Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We need to talk about Hazel

No, Hazel has not recently killed off the family next door and must contemplate her remaining senescence in doggy jail, but I haven't mentioned her for a while, and I've noticed that friends I haven't seen for a while also fail to mention her.
Hazel and I are kind of inseparable. She's been my furry best friend since she was a mere 8 weeks old   and now she's heading into her fourteenth summer and slowing down alot. Hazel used to come out on my bush trips, in those seven years when I travelled around the Murchison two weeks a month providing mobile clinics. She was as much part of the team as the rest of us, and probably taught an entire generation of young aboriginal kids that dogs could be friendly and fun. For a post about her younger years, click here.
But these days she hangs at home and she has a bit of a routine going. When I leave for work she's often still sleeping on the bed, but then she heads next door to lie on the sofa in the sun most of the day. The kids say she wanders back home a bit after 4:30pm, so that she's there when I get home just before 5. Then she makes a big fuss, as only a Staffy can do, and expects to be taken for a walk. But a walk these days is more a slow meander, hence why I now find other ways to exercise that don't include walking the dog!
The reason we are having this talk is because Hazel has now got to that age when everyone expects she will be no more. When you've had a doggy companion for years, when so many people associate you with your dog, they start to get a little circumspect, fail to ask how Hazel is, you know, JUST IN CASE..
Thing is, I notice it, so I make a big effort to inform everyone that Hazel is still alive and kicking, if rather lethargically so.
Hazel has some pretty bad arthritis in her legs, meaning she can't jump up into the car, or onto my bed. Solution: I sold the bed and have moved to sleeping on the much lower futon bed, and she gets lifted in and out of the car. I now sleep so much better now that I'm not woken by a whinging canine wishing to snuggle up on the doona. She also has to watch herself going up and down the stairs, something she fails to do on occasions when she gets overexcited over a visitor or an impending excursion. Then she falls down the stairs. Not funny! You'd think she'd have learnt by now....
Hazel has always had a neurotic streak, and got quite depressed when I went overseas for 7 months despite being lovingly cared for by Cate, my housesitter. Recently I noticed that every time I hosted couch surfers she gets all shaky and starts wetting herself all over the house. I can only assume that she associates strangers arriving with luggage with me leaving her. Poor dear, I think she deserves my undivided attention so I've ditched hosting for the time being.

But she's generally pretty happy, if the sound of gentle snoring by my feet is any indication. She loves her beach walks, groans her appreciation of a good belly rub, and still loves accompanying me everywhere in the car. And I'm sure she'll enjoy spending her fourteenth summer camping up at Coronation Beach next month.

I have a spot in the backyard I've earmarked for her final resting place, but I think we've still a while to go. As long as she can still get up and down those stairs, keeps up her appetite, and bugs me to go for a walk I reckon she's not in too much pain.

She's just given me the hurry-up bark and is now doing the deep sighing that precedes the whinging that means she really would like to go for a walk soon! OK, we're off for a gentle meander down the beach, ciao!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I'm a bloody genius!

For all of you following my foray into 12 volt electrics, thanks for following along. The battery has been secured, the wiring has all been done, and as I write this the battery is being charged successfully by my new solar panels. And today you get pictures!
This is the CTEK dual charger, with the battery housed in the box underneath. This charger cost about the same as a smart solar charger but has a few bonus extras. The red cable that you can see on the left hand side attaches to an Anderson plug coupling which connects the trailer to the car's alternator (I haven't got the car cabled yet), allowing me to charge the battery whilst driving along. The charger itself is a five stage charger, which means that it is fast and very efficient at getting the battery charged almost up to 100%. Many chargers are unable to charge batteries fully due to the small voltage differences at near capacity, thus reducing the actual amperage available to be used. However, with this sort of charger, combined with an AMG battery, I'm able to achieve 100% capacity when fully charged. The CTEK uses MPPT when solar charging, meaning that this also is highly efficient. My only disappointment with the CTEK is that it just has a few lamps to tell you charging is happening, whereas a small digital display telling you how charged your battery is would have been nice.

The cable crossing across the bottom, and you can see it again in the lower right corner, is the cable attached to the solar panels. I gained a new skill this week, as I had to join the panels together with some hinges, so I learnt how to use a hand rivet tool. Piece of cake you say! Not totally I say, because the hand tool is quite large for a small handed girl, and at one stage I managed to catch a bit of flesh in it. Ouch! Bruise now fading..

The small black square towards the top of the picture is a cigarette lighter socket, so I can run a light, or a 12 volt shower. This circuit is directly connected to the battery without a fuse.

The red and black cables disappearing off the bottom of the picture are the cables which connect the battery to the fused circuit box up the back of the trailer. I still have to mount the board onto the sidewall, but this is what it looks like. At present I've only got two loads running off the circuit board, the fridge and the triple cigarette lighter sockets. As I only want to run a couple of lights, that's all I need at the moment, but I've room to add more if I want.

Here's what it looks like all connected up. And right now it's happily charging up my battery. And yes, it all works brilliantly. Aren't I the genius?

Now that the electrics are done, I just have to finish derusting and repainting the trailer, a job I hope to have finished by the end of next weekend. It's not that difficult to fit in an hour or so before work each morning putting a coat of paint on, but the use of noisy power tools to remove rust at 5:30 in the morning might be a bit un-neighbourly, so that's left to the weekends.

But the wind is now blowing from the south, there's a bit of swell out there, so it's time to hit the beach for some windsurfing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why go to Perth when you don't have to?

Geraldton now appears to be big enough that you can actually manage to find what you want without the 900km round trip to Perth. In fact, it turns out that for solar stuff, prices are very competitive, plus I've got somewhere local to go for advice. Especially when the steam starts erupting from my ears once the brain totally overheats. Nah, it's not that bad.

Trouble was, I'd left all my ski paraphernalia in Perth, and I really had to go pick it up soon, as Lil and Hans' place ain't exactly a mansion and that stuff sure is bulky. But then, due to good ol' Facebook, one of my friends messaged to say she was in Perth and very kindly schlepped over to pick up my gear and bring it home. All I had to do was venture south to Wandina and retrieve it, thanks Sharon you're a legend!

So, back to the local suppliers, where I managed to procure two 85W panels and a 120Ah AGM battery, all the required cabling and connectors, plus a few weird tools as well.  And when I bought the wrong sized fittings (yet again!) I only had 10km to drive to exchange them. Big advantage!

Back at the ranch I began the serious job of designing and making a "state of the art" battery box which fits snuggly in the front toolbox, and drilling appropriately sized holes for the cabling. Seriously, do not underestimate the amount of mental concentration involved in nutting out just where and how all this stuff fits together, developing a game plan so that you buy enough - not too little or too much - cable, and that you run your cable through before (yes before!) you connect the end lugs.

And then you notice that there's another little job that you just might think of doing before you put the cabling through....

Yep, good old camper trailer maintenance. The trailer has a fair amount of surface rust - kinda goes with the territory when living on the coast - and I figure it'd be a whole lot easier if I touched up those areas where the cabling is going BEFORE everything is tied down and sealed.  This is a job I started last summer, but it went on the back burner for the year so there's a wee bit of catching up to do. But I'm pretty handy with the drill and the wire brush attachments these days, so with safety gear donned, it's not such a bad gig.

Then the wind blows. Really blows. Like 30 knots plus, and a 3.5m swell. And I gulp down lunch and head up to Coros for a wild session in maxed out conditions. Clean waves, a 3.5m sail that keeps me in control, and when I get airborne (frequently) I seem to float for ages before landing. And I get some sweet rides with 2-3 bottom turns per wave, not bad given the power of that wind! Awesome fun, but today I'm knackered. Totally.

It's blowing 30 knots again today, but as much as I think I should get back out there I just can't hack another session, so I'm wimping out at home writing this blog. I'd rather put another coat of primer on the trailer and fire up the drill for some more rust busting!!

The wind looks a bit more reasonable for tomorrow, more around the 20-25 knot range, though the swell is dropping.

I may lose my "Nugget" pseudonym with this kind of talk, though after yesterday's session Kate decided to change it to "Hell-chick". I think I can safely keep the latter even if I take a day off...

There goes another gust - is that a roof top flying by??

Monday, November 7, 2011

Solar challenge part one

It's November. A mere six weeks till Hazel and I take the camper on it's annual pilgrimage to Coronation Beach for a month of chilling out, windsurfing, and catching up with friends. You'd think I would have got my act together, but what with working full-time throughout September and October I now find myself scrambling to get the solar project finished in time. Here's hoping.

Last year I got so pissed off after flattening my car batteries yet again. My 60 Watt solar panel just isn't enough to keep the batteries charged while running the Engel fridge as well as some lights, so I did a massive amount of research and resolved to get my camper well and truly wired. And to do it myself.

Step one was research, which I talked about in a previous blog, then a trip to Perth to discuss panels, batteries and cables with the guys at the 12 volt shop. I bought a connection box and some sockets, but put off buying the big ticket items until I'd planned just exactly where everything would fit. Which is what I did this weekend. With help from a friend we discussed where and how to drill holes for the cables, how to secure the batteries, and other such mundane things. I should have headed down to Perth to finish off the shopping, but instead I measured up and headed out to the local stores to sort out the load wiring first.

This really taxed me. Getting the right sized cable and connectors might have helped, but no, even though I had written down the right size, I stupidly bought the wrong sizes, so had to go back into town and do some swaps, netting me a 90 cent refund! Then I drilled a big hole for the cables, wired up the connection box to a 3 socket outlet, and also rewired the external Engel connection, which had never worked since I bought the trailer. Not surprised really, given the original wiring setup. Cutting and crimping wire isn't difficult, but the right sized crimping tool makes all the difference, something that took a little getting used to via a few over squished connectors that had to be trashed. Thank goodness they aren't expensive, and at the end of the day I'm very happy with the results.

Next step is a trip to Perth for the batteries and some thick cable, and some more solar panels. Wiring up the batteries, solar regulator/charger and panels should be fairly straight forward, though I may need to get a professional to crimp lugs on some of the cables. Then I'll just have to mount the connection board, secure the batteries and I'll be done.

Sounds easy right?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Love is in the air

I'm head over heels in love.

I'd been thinking about dumping my old flame for some time. Even though fashionably dressed, strong and invincible looking, he was showing signs of age and really slowing down. It was torture waiting for him to get going, in fact any time I wanted just a quicky it wasn't worth the effort. I thought I caught a whiff of the rotten smell of corruption, but when he started flashing at me, or anyone who went near him for that matter, it was time to let him go. I've thought of sending him to rehab to see if they can get him back to normal, but sometimes it's just time to cut and run and find oneself a nice new buff young thing.

Being on the lookout is one thing, taking the plunge with a new love is quite another. I'd liked what I had with the old guy, he was comfortable, knew what I liked and what my favourite things were, but I wasn't happy about his weight. You know how it is, how he's slim and groovy when you first meet him, but after a year or two the gloss fades and he lets himself go. And all around there's these new kids on the block, with their funky looks and come hither attitude, it's pretty hard to resist the temptation.

I stood on the sidelines for a while, watching the hubbub of others falling in and out of love with these cute new boys, and asking people what they thought. There's even websites you can go to for advice, how about that? But in the end I had to decide which young man was for me, and hope I'd made the right decision.

It's early days. We're just getting to know each other, and he's been trying to get the ex to give up a few of his trade secrets (like what my favourite things are), but the ex is being a bit protective and not giving in too easily so I may need to stay on friendly terms with the ex for a little longer. But my new babe is just gorgeous, he's super slim, got amazing staying power, and I reckon he's a keeper.

He's a bit different to the guys I've had before, uses different methods to get to the action, but that's OK by me, I'm flexible. He's also less disease prone, doesn't need to take vitamins and shit to stop getting viruses and that, and he just looks so good. People look at me with envy when he's on my arm, they all want to touch him too.

He's good with photography and videos, which means we're well suited, and will make a perfect travel companion, to share my adventures with. I'm enjoying cuddling up with him in bed watching a movie, or listening to some music, and just chilling.

Yep, I'm in love all right, with my MacBook Air!!