Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm Homesick!

We have been back in Wisconsin for several weeks and I am definitely ready to head back off grid. Unfortunately, our next trip has been delayed by a week. We had planned on heading back on June 18th, but while we have been back we are working to clear out Alan's parent's house and sell it to close out the estate. As part of the process, we ended up signing up with an estate seller to hold an estate sale June 22 & 23, so we will be in the area a bit longer than we had first planned. It will be nice to have dad's house all cleared out!

Fly Powered Clock
Watch time fly by or would that be time by fly?

We have gotten some 'gizmos & gadgets' in while we have been back, so at least we have some things to play with while we are here.

Speaking of gizmos, that reminds me that Alan also seems a bit stir-crazy waiting to head back to the property. He was catching up on one of his favorite web sites, gizmodo.com, and came across a fly powered clock. He was extremely disappointed to discover it is currently only a concept and not available. According to the article "As insects get trapped on its sticky rotating conveyor belt, they're scraped off at one end and drop into the processing chamber to be converted to fuel for a simple digital clock. Apparently eight deceased flies can power it for a full twelve days..." Hmm, I wonder if ticks can be used? I told Alan I was writing this and he said yes, but it takes one tick per second (get it? tick - second).

Alan has convinced me of another gadget he needs. This one is at Brookstone.com, we obviously spend a lot more time browsing internet sites when we are not off grid. Alan feels this gadget from Brookstone would save us from having to go under the house to run wires, plumbing, etc.

Our house sits on piers about 3 to 4 feet off the ground depending if you are at the front or back of the house. Thus, there is a crawl space under the entire house and it is currently enclosed with plywood. We can only imagine how many spiders and possibly snakes now call this dark space home. We were discussing setting bug bombs off under the house on our next trip, and I thought we could open up a couple corners, set the bug bombs inside the plywood and set them off as neither of us wanted to crawl into the possibly spider infested den to get the canisters to a more centralized location. I am assuming the fog would move into the rest of the space under the house. Alan thinks the Rover App-Controlled Spy Tank with Night Vision would be a better solution, we could attach the canisters and drive them around the entire enclosed area while they spray out their fog. He had already been coming up with other uses for the rover, all involving sending it under the house instead of us. Of course, I am sure the fact that it would be a fun toy never crossed his mind.

Well, rather than spending more time on nifty gadgets we don't have (yet!), I'll finish off this blog entry with a bit of show & tell of some things that have arrived on our doorstep:

The silver canister with the honeycomb grid around it is where
you build your fire, your cooking pan sits on top of that.
The yellow canister contains the TEG and the fan it powers,
and a USB port!
How about a camp stove with a USB port? Yep, now that is really cool. We can charge our phones while heating up water for the French press. Back in December we placed a pre-production order for a BioLite stove (biolitestove.com). It finally arrived this week and was well worth the wait. We are very impressed with the quality of the camp stove and the ingenuity of the design. The concept is that it is a camp stove that does not require a specific fuel and also produces electricity that can be used to charge cell phones and other devices through a USB port. You start a fire in it with twigs, or whatever you have available that will burn. The stove converts heat from the fire into electricity which powers a fan that in-turn makes the fire super-efficient, allowing it to burn most any type of fuel source (this design is known as a Rocket Stove). There is excess power not utilized by the fan that is accessible through the USB port to charge devices. The company does make a larger 'HomeStove' but it is not sold in the United States.

Alan's first TEG experiment in the solar oven.
A water-cooled heat sink pumps water into an ice water
filled thermos for cooling the cold side of the TEG.
The hot side got to 300° while the cold was at 77°.
The BioLite CampStove actually uses another gadget in its design that we just started experimenting with. It is called a TEG (Thermoelectric Generator) and the one we ordered to experiment with also arrived this week. A TEG module is about 3 inches square and generates the same amount of electricity as one of our solar panels which is about 1 foot by 2.5 feet in size. You may be familiar with the small travel size coolers that plug into the cigarette lighter on your car, those work based on passing electricity through two dis-similar metals that causes one side to become cold and the other to become hot. The TEG is the antithesis of this. It has two dis-similar metals and when one is heated and the other is cooled it produces electricity. When we received the one we ordered for testing, Alan placed one side in cold water and heated the other side with the torch and it produced enough electricity to easily light one of our large LED light bulbs (Alan will post a blog entry in the future that discusses his investigation of efficient lighting).

The first time using the solar stove - heating soapy water
to season/clean the oven.
The arrival of the TEG module also leads into a gadget I am anxious to start experimenting with - our solar oven. Alan is currently experimenting with the combination of the TEG and the solar oven, but when the solar oven gets down to the property, then I am going to start experimenting with its intended purpose - cooking. We opened the solar oven and 'seasoned' it per the directions. We placed a pan of soapy water it in for a couple hours and then washed down the insides. We were pleased to see the temperature in the oven was up over 300 degrees even without tracking the sun. We plan to build a tracking system (a future blog entry) so that the oven will remain aimed at the sun throughout the day.

When we arrived back home, the high gain Yagi cell antenna had arrived and was waiting for us. While our off-grid cellular Internet connection was usable, we had to lock it at 3G speeds. This antenna will optimally provide a signal that is 16 times stronger (every 3dB is a doubling of strength, and this antenna has 11dBi of gain). This antenna will feed our Novatel MiFi Jetpack cellular Internet modem, hopefully allowing us to reliably connect to a weak 4G signal we saw from the property which will provide a much faster connection.

Next to arrive were our hand pumps, foot valves, and hosing. Our current plans are to place three of these hand pumps in the house to pump water from the cistern into the kitchen sink, the utility room sink, and the bathroom toilet tank and sink. After working hard to pump the water to its destination, you don't want it running all the way back to the cistern when you stop pumping, so the foot valves (reverse flow valves) hold the water so gravity can't pull it back. These pumps are made by Guzzler and produce 1 gallon per 9 pumps.

We still have two weeks until we are back at the property, hopefully our budget can handle us keeping ourselves amused until then.

I'll leave you with one more picture... A couple of days ago we ate Chinese, and Alan start laughing when he opened his fortune cookie. It was so appropriate, we framed it to put in the off-grid house: 


  1. Get the remote control camera! That is way too cool. Just think how you could terrorize the racoons at night!!!

  2. OK - Arn and Alan. Here is a brilliant idea! Create a count down on your blog to the next trip to "paradise"!

    1. Great idea! Our next departure date has been up in the air with things we needed to get done around here and down at dad's house but it looks like we will be able to leave this weekend. The good news is we are back to staying down there until July 13th. It had looked like were were going to have to cut the trip short to come back for Alan to do more work on closing the estate but plans were changed again.