Archive

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Red Oxx Air Boss – 4th Review: Another Trip to California

May 28th, 2012 No comments
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Red Oxx Air Boss

Trip Length: 4 days, 3 nights.

Time of Year/Weather: May 2012

Origin: Boston, MA (BOS)
Destination: San Diego, CA (SAN)

Outbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): American, Boeing 737
Inbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): American, Boeing 737

Purpose: Industry group conference. Presenting on a panel and business meetings.

Contents:

  • Dress pants and shirts for 4 days in Eagle Creek 18″ folder
  • One suit.
  • Underwear & socks
  • 13″ MacBook Pro in a Timbuk2 Crater laptop sleeve
  • Asus Transformer TF101 tablet w/ keyboard in a Timbuk2 Quickie Laptop Bag
  • Eagle Creek 1/4 cube with assorted cables, chargers, etc.
  • Eagle Creek 1/4 cube w/ assorted toiletries (toothbrush, razor, etc.)
  • Freedom Baggie
  • Running clothes and shoes
  • Bose Quiet Comfort headphones
  • Assorted magazines

The Verdict: This will be the final review for the Air Boss for a while – thankfully, I’m not traveling again for several weeks. After spending 3 out of 4 weeks on the road in May, and flying nearly 16,000 miles on a variety of planes, and carrying everything from suits to running clothes, I can say that I love this bag. I still have work to do on my packing strategy, but that isn’t the fault of the bag. I like the Air Boss for the following reasons:

  • The pockets are well thought out. There aren’t too many (a big problem on some bags) and they function well. The full-height ticket pocket works great for holding boarding passes. The full-width zipper pocket is a great place to stask all the stuff you don’t want to wear through the x-ray machine. I routinely dump wallet, cash, watch, belt, and cellphones into this pocket as I reach the security line. Finally, the snap pocket is great for magazines and books.
  • The center compartment is deceptively large. It easily holds running shoes, a laptop, a tablet, freedom baggie, chargers, and miscellaneous stuff.
  • The offset shoulder-strap mounts work great to distribute the load.
  • The inner and outer pockets hold a surprising amount of clothing. I use Eagle Creek folders and have very little problem with wrinkling. In fact I didn’t iron a single thing during any of the three trips I took this month. Others report excellent results with the bundle method.
  • The handles are well designed: they snap together for comfortable carrying with a heavy load, but quickly come apart to allow unobstructed access to the pockets. When standing at the TSA checkpoint for instance.
  • The bag is tough. I stuffed it into crowded overheads, slid it on the floor through long security lines, stuffed it into my closet at home, threw it into the trunks of rental cars, and generally abused it. And it still looks like new with not a single loose thread.

The major changes I made were to add an Op/Tech SOS Curve strap. The bag came originally with “the Claw” strap, but I found that strap too sharp if the bag got heavy. The Op/Tech strap seems to distribute the weight much more evenly and is plenty sturdy. Although this wasn’t my primary mission, both the strap and bag are made in the USA, so I have a complete USA manufactured system. That is rare and cool in this day and age.

I also added a Red Oxx Pin Mount Key Clip to the webbing in the outboard pocket, which permanently holds a tiny LED flashlight and a metal dog-tag style luggage tag I bought on EBay for $1.00. I also hang my keys there when I have them along on a trip.

Overall, I am happier with this bag than with any of my rollers or simple duffles. It is very well thought out and suited to its task, and seems tough enough to give me many, many years of use. And if there’s a problem, they’ll fix it. I was very impressed by the story of the Red Oxx company. I’m even more impressed by their warranty:

A NOBLE WARRANTY IS A NO BULL WARRANTY

A noble warranty is the kind of warranty that I myself like to have for products I buy. When you make an investment like the one you do with Red Oxx Gear, you expect it to last. In the event that something does happen, you want to be able to get it repaired. We’re not here to ask you why it happened, just sent it back to us and we will fix it. If we can’t fix it we’ll give you a new bag, It’s that simple. The warranty is a safe bet because these bags are built to last. Think of it as worry free peace of mind.

In the end, I guess this is the clincher for me. I buy a ton of cheap Chinese junk and I’m happy to do it. Just look at my Harbor Freight tools page if you need proof. But there is a place in my heart for things that matter and are made in the USA. For things that stand up to the test of time and are just always there when you need them. For things that are built well, and serve uniquely American needs. Things like my Buck Knight knife that I’ve carried a version of for 20+ years. Or my Aerostich 2-piece Roadcrafter suit that I always wear on my motorcycle. Or my Stormy Kromer cap that serves me all winter long year after year. Or the Remington Model 700 that helped me bag my first deer 26 years ago. There’s more of course, but you get the point.

I had the opportunity to vote with my money and to support a unique American business that makes a unique bag that does its job exceptionally well. I’m really glad I did.

If you travel a lot, you need this bag. Get one today – you won’t be disappointed.

Categories: Technology Tags: , , ,

Red Oxx Air Boss – Second Review: 3 Days, 2 Nights to California

May 4th, 2012 No comments
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Red Oxx Air Boss

Trip Length: 3 days, 2 nights.

Time of Year/Weather: April/May 2012

Origin: Boston, MA (BOS)
Destination: 
San Jose, CA (SJC)

Outbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): American, Boeing 757/MD80
Inbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): American, Boeing 737/Boeing 737

Purpose: Industry conference. Supplier & customer meetings; presentation on a panel.

Contents:

  • Men’s suit w/ shirt and tie in an 18″ Eagle Creek folder
  • Underwear & socks
  • 13″ MacBook Pro in a Timbuk2 Quickie Laptop Bag (my Quickie is an old model I bought for $16 on clearance)
  • Eagle Creek 1/4 cube with assorted cables, chargers, etc.
  • Eagle Creek 1/4 cube w/ assorted toiletries (toothbrush, razor, etc.)
  • Freedom Baggie
  • Bose Quiet Comfort headphones
  • Assorted magazines

The Verdict: I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about. I’m beginning to love this bag. In reality this trip didn’t really much more stuff than my previous overnight. The main difference is that I packed a full suit inside the bag this time and that took up more room than before. But the Air Boss wasn’t even close to full.

Where it shines is when the airlines have a full flight and begin to enforce the 1 bag carry-on requirements. On the second leg of my flight to San Jose we were on an MD80. The MD80 has 2 seats on one side of the aisle in coach, and the overhead bins on that side aren’t deep enough for a standard roll-aboard to go in lengthwise. Which means that if everyone brings one, it can be a dogfight for bin space on the three-seat side. This is exactly what happened on the second leg of my outbound flight. And it didn’t bother me in the least because my Air Boss fit perfectly in the bin on the two-seat side. On the flight home they actually made a few people use the sizer at the gate. A woman two people in front of me in line had to show that her roll-aboard wasn’t too overstuffed to fit. It was. And she was forced to remove a bunch of stuff from the outer pockets before they let her go. But no one gave my Air Boss a second look.

I also find that the bag works great at the security line. The outer pockets hold everything I might have in my own pockets before I go through the metal detector or x-ray machine. I keep anything I need to access (laptop, Freedom Baggie, headphones) in the center compartment. Popping it out at the checkpoint takes no time at all.

Concerns: Of all the problems I listed in my last review, the only one still bothering me is the strap. I do really love the way it doesn’t slip, but is it narrow and therefore a little painful. I am looking into a Tom Bihn Absolute shoulder strap as a replacement. I will place an order this weekend, since I have two more back-to-back trips to California coming up at the end of  this month.

Final Thoughts: Overall, I like the bag more and more as I use it. And I am absolutely loving the one bag travel concept. So much easier getting in and out of taxis and arriving at the hotel. It also makes it much less nerve-racking when trying to make a tight 40 minute connection between flights. No worries about whether your bag is going to make it. If you do, so will your bag. I’ve become a fan.

More thoughts coming soon.

 

Categories: Technology Tags: , , ,

Red Oxx Air Boss – First Review: Overnight to Jacksonville, FL

April 4th, 2012 1 comment
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Red Oxx Air Boss

I recently bought a new Red Oxx Air Boss suitcase. I promised a few reviews as I traveled … here’s the first.

Trip Length: Overnight

Time of Year/Weather: April 2012/Sunny, temps in the 80s

Origin: Boston, MA (BOS)
Destination:
Jacksonville, FL (JAX)

Outbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): Jet BlueEmbraer E120
Inbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): Jet BlueEmbraer E120

Purpose: Keynote speech at a conference

Red Oxx Air Boss - Overnight Bag

Contents:

  • Business casual pants and shirt in an 18″ Eagle Creek packing folder
  • Underwear and socks
  • Brochures and papers for work
  • 13″ Macbook Pro laptop
  • Eagle Creek bag w/ cables/chargers/etc.
  • Eagle Creek Quarter Cube with various grooming stuff (electric razor, toothbrush, etc.)
  • TSA Freedom Baggie w/ toothpaste and other liquids
  • Eagle Creek Quarter Cube with various office supplies (business cards, pens, etc.)
  • Bose Quiet Comfort headphones
  • A couple of magazines

Verdict: The Air Boss is a surprising large bag. Some people say that it is too big for an overnight bag, but honestly, have you ever heard someone say, “I wish I didn’t have all this room!” Of course not. The Air Boss has 6 pockets: a flap with a snap closest to your body when carrying the bag, a small zippered pocket for boarding passes, three full-size pockets for clothes, and a zippered pocket on the farthest side from you. For this configuration, I put my magazines in the pocket closest to me, my work papers under the straps on the inside pocket, my computer, headphones, underwear, TSA bag, and cables in the middle pocket, clothes and quarter cube bags in the far pocket. Finally I used the outer zip pocket to hold things when going through security.

The bag was super easy to use and I had no problems going through security. Keeping anything I need to remove in the center compartment made it easy to retrieve in the security line. The bag fit fine in the overhead bin of the Embrear jet. Overall I have no complaints for my first trip.

For the return trip, the Eagle Creek folder got my dress pants, shirt, and sports coat. The outer pocket also got a couple of souvenirs for my daughter. The return trip was fine.

Items to watch for:

  • I will be interested to see how the bottom of the bag holds up and whether Red Oxx needs to reinforce this area. When I am waiting in the screening line I find myself placing the bag on the ground and then sliding it forward with my foot as the line moves – at least if things are going slowly. I wonder how long it will be before the floor begins to induce wear.
  • Other people reviewing the bag have noted that the center compartment lacks padding in the bottom, so laptops can be vulnerable to jarring in there. I ordered a Timbuk2 Crater laptop sleeve for my MacBook, but it didn’t arrive in time for this trip. I just placed my underwear and socks at the bottom of this compartment for a little protection. The Air Boss has padded dividers between the main compartments that provide plenty of protection from the sides.
  • I have a mixed impression of the strap. The “claw” strap functions as designed – it does NOT slip from your shoulder. But I can see some merit to the argument that it doesn’t distribute weight very well. I will keep a close eye on this.
My next trip will be two nights and three days in California.

 

 

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

My Red Oxx Air Boss Review

April 2nd, 2012 1 comment
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Red Oxx Air Boss

A few months ago American Airlines left me stranded in Texas after the plane I was on broke not once, but twice, and they couldn’t get me to Dallas to make any connections. In the end, they couldn’t even get me home … instead of returning to Boston on a Friday evening the closest they could get me was Bradley International in Hartford, CT on Saturday afternoon where I rented a car and drove home. My checked suitcase actually made it to Boston a full day before I did. Which means I spent the night in Dallas with nothing but the (increasingly smelly) clothes on my back.

Anyway, this event finally broke my will and I’ve decided to shift my air travel to a one bag strategy so I don’t have to deal with checked luggage again. I’ve flown a lot in my life … starting in the early 90s I traveled the US for over 10 years, then took a break after a career change. But now I find myself traveling more again. Last year work took me to Chicago (twice); Stanford; San Francisco; Washington DC (twice); and Brussels, Belgium. This year (and it’s only April) I’ve been to Austin, TX and am leaving for Jacksonville, FL tomorrow. Then I have California 3 times in May followed by Chicago and DC a couple of times later this year. Throw in my own personal travel and … that’s enough for me.

To make the switch to a one-bag operation, I searched the Internet for the perfect solution. I scoured sites like Onebag.com and read all of Doug Dyment’s advice. I read the forums on Flyertalk.com and on One Bag One World site. What I determined was that I needed to start with the right bag. I’ve always been a bit of a gear nut when it comes to packing and organization. I probably have seven different backpacks for every conceivable use, along with lumbar packs, various shoulder bags, and a couple of work bags for my laptop and office stuff. But for air travel I’ve usually used either a 21″ roll-aboard from Samsonite or a small overnight rolling laptop bag with enough room for a change of clothes. Neither has proven to be an optimal solution.

The 21″ roll-aboard fits into overhead bins on mainline aircraft, but I just hate being THAT asshole who carries too much stuff on board and forces others to have to gate-check their luggage. So I find myself checking that bag for almost every flight unless there is some real imperative that I have certain clothes for a meeting when I arrive. And even then I usually just wear those clothes. When I travel with it, I always end up carrying my Timbuk2 messenger bag with my laptop and other stuff as a carry-on (on a side note – the Timbuk2 Command Messenger bag with its TSA compliant laptop compartment absolutely rocks – best work bag I’ve ever owned). But for a one-bag strategy I need to find something that balances carrying ability with capacity and fits into overhead bins on all aircraft, including the smaller regional jets I sometimes find myself on.

Red Oxx Air Boss

Red Oxx Air Boss - photo from Redoxx.xom

I ultimately settled on the Air Boss by Red Oxx in all black. In addition to being an American-made product with a reputation for top quality and durability, the Air Boss seems like it is flexible enough to work for anything from overnight trips to two week marathons. Most of the trips I take are between one and four nights, with the occasional full week. But I often need to bring a couple of suits along, which are always a pain in the ass to pack.

My intention with this post is to begin a series of real-world reviews of my experience with the Air Boss. Between tomorrow and the end of May I will have made at least four trips with it: an overnight to Jacksonville, FL; 3 nights in San Jose, CA; 3 nights in Stanford, CA, and 4 nights in San Diego. Some will require suits every day, others will be more casual (a single sports jacket will do). I’ll try and post from the road when I can and follow a standard format.

First, though a bit about me so you can figure out if your experience will be similar.

I am 41 years old, 5′-11″, and about 200 lbs. My suit jackets are a 44 regular and my shirts have a 17 1/2″ neck (I point this out because my suits do not pack compactly). I routinely run 10 to 20 miles a week and have no back, shoulder neck, knee, or any other joint problems or pain. The idea of a wheel-less bag doesn’t scare me; my daily work commute involves carrying (walking) a Timbuk2 messenger bag 3.5 miles back and forth across Boston from South Station to Government Center and that bag weighs 20 lbs. easy. So a 30 lb. bag for a trip through an airport is no problem at all.

Red Oxx Warranty

Here is the bottom of the box Red Oxx ships in. I'm convinced they stand by their products.

My initial impressions of the Air Boss are positive. The build quality seems excellent and it does seem like it will hold plenty. In fact, I’m worried that the bag will be too big for one night trips, but that’s what I’ll be starting with tomorrow. I especially like the zippers; something I have had issues with recently. First, the side zippers blew out of a pair of North Face bib pants that I’ve had for years (they were repaired for free under the North Face’s lifetime warranty, but still), then I blew a zipper on the pocket of my normal winter jacket. I had the zipper fail on one of my running jackets, and I’ve been that person who has had the zipper fail on my suitcase while on a trip. So the fact that Red Oxx uses hefty, genuine YKK zippers matters to me.

Finally, I love the way the Air Boss looks. Some call it utilitarian and some even ugly. But I don’t but suitcases to be pretty. I buy them to carry my stuff from one place to another as long as it does that well I don’t care if it looks like a cardboard box.

Hopefully the details I uncover in my next trips will help you with your decision.

By now I’ve given 4 additional reviews after my recent trips. They’re listed below. If you’re impatient, jump to number 4, it contains my conclusion.

  1. Red Oxx Air Boss – First Review: Overnight to Jacksonville, FL
  2. Red Oxx Air Boss – Second Review: 3 Days, 2 Nights to California
  3. Red Oxx Air Boss – 3rd Review: 4 Days/3 Nights in California
  4. Red Oxx Air Boss – 4th Review: Another Trip to California (and conclusion)

Good luck and safe travels.

Categories: Technology Tags: , , ,

What I’ve Learned After My First 3 Days With the HTC Amaze 4G

March 15th, 2012 No comments

Amaze 4G (image from T-Mobile.com)

Facebook for HTC Sense is killing my battery. The other day I bought a new phone because my old one broke. After I smashed it on the ground. I’ve spent a few days getting the new phone just about the way I like it. Along the way I had to solve one major problem that almost had me smashing another phone on the pavement.

Much has been written about the Amaze’s battery life. Most of it is not good. The Engadget review said, “Let’s not beat around the bush, though. In the rush to get this 42Mbps capable device to market a few rough edges were overlooked — namely, battery life.” They go one to say, ” … but whatever the culprit, expect a good three to four hours of action before hitting a productivity ceiling and plugging back in to your nearest outlet. A three-hour charge should get you back up to 100 percent and running — until the next three hours, that is.”

The Verge said, “Battery life was surprisingly dismal on the Amaze. I never once got a full day of use from the phone, and even after charging it fully it would lose its charge after only a few hours of normal use — web browsing, a few phone calls, and some camera use. Part of the problem is certainly due to T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network, which is a battery drain on any phone, but it’s among the worst I’ve seen on recent smartphones.”

My problem was much worse. For some reason, during the first day that I really tried to use the phone, it burned though its battery in less then 3 hours. I don’t mean 3 hours of intensive use. I mean 3 hours on standby with the screen off. And the phone got hot … really hot. Something wasn’t right.

I searched all over the web and many people were reporting similar issues with the Amaze and other HTC phones. For a full day and a half, every time the phone was turned on it heated up and burned through a battery in just a couple of hours. Many people reported decent battery life with the phone … but a couple of reports stuck out because they mentioned the built-in Facebook app as a problem. This one on HTC’s own message boards for example, and this one on Androidforums.

One thing was really odd … when I looked at the Android battery usage it showed that the Calendar app was using the bulk of the battery, second only to “display.” I searched this on Google and found several threads where people reported the same thing. This is one from the HTC site, and this one from XDA-Developers also mentioned the Facebook for HTC Sense problem.

So I took a look and, sure enough, Facebook for HTC Sense was running. I killed the process, deleted the account (Home -> Menu -> Settings -> Accounts & Sync) and rebooted. And my battery use dropped immediately. This morning I grabbed my phone off the charger and headed to work. And things were much better. After an hour and a half on the train with at least 45 minutes of web browsing, I arrived at work with 69% battery. The previous day I was already down to 11% at the end of the train and only 5% after my walk to work. What a dramatic improvement.

I decided to test the theory that this was a problem with Facebook on HTC Sense and not the regular Facebook app. So I downloaded the regular app and started it. The problem is that the Sense UI version seems so tightly integrated that when I started the regular app, it asked to authorize the Sense version. I hesitated at first, but eventually went ahead. And things are still working. On the ride home with some browsing and e-mail I still had 74% battery left. I’ve now been home for over 4 hours – and my phone has been off the charger for 6 and a half hours, and I still have 60% battery.

The Bottom Line

All I can figure is that during the initial setup of the HTC Facebook for Sense UI, something was corrupted and I experienced all the problems that people complain about in the  posts: phone never sleeping, radio constantly running, 3 hour max battery life. But deleting and reactivating the accounts seems to have cured all that.

So if you are having severe battery life problems with an HTC phone with their Sense UI- see if killing and recreating the Facebook account helps. It worked for me.

A $600 Tantrum

March 12th, 2012 No comments

Today I threw a $600 temper tantrum. Along with my T-Mobile G2 phone, which I more or less loved. But one nagging problem just finally got the best of me at the wrong time and I Gronk spiked my favorite phone onto the pavement.

I’m an Android fan. Part of my job is to stay on top of smartphone technology, so I pay attention to what is coming out on the market. I have an iPhone 3GS that I’ve had for a while and I have used plenty of iPhone 4 models. In earlier posts about my G2 I listed some reasons why I liked that model better than my iPhone. The main thing I liked is that the G2 had a slide-out real keyboard – I can’t stand virtual keyboards. The problem is I am apparently the only one because every new phone is an iPhone clone with no keyboard.

Anyway, over the last year I’ve come to really like my G2. Except for two problems. First, if the chassis flexed the wrong way the phone would reboot because the battery lost contact. Usually a quick adjustment of the battery would fix the problem and it wouldn’t happen for a few weeks.

The more annoying problem was an intermittent GPS issue. Every once in a while the GPS would take minutes to lock onto satellites. And I don’t even mean 1 or 2 minutes – I mean like 5 or 10 minutes. And no amount of rebooting or restarting the GPS would help. This is annoying on a good day, but if you’re trying to use your phone as a GPS system in a car and you’re lost somewhere, this is unacceptable. Even more troubling, the GPS antenna was problematic and sometimes the signal would just fade. This manifested itself as my navigation system thinking I was on one road when I was really on another, and, the final straw, would sometimes cause my Runkeeper track to wander all over the place which really compromised the distance measurements. This is what finally drove me over the edge.

I had a terrible week last week. I had a business trip that ended terribly when American Airlines left me stranded in San Antonio, TX for 12 hours and caused me to miss my connection home on Friday night. Things were so screwed up that instead of getting me home to Boston on Friday at 3 PM, they could only get me to Bradley International in Hartford, CT on Saturday afternoon and I had to rent a car and drive home. Anyway, Sunday was a beautiful 60 degree, sunny day and I wanted to go for a run. Everything went wrong – my Fitbit fell off twice and I had to keep going back to find it. The zipper broke on my running jacket before I really got going. And then … as I rounded a corner no more than 1/4 mile from my house, my Runkeeper app told me that I had already run 1.1 miles. I stopped and looked at the map and saw the track zig-zagging all over the place and I lost it. I took that phone and I spiked it onto the pavement as hard as I could.

The result - broken phone.

The Result – My Broken Phone

Now I know that the problem could very well have been Runkeeper. In fact it probably was a Runkeeper problem based on some comments I’ve seen on message boards. But after all the stress of the week I wasn’t thinking straight. So my $300 phone hit the pavement. It actually felt like a relief until I realized what this was going to cost me.

I ran back home and called the T-Mobile store near me. It was 4:25 PM and they said they closed at 5. I literally squealed tires to try and get there before they closed. I made it with 10 minutes to spare.

The only models that T-Mobile had with a slide-out keyboard are the My-Touch models (My-Touch Q and My-Touch 4G Slide), an LG Doubleplay, and a Sidekick model. Of these, only the 4G Slide had close to enough processor power to be reasonable. Unfortunately, if you’re going to buy a phone with a slide-out keyboard, the keyboard better be good. The G2 had a great keyboard. The My-Touch 4G, not so much. The one on the store was terrible. Reports on the Internet seem to agree. So I had 10 minutes to decide on what would replace my G2. I knew from prior research that a decent used G2 goes for about $300. Ridiculous, I know, but that’s the truth.

So if I was going to suffer without a keyboard the phone better excel in everything else. That lead me to the two top-end Android phones that T-Mobile now carries, the Samsung Galaxy S or the HTC Amaze 4G. Because I have always liked HTC phones, I went with the Amaze. With no research I was really taking a $600 chance. According to Engadget, I probably did OK, though in a few months I will probably smash this phone on the ground due to poor battery life.

I spent about 9 hours getting all my apps and accounts set up. And I already ordered two Anker extended batteries for it.

Frankly, I’m already starting to hate this phone. But what am I going to do? I’m stuck with it now. Might as well make the best of it.

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

How Long Will My Generator Run?

September 6th, 2011 9 comments
This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series Generator

Hurricane Irene just wandered up the east coast and once again my house was spared from any significant problems. We lost power for about 11 hours, but that was nothing compared to my neighbors, many of whom were without power for days. Luckily, I have a 12 KW whole-house generator. And because Verizon kept the FiOS TV and Internet going full speed for the entire storm I spent the day watching Looney Tunes with my daughter and surfing the net for information. My neighbors spent it manually bailing water out of their basements.

The day after the storm traffic to my generator article doubled. Go figure … I suspect generator sales will increase too. But one reader made left an interesting comment: “I never see anyone say how large their propane tanks are and how long the generator (a 17kva, let us say) can run on a certain quantity of LPG. Thanks!” That’s a good point. The reason is probably because the calculations can be complicated, but decent estimates can be made. Here’s how I figure it all out.

Step 1 – How Much Fuel Does Your Generator Need?

This should be a relatively straight-forward answer. Though it depends on the load at which the generator is running, ultimately this is a straight power calculation. In AC electrics, power is expressed as kilovolt-amperes or kVA. In some instances one kVA = one kilowatt or kW. But for some types of loads (capacitive rather than resistive like a motor versus a light bulb) something called a “power factor” must be taken into consideration. In these cases, 1 kVA may equal more than 1 kW. Why does this matter? Because the fuel your generator consumes depends on the load or the number of kVAs it is driving at any time. But most generators are rated in Watts. If you are really concerned you can look at the specification plates on all your appliances and add up the kVA loads and do a conversion to kW. Or you can assume that the overall power factor for your appliances will be pretty close to 1 and just assume 1 kVA = 1kW. That’s what I do. Ultimately you could calculate the power required to run what you want to run, add a bit for the inefficiency of the engine and alternator, and then calculate how much fuel is required to deliver that much power.

The easier way is to let the generator’s engineers do this for you. Somewhere in your generator’s manual there will be a chart that shows fuel consumption versus load. Mine looks like this (found on the second page of my manual at http://www.kohlerpower.com/onlinecatalog/pdf/g4097.pdf):

Load (%)Fuel Requirement (Propane)BTU / hour Required
25% (~3 kVA)45 ft3 / hour72,500 BTU/hour
50% (~6 kVA)60 ft3 / hour90,000 BTU/hour
75% (~9 kVA)75 ft3 / hour112,500 BTU/hour
100% (~12 kVA)81 ft3 / hour180,000 BTU/hour
Fuel consumption of a Kohler 12RES generator.

 

Then it’s just a matter of figuring out your load, converting the cubic foot measurements to gallons, and voilà, that’s how much fuel you will burn. Except it’s not really that easy … the exact expansion of a gallon of liquid propane to a volume of gas is governed by things like temperature and pressure (remember the Ideal Gas Law from high school physics? PV=NkT? This is why you should have paid attention.) Since propane techs have better things to do than run around with cheat sheets listing the Boltzmann Constant and Avagadro’s Number, they take temperature and pressure out of the equation and work with the actual energy requirements needed rather than volumes. These are listed in column 3 of my chart and are based on the approximate energy value of a cubic foot of propane listed in the Kohler manual.

Thus, at 100% load (the worst case scenario) my generator needs 180,000 BTU per hour to run. The National Propane Gas Association lists one gallon of propane having 91,502 BTU. Thus my generator will need to vaporize and burn approximately 2 gallons per hour at full load. (Or, a bit more accurately, 1.97 gallons per hour.)

Step 2 – How Much Gas Do You Have?

My Dual 125 Gallon Tanks

This seems like a simple question, but it isn’t. My installation has two 125 gallon tanks (420 lbs. capacity each). So it might seem like they could hold a combined 250 gallons. Which, at the approximate 2 gallon / hour rate calculated above would mean that my generator should be able to run at 125 hours (~5 days) at full load on two full tanks. But that isn’t even close.

Propane is stored as a liquid. It must become  vapor before it can be used. To do this, it must absorb heat and then transition from the liquid to the gas phase. Gasses occupy many times the volume of liquids, so in order for this vaporization to occur, the gas needs a space into which it can expand. In a gas cylinder, this is called “headspace,” and it means that my 125 gallon bottles can never be filled to the top. Some room must be left for the gas to expand.

As a general rule, propane cylinders are only filled to 80% of their maximum capacity to allow for expansion of the liquid and enough headspace for the gas. Thus, each cylinder can only hold a maximum of 100 gallons of propane (125 gallons * .8 = 100). So when the fill gauges are pegged at 80% I have 200 gallons to work with or approximately 100 hours at 2 gallons per hour full load. See, we already lost a day of runtime. 100 hours is approximately four days, if we could drain the tanks completely dry.

But guess what – we can’t drain the tanks dry. There are a number of reasons for this. In ideal conditions, there comes a point where the empty volume of the cylinder is so large compared to the amount of propane left that even if it were to all vaporize it wouldn’t generate sufficient pressure to push out of the cylinder. And this can be exacerbated if the temperature drops as it does here in a Massachusetts winter.

So another rule of thumb is that you will never draw a cylinder down below 10% of its rated volume. Thus my 125 gallon tanks will always run out with about 12.5 gallons left in them. If they only start with 100 gallons each, and we can only draw until 12.5 are left, that leaves 87.5 gallons of usable propane in each tank or 175 gallons of total usable propane. That means that in a perfect world I have 87.5 hours running at full load, or just over 3.5 days.

Step 3 – Can You Really Generate the Gas Needed?

If you live someplace warm, the answer to this question is yes. Those of you in Florida can pretty much stop reading now. Just divide the amount of gas you have by the consumption per hour and there you go – that’s your runtime. But those of us who live in cold climates have an additional concern. The factors here are complicated, but essentially come down to this:

Can your gas system absorb enough heat on a very cold day to vaporize the amount of propane needed to run your generator at full load?

What factors determine this? Two mainly.

  1. The “wetted surface area” of your tanks. The wetted area is the surface area of the tank exposed to the liquid propane contained within the tank. Obviously the wetted area decreases as propane is withdrawn, another reason why tanks can’t be drawn much past 10% capacity; on a cold day there’s simply not enough surface area available to absorb heat from the environment.
  2. The ambient temperature outside the tank. Buried tanks have a distinct advantage in the winter versus tanks exposed to the weather.

This may help to answer an obvious question: why does my installation have two 125 gallon tanks rather than a single 250 gallon tank? The answer is that two 125 gallon tanks have a greater surface area, and a greater wetted area per unit of propane volume, than a single larger tank. This helps ensure that my system can generate the necessary gas volume even on the coldest day.

How can you figure out if your system will generate enough? Rego Products is a company that makes propane regulators and fittings among other things. They publish a handbook for propane installers which has some handy equations. The most useful appears on page 7 which lists the “rule-of-thumb” for calculating propane vaporization rates and correcting for temperature and cylinder volume (wetted area).

It looks like this:

Vaporization rate (in BTU / hour at 0°F) = cylinder diameter in inches * length/height in inches * percent volume correction constant * temperature multiplier.

Update (10/2/2012): I built a simple online calculator that will do this math for you. Enter your cylinder sizes and it’ll tell you how much energy your system can deliver at a given temperature and gas level.

Part 4 – My Particular Situation

In the summertime I don’t have much to worry about. I’ll get the 3.5 days at full load without trouble, and much more if I am careful with the appliances. In winter, the concerns are different. Rather than list all the constants and corrections here, please visit the Rego book and see for yourself. I will calculate the worst case scenario: -5°F weather and a full generator load all the time.

With full a full cylinder my calculation is:

2 * (30″ * 54.5″) * 100 * .75 = 245,240 BTU / hour generated. This is well above the 180,000 BTU / hour required at full load we calculated above. So, with full tanks, we know my generator will run at full load for some amount of time even if it’s -5°F out. What about at the end of a tank though?

Repeating the same calculation for a cylinder only 10% full I get:

2 * (30″ * 54.5″) * 45 * .75 = 110,362 BTU / hour. Uh-oh. My generator can’t run at full load at -5°F when the cylinder is at 10%. But a quick look at the original chart says this is still enough to run at 50% to 60% load.

If I raise the temperature to 0°F and 10% tank volume my result is 147,350 BTU / hour, well above 75% load capacity.

The good news is that the temperature in this equation is a 24 hour average and it rarely gets below zero for even a full day where I live. On all but the coldest days of winter my generator can run for at least 3.5 days at full load. Since I can be careful about the appliances I run I rarely approach full load in winter when its cold out (I have oil heat for example). So my generator can run for more than that. How much more? A rough calculation says that at a constant 75% load I should be able to run for six days on a full set of tanks no matter how cold it gets outside.

That is a comforting thought.

Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Slow Transfer from the ReadyNAS Duo Via Wireless

April 30th, 2011 No comments

One Setting Makes it Rock

I’ve had my ReadyNAS Duo server up and running for several weeks, ever since my former backup, my Maxtor Central Axis, died and almost left me stranded.

It sits in my basement connected to the main 10/100/1000 Netgear switch that is the main hub of my network. My main computer is a laptop which usually connects wirelessly through a Linksys access point attached to a 10/100 Netgear switch in my Living Room. When I recently had to move 60+ GB of files from my laptop to the ReadyNAS, I opted to plug my laptop into a free 10/100 port to speed the transfer. The transfer averaged 50 – 60 Mbps, respectable for a home LAN.

But when I went back to wireless accessing files was sloooooooooooooow. I mean really slow. I fired up Picasa and told it to index the network location where ~4000 of my pictures are located and it was indexing maybe one picture a second. This is unusably slow. For a while I thought it was Picasa, but when I saw how fast it indexed pictures local to my hard drive I knew it had to be something else.

I began to search online and eventually came up with this post discussing the MTU settings for optimal wireless transfer from the ReadyNAS. Normally set to 1500, reducing the maximum size to 1430 increased my wireless throughput incredibly.

A big thank you to “dbott” for posting this way back in 2009: http://home.bott.ca/webserver/?p=226.

There was also a big discussion about this on the ReadyNAS forums with several posters agreeing that changing the MTU setting helped: http://www.readynas.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=27&t=36820.

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

Resurrecting My Data

April 26th, 2011 14 comments

Recovering Data From a Dead Maxtor Central Axis Server

I am a victim of inflated expectations and underwhelming execution. By Maxtor.

About two years ago I bought a Maxtor Central Axis storage server. It was kind of an impulse buy since Staples had them for a good price. As soon as I got home I noticed that many of the online reviews said that this wasn’t a reliable device. But I don’t always pay attention to online reviews. I should have. Note that the Central Axis is no longer made. After Seagate bought Maxtor they mercifully took this disaster of a product off the market.

For a while the Central Axis chugged along in my basement and worked well. I regularly backed up my system to it and even used it to store pictures so they were accessible to more than one computer in the house. But I was always taking a chance because the Central Axis isn’t really a true NAS (network attached storage) server. It’s just an external hard drive with an Ethernet port. Where many NAS servers have redundant drives in a RAID configuration, the Central Axis doesn’t. It’s just a drive. So if it dies, you lose your data.

You probably see where this is going.

A couple of months ago I decided to upgrade my Windows Vista laptop to Windows 7.

I reformatted the drive in my laptop.

Don’t worry I thought … all my important pictures are backed up. I can get them back. Then, the night of the upgrade I went into the basement and noticed a red light blinking on the Central Axis. I rebooted it. Still a red light. Oh crap. I just lost everything. Seven years of pictures and videos. Gone. More than a thousand dollars of digital music. Lost forever.

Except that thankfully the Central Axis is really a bad server with a hard drive attached rather than a bad hard drive with a server attached. So from what I’ve read most failures are actually the server and the data on the drive is recoverable. Here’s how I saved my pictures (my music I got back from my iPod).

How I Did It

First, I would like to thank user “darkfiregt” on the Maxtor message boards. His/her post on disassembly of the Central Axis (or the One Touch 4, which was the European version of the Central Axis) was invaluable. And also Dedoimedo for some additional information about mounting Linux drives in Windows.

This procedure assumes that your drive failed like mine (and countless others) with a red blinking light and perhaps a clicking noise. This is a last-ditch effort because you aren’t going to put the Central Axis back together again after this.

Basic Procedure

  1. Remove drive from housing.
  2. Connect to a Windows machine.
  3. Mount the Linux partition.
  4. Export data.

Why it Works

It seems that the main failure on the Central Axis is the drive controller. Most people believe this is because of heat. Once this happens, the drive may make a clicking noise, which is normally the sign of death, but in this case is because of a faulty controller which orders the drive heads home over and over again.

Inside the Central Axis is a simple Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM SATA drive. The server runs an embedded form of Linux, so the drive is formatted with an EXT3 partition. Although Windows can’t natively mount this format, there are utilities that can.

What You Need

  1. Screwdrivers: 2 phillips, one #0 and one #2.
  2. A place to mount the SATA drive. This can be a desktop PC with an available slot on the drive controller or a SATA to USB cable on a laptop. I used an Ultra Products USB to IDE/SATA cable I bought from Tiger Direct for $24.99.
  3. Software to read the EXT3 partition. I used Explore2fs, which is free.

The Procedure

  1. Using the small phillips screwdriver, remove 4 screws on the bottom of the case. One is hidden under the “Warranty Void if Broken” sticker (just push the tip of your screwdriver into this sticker and you’ll hit the head of the screw). Another is on the right side of the label just under the “H” in the “HDD”. Two more are under the rubber “foot” at the bottom of the case. (A bonus tool is handy for this – I used my small combination pick from my Harbor Freight pick and hook set to pull up the rubber foot.) Pull off the bottom piece.

    Bottom View of Central Axis

    Location of Top 2 Screws

    Bottom Screws Exposed

  2. Slide the inner cage and drive out of the outer case. This is easier said than done. It took me at least 5 full minutes of tugging, twisting and pulling to get it free. There is a tab which can get caught in the vents at the top of the case if you’re not careful.

    Inner Assembly Removed From Case

  3. Darkfiregt listed this as the next step:

    Once this is out, you’ll have a plastic “cage” surrounding a metal “cage surrouding the harddrive.  Look at the side with the 3 small + shaped posts.  The panel that the posts are on is what we’ll remove to free the drive.  On either side of the end posts, there is a little tap.  Push in on the tap to release the snaps that hold the panel in.  Pull the panel out.  The metal “cage” should now come out.

    Honestly, I just grabbed the plastic piece by the little plusses and pulled it apart.

    Inner Metal Assembly Removed From Plastic Cage

  4. Remove the rest of the screws from the metal enclosure (4 large and 4 small) and pry it apart. The whole hard drive should come out.

    Drive Completely Removed

  5. Connect the drive to your computer with whatever cable you have.

    Central Axis Drive Connected

  6. Verify that Windows can see the partition. On Windows 7 use Disk Management (search for it under start) to verify that the drive is visible.

    Disk 1 (and the partitions without drive letters) Is the Linux Disk

  7. Then, open Explore2fs and browse the drive. Right-click on any folders or files and Export to your local machine as needed.

Using this method I was able to save 68 GB of pictures and videos that I thought were lost forever. Good luck if you’re in the same boat.

T-Mobile G2 – Initial Impressions

January 23rd, 2011 No comments
This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series T-Mobile G2

I recently announced that I retired my venerable Dash 3G phone from T-Mobile and upgraded to a new G2.I’ve had the new phone for several weeks now, and I’ve even taken it to Europe for a week. And I really like this phone. Here are my impressions after the first few weeks.

Hardware

You can find the official specs on the official G2 site. The phone is made my HTC and has all of the main features that I was looking for, including a decent display (doesn’t have to be iPhone 4, Retina quality), a slide-out keyboard, and reasonable speed. I also like the idea of removable memory cards so I can expand the memory as needed. The phone has a decent camera and the touch-screen is sensitive and smooth.

The slide-out keyboard is an interesting design. Rather than a traditional slide mechanism, this keyboard flips out using a “Z-hinge” design (this phone is also known as the ‘HTC Desire Z in other markets). This hinge has received a lot of bad early press because it tends to come from the factory very loose or quickly loosens once the phone is used. Just go to YouTube and search “G2 hinge” to see more than you want to, but here’s a representative video:

Based on my use, I don’t have a problem with the hinge. Is it loose? Yes. But I don’t wear the phone on a belt clip or type while lying on my back, so I don’t experience the problems that some people report. But I advise anyone thinking about this phone to take the issue into consideration just in case it will bother you.

One downside to this phone: it’s heavy. This is not a super-thin iPhone 4. Compared to an iPhone it feels like a brick, and it’s not easy to pocket. It definitely doesn’t fit easily in a pocket inside a suit jacket, and it can be a pain to carry in a pants pocket too. But I’ve eventually gotten used to it. If you are looking for something sleek though, this isn’t it.

The keyboard is great. I admit I love HTC phones, and this is my third in a row. I started with my beloved T-Mobile Wing (also known as the HTC Herald) and replaced that with my Dash 3G (also known as an HTC Maple).  And HTC keyboards have always been great. The keys are nicely domed so my fingers can find them easily, and they have a nice ‘clicky’ feel. As far as smartphones go, this is a great keyboard to type on.

The GPS is solid and the camera is decent. I am so happy to have a decent GPS because the GPS on my Dash 3G was perhaps the worst GPS implementation in the world.

So, for my uses, this is a solid device for daily use.

Software

The phone ships with a lightly customized Android 2.2 (Froyo) OS that implements most of the native features. When the phone originally shipped late last summer it did nit implement one key 2.2 feature, Wi-Fi tethering (portable hotspot functions). However, T-Mobile did make these features available in a November OTA (Over The Air) update, and my phone downloaded and enabled this within hours of activation.

A good and quick review of the 2.2 features is available at the Android Developers website.

T-Mobile has largely left this OS unadulterated. If you are interested in an experience that is as close to native Android as possible, as opposed to something like Motorola phones running ‘MotoBlur‘ then this is a good choice. In its raw form, I thin Android is an excellent, if slightly less polished alternative to the iPhone’s IOS. In fact, I prefer Android in many ways (more below). And the G2 implementation is solid and quick. No lags or performance issues in my version anyway.

And as always with Android, the OS integrates perfectly with Google services. My domain (havasy.net) runs e-mail and calendar on a Google Apps account. So the mail and calendar integration built into Android works fantastically.

Network

T-Mobile get a lot of shit for being a third class network, even behind Sprint in most people’s eyes. I have no idea why. I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for over 9 years now, from right after the Voicestream acquisition. I have never considered switching. Do I have fewer bars than my Verizon-owning friends? Yes. But I also pay a lot less for service and have many fewer restrictions. Case-in-point: T-Mobile still sells unlimited data plans and allows tethering for only an extra $15.00 per month on . That means that I pay $45.00 per month for unlimited data and unlimited tethering. Seriously. And legitimately. No cheating required. On Verizon, an equivalent plan isn’t possible. The best you can legitimately do is $70 per month for a 2GB smartphone cap and a 10GB mobile broadband cap. Pathetic.

For where I use my phone the most, the T-Mobile network works fine. And tethering is important to me. I commute by train for 3 hours every day, and tethering allows me to use my laptop during that time for things like graduate school classes.

And, on the G2, T-Mobile has released their version of Wi-Fi calling. Which allows the phone to connect to an available Wi-Fi network if the cell signal is low and make calls over Wi-Fi. This is not true VOIP like Skype, since T-Mobile still charges plan minutes at the normal rate, but can be useful in certain situations. Like if you live somewhere that has spotty coverage. Or, and this is critical for me, if you travel a lot. I took the G2 to Brussels, Belgium for 5 days on business and was able to use my hotel’s Wi-Fi connection to make and receive calls with no international roaming rates. That’s right. After being afraid to turn on my phone because of horror stories about thousand dollar bills from roaming charges, I set it to Wi-Fi only and it worked perfectly. Imagine that – a world-band phone that finally allows worldwide phone calling. Unbelievable. I love T-Mobile more and more all the time because of features like this.

Overall

I am extremely pleased with my G2. It’s fast, solid, and versatile. In fact, after several weeks I like it so much more than my iPhone 3GS, even with the new iOS 4 update.

Why I Like the G2 More Than my iPhone

  • Hardware
  1. Replaceable battery. I think it’s criminal that Apple requires you to have the phone repaired to get a new battery.
  2. Physical keyboard. I’ve had my iPhone for more than a year and I still hate typing on it.
  3. Dedicated camera button. Sometimes you want to take a quick picture.
  4. Expandable memory. Want an extra 32 GB? Just pop in a new microSDHC card.
  • Software
  1. Widgets. Not everything should be forced into a tiny icon. Android lets you add display widgets right to your homescreen if you want. Weather forecast? Twitter stream? Sports scores? No problem. All displayed right there with no need to click into an app.
  2. Tethering!
  3. AppStore not policed by arbitrary policies. No need to wait for Apple to approve an app before downloading it.
  4. Real multi-tasking with background processes. That means real notifications from apps for Facebook updates, Twitter updates, etc.
  5. Integration with Google services. I get push e-mail without Exchange. For free. No Apple (Mobile Me) subscriptions required.
  6. Wi-Fi calling. Worked great in Europe.
  7. Real app integration. Like the way Skype integrates with your dialer so you don’t have to launch apps to use additional calling features.

Conclusion

So – if you’re in the market for an iPhone alternative that allows real data usage, I say you can’t go wrong with the G2. Both my wife and I have them and we simply love them. And despite its perception, I think of T-Mobile as a top-teir international carrier who I have nothing but praise for.

There will be more to come I’m sure as I have the phone for a while, but right now I highly recommend the G2.

Categories: Technology Tags: , , ,