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January 27, 2010

Ultrafire WF-504B with XR-E R2 Drop-in Review

I was interested in getting a flashlight that could accept P60 drop-ins. After reading Don's review at jayki.com it seemed like the 504B (from DealExtreme) would be a good choice for a host because he felt like the heat-sinking was good and he liked the button. It looks good too and it is able to tailstand. I figured since the anodizing on these is Type II instead of the more durable Type III that I would be better off with the natural aluminum version because it wouldn't show if any of the finish flaked or wore off. I liked the shiny finish in the pictures (looked like stainless steel) more than the shiny black finish (it seems like black should be more of a matte finish than glossy).

I recently got another light in a natural silvery finish like that, but it turned out more matte and had a greenish tint. When I opened this light, there was no matte and no green tint: it was shiny like stainless or chrome (dare I say maybe even kind of like titanium?). I don't know how long it will stay that way since aluminum is more susceptible to scratches than stainless. With the big anti-roll hex head, it looks a little like it is made of plumbing fixtures (in a good way). The knurling looks good with a heavier texture on the body than knurling on the tail piece. The light is more compact than I thought, just a little fatter than a Mini Maglite (the minimag in the picture has a pewter finish so it is a little darker), but also just a little too big to put in a pants pocket. The only bad thing about the design is the inner bezel over the lens which I guess might be stainless is only inside of the rest of the head, so it doesn't protect the outer aluminum bezel from scratches and it already has a few dings around that edge. If it extended all the way to the outer part of the light it would offer a lot better protection.

Build Quality

I am very impressed. The threads are very smooth and the o-rings seem to work with a nice thick black one at the head and a skimpier one in the tail. Both seem to engage properly and should offer pretty good water resistance. There was some clear gunk on the tail threads that may be some kind of thick grease though it didn't seem slippery (maybe thread compound?). There was some oily grime on the inside of the lens which I was able to remove with a couple of applications of Windex (though I couldn't figure out how to remove the lens itself; I couldn't budge the inner bezel). There are a couple of little dings or machining marks in the exterior, but overall I really like the finish and detailing. Some of the tail threads look like they weren't formed all the way, but this is not a visible area and doesn't seem to affect anything.

The tail switch is black rubber which I think goes great with the silver finish. It has a very solid feel when clicking, but isn't hard to click. There are two lanyard holes so that the lanyard can be put on without affecting its ability to tailstand.

The drop-in fits fairly loosely in place and I didn't notice a lot of heat coming through. I wrapped the sides of the drop-in with some heavy duty aluminum foil folded several times and smoothed out as best I could in order to make it fit more snugly. I don't know if this helps or not. The XR-E LED probably doesn't get as hot as some brighter drop-ins.

Because this is a P60 host and drop-in, the drop-in probably needs to be reviewed as a separate entity. I've never had one of these, so I can't say anything about how it compares to others. It is an offbrand Super Bright R2 module (labelled that way at least). The LED is definitely a XR-E, but I can't tell what bin. There were a couple of tiny specks on the LED dome that I was not able to remove. I couldn't even see them without a magnifying lens. The reflector is aluminum with a mild orange peel. It has some spill and a pretty tight hotspot that throws quite well. The tint is definitely cool white, maybe a little violet.

The current runs high on a fresh protected gray 2400mAh Trustfire 18650 lithium ion battery, 1.1 Amps, but drops off quickly to 0.83A at 3.95V then declines steadily to 0.70A at 3.8V and 0.50A at 3.6V. I can't measure brightness, but there can't be a whole lot of regulation involved. On a battery charged to 4.2V, the light lasts about 90 minutes before getting down to 3.6V.

Time Amps Volts
0:00 1.08 4.19
0:15 1.00 4.00
0:30 0.86 3.90
0:45 0.74 3.81
1:00 0.65 3.73
1:15 0.56 3.68
1:30 0.50 3.63
1:45 0.46 3.59

Repeating the test with a similar protected gray 2400mAh Ultrafire 18650, I got 15 additional minutes, for some reason not registering the high initial current draw from before:

Time Amps Volts
0:00 0.90 4.17
0:15 0.99 4.00
0:30 0.87 3.95
0:45 0.81 3.89
1:00 0.78 3.85
1:15 0.70 3.79
1:30 0.62 3.73
1:45 0.53 3.66
2:00 0.46 3.59

Indoor Beam Shots

The 504B is always on the left and the lights are 50cm from the wall. ISO is 100 and aperture is f2.8.

On high vs. Fenix L2D Q5 with shutter speed of 1/25 second. The Fenix is powered by 2 freshly charged AA NiMH Eneloops and is on Turbo mode (180 lumens). The Fenix has a yellowish tint while the 502B is fairly cool:

Shutter speed dropped to 1/100 second:

Shutter now at 1/1600 second. The 504B has a more intense hotspot:

I recently got a Uniquefire S10 6-mode from KaiDomain, but I burned the driver out using a lithium-ion 14500. So I converted it to direct drive with a 14500 only. This light has the same LED, a Cree XR-E R2. The tints of these two are pretty similar. At 1/25:

Shutter speed dropped to 1/100 second:

Shutter now at 1/1600 second. The 504B again has a more intense hotspot:

Outdoor beam shots

The forked stick in the ground is 25' away. To the left of that stick are two fence posts where the hotspot is focused. These are 120' away. The shutter is left open for 4 seconds to get a picture that looks about what you see. Here is a control shot:

For comparison sake, here is a beam shot of the Fenix L2D on turbo:

And here is the Uniquefire S10 directly driven by a 14500:

Now the Ultrafire WF-504B on high. It has better throw and the fence posts are better defined:

With the battery run down to 3.6V, the beam isn't nearly as bright:

Back on a fresh battery, the 504B on medium:

On low:


I am very impressed by the quality of this $14.99 light and I really like the shiny aluminum finish. The design is excellent (it should be since it is a knockoff of the Surefire 6P and Solarforce L2) but everything seems like is very good quality for a DealExtreme light. The drop-in seems a little weak, not offering memory mode and with poor regulation, but the brightness is good and it throws better than any of my smaller lights. I can always change the driver or the whole drop-in.

January 25, 2010

AeroPress Coffee Maker

I got the fancy coffee maker I wrote about earlier. It's just a collection of plastic pieces. If you saw them, I don't think you'd guess they are for making coffee. They almost look like medical or lab equipment.

I'm not sure if it is because I am using twice as much coffee, or if the thing really works, but it does seem like the coffee is better. If I followed their instructions they would have me using 4 times as much coffee as I use in my Mr. Coffee. So to make it stretch further, I am increasing the stirring time and adding more hot water. The water is probably a little hotter as well. I know if I used freshly ground beans, it would go way up in quality, but I don't have a grinder or any beans, so that is something I may do later.

I have made coffee with it three times now. The most time-consuming part is heating up the water in the microwave. It takes about 3.5 minutes to get 8 oz of water to the right temperature. While it is heating up I can load a small filter in the bottom of the maker and measure out the grounds. Then wait on the microwave. As a hungry Homer Simpson said on meatloaf night "Isn't there anything faster than a microwave?!" So then you pour most of the water into the maker, stir, and just set the plunger in to make a good seal, but don't press. Now add some milk to the rest of the hot water from the microwave and put it back in the microwave for another 30 seconds or so. The reason you put the plunger in first is otherwise the water will all gravity feed through the filter. So then you press and you find out you press the water out pretty quickly and most of the time you're just pressing air through the filter. It seems kind of silly to press air, but it does help in the cleanup because the plunger is like a squeegee down the inside of the other chamber. Once you've done that, add the rest of the hot water to the cup (the coffee has drained directly into the mug).

One thing is you don't get that coffee smell in the kitchen, which I guess is good because maybe that lost flavor is going into the cup instead. Once you are done it seems like there are a lot of parts. There is the plunger, and then the container and the filter cap plus the stirrer and you have to have a second mug to heat the water in originally. With the Mr. Coffee there is just the basket and the coffee pot and they all go back together to air dry. So I don't think cleanup is as easy, but you can heat up water any way you want, so you aren't dependent on electricity. Some people have a special boiling hot water tap and that would really speed things up. In fact, this would be ideal for people like that. There are a ton of reviews on Amazon and some people take this to work with them because the community coffee isn't that good and they want to make their own.

January 17, 2010

A Good Cup of Coffee

Today I was researching coffee for some reason. So I started off researching french press coffee makers where you pour hot water over some coffee grounds and then force a strainer down over all of that and wind up with coffee on top and grounds trapped at the bottom. The nice thing is this is a pretty simple machine and they are cheap. People swear by these. I was watching a show on Discovery about coffee (maybe that's what set this off) and a couple of the experts said that is their favorite way to make coffee. The problem with the french press is the filter is pretty porous and it lets fine grinds past, so you end up with cloudy coffee with some sediment. You can avoid that by grinding the coffee to end up with bigger chunks. Sounds simple, but most grinders can't do that and you end up with some big chunks and some little ones in economical grinders. So french press lovers say you need to spend $200 on a special burr grinder that will only produce big chunks of beans. So much for economy: a $15 coffee maker requires a $200 grinder.

While doing the research, I found a really interesting post by someone who posted the hierarchy of important parts of making coffee:

1. fresh ground
2. good roast
3. good grinder
4. appropriate temperature
5. good water
6. good machine
7. barista skill set

This is interesting, because he says you're getting way ahead of yourself if you go looking for a good machine and you aren't going to, say, use the appropriate water temperature. Likewise, skill is no match for picking a good roast or using good water.

Well, I'll tell you right now that I have no intention of going hog wild on coffee beans and grinders. My deal right now is that I am able to sometimes get Publix preground coffee for a penny using their mystery coupon deal. And decaf is better for me than regular because I get headaches the day after drinking real coffee. And I'm not even talking strong coffee. I'm using 1 tablespoon of grounds to make about 8 oz. of coffee. So this bag of really cheap coffee lasts me months! So I'm already skipping the two most important things by not grinding the beans fresh and not choosing a good, fresh roast (some people roast their own beans in an air popcorn maker!).

But I'd still like to do the most with what I've got. Since I'm using preground coffee, it seems like the french press is out unless I want a lot of sediment. But then I read about people using an AeroPress, which was invented in 2005 and is made by the same people that make Aerobie flying rings. It is similar to a french press in that you add hot water directly to coffee grinds and then filter out the grinds, but has some key differences. Rather than a plunger with a strainer on it, there is a filter on the bottom. The plunger is more like the plunger of a hypodermic needle and it forces the water and coffee mixture through the bottom filter. In fact, you trap some air in the top, so the plunger doesn't even make contact with the coffee. And there is no sediment since a filter is being used. And because of the filter, you can use any size grind you want (a finer grind will make it harder to force coffee through the filter). Cleaning is easier because you are throwing away the messy part (the filter) instead of re-using it.

You aren't even supposed to use water that is boiling hot. But doing so means you need to use more coffee grounds. Unlike an automatic drip coffee maker, this method has a couple of variables that you can control, like the temperature of the water and how long the coffee steeps (you're not supposed to wait 4 minutes like with a french press, they say just to stir for 10 seconds and start pressing, but others say it is better to stir a little longer and use a little bit hotter water than the 175° recommended).

Lastly, the AeroPress makes concentrated coffee (they say you are making espresso) so you then add some more hot water when you are done. That might work for me because I could heat up some water and milk while pressing and then I wouldn't be adding cold milk like I do with my drip coffee maker.

Here are some instructions on the web.

Anyway, for $26 at Amazon I figured I should try it out.

January 16, 2010

Fan Lights Now CF

Almost all of the light bulbs in my house have been converted over to compact fluorescent bulbs using 75% less energy, but I was never able to replace the little lights in the ceiling fan of my bedroom until today. Today at Home Depot I saw that they had compact fluorescent fan lights. cfbulb.jpg The fan has candelabra bulbs in it that burn out all the time, so it would be nice if I could find something that wouldn't burn out and would be more energy efficient. These have a kind of chubby shape to them and you can see a skinny helix inside the bulb despite the frosted glass that covers it. They're certainly not as attractive. But they were also only $1 each. So I bought three of them. They are made with the narrow base that my light fixture uses, but they come with adapters so they can be screwed into a regular base. One of them has some flicker to it, so I will take that one back.

They seem to take a little while to get to full brightness. It isn't just a few seconds, but maybe 30 seconds or more. The tint of the light is decent, but they aren't quite as bright as the old bulbs I had in there, which are labeled as 25 watt while these CF bulbs are labeled 15 watt (and actually use 3 watts). Here is a mix of the bulbs installed for comparison with the incandescent bulb on the left and the CF bulbs in the middle and on the right:


Here is a page of Time magazine opened up underneath the fan with all three of the original bulbs lit.


Now here is the same page with the same manual camera settings. ISO 400, F2.8, and shutter at 0.25 seconds. This is with the CF bulbs. This is definitely darker (though not green like this looks; eyes adjust better to the dimmer light than the camera). I didn't realize I was getting so many fewer watts when I was at the store. But 45 watts total compared to 75 watts is a big difference. I would rather have brighter bulbs.


January 13, 2010

Flashlight Suspension

I have been learning a lot about flashlights for the last year and most of it has come from reading the discussion forums at Candlepower Forums. I've learned enough that I have written a couple of reviews of lights and I answer questions from newbies every now and then (I've also done a lot of editing of their Wiki, which was terrible). By and large the people are very helpful and incredibly knowledgeable. There is just a lot to know. And there are thousands of threads for a newbie to search through, even using Google search. It helps that the forums are strictly moderated, so flaming, bad language, etc. are simply not to be found. They have a lot of rules and zero tolerance of people who break them.

Long story short, I got suspended from the flashlight discussion board. Not long, just for a day. Here's how it happened.

The moderators can be quite strict and, like I said, there are a lot of rules. If you go on the internet and look for answers about flashlights, you will find CPF pages in the results. So if you want an answer you will sign up and post. Lots of people do this and they wind up asking questions that have been asked many times before or ask questions in the wrong sub-forum because they haven't looked around enough. It's annoying. In their forum for questions, problems, and solutions, if you make a suggestion you will be shot down. If anyone agrees with that suggestion, the thread is closed. If you ask for help you will be lambasted by the administrator and told to go look up the answer in the rules and basics for using the board (which aren't that easy to find because there are so many links and different places where all that stuff is kept). The administrator, a woman, is irritable and proud of it. It trickles down to some of the moderators (there are a lot of moderators!).

The other thing is you have this community of flashlight enthusiasts who spend a lot of money on flashlights. Crazy amounts of money. And they buy dozens of flashlights. This is their hobby and they don't mind spending a lot. There are a lot of titanium flashlights that are even more expensive than the regular expensive ones. If you ask which of two flashlights you should buy, the answer is usually "buy both!" They insist on very high quality and praise great customer service from the dealers (almost all of which is done online because stores typically don't carry these specialized items; some gun shops do because somehow guns and flashlights go together). They endlessly praise the most knowledgeable people on the board and steer people towards high quality expensive flashlights and accessories. If you ask for a suggestion for a $20 flashlight, they will suggest a $60 one.

They show great disdain for cheaper flashlights. Though a lot of people on the board love Maglites, there are also people who look down at them as too common. The cheap Chinese flashlights sold by direct-from-Hong-Kong dealers like KaiDomain and DealExtreme are constantly derided as garbage (but a lot of people still buy them).

One thing that bugs me is that if someone asks a question about a cheap light on a general forum where good lights are talked about, the moderators move the entire thread into another thread dedicated to reviews of cheap lights. This helps in some ways because if a newbie asks about some cheap brand of light they will just get a lot of disdain for that piece of junk and will be told to buy an expensive light, which doesn't necessarily help. A few people have asked for a sub-forum dedicated to cheap lights so there can be separate threads instead of one giant one and, of course, been told gruffly that it won't be done (while other people jump in with disdain for cheap flashlights; they can't stop themselves). Posts within the cheap flashlight thread about other threads being dumped there are deleted because they are considered off-topic in a flashlight-oriented thread. Instead you have to post in the suggestions forum where you will be abused (poignant example).

So a newbie writes his first post ever in the general forum about a cheap Chinese flashlight being sold on eBay, asks people if they think it is a good deal, and provides a link. Well, you can't post links to eBay because that is considered advertising. Even posting links to a DX light is not allowed, but is sometimes tolerated because DX carries a number of flashlights that look identical but have different LED's or features. And different companies make clones of the same light that all look just alike except for the logos. The links are the only way to find out what someone is really talking about. You can mention the items by catalog number (I think this may be done because they don't want Google giving the cheap lights higher page rank because there were links from an authoritative site like CPF).

Well, the moderator deletes the link and adds [eBay link deleted - DM51] where DM51 is the moderator. No explanation given. And the post has been moved too because it was asked on the general forum instead of the cheap lights thread, which isn't even called The Cheap Lights Thread or anything that would give you a clue that's the only place to ask that kind of question.

So it kind of bugs me this is how it works. I post a reply that says: "In other words, you are not wanted here. Please go away. Welcome to CPF." I knew this was inflammatory, but it bugs me these guys don't even clue people in about why the posts are being moderated. After I posted it, I realized it was kind of harsh, so I edited it to add "Maybe the moderators could provide a clue why the post was edited . . . ?" or something like that.

Well, not only was I off-topic by commenting about the edit, but now I had questioned the moderators, which is also not allowed. So less than an hour later, I visit again and I see that the contents of my post have been deleted by a (different) moderator. This isn't really that surprising. I knew I was provoking them.

Of course, I can't leave well enough alone, but I thought I would tone it down while still taking a poke at the moderators. When you write posts you can add different smiley icons from a list. Some are customized just for CPF and one in particular is a little animated smiley guy that holds up a sign that says "Welcome to CPF!" and he's waving. People use it when someone posts their first message. So I edited my post again, removed the comment from the moderator saying my contents had been deleted, and replaced it with the little smiley icon. That's all. I didn't post any words other than quoting the original newbie's post as edited by the moderator. Still, I thought it was kind of funny (the board administrator had posted the same smiley in the poignant example I posted earlier, which I didn't realize until I was writing this).


About an hour later, right before going to bed, I checked CPF again to see if I had gotten a reaction (one person had responded to the deletion of my previous comment by saying they were glad the forums were well-moderated; I was hoping for some support for more polite moderators though). Instead of seeing the usual screen, I had a message saying I had been banned from CPF for failing to yield to moderation. At least they gave me a reason . . .


Anyway, the ban was really more like a suspension because it was only for a day. And that day is almost up, so I have to get going . . .

January 8, 2010

Deferred Compensation

A few years ago, I wrote about my Deferred Compensation Plan at work and said that at the time, I was averaging a 7% return over the previous 13 years. Since Jeb posted his Green in Wintertime post, I thought I would post this graph which comes from a spreadsheet I use to keep up with how much I have contributed, how much my account is worth and the difference between the two which is the gain or loss.


You always want the yellow line (the current value) to be above the pink line (total of my contributions). If the yellow dips below the pink, I am losing money. It has happened twice, but is not happening right now. The neat thing that happened in June 2000 was the blue line (gain or loss) crossed the pink line. That meant that my gains exceeded my contributions, or, in other words, I had doubled my money! At the time I had an average annual return of 33%, which was clearly unsustainable. About two years later, I had lost every penny of my gains and was showing an average annual loss of 1.18%. Five years later, I was showing a lifetime average gain of 11.3% but nowhere close to doubling my money yet. 18 months later, I had lost all my gains again and had an average loss of 0.31% per year over the previous 16 years. Now I'm showing a gain again of 4%, which is pretty lousy, but I'll take it. Though the account value is back to where it was before the 2008 crash, you can see that today's gains are about half of what they were then.

January 4, 2010

The Old P60 Drop-In

More research on flashlights, so you can skip this . . .

The main high-end US flashlight company, Surefire, sells innards of a flashlight called a P60. It consists of three parts: a reflector, a bulb, and the electronics that drive it. Surefire uses this assembly in several different models of flashlights. It has become a standard part and now many off-brands offer P60 drop-ins that can be used in Surefire lights. And because there are so many P60 drop-ins and Surefires are so expensive, now people make P60-compatible bodies that will accept the drop-ins. So instead of spending $150 on Surefire's system, you can spend $18 for a generic.

One company, Solarforce, makes such a system that a lot of people like. Generally these lights use a lithium-ion battery called an 18650, which is like an AA battery on steroids: 30% larger in diameter and about 30% longer, so a little more than twice the volume and three times the voltage of a 1.2V NiMH. However a light with a battery like that doesn't fit in your pocket easily. This is a bigger light, but still a lot smaller than a light that takes 2 D cells (a lot of policemen carry the Surefire 6P on their belt which is a P60 light).


The nice thing about the 18650 battery is it has a lot more oomph than smaller batteries so it will last longer or can drive a LED harder (brighter!) than a regular battery. I'm happy with my smaller lights, but I thought it would be good to have something a lot brighter that doesn't have to be as portable. The new Cree XP-G R5 LED should be at least 20% brighter than anything I have now. There are other LED's that are even brighter but they produce a lot of heat that can cause the LED to destroy itself and have really short runtimes, even on a 18650 (some lights use two 18650's). More on this later.

So this company Solarforce is capitalizing on Surefire by offering a cheaper light and P60 drop-in. But we're talking about China, so there is yet another company that has totally stolen the look of Solarforce and cut the price in half again, down to about $18. This company is Ultrafire. They make several lights that look like various Solarforce lights and use the XP-G R5 LED (which Solarforce hasn't even adopted yet). These are the WF-501B, WF-502B, and WF-504B. Yes, there is a WF-503B, but nobody has put a R5 in there yet (only KaiDomain has a 504B with an R5, while BestOfferBuy.com has the drop-in, 501B, and 502B a little cheaper; DealExtreme doesn't have any R5's yet). I can get one of these for about $22. Just the drop-in itself is $16, so I'm only paying $6 for the body.

I almost bought one of these. I was liking the 504B which has a stainless steel front bezel, but the rest of the light has a glossy black finish that looks a little too slick. The 502B was very popular the last couple of years, so it has a large customer base. I think maybe the silver 504B would be the one I would get though it will show scratches like crazy.

But if I buy one, I also need an 18650 battery. And although my really cheap lithium ion charger will accept something up to 65 mm long, most of the protected batteries are actually 66-68 mm long and might not fit. Also the slow charging rate would take all night to charge one battery. So I would need a new charger. I found one I can get for $8 that people seem to think is okay. So a pair of batteries would be $8 plus the $8 charger (if I got the charger, I could get longer batteries with more protection, though I don't know for sure they would fit in the light; [they fit in my light and my cheapo charger, as it turns out; but I'm not crazy about the batteries. Should have gotten these for a little more]). Plus $22 for the light, so now I'm up to $38. And this isn't even a light I would carry around that much. It absolutely won't work on regular old batteries, though other P60 drop-ins would work with two somewhat conventional CR123A batteries (drop-ins designed for the higher voltage of 2xCR123A aren't usually as bright since they have to regulate the voltage down to something the LED can handle), which will fit in the light.

So I think I will hold off. The only R5 drop-ins are either 1-mode (not enough) or 5-mode (too many) and the 5-mode doesn't remember the last mode. Some of the R2 drop-ins have 3 modes and remember the last setting, which would be a lot better I think. As the R5 LED's become more popular, some 3-mode versions might start showing up. So I'm thinking I will hold off for now.

I could also buy a pair of 18650 batteries now and a charger, so I would have those ready when I do eventually buy a flashlight that can use them.

Further thinking . . . Now I'm considering getting a flashlight with a P7 LED which is actually 4 LED's on a single chip and can be really bright. There are a few P60 drop-ins, but they're kind of expensive and plagued by heat-sinking problems (which some manufacturers get around by reducing the current which also reduces brightness, which is the whole point!). Another LED with 4 emitters is called a Cree MC-E. There is one recommended from DX that people seem to agree puts out the 400 lumens claimed for $23.49 (just for the drop-in; these multi-die LED's are expensive).

I also found a good review of a silver DealExtreme 5-mode 504B for $15 that uses a XR-E R2 and has a very tight beam that throws a long way. It would be neat to have a good thrower regardless while the XP-G R5 or the P7 would have more of a floody beam. So then I could get the R5 drop-in separately from KD. Alternatively I could get one of the KD 504's (or 502 or 503, haven't decided yet) with the R5 and buy the DX R2 drop-in (the drop-in has mode memory but the flashlight they sell claiming memory apparently doesn't). Or, since I would rather have mode memory and avoid the flashy modes of the DX, I could get a higher quality Solarforce drop-in from this site which offers a 5% CPF discount. That would be about $40 for a light with two different drop-ins.

There is another alternative that I looked at that involves building your own P7 drop-in, but that involves a whole new list of parts, so I may write a separate post on that (see comment below). It's intriguing because it is kind of like building your own light saber.

Alternate 1: A silver R5 504B from KaiDomain for $22.20

Alternate 2: A silver 504B from DX with 5-mode R2 plus KD's R5 drop-in: $29.85

Alternate 3: A 504B from KD with R5 plus the DX 5-mode memory drop-in: $33.93

Alternate 4: DX 504B with R2 plus the DX MC-E drop-in: $38.48

Alternate 5: 504B from KD with R5 and Solarforce 3-mode R2 drop-in: $42.15

January 2, 2010

Green Weather Network

In 2006 Target had a sale on Oregon Scientific indoor/outdoor thermometers and I found out that they supported up to three different wireless temperature probes although they only came with one each. So I solved that by buying three thermometers and sharing the gauges. Two of the gauges read all three probes, while a third is only designed to read one probe, so I made sure that probe is the one outside (the other two are in my crawlspace and attic). Then in 2007 I got a wireless rainfall gauge which reads a tipping bucket gauge that is on my roof. It also came with a fourth temperature probe which runs at the same frequency as one of the other probes, but will be ignored by the other gauges as long as it is on a staggered 43-second reporting cycle. So I have the fourth probe in one of my closed off bedrooms to see how cold they get. Only the rainfall gauge reports that temperature.

Anyway, each of these items is powered by two batteries. That's 3 temperature stations, 3 temperature probes, plus the the three components of the rainfall system for a total of 18 batteries. They seem to last about a year (maybe a little longer) on a fresh set of alkalines. It is a lot of trouble setting up the network correctly and if you take the batteries out of any probe, then that messes up its reporting cycle and the stations won't read it anymore. So you have to take the batteries out of the station so that it will re-read the probes, but you have to make sure the rainfall gauge's temperature probe isn't detected and that the station that only reads one probe is reading the outdoor probe instead of one of the others. So there's a whole procedure and it works best if you take all of the stations down at once to change the batteries. However, the batteries fail at all different times and you don't want to throw out a battery that is still working. But you don't want to take the chance of it failing in another month and taking everything back down again (and losing the cumulative rainfall).

So I thought I would try out rechargeable batteries. I know what you are thinking: Due to the self-discharge rate of NiMH batteries, won't they all be dead in a couple of months? Not if I use low-self-discharge batteries. But low-drain applications aren't economically viable due to the high up-front cost of the batteries, right? Well, not if you can get them on a really good sale, which I have been able to do recently. Target had 4-packs of Duracell precharged batteries for $6.45 last September and in December Rite-Aid had them for $7.09 after one rebate and down to $5.18 after another. These will retain 80% of their initial charge after a year and, because they have about twice the capacity of alkaline cells, they should be able to make it the whole year. If it works, it will still take 5 years to break even on this system (based on the cheapest price I ever got alkalines, which was 16 AA and 16 AAA batteries for $9.99).

The only problem is the voltage of NiMH batteries is only 1.2V instead of 1.5V for alkalines. Even fully charged, a NiMH is only 1.45V. So some devices think the battery is low even though it is just fine. And after installing 12 NiMH batteries yesterday (I had just installed alkalines a couple of months ago in the other two devices, so I am hoping they will make it for 12 more months), some are already reading LOW BATT. On alkalines, the probes and everything would work for months on low, so I am hoping it won't be a problem and they can last all year on low.

The other potential problem is the batteries that are outside may not perform very well in cold weather. They will really be tested the next couple of days as temperatures drop into the teens, but they are also fully charged. Then the other question is how well they will do in the summer when temperatures in the attic go up to 120 degrees.


January 1, 2010

Fourth Quarter Report

I had a pretty good quarter on Amazon, but it was primarily due to some flukey things. At the end of October someone bought an expensive GPS system that earned me $31 all by itself. Then in December one of my co-workers did all of her Christmas shopping through Amazon and remembered to use my web page to start it off. Also I got my count of items way up when someone bought about 20 MP3's from Amazon after following a link. At only 99¢ per song, even with a 10% commission I don't get a whole lot of money (MP3's have a bigger commission than anything else). So for the quarter, I sold 69 items worth $1,835 for $87.30 in commissions. The most unusual item I sold is a Bottle-Top Pod which screws into the tripod mount of your camera but has a bottle cap on the other end that lets you use a bottle as the tripod.

AdSense revenue stayed about the same at $10.09 on the quarter. And this is despite me replacing the old private party ads on my iPod pages with Google ads after my advertiser stopped sending money due to my loss of Page Rank. I used to have a couple of pages listed on DMOZ Open Directory under iPod, but they seem to have cleaned that up and axed my pages. Then my Page Rank went to 0.That was some easy money. After PayPal fees, he paid me $867.84 since he first approached me.