End of a Tether

Previously i've talked about my methods for off-grid internet. As you may recall, I'm using a cellphone amplifier/antenna and tethering my laptop through my cellphone's data plan. My cellphone is quickly becoming obsolete, and I have less than a year left on my cell phone contract. It's got me wondering who my next cellular company is gonna be, and what device i will upgrade to.

AT&T recently changed their cellphone plan model pretty drastically in the data department. Their plans are now cheaper, but capped. No more unlimited data plans on AT&T. Current plan holders with unlimited data in their contracts are grandfathered in, and can even renew their "unlimited" plans, but cannot upgrade their phone or change their plan. A capped data plan is just not reasonable for someone like me who uses his cell phone as a modem for his laptop. Even at the reported AT&T overage fee of 10$ a gig.

The Iphone, once pwned by AT&T, is a brilliantly designed device. At AT&T's insistence Apple has been forbidden from allowing their iphones to tether. At one point, around iphone3.0, Apple had the device ready to tether with the switch of one toggle, but AT&T threatened, and Apple balked and removed the feature from their phones. However, clever iphone dorks prevailed and there are now hundreds of tethering options available through simple iphone hacks. This year other providers besides AT&T will be offering the iphone, and it's unclear what kind of rates they will offer, or how that will effect the phone's architecture. Recently Apple released iphone4.0. I honestly wouldn't buy it. There's no upgrade for 4G networks, and no more unlimited data on AT&T. But perhaps if other cell phone providers offer unlimited plans for it, it might be still be a good option for off grid internet.

Google phones like Motorola's Android, on the other hand, are already embracing the new, lightning fast 4G. They also come ready to tether. I've played with the Android a few times, and i think it's as easy to use as the iphone, and i love the way it integrates with google apps. Tmobile has an unlimited plan with the Android phone that boasts no contract at all. El Paso, as yet, has no 4G network, but Tmobile does have good 3G coverage in my area, and the price/contract is right. My friend in Austin is on this plan with the Motorola Android. Tethered through his laptop he tested his 4G speeds at speedtest.net

The future is now in Austin, Texas.


a slow appreciation for the sun

 i got my first solar panel in may of 2009 after my gasoline powered 2000W honda-knockoff generator died the death of john henry. i had it maxed, 12 hours a day, running an air compressor while putting up tongue and groove. it stroked out and never ran again. a moment of silence for that well-used, annoyingly loud generator of electricity.

my first panel, a 60W kyocera, was at once a wonder. to this day it has never made one noise, and it can generate up to 5amps of electricity. i have never once wished i had a gasoline powered generator since. it puts out 12 volts DC so all you need to make it charge your batteries is a charge controller that stops the panel from charging an already full battery. so my first panel installed with very little effort, and immediately began charging my batteries. it was relieving having a source of electricity again, but it was not immediately clear how much i had scored in switching to solar.

First, The panel was a larger investment than i hoped it would be. i paid over 500$ at a local place in flagstaff, AZ. The sales rep was nice and very helpful, but i could have saved hundreds of dollars just by waiting. In just over a year the price of panels has dropped considerably. the same panel i bought is now 350$ at the same company i bought it from. Furthermore you can find screaming deals online. A friend recently told me about this company, which has the best deals i've seen anywhere. Second, your solar panel is only as good as your batteries, and the batteries in my trailer weren't very good to begin with, and were almost totally flat.

After a year of use, even with inferior battery technology, my 2 deep cycle batteries operate almost exclusively on a full charge, and keep humping out the amps through the night. My laptop stays fully charged, my electric razor stays charged, my cellphone stays charged, all my AA and AAA batteries stay charged, and i still have electricity to spare for my cellphone amplifier, as well as for my record player and speakers. Even at such a hefty price, my panel has paid for itself in the last year.

In the not too distant future i'm gonna be buying new batteries. The batteries i have now are run-of-the-mill distilled water deep cycles. I'm impressed with the newer AGM battery technology. Instead of having a liquid in the battery the batteries use a silica glass. There's no maintenance, the batteries don't off gas, and you can mount them sideways. Currently i'm using 2 Trojan AGM 12v deep cycle batteries, wired in parallel, to pump water into the bath house i built. it's worked brilliantly with another 60W of solar panels. but for the new trailer batteries, i'm gonna wire in series and use 2 6v deep cycle. Other RV nomads have told me i'll get more amp hours that way.

Always an adventure .. from Flagstaff, Arizona, Best wishes.