge required designers to build vehicles able to obey all traffic laws while they detect and avoid other robots on the course.”

With everyone unemployed, cars will transport the aging Baby Boomers places and deliver the groceries right from the nearest Growbot Garden.

For you techies, it looks like an agriculture automation microcontroller project with lots of different sensors is available from Libelium. It has a solar power option. I’d like to see permaculture aware growbot networks providing our food. If we’re lucky, they will replace the current dumb mechanized systems.

We won’t have our biggest export being the topsoil lost by tilling, fewer toxic chemicals needed to handle weeds and pests targeted by growbots, and local gardens eliminating the need for energy hogging transportation. Or at least reducing delivery traffic injuries by using clean electric robot vehicles instead.

Bumble Bee Transceiver Experiment

Bumble Bee transceiverI’ve been getting back into the ham radio hobby because of my belief that off-grid communications capability will be needed in the rough times ahead.

The good news for the ham recruit is that all that’s required these days is to learn enough basic electronics to pass a test and some radio operation rules. Morse code is no longer a requirement for any level of the Amateur Radio Service “ham” license.

If you still have some cash, new equipment has some great features and is easy to get on the air. Used equipment can be purchased cheap on eBay or Craig’s List, but there may be some challenges getting it to work. Or you can go crazy and assemble your own lightsaber, I mean, radio gear. I’ve got even more ambitious kit building planned.

What you won’t be doing with new, used or homebrew equipment is paying a monthly bill to some telco or cable company for the privilege of using the public airwaves. A comforting thought if you’re concerned about the devaluation of currency, further job losses, business bankruptcies or other economic disasters.

I hooked up a QRP Mini-Watt board to connectors drilled into the back of a Bumble Bee tuna can last night. It’s a transceiver, thus it can send and receive Morse code signals as designed. The 40-meter band it’s on reaches up to 500 miles during the day and extends worldwide at night. It runs off a 9-volt battery. Here’s an mp3 of one minute of audio received on the 7.030 MHz frequency the tuna can is tuned into.


The audio is actually coming from the tuna can circuit via the ear bud output, not another receiver! (The catch is that instead of the rubber duck antenna shown as a dummy load to test things indoors, the antenna for the audio recording, and for communications use generally, is more than 25 feet of random wire outside, connected to a grounded MFJ-904H travel tuner. The tuna is tuned, man!)

Wait a minute. Didn’t I just say that Morse isn’t used anymore? Nope. Morse is more popular than ever, it’s just that the FCC doesn’t test licensees as a requirement now. It’s still one of the allowed digital modes in the amateur radio spectrum.

Don’t worry, there’s plenty of handheld, mobile and base station FM voice gear on VHF and UHF, as well as SSB voice on shortwave, computer modes that don’t need the Internet and even television.

We’re likely to see extended water and power outages in the near future for a number of political and economic reasons, a few of which are described in my personal blog post, “Power and Water,” with links about each point linking to major news source headlines.

Not covered in that post is the continuing drought threatening water supplies and hydroelectric power generation, or short term disruptions due to earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. With more subscribers relying on Internet based phone service and cell phones, most people will be out of touch if the power goes out for an extended period.

You can try to use CB (11-meters), FRS (UHF) walkie talkies or those 49 MHz models for kids if you just won’t get a ham license. Or you can be prepared as a fully trained Jedi, er I mean, licensed ham operator and actually find competent help within range when you need it.

Amber Alert GPS Upgrade Nov. 1

Amber Alert GPS 2G
Abductions of children are increasing thanks to more idle hands not otherwise being employed. To address that risk, and for many other reasons such as simply being lost or having an outing schedule change, kids have a new safe way to talk with parents without the user interface complexity of a cell phone.

The Amber Alert organization is taking pre-orders for their November 1 release of its new line of “panic button” devices, called “Amber Alert GPS Armor.”

Armor is the next version of their popular alert device that looks like a toy gizmo, but actually uses sophisticated GPS and cell networks to call for help with the location already known and to provide safety information. (And you don’t have to surgically implant RFID chips in your wee rascals’ skulls.)

Here’s an excerpt from the information I just received from them via email. You can subscribe to updates at their site,

“It will be a bit bigger in size than our famous 2G device, but
it will pack one heck of a punch. Here is a list of things that
are going to be different this time around (I’ll give a brief
description of each feature here, but I’ll go into them in more
detail in another email)…”

“1. Bigger battery = longer battery life! (this is a big one that we really struggled with in the 2G). We even will have an extended battery option.”

“2. Predator Alert – be alerted when your child goes near the home of a registered sex offender (VERY powerful!).”

“3. “Raised” SOS button – now your child can feel for the raised button on the device in their pocket or backpack without having to take the device out, when they are in danger.”

“4. 2-Way Voice – actually talk with your child, not just listen in.”

“5. E-mails, not texts, this time around…save battery life (more about that in another email).”

“6. Live, up-to-the-minute tracking on your web-enable SMART phone or computer (oh yeah, this new device is set up to work off your computer or your web-enabled SMART phone…which means you will need the internet on your phone to use the device with your phone).”

“7. Locate your child via our new phone APP or your computer.”

For video about the original product, see this local San Francisco TV news report. It’s also been featured on Oprah, Good Morning America and other major network shows.