New Battery Part The Second

I'd like to correct something in my earlier post about my new e-Bike battery. I realized that I chose the correct capacity battery, based on my motor (500W) and the web site which says, "Suitable Wattage of Motor: up to 600 Watt, 450 Watt suggested".

After I bought the new battery, one of my brake levers broke, and the noodle bracket on my front brake broke. So I purchased replacements for both. The brake lever was slightly troublesome because I had to figure out how to wire it for the controller, but in the end it turned out to be pretty simple.

Recently, my charger stopped charging the battery. Li Ping who sold the battery helped me diagnose a bad charger, so I bought a new one (the cheaper 2.5V volt charger this time) and all is good in the world again.

I've been riding to work a couple of time a week, about 34 miles roundtrip before I recharge the battery. So I know the 36V 15Ah battery is good for at least 34 miles, at least with me pedaling.

I hope to commute 4,000 miles by eBike this year.

New Battery

Since my last post, I moved farther away from work (18 miles by the bicycle route I take, or 20 miles by the car route I take, or 15 miles by the most direct but hilliest route). I tried to bike to work on an unpowered bike, but wasn't able to bike more than 2 days a week. I would always need a day or two to recover.

So on December 13th, I ordered a new battery, this time a 36V 15Ah LiFePO4 battery (a relatively stable but heavy type of Lithium Ion chemistry) from (My old battery was a 36V 9Ah NiMH.) The total cost was $514, including shipping and the 5A charger instead of the free 2.5A charger. The battery arrived this week Monday, January 3rd. I put on some Anderson PowerPole connectors, charged it up, and put it into a trunk bag on my bicycle's rear rack. (I should also salvage the fuse from the old battery and attach that as well.) It weighs less than the NiMH battery, so the trunk bag seems adequate.

I took it out for a short ride today to help break in the battery. It feels good to be riding the electric bike again! I was debating whether to order the 20Ah battery or the 15Ah battery. Today, a hilly 3.6 miles out, the watt meter showed that I had used only 1.500 Ah. So that gives me a 36 mile range! Now I wonder if I should have ordered the 10Ah battery instead! It would have saved me $100.

I'm still using the Crystalyte 20A controller. The battery is rated for 15A continuous draw, which means I should probably switch to a 15A controller, but I think I'll be fine, especially if I take it easy going up hills. I bought a watt meter so I can monitor my current draw. It turns out I use about 10A on the flats, maybe 12A going up slight hills, 15-20A starting from a dead stop, and the full 20A going up steeper hills. It would probably be better to get a Cycle Analyst and a controller that can take it, and use the Cycle Analyst to limit the current draw and the speed. Even better, switch to 48V so I can go up hills faster.

Review: Mac of All Trades

My brother was looking for a Macbook but didn't want to pay full price, so I found a used, "reconditioned" one at Mac of All Trades. Unfortunately, we neglected to research the company first. That was my fault, I knew better. (If you click the "research" link above, you'll see mixed reviews about the company.)

When the Macbook arrived and my brother booted up, it still showed the old users. Lesson 1: Apparently, "reconditioned" doesn't mean reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling OSX from scratch. Lesson 2: If selling your old computer to Mac of All Trades, be sure to reinstall OSX from scratch if you think you might have any personal data on it you don't wish to fall into enemy hands.

I told my brother he needs to do the full system restore. It didn't come with any OSX CDs, so I suggested he borrow the CDs from his girlfriend, who also has a Mac. Unfortunately, the DVD-ROM drive didn't work, so he couldn't do the restore. Lesson 3: Apparently, "reconditioned" also doesn't mean fully testing the system.

So my brother contacted Mac of All Trades, and they offered to reinstall OSX for him for a fee (I think it may have been $100). Way to treat the symptom without curing the problem!

Dad and I told him he should just return it while it's still within the return period. So he did, and they refunded him his money. So, all's well that ends well. Unfortunately, the experience gave him and my dad a bad taste about Macs.

In the end, I can't recommend Mac of All Trades to anyone who isn't really good with computers. For someone who is, the prices are pretty good, and they have some great older Macs. For everyone else, I've always had really good luck with factory refurbished electronics, so for a good deal on a Mac, wait for one to show up in the Special Deals section of the Apple Store.

Worm Bin Update

Thursday will mark the 1-year anniversary of the startup of my worm bin. I still haven't finished filling up the second tier, and that's not for lack of effort!

The first tier was filled mostly by the coconut coir sent with the worm bin. I added some scraps on top of that, but mostly I've been putting food into the second tier. The stuff really compacts down and releases a lot of water, it's amazing. It looks like it will take another couple of months to fill up that second tier, and there's still one tier to go before I need to empty the first tier.

Adventures in Yogurt Making

Years ago, my mother used to have a yogurt maker which would make perfect yogurt. In order to get more calcium into my diet and start making smoothies at home, I decided to buy a Cuisipro Donvier yogurt maker (I think my mom's was also a Cuisipro) and make my own yogurt again. Reading that it would work with powdered milk, I decided to try making yogurt out of Swiss Whey D'Lite, a whey-based milk alternative similar to Morning Moos. I used a known good yogurt culture rather than try to find some yogurt at the store with active cultures.

After 10 hours of incubating, the yogurt came out runny. It's much thicker than milk, but thinner than yogurt. It's probably what you would get if you mixed equal parts milk and yogurt in a blender.

The taste and texture were otherwise fine. With a little sweetener, it makes a good yogurt drink.

I found this page which says whey-based milk substitutes "can be used in recipes that call for fluid milk except puddings, ice cream and yogurt (note: Morning Moos milk contains less fat than whole milk and will not set up in products that need fat as a thickener)."

Next time I'll try regular milk or true powdered milk.

Garmin Map Update Saga

Last night I downloaded the 2010 map update and tried to install it on my Nuvi 260. Part of the way through, it failed. I wasn't using the computer at the time, but I think it got at least halfway through the update. But now when I try to update it again, it says, "There is not enough free space available on your GPS for the map region you have selected, please select a different map region." It does this for all the available regions.

To free up space, Garmin's knowledge base says to delete any voice files you aren't using. So I did that, and now I have 32 MB available on the GPS unit, 1.18GB used, 1.21 GB capacity. It still won't update.

If I try to use the GPS now, it says "No detailed maps found that support routing. The nuvi cannot be used without them." If I dismiss that message and go to "Tools - Settings - Map", the "Map Info" button is grayed out.

I tried calling Garmin this morning, but the announcement said the wait was going to be at least half an hour. I tried the online e-mail support system, but when I try to submit the web form, it gives an error, something about "can't open this page".

So I've just paid $120 to brick my navigation unit, Garmin's web site doesn't work, and the telephone wait time is atrocious.

Update 2009-04-14: I gave them a call this morning. After waiting on hold for half an hour, a technician had me copy two different copies of gmmapprom.uml to the nuvi, which didn't help. So he transferred me to the software help line. After another 20 minutes on hold, the technician, upon discovering that I'm on a Mac, had to transfer me to the Mac queue (the first technician neglected to ask what operating system I was using), another 20 minute wait away. After a few minutes on hold, I decided I needed to be at work, so I hung up. Total time on the phone: 79 minutes. I'll try again tomorrow.

I'm wondering if the map update somehow corrupted the file system on my nuvi and it's now underreporting the amount of memory it has? We'll see.

Update 2009-04-16: Yesterday an e-mail arrived in response to my online e-mail support submission, so I guess that works after all, despite the DNS errors. The e-mail basically said my nuvi is probably corrupted, and give Garmin support a call. I'll do that tomorrow when I have a day off anyway. I can look forward to 30 minutes on hold waiting to ask for someone to transfer me to the Mac queue which will take another 20 minutes on hold to reach. Joy...

Update 2009-04-17: I gave Garmin a call, waited on hold 30 minutes, asked for the Mac queue, waited another 50 minutes, and the technician had me try the map update again. It didn't give the "not enough free space" error this time. It does a little "checking for updates" thing each time I run this, so maybe they fixed something on their side. Or maybe copying the .uml file triggered something that allowed the update to proceed. In any case, the technician had me plug the unit directly into the computer, bypassing the hub, just in case. This is going to take an hour or two while it updates, so I'll let it go. Also, I've disabled all the energy saving features on this computer, just in case, because last time the error occurred when the display had gone to sleep.

Update, 11:14am: Success!

New Office Part 2

No, not the television series.

I just noticed that I like sitting on my seiza bench so much that I will often sit here at the computer just for the sake of sitting here, and easily run out of things to do on the computer. Is that bad?

Also, if my monitor weren't so deep (it's a 17" CRT), and perhaps a little taller, I might not need the keyboard tray at all. If I were to adjust the lowest shelf high enough so my knees wouldn't hit it, perhaps a foot off the ground, I could sit closer to the shelving unit.

New Office

Until recently, my desk was a banquet table for my monitor, printer, and computer; a box on which sat my keyboard; and a zabuton on which sat me. But this wasn't very ergonomic--the monitor was too high, the keyboard too low, and even on a zabuton I can only kneel for so long before my ankles ache and my feet fall asleep. I wanted something better, but still simple, inexpensive, and easy to pack up and move.

My solution: a Metro-compatible shelving unit with a Metro keyboard tray as a desk, and a seiza bench on top of the zabuton for a chair. This setup has much more storage than the banquet table did and the shelving unit is not as deep, so it takes up less floor space. I've adjusted the shelves that holds the keyboard tray and monitor to their optimum heights for ergonomics.

For the most part, this is working out pretty well. I like how my neck balances on my head effortlessly, and the fact that my back is straight without support. It's a lot like sitting on a kneeling chair. At the moment, the muscles that stabilize my back are weak, so I can feel them getting a workout.

It isn't perfect. After an hour or so, my butt starts to fall asleep. I may just be sitting wrong on the seiza bench. And I may go back and get the cushion for it.

Or, I might configure the desk to use the computer while standing a là Ernest Hemingway. In which case I wouldn't need the keyboard tray, at least after I've replaced the deep 17" CRT monitor with an LCD monitor.

Composting Update

I filled up my Bokashi bucket and started on my second. For the second bucket, I decided to go the cheap route with a pair of nested 5-gallon buckets with some drain holes drilled in the bottom of the inner bucket and a lid on top.

Now I'm feeding the contents of the first bucket to the worms. They seem to be loving it. The food I put into the bokashi bucket still looks like what I put in, but the orange peels for example now have a mushy consistency, so it appears that the bokashi process breaks down the tough fibers. I don't know yet how well it works on wood.

I still have a little of the original bokashi bran left from the first batch. To replace it, I think I'll try this stuff, because it has enough for two 5-gallon containers instead of one, and the packing itself is compostable.

Crystalyte Battery Life

I've had my electric bike for 13 months now. I've taken it 3,300 miles and charged it over 300 times. (Click the "bicycle" tag at the bottom for more details.) At this point, the battery no longer wants to accept a full charge. Sometimes it will charge completely the first try, other times it quits after a few seconds and I have to retry a few times before it will take a full charge.

I posted a thread here and the reply was that I'm going to need to analyze and condition the battery cells individually, replacing the permanently bad ones with good ones. It will take some time to test them all, so I think I'll order a new battery pack and keep the old one around for parts. When the new battery develops the same problem, I'll pick the best battery cells from the two and create a frankenbattery.

A new battery pack is $400. This equates to about 12 cents per mile. Once I've salvaged the good cells into a frankenbattery, this may drop to 8 cents per mile. Considering that the 2009 IRS mileage reimbursement rate is currently 55 cents per mile, I feel like I've saved some money.

More importantly, I've gotten into shape. I can now bike through the hills without dry heaving after only a mile and my thighs have some nice muscle tone. My cholesterol is excellent, but my weight hasn't changed--instead, I've dropped from 19.2% body fat down to 11.7%, according to my inexpensive Accu-Measure body fat caliper. I only wish my blood pressure had improved. It's still in the prehypertension range.