The Gadgets Page

October 8, 2008

Review: Devotec Solar Charger

Filed under: Green Gadgets,Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Devotec Solar Charger

The nice people at Devotec sent me a Solar Charger to test. It came with collection of adapters, so it can charge a wide variety of electronic devices.

I was most interested in my iPhone. It’s the device that goes dead first when we are camping, so I wanted to see if it would work. It did and I have been able to charge my cell phone with the adapter a couple of times this summer while we’ve been out and about.

When I upgraded my iPhone from the first generation to the 3G version, a lot of things that used to charge my iPhone, stopped working. Fortunately, the Devotec Solar Charger kept working like a dream.

The way it works is the solar cells charge a lithium-ion battery. When I need to power up my iPhone, it gets juice from the battery AND the solar cells.

The only disadvantage is that it is almost the size of my phone. Since the iPhone doesn’t have the option of a removable battery, the Devotec Solar Charger is actually the BEST way to have a backup battery for my phone just like I used to have for the Treo. If you were bothered by the lack of additional battery option with the iPhone, this is just the device for you.

Update 10-14-09: I just tested this charger with the iPhone 3GS. Unfortunately, it does NOT charge that phone.

January 28, 2008

The Smart Show: Goes Green

Filed under: Green Gadgets,Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Joan and Henry from The Smart Show learn about alternative energy sources from Ben Luce in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Joan: How come we’re not completely solar and wind powered?

Ben: We have to overcome a 150 years of tradition of producing power from coal, uranium, and sources like that. You can make giant solar farms which could power entire cities. It would only take an area of 59 by 59 miles to provide all of the energy for the United States. We actually have the means to do this.

59 miles X 59 miles is a HUGE swath of land.A swath of land 59 miles by 59 miles is HUGE. Really, Ben? Would it really ONLY take an area of 59 by 59 miles? Are YOU willing to give up that much? What about the beautiful wild areas near your home town of Santa Fe? Are you willing to put a gigantic black square on the face of your state between Santa Fe and Farmington?

Ben Luce has worked hard in New Mexico with the New Mexico Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy to help get the state running on cleaner fuels. Solar power is an alternative and adding a panel or two to your home would certainly help keep your footprint lighter, but the biggest problem is that adding solar panels to homes is difficult and expensive. We’re not trying to overcome 150 years of tradition. We’re trying to overcome the costly and complicated process of adding solar power to our homes.

The best use of your time, Mr. Luce is to work with a manufacturer to create solar panels that are EASY to install and work EVERYWHERE, not just sunny climates like New Mexico. Fighting against legislation is just a waste of effort.

December 19, 2007

Harnessing the Power of the Ocean

Filed under: Green Gadgets,Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 2:03 pm

Whenever anyone gets excited about an electric car, I cringe. Electricity isn’t free and it certainly isn’t “green.” Why do electric cars get to call themselves “green” when electricity is created by burning coal in some cities? With all the excitement about electric cars, it seems like we are going to have a surge in demand for electricity.

Finavera’s AquabuoysFortunately, companies like Finavera are working on creating electricity from less polluting sources. They are harnessing the power of the ocean to create electricity.

They use Aquabuoys to create electricity:

Finavera makes a device called the Aquabuoy, a buoy connected to a long underwater piston. As the buoy bobs up and down on the waves, it pushes the piston, which pressurizes a chamber filled with seawater. The pressure cranks a turbine and electricity is made.

This sounds great, but what about the cost? The reason why companies burn coal or natural gas, is because it’s cheap. How much with Ocean Power cost?

Finavera’s long-term goal is to have the Aquabuoys produce power at 5 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s more expensive than coal (3 cents) or natural gas (4 to 5 cents) but less than offshore wind turbines (15 cents) or solar (18 or more cents, depending on the circumstances.)

That’s a lofty goal considering how temperamental the ocean can be. Finavera lost their prototype buoy to the ocean. All of it sounds like pipe dreams right now, because they aren’t planning to be online until 2012. By then, we may be desperate for ANY clean electricity, despite the price.

Here’s a video from Finavera about their Aquabuoys:

Via: Wave power to be put to use in California – Engadget

May 30, 2007

Solar Cells: Why Doesn’t Everyone Have One?

Filed under: Green Gadgets,Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

The sun is beating down on us every day. Why aren’t we all taking advantage of that wasted energy by installing solar cells on the top of our houses or buildings? Bob Boehm from The University of Nevada’s Center for Energy Research explains why:

If you’re tempted to stop watching, fast forward to 4:36 minutes into the video. He talks about a really cool way to light your home or office using fiber optics and concentrated light from the sun. It’s far better than a skylight because it redirects the light to where you need it. Why doesn’t every office have this? I want to know specifics. How much would it cost to include this into my home?

This video is from Ryan Is Hungry, a weblog that brings green-friendly ideas to you on a regular basis. If you are interested in finding more efficient ways to live on this planet, they have enough ideas to fill your mind.

May 3, 2007

Scrap Heap Solar Panel

Filed under: Green Gadgets,Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Scrap Heap Solar PanelAfter a winter of freezing while working in the garage, Daniel Strohl was struck with the idea of creating his own solar panel garage heater. Fifty cans of Sprite later, he concocted a heater that was easily able to add 15 degrees of heat to the air. Too bad it’s summer now and he won’t need a heater for another six months.

He had a lot of ideas on how he could have done better next time around:

Were I to do this again, I’d first make the furnace larger. As I recall, Dad’s measured something like four feet on each side. Obviously, the more surface area, the more heat you’ll pick up. Second, as mentioned above, I’d relocate the inlet to the back of the box to direct all the air through the cans. Or at least I’d cut a piece of aluminum to act as a baffle and prevent the air from rising straight up. Third, I might use those small soda cans I’ve seen in the grocery stores lately, just to get more surface area.

Sounds like a great idea for a project to work on this summer so that you can add a little free heat to your home or garage next year. Get drinking that Red Bull because those cans are probably the best.

Via: Cynical-C Blog – » Soda Can Solar Panel

October 24, 2006

Review: Oceanus 5-motor atomic solar chronometer dress watches

Filed under: Green Gadgets,Watches — Matthew Strebe @ 4:28 am

Oceanus OCW600TDBA-7AV

Oceanus is the high-end dress watch brand of Casio, the famous Japanese maker of digital instrument watches. Seiko and Citizen, the other two major Japanese watchmakers, long ago gave up on trying to sell digital watches to the public, leaving the market almost entirely to Casio. Oceanus is Casio’s attempt to compete seriously against Seiko and Citizen in the analog dress watch market, and to do so they knew they’d need to make watches that were both beautiful and compelling for the $500 and over price point.

Citizen has its extraordinary Eco-Drive movements that are driven by solar energy and never need a battery. Seiko has its very nifty Kinetic watches that are powered by the movement of a weighted pendulum that drives an electrical generator. Both use low power movements (often eschewing the power-sucking second hand) to make sure they have enough battery reserve to last many months without recharging.

I’m a big fan of the high-end Japanese dress watches because they have every advantage of the Swiss mechanicals with an order of magnitude better accuracy. So of course I’ve been excited about Oceanus watches since I first heard of them.

Unfortunately, there are no Oceanus retailers in my home city of San Diego. I’ve never considered buying watches online because you can’t tell from a photograph whether you’re going to like a particular watch and you won’t be able to size the bracelet yourself unless you happen to own specialty watch repair tools. But a recent road trip afforded me the opportunity to stop at an Oceanus retailer (Modern Watch Company in Glendale, CA, who were extraordinarily helpful) so I picked up a titanium Oceanus 5-motor, which is a completely analog chronometer that is nearly indistinguishable from a Swiss chronometer except by brand.

To compete in this price category (which is also populated by Swiss automatic mechanical watches) Oceanus decided to up the ante: They’d produce a dress watch equal to Seiko and Citizen in visual detail, include solar power to eliminate the battery, and produce higher accuracy than a typical Quartz movement by automatically synchronizing the time to the radio signal put out by the Fort Collins atomic clock. I’ve always wanted an atomic timekeeping watch, but every one I’d seen prior to Oceanus used a plastic case and frankly looked quite cheap despite the fact that they cost over $150. This signal can be received over most of North America, and by synchronizing to it nightly, the watch will always be exactly accurate simply by knowing which time zone it’s located in. Or, at least, that’s the theory.

It took a while to get the watch synced to the atomic clock signal. And by a while, I mean five days. Firstly, the signal is only receivable late at night. Secondly, your watch actually has to be somewhat facing the direction of Colorado and with a clear view through a window and sitting upright. Nothing else really works. Even with those conditions on my night stand, I only receive the sync signal about every third night. More than enough for accuracy, but it takes a long time just to determine if you’re ever going to get it. And in coastal areas, I was never able to receive it probably due to thermal ducting caused by the warm marine layer.

That said, the watch is still a reasonable watch, but it’s got one exceptionally incongruous problem:

The second hand isn’t a second hand.

It’s there, but it doesn’t indicate seconds. It indicates the time zone. The actual second hand is on a small dial at the 6-o’clock position. Why? Because moving a large second sweep hand takes a lot of power. The much smaller second hand below takes far less torque to move, which is important in a low-power watch mechanism run by a solar cell. To be fair, the new Citizen Eco-Drive’s do the same thing—I don’t like it in them either.

The small second hand as an additional complication is an innovation that some Swiss Chronometers have moved to in order to increase their power reserves. But those Swiss chronometers don’t also include a hand that confusingly looks exactly like a traditional second hand. So what you wind up with is a watch that appears to be stopped, unless you notice the tiny hand moving at the 6-o’clock position. Now, I know you can get used to it, but unless this was the only watch you were going to wear, I wouldn’t want to.

They use the hand to indicate the time zone (and a few other things) in the dual-time mode. It’s not a bad idea (they have to use something, after all) and I completely understand why they thought it was a good engineering trade-off, but going against the grain of a century of watch-making tradition for a nebulous feature that could have been solved another way is a really poor design decision. People expect devices to work according to standards. We don’t want to have to re-learn individual devices. We especially don’t want to have to explain to people what’s wrong with our brand new watch.

At the end of the day, I love the way the watch works, and the accuracy and ability to automatically change for daylight savings is awesome. If not for second hand issue, I’d say it’s the perfect watch.

Product Reviewed: OCW600TDBA-7AV

Similar Products: OCW600TDBA-1AV OCW600TDA-2AV OCW600TDA-7AV OCW600TLA-1AV OCW600TLA-7AV

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