How Bad Chinese Manufacturing Led Me To Make a LED Deng

A Deng is a Chinese Lantern.  They are pretty common, they are made out of a frame and paper that can be brightly colored or have patterns.  These aren’t the Sky Lanterns that fly through the air with a lit candle, this is more of a decorative “ball” type of a lantern.

They do seem to bring a smile to my face.  When I spotted one, I kept it thinking “I should do something with that some day”.

Yes, my house is full of those sort of projects.  Things I should do something with some day.  Moving from house to house should solve that but that is not in the plans.  So the Projects mount.

What happened to get it to where it is today is a long and twisted tail that involves alleged drunk driving, my own creativeness, and some truly typically bad Chinese manufacturing practice.

I’ll say this right off.  It is well known that people who make light bulbs of any type have been skimping.  There is a bulb in a firehouse that has been burning 115 years since the early part of the 1900s.  It is a “Centennial bulb” that looks more like the insides of an old Radio tube to me, but there it is.

That company that made the bulb never made any more money on that bulb and that’s the problem with Capitalism.  The light bulb companies conspired and colluded to make their bulbs less sturdy until you have the problem I had.

Helpful hint!  When shopping for Light Bulbs, look carefully at the packaging.  Make sure you buy bulbs that have a 25,000 hour life span.  Leave the lower hour bulbs at the store!

You see my Ceiling Fan broke.  I pointed a remote control at it and it didn’t turn on.  It refused to light, it refused to spin.  You need a Ceiling Fan in South Florida.  I thought I would procrastinate and in a few days we would go to the big box store and see if they still had this fan.   Going back to the well and seeing if it was not dry meant we could exchange it for a new one.

They had them and we grabbed one.  As an aside, I got a spare battery for the remote, just in case.  Type A23 batteries.  The same type as in my Jeep’s alarm remote.  I need new ones for that too.  It turned out that with a new battery, the ceiling fan worked.

We put the new one up anyway, and that one worked.  But out of the six incandescent light bulbs that came with it, two did not work.  We are going to put LED lights in that anyway so I grabbed the bulbs For Projects.

The other part of this story with the drunk driving, allegedly, that is, happened about 5 years ago.  Someone had a tricked out truck with ground effect lighting and a stupidly loud horn.  He drove this beast into the shopping center near my house and proceeded to back it up, clumsily, into a parking space.  He also backed it over top of a cement parking space block and ripped out those same lighting strips, in four pieces.

The lighting strips, I of course, picked up.  For Projects.  Bright white LED Strips that will run on next to no current at 12 volts.  My brain racing, that means that I could basically have free lighting coupled with my solar charger and a couple old laptop batteries and … so forth.

I wired them up with old telephone wire that was discarded by the telephone company one day.  The wires were stiff enough to stand up to some abuse, and hold the LED strips upright against their own weight.

The little LED things would run for days on three rechargeable laptop cells, so they would make an amazing emergency light.  When power goes out here, it goes out for a very long time, especially when Mother Nature is involved.

I’m looking at you Wilma.  Two weeks without power on my block means it would not be a good time to vacation at the beach!

So when the bulb blew, For Projects became Now.  I tested them one last time.  One bulb was dead.  The other popped immediately when plugged in.  I had my base.

The cord was salvaged from an old Ikea lamp that was in my back yard for years.  It had a small candelabra fixture in it that the bulbs fit.

With a tap from a pair of scissors, the glass broke away.  I was able to use the scissors to chip away almost all of the rest of the glass and that gave me the connectors I needed.  Since everything I was doing was low voltage, I used blue construction tape to insulate things and wired up the contraption.  One connection to the ring, the other to the tip.

I had my Deng lamp.  Now, to assemble and “Smoke Test” it.   It worked!  Actually, it really looks quite nice.  Enough to light the desk under it and it is quite bright on a 200 milliamp, 12 volt power brick from an old caller ID box.  2.4 watts of power to get a light that is about as bright as a 40 watt incandescent bulb.

Now, I don’t know how long that will run.  Someone bumps into the connections, it will go dark.  It won’t shock anyone, that kind of power may run a portable radio, but not too much else.  But the light works.

A giant pile of broken bits, discarded wire, and a drunken mistake gave me a rather nice light.

And a story about my own electronic OCD.

Hey!  It’s a Project!  I’ll finish it some day!  Really!  I will!

Advertisements

Careful, or else I’ll fix that Roomba

A while back I got a Roomba.  I completely didn’t expect to get one, they are usually a fairly expensive piece of technology.

They look like a giant dinner plate and wander around your house picking up after your dog, chasing your dog, getting tangled in electrical cords and stuck in inaccessible places that cause you to have to move your furniture.

I happened to win an Auction of goods that turned out to have the Roomba in it.  Not bad for eight bucks right?

After charging the thing up I pressed the power button and then “clean”. 

I could see I needed to train the dog.  She immediately attacked it.  Not doing damage to it other than putting a few bite marks on it, I managed to get her unattached from the growling appliance and set it on its way.  Lettie on the other hand has a healthy distrust of it.

The Roomba seems to have a heat seeking aspect to it.  That particular feature is quite useful if you want to find every other person in the house.   For a while, the dog would hide somewhere, then get bored and crawl into a dog-ball and go to sleep when it was running.   I’d hear a bark of alarm as it found her and tried to vacuum up the source of the fur instead of the dust chihuahuas that roamed in lazy circles under the air intake for the air conditioning for the house that runs 11 months out of the year.   After all, this IS Florida.

We learned to pick up the wires for the laptop, the bath mats, any random animal mats and relocate everything either on top of things or in the Florida room.  The Laundry and the Florida room both are separated from the rest of the house by a step down and the Roomba is smart enough to know not to go there.

I grew fond of the brain dead appliance, it saved me a lot of work.   Get the house “Roombaproofed” and press the button.  It would sweep the tiled floors while I was out walking Lettie, and usually get stuck under something that meant I’d expect to find it turned off, the lights flashing and a Sad Sound playing out of the cheesy little electronic squeaker by the time I got back.

Through time, the batteries wore out and eventually didn’t have enough charge to run the thing off the charge base let alone around the house.   Since they built the battery pack to be removable, I was going to eventually fix the thing.  The pack had 12 “sub-c” rechargeable batteries in it so how tough could it be?

When ever you replace batteries in a battery pack, there is a small, if infinitesimal possibility that the new cells may fail.

Fantastically.

They could explode or catch fire.  Sure, it COULD happen.  Especially with the new-fangled Lithium Ion Batteries that everybody is fond of using.  These were Old School NiCd batteries.   The worst thing that could happen is that they could leak and put poisonous heavy metals around the house and turn this into a toxic waste site.

Ok, Pollution aside, replacing the individual cells is not particularly difficult especially if you have more time than money and are handy with a soldering iron.

Check and Check.

You also have to live with someone who wants to live dangerously.  After all the probability is somewhat greater than a Lightning Strike that they COULD leak.

Can you tell that it’s raining?  Lightning?  Writing Blog Postings in the dark on the 7th day in a row in the rain here…

Well I don’t.  Bless his little heart Kevin doesn’t want to wear a hazmat suit to go into the living room.  Having heavy metal poisoning is not a pleasant thing even if once in a while I catch him listening to the Rock station here.

So he ordered the replacement “new” battery pack that arrived yesterday. 

I charged the thing up, and the Roomba growled back to life.

It also immediately took a bead on the dog.

Ahh back to normal!  Come on, Lettie, lets go for a walk while I let the Roomba clean up after us!

Careful, That USB Drive Isn’t Perfect

I grabbed the chip out of the camera today to see what I had in store.  There are a couple of the usual pictures of lizards in weird places, my dog looking cute, night shots, and other things around town.

Looking at the chip in the reader, I used Windows Explorer to go through to the directory to find all the 84 megs worth of pics on the little 512 meg chip that I thought I had.

The key word is “Thought”. 

You see, Windows 7 can’t see what’s on the chip.

Lately I’ve gone through some odd problems.  The laptop is new.  I’ve only had it for 2 months.  Nice little thing, it does everything I need even if it is a year old.  So I trust it.

The problem seems to be the peripherals that I plug into it. 

The machine is small, a 12 inch “convertible tablet” so it can go everywhere.  Keyboard and touch screen that let me do some really interesting things with it.  It has HDMI so I have used it along with an external wireless keyboard and mouse to do presentations on the TV simply by plugging in the cable and the transmitter.  I then have a big monitor that I can show things on.   There are larger but this does the job perfectly.

So as I am plugging things in and taking them out I expect everything to work without question.

That was perhaps a bit naive.  You see you have to be careful with technology.  If you have static, especially, you can have your hardware die well before its time.

I think that is what happened with my little 512 Meg Chip.

My “big green chair” has a fuzzy synthetic cover on it.  I go to stand up and of course that builds up a charge.  Walk over to the dog and she’s grounded.  You hear a SNAP! and the dog is blinking at you as to why you did that you mean biped.

Now, while you annoy the dog with your static, think of what you are doing to that little electronic device.  It’s much better for both dog, electronics and loved ones if you reach over to the lamp, hold onto the metal base and then stand up.  Will you remember every time? I doubt it, but those times you remember, your dog and everyone else around you will thank you. 

Those static shocks are annoying.  I’m just “shocked” that I can get them here in Florida where the house is kept at 80F and 50 Percent Humidity during the day.   The poang chair under the ceiling fan is quite comfy, thank you!

Ok now to apologize to the dog…

Back your data up – or F.U. FPL

I am not having a good technology day.   It started yesterday mid morning around this time. 

I was making a serving of grits in the microwave and it boiled over.  Spectacularly so.  There was grits all over the microwave that dried into a concrete that the city of Portland would be proud of.  I managed to clean that up, and promised to really clean the inside of the microwave later. 

After spilling the boiling water over the top of the coffee maker and making a mess that later cleaned up easily, I settled in to do the morning routine. 

Later I took a break and set off the smoke detector while roasting some coffee. 

Some would say that I’m being clumsy and should get out of the kitchen so I did.

I settled in the chair with the old creaky laptop and went through the rest of the morning and the lunch hour, without incident.

Part of the morning routine is maintaining a spreadsheet of everything I have done in the Job Search.  There’s a significant amount of data on that sheet, and I tend to back it up on an infrequent schedule.  The last time was November 29, as I was going to go to Key West.   When that trip fell through, I thought nothing more of it, since I could keep that little SD card inside the slot securely.

Not so very securely it turns out.

I was sitting in that same chair, surfing, looking at job sites, considering whether to write something for the blog, and listening to some music online.  Trinidad All Stars, a wonderful competition that happens annually in Port of Spain Trinidad was playing some bouncy Steel Drum music through the speakers on the laptop when “it” happened.

The laptop shut off.

I don’t mean it went through an orderly shut down.  It didn’t say “Battery is low” and wanted me to plug it in.  It didn’t do the windows 7 shutdown routine.  It was as if some invisible ghost unplugged the laptop from the wall, removed the battery, and off it went.  I still can get more than an hour out of this battery and the laptop is more than 3 years old.

Uh Oh.

There was more to it than that.  At that very moment the music shut down on the internet radio, the stereo amplifier snapped off, and the house was briefly filled with the hum of the refrigerator – coming back up to speed.

We had taken yet-another power hit. 

This power hit also reset the clock on the microwave and some other clocks in the house.  They were flashing 12:00 at me and let me know that what ever happened, was big.

I’m used to this, I have lost two desktop computers in FPL’s very dirty power.  I have written about this before, and moved to laptops because I thought them safer with the power going through a brick on the floor that is plugged into a surge suppressor power strip.  This took out the music – which didn’t come back until much later when I unplugged the Logitech Squeezebox Classic and the stereo amp from the power conditioner.

I was NOT happy.  I didn’t see anything wrong with the laptop but had to go through a couple restarts before it felt stable again and didn’t realize that there was more to happen.

What happened wasn’t discovered until this morning.  The old Acer Aspire laptop has a small slot.  The slot is for an “SD Chip” and that was where I kept my job search data.  Last backed up November 29th.  I couldn’t get to the chip on windows 7 and it helpfully asked to format it.  NO!  After unplugging it and plugging it and cursing FPL, Thomas Edison, IBM, and the Chinese for making most of this technology, I put the chip in an older windows XP machine. 

Still nothing.  I had a “fried” memory chip.

I have two others.  The other chips are 8GB each, this one was only 256MB.  I was thinking that if it were fried, I got enough life out of the little Sandisk 256 Meg chip so I could toss it and move onto one of the 8GBs.  Finding that none of them had a more recent backup, I formatted the chip and got on with life.

If this could happen to me with many years of expertise in PC and Computer technology, it can happen to you.  Florida Power and Light is notoriously unstable in this are so if the data is worth keeping, it is worth saving.

Here is how I will do that henceforth:

1) I have moved the data backup onto the laptop hard drive and will work from there as the “master”.

2) When through the daily work, I will copy the data back out to the 256MB chip and then remove the chip.  It will now be my daily backup not the daily source of the data.

3) Weekly copy the data from the laptop to the other two 8GB chips I have hidden.

You see, backing your data up is very important.  It can get anyone. 

If you’re moving into South Florida, get yourself some power conditioners and preferably a power conditioner with a battery backup.  They aren’t terribly expensive and will save you what I went through.  The power conditioner will take the hit and you will be able to recover without spending extra time or money on new equipment. 

Remember my own personal experience and my own personal opinion – FPL has Dirty Power.

The first time I wrote about it is here for Part 1.  The second time for Part 2 is here

Good luck keeping your data safe!

Boom, That wasn’t good…

It is a cool winter day in South Florida.  Since everything is relative the windows are open and we’re in shorts in the house. 

The morning semi quiet was disturbed by the normal sounds of a Friday.   The radio was on playing some quiet classical music from an internet radio station.  The drip feed irrigation was watering the pots.  The water for my coffee was just at boil and I was taking it off the burner. 

Getting ready to pour the water over the grounds, the lights suddenly cut off.

The house was in an instant quiet.  There was a “PING!” noise like you hear in a Hollywood post apocalyptic movie.  At the same time, there was a distant BOOM! as if something just got hit. 

I hear from the other side of the house “Uh Oh, That wasn’t good!”. 

Setting the teapot back on the cooling burner I came out into the main house and surveyed the damage.  The TV Computer was restarting.  It hadn’t been enough of a power pop to restart the stereo, but the internet radio had just rebooted itself with a cheery “Logitech” logo streaming across its face in florescent cyan.  Ceiling fan was spinning back up to speed and the washer was burbling in the laundry room for the Friday Laundry-Fest.

Sensing all was normal, I padded back into the kitchen.  Pouring the hot water over the coffee, and stirring it to make the morning half-caff, I notice there are now sirens screaming in the distance.  

Apparently someone had hit a pole on the raceway that is Wilton Drive.  With our creaky power infrastructure here, any time that happens, the side of the city grid that that pole is on goes dark for a second or two then back on.  Not enough to stop you from making breakfast or that coffee pot that I am enjoying now, but just enough to restart sensitive electronic equipment like computers and internet radios.

This side effect of having a raceway in the middle of the city is a minor one.   We have a four lane highway running through the heart of the business district.   It is placed to move people from Downtown Fort Lauderdale to Oakland Park.  It is a bypass of Sunrise Boulevard.  People use it and see it as a good alternative to sitting at the lights next to Holiday Park.

This being South Florida, the speed limit is merely a suggestion at 30 MPH.  People seem to change their tires at speeds higher than that.  They also strike down pedestrians and cause a fatality at speeds higher than that.

A good argument for narrowing the drive is to watch the people fly past all the businesses on their way to somewhere else in rush hour.  An even better argument for doing that is to watch them fly past at 9pm on a Thursday Night.

The power pops we have here are usually only an annoyance. I have lost a significant amount of electronics since moving here.  Not enough of a reason to expect a city to rebuild its central core.  But it is yet another reason.  The accidents, not my electronics.

Hopefully that person who was in a rush to get from one side of our little island to the other didn’t kill anyone or cause too much damage when they caused that accident.  At this time of day, someone’s work day will be messed up.  Luckily few people are out walking their dogs at 7AM.  At 7PM it is a very different story.

This sort of thing happens at least once a week.  It is fairly predictable.  It is completely preventable.  Leave 10 minutes earlier, reduce your speed to legal limits, and chill out South Florida.  My neighborhood will thank you.

The Light’s On and Somebody’s Home – Picture

Can’t you just hear the 3 year old kid next to you tugging on your pant leg…

Mommy?  Why is that light on?  Its DAYTIME!

Specifically it was almost 6PM, rush hour.  As you can see, it was a brilliant blue sky, a bright South Florida afternoon.

So why is it on? 

Yeah, Kid, I was getting to that…

See the City of Wilton Manors was able to get these new “people centered” light poles put up on the Drive.  From Five Points down to the South End at Richardson Park, we have these beige poles that remind me of a Art-Nouveau-Repro light standard from the 30s brought back to date.  They’re all Metal, so they’ll stand up to the South Florida Weather, the lights are not your standard bulb, and they are much nicer looking than those evil looking Highway Lights that are all over the place. 

You know the Highway Lights that I’m talking about – the ones that were used as a design for the Martians in War of the Worlds in the movie back in the 50s?  I see those lights and my mind thinks they can come alive at any moment and shoot sparks at something to make it glow red then turn to dust… BOO!

These are lower, designed to make the light go where we are, to light our footsteps and show where we are to the traffic.  You know, since this is South Florida, it makes us a better target…

Maybe not but they work very well.  Three hours later, I was walking Mrs Dog past the Gables of Wilton Manors and noted that the sidewalks were very nicely lit, there were much fewer “dead zones” and the colors were truer than the ugly yellow Low Pressure Sodium Lights that we grew used to seeing in cities.

The light has been on for the last few days, and they were all on this morning.  The reason is that they’re all in their burn-in period.  They are required to be to make sure we don’t have any that just don’t work or are not installed correctly.  The ones that I have seen are all turned on.  

When the period has ended and they’re “normal”, they will all turn off at dawn, back on at dusk.  The sensors are set to save us some electricity in our bills as well as the bulbs being higher efficiency than the usual White lights.  They look like they could be a Halide or High Pressure Sodium lamp, but I haven’t been told.  The color rendering is excellent at night, we all don’t look like weird ghosts.

Another feature is that they’re centrally metered.  What you didn’t realize is that most cities pay an estimated bill.  Count up the number of lights you have, multiply it by a factor and pay so much.   That works if you use the old ugly lights but our new pretty lights being so high efficiency will save us money by our only paying for what we use.

One last feature – the bulb sockets are normal “Edison” sockets like the one in the table light next to you… if you don’t have a florescent light everywhere like I do.  This means that in 5 years when LED lighting becomes cheap we can unscrew the old bulb and put in a fancy-schmancy light bulb that will save us even more. 

That is why it’s on little girl.  We’re all happy now.  Lets go walk home, ok?

Morning Rain brings Barky Showers

I awoke at 6 in the morning as it was my habit to do.  I was even able to get partially dressed before Mrs Dog decided that she heard me and came to investigate. 

The pleasures of an older dog.  When they’re puppies they’re under foot and don’t know why it is a problem.  When they’re adults, you tell them they’re under foot and learn not to be quite so close.  Now that she’s 10 and her hearing is getting selectively worse, I’m noticing that she isn’t quite as aware of what I’m doing any longer.  I can even get out of The Poang Chair and get standing before she opens her eyes.  Sleep is the number one activity.

I got out of bed, dressed, and padded my way into the Kitchen to roast a half cup of coffee beans.  Seven minutes in the roaster cum popcorn popper and I had time to feed her and grab all the gear we needed for a walk.

Finally, we were able to step outside and were greeted by a light mist of rain.  More like someone was standing on the roof and spraying a bottle of water into the air above my head.  I called to Lettie, and she decided that she didn’t hear or really didn’t need to hear what I was saying so I pulled her back into the door.  Inside the door is where we keep our umbrellas and this was going to be a wet walk.  We got to the corner where the 25 year old grey and maroon umbrella was opened and we walked into the progressively degrading conditions. 

By the time I rounded the corner the fourth time, I could see the sun rising over the ocean front condos, the ocean itself, and the Bahamas.  It was still raining but not so hard as I didn’t take the time to close the umbrella and use it to knock two mangoes off the tree on the corner on the rental property.   The people who live there are from Minnesota, they won’t mind, they don’t know what good mangoes are!

I walked inside and prepared a mug of coffee, a biscuit and a chicken pattie and continued to watch as it got progressively worse.  The rain danced across my swimming pool making the little rubber duck thermometer that floats there look as if there was someone draping some gossamer sheers past it in rapid succession.  The pool lost its sheen and the water’s surface became a uniform layer of grey from the droplets.

It was this time that I realized that this little storm would have the weather alert radio in Philadelphia sounding off about heavy storms and low visibility, but here in South Florida, the land of Hurricanes, nothing.

Then it began.  My little summer shower flexed its muscles.  While I had a mouth full of biscuit, chicken, and coffee, the world flashed brilliant white and the note of a giant bass drum sounded off.   The lights in the house flickered off, then on again.  My power conditioners snapped into use while the shoddy FPL infrastructure surged into the forefront of my consciousness. 

And the dog started to bark.  Barking from Mrs Dog is a rare thing.  Even when she was young she almost never barked.  I never quite understood why dogs bark at thunderstorms but it is a thing I’ve grown used to and accept as I have this wonderful creature living with me.   If she barks, I pay attention.  There’s a reason for that.

One dog trainer I read at some time in passing said “Make Storm Time, Fun Time”.  So I reached over onto the counter and found the Pumpkin Orange bottle of soap bubbles.  Now Lettie was barking for joy.  Not just one bark when the BOOM! happened, but a steady stream of baritone barks that showed she was really happy to play and take her mind off of the horrible maelstrom outside.

Not really a maelstrom, I can only imagine how she’ll be when we get a hurricane…

Holding the bubble wand near my lips I blew out a stream of about 20 bubbles and she leaps for joy snapping at each and every one while jumping like a puppy.  Reminding myself to blow bubbles out away from my body, I watched her ivory teeth chomp each impending bubble as a lightning strike happened with the BOOM! and she merely went on happily chomping away at soap.

I doubt that having a dog eat soap is a good thing, but the tiny amount that she gets in from snapping at bubbles and only occasionally getting one can’t be a life threatening situation, I swallowed more shampoo last night after I climbed out of the shower after using the pool.  She seems to enjoy it greatly, and its mental health benefits outweigh the little bit of soap that are in those shimmering spheres of soap that mysteriously fall from the sky.

Here we are, an hour and 45 minutes later, the storm is beginning to fade.   The sun is now higher in the sky, the Bahamas are sunny with only scattered red blobs over the radar near Freeport, over 60 miles away.  Our own rain storm will fade away into canine memory and the rainbow over Wilton Manors won’t be so redundant.