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Posts Tagged ‘Ham Radio’

Solar Power: So Much Fun (Part II)

November 21st, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

Three years ago (November 20, 2012) I did a blog on my first foray into the world of solar energy. Since then, I’ve added and upgraded my system a bit. I’ve taken a break from traveling and writing about kit homes, so I thought I’d do a blog today on my new “solar system.”

If you have any questions or insights, please leave a comment below!

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

Want to read my prior blog on solar energy? Here’s the link.

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Solar

Three years ago, I installed my first "solar system" on my little back yard shed.

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I purchased this "Thunderbolt" solar panel kit from Harbor Freight. Thunderbolt strikes me as a silly name, but it's a good solid product. Each panel produces 15 watts.

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This Spring, we had a new roof put on the house and shed, and after we had that work done, I couldnt bear to put those solar panels back on the pretty new roof.

This Spring, we had a new roof put on the house and shed, and after we had that work done, I couldn't bear to put those solar panels back on the pretty new roof.

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Instead, I decided maybe it was time to upgrade a little bit.

Instead, I decided maybe it was time to upgrade a little bit. Pre-new roof, I had two sets of three panels atop the little shed roof. Each set of three produced 45 watts. The Thunderbolt solar panels were amorphous thin-film panels (older technology) while the newer panel (shown here on the side) is a crystalline panel which produces 100-watts with a single panel.

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And it looks snappy, too. The panel is manufactured by Renogy.

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I mounted the solar panel to the wall using a 360-degree flat-screen TV mount. It was on sale at Amazon for $19 and was exactly what I needed. This model has a feature (probably undesirable to many) that after the arm is pivoted where you want it, it can be tightened into place so it never moves again.

I mounted the solar panel to the wall using a 360-degree flat-screen TV mount. It was on sale at Amazon for $19 and was exactly what I needed. This model has a feature (probably undesirable to many) that after the arm is pivoted into position, it can be tightened into place so it never moves again.

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And mounting it on the side means I didnt need to drill fresh holes in that expensive new roof.

And mounting it on the side means I didn't need to drill fresh holes in that expensive new roof.

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Ive now got three 12-volt deep cycle marine batteries.

Inside, there were some upgrades too. I've now got three 12-volt deep cycle marine batteries. The battery on the floor is the one I use for my trolling motor, when I go out on the lake.

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Prior to last week, I was using this MPPT solar charge controller

Prior to last week, I was using this MPPT solar charge controller. This little jewel cost $130 on Amazon and lasted only five months before it died. And it didn't die easy. It took out one of my digital meters when it went. Plus, it didn't just stop charging the battery; it was actually draining the batteries down to 4 volts. MPPT stands for Maximum Power Point Tracking.

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You can read more about MPPT by clicking here. It’s a webpage unto itself.

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This was

Shown above is the PWM (pulse width modulation) solar charge controller than came with the 100-watt Renogy panel. We'll see how it does. It's the dirt-poor cousin of the MPPT solar charge controller. If it lasts more than five months, it'll be my new hero.

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Upgrade

With those three batteries, I was able to upgrade the inverter a bit, too. Shown above is a 1600-watt inverter. The green display shows the current charge on the battery. The now-dead meter above showed the incoming voltage on the solar panels.

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And I added a few lights, too.

And I added a few lights, too. Inside, I have four LED 12-volt lights. I mounted this one outside. It's also available at Amazon for the low, low price of $11.97 (or was). This small fixture puts out a surprising amount of light.

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The old solar set-up was a lot of fun, and it lives on at Miltons house (my buddy and next-door neighbor). Three years later, its still performing like a champ.

The old solar set-up was a lot of fun, and it lives on at Milton's house (my buddy and next-door neighbor). Three years later, it's still performing like a champ.

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Want to become a licensed ham radio operator? Check this out!

If you’re here to read about Sears kit homes, click here.

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CQ, CQ, CQ…Hopewell?

August 22nd, 2014 Sears Homes 1 comment

Tonight, for the first time in months, I got on the ham radio, calling CQ on the 40-meter band.

My second contact was “Bob.”

In a flash, my buddy Milton (sitting with me) looked up Bob’s call sign on his computer, and started laughing hysterically.

“You’re not going to believe this,” he said. “This guy’s in Hopewell!”

My oh my.

How is it that I can transmit a 100-watt signal through a magnificent antenna strung up high in the trees; a signal with the capacity to bounce off the ionosphere and travel all the way around the world, and I end up to talking to Hopewell?

Fortunately, Bob from Hopewell was a very pleasant fellow and we had a lovely chat.

He asked me if I was familiar with the many older homes in Hopewell. I told him that I was! And I suggested he check out my website.

Oh MY!

To read my other blogs on Ham Radio, click here and here.

To visit the website for the Norfolk Ham Club, click here.

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Henry

One of my very favorite movies is "Testament," which tells the story of a small town outside San Francisco, after San Francisco takes a direct hit from a nuclear bomb. In "Testament," Henry Abhart is the hero, because he's able to talk with the outside world when all other lines of communication have been lost. I highly recommend this movie. It's a tribute to the fact that, Ham Radio will always be reliable when other communications systems have failed.

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The best of both worlds: A fine-looking antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Illinois.

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Sears Avondale as seen in the 1919 catalog.

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To read my other blogs on Ham Radio, click here and here.

To read about Hopewell, click here.

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Solar Power: So Much Fun!

September 28th, 2013 Sears Homes 7 comments

For as many years as I can remember, I have been completely enchanted by alternative energy sources. Capturing a tiny drop of the sun’s massive nuclear-reactive power (386 billion billion megaWatts) is a fascinating concept.

My own “solar project” started last year when my ham-radio buddy Mike Neal sent me an email to let me know that Harbor Freight was having a sale on solar panels.  With a $30 coupon (gifted to me from a fellow Ham), I got the $229 solar panels for $159. (The original price for the panels was $229, with a sale price of $189. The $30 coupon got me to $159.)

Because I’m highly allergic to big crowds and sprawling malls and loud noises and spinning children and fluorescent lights, I paid the extra six bucks to have the unit shipped directly to my house.

It took about 12 hours to install the kit, and it was a fun project. And watching those photovoltaic cells turn the sunlight into electricity is every bit as fun as I’d thought it would be.

If I were queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d recommend that every homeowner in America have a set of these on their roof. It was a great learning experience. Forty-five watts isn’t much, but it’s enough to run a ham radio and charge up a few cell phones.

I’ve shared all the nitty-gritty details below.

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house

The little red shed in our back yard is now electrified, thanks to the sun and some photovoltaic cells on the roof. Each panel produces 15 watts, for a total of 45 watts.

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"THUNDERBOLT" seems like a curious name for a solar product.

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Were it not for plastic zip ties, installation would have taken much longer. One downside of solar power is, you have to keep the panels free of obstructions. The pine trees and the birds are conspiring against me here.

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house

Getting the leads into the shed took a little planning. Ultimately, I decided to drill a hole (3/4") through the 2x4 (and roof). It is easier to patch a tidy hole in a 2x4, rather than trying to patch a hole in tired old roofing shingle.

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house

Using weather-proofing tape (not sure that's its official name), I bound the three incoming wires together (from the panels) and poked them through the 3/4" hole into the shed. For the tiny gaps that remained, I used a compound putty substance (again, don't know the name but it looks a lot like Silly Putty). Back in the day, an old buddy told me it was called "Dum Dum" because you use it to patch a dumb mistake. However, I'd like to point out that it should be called "Smart Smart" in this particular application.

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The controller that came with the solar panels is both entertaining and fancy. Its job is to prevent an accidental overcharge or discharge ot the storage battery. The digital display is large and easy to read.

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Inside,

Inside, the wires drop down from above and into the controller (right side on the shelf above the battery). From there, the wires go into the 12-volt deep cycle Marine battery. Another set of wires carries the power from the battery back to the inverter (left side on the shelf). The inverter turns the 12-volt current into 120 volts (for household use). Like I said, it's all highly entertaining!

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Another nice bonus that came with this set are these 12-volt LED lights. They do a good job of illuminating the dark corners of our little shed.

Another nice bonus that came with this set are two of these 12-volt LED lights. They give off a surprising amount of light, and brighten up the dark corners of our red shed.

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The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for  $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

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The obstacle that kept me from starting this project was, lack of knowledge. Despite my reading and studying, I did not understand how all these components worked together. I asked Mike Neal, "What's the difference between a 200-watt inverter and a 750-watt inverter?" (After all, the 200-watt inverter was far less expensive). Mike explained, "Think of the battery as a bucket full of water. You can draw that water out with a swizzle stick or a milk-shake straw. The 200-watt inverter is a swizzle stick. The 750-watt inverter is a milk-shake straw."

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bat

My wonderful neighbor (another Mike) was also a helper in the project. I told him that I needed a deep-cycle marine battery and he got me a good deal on one at a local marine supply warehouse. This battery weighs about 50 pounds. I set it up on cinder blocks to make it easier to access, and I put the OSB down because I'd heard that batteries might discharge if placed directly atop masonry.

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The

The last part of the project required anchoring the panels to the roof. In that the panels sit so high above the roof, they'd become a sail next time a hurricane roars through. Our solution was to tether the pvc frame to the opposite side of the shed. For the tether, I used 10-gauge stranded copper grounding wire.

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Solar

Close-up of the tether on the PVC frame. It's not super taut, but it doesn't need to be. It's anchored into the steep side of the shed roof with an eye-bolt.

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Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such aas the many tall trees in our yard,

Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such as the big old tall trees in our yard. And yet, I'm happy to report, the system works VERY well!

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Total cost of the entire project:

Solar Panels - $159 plus $6 shipping (and tax)

Interstate battery - $114

750-watt inverter - $39

Battery terminals - $8

Wiring - $5 (thanks Dollar General!)

Incidentals - about $20 (zip ties, pipe clamps, tape)

Total investment: $351

Entertainment value: Endless! :)

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To learn more about why Ham Radio is so relevant and important TODAY, click here.

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

If you wish to contact Rosemary, please leave a comment below.

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When All Else Fails…

June 20th, 2013 Sears Homes No comments

Last Friday, we had a wind gust sweep through Hampton Roads and with that one lone gust of 65+ mph winds, we lost power here at the Ringer Ranch (as did 307,000 other households in Hampton Roads). Next, I picked up my cell phone to call my daughter Crystal. Apparently, the cell towers were overloaded. I could neither make nor receive phone calls.

Those little cell phones we all love so dearly are actually radios, operating on less than one watt (and sometimes as low as .3 watts). But this technologically advanced system of communication has a big downside: It’s very fragile.

During a storm, cell towers can be damaged. When too many people use their phones, the system can get overloaded. During a crisis, the government has a legal authority (and ability) to commandeer cell phone towers or even cut them off (as happened with the Boston bombing).

Communications - especially in times of emergency - are so vital. How can we reach people when power is down, phone lines have fallen and cell phones aren’t working?

Ham (Amateur) Radio.

Field Day provides live demonstrations of Ham Radio in countless cities throughout the country and specifically, here in Norfolk (at Tarrollton Park on Tarrollton Drive).  This is a nationwide event, and thousands of experienced Ham Radio operators will be involved, and all will be eager, ready and able to answer any questions you might have.

The raison d’être for “Field Day” is to help amateur radio operators hone their emergency communications skills.  In other words, we’re training and practicing to help you when things get rough.

In 2003, my elderly father lost phone service and power during Hurricane Isabel. We had no way to contact him. Had I known about the availability of Ham Radio, I would have eagerly sought out an experienced ham radio operator and asked him/her to relay a message to Portsmouth, and check on this 83-year-old man who’d already had three severe heart attacks.

The American Radio Relay League (also known as the ARRL) is the largest organization of radio amateurs in the world (with 160,000 members). And the title above (”When All Else Fails”) comes from ARRL.

Want to see how this all works?  Drop by Tarrollton Park (in Norfolk) on Saturday or Sunday and learn a little bit about what Ham Radio is all about.

If nothing else, we’re good people to know. Just in case.

Just in case.

To learn more about Field Day, click here.

To learn more about Ham Radio, click here.

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Two years ago, I became a licensed ham radio operator. Since then, Ive obtained my Extra license (the highest level) because I believe that being able to communication in times of emergencies is vital.

Two years ago, I became a licensed ham radio operator, thanks in part to this movie, "Testament." Since then, I've obtained my "Extra" license (the highest level) because I believe that being able to communicate in times of emergencies is vital.

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My friend Milton has an awesome set-up.

One example of an awesome vintage ham radio set-up (from the 1980s).

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My set-up is so simple that even a Sheltie can operate it! Okay, maybe not, but if she had opposable thumbs, that'd help. .

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Jim and Milton (fellow hams) install a new antenna.

Jim and Milton (fellow hams) install a new antenna.

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The best of both worlds: Large antenna mounted on Sears Avondale in Litchfield, Illinois

Ham radio antenna mounted on Sears kit home ("The Avondale) in Litchfield, Illinois. When times get rough, the people who have these antennas in their yard will be your new best friends. But not all antennas are visible from the front yard.

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To learn more about the movie Testament, click here.

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Sometimes, They’re Hiding Right By Your Biscuits…

April 5th, 2013 Sears Homes 6 comments

Having lived in Norfolk for seven years now, I have scoured every street in this city, searching for mail-order kit homes. I’ve ridden around with several friends, studied maps, queried long-time residents and harangued my husband and I was quite certain that I’d seen every early 20th Century neighborhood that Norfolk had to offer.

Wednesday night, my buddy Milton and I were on our way to CERT class, and we swung by Church’s Fried Chicken to buy some of their world-famous honey biscuits. For reasons I can’t explain, an integral part of the CERT class is a pot-luck supper. (We’re  expected to bring a piquant and palatable platter of something wonderful to these weekly classes.)

As we pulled out onto Virginia Beach Blvd, I noticed a lovely Dutch Colonial staring back at me.

“Huh,” I thought to myself. “That Dutchie has an interior chimney,  just like the Martha Washington (Sears Home). Isn’t that something?”

And then I noticed that it had the curved porch roof, just like the Martha Washington.

And then I looked again and thought, “And it’s got those short windows centered on the second floor, just like the Martha Washington.”

Next, I looked at the small attic window and thought, “And it’s got that half-round window in the attic, just like the Martha Washington.”

As Milton drove down the road, I twisted my head around and saw that the Dutchie had the two distinctive bay windows on the side, just like the Martha Washington. Those two windows are an unusual architecture feature, and that was the clincher.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I told Milton. “I think that’s a Sears House.”

Now anyone who’s hung around me for more than 73 minutes knows that I’m a pretty big fan of Sears Homes, and my friends understand that a significant risk of riding around with Rose is that there will be many detours when we pass by early 20th Century neighborhoods.

Milton gladly obliged and gave me an opportunity to take a long, lingering look at this Dapper Dutchie.

That night at the CERT meeting, I kept thinking about the fact that one of the most spacious and fanciest Sears Homes ever offered was sitting right here in Norfolk, and after seven years of living in this city, I just now found it.

The next day, Milton picked me up around 11:00 am and we returned to the Sears Martha Washington so that I could take a multitude of photos. Sadly, as we drove through the adjoining neighborhoods, we saw that the nearby college (Norfolk State) had apparently swallowed up great gobs of surrounding bungalows.

Between that and some very aggressive redevelopment, it appears that hundreds of early 20th Century homes are now just a dusty memory at the local landfill.

Do the owners of this Martha Washington know what they have? Based on my research, more than 90% of the people living in these historically significant homes didn’t know what they had until I knocked on their door and told them.

What a find! What a treasure! And it’s right here in Norfolk!

So is there a Magnolia hiding somewhere nearby?  :)

To learn more about the kit homes in Norfolk, click here.

To learn how to identify marked lumber, click here.

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The Martha Washington was a grand and glorious house.

The Martha Washington was a grand and glorious house. According to this page from the 1921 catalog, it had seven modern rooms. I wonder how many "old-fashioned" rooms it had?

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According to this

Here's a Martha Washington that was featured in the back pages of the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalog. This house was built in Washington, DC, and shows the house shortly after it was finished.

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This line drawning from the 1921 catalog shows the

This line drawing from the 1921 catalog shows those two bay windows on the side.

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This was described as a snowy white kitchen de Lux.

This was described as a "snowy white kitchen de Lux." For its time, this really was a very modern kitchen. Notice the "good morning stairs" too the right, and the handy little stool under the sink. According to a 1928 Sears Modern Homes catalog, the "average woman spends 3/4ths of her day in the kitchen." So maybe that's why she got a hard metal stool to sit on at the sink?

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Oh may

"Judge for yourself how attractive, bright and sanitary we have made this home for the housewife." And a "swinging seat"! I guess that's a desperate attempt to make kitchen work seem more recreational, and less like drudge work.

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CheckAn “exploded view” shows the home’s interior. That baby-grand piano looks mighty small!

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Second

Check out that bathtub on the rear of the house. And that's a sleeping porch in the upper right. Again, that furniture looks mighty small.

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As you can see from the picture (1921), this was a fine home!

As you can see from the picture (1921), this was a fine home!

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Be still my quiveringg heart!

Be still my quivering heart! And it's right on Virginia Beach Boulevard!

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A view from the side.

A view from the side, showing off those bay windows.

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The PVC fish scales over the porch are a pity (and do a fine job of hiding the beautiful fan light),

The PVC fish scales over the porch are a pity (and do a fine job of hiding the beautiful fan light), and the badly crimped aluminum trim on that porch roof doesn't look too good, and the wrought-iron is a disappointment, but (and this is a big but), at least it's still standing.

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Before

The porch, in its pre-aluminum siding salesmen and pre-wrought-iron and pre-PVC state.

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compare

A comparison of the Martha Washington in DC with the house in Norfolk!

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And heres a Martha Washington in Cincinnatti, Ohio.

And here's a Martha Washington in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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To learn more about the Martha Washington, click here.

To learn more about biscuits, click here.

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It’s Official! I’m Now a Ham! (Part VII)

March 23rd, 2013 Sears Homes 7 comments

It was September 2012 when I took the second ham radio text (General) and passed, missing only one question. With my General license, I gained access to High Frequency bands (which are the bands that enable you to communicate around the world).

And then most recently, I sat for my Extra exam (the third and top level), and passed, missing only four questions out of 50 (from a question pool of 738 questions).

Having now passed all three tests, I’d have to say that - in my opinion as a professional writer -  the questions on the “Extra” test are, by design, unnecessarily complicated, difficult and confusing.

Worst of all, the questions on these tests are relics from the 1950s.

Most of the horrifically technical information contained on the Extra test (such as the subtle differences between Zener, Varactor, Schottky and Tunnel diodes), is useful only to those people who may be interested in building their own radios. If you’re not planning on building a radio, this is information you’ll never want, need or use.

So why are the great majority of these questions so miserably difficult?

I’d really, really like to know.

The demographic of Ham Radio operators is overwhelmingly older men (age 60+). According to Wikipedia, “fewer than 15%” of Ham Radio operators are women. And I would love to know how many of those women have their Extra license?  Overall, a mere 17% of licensed hams have their Extra license. I’d expect that among women, that number is much, much lower.

I’m blessed with a good memory (which has been a huge help in my career as a Sears House hunter), and years ago, I took two years of Automotive Technology at a vocational school. This background, together with about 45 hours of devoted study, enabled me to pass today’s test.

But it wasn’t easy.

If Ham Radio is to survive the next few decades, it’s essential that it move out of the 1950s and into the 21st Century, and a big part of that is revamping the current testing program, and make it more apropos to our modern times. Perhaps the tests should focus on the real-world practical issues of safety, proper grounding techniques, antenna design and installation, etiquette and band plans.

After all, how many Americans would have cell phones if every user had to pass a test demonstrating competency in building their own phone from a Heath Kit?

Not too many.

To read Part One of this blog, click here.

Want to read the other blogs on ham radio? Part Two is here. Part Three is here. Click here for Parts Four, Five and Six.

Ham

My interest in Ham Radio was piqued after seeing "Testament" with Jane Alexander and William Devane. After a nuclear detonation in a nearby town, the hero of the story is Ham Radio operator Henry Abhart, who was single-handedly responsible for keeping the community in touch with the rest of the world.

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ham ham ham

Teddy the Dog is very interested in ham.

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ham ham ham

My "ham shack" is pretty well contained on this old oak table on my sunporch. In my experience with this Yaesu 450d HF radio, I've never needed to know anything about diodes, annodes, powdered iron toroids, modulators, oscillators, TTL integrated circuits, leading voltage, lagging voltage, reactance, resistance or resonance.

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teddy milton

My buddy Milton has an older rig (mid-1980s) and this radio also does not require a comprehensive knowledge of diodes, annodes, powdered iron toroids, modulators, oscillators, TTL integrated circuits, leading voltage, lagging voltage, reactance, resistance or resonance.

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Test questions

A typical question found on the Extra exam. I struggled to memorize the answers to the 738 questions on the Extra test. Answers such as this, where the four responses were so painfully close, were especially difficult for me. Answers such as this comprise a large portion of the test.

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ham ham

The question (and the four potential answers) was particularly vexing. In the end, the way I remembered the right answer was simply, "There is no modulating in baseband."

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ham ham

What is the practical application of this knowledge? I wish I knew. I really do.

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In conclusion, I found this website to be the most useful in studying for this test. https://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/

The software pays attention to your strengths and weaknesses (as you answer the questions), and forces you to revisit the questions that you got wrong (again and again). It’s under $35 per test and worth every penny.

And perhaps one day, we can make it simpler for folks to participate in the many joys of Ham Radio by removing the barrier created by these difficult tests.

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“A Mansion of Colonial Style Architecture” - Sears Kit Home #303

December 6th, 2012 Sears Homes 6 comments

There are scores of Sears kit homes that I have never laid eyes on, and Sears Modern Home #303 is one of them.

This particular model is of special interest because it is so grand and ostentatious. It has many unique features, so it’s easy to differentiate #303 from your garden variety Queen Anne manse.

And this was offered by Sears Roebuck as a “Kit Home.”

What a kit!

I don’t know that any of these were ever built. The sale of Sears Homes didn’t really take off until after The Great War ended (1919), and this house was only offered in one year (1910). It does not appear in “Houses by Mail.”

My dear friend and co-author Dale Wolicki posits that it was just a carryover from a pattern book house that Sears added to their catalog in 1910. That’s a pretty sound theory, and very likely.

Modern Home #303 was offered only in the very rare 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog.

Modern Home #303 was offered only in the very rare 1910 Sears Modern Homes catalog. It was the most expensive house offered in the catalog, and was intended to be built with solid brick walls. Sears estimated that the finished cost would be about $6,700.

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Would you pay almost $7,000 for this house?

Would you pay $6,700 for this house?

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One of the towers

One of the towers is a polygon (not circular).

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And the other is round.

And the other is round.

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And there's a toilet on the first floor! No sink, just a toilet!

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Close-up of all that busyness on the back of the house.

Close-up of all that busyness on the back of the house.

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Check out this floorplan!

Check out this floorplan! Notice the trunk room over the kitchen area? Back in the day, it wasn't fittin' to put a bedroom over the kitchen. Too much heat and too many odors.

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And its even better than a Barbie Dream Mansion!

And it's even better than a Barbie Dream Mansion!

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

To read about Wardway Houses, click here.

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Cooking - Off the Grid!

November 24th, 2012 Sears Homes 3 comments

As has become our annual tradition, hubby cooked our 18-pound turkey on his Weber Charcoal Grill. It was one of the most delicious birds I’ve ever enjoyed. The best part was that it was cooked 100% “off the grid.”

The charcoal is a no-brainer. Lots of people know how to use charcoal to cook their meat.

But the secret of a well-cooked bird  is the rotisserie attachment which spins the meat at a slow speed. This year, the small but powerful rotisserie motor was powered  by our new “Solar System,” three 15-watt solar panels which we recently installed at The Ringer Ranch.

These three photovoltaic panels convert the sun’s rays into electricity, which is stored in a 12-volt deep-cycle marine battery. The inverter (shown below) converts the 12-volt system into 120 volts, suitable for household use.

To learn more about how we installed these solar panels, click here.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

Hubby proudly points out his delicious turkey spinning on the grill.

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Look

Our three 15-watt solar panels are on top of the shed roof.

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The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed.

The electrical items (inverter, solar controller and battery) are inside the shed. Notice the orange extension cord coming out of the inverter? That is powering the rotisserie.

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The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power.

The most amazing part is that the solar panels were charging the battery *faster* than the rotisserie motor was drawing off power. And this was at 8:00 am.

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Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

Safety first. Hubby uses the five-gallon bucket to keep the cords out of the wet dew.

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It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

It was indeed a most splendiferous bird!

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Want a “solar system” of your own? We did it for $351 (total cost). To buy your own, click here.

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To learn more about Sears Homes, click here.

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To read about a very happy Thanksgiving in 1918, click here.

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It’s Official: I’m Now a Ham (Part V)

November 20th, 2012 Sears Homes 4 comments

One of the most interesting features  of Ham Radio is that its operators are expected to have access to alternative energy sources during times of regional or national emergency.

After all, what good is it to have a Ham Radio if you can’t use it when the power goes out?

For as many years as I can remember, I have been utterly fascinated by alternative energy sources. Capturing a tiny drop of the sun’s massive nuclear-reactive power (386 billion billion megaWatts) is a  fascinating concept.

After several tours of Mike Neal’s very own “Radio Shack,” and after receiving several helpful tutorials on this topic from Mr. Neal (and lots of specific guidance), I was ready to take the plunge.

My “solar project” started in earnest about a month ago when Mike sent me an email to let me know that Harbor Freight was having a sale on solar panels. This was the very set that Mike had at his house and he said it was “a good solar set-up for the money.”

With a $30 coupon (gifted to me from a fellow Ham), I got the $229 solar panels for $159. (The original price for the panels was $229, with a sale price of $189. The $30 coupon got me to $159.)

Because I’m highly allergic to crowds and shopping areas and loud noises and small children and fluorescent lights, I paid the extra six bucks to have the unit shipped directly to my house. It was well worth it.

It took about 12 hours to install the whole rig, and my oh my, it was a fun project. And watching those photovoltaic cells turn the sunlight into electricity is every bit as fascinating as I’d thought it would be.

If I were queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d recommend that every homeowner in America have a set of these on their roof. It was a great learning experience. And I’ve shared all the nitty-gritty details below.

To read more about my experiences with Ham Radio, check out Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of this series.

House shed

The little shed in our back yard is now electrified, thanks to these three solar panels on the roof. Each panel produces 15 watts, for a total of 45 watts.

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solar thunder

I'm not sure why a corporation would adopt the name "THUNDERBOLT" for their solar products. Nonetheless, it's a sound value and seems to be a well-made product.

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Solar panels

The solar panels were set on a 2x4 which was fastened with screws into the roof and painted flat black. The PVC frame was secured to the 2x4 with 3/4" metal pipe clamps. This will enables us to change the angle of the panels (for winter and summer) without any major disassembling.

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house house house

This shot shows the panels and 2x4 more closely. In a mere 12 hours, the solar panels have already been assaulted by both birds (far left) and pine straw (bottom).

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Thinking about how to get the leads into the little shed took some thinking.

Figuring out how to get the leads into the little shed took some thinking. In the end, I decided to drill a hole (3/4") through the 2x4 (and the roofing sheathing below). I reasoned that it'd be easier to patch a clean hole through a piece of lumber rather than trying to patch a hole in an irregular surface (such as an old roofing shingle).

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solar

Using stretchy weatherproofing tape (which probably has a much better name), I bound those three wires (from the three solar panels) together and fed them through the hole into the shed's interior. I purposefully used a lot of tape so it would fill the 3/4" hole. For the tiny gaps that remained, I used a compound putty substance (again, don't know the name but it looks a lot like Silly Putty). Back in the day, a contractor friend told me it was called "Dum Dum" because you use it to patch a dumb mistake. However, I'd like to point out that it should be called "Smart Smart" in this particular application.

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Inside,

Inside, the wires drop down from above and into the controller (right side on the shelf above the battery). From there, the wires go into the 12-volt deep cycle Marine battery. Another set of wires carries the power from the battery back to the inverter (left side on the shelf). The inverter turns the 12-volt current into 120 volts (for household use).

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The

The controller that came with the solar panels is quite impressive. The digital display is large and easy to read, and reports on the battery power (12.4 volts shown here). For $159, it's a pretty fancy set-up and a darn good deal.

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Another nice bonus that came with this set are these 12-volt LED lights. They do a good job of illuminating the dark corners of our little shed.

Another nice bonus that came with this set are two of these 12-volt LED lights. They do a good job of illuminating the dark corners of our little shed. They plug into the front of the controller (as shown in the picture of the controller above).

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The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for  $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

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Part of the problem I encountered was that, despite my reading and studying, I didnt understand a whole lot about how these things work.

Part of the problem I encountered whilst doing this project was, despite my reading and studying, I didn't understand a whole lot about how all these things work together. I asked Mike Neal, "What's the difference between a 200-watt inverter and a 750-watt inverter?" Fact is, a 200-watt inverter was whole lot cheaper. Mike explained, "Think of the battery as a bucket full of water. You can draw that water out with a swizzle stick or a milk-shake straw. The 200-watt inverter is a swizzle stick. The 750-watt inverter is a milk-shake straw."

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The

The other helper in this project was my wonderful neighbor, Mike Mancini. I told him that I needed a deep-cycle marine battery and he got me a good deal on one at a local marine parts supply company. Plus, he gave me a ride out to the place and then hefted it out of his truck and out to my shed. This battery weighs about 50 pounds. I set it up on cinder blocks to make it easier to access, and I put the OSB down because I'd heard that batteries might discharge if placed directly atop masonry.

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Fie dollahs

You may notice the fine-looking wires shown in the picture above (of the battery). I bought these booster cables at General Dollar Store and paid $5 for the whole affair. I then cut the wires off from the clips and used them for the controller-to-battery run and the battery-to-inverter run. It's 10-gauge stranded copper wire.

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The

The last part of the project required anchoring the panels to the roof. In that the panels sit so high above the roof, they'll become a dandy sail in strong winds. Our solution was to tether the pvc frame to the opposite side of the shed. For the tether, I used 10-gauge stranded copper grounding wire. May seem like a waste, but I recently bought a spool of it to ground a couple antennas and masts and such. Seems I had about 400 feet left over from those other projects.

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Solar

Close-up of the tether on the PVC frame. It's not super taut, but it doesn't need to be. It's anchored into the steep side of the shed roof with an eye-bolt.

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Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such aas the many tall trees in our yard,

Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such as the big old tall trees in our yard. After the "Solar System" was all set up, we were both AMAZED and pleased to see that it started charging immediately. What was so amazing? It was a dark, cold, gloomy overcast day. I can hardly wait to see how it does with a little sunlight!

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Total cost of the entire project:

Solar Panels - $159 plus $6 shipping (and tax)

Interstate battery - $114

750-watt inverter - $39

Battery terminals - $8

Wiring - $5  (thanks Dollar General!)

Incidentals - about $20 (zip ties, pipe clamps, tape)

Total investment:  $351

Entertainment value: Endless!  :)

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To learn more about why Ham Radio is so relevant and important TODAY, click here.

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

If you wish to contact Rosemary, please leave a comment below.

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Who Are These Old Ham Radio Guys?

October 15th, 2012 Sears Homes 1 comment

While doing some research on Norfolk’s historic architecture, my friend Bill at the Sergeant Memorial Room (Norfolk Public Library) found this old booklet (dated 1951) for me, promoting Norfolk’s public schools. One of the pictures showed three boys working on what appears to be an old Ham Radio set.

It sure would be fun to figure out who these boys are, and if they remained interested in Ham Radio through the decades.

Do you recognize them?

Who

Who are these guys? This picture appeared in a 1951 promotional brochure for Norfolk Public Schools. No name or photo credit was given. I'm not even sure which high schools were in existence in Norfolk in 1951. If they were juniors or seniors in 1951, they'd be 79 or 80 years old today.

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This

Someone must know who this young fellow is!

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More

This is the cover of the brochure which featured the young men shown above.

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On a more modern note, Teddy the Wonder Dog examines the new Comet CHA-250Bx antenna that arrived Friday afternoon. Shes puzzled by the size of the resistor at the end of this 23 vertical antenna.

On a more modern note, Teddy the Wonder Dog examines the new Comet CHA-250Bx antenna that arrived Friday afternoon. She's puzzled by the size of the resistor at the end of this 23' vertical antenna.

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If those boys above could look into the future and see Ham Radio today, theyd be shocked to know that in 21st Century America, Japanese-made radio products are considered to be top notch.

If those boys above could look into the future and see Ham Radio today, they'd be shocked to know that in 21st Century America, Japanese-made radio products are considered to be top notch.

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To learn more about Ham Radio in Norfolk, click here.

Want to read more about the Sears Homes in Norfolk? Click here.

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