Scosche SolBAT II Solar Powered Backup Battery and Charger

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Another item I received from my wishlist for Christmas was a Scosche SolBAT II Solar Powered Backup Battery and Charger. The device recharges slowly via solar power or can be rapidly recharged via USB. It functions great as a backup battery for USB powered devices.

Not long after I received it I had a chance to test it out by recharging my iPhone on a camping trip where outlets were rare. It managed to recharge the phone (down to at least 75%) up to 97%. The manual states that recharging the battery from a complete discharge via solar power requires 4-5 days, but according to the LED indicators it managed to recharge somewhere between 50%-75% in one day.

It’s not capable of keeping my phone fully charged over several days but it is well suited to adding some power in situations (or emergencies) where I don’t have access to an outlet.

Updated 06/22/2011: I haven’t used the charger much since my last trip. Since then it’s been sitting in a window. About a week ago I decided to charge my iPhone to run the solar battery through a cycle. It helped top off the phone but it didn’t recharge as much as when I first used it. After letting it recharge for more than a day it showed it was about 3/4 charged, though it wasn’t in direct sunlight. Regardless, it still seems to be a good charger. I saw one on clearance somewhere for about $12 and should have bought it. The next time I see one on sale I’ll purchase one or two more.

Awaiting Delivery of a Signalinc Repeater

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I’ve been using X10 home automation devices for over a year and overall they’ve worked well. However, I have had issues with signal reliability. Sometimes signals just don’t reach their intended devices. This isn’t entirely unusual with X10 hardware – the protocol itself isn’t very robust. The equipment I own doesn’t confirm that a device received a command.

One related frustration is when a device simply quits responding on a consistent basis. I have a few specialized devices that appear to have stopped communicating with my CM15A completely. Based on reading various comments and forum posts this seems to be problem that is often caused by the signal not being able to bridge across two phases.

To resolve this issue I finally decided to purchase a Signalinc Repeater, which will pass X10 signals across both phases, thus (hopefully) reaching every corner of the house. There are less expensive bridges available, but this particular solution doesn’t require an electrician. Instead, it just plugs into the dryer’s electrical outlet.

Unfortunately, our dryer uses a four wire connection, which requires a coupler that is more expensive than the models available for three wire connections. Amazon has the device listed as a Signalinc Repeater 4WIRE 220V Coupler & Signal Repeater.

I’ll post an update on how well this device works in our house.

Update: Nearly three months have passed and the device seems to be working great. The X10 modules themselves are another story, but it does seem to be bridging the signal just fine. In fact, it’s rather obvious at times when a couple of lamps come on a second later than when the commands were sent, an indication that the signals crossed phases (when they might otherwise have been lost).

Uniden BC72XLT Handheld Scanner

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My wife bought me a Uniden BC72XLT Handheld Scanner for Christmas. It’s the first handheld scanner I’ve owned. These devices are often referred to as “police scanners” but they can usually receive a wide variety of frequencies used by different agencies.

I’d classify it as a good beginner’s radio for anyone interested in using a radio scanner. I’ve learned most of the basics of how to use and program the scanner, though there are still a few features I haven’t learned, yet.

It has several features I appreciate. It stores up to 100 frequencies in ten channel banks and can also recharge rechargeable batteries.

Note that simply owning a scanner isn’t all there is to listening to the local police transmissions. First, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the 10 Codes (for example, 10-23). Those are fairly standard, though I’ve noticed some deviations between the published uses and the meanings that I’ve inferred via context locally.

The signal codes (for example, Signal 1000) are more difficult to decipher and often do vary between jurisdictions. Unfortunately, the signal codes can also describe the more interesting activities. In the few weeks since I got the scanner I’ve only determined the meaning of one signal code with certainty.

Why do people drive on the shoulder in west Texas?

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So others can pass without waiting for a normal passing zone.

If you’re driving in that part of the country and someone starts riding the shoulder they are probably trying to signal for you to do the same. Unlike the area where I live, those roads have shoulders that are almost a full lane width and are paved the same as the regular lanes.

It may seem unusual, but it’s considered common courtesy in such areas to ride the shoulder to allow the vehicle behind to pass. My guess is this came about because traveling the desert roads often involves a lot of distance – nobody wants to be stuck behind a slower vehicle for a long time. The availability of safe passing areas without riding the shoulder varies.

A common signal that someone wants you to drive on the shoulder is simply that they’re riding close on your rear. Basically, any time a vehicle is moving as though it’s ready to pass is usually a clear indicator.

It should go without saying that common sense applies when performing this maneuver. For example, in any place where the shoulder narrows or there are guardrails are bad locations. In addition, it’s wise to make sure that the shoulder itself is clear of obstructions. And, as usual, if it seems risky at the speed limit then just let off the gas a bit once you’re over.

While I don’t know if this is officially sanctioned, I can testify that I witnessed a highway patrol vehicle do this very thing in order to allow us to pass, while he slowed down for unknown reasons.