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A spotlight

My son came to visit me for the weekend. He spent some time going through a lot of old stuff I've been storing. Clothes, toys, computer hardware: what to recycle, what to keep, what to give away. Mostly because of my post-depression slowness there are piles of boxes I haven't touched for years. I just have a vague idea what stuff there are, and I know that no box can be just thrown to The Recycler, as every box might contain one or two usable or otherwise valuable items. So, it felt refreshing and inspiring when we finally got to sort some of those boxes. Buried under a heap of other stuff there was a big wooden box. And when we opened it, we got an instant reward: inside the box, on top of other things there was a CD of "Deep Forest : world mix". We used to listen to it when my son was smaller, and the music stayed with us in different phases of our lives. And for years we have been thinking that the cd must be somewhere, just buried somewhere in those heaps of stuff... Well, now we found it!

One of the items was a portable radio with a c-casette player. I think it dates back to 1980's, and my son once bought it from a second-hand shop. He likes that kind of old but usable stuff. The only problem was that for some reason the player worked only when connected to AC power. It has a case for batteries, but maybe there was a disconnected wire or something, as it simply didn't get electricity from the batteries. Well, I've been storing that player for years, thinking that maybe my son, me, Sami or somebody might fix it someday. Now my son opened it. All the wires were properly connected. My son disconnected the wires by purpose, and we manually connected the wire ends to a 9V battery - the player sparked back to life, with a clear FM radio sound. So it turned out that the only problem was those metal connectors inside the battery case - they were either rusted or othewise damaged. My son decided that he will buy a connector and a recharceable battery, and fix them inside the battery case.

I guess The Recycler is worth a mention, too. There is kind of a small station with different containers for metal, electronics, batteries, glass, burnables, paper, oils, toxic materials etc. The place has one worker, who assists people by giving them instructions where to dump what kind of items. Often in the summertime he walks around the place wearing a stetson-like hat, giving orders: "hey, don't throw that old office chair into the mixed waste - it has so much metal in it, that it goes to the metal container over there!" - "used engine oil? there's a place for them behind that door." - "you, with the red shirt, what have you there?". We call him "The Junk Sheriff", as he is busy looking over his tiny town, maintaining order and guiding people to do things the right way. He is a nice person, often very helpfull and benevolent - he just wants to keep the things running properly. And now I got a good load of old computer hardware which I'll take to The Recycler.

Well, then there is also a desk drawer containing batteries. Mostly AA-LR6, couple of 3R12, and an odd LR20, and some thin round lithium batteries. I have already used all of the AAA-batteries, as I have some led lamps which operate on those. But I have no devices running on those other batteries, so I have just been storing them. But this winter I finally realized how to use all these batteries. If I just buy a handfull of leds, install them on a thin piece of wood, and connect the leds to a wire with an on/off switch, and then just hack some of the batteries to the other end, I could have a rough led spotlight for washing dishes. There is a fluorescent lamp installed on top of the sinks, but because of my house renovation project there is no electricity connected to the lamp. It has been bit of a problem since autumn...

Oh, and in the summer my friends gave me a book with do-it-yourself instructions about solar and wind power systems. Reading that book was inspiring, and made me think that I could start with very simple systems, testing and getting more experience. A led spotlight would be an ideal project to start learning. I had been thinking about this for several weeks - sometimes thinking that I'll buy a handfull of leds when I visit Tampere, sometimes thinking that I can just order them from the internet. I already have a lot of old eletric wires so no need to buy them. But to make things simpler I bought a new on/off switch from a local store (but they don't sell simple leds). Now, when we were testing the radio/casette-player we searched the box of batteries - and I realized that I've also been storing old led lamps. One of them was small and thin, with plastic clips - so that you can attach it to your cap. I removed the batteries which were flat - I didn't have fresh ones of same size. But inside the battery case there were simple copper connectors for positive and negative ends. And that's all I need - instead of building a new led lamp I can use this old one. So I just connected wires to the on/off switch, and then connected it to the lamp. I used duct tape to connect a 9V battery to the other end of the wire. Like that! My idea is that when the 9V battery will run flat, I can just make new hacks to connect three or four AA batteries and so on, until all the old batteries are flat. Then I can take them to The Recycler.

a led spotlight
a led spotlight
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That is cool. I have been thinking about making my own LED lighting for my house. I have read that with the commercial LED bulbs like go in a regular light socket, they manufacture them so that they eventually fail so that you have to buy new ones. But I think if I can build my own, they will last essentially forever.

I want to be able to power them from the wall AC, though. Solar panels have gotten so cheap that I want to put some in eventually, but I still want to be able to run the house off the generator if something breaks down with the solar panels. And use less expensive wire with the higher voltage, rather than like wiring the house with #8 wire for 48VDC or whatever. :3

Yup, I wouldn't be surprised if the manufacturers make commercial LED bulbs non-durable by purpose.

Do you already have a generator? I don't, so I've been thinking of different alternatives.

I've read that there are modern commercial versions of a Stirling engine, which can be used as a small generator. It sounds like an interesting way of generating little extra electricity as a side product of burning wood in the stove =)

I have an old Honda portable generator that runs on gas, but it is about shot. I don't know how old it is for sure, but we ran it during the big flood in 1985 when the power was out for 6 months, lol. Pretty old. I think when it finally gives up the ghost, I want to get one that runs on propane. Maybe 1500 watts and fixed in place, plumbed into the tanks on the house. I would think that would be enough to run the arc welder if I ever get to a point where I can have the grid power disconnected.

I don't know much about stirling engines, except that they are cool. :P I don't think they are very torquey, though, and might not be able to turn a generator very well once it had a load on it, I dunno.... But I don't know much about them, so I am probably wrong!

I read an article somewhere a few years ago... But I can't find it now. But it was about a student whose family lived in a remote part of Sweden. He made a thing for them to generate a little power on their wood stove by using thermocouples, with a heatsink and a self-powered fan on one side. Apparently the self-powered fan made it a lot more efficient. I mean, it wasn't enough to run a power drill or anything, but apparently they could use it to charge phones and such.

I would think something like that would be really reliable, though, with the only moving parts being a little DC computer-type fan. I have always thought about trying to buy a stack of those thermocouples from some surplus place or other and trying to do something like that with them.

Oh my! Power out for six months - yup it makes people buy generators of their own!

Also, you are right : it was an adaptation of tehrmocouple what I was thinking of! I only knew that it is a small box you can place on a stove, and it then generaters electricity for charging batteries etc. I just assumed that it has a tiny stirling engine inside, but your comment inspired me to read a bit more about it. Turns out it is called TEG or ThermoElectric Generator. There are ready-made commercial products for sale, with a reasonable price. And it seems like a device one could build with just a basic skills.

It also seems that there is a company aiming at producing a low-cost stirling generator, which runs by burning wood or propane: http://volodesigns-sterlingproject.blogspot.fi/

When I was younger, I was mostly interested in learning primitive and traditional skills, and working with simple tools. But since I'm anyway combining a traditional house with some electricity and internet connection, it makes me think about other DIY / sustainable / local alternatives.

Ah, and one more clarification: I guess that with a 1500 W generator you would be pretty much self sufficient even if a power out of six month hits again. And in a no way is a TEG an alternative for a big generator. For my own house I've been thinking about having the electrical system in different "layers". All the vital systems (water, heating, cooking, lights) operating on minimal electricity, so that I could power them with solar panels + a TEG. And a second layer (which can be built later on) for running a computer, a fridge etc. And a third layer for pre-heating the car engine in the winter, and such stuff which is more energy consuming. That third layer could be just connected to the grid, or alternatively powered by a fuel burning generator, I don't know yet =)

Cool. I think I want to just go solar for my house, and use a charge controller that can take an AC line input to charge the batteries. Then I could rig up that propane generator that is on my wishlist (since it has an electric starter) to cut on and charge the battery bank if the solar panels can't keep up for whatever reason. Like I could have the generator cut on if/when the battery bank dropped to 80%, and then cut back off again at 95%. And then most of the time unless I was running power tools or the welder, I would be at or under the charge rate of the solar panels, so the generator wouldn't run.

Or something like that. I dunno. XD

In a way, I want to do away with my electric lights, even LED, and use only kerosene and candles. I guess that is not very practical, but the fire light makes me "happier" somehow than the harsh LED light I guess. Or something.

I think I want to have an electric refrigerator, freezer, computer, and maybe a couple of LED lights just in case I need them, but then use propane, kerosene, and wood for everything else. I guess I'd need the electric blower for the outdoor wood stove, too, because I don't like having a fire burning inside while I am away from the house all day!

I am still not sure what I want to do about the well pump. It's really bad water. Full of iron and sulphur, and I have to use a water softener to make it potable. I am tempted to set up some rain barrels instead and just run the well pump if there is a drought or something and the rain barrel goes dry...

I like the idea of preserving local culture and primitive/pre-industrial/traditional skills. But I too think that some modern things are really handy. I guess..... I guess I feel like it's all good, so long as the local culture and traditional skills are being supplemented by the technology instead of replaced. Or something like that... I dunno, hehe. :)

Maybe I am just crazy. :P

There's nothing crazy about preserving local culture and traditional skills. LED ligths are handy, but they shouldn't completely replace candles and lanterns.

Ah, and having iron and sulphur in well water sounds like a unpleasant situation. I'm so lucky to have a good source of clean water - people just couple of kilometres west from my place complain that water in their wells has all too much iron.

Yes, the water table around here is very strange. You can drill a well and find water that is undrinkable, but then can drill another one not but 200 or 300 meters away and that one will be clean. It is so weird!!!

I've thought about having another well drilled farther from the house, but that is expensive haha.

I have heard stories that the old-timers used to soften their well water by putting it in big barrels and mixing a little bit of washing soda in. Then they would let it sit for a couple of weeks and the minerals would sink to the bottom and they would skim drinkable water off the top.

But I am a little dubious about drinking washing soda! One would think that it would cause, erm, intestinal problems... D: Seems like it would be a lot easier to just set up some rain barrels, heh.

Same problem here. My parents' cottage house is about 150m from a river, so underground water is abundant. A neighbor's well, 3m in depth, gives pure clean water. Their own two wells, 40 and 15m, both yield undrinkable water with iron and sulfur as well.

Concerning rainwater, don't know if it's somehow related to the territory you live on (and I reckon it's not, since clouds travel all round the Earth), but I was raised in fear of acid-rains. Chernobyl is way to close, unfortunately.

When it stroke in April '86, Soviet government refused to tell anybody what happened. Five days later it was a traditional May's demonstration, with thousands of people on the streets. A lot of people were irradiated, because a rain poured on this day. In later years, of course radiation wasn't an issue, but people grew too much concerned about rainwater.

Winds took part of the Chernobyl fallout to Finland. Especially the area where I live - traces of radiation can still be detected in local fish and mushroom...

Otherwise, if not living near heavy industry, I guess drinking rain water is a safe option. (I just checked wikipedia - it says that gaseous pollutions can spread hundreds of kilometres. So, that it the scale of radius when determining what means "near heavy industry".)

Here in Finland I've always been rather unworried with natural waters - practically speaking all of our lakes, rivers and brooks contain drinkable water. Some 500 metres away from my yard there is a natural spring, where fresh ground water comes to the surface. One can just go there and scoop drinkable water with a bucket.

(I've heard there are plans to privatise our ground waters, so that they can be mass bottled and sold for private profit. There is a broad opposition to such plans.)

Chernobyl fallout seems to have hit half of Europe. We got some in Switzerland as well and it's well known that mushrooms are still contaminated. But only recently word got out that wild boars might be contaminated as well. They're testing it right now. So who knows what else is still contaminated?

People hear aren't too worried about acid rain. We worry more about fox tape worms. We're taught to never eat any berries or herbs you can find in the forest, cause they might have tape worms on them. And apparently washing them thoroughly doesn't make them completely safe. That makes me sort of careful about drinking water as well. I suppose you're fine as long as it's running water or a larger pond and don't drink right on the shore. My dad knew a guy who had a fox tape worm eating away his vertebrae and the doctors only found it by chance and just in time. A few weeks more and about three of his vertebrae would have turned into dust. I was only a child then and deeply impressed by the story.

Maybe I am too much of a skeptic, but I think that the acid rain thing is about the same as the mercury in fish scare....

I mean, there are rivers I wouldn't eat the fish out of, but even the wild fish around here they say not to eat more than one meal of them per week. I eat more like 4 or 5 meals of them per week in the summer and I am fine! (Aside from being a little insane, but that is genetic rather than environmental haha.)

Likewise, I wouldn't be afraid to drink rain water out in the countryside. I don't think I would in a smoggy city (more afraid of the contaminants it would pick up on the way to the rain barrel than when it was falling through the air, though). We used to have to till some lime into the soil here to counteract the acid rain back in the 1980s, but the air and water is far far cleaner now than it was then, and we don't have to do any of that anymore. I figure as long as it's not screwing up the PH of the soil, I can probably drink it.

But I dunno. I guess if I set up a rain barrel and then die, we'll know for sure. XD

Paper industry used to be one of the heaviest polluters in Finland. And we have a paper mill up the river route on the waters near me. Local people tell stories of 60's and 70's when the environmental legislation wasn't that strict - the local waters were stinking and bubbling with foam, and the fish contained heavy doses of mercury. Still, people fished, and then released the fish in separate small ponds where they let the fish stay for months, so that they got at least a little purified... (There is some data that in this region particular forms of cancer are much more common than the average in Finland - but nobody knows the exact cause of this...)

All in all, what I mean is that things definitely got better since 1980's =) Or, at least in the majority of western countries. I'd guess the change to better is happening everywhere, just one or more decades later.

I feel confident in agreeing that it has definitely gotten better in the USA. There are still groups making a fuss, but if you look at the numbers we have more forest in the USA than we have since the 1930s, and it keeps increasing. As mentioned before, we don't have to manage the soil PH to counteract pollution anymore. And there are a lot more of certain types of animals, too. There are way way way more deer and bear here than when I was a kid. There are fewer squirrels and rabbits, but there are also /far/ more raptors than there used to be, and I think they are eating all of the small game, hehe. The raptors have definitely recovered from the DDT thing in the 1980s! Indeed, I think it has gotten to the point where they ought to reclassify chickenhawks as a nuisance species like crows and starlings and coyotes, but I doubt that will ever happen, hehe.

I guess not many people eat wild critters anymore, so many folk don't notice all the hawks and the lack of small game.

Since I am sitting at work killing some time until the next thing breaks, I will tell a funny hawk story! (Or at least I think it's funny, but I have been accused of being a weidro, lol.)

I work for a small local independent telephone company. One day we had a line down, and had to trek back to a pole way back in the woods, climb the pole, and fix the line.

When I got the to pole, there was a great big rattlesnake coiled up at the bottom of the pole. They are extremely poisonous and very mean if you corner them, so I tossed a pebble at him from a distance of perhaps 5 meters to try to scare him away so that I could climb the pole without getting bitten.

Apparently the snake was in a very grumpy mood, or he was hungry for some Mr. Polecat or something (one can never account for taste, I reckon; I would expect that I am not very tasty...), because instead of running away (as they always do; this is the only one I've ever seen act differently), he came towards me and struck and tried to bite me! Fortunately I was wearing heavy boots and he narrowly bit into my boot instead of through my pants and into my leg. So I shook him off of my foot and, though I am loathe to shoot critters on other people's property (it's just not a neighborly thing to do), I drew my little pistol and shot the snake in the head as he was coiling to strike again, so as to not get bitten and possibly die before they could drag me out of the woods to where I could be gotten to the hospital.

Anyway, I think rattlesnakes are pretty cool (when they are not attacking me, anyway), so this made me a little bit sad. But they are also VERY tasty. So we decided to take the snake back to the office, skin him out, and try to cook him on an old George Foreman grill for lunch.

So I put him inside my hardhat and we went back to the office, where I laid him out on a big propane tank so that he could finish draining before we prepared him.

Anyway, no sooner than I had walked a few paces away, a darned chickenhawk dove down, grabbed our snake, and took him away. >:O

So after all that excitement, we did not get to have any tasty snake for lunch that day. :( We had also completely forgotten about repairing the line!

A great story well told - thanks for sharing!


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