Coping: With Electronic Parenting

Reader Michael (Madison Ave. Michael of the 600 block) sent along a kick-ass article about how handing toddlers the iPad or the SmartPhone to amuse them,may lead to impeding their social-emotion development.

The latest addition to our legacy is now about two-years old, and her parents have been letting her play with their iPhones since she was old enough to point.

Thing thing is, they did it the right way:  Always with the parent.  As a result, she was able to scroll through photos of various zoo animals and point an announce words like “Bear!”  It’s actually pretty cool because the electronic version of things is vastly more lifelike than the classic little golden-spined books many of us eldsters (this isn’t a word, but let’s pretend, we are maybe elder, but not old) grew up on.

I was always confused by the cartoonish look of “children’s books” because the didn’t have a particularly high visual correlation of what I was seeing in the “rest of world.”

So I quickly dropped the cartoon-like material and moved on to Life and Time magazines, which were far more to my liking.

And that goes to realizing, at a very early age, that people can be not-very-nice.  I remember, also, we had a picture book about World War I that was pretty interesting,  too.

All of these were explored with no particular parental supervision.  I was blessed with parents who would let us kinder read pretty much whatever was around the house.  Lots of books (my family has book disease…compulsive readers).

So pardon me, if I’m just ever-so-skeptical or social-emotional development issue potential.  Part of the way that young people latch onto a dream early-on in life is by developing their own personality (by following their own onboard sense of inquiry).

Sure, I suppose that may stunt a few social skills.  But with the exception of a neighborhood organizer from Chicago, and various sociopaths who seek continuous election, let me ask the embarrassing question:

Where are the jobs for all these socially developed people?

I daresay half of Silicon Valley geniuses were not particularly social, at least until they’d made their third of fourth million.  What’s more, when I’ve met great achievers in many fields, they have mainly missed a few pointers from Ms. Manners, and some might be called outright misfits.

But, you see, the geniuses don’t live in the middle of the Bell Curve.  They are outliers.  And to empower kids with (porn protected it goes without saying) material in all kinds of depth?

Why, that’s the makings of a whole new crop of geniuses.

Now, if we could only explain that to Common Core sycophants.

Viva la ‘difference!  It ain’t just for sex, anymore.

Or, am I just identifying with too many characters in Scorpion episodes?

Living Off the Grid

Inquiring minds:

Dear Mr. Ure
I am a long time reader of both your sites.
Recently you went into considerable detail  addressing the use of solar power using  Inverters and battery’s that got me to thinking
We live in the NW  near Granite Falls in a heavily forested area making solar power impractical.
Currently we have a 12k generator 120/240 system with a transfer switch that works well. However we noticed that in periods of prolong power outage it uses a lot of fuel even though the amount of needed power is no where near amount power the generator is capable of thus making the generator very costly.
MY question to you is could we not use a an inverter- charger 120/240 volt system tied in to the service panel side of the transfer switch so that the inverter would charge the batteries either from the grid or the generator? My thought is that when the generator was not operating the inverter would supply power  to the service panel and make the generator more efficient.
Thank you for your time

Reader Walt raises a couple of fine questions here.

The simple answer is yeah, sure, you could “float” the house on the inverter/charger.  That way, when the generator is on, it not only runs the house but it also charges the battery bank.

Now the bad news:  Depending on how the house is heated (please tell me it’s not electric!) it will be forever before you make a real return on the investment in additional equipment. 

What you’re looking at would be a stacked pair of inverters (one for each side of the 220) and, depending on how long you want to have power, the battery bank could be huge.

Of your generator is diesel and runs 1.5 gallons per hour, unloaded or lightly loaded) take the current price of diesel in your area ($2.76 says Triple A as of this morning) and then multiply that times the hourly run rate, and then figure out how many outage-hours you’ve had (on average) per year.


At 1.5 gallons per hour (15 KW gen set?) might run unloaded at $4.14 per hour. 

Now divide this into the price of a system you describe:  Say with the electrician, the parts, labor, batteries, and design work, you might be up to oh, $12,000.

Next divide $12,000 by the unloaded genset cost, which comes up to about 290-hours.

Now divide by days and ask yourself?  How many years would I need the additional equipment in order to use 12 whole-days of battery support?

Here’s the catch:  If you want to get a whole day, that’s a mother giant of a battery bank.  And if you have electric heat, then yikes!

If the idea is to have uninterrupted television or computing, a smaller-scale answer might be a plug-in solution UPS for the computer, router, and so forth.  And, if you put the router on a simple UPS and hook up a week’s worth of battery to that, then run a laptop with a good battery in it and life gets fixed a whole lot cheaper.

Long answer, but there are no short answers to complex questions.

In Walter’s case, he’s got some issues that we have considered (and it’s why we’re still on 20-acres out in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Granite Falls, for those who aren’t familiar with the Northwest is up east of Everett a ways, off to the north side of US Highway 2 that goes over Stevens Pass.

It’s the most beautiful area on Earth for about 1-hour per year. 

The rest of the time, it’s cloudy and raining, so Walt’s design options are limited when comes to solar.  Long payback period and that’s assuming he’s not on the north side of a steep foothill, which you’ve beginning to get into up there.

Wind power might be an option, but the area is heavily-wooded, except where it’s not, and in that case, absent clear-cutting, getting enough wind power going would depend on living on top of a foot hill, but then you’ve got problems like water….and (my head hurts).

His question is a dandy, but enumerating the issues is tough.  Is there low-head hydro potential?  And, if there is, can it be done without State tree-hugger departments interfering?  Last time I looked if a person living on a lake wanted to put in a new dock to use their lake access, it was something like a 3-year environmental review process….and usually required “environmental studied” and usually an environmental law firm to argue the points…and I’ve seen some of those run out 5-10 years just for a waterfront house.  So, low head hydro?  No telling.

On the other hand, if it’s power and light?  Heat and such?  Then massive insulation on the home would be one approach.  Insulation is the cheapest deal there is for saving energy.  So is triple-glazed windows.  We ain’t talking R-13 sidewalls…try R-30+ sidewalls and R-50 ceilings…and triple glaze small windows.  Now you’ve got something.  But only if you weatherstrip the bejesus out of everything and don’t go in an out.  And then what about air changes so you don’t suffocate over time?  Oxygen is health and where’s that coming from?  Outside!

Housing that don’t leak as much as its tenants breath are going to kill over time.

A wood stove makes sense in that area, but they’re a lot of work.  Elaine and I have talked about that as part of a “small footprint” move back to the PNW.  But then you have to go outside and wood is never really clean….and the state has tough laws now on how much wood smoke emission is permitted.

When I built my fireplace hearth for my Kirkland home (circa 1974) I built the hearth hollow and put in a 6t” air duct to the outside air, which came in and released right in front of the fireplace insert so the house wouldn’t be drafty but the fireplace insert would draw very well.  Built it so about a 3” x 12” floor grill would fit over it.  Worked great!

Stepping back from it, this all eventually gets us (Coriolis effect) back into the “rent your life” problem.  So I don’t envy Walt the calculations, nor the choices. 

If reducing your footprint was a simple thing, everyone would do it.  It’s not, it costs money, and then you’re in the clutches of either the banksters or the government…and the government will get the property back when you die if you fail to pay taxes on it…so when comes right down to it, government just rents the whole country out, anyway.

And if Walt wanted to do low-head hydro he’d be in the clutches of bureaucracy.  It’s a terrible mess.

There is no such thing as “public lands,” either.  Try going to most parks and stay for a month.  You’ll find out quickly that public land are anything but.

And again, we come full-circle to the problem of how to live a good life in bad times, or a harmonious life in the midst of evil? 

Wish there was a shorter answer, but none comes to mind.  Like measuring how far is up, we have to stop and ask “To where?”

The Battery Questions Never Stop

Meanwhile, Batteries (and their management) has a lot in common with picking the ponies.  No one seems to agree and this is what makes a horse race.

For example, reader William cites something from my recent discussion on solar power:  The part where I said…

The way to solve the problem is by deliberately over-charging a battery. What you want to have happen is the battery driven past its gassing voltage (some people call it boiling, but its not).
This is where bubbles of Brown’s gas are given off.
On a 12 volt battery, at room temp, that might involve increasing the charge voltage slowly to the vicinity of 15.5 or 16 volts and holding it there for a couple of hours. This process is called “equalizing” the battery.
It’s also somewhat risky if you don’t know what you’re doing, or if the equipment you’re trying to use wasn’t specifically designed for this other part (the secret sauce) of battery maintenance.
Done properly, and with a high quality deep cycle battery, you can roll up phenomenal battery results. On our sailboat, I had 9-years on our house bank and it was still delivering more than 85 percent of capacity! Who said marine batteries last only 3-4 years?

What Bill sent was this:

You should not need to worry about equalizing your batteries used in typical RV service. Equalizing is hard on batteries. It is an overcharge to try to get weak cells up to a full charge but that overcharge tends to harm those cells that are already at a full charge. In RV service, the batteries should get an appropriate amount of exercise that minimizes an imbalance in cell charging. This exercise is discharging the batteries down 20% to 50% and then charging with a good converter. A good converter is sized for your batteries so it will get a good current to them and then proceed through the battery charging stages appropriately. It will have the time (8 to 12 hours) to fully charge then entire battery. And then it will go to a maintenance mode to keep the battery fully charged and also do some things to inhibit sulfation.
Comment please.

Now, you see, Bill, what we have here is one of the problems of the internet: Conflicting information.  The reason it may appear to conflict is because the correct answer (depends) is way too long for most people to remain awake.

To repeat, there are two kinds of sulfation that occur in batteries:  Sulfation of the normal sort, where the sulfur is deposited on the plates of the battery and is the chemical process by which stored energy (of the reaction) is made available via discharge.

When those micro-crystals are left on the battery plates, they harden into sulfatation…which is much more difficult to drive back into solution.

I’ll skip the part where I explain starting batteries have lots of plate area but don’t do deep cycles well.  Might also pass on explaining that deep cycle batteries have lots of plate thickness, but not very many of them.  Great for lots of ultimate energy, but sucky when comes to terminal voltage under load – which is what you want when you start an engine because of an electric motor measurement called “locked rotor current.”  Yes, glad I’m skipping that part.

Upon normal recharge, almost all of this soft crystalline material is driven back into solution (see your hydrometer readings).  Over a number of discharges, however, say 100, there is some sulfur left on the plates and that’s why great battery companies (Trojan, Rolls-Surrette, and others) recommend equalizing because deposition of the sulfur is not uniform due to internal differences in plates and lead paste depth and so forth.

The caveat is that you don’t need to do this often.  It is mainly related to the number of times the battery has a discharge of more than say 15-20%..  That’s why here at the ranch on my solar system I rigorously equalize every year….or two.  That’s because the number of deep cycles is low.  Most of the time the system is handling power bumps and 5-minute outages.

Skipping equalizing altogether, however, is a bad idea, in that over time, all batteries that are cycled lose capacity.  If your batteries are simply sitting there, not cycling, then sure…float them at the right temp and call it good.

It’s a good idea to unplug 12-volt appliances, because typical equalizing is constant current charging which typically gets up to the 15.1-15.3 voltage, and may go higher depending on whose equalizing algo is built in to the charger.

RV’ers are big on calling chargers “converters”.  Strictly speaking, if it has a big transformer in it, that thingy which converts AC to DC may be properly called a charger.  If, on the other hand, in order to save manufacturing cost, if the big, heavy (ergo expensive) magnetics are left out, and the converter uses high-frequency switching, then it’s a converter.   Both are designed primarily to step-down 110VAC (or 220VAC) to 12 or 24 volt DC for charging.

And inverter is something that converts the DC back into useful AC to run appliances.

And the inverter/charger uses big magnetics associated with the (usually modified sine wave type inverter) to act as the charger.  A pure since-wave (high frequency magnetics) may be properly called an converter/inverter while a system designed to charge from an RV running battery (engine and lights) and shovel some energy into the house bank while motoring down the highway is called (variously) a DC-DC converter, a buck/boost charger, or a DC converter.

That’s depending on who did the manufacturing and marketing, and how many drinks you’ve had around the campfire.  Or how much time you have to waste nitting me to death because what are those things in ham radio that we use to power our ham gear?  (Correct answer:  Power supplies because they are not designed to manage a battery.  They are designed to provide similar voltage and current to what a battery delivers.  But because they don’t have extreme high current and because they don’t do Acceptance Charging (14-14.3 depending on battery at 70F) they are not a proper “charger.”

In anything electronic, a great deal of precision of thought is necessary because there are exceptions to any “rule” in this stuff.  If you want an hours-long discussion of battery performance, take an issue like “self-discharge” characteristics and a discussion of how to calculate when to equalize batteries that have been ignored for a long time.  Now that gets to be an interesting algorithm to work on.

And then, to make things really interesting, let’s make the battery under discussion an ultra-high energy density silver-zinc and put it in a high temperature setting….

No, on second though, let’s not.  Let’s just get more coffee… It occurs to me that only one third, or less, of this morning’s column means anything to people who rent apartments and aren’t dreaming of owning their own home some day.

Damn shame that’s how the game is rigged.  Unless you own rental homes, in which case…..

But then on the other hand, we have the other glove.

Write when you break-even,


9 thoughts on “Coping: With Electronic Parenting”

  1. Just a little thought on costly generators for off the grid use.. Of course there will be a lot of controversy on this and I wouldn’t have even given it a second thought if I hadn’t had a friend that went and checked it out for himself only to come back and say you should see this thing made by a muffler shop owner using tail pipe. it runs two farmsteads.. anyway even though the idea dates back to Leonardo himself and for some reason hasn’t been utilized is a little on the.. anyway take a look and enjoy.

  2. i hear tell that normal batteries dont last long over 5-10 years because of the clearance on the bottom of the battery which in time fills up that clearance with debris and shorts it out and the cure to have long lived batteries is extra clearance between the bottom casing and the plates,but then they cant make high yearly profits and then of course those nickel instead of lead batteris last a lifetime

  3. I will reluctantly divulge the secret that there are still public lands where you can camp for longer than two weeks. They’re mainly in the West and you have to guess at their whereabouts by following dirt roads or carefully examining maps. There are also many websites dedicated to finding free camping. I’ve been a full-time RVer for 12 years and I never stay at pay campgrounds. If you have solar panels as I do and/or a generator, it is still possible to boondock for free in beautiful places where no forest rangers will kick you out after two weeks, in spite of Forest Service or BLM rules. I spent the last four summers in a great dispersed camping area in the mountains, staying for 3-4 months at a time. After awhile, you just get the hang of finding these places.

  4. So, if you like to bet on war, this is where smart money seems to be flowing. Except, wait: How can both sides be smart? Hmmm…… Well start up a fake war and both sides get military funding !!! DUH

  5. George:
    Regarding the new electronic parents … my light bulb moment came when my grandson was 3 years old (he is now 4). He was handed a 4 X 6 photograph. After looking at the picture for a couple of seconds he took his pointer finger and swiped across the picture to look at the next image. This was his first experience with a photo. How easily children our programmed by their experiences.

  6. We tend to forget electricity has only been around for the last 60-90 years in most parts of the US. My mom’s homestead was connected in the mid-1950s so it’s a very recent necessity.

    We bought a 2k watt Generac generator to be prepared for power outages and used it about 1-2 hours so far. I wanted to use it last week and discovered the inverter is bad, replacement costs as much as the unit itself. We also have a Honda 1k gen that has taken a beating from the start and amazingly it keeps on purring. So I’m off to buy another Honda this time around.

    My point being no matter how well you’re prepared for the unexpected….. something can go wrong. Perhaps, we should prepare mentally with the idea of not having electricity if things get that bad. Been there, done that. Not fun but it causes you to have to think and be creative (a lost art.)

    Insulation for the house is a great idea. Insulation for the body is another idea…. lots of nice woolens.

  7. George,
    Those of us with Edison (Nickel Iron) batteries have a different take on all this ;-)

    Running a large “UPS” here – 24v 300a with 8x 250w panels

    rick in North Georgia (USA)

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