Archive for the ‘power’ Category

customer service

This is a story about a guy and some toys of his that broke, and how the people who sold these broken toys to him responded.

1st PLACE: ICOM AMERICA – I had a minor problem with my Icom IC-7000 HF/VHF/UHF mobile transciever and, since it was still under warranty, decided to send it in sooner than later. The warranty card said to just send it in with a copy of the original receipt of purchase, showing the date, and a brief description of the problem. That seemed awfully easy, almost too good to be true. So I did. About a week later I called in and was told it had already been repaired and would ship soon. Not only did they fix the problem, but ran a comprehensive test and fixed a few other things, then gave the radio a complete alignment. All I had to do was pay for the shipping back to the service center, about $20 (UPS.) WIN!

2nd PLACE: OUTBACK POWER – I own a lot of Outback stuff; their components are the mainstay of my off-grid power system(s). They’ve always been good about replacing stuff under warranty. When the VFX3648 failed just the other day and I called in about it, the customer rep offered to just send out a complete board replacement kit. That saves us both the hassle of shipping the big, awkward, heavy unit back and forth and saves them a little tech time, and allows me to service my own equipment, which I’m all too happy to do in this case. WIN!

3RD PLACE: T-MOBILE: For the third time now, my G1 phone died. And it’s still under warranty, and insured to the hilt above and beyond that. Nevertheless, I have to submit to being treated like an unwanted visitor on a prison camp before I can get anything done. I have to spend my entire morning negotiating with chatterbots on T-Mobile’s customer-time-wasting phone labyrinth before I finally get the point across that my phone is broken. Then I have to answer a bunch of questions. I feel like I just got pulled over by a cop who doesn’t like men with beards or something, and insists on treating me like a suspect, even though I’m a paying customer. They make me give a lot of information about the phone, which I’m still liable for in case said info is later found to be incorrect. I’m perpetually at their mercy, always on the defensive. I hate it. Once the torture is over, I get an unsolicited call from T-Mobile asking me to participate in a survey about the professionalism of the customer service rep I last spoke to. Guys, your people are doing a great job: it’s your hostile, defensive policy towards customers in need that makes me sick. I wish I had a home version of your phone tree interrogation system, and could make you verify the last four of your Social Security number six times and your mother’s birthplace twice, after making you listen to a minute’s worth of irrelevant drivel while you cling desperately to the line, hoping an actual warm-blooded, sentient being will finally grant you an audience…. Fuck off, I hate you. I can’t wait until my contract with you is over. FAIL.

Powersys 2.0 – the finishing details are endless…

Desulfators, catastrophic fuses, buss bars, oh my!


Eight months and fifteen thousand dollars later, I am still not finished.



Last night’s landmark (in lieu of project completion) was the final interconnection and torquing of the battery bank itself. With no charging in about a year and prolonged exposure to the elements, bank voltage was measured at 49.63V, the rough equivalent of 12.4V on a twelve-volt system. Which really ain’t too shabby, and utterly miraculous given the combination of neglect and rough-housing these things have endured since coming into my ownership. But that’s all I had to show for the effort: four significant digits. An electrochemical “Hello, world!” The first clumsily-uttered syllables of a precocious infant. Proof of life inside that unbelievably massive, toxic aquarium, the soft machine containing (at full charge) nearly one-quarter megawatt-hour. Antony & the Johnsons should sing a ballad in homage to this monstrosity.

Tonight, after escaping from the afternoon heat for many hours in the *other* container, I worked by flashlight, slowly pushing closer to completion. Whatever criticisms I may hurl at myself publicly, I am trying for the first time in my life to actually do everything right on this project. Every little step calls for introspection, “what-if” contingency anticipation, reconsideration of the previous three steps, and painfully cautious execution. Usually I just rush through things, after the motto, “We’ll fix it in the mix.” The stakes are too high now. There might be a caustic sink hole in the ground to show for miscalculation. Or permanent blindness. Or worse.

Tomorrow I’ll pull down the protective plywood sheets I put up this morning, connect the desulfators and then figure out what to do next.

East Jesus 2.0

…slowly, sometimes painfully so, but gradually, progress is made…

a new (to me) 40′ high-top Tex container with an added roll-up door should be here in a few days. the shack, tronix lab, office and recording studio are moving into it, then the Monster Battery array will take its place in the fiberglass container, the heart of East Jesus 1.0. not like i really wanted to take on yet another huge pile of work (it’ll be weeks of building workspaces, storage shelves, adding doors, windows, insulation, A/C etc.) but the batteries would prefer to be pampered at temperatures cooler – much cooler – than the 120 degrees F we experience out in this here desert, and the fiberglass container is ready to go with its superior insulation and A/C already built in, and is the perfect size for the batteries

the long, grinding drive to LA is always a drag, but once i was there in the middle of a vast valley of 1000s of shipping containers, i was overcome with the feeling of swimming in the heavy water of the truly surreal. it was an unusually clear day; i wish i had taken a few photos.

rumor has it the copper connecting bars were found in the powertainer housed at NIMBY and have made their way to the Shipyard, where they may actually fall into someone’s hands who will kindly send them my way. today i began researching desulfators and ordered two Solar Converter BD-2′s to play with on the 12V arrays. it’s cool to be able to glean so much about a battery’s internal health by letting a desulfator pulse away and looking at the waveform on an oscilloscope. at maximum i can connect 4 of them to the final 48V array, and i’m still not sure that’s going to be enough. perhaps i’ll have to homebrew something more powerful.

in any event, the next few months are going to be characterized by pantloads of work, and a lot of heavy moving. at this point it’s looking very much like i’m going to need a box truck or a large pickup with a trailer. over half the items on my shopping list won’t fit in my Honda Civic. i think in the USA this is one of those mysterious, ancient rites of passage for a man: his first truck. i guess i’m a late bloomer.

anyway, everything’s been growing and expanding here so rapidly it really feels like a new world. East Jesus 2.0.

things to do on a windy day

I’m going to let everyone look up my kilt here a little, as I attempt to organize my thoughts around an incremental and total overhaul of the East Jesus power system. Doing this publicly, I hope, will serve two purposes: 1) to share information to any interested parties in the spirit of Open Source Everything, myself included! and 2) to help keep me focused. I’m always sharper with a little stage fright. Comments and questions are welcome and encouraged.

as of today, we have a 12V system with the following components:

  • 8x Concord SunXtender 255AH 12V batteries
  • 6x Interstate Workaholic 6V golf cart batteries
  • Xantrex ProSine 2000 pure sine inverter
  • Honda EU3000i generator
  • Honda EU1000i generator
  • 16x Kyocera 150W PV panels, in three legs: 2 x 3, 2 x 3, 2 x 2, each leg feeding one of:
  • 3x Outback FlexMax80 MPPTs
  • AirBreeze 200W 12V wind generator (more of a toy and/or science project than a generator, but it definitely helps in winter! in odd circumstances such as these, it can even come close to providing all the power East Jesus uses!)

and, waiting in the wings, components for upgrade to 48V system:

  • Outback VFX-3648 pure sine inverter
  • 8x ASE 300W mil-spec PV panels
  • 50x Suntech 25W PV panels
  • 24x C&D 4000AH Pb-Ca 2V cells

Given the failure of one of the MPPTs (see previous entry,) now seems like a good time to begin. At the end of the process, we will have a smaller 12V system and a very large 48V system; the 12V system will power and be powered by those components which are fixed at 12VDC – the wind generator, radio equipment – and a small cluster of PVs on one MPPT, and will serve as interim backup power in case of 48V system failure. While we’re tearing everything apart, we need to test the golf cart batteries and AGMs and probably equalize the former. Additionally, we wish to minimize power down time. The generators may be called upon to power mission-critical loads (computer & network, radios, NOAA equipment and work lights, interior and exterior.)

And now, the procedure (TBD after 8am [wx] on a sunny morning)….


  • disconnect AC loads from ProSine and divert to running generator.
  • shut down all MPPTs, put AirBreeze in BRAKE mode.
  • disconnect ProSine from 12V system.
  • physically relocate ProSine, about 8″ to the left.
  • reconnect golf cart batteries (& 12V loads,) leftmost MPPT and wind generator to ProSine (note: Honda 3000 30A feed remains connected to ProSine; must make available to Outback inverter also, preferably panel-switchable.)
  • reconnect AC loads to ProSine. mini-12V system is now complete.


  • test AGMs, retire any stinkers (this will leave either all 8 or only 4 batteries in the bank.)
  • connect AGMs together as 48V array.
  • install Outback inverter, connect DC buss to AGMs.
  • install Outback Mate & Hub, program.
  • combine Kyocera PV legs “S” and “N” at input stage of middle MPPT, connect to inverter DC buss.
  • install inverter AC Out box (simple, to be upgraded later)
  • divert AC loads to 48V system.
  • add Kyocera PV leg “AUX” to middle MPPT (robbing the last PV array from the 12V system, freeing up left MPPT.)
  • remove ProSine from 12V system, install in Walter.


  • float-charge golf cart batteries, top off with water, disconnect, test, equalize.
  • construct platform and for 300W PV panels and enclosure for Monster Battery farm.
  • test 300W PV panels.
  • test 25W PV panels.
  • design 25W panel array.
  • send defective MPPT in for replacement.
  • charge, test, characterize, equalize Monster Batteries.
  • upgrade 48V AC Out breaker panel.
  • acquire 10kW diesel generator – Listeroid or whatever, veg preferred.


  • connect Monster Battery array to 48V system.
  • remove AGMs from 48V system, install in Walter as mobile 12V array.
  • install 300W PV array with MPPT to 48V system.
  • install 25W PV array with MPPT to 48V system.

Voila! You are now in command of some serious electric power, on par with that of some developing nations.

Monster Batteries vs East Jesus

After two shippers had accepted the job and then – big surprise! – realized this was a hazmat load (I mean, really, do I need to tell people who do this for a living that used batteries are hazmat!?) and declined to transport it, one professional operator stepped up to bat and got ‘er done.

C&D MCT II 5000-AH cells

C&D MCT II 5000-AH cells

There are 24 of them. Each weighs 700 pounds. Altogether they weigh 8.5 tons. I don’t know how many bathtubs full of sulfuric acid they contain. By the time they’re ready for retirement, I may be able to recoup my investment just from the lead.

When new, the array had a rated charge capacity of over 200kWH. They used to belong to those mad scientists, Jim Mason and crew, at the legendary Shipyard / All-Power-Labs in Berkeley. Why they got rid of them? TOO HEAVY. For them, that’s saying something. Besides, they (finally) are enjoying grid power these days, so all the PV and battery power is a tad less sexy for them than it used to be. While in use there, the batteries kept a three-phase machine shop running. Before the Shipyard, they are presumed to have been installed as a telecom UPS and were maintained and fussed over accordingly. Their duty cycle is 20 years.

This is the third and final component of a grand power conjunction: these batteries; an Outback VFX-3648 inverter; and the ~4kW of photovoltaic panels recently rescued from destruction and donated to the East Jesus power grid, bringing the solar capacity up to over 6kW. I may need to add a much larger generator than I have now, just to equalize the batteries. We’ll see. First, though, I have some reading to do. The IEEE has specifications on the care and feeding of these behemoths, and I know I’m going to have to do things right or possibly suffer very messy, explosive, corrosive consequences. Until then, I don’t even have the guts to unwrap them.

Meanwhile, KI6RRX is now equipped with a mobile/base VHF/UHF rig – very pleased with the Kenwood TM-D170 and the Diamond X300A (about 30′ up.) I’ve been enjoying lots of QSO with other PAPA members, picking up APRS beacons from as far away as Holbrook, AZ and hearing a lot of activity on 2m and 440 that I simply haven’t jumped into yet. Cross-banding is now possible with the Yaesu VX-8R HT – I can talk to PAPA while bathing with carneys and nudists at the hot spring, using the base station as a repeater. Kinda cool.

Finally, in other, completely unrelated news, I have been approached by a museum that wishes to acquire my collection of paintings and drawings by convicted serial killer John Wayne Gacy, and email scammers tried to convince me that the UN Foundation had awarded me $500,000, presumably for outstandingly surrealistic lifestyle that may better the world and all humanity…

Return top