Ok, that’s it, I’m tired of the Internet. The ipv4 crash? Speculative hoarding of netblocks, no doubt. Net neutrality? Uhh, seriously? Egypt’s government running scared and cutting off electronic communications to delay the inevitable? Verisign and the U.S. government playing around with wielding imaginary and annoying power with the DNS system? Yeah… No more.

For years, there have been mesh networks run in various places, usually a small local system. These networks can use a variety of link types; wired Ethernet, wireless radio, point to point microwave, fiber, etc. These networks are self-healing in the event of link failures or obstructions.

This is in sharp contrast to the topologies in most current commercial networks used to connect end users to the Internet, in which cost engineering has dictated that a hub and spoke model be used.

This usually kind of works, but has some major flaws. First, traffic may be needlessly routed over very long paths between major backbone links simply because two geographically close locations do not have any option for a direct link.

Second, if major backbone providers experience link failures or simply decide to “de-peer”, massive routing problems can affect millions of users. I still remember the day Level3 and Cogent came apart… I couldn’t get my e-mail for the better part of a week, as the routes were simply not there.

So, enter Owlnet. The name may or may not have been inspired by the works of a certain author whose series of novels stimulated the imaginations of a world alike, and brought her from rags to riches. By the way, if she says he is, Dumbledore is gay. Arguing this is hilariously illogical.

Owlnet shall consist of a networking layer, using a mesh network that may be deployed using whatever network hardware is available, and a services infrastructure. Wireless lan, ethernet, and even tunnels over the existing Internet may be used. (Ideally, the tunnels will be phased out as the system gains coverage.)

Dare I say that, at least for my point of view, is the easy part. The goal is to have firmware and software available to allow Owlnet nodes to be run on flashable home routers in the sub-$100 proce range, as well as on PC and server architectures.

The services infrastructure will require quite the creative planning. One of the goals I see having is an independent dns system, as well as the ability to route out of the system via exit nodes to the existing Internet, similar to Tor’s onion router system. This could be set to different personalities, everywhere from “use the closest and most convenient node” to “INVISIBILITY CLOAK!”.

The independent dns would be an interesting challenge. Ideally it should never fall under the same curse of greed that has afftected the system used on the Internet, and should be reliable and easy to use for registering resources, yet resistant to abuse. For instance, it should prevent a user from easily holding large numbers of domains for profit from resale, or squatting on existing names and trademarks. Unfortunately, I also want to avoid putting one small group in control, so this does create a bit of a paradox when it comes to how the system should be managed.

IPv6 should be used on this system. We all know by now what happens to a small namespace.

Discovery and search are two other interesting points to explore. I want the system to have a phonebook of sorts for personal contact, as I envision connecting ip telephony and instant messaging as two major applications. It should be possible to find someone via personal connections through a unique identifier, but also by more traditional means like by name and location, or via personal networks as is done with Facebook and other social networks.

The ultimate goal is to have a network that’s very usable and not dependent on any outside infrastructure. The nodes could literally be little solar/wind powered units you can toss in high locations and let it all run. Where a gateway to the existing Internet is desired, they could be connected via home or office connections as needed.

Come to think of it, this sounds a lot like HackMiami’s “Post-Apocalyptic Communications” concept. Well… let’s get it going 🙂

Solar Panel Specifications Explained

On a solar panel, module, cell, or laminate, there are a number of different specifications given. Here’s what you will find, and how to interpret it.

Here are some sample specs I, uh… stole for purposes of illustration. These are for a Canadian Solar CS6P-190-PE.

Power (W): 190 Watts
Open Circuit Voltage (V): 36.00 Voc
Short Circuit Current (A): 7.42 Isc
Maximum Power Voltage (V): 28.60 Vmp
Maximum Power Current (A): 6.64 Imp

Now, here’s what these mean to you!

First off, the Open Circuit Voltage (Voc). This is the voltage you will see present at the solar panel’s output when it is exposed to full sun and is not loaded. While this is not really relevant to the panel’s power output, it should be taken into consideration for two reasons: First, you should ensure that any equipment connected to the panel (meters, charge controllers, etc) is capable of handling the full Voc of the solar panel or the string of solar panels connected. Otherwise, equipment damage may occur when the sun hits the panels and they’re not loaded down. Consult the documentation on your charge controller if in doubt. Also, for your safety, be sure that any overcurrent protection devices or disconnect switches are rated for Voc or higher! Upon unpacking and installing your panels, if you’re lucky enough to get full sunlight hitting them, check the open circuit voltage – it should be close to Voc. If it’s too low, the panel may have a problem or be miswired (check the junction box).

Short Circuit Current (Isc). This measurement is useful for testing the panels and determining the sizing of your wiring and controller.  Set your multimeter to amps, and connect the leads across the solar panel’s output terminals. In full sun, you should get Isc. If you do, the panel is operating correctly. Any wiring to the solar panels, and the charge controller itself, must be capable of handling the Isc of the array. Do not expect to load the panel down to Isc in normal operation, as you will be getting almost no voltage and extremely reduced power. (See I-V curve below!)

I-V Curve. Source: pveducation.org
Maximum power voltage (Vmp) and amperage (Imp). These levels are very important to consider in selecting panels and components for your solar energy system! In short, please keep the voltage as close to Vmp as possible. The reason for this is that the solar panel has a certain internal impedance, and you will only receive maximum power when the panel output voltage *under load* is allowed to remain near Vmp. If you load the panel down to a lower voltage, it will become severely inefficient.
If you are using the solar panel with a conventional charge controller to charge lead-acid batteries, the ideal Vmp will be near the absorption charge voltage for your batteries. If you are using an MPPT charge controller, Vmp should be anywhere within the controller’s MPPT tracking range. This may be an extremely wide range of voltage, allowing you a lot of flexibility in choosing panels!
To illustrate the importance of the Vmp point, see the above I-V curve and power curve for a solar panel. Note that the power curve tapers down towards zero as the voltage falls below Vmp, and abruptly falls off as the voltage approaches Voc. If you buy solar panels and operate them too far from Vmp, you might as well be throwing money down a hole.

If you have an MPPT charge controller, it will periodically sweep the array voltage to find Vmp, which actually varies a little with different sunlight levels. For the best possible power output under all conditions, use an MPPT controller. The only exception I should point out: if you are using HF radio equipment, the switchmode boost/buck converter inside an MPPT controller may cause excessive noise on the receiver. Consider using a simpler charge controller in this case. The Morningstar ProStar series charge controllers have an internal jumper (really, a 0 ohm resistor that you can cut) to disable their PWM charge control to reduce RF noise to minimum.
Don’t toss your system efficiency and money down the toilet – choose your solar panels wisely!

Fluke Scopemeter power

FYI: the power supply for a fluke scopemeter 123 is center negative, 10-30v. This will come in handy if you get one without the power adapter. WARNING: The power connector is also connected to common on the leads, please ensure your adapter is well insulated and isolated to prevent electrical shock, fire, equipment damage, PUDDI PUDDI, etc.

Opening the Blackberry battery cover without breaking a nail

I have seen a lot of people complain in forums that opening the battery cover on a Blackberry is difficult or even causes them to break a nail. Well, here is the solution: do not go straight for the fingernail-killer notch on the bottom center. Instead, gently lift the cover at the right and left edges beside the evil notch. The latches there will let go. Now go for the center notch and it’ll effortlessly snap off. If you were going in there to pull the battery for a reboot, consider installing the free QuickPull app to allow future reboots without opening the cover.

Solar Laminates

I’ve had quite a few people ask me what the low cost solar laminates are that Sun Electronics sells. In short, a solar laminate is just the center part of the solar panel. It is a sealed, weatherproof unit, consisting of the tempered glass top, the cells and interconnections protected in a clear encapsulant, and an insulating backing. These are shipped stacked up like matzoh in a box. Unlike matzoh, however, you should not attempt to spread jam on these and eat them. The results would not be particularly good.

The laminates do not come with a frame, junction box, or leads, like a fully assembled solar panel does. They are ready to be framed and mounted, and to have a weatherproof junction box attached. The junction box is attached with a weatherproof adhesive (RTV silicone or similar), and the laminate’s protruding buss ribbons are soldered or screwed down to its terminals. The buss ribbon is tinned and will solder easily. Click to view the image in the gallery, where you can see it full size.

At left, a complete panel; at right, a laminate in a frame without a junction box. A custom J-box would probably be needed to fit this tiny panel! I’m not sure what its specs are. It’s about the size of a box and a half of spaghetti noodles placed end to end. Lots of spaghetti!

In case you’re curious, these are the same panels from the front. We hang these around the offices like some kind of strange photovoltaic portraits.

Tiny solar panels!

I would post this on the Sun Electronics website, but we’re having some technical issues with it. Such is life…

update the better part of a decade later, after removing spam links: I do not work for Sun Electronics and have not for quite some time. They screwed me over just as nicely as they did most of their customers. May they go rot in South Floridian hell. Which is to say, just, South Florida itself. BYE FELICIA

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