Wednesday, April 26, 2017


I hear that today is Administrative Professionals Day. I found this out when I passed by this box of cupcakes at the university. I still rely heavily on their skill and knowledge for the stuff I still do for the university. Budgets, purchasing, human resources, contract management and travel are just some of the areas where their expertise is relied on.

The day (Wednesday) started out not at the university but swapping out Ural tires with JedR. He had switched to studded K37 tires back in November so this was just the switch back to "summer tires" (also K37). The first one always takes a long time but I think the pusher proved to be the most difficult as it was a brand new tire. Very stiff. The Baja No-Pinch tool worked like a charm. I don't even want to do a motorcycle tire installation without that wonderful tool.

I thought it was warm enough to remove the handlebar muffs but it was below freezing again this morning (Thursday). Heated grips are nice to have. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Misc Updates

Well, I spoke too soon. The heated liner and gloves have been put to use again. It was only 16°F on Monday morning though it did eventually warm up to just above freezing. Today's (Wednesday) challenge in addition to the cold was strong, gusty NE winds so if I was riding in any direction where the wind was from the sidecar side of the rig, I needed to shift my weight to the right. The sidecar was definitely wanting to fly today. You can definitely feel when the sidecar wheel unloads. The NWS was saying 19 mph winds with gusts to 45 mph. In the picture, the dirty snow behind the rig is actually a huge pile as there is a pretty steep drop off.

Before disconnecting the battery bank, I had one more minor piece that I needed to install and test. A small DC-DC convertor (circled in red) so I could run the Raspberry Pi directly off of the battery bank instead of through the inverter. There will be a small parasitic draw from the Trimetric monitor and the Raspberry Pi even as they are connected before the main cutoff switches. It looks like the parasitic draw is around 100ma. This would eventually drain the battery bank to 50% in ~3 months but the plan is to remove the batteries during the winter. The small white labels next to the breakers are to remind me to disconnect the solar panels before turning off the charge controller. And to turn the controller on before connecting the panels. I'm using the 50amp circuit breakers as DC switches. In the picture they are both "tripped" or "off".

I also had to disassemble the serial cable, grind down the DB9 connector and reassemble the cable with the flat cable coming out the other side so it didn't interfere with the charge controller cover. After re-assembly, I took the opportunity to not only test the cable but also the Dell netbook with a fresh install of Windows 7. It connected and recognized the MorningStar Tristar using their proprietary MSview software. The software allows a lot of control over the individual charge parameters. Right now I'm just using the defaults for flooded, lead acid, deep cycle. After testing, I realized that I should've taken the opportunity to shorten the cable. It came 6' long but I only need it to be 6".

Friday Evening - The system is now partially disassembled and starting to get boxed up. The battery bank is sitting in the truck now and time to start getting everything else sorted out and packed. I'm trying to figure out all of the tools I need to get everything installed. Everytime I go out to the garage I think of something else. Now that the pallet is empty, I can use the space to start sorting things into boxes. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sam Manicom

A couple of evenings ago, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts,  Adventure Rider Radio RAW, and the hosts are given the opportunity to plug some product or event at the end of the show. Sam Manicom mentioned that he was going to be speaking at BMW Motorcycles of Western Oregon on Friday, May 19th. I've listened to three of his books and thoroughly enjoyed them all. The audiobooks are made even better with him as the reader. Since I am planning to be in Oregon on that date, I jumped onto the website and nabbed a ticket to the event ($15). The website for the event is off of the site. I think I was originally attracted to the books due to his bike. A BMW R80GS Airhead. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Blah, Blah, Blah

I started the manual battery equalization on Saturday morning since it looked like we would be getting another fabulously, sunny day. The panel received enough sun, i.e. enough that the array voltage was higher than the target voltage for equalization (15.68volts @ 53°F). From the graph it looks like it took about 3½ hours to complete. You can tell by by looking at the battery voltage as it transitions from "BulkCharge" to "Equalization" and back to "Absorption". At Absorption, only enough current is sent to the battery to maintain the configured absorption voltage. In this case, 14.8volts@75°F which in this case translates to 15.15volts@55°F.

On Monday, I'll check the water level in all of the battery cells and start to disassemble the system. To say that I'm thrilled with the overall system would be an understatement. On the status pages, I colored the cell background to easily see the control state of the TriStar charge controller. This is the abbreviated page for display on the RPi. Green for Absorption or Float, yellow for Equalization, orange for BulkCharge, blue for Night and red for anything else such as errors.

At this point, the Trimetric monitor is indicating that I am 17.5amp-hours ahead of the fully charged state as a result of the equalization.

From this casual testing, it looks like I am getting about 40-50 amp hours from a 130 watt panel on a good day. This suggests that I might get around 150 amp-hours per day from the four 100 watt panels. The lower amp-hour days on the graph are when I wasn't really putting much of a load on the battery bank and it would reach absorption and/or float early in the day. This graph is made from storing a single data point (cumulative amp-hours produced) every day at 11:59pm. The numbers on the graph don't exactly match up and I am still trying to figure out why.

I was asked to make a line drawing of the solar setup. The line size indicates the size of the wire. Red is +12volts and black is ground. The curved lines are the small 22 awg for the shunt and sense wires for the Trimetric and the serial communications cable to the Raspberry Pi. What is not shown is the remote battery temperature sensor and the battery sense wires for the charge controller.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Does Not Get Much Better Than This!

Another beautiful, sunny day in a week of nice days. Except for a slick spot this morning where melt water was running across the road on top of ice, the riding has been fabulous. No heated anything needed anymore and back to my regular gloves. No real destinations, just a lot of running back and forth around town. This morning while at College Coffeehouse, DavidR, an avid rider (understatement here!) said that he needed to put together an intervention when he found out that I was not planning on riding at all during our upcoming road trip.

Even the slab of ice in the middle of the driveway is starting to disappear. With all of the sun what better time to try and see what I can do with the battery bank. I prepared all of our meals on Thursday using just solar power. It took yesterday and today until 4:30 to fully recharge. And this was from a single 130 watt panel. Sometime this weekend, I'll start run a manual equalization cycle then partially disassemble the system for transport. Only three more weeks before I start my road trip!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pressure Cooked Eggs

An odd title. But, first I'm still messing around with a status display. Nothing really fancy but at least I don't need to scroll the screen to see the info. The resolution of the 4" screen is only 320x480 and you need to use a stylus to get to the scroll bars of the screen. I have a few ideas how to make an enclosure for the RPi (Raspberry Pi) but need to allow for good ventilation as the screen drives the microprocessor hard enough to generate some heat. And I still want to add some virtual buttons to bring up the graphs. BTW, even if you include the screen, the cost of the whole "computer" is around $70.

The eight year old Dell netbook that the RPi is sitting on now has Windows 7 installed as well as the driver for the USB serial interface and the Morningstar charge controller software. This is just in case I wanted to make some changes to the configuration. I also installed the USB driver from Mads Electronics in case I need to change the firmware on the truck engines computer. The most significant parameter for me of the aftermarket firmware is the tire diameter within the ABS section. This allows me to get the speedometer (and odometer) to match the GPS by adjusting the diameter in 0.05" increments. I now have it within a couple of tenths of a mile on a 100 mile trip. The device is a "tuner" and I have it set for "towing" with a modest 70 hp boost. I originally set up the Dell as a hackintosh running OS X and at 2.3 lbs was my lightweight, travel computer. It's been on a lot of trips due to its rugged design. 

Since the forecast for today was mostly sunny, I ran the battery bank down a bit so the charge controller would stay at a control state of "BulkCharge" to see how much power I can get from the single panel. This is the power produced so far today. The dip around noon is a large spruce tree blocking the sun. Yesterday, the system was in absorption for most of the day as the batteries were charged.

To run the battery bank down, I steam cooked a half dozen eggs in an electric pressure cooker (14.2ah) and made some frozen pot stickers for lunch on the induction burner (15.5ah). Between the two tasks I drew about 30 amp-hours from the battery bank. Plus, I had the inverter and Ubiquity radio running for most of the day (22ah/day). 

BTW, for anyone wanting to hard boil eggs, the pressure cooker is the way to go. High pressure for 5 minutes. The shell practically fell off and perfectly cooked. I'll have to remember this technique. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Slow Sunday

More boring stuff here. I had a really hard time finding a flat, serial communications cable. That's the gray cable with the red trace near the center of the picture. The flat cable is needed so I could reinstall the cover on the Tristar charge controller. Back in the "olden days" when every computer had a telephone modem, serial cables were available everywhere. Even at Fred Meyer. Not so anymore.

Another potential project is making an enclosure for the micro-computer pictured on the right. It is another Raspberry Pi 3 model B with a 4" LCD touch screen. It is also running Raspian, a Linux variant, with the display drivers from Waveshare. I had picked the screen a couple of years ago but couldn't get it to work with the version of hardware I had. I found it again and decided to take another shot at getting it to work. Even the touch screen works though it needs a stylus to be useable.

I'm thinking of making a simple information page with just the basics. Maybe battery/array voltage, watts being produced and battery temperature which should match outside temperature most of the time. Maybe some color to represent the control state i.e. bulk, absorption, float or night. And possibly some buttons to bring up individual graphs. Then mounting this somewhere in the living area. Not sure yet.

Today was the first really sunny day that we had in quite a while. You can tell from the flat line on the power production graph for today. The drop at around 2:30pm was not from clouds but the batteries reached their absorption voltage and only enough current was sent by the charge controller to maintain that voltage. It stayed in that control state until the sun started to disappear behind some trees at 5:24pm. I even boiled a pot of water this morning to consume some power. 1.75 liters used 16 amp-hours and drew 122 amps from the battery through the inverter. That's more than anything I've tried so far.

I also created another RRD that only gets updated once per day at 11:59pm. I'm storing the amp-hour produced to date from the charge controller. From that, I can graph daily production. It's a boring graph right now as it has only one data point. 

Friday, April 7, 2017


Last Saturday I helped some friends with a wedding reception which, for me, generally translates to helping with food. One of the family members had made and froze quite a few perogies and I offered to cook them for the reception. I cooked them outside since the last thing anyone wanted was dealing with hot oil in a crowded kitchen. It turned out to be a great day to be outside even if it was with a propane burner and a frying pan. This is the view of Ester Dome from their front yard where I was set up.

On Wednesday, I hired Brian, one of the guys from College Coffeehouse, with his skid steer loader to clear some of the packed snow and ice from the driveway. The snow and softer ice was readily dealt with but not the thick layer of ice in the middle of the driveway.

And today, Friday, there was a lot of moaning and groaning around town when a few more inches of the pretty white stuff returned. But it won't hang around very long. It's supposed to be sunny and warm again this weekend. Somehow everyone forgets that we can get snow all the way through May.

Just to bring a little moto content back to the blog, I have been riding almost every day. Until today. After some of the warm afternoons, I was thinking that it may be time to switch to heavier engine oil. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Even Geekier

If you thought the last post was rather geeky, this one may be through the roof. I guess this must also mean that I was really bored today. I had been using RRD (Round Robin Database) written by Tobias Oetiker for a couple of decades for network monitoring using his freely available MRTG (Multi Router Traffic Grapher) package. The RRD seemed like a natural fit for storing and graphing the output from the charge controller but I didn't know how to do it. I've only used the RRD with his application. This is my first attempt to use it for non-network data. It didn't take too long and I'd put it into the "fun" category.

I'm reading data from the charge controller every 30 seconds and every five minutes I write out the values into the RRD. 288 records of the five minute data are stored which should be one day. Every hour, the five minute data is averaged and stored and 168 records are stored which should be one week's worth. 365 daily averages are stored. Since only the summarized data is stored, the database never gets that large. After I get a couple of weeks worth of data I might add an yearly graph.

The table on the page shows the most current data and is updated every minute. "Array Voltage" is what the charge controller is seeing from the solar panels. The "Reference Voltage" is the target battery voltage for the charge controller. At this point that is the temperature compensated absorption voltage. "PWM Duty Cycle" is a measure of how much of the current is actually being used to maintain the battery at the absorption voltage. I still need to add some credits to the bottom of the web page.

Where the array and the battery voltage lines diverge in the graph on the upper left around 1:30pm is where the charge controller switched from bulk to absorption charging. At 3:55pm, I started the rice cooker running on the inverter so it switched back to bulk charge. The power is just the current and the battery voltage multiplied together. So it's sort of the same info. I'm not sure which one I'll keep. 

Raspberry Pi 3 model B
Image is from the Adafruit site
The plan is for the Raspberry Pi to be running continuously straight off of the battery using a DC-DC converter. At least for awhile, I want to log the data.  Even with all of these processes running, the CPU utilization on the Pi is under 3%. I wonder what else I can use it for....

Sunday, April 2, 2017

TriStar Monitor

How I spent my Sunday afternoon.  

It may not look very fancy but the next step in my solar monitoring is working. I have a Raspberry Pi  (that's the small black box in the center of the picture) connected to the Tristar TS-45 charge controller with the same USB to serial cable that I was using with the Lenovo laptop. I'm using a  heavily modified Python script that I found on the Internet to query the TS-45 every 30 seconds and writing the results out a temporary file with a some possibly useful variables. Plus, I'm appending the data to a CSV log file every 5 minutes.

I have another program that runs every minute which creates this simple html file on the Apache web server also running on the Raspberry Pi. Simply showing the current status with the battery sense voltage, array voltage, charging current, control state, PWM duty cycle, battery temperature and the computed power output. I was originally thinking of using an RRD and auto-generating graphs but decided that I can alway create graphs using the CSV log files anytime I want one. Maybe if I find myself really bored...

If you are unfamiliar with the Raspberry Pi3 model B, it runs on 5VDC drawing approximately 2 watts using a micro USB cable. It has a quad core 1.2 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, built in 10/100 Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI output, camera connector and 4 USB ports. This is in addition to the GPIO pins (digital i/o). Storage is a 32GB micro-SD card of which I'm using 3.7 GB. Basically a full blown computer that you can pick up for around $39. After you add a case, power supply, micro-SD card, etc. it'll be around $70. The one thing missing on the Pi is a real time clock. It really needs access to the Internet when it's booted up to set the date and time. Fortunately, I don't see it needing to be rebooted very often.

Now I simply need to get a small serial cable extension as there isn't enough room to install the TS-45 cover with the existing cable. And install a 12V to 5v micro USB to power the Raspberry Pi. Bridget didn't seem to understand why I was so thrilled to get this working. This was also my first foray into Python. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

2016 MacBook Pro

I'm in the process of transferring data from a MacBook (MB) (early 2015) to a late 2016 MacBook Pro (MBP). The two machines are directly connected using gigabit Ethernet adaptors plugged into USB-C ports. And I'm getting about 400 Mb/s. I guess that's about ⅔ of the read speed of the MB SSD. I initially tried to do the transfer using WiFi and after about 3% completion, the status said 2 minutes until completion. And it sat there for two hours before I cancelled it and dug out the Ethernet dongles.

Quite a performance difference between the two laptops. The MB is a 1.3 GHz Core M with 8GB of memory. The MBP is a 3.3 GHz Core I7 with 16GB of memory. Both have SSD drives though the MBP has double the capacity and at least 3x the read and 10x the write speed. The read speed pegged the scale on the Blackmagic speed test at 2 GB/sec and the write speed was 1.8 GB/sec. The MB is a very light 2.03 lbs with the MBP weighing in at 3.02 lbs. It feels much heavier. The picture shows a comparison of the 15" 2012 MBP, the 13" 2016 MBP and the 12" MB. I have been using the 15" Apple laptops since the 2001 PowerBook G4 Ti. For travel, I've used the 11" MB Air and the 12" MB but both seemed pretty underpowered compared to the MBP but the SSDs kind of compensated for the lackluster performance making them both great travel laptops.

There has been a lot of discussion about the touchbar on the new MBP. When I saw the demo videos I wasn't really sure what value it adds. But I don't hate it either. The fingerprint reader to log in is incredibly fast and easy to use. It is also is a physical power button. So far, no complaints. Another complaint seen on the Internet was the keyboard. It is a similar design to the MB but feels much better and is much more positive. And a bit noisier. It has a huge trackpad with the same device to simulate a physical "cick" even though it doesn't move at all. It feels convincing enough to me. Plus, I set the preferences to just tap and not press anyway.

For the MB, I had already accumulated some dongles as it only had a single USB-C port. Fortunately, the new MBP has four of the type C ports.

BTW, it snowed several more inches today but warmed up to around freezing by mid-afternoon. I didn't ride today but have been for most of the week. Just too lazy to take any pictures...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Beautiful Day

-4°F (-20°C) this morning turned into +23°F (-5°C) by 5 pm! Not too shabby. After riding to College Coffeehouse this morning, I stopped by the Harley/BMW/Honda dealer for a BMW open house which translates to "free lunch". There were brats, sauerkraut and pretzels. Quite a few airheads at the free lunch none of whom were probably in the market for a new bike. I was hoping that they would have one of the new 300cc singles but was told that there was a possibility that they wouldn't even be imported due to some flack over beef. I hate politics…

Later in the afternoon, I went to the church to run sound for a youth fundraiser. It was a dessert auction and my contribution was dark chocolate chip cookies with pecans and dark chocolate brownies. The trick is not to leave with any of the delicious looking treats… 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Something Different


How about a non-solar post. Not bike related though I did go for a short ride earlier this week. No photos so maybe it really didn't happen…

I'm not sure why so many riders want to get here but this is the wonderful view of Deadhorse. The flight to Utqiaġvik stops here to add/remove passengers. It's usually a pretty full flight but wasn't too bad this morning. The worst part is the 6 am flight to Anchorage before switching planes to head north. I guess there isn't enough traffic in/out of Fairbanks any more. 

This is a very short trip as I'm just dragging a couple of technicians up from Fairbanks to familiarize them with the installed infrastructure that they will be supporting this summer during our road trip. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

EezTire T515 Review

The TPMS system is finally installed. It is an EezTire T515 made by Eez RV Products. It has the capacity to monitor 22 tires but I only plan on monitoring eight tires. Four on the truck and four on the trailer. I may start monitoring the spare tires later as additional/replacement sensors are available from Amazon. It came with a windshield suction cup mount and a permanent screw mount. I opted to mount it high in the cab on the overhead console so the radio signal from the sensors mounted on the trailer tires to be "seen" by the receiver.

The box included both a fused power cable that could be permanently wired in as well as one that uses the cigarette lighter socket. The challenge with the overhead console location was finding a 12 volt switched power. I ended up tapping into the power for the clearance lights on top of the cab. To get to those wires, I needed to remove the overhead console, the passenger sun visor, passenger grab handle and then partially lower the headliner. A little more than I wanted to do when the truck was parked outside. The wires powering the clearance lights are running along the passenger side "A" pillar and were easy to cut and tap into. Now the TPMS system charges whenever I turn on the parking lights, which, for me, is usually right after the engine starts.

The TPMS display unit has an internal, rechargeable battery and can be powered on using a slide switch on the side. The battery will power the display unit for up to 60 hours according to the documentation and the manufacturer recommends not leaving it plugged in all the time to extend the life of the battery. It has a motion sensor and an ambient light sensor so the unit goes into sleep mode when the vehicle stops moving and the backlight shuts off during the day. The pressure and tire readings seemed a little erratic during our cold spell and I wasn't sure if that was due to the sensors or whether the tire pressure really did change by 8 psi from just driving around town.

The sensors include these anti-theft covers. Their use is optional though the manual suggests coating the seam on the sensors with silicone if you opt not to use the covers. The "T" handles wrench is used to tighten the sensors if you use the covers. I installed the sensors without the covers but will probably put them on when the weather warms up and the roads get sloppier. The wrench is kind of a hassle as you tend to lose air while trying to install the sensors as quickly as possible. The manual also recommends a tiny bit of anti-sieze on the valve stem which I did use when installing the sensors.

I've heard too many stories of trailer tire blowouts caused by low quality trailer tires. What makes it worse is that you can't really feel or hear the blowout and when the tire starts to shred, it can cause a lot of damage. A common cause of blowouts could be under inflation or overheating. The EezTire 515 monitors temperature as well as pressure. It would still be prudent to check the tire and brake temperatures every time you stop. These days, radiant thermometers are readily available for a reasonable price.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Geeky Graph

Please excuse the geekiness of this post but I think that this is kind of interesting. Since I've had the test solar panel up, there has not really been a stretch of clear, sunny days like we've had over the last week. Whenever I checked the status of the Tristar solar controller, I never saw it go into "float", i.e. very low current and a maintenance voltage to keep the battery charged. For the temperature of the battery bank (8°C), the controller was varying the current to maintain the battery bank voltage at 13.93 volts using the "sense" wire that I had installed earlier this week. The sense wire is a 22 awg pair that go from the "sense" terminals to the main positive and negative terminals of the bank so the controller can get an accurate voltage of the battery bank unaffected by current that may be running through the cables. Another great feature of the TS-45 charge controller.

This graph is still from the data logged through the serial connection to the Windows 10 tablet as I hadn't even started messing with the Raspberry Pi to log the data. On the graph I labeled the absorption and float portions of the graph. The array voltage is orange and that is what drops to almost zero at night and goes up over 20 volts when the controller isn't needing all of the power that could be produced. The lower grey line is the current going to the battery bank and the blue line is the battery bank voltage measured on the "sense" wire.

In this annotated graph from last Sunday, we can see the bulk charging where the the controller never leaves the bulk charging mode. You can tell as the array voltage and the battery voltage track each other. The peak current from this panel is almost 8 amps. Pretty impressive performance as the panel is rated at Isc (short circuit current) of 8.02 amps. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Solar Omelette Take 2

The "Stone Earth Pan" (non-stick, induction ready, 12" frying pan) arrived from Amazon today. And it looks like we have a week of completely clear skies so the batteries can recharge. Almost the same ingredients except for olive oil instead of butter and I added some cherry tomatoes. The pan seemed to take longer to heat up but that could be due to its larger size. Before starting, the Trimetric monitor read -10.2 amp-hours meaning that the battery bank was still not completely charged from the crock pot test.

The ham, onions and mushrooms were partially cooked and removed from the pan. The scrambled eggs (with a little cream added) were put into the pan. After they set, the filling and some colby jack cheese was added. heat distribution wasn't even as the edges were cooking slower than the center. The completed omelette was rolled out of the pan onto a plate. No sticking at all. The stone-derived non-PFOA coated pan was non-stick as advertised and the claim is that no harmful substances are ever released.

Here is the completed omelette. It more closely resembles an omelette and I remembered to take a picture. The Trimetric read -20.3 amp-hours indicating that I had consumed 10.1 amp-hours to prepare the omelette. Peak current from the battery bank was ~74 amps when the induction burner was set to 1000 watts. I know some may not get too excited by a frying pan but the lack of a non-stick pan was preventing me from getting more use out of the induction burner.

It looks like the panel is putting out 7.4 amps on this nice sunny day. Maybe the bank will finally be back up to 100% in a couple of days.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Back Inside...

The Ural made it back into the garage after about ten days of being banished to the snow bank outside to make room for the truck. No issues starting up after cranking for around five seconds or so. Kind of like the carb bowls were empty and I didn't give them time to fill up while on the prime position. I should be able to start riding again on a regular basis by the end of the month.

Below zero (°F) are still being forecast for at least the next ten days so not a lot of chance of getting out much until after the first official day of "spring". Today is another clear and sunny day but the -22°F temperature still says winter though it had warmed up to 7°F by mid-day.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

More Solar Cooking

As it was still -33°F this morning (Wednesday March 8th), but not a cloud in the sky, it must be time for another cooking appliance test. The next candidate for the trip is a crockpot. In this case with a pot roast along with onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and a few green olives for flavor. Seasoned with garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. The roast was browned in a frying pan so the crock pot started out warm and that may partly compensate for the 57°F garage. I started it out on "high" which pulled 170 watts according to the display on the inverter. "Low" is 130 watts according to the inverter display. Total cooking time will be about 8½ hours. Even on low it is well more than I'll get out of the one solar panel so don't expect the battery bank to be fully charged tonight. But this is something that I expect to be able to do with the four 100 watt panels on a nice day.

After almost 9 hours of cooking, the Trimetric meter showed the battery bank at 69%. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes to recharge with the single 130 watt panel. I don't think the crockpot makes the cut for use on battery power. Faster cooking even at higher power seems to be more efficient when on battery power. Plugged in at an RV park, no problem.

Thursday - Very hazy day. Not very sunny. Only 3.3 amps at solar noon and recovered to only 73% by the end of the day. Tomorrow is probably more of the same…

Friday - Overcast and light snow. Very little sun through the clouds at all but apparently there was a little bit. 74% by the end of the day.

Saturday - Sunny and visibility unlimited! No, not really unlimited but it feels that way after the last couple days of overcast. By noon, the output of the charge controller into the battery bank was 7.4 amps (98 watts!). Isc (short circuit current) for this panel is 8.2 amps. By 6 pm, the bank was up to 82%. The single panel is  able to provide about 25 amp-hours to the battery on a clear day. At this rate it'll probably take about 3 more days like today to bring the battery bank back up to 100%.

Sunday - A hazy day. Only about 3 amps from the panel.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Tonneau Cover and EB Repair

Kind of hard to take a picture of it but the tonneau cover arrived several days earlier than Amazon predicted. It is a TruXedo Truxport and it took, literally, 15 minutes to install. The intent for the tonneau is "keep honest people honest" as it is just a vinyl coated fabric. But if the tailgate is locked, you can't reach the release levers for the cover. There are four bows to provide support for the fabric evenly spaced along the length of the bed.

I had looked for one of these locally but the shops only carry the trifold variety or the aluminum or fiberglass hard covers. I was looking for a roll-up one as I would be able to simply roll it to the front of the bed when towing. I didn't want to order one until the toolbox was installed so I knew how much space was available between the sides of the bed and the toolbox lid. I also attempted to order a tailgate lock but was notified by Amazon that this item "only ships within the United States". I ended up stopping at a local vendor today and though they didn't have one in stock they could order it (free shipping). It was only $2 more but it'll be several weeks before it gets here.

Another needed repair turned out to be fairly minor. The exhaust brake (EB) had stopped working sometime in January but since I generally don't use it when it's really cold out, it didn't really matter. I figured that the air compressor had bit the dust as it has been installed for almost 11 years. The oilless compressor also didn't like running when it's cold so I had installed a relay, a switch and a dashboard LED indicator to let me know when the compressor was running. It is installed on top of the engine and you can't hear it when the engine is running. It turned out that the connectors to the air pressure switch (upper right in the picture) had simply come off.

The EB works by closing of most of the exhaust pipe using a pneumatic cylinder to close a flap inside of the exhaust pipe to create back pressure in the engine. The engine has to work against the back pressure and this slows the truck down. I have an older model and it is supposed to generate 60 bhp of braking force. It works really well as the regular service brakes are rarely used if you plan ahead (down shift when approaching a stop). The brake pads were checked last fall and the front pads are 75% of their service life left and the rear are 90%. Not too shabby for over 50k miles.

The EB is really useful when towing as you can safely descend most grades without having to touch the service brakes which prevents them from overheating. To keep the compressor from cycling every time you slow down, I installed a small (1½ gallon) air tank to the frame. Back in 2005, there were two dominant vendors of EBs one used an engine driven vacuum pump and the other an electric compressor. I figured that compressed air was more useful than vacuum. I am thinking of adding a quick release air hose connection as the pressure switch is set to turn the compressor on at around 80 psi as that is the minimum air pressure for this model of EB. They also have a 100 psi pressure switch available as an option.

I had to remove the front bumper today as the snowplow installer had pinched the winter front between the bumper brackets. A "winter front" is vinyl coated fabric that restricts air from reaching the radiator. This helps the engine warm up faster. It is usually held in place with snaps and straps. I know that this summer, I'll need to remove the winter front and replace it with the bug screen. Only one more project while the truck is in the garage. Finding power in overhead console for the TPMS system. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Solar Omelette

What is to do when it's -32°F. Out of curiosity, I plugged the induction tabletop cooktop into the inverter and proceeded to make a ham, mushroom, onion and cheese omelette as that's what I found in the refrigerator. I am thinking of taking this burner on our trip this summer for use in hot weather. It doesn't generate waste heat like a regular cooktop. In the picture, the display is showing 1100 watts. Once things were cooking, it was turned down to 800 watts then 600 watts. As an example of the efficiency, the burner has been on for maybe 10 seconds at this point and the butter is already melting in the pan. Incredibly fast, convenient cooking.

The Trimetric monitor is showing that I am pulling 84.8 amps from the battery bank. I took two readings of amp-hours immediately before I started and just after I finished. At this time of the morning, there was only about 2 amps from the solar panel so minimal contribution. One three egg omelette used about 7.3 amp-hours from the battery bank including cooking the onions, mushroom and ham. This is only about 1.7% of the total capacity of the battery bank. At this point, I think that the induction burner is definitely going and is useable on battery power. Sorry, no completed omelette food pic. It stuck to the pan so it didn't look very photogenic but tasted good...

Since I like non-stick pans (less water needed for cleaning), I just ordered a non-stick frying pan that works with an induction cooktop. Any cookware used on an induction burner needs a bottom that a magnet will stick to. Most of my pans are Calphalon anodized aluminum and won't work on an induction stove. This portable cooktop included three pans as a set from Sam's Club. I don't remember the brand but it works well. A convenient mode is being able to set a temperature and the cooktop will automatically adjust to maintain that temperature on the bottom of the pan.

Here are the two readings from the Trimetric monitor. The before reading of -13.6 amp-hours and the after of -20.9. There was plenty of sun today and the single 130 watt panel brought the battery bank back up to 100% by mid afternoon.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Truck Box

This in-bed toolbox has been sitting in the garage for a couple of months. You may recognize the diamond plate as the box has been serving as my workbench. Now that the snow has melted out of the bed of the truck, I'm finally able to get it installed. Step 1 was modifying the all weather wood rack holding the 540 lbs of gravel that I have been using as snow plow ballast towards the tailgate end of the bed. These 2x4s were just braced against the front of the bed. Now they are braced against the tool box. I have some SS hardware, fender washers and lock nuts to firmly attach the box into the bed. I had ordered this toolbox through Lowe's around the end of August. Near the end of October, the store discovered that it was never really ordered. It finally arrived around the end of November. I'm glad I wasn't in a hurry.

This toolbox will be the home for the two 2000 watt Champion inverter generators when they are not in use. The two generators can be paralleled to put out 3600 watts continuous. This is enough to run the RV air conditioner if we are somewhere without electricity. And the 2000 watt generators will fit easily into the toolbox and at under 50 lbs, be somewhat manageable by myself. A single 3500 watt generator is taller than the tool box and weighs around 100 lbs. Not manageable at all. I'm estimating that the two Champions will take up about ⅔ of the toolbox. A gas container for the generators may take up the remaining space along with spare engine fluids. The toolbox is resting directly on the bed of the truck and not hanging on the bed rails like many truck tool boxes so the weight is not an issue. There is still about 1½' of space between the toolbox and the fifth wheel hitch for other storage as long as it is below the level of the bed rails.

Around the beginning of February, I ordered a roll up tonneau cover from Amazon. It was labeled Prime and I chose the free shipping option. After three weeks of the shipping status never progressed beyond "We received your order", I cancelled and re-ordered the exact same item (same vendor - Amazon) but selected expedited shipping. It was shipped the next day. What a racket...  By the way, in Alaska, Amazon two-day shipping translates to just under a week. The tonneau cover is just a way to keep honest people honest. When not pulling the trailer, I think that it might be a good idea to cover up whatever is in the bed of the truck.

BTW, winter is still hanging around. Not much else to do but wait it out.