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October 29, 2009

Remote Control Surge Protector

When I bought my TV, it was "HD ready," meaning it wasn't. It couldn't receive over-the-air HD signals without some other device unscrambling the signal first. So I wound up buying a HD receiver that would do that. One thing I noticed was the HD receiver stays pretty warm all the time, so even when it is off (really on standby) it is using a lot of power. If you unplug it, it has to boot up which takes maybe a minute or so. So it is always booted up and ready.

On a bulletin board I visit now, we were talking about energy efficiency and someone mentioned that one of the big energy killers is devices that are turned off but still use up a lot of electricity. These are sometimes called "vampires". This guy said he had a TV that used a lot even when it was off, which he was able to measure using a Kill A Watt energy monitor. He has an off-grid cabin that uses solar power, so he has to avoid vampires like that and instead chose to use a regular TV in the cabin.

Anyway, what I told him was needed is a remote controlled surge protector. That way you could plug in the DVD player, TV, receiver, HD box, etc. and then turn off the surge protector so they couldn't use any energy while they were off (essentially unplugged now). You could do this by hand, but it would be easier to do it by remote since surge protectors are usually buried under a lot of wire. Another guy said they already make them, so I went looking on Amazon and sure enough, I found one made by Belkin.

It is pretty neat. It has 2 plugs for continuous power, which are needed for things like a DVR that might record a show while I'm not there. Then it has 6 plugs that can be cut off with a remote. I think it uses radio frequencies and therefore doesn't need a direct line of sight from the remote to the device, but if not, I will be able to program that into my universal remote. It also has settings so that you could have one surge protector for the home entertainment group and another for the computer set up independently.

I bought one. I will set up my DVR and TV with continuous power since I use those the most. But when I watch a DVD or want to tune in an HD program (not that often, partly because I don't even get decent reception of most of the stations), I will turn on the other stuff. While I was at it, I also bought a Kill A Watt device so I can measure how much energy I am saving. Hopefully this will save energy. Once I measure a few things with the Kill a Watt, I won't need it very often, so anyone is welcome to borrow it.

October 26, 2009

Six Flags

I knew it had been a while since I had been to Six Flags and I wanted to get back there soon. Lately, their finances have been shaky and it wasn't completely certain they would even be able to stay open this year. Jeb mentioned possibly planning a trip and after the cold rainy weather of last weekend, we decided to try this weekend (next weekend is the last one of the year). I asked Grant, but he couldn't go.

We started the day by going to church at Holy Cross, which I thought would be good because it would make us start early (mass ending at 10), but after stopping at Mom's to change out of church clothes and picking up coffee and lunch, then driving down to the park we got there a little after 11:30 (park opens at 10:30). Then I lost the tickets I had purchased and printed out at home the night before. We walked to the gate (parking was self-serve and there was only one tram which doesn't seem to run that often) and a lady at customer service was able to re-print our tickets by using my credit card. The deal with buying at home was that you get kid's price of $30 instead of paying $45. But if you paid $50 you would get a season pass for next year plus get in free the rest of this year.

One thing I will say at this point is that if they're not going to run more than one tram, then they need to move the entrance closer to the parking lot. I think they used to have a closer entrance that was just off of the parking lot. It's not a horrible walk, but most of it was just around one side of the park. The parking lot really isn't that huge.

At the box office they said that the Wheelie and Sky Buckets were closed today. After we got in we went straight for Goliath, the newest roller coaster in the park (built in 2006). Goliath is a hypercoaster, meaning it is over 200 feet tall, has no loops, and has a lift hill. It really is big, dwarfing the nearby Mindbender and Scorcher coasters and then heading out of the park, across the tramway, over the lake and back in. And while you can see Goliath from just about anywhere, it was harder finding where the line started. I had to ask for help to find it. The line wasn't too bad. Jeb and I met these two kids in line in front of us who were maybe 12. They were really funny. We told them we were brothers and they said they were like brothers because they were always at each others' houses. We talked about Goliath since they had ridden it a lot and we told them we sometimes get sick on roller coasters (just kidding with them). They said they were going to ride in the front, but we said we would probably sit further back because the line for the front was usually pretty long. But when we got to the station they stood in line with us so they would be on our row (4 across). Instant friends, which is the great thing about kids. We talked about roller coasters a lot and I said they should have one where every seat was on the front row.

As were getting to the front of the line they had a technical difficulty (we asked the kids if they thought "technical difficulty" meant someone had died or just thrown up; we talked a lot about throw-up, I guess, which is always a popular subject with boys) and they told everyone loading into the cars to get out and pushed the line back. They said there would be a delay and that if we wanted to leave we had to go back out the way we came. They wound up sending the empty train partially up the hill and brought in the next trainload of people, some of whom seemed to have been crying. I wonder where they had been stuck? Then they sent the empty car around and loaded people up into that car, so the total delay was only fifteen minutes or so. That also meant we had to get the car that had been stuck. When it was our turn, our new friends gave us the outside seats in case we needed to hang our heads out the figurative window, so to speak. Those kids were great, but we never saw them again afterwards.

Anyway, Goliath was fantastic. They use parabola-shaped hills that make you go weightless as you go over the top. And for the most part the ride is out and back, so there aren't a lot of jarring turns. The weightlessness is called "airtime" and Goliath is famous for it. In fact, over the last few years it has worked its way up to Number 4 on the list of best steel roller coasters in the country even though there are bigger, faster coasters. It has a 540-degree helix (a loop on its side) at the furthest out point similar to the Titan at Six Flags Over Texas where I had browned out, but this one isn't as intense. I enjoyed it and Jeb was very impressed with all the air time, especially since the kids had told us that you would never leave your seat (maybe we were both kidding each other). Because you don't go upside down there is no horse collar over your shoulders, just a puck on a stick that holds you down. Jeb didn't like that if the puck came off of the stick, you would just float away. He didn't agree with me that you might float but on the next hill you would just end up in your seat again.

Next we went on another new coaster (for us, it had been about 10 years for both of us since we had been to the park and the Batman ride was the newest thing then) called the Georgia Scorcher. This one is unique in that you stand up while riding, but this means you have to awkwardly straddle something like a bicycle seat plus the horse collar comes down over your head and chest. It was a pretty neat ride though. You can really lean into the curves on a standup coaster. Afterwards we headed back towards the entrance, past the Georgia Cyclone (which wasn't operating, but it is so rough I don't ever want to ride it again) and towards Acrophobia.

Acrophobia is a big tower with a ring of seats that is pulled up and then dropped from the top. Once we got there we realized that on this ride, all of the seats really were on the front row. There was almost no line, but we still got to watch the group in front of us go. As they dropped we could see their pants legs flapping in the wind as they hurtled downwards. And they were really dropped: there was one ring that hauls the other ring up and it comes down separately from the passenger ring. Apparently the part that drops is slowed by magnets and hydraulic sticks that it lands on. There was no floor so your feet just dangle, but you are on a seat with a horse collar on, so you are secure. As you go up, the whole ring rotates and you get to see all around you. Once at the top they started a countdown. Jeb said they would drop us at 4 to surprise us, but they dropped us at zero. I knew we'd get that sudden weightless feeling of being dropped, but after that we kept going faster and faster with not much in front of you to hold on to and then the legs of my jeans were flapping. It was two seconds of terror. They didn't need to drop us at 4 because nothing could prepare us for that even when we knew it was about to happen. This thing isn't to be missed! And the landing wasn't real jarring or anything. Sometimes they don't rotate the ring and other times the seats will tilt you outwards 15 degress when you're at the top. We rotated but didn't tilt.

After that we headed to the Dahlonega Mine Train. It was more for old time's sake than anything, plus we figured the line would be quick, but it was actually pretty long (littler kids can ride it, so it is more popular with families, plus more and more people were getting to the park). Mom and Carol both called while we were in line. I told Mom we had ridden the log jam and gotten cold and wet, and that in retrospect we should have waited until the end to ride the log jam instead of being wet all day. But we never did ride the log jam and the weather turned out to be just about perfect. We waited a little longer to ride in the front car. What a silly roller coaster. There is no big downhill on it, just lots of little hills. And because we were in the front we would just creep down those little hills and not accelerate until we were at the bottom and had the rest of the train's weight behind us. So it was a weird feeling. We had fun yelling sarcastically as we inched down these tiny hills. Then at the end there's this kind of rough part where you go pretty fast and the ride is over. I'm surprised they can get the coaster to go so consistently slow in parts without coming to a stop.

Next we cut back across the park to the Batman Ride. The line here was pretty long, but there were signs up saying it was 90 minutes, 60 minutes, then 30 minutes to the front and typically we could walk all the way past the 30-minute signs (we could always bypass the back and forths). But for Batman, we hit the line at 90 minutes which I think is why a lot of people were heading back as we were going in. It turned out to be 30-45 minutes but partly because we decided to wait for the front seat again. Because the cars hang from the track above on Batman, I think it is better to ride in the front and get an unobstructed view. It was well worth it and Batman is a crazy fun ride that leaves you woozy.

By this time it was about 2:30 and I was getting really hungry. So we decided to go back out to the car and get our lunch, but since we were going to pass Mindbender on the way, we stopped there first and rode that. The Mindbender is really showing its age and rattles a lot, but it is fun going through those loops. Later on some girls who had ridden it six times in a row told us they determined the best seats were in the back, but we didn't make it back again to test that out.

We got our hands stamped with invisible ink and walked back to the car for our sandwich plus Coke Zero and apples that Jeb had brought. Then we went back in, walked past Cyclone (now operating) and Dahlonega then crossed a bridge, went around the carousel hill and came out right near the Superman ride. This was the only other coaster we had never ridden, but this line was probably 45 minutes. That is probably okay because it let our lunches settle. It is a funny ride, suspended from above like Batman, but with the riders in a "flying" position like they are Superman. Only really they are in a sitting position rotated 90 degrees and their arms dangling straight down, so everyone kind of looks like they are on all fours. From the line you can see a big pretzel loop in the tracks and it is hard to tell whether the riders are upside down or right side up. As they go down the inside of the loop their heads are straight down and Jeb noticed an object fall as one train went past. We think it might have been a cell phone and then we noticed there were at least five cell phones on the ground under that part of the ride, plus all kinds of other stuff shaken out of people's pockets, including keys. After the long wait, we decided we might as well wait for the front seat again and again I think this was a great call. You sit down at first with a horse collar over your head, but it has a sheet of rubber or vinyl inside that will hold you like a cot when you tilt. As the collar comes down, your ankles are locked into position too. Then the floor drops, the seats rotate and you are facing straight down. Once you have assumed the position, you start your way up the hill and see people's shoes that have fallen off. They try to make the ride seem like flying and you swoop up and around and then low over the ground. It was pretty neat. You look out and just see space. Before the ride, I wrapped the stuff in my pockets in the map and then crammed the whole wad into my jeans pocket and didn't lose anything. On this ride they even told you not to wear glasses (because Superman doesn't wear glasses, I think), but mine stayed on fine.

After Superman we walked past the Great American Scream Machine (which hadn't been operating at first, but was going again by that time) to Ninja which has five inversions. I had read beforehand that it was pretty rough, though I didn't remember that from riding it before. There was almost no line and we could have walked up and gotten on the first train, but now we were used to riding up front, so we waited a couple of times for that. Ninja is pretty jerky and just seems kind of poorly designed, like taking a curve but it doesn't have the right bank and you get slung to the side pretty hard. Afterwards we finally gave in to all the advertising for Snickers Fright Fest and bought a couple of Snickers bars to mark Dad's birthday.

At that point it was about 5:00 so we decided to drop by Goliath again before heading out. The line was about the same as it was the first time, maybe even a little shorter and we didn't have the delay of a "technical difficulty." Once again it was a really good ride, but we didn't wait for the front seat (sat closer to the back). Compared to Ninja, we just floated over the humps. In the helix this time I noticed just the very beginning of thinking about browning out and afterwards they hit the brakes so I think maybe we went through there pretty fast. Or I was tired.

After that I asked Jeb if he wanted to do Acrophobia again real fast, but he said no and that was the scariest part of any ride we had been on that day. On the way, out as we passed under the tracks of Goliath, we noticed all of the stuff that had fallen out of people's pockets and into a net under the tracks: more phones, more keys, all kinds of stuff. There is no net over the part that goes over the lake so I don't know if people ever get their stuff back. One girl said she was on Goliath and a cell phone went flying by her head and almost hit her. So the lesson is to really secure stuff in your pockets.

It was a fun trip. The park seemed like it was in really good shape, the staff were all nice, and the people we met were generally friendly too. It was a lot of fun. When I got back in the car and closed the door, I noticed the tickets I had printed out were in the door pocket. So at least I remembered to bring them, even if I forgot where I put them.

October 12, 2009

Antivirus Software

This weekend my one-year license for Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 2009 expired. Really, it shouldn't be because I had Trend Micro Internet Security 2008 last year which didn't expire until late November, but when I got 2009 last October, I thought I could go ahead and install it and keep the same expiration date. But because the Pro version is different than the regular version, there was no such deal and it was like throwing away six weeks of my purchase (free after rebates).

Knowing the expiration was coming up (it won't let you forget), I have been keeping an eye on Fry's ads to see when the new version would come out and if I could get it for free after rebate again. So far only the regular version seems to be out and it is $5 after rebates. I think I can do better. But what to do in the meantime? I knew Trend would stop downloading the latest virus definitions and software updates, but I didn't realize it wouldn't even scan my hard drive anymore. So I felt like I needed a stopgap and figured I would try some free software.

So I downloaded AVG antivirus which has been around for a while and gets good ratings from CNET. First I uninstalled Trend, but when I tried to install AVG it told me I already had antivirus software installed and there could be conflicts. I have had to uninstall and reinstall Trend several times because it would get buggy, so I thought it uninstalled pretty well. I went to the Windows Security control panel and under antivirus it told me that I was being protected by McAfee. I haven't had McAfee for about two years.

So I looked around for how I could get Windows Security to forget about McAfee. I found a place that said to go into the Registry and do a search on "McAfee" and delete everything associated with it, then it named 10 other McAfee-specific words to look for and do the same with. I started that and quickly found about 20 instances. It didn't seem like it would ever end. Fortunately, McAfee makes a utility that will wipe past installations of McAfee off of your system, so I ran that and it took care of everything a lot easier than hunting through the Registry.

Next it was time to install AVG, but I got some kind of funky error about not having access to a registry key. So I look for solutions on this and found another utility on the AVG discussion boards that resets permissions in the registry so that AVG can install. No telling what all that did, but hopefully it didn't leave a big security hole.

Now I get to install AVG and it went on fairly well, except that the 890k installer actually had to download about 30 MB of files to no telling where on my hard drive. It also wants to install a browser toolbar which tells what websites are safe, but also includes Yahoo search. Under the toolbar's options you can get rid of the Yahoo search box, but when you check that box, Yahoo's search box is still there. That's annoying, but you can at least change the search box to Wikipedia which seemed kind of useful (I already have a Google search box in my browser's menu bar).

So now I want to do an initial scan. On my laptop this took over two hours. I don't mind that for a thorough initial scan, but I don't want to wait that long every time and, by the way, AVG wants to do a scan every day instead of once a week like I had Trend doing.

I looked in Consumer Reports to see what they were recommending and they have a "free suite" of three different free products that they feel is competitive with paid software. One was Microsoft Windows Defender which comes with Vista. Another was Avira which I'd never heard of but they said it was the second year in a row they had recommened it. After the two-hour scan, I decided that might be worth it. I also started an online Microsoft security scan on my desktop which took about four hours to scan.

Anyway, since my laptop has Vista and Defender on it, I decided to uninstall AVG from there and put Avira on there. It went fairly quickly, no toolbar in my browser, but it is not nearly as polished as AVG seemed to be. I like that I was able to download the whole 30 MB installation file at once and can re-use it on my other computer instead of downloading again like I did with AVG. I ran its initial scan and while it started out quite quickly, it still wound up taking just over an hour and a half. None of these scans found anything significant (Microsoft's online thing said it found something and I told it to deal with it, but it never told me what it was), just some tracking cookies.

Looking further for more reviews, I found some people saying Trend wasn't as good as it once was and I should be looking at Norton or McAfee. Given how many times I had to uninstall and reinstall it over the last year (6-10 times), I wouldn't mind finding something else. But Grant has Norton 2009 and says it has bogged down his computer at times. I'll keep an eye on Avira on my laptop and AVG on my desktop and see how it goes for a little while.

October 11, 2009

Lithium Ion Flashlights

I think I'm almost done learning about flashlights. This weekend I researched lithium ion batteries and how they relate to flashlights. This is because the tiny flashlight I bought can be powered by a lithium ion battery, though it is not recommended (this is different from disposable lithium batteries like Energizer sells that you only use once but have more power than alkalines). But if you put one in there it will make the flashlight much brighter (and potentially burn it out if you leave it running for very long on the highest brightness setting). One problem with Li-ion batteries is they tend to explode or catch fire. Just about all of the cases where laptops, iPods, or other devices catch fire are because of Li-ion batteries. Many Li-ion batteries come with circuit protection that is supposed to kick in if the voltage of the battery gets too high or if it gets too low (both are bad).

There are a lot of different sizes of Li-ion batteries denoted with a number that tells you the diameter, length, and shape. For instance the battery that replaces a AAA battery is called a 10440 which breaks down to 10 mm diameter, 44 mm long, and 0 for a round shape. These batteries are too small to include protection circuits. Most of the batteries supply 3.6 (or 3.7) volts nominally but you charge them 4.2 volts and they need to be recharged when they get down to 2.8 volts or something like that. Because they are supplying more than twice the voltage of a regular 1.5 volt alkaline or 1.2 volt NiMH battery, it makes sense they will be brighter. But you have to make sure you get a flashlight that is made for that higher voltage.

It seems like most of these batteries are just a little larger than their non-lithium counterparts and some don't have buttons on the positive end. I guess if the manufacturer wants to prevent you from using them, they can build the flashlight so that you can't use the bigger battery. My Fenix flashlight can use lithiums when it is set up for a single AA, but not for the longer version with 2 AA's (that would be 7.2 volts). Apparently the 1xAA version shines as bright as the 2xAA version on a 14500, but you lose all of the modes except the brightest one for some reason, so I don't know that I want to do that.

There is a website that sells gadgets direct from China called DealExtreme. They have kind of a shady reputation and stuff takes weeks to arrive. The quality of the items can be very spotty to poor and they have been known to sell Eneloops which turn out to be fake. But they also sell a lot of cheap flashlights. One of the ones people seem to like (when they work) is the AKOray K-106 which uses 1 AA battery. It comes in two different varieties. One is a 5-mode light(misspelled on the website as an NKOray) with different brightness levels and flashing modes. You get to Mode 1 by turning the flashlight on, turn it off and on again (either clicking or halfway pressing the button) and you are in Mode 2, etc. It is also nice because it remembers the last mode you were in, so if you were in bright it will come on again in bright. Some don't like that because they have no idea what mode it will come on in, but it seems like a good idea to me. It is only $13.99 shipped. The other variant, for $19.13, is advertised the same way. The description is also wrong since it says it is a 6-mode with memory when in fact it is a 3-mode light that is programmable (in Nov 2009 people started receiving actual 6-mode lights sometimes that are not programmable; KaiDomain seems to carry programmable ones). Programmable means you can set the three modes to anything you want, whether it is any brightness level (it does this by varying the brightness, called "ramping," and then you click when you get to the brightness you want) or one of the flashing modes. So you could have a low, high, and flashing mode if you wanted. It also seems to remember the mode you were in last. Both variations of these lights are 50% brighter with 14500 batteries, about the same brightness as my 2xAA Fenix with NiMH's. This solves one problem with my Fenix setup, which is that I like the 1xAA size, but I want the 2xAA brightness and I would like to do away with the flashy modes if possible. The problem is the K-106 isn't the same quality as a Fenix and the brightness and color of different LED's varies from light to light, sometimes substantially. So it would be crapshoot on whether I'd really get a light that could be as bright as the 2xAA Fenix. And the color of the light could be very blue, which I don't like (here's a post with pictures of beams from a bunch of flashlights and the K-106 looks the most blue).

Another possible flashlight that would cost more money would be the Quark AA Tactical or the neutral white version of that light (more orange than cool white). Both of these are brighter on 14500 cell and retain their modes (also programmable with two modes: one with the head tightened all the way, and one with it slightly loosened). Because you pick the mode by turning the head instead of clicking the power button, you always know which mode you will enter and you can turn the flashlight on and off momentarily without switching modes. Either of those lights are $57, so they are a lot more pricey, but a good value for that level of quality and functionality.

The decision then is whether to get a light that can excel with Li-ion batteries and then of course you have to buy some 14500 batteries ($5.64/pair) (higher quality, much more expensive AW cells available direct from China, LightHound, or Four Sevens, the company that makes and sells Quark lights) and, since they won't charge in a regular charger, get a charger as well. Deal Extreme has a couple of chargers. The $12.30 UltraFire WF-139 can be pretty good, but it won't do the small 10440's. I could get a charger that is known to slightly overcharge batteries, called a TR-001 ($8.81), but charges all of the main sizes. There is also one that people seem to like that charges 14500's and 10440's only.

So the cheap route is the K-106 programmable, 2 cheap 14500's, 2 cheap 10440's (to play around with in my iTP A3), and the TR-001 charger. $37.82 total (everything on DealExtreme includes shipping). That's a lot of overhead for a cheap flashlight. I could dip a toe in the water by getting the 10440 (maybe the 14500's to try in the Fenix) and charger to try out or just get the K-106 to play around with using AA NiMH's.

The expensive option would be to get the Quark AA neutral white flashlight ($57, ships free from 4sevens), with two AW 14500's ($9 each) and two of his 10440's ($4 each) plus $4.50 shipping. Then get the 10440/14500 charger for $12.58. $100.08 total. That's kind of crazy.

There are other Li-ion cells too. To replace a CR123 cell (also called a CR123A), use a 16340, though people also call that a RCR123 (they make 3 volt and 3.6 volt versions). To replace two CR123 cells, use a 18650 (fatter than CR123's plus I'm not sure how the voltage on that works out since an 18650 would be 3.7V and two 3V CR123's would be 6). The 18650 is also what is used in most laptop battery packs. All of these can be ordered with or without protection circuits.

Anyway, I don't think I'll buy any of these, but I wanted to write down what I have learned about all of this. Since my Fenix light does most of what I want, I could just wait until something significantly better comes out in a year or two. The Fenix can be used like the Quark by having bright on tight and low on loose and not using the other modes, which is basically how I use it now. If I want super brightness I can just use 2 AA's and be as bright as the K-106 or Quark are with a single li-ion battery.

October 10, 2009

Are Rechargeable Batteries Cost Effective?

Jeb sent me this article where the guy says rechargeable batteries are rarely cost-effective. Here's what I wrote back:

He's right to some extent, but it surprises me that he doesn't have a digital camera in his house. Those go through batteries pretty quickly and just about everybody has one. Though maybe he has one that uses a special battery instead of standard AA's. Flashlights go through batteries pretty quickly too if you use them regularly, though I think I've only had to recharge mine twice in the six months or so that I've owned it (that may go up as I take the dogs for walks more often at night with the shorter days). The Archos eats through batteries too, as do some CD players that people might use every day. At the store I see packages of 24 disposable batteries and I have a hard time believing that someone buying a package like that couldn't replace at least a few of those with rechargeables.

He is also missing the boat on Low Self Discharge batteries like Eneloops. These don't require a 30-60 day cycle because they can hold a charge for so much longer (a year or more). You can put these in a flashlight or camera you don't use that often and they will be ready immediately whenever you need it for over a year (they retain 80% of their charge for the first year). Plus a rechargeable like an Eneloop will take more pictures than an alkaline before it goes dead. However they cost a lot more than alkalines (or regular NiMHs which can lose half their charge in a month). I think I figured that Eneloops cost 7 times as much as an alkaline on sale. So you would have to burn through 7 alkalines, which would take many years (longer than you would own that item; though honestly you will just get something else to replace it that will also need batteries) in most remote controls, alarm clocks, etc.

Unless you can get the rechargeables on sale. I got the Duracell-branded Eneloops for $6.45 for a 4-pack on a really good sale. That cut the ratio in half. So I bought 8 AAA's and AA's and will use them in my network of indoor/outdoor thermometers and my remote control. Those are on roughly a 1-year cycle and so the Duraloops will pay for themselves in 3 years. After that I'm just raking in money.

Unfairly, this guy looks at an 18-month period. Is that how long he will own a wireless mouse? Maybe 3 years would be more appropriate. Plus he talks about the price of a charger being $40. But he needs a charger for the Wii system already, so that is a one-time cost. You can get an acceptable charger for $20 - $26 (charges batteries individually instead of in pairs, senses when the battery is full, and takes at least an hour or two to charge).

Where people mess up is in buying a number of chargers and I include myself in that group. I have something like 6 or 7 chargers that do nothing but charge AAA and AA batteries (including a Rayovac Renewal rechargeable alkaline charger that didn't quite pan out). Most of the ones I have are cheap chargers that charge batteries too fast and eventually destroy them (the vast majority of what is in stores). They are junk. Now I have a really good charger and shouldn't ever need another one.

People also mess up by not getting batteries on sale. Whether it is rechargeables or alkalines, there are good sales if you look for them. Walgreens had a not-all-that-uncommon sale where you could buy one 16-pack of Walgreens alkaline AA batteries for $10 and get a 16-pack of AAA batteries for free. 31 cents per battery. My Duraloops were $1.61 each (so that's a ratio of 5). But if you just drop by Kroger and pick up 4 Duracells not on sale you might pay $5 or over $1 each for a throw-away battery. I have way too many batteries now though.

98% of people aren't going to educate themselves enough to make a good decision on battery and charger purchases. They will just go to the store at any random time, buy a cheap charger with some cheap NiMH batteries and be disappointed.

October 7, 2009

Bridge Work

After the floods it didn't seem like very many bridges were washed out, but a few have been identified that they want us to replace. Today my group went out and looked at this bridge. The entire middle support fell over and somehow the bridge stayed up despite having no support. We have to work up plans for a new bridge as soon as possible so that construction can start and we can re-open the road. But meanwhile the road will still be shut for 6-9 months. I don't want to put on the blog where the road is. These pictures were taken by other people, so I am not in any of them.



October 3, 2009

Tiny Flashlight

Almost every day I will go check out Candle Power Forums, the flashlight discussion area where I learned about Maglite upgrades, battery chargers, and LED flashlights. I haven't bought another flashlight for myself since I bought the Fenix L2D and I've been very happy with it, using it whenever I take the dogs out at night.

There are improvements that could be made though. One thing is I'd like to have a "momentary on" where you halfway push the switch and it comes on until you let go. The Fenix has a "reverse clicky" so that you have to click it on and then you can do a "momentary off" which isn't the same (and can also trigger a strobe effect, which is annoying), so momentary on really takes two clicks. I do that a lot just to see what is ahead on the sidewalk, but I don't want the flashlight on all of the time. With the other flashlight bodies I bought with the Fenix I realized that the 2xAA length is kind of long, the single CR123 is too tiny, and the single AA doesn't have enough brightness. So to get the right size and even more brightness you can get a flashlight with 2 CR123 batteries in it. I looked at the Eagletac P20C2 which has momentary on but if you flash it twice, it goes into strobe mode (I don't know what the deal with strobe mode is; it is supposed to be able to disorient an attacker, but how often do you need that?). So I was strong and didn't get that. I'm also not crazy about how you switch brightness levels. To go between bright and strobe and you halfway click the button on the end of the flashlight as I said. But to get to the less bright levels on the Fenix, you twist the head of the flashlight just a little and then click power to go to low, again for medium, again for high (the brightest level is turbo) and again for SOS flashing. What I'd really like is something near the switch that you could activate to go between high or low without twisting the head. It's just awkward (that word has a w followed by k, followed by another w!) to have one control on one end of the flashlight and the other at the other end. Some flashlights just have two brightness levels which is okay, but they rarely get the lower level just right. Some are programmable in that they let you set the brightness of the low level yourself (the Quark tactical lights let you program one level with the head tightened and the other with it loosened; it would be better to let you program the tightened levels so you could leave it tightened and click once for the level of low you want and again for high or vice versa or with more intermediate levels if you want). Nobody seems to have gotten it just right.


Then lately I was reading about some really tiny lights, really for keychains that have just one AAA battery. Maglite makes something called a "solitaire" that has an incandescent bulb (eats batteries) and produces almost no light (really, here is a comparison; one person says he's seen matches that burn brighter and longer). Fenix makes a couple of versions: one is the E01 which is cheap ($17) but also doesn't produce that much light and only has one brightness level. For $40 you can get the Fenix LD01 (earlier version was called L0D) which is brighter and has three levels of brightness. There is also an Arc AAA which Candle Power people like. Then lately they have started raving about the iTP A3 EOS and the same light with a different look called a Maratac AAA (detailed review). The iTP has two versions, one with only one brightness level and the other (called the Upgraded) which has three light levels. You turn it on and switch levels by twisting the head. First twist goes to medium, twist off and on again and it goes to low, and again for high (some people get the light, then get tired of all the twisting and buy the single mode light). Anyway, it can be had for only $20.50 at a CPF friendly store called Battery Junction where they also give a discount code of 5% off. I went there and added it to my cart along with some cheap AA and AAA battery cases (I have a lot of batteries lying around now so it would be good to keep them in groups), got the discount, but shipping was $8! So I canceled that and looked some more. I found GoingGear.com who had it for the same price, reasonable shipping (a couple of dollars and free for orders over $49) and, looking at the CPF discounts page they offer 10% off. Once I went through checkout I found out they charge Georgia sales tax, and this is because they are based in Smyrna, a local company. Even though the tax wiped out most of the discount, I am glad to support a local company.

Going Gear

I have been pretty good about not getting anymore flashlights and really don't need anymore flashlights, but I did end up buying a really small AAA light recently (I'll write more about it later). I wound up getting it from a website called GoingGear.com because they had reasonable shipping rates and a 10% off discount code. I was surprised to be charged sales tax, but it turns out they are located in Smyrna.

GoingGear has some neat stuff. It is mostly camping gear. They have a neat video about the iTP flashlight I got on their home page. Under "most popular items" they have an array of "firesteel" products. These are rods made of iron, magnesium, and rare earth metals that you can rub quickly with the back of a knife and flaming globs of magnesium come off to help you start a fire. The YouTube video he has on this page shows how it works. Anything that makes showers of sparks like that and helps me start a fire when I don't have a lighter or matches and only costs $2 is something I need to have. However, I will admit that I don't think I have ever in my life needed to start a fire when I didn't have matches or a lighter. Still, *firesteel*! So I got the "bobcat" size (larger than squirrel and mouse sizes, smaller than moose or wolf sizes).

Also in the firebug category were these powdery rocks that catch fire fairly easily when exposed to the sparks and help you then get a real fire going with some more tinder. The powdery rocks even float in water and repel water themselves, so you can make a fire when it is pretty damp out. Another kind of neat video here.

The last kind of neat thing he demonstrates in a video on his home page is a line of pens and notebooks called Rite in the Rain. These let you write (in the rain?) on paper that is water resistant and the ink doesn't run even when submerged. I could see where if you had some kind of field work to do that sometimes had you out in the rain (like a park ranger or something) that would be neat to have. I did not buy any of that or the wet fire stuff, but it was neat seeing it in action.

October 1, 2009

Third Quarter Report

Along with the economy in general, my web site revenues seemed to have put the worst behind them, but the recovery is slow. I had three months in a row where I will earn a payment from Amazon (greater than $10 worth of commissions earned) whereas last quarter I only had one. AdSense is still anemic, but I got $5 in September. Somebody bought a couple of LED flashlight bulbs, so that sale almost certainly came from a link on the blog when I wrote about those. The most expensive item I sold was a Casio Men's Pathfinder Multi-Band Solar Atomic Black Watch for $167.92. That locked in a payment for the month all by itself with a commission of $10.08. For the quarter I sold 40 items worth $1,060.52, earning $54.38.