Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saving money with LED outdoor lighting

Are you interested in ways you can save energy and money? With electricity prices rising and the switch away from inefficient incandescent light bulbs, it makes sense to consider alternatives.  However, switching to Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) or LED bulbs isn't so simple or necessarily cheap.  These more efficient alternatives differ in a number of ways:
  • CFL and LED bulbs cost more than incandescent bulbs (often a lot more) for the equivalent light output
  • CFL and LED bulbs don't produce the same color or full spectrum of light as incandescent bulbs.
  • CFL bulbs contain mercury, not a very environmentally friendly choice
  • LED bulbs are usually more efficient than CFLs, but are also more expensive
  • CFL and LED bulbs often do not work with dimmer circuits (or even day/night sensors - see below)
  • CFLs and LED bulbs last longer (often much longer), but their expected life can vary quite a bit.
  • LED bulbs currently don't put out as much light as incandescent bulbs can (e.g. beyond 75 Watt equivalent), so might not be a good choice when you need a lot of light.
  • LED lighting is very directional with bulbs containing many individual LEDs.  This means you may have to choose a particular packaging that is appropriate for your application.
As my porch light had just burnt out and I was out of replacements, I thought I'd go green and switch to LED outdoor lighting.  Given the higher cost of CFL and LED lights, it made sense to me to start with my lights that are on the most.  My outdoor lights are on 8-12 hours per day (an obvious first choice even if they are fairly low wattage).

My goal was to fully recover the cost of the new lights in 1 year or less (I came close).  Given that the bulbs should last many years, I'll be saving a significant amount of money in the long run.  Plus, I'm immediately saving electricity.  It is nice when you can be green while saving green.

This turned into two different mini-projects.  I first replaced my porch light and then later converted all of my outdoor lighting.  I also learned a bit in the process.  I'll share how I did it and I have lots of pictures for you to enjoy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Logitech Touch joins my squeezebox powered home

If you've read my previous article on my whole house streaming audio solution, you know that I like the Logitech squeezebox product line.

Since I wrote that article I've added two more squeezebox radios (one for work), built a custom battery pack and recently picked up a Logitech Touch.  I had been waiting on the Logitech Touch as I was using my Media PC to stream music to my main stereo.  As convenient as my Media PC is to use, I've found that having a device dedicated to music is nice to have.  Plus, I missed having a display that showed me what I was playing.

Here are some quick thoughts on what I think about the Logitech Touch.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

How to true a bike wheel

As part of my project to do my own bike maintenance, I thought I'd take a shot at wheel truing.  I had just gotten through rebuilding the suspension on my recumbent bike and I wanted to make sure my wheels were as straight as possible.

Truing a wheel is deceptively simple.  There is only one adjustment possible:  you simply tighten or losen the spoke nipple.  How hard could that be?  Doing a little research I realized that there is quite a bit to the subject.  First of all, unlike traditional bolts on a bike, you don't adjust spokes to a specific torque setting.  Although a spoke is really a very long, thin bolt, you adjust spokes by turning the nipple (nut) to adjust the tension.

Furthermore, there are four different parameters that you are adjusting during the truing process.  These parameters are lateral true (side-to-side movement), radial true (in-out movement), dish (the offset of the rim relative to the center of the hub), and spoke tension.

Balancing all of these parameters at the same time is what makes truing a wheel a challenge.  However, with the right tools and a little bit of patience, it is a rewarding process.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rebuilding a Ballistic 600 AII front suspension fork

Recumbent bikes are a ton of fun and the Vision R45 is the second that I've owned.  I consider the Vision R45 a nearly perfect bike for me.  Mine has front and rear suspension, aerodynamic wheels, a short wheel base design, and under-seat steering.  It even has a fairly nice component group.  There is only one problem:  it is more than 10 years old and the company that made it (ATP) is now out of business.

I'm not about to buy another recumbent bike and if anything breaks on it, it is up to me to fix it.  Recently I went about doing a complete overhaul on it to get everything back into top shape.  Bike maintenance really isn't that hard and it is really enjoyable with the right tools.  See this article for how I first got started doing my own maintenance.

One of the biggest challenges in overhauling the Vision R45 was rebuilding and servicing the suspension systems.  The rear shock (a Cane Creek AD-5) isn't a problem as you can still get a rebuilt kit for it (with instructions).  However, the front shock (a 20" Ballistic 600 AII) is another matter entirely.  It seems there is almost no information about this shock online even though it was a very common shock for recumbents with suspension.

So, in the hope that it will help others, I'll share my complete rebuild instructions and even a tip to make a minor improvement.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

DIY high capacity battery pack for Logitech's Squeezebox Radio

If you enjoy the Squeezebox line of products like I do, you probably already know about Logitech's Squeezebox Radio.  I've just added a third radio to my collection (shown here with cat 1 of 2).  However, if you don't yet have a battery pack for your Squeezebox Radio you are missing out on one of it's coolest features (it's portable!).  Of course, it still must be in range of a wireless signal (all the more reason to get a really great wireless home router).  Unfortunately, the battery pack must be purchased separately for $50.  Logitech does bundle it with a mini-remote to help make it a bit more tempting.

Since the accessory pack wasn't released until well after the radio, many adventuresome owners went ahead and built their own.  Now that the pack is available, there is less reason to do it yourself.  You can still build a pack cheaper yourself (depending upon the cost of the batteries), but you might not save that much money (and it is a hassle).  The main reason for doing it yourself now (IMO) is that you can build a higher capacity pack.  Logitech claims 6 hours of battery life on their pack, but people have reported up to two hours more - not bad.  However with my pack, I've gotten just under 11 hours!   More importantly, doing it yourself is fun!

Here is what I did:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Do it yourself, do it all Media PC for $600

If you are going to "Cut the Cord" you are definitely going to miss the ability to record, pause TV and skip commercials.  Building a Media PC is the perfect solution to make the process painless and you will wonder why you never did it before.

So, what can this box do?
  • Play and Stream most disc based media: Bluray, DVD, CD, etc
  • Record, Pause, Playback High Definition Free Broadcast TV (no subscription needed!)
  • Plenty of storage capacity (1.5TB = 100s of hours of TV)
  • Place-shift live TV and locally recorded media (watch it anywhere)
  • Play Internet content Hulu, Netflix, Boxee, YouTube, etc.
  • Play (all formats of) videos stored on flash drives or usb sticks
  • Streams Videos, Pictures, etc. from other computers on your network
  • Surf the web with Firefox or your favorite browser with long range wireless keyboard
  • Fully functional TV-style remote controls 95% of Media-PCs functions
  • Stream music directly to your receiver without having your TV on
  • Play PC or web-based games (power gamers will want to upgrade the graphics)
  • Display 3-D media and play 3-D games
  • Plenty of graphics and cpu horsepower for almost any media or server application
  • Stays in standby mode when not in use (uses less than 2 watts! - measured here)
  • Quiet (fans barely audible)
The list really goes on as this is a fully functional Windows Media PC and there is no limit to what you can do with this it  With Windows Media Center and some properly setup software, you can do almost anything you could imagine with ease in a family friendly package.

Note:  A Media PC is also sometimes called a Home Theater PC (or HTPC).  I prefer the term Media PC since it is a more general term that better describes it's capability and use.

Why do it yourself?

There are an endless list of stand-alone media/set top/DVR boxes you can buy (or rent), but in my opinion they are all flawed in one way or another.  Most of the problems with other boxes are:
  1. Cable, Satellite, or IPTV DVRs have limited functionality and tie you to expensive monthly fees
  2. Media streaming boxes can be limited to specific services and often will only play limited video formats.
  3. Few devices will let you record broadcast TV (and usually come with monthly fees)
  4. Few devices will let you surf the web (or if they do, come with crippled browsers)
There really is only one type of box that will have few compatibility issues and nearly unlimited functionality and that that is a Media PC.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Troubleshooting and fixing a bicycle "creak"

I had just bought a new mountain bike and really enjoyed my first few rides on some trails near my house.  At first I couldn't be more pleased with it.  The bike rode great and was a huge improvement over my old one.  Unfortunately, I quickly noticed a problem when climbing up hills.  After each pedal stroke I heard a rather loud and annoying "creak".   I'm used to most normal bike noises, but this one had me worried.

Of course a "creak" is usually caused by two parts of the bike rubbing together under pressure.  The real question (and not so simple one at that) is which two parts.  I could simply ignore it, but that is almost certainly a bad idea.  Creaks always seem to get worse over time and can end up in something breaking catastrophically.  I can still remember when a "creaking" stem on my bike suddenly snapped into two pieces (an experience I don't recommend).

After several disappointing experiences with local bike mechanics, I had already decided I was going to do all my own minor bike repairs.  I was especially concerned about this particular problem because it only showed up while climbing steep hills.  I couldn't make the problem happen on a bike repair stand or with the rear brake on.  This meant that it wouldn't be easy for a bike mechanic to troubleshoot in their shop.  I could easily see myself having to take the bike to the shop several times as they tried various "fixes".  All the more reason to do it myself.

If you Google "bike", "creak" and similar terms you will find an overwhelming amount of information.  Turns out "creaks" are a really common problem with multiple causes including:
  1. A cracked frame
  2. Bottom bracket shell / Bottom bracket bearing cups
  3. Chain ring bolts
  4. Crank arms / crank spindle
  5. Pedals / crank arms
  6. Rear wheel quick release too loose
  7. Spokes
  8. Seatpost / seat post clamp
  9. Saddle / saddle rails / saddle clamp
  10. Handlebar / Stem / Headset
  11. Loose rear cassette
Fixing this problem turned out to be a fun little project and I learned a tremendous amount at the same time.  It also reinforced my belief that bikes really are precision machines that have quite a bit of impressive technology.  However, with some patience, the right tools and healthy dose of curiosity even "non-experts" can fix them.

I'll go over the steps I took to diagnose my problem, how I eliminated the easy stuff, then what I did that eventually fixed the problem (hopefully) for good.

First up, how I started the troubleshooting.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Do it yourself bicycle maintenance

If you are like me, you love bikes.  However, bikes are only fun when they are working right.  Nothing is worse than riding down the trail/road and having your bike shift badly or sound like it is about to self-destruct.  A simple twist of a screw may make all the difference between a great ride and walking home in frustration.  The trick is in knowing a little about how bikes work and having the right tools.  Once you get started I think you'll find it is really interesting and fun.

Now you are probably thinking, "what does bicycle maintenance have to do with either technology or saving money?"

While a bike may not be "tech" in the same way as a computer, don't underestimate how much technology has been incorporated in modern bikes.  New bikes are now using aerospace grade materials and alloys (carbon fiber, titanium, scandium), radical frame designs (with endless suspension variations), ceramic bearings, etc.  New bikes definitely have more than their share of "tech" features to keep your inner nerd happy.

Furthermore, saving money isn't obviously a great reason to fix your own bikes (there are far better reasons).  You need to invest a bit into tools and spend some time learning.  As with a lot of things, paying someone else to do it might seem cheaper at first.  Nevertheless, doing your own maintenance can more than pay for itself in the long run.

To get started with "do it yourself bicycle maintenance", I'll talk a bit more about recent bike technology advances, go over the real reasons why you should do maintenance yourself, and finally show you some of the tools and other stuff you will need.

Let's start first with technology...

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