Tuesday, October 30, 2012

So -- How Concerned Should a Bend Resident be about Disasters?

Frankenstorm Sandy is making life tough for many on the east coast as I write this.

I stumbled across this article, titled "Scouts are right: Be prepared! Get ready for an emergency before it happens," on Daily Kos.

It starts like this:
If Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were to have their way, you'd be on your own in a disaster. Oh, they might send you some cans of tuna and Jello mix, but forget about federal aid. Except, or course, for sending in the National Guard to keep the looters away from any gated neighborhoods. 
But even with a full budget, neither the Federal Emergency Management Agency—which that deplorable duo of candidates would like to eviscerate or abolish (depending on which version of their spew you believe)—nor the Red Cross or local emergency teams can be of immediate help to everyone when a major disaster strikes. It can be days before official help, or any kind, arrives at your door, or where your door used to be. 
Which makes it a good idea to prepare in advance. That means more than queuing up for a few bottles of water, cereal and flashlight batteries a couple of days ahead of time when radar detects a megastorm headed your way.
In five parts, the piece describes the minimal preparations that should help assure saving one's life (and "that of their loved ones.")

My reader knows that I am no stranger to surviving in the outdoors. I am a backpacker, a camper; and I am not a terribly bright one: I've headed into the backcountry when a smarter man would have held back, so I've been pinned down by blizzards and torrential rainstorms...and I did fine. I found that I have (so far) brought along exactly what I needed to survive (usually not a bit more) and what I didn't bring, I McGuyvered - I'm good at that.

But here at home, I don't feel compelled to give a lot of attention to emergency preparedness. I have a couple-a good first-aid kits, a kerosene heater and lanterns in case of power outages in winter, the necessary picture of Dita von Teese, about four cord of firewood, a sweet wife, and the other essentials a man might need.

Yet the Daily Kos article has me wondering: Am I underprepared? Setting aside apocalyptic scenarios like zombies*, pandemics, riled white people with firearms, or asteroid strikes, that leaves meteorologic, geologic, or hydrologic disasters, and Bend doesn't seem very exposed to those.

Climate is changing,though.

So I ask you, reader: are there any natural disasters which might befall the city of Bend?

* Zombies are a big deal. Today's Public Policy Poll asked people how long they expect to live after the start of the zombie apocalypse, and 27 % of respondents said that they expected to live less than a week. 32% said they’d survive more than a year, but I think they are optimistic.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The VW Camper gets an Upgrade

Mrs Elliott and I do a lot of "dry" camping, that is, we camp for days at a time in remote locations far from electricity, water, and people. Along rivers and lakes, atop a butte, or out in the desert. To provide power for the VW Vanagon camper van's refrigerator and LED lighting the van used to have a large 130 amp-hour battery, but I killed that battery last winter by letting it discharge in the van while it was hibernating.

So I needed to replace it, and I wanted to replace it with more capacity and a better charging method. Several people (notably David Beierl and Dennis Haynes) on a mailing list devoted to Vanagons provided some great ideas and insight into the limitations of the Vanagon's stock battery-charging wiring and ideas on how to properly charge bigger batteries.

I worked up a wiring diagram and ordered parts when I could not find them locally. Specialty Auto Electric here in Bend had the needed wire and terminals. Here's what I I did:

A hefty dedicated 1/0 gauge wire (red) from the alternator to the charging circuit. 

Main charging circuit bits under the rear bench seat. The big wire from the alternator comes in at the lower left and connects to a Stancor contactor (relay). The relay connects the battery to the alternator for charging when the engine has started. The brass thingy above the contactor is a current shunt used a the battery monitor gauge. Over on the right is a new panel with control switches on it. 

The new control panel has a switch at the top to select between two different charging methods: direct from alternator for "bulk" (fast) charging, and lower-current but higher voltage "absorption" and "float" charging from an onboard smart charger (below). The lower knob is a battery cutoff switch. Not disconnecting the battery while the van was in storage was the reason why I killed the other battery -- the battery monitor draws 0.2A 24/7 and there are a couple other light loads, so this switch will entirely disconnect everything.

This smart charger (Powerstream PST-BC1212-15) takes the voltage from the alternator and increases it for the lower-current but higher voltage "absorption" and "float" charging stages. I'll switch over to this charger once the alternator has put all the amps into the batteries it can. I reckon I can pick up an additional 10 to 20 amp-hours using this as a "finishing" charger.

The new battery bank inside a new battery box.  I'm using a pair of 6-volt GC2 golf cart batteries from Costco. The two of these cost less than the single battery I killed last winter, and have greater capacity. I measured 175 amp-hours off them (at a 5-amp load) when I got them, and I'm told they will get better. I never measured the old battery with this test so I can't comment on how it compared. The yellow caps are "Water Miser" vent caps intended to reduce and ease maintenance (it says here). When the lid goes on the box, two strong nylon straps help hold the box in place. The closed box is nearly too tall to let the bench seat close, but it does. 
I'm not accustomed to working with such fat cables and burly terminal, so I had to develop some techniques. It was a lot of work and it all had to go in this weekend because I'm taking the van out for a four-night camping trip on BLM land near Pine Mountain starting on Wednesday morning. One or both of our sons will be joining me for the weekend.

If anyone wants a scan of the hand-drawn wiring diagram, please send your email address in a comment (below). Your comment won't be published unless you request. 

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