Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Knowledge in Time of Need

Time sure seems to soar on by. A lot has been going on in my life since school has started. Work has also picked up quite a bit, which is great, but keeps me really busy. I continue to learn so much from my experiences in school and work.

Recently, I have taken a first-time approach (for me) on sufficient documentation. What I mean by that is keeping a record of all my expenditures, car mileage, charitable donations, income, and pretty much anything I can collect data on. Today completes the end of the first month I've been doing this and looking over all the records I've kept is quite rewarding.

I plan to take this data and put it into an Excel spreadsheet to save in the digital world. I wanted to start with paper and pen to give myself an idea of how and what to record all this data. Sometimes when I do work on the computer I can't visualize as easily my goals as I can on paper. After I get comfortable with my system is when I'll transfer everything.

My dad has told me in the past that it is important to always keep accurate and up-to-date documentation of everything. I have learned that is to be taken almost literally (and maybe completely).

As I think about that and compare that statement with my job, it makes complete sense. Accurate documentation keeps things in order and removes confusion. In fact, I have experienced this in the past few weeks at work.

Some old jobs (as far as 10 years) have had to be updated and revised. If it wasn't for documenting that information, the company I work for would have to spend extra money to back to the job site and re-record all the necessary data. Doing the work for that job took no more than about 6 hours to do, but could have easily been as much as 15 or more if the old documentation was not present.

Anyways, I try to make this blog more interactive than just "something I learned today," but this is something I have come to believe is really important. So, always keep your information properly documented. You never know you just might need it readily someday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Solar Lighting Project

It seems I am just filled with ideas for projects right now. Lately, I have been troubled by how dark my grandparent's driveway is. I hate having to back out of it already because it's narrow and I feel like I'm going to scrape the side of my vehicle passing by; the feeling is worse when it's dark. So, I figured, why not install some small garden lights or something to illuminate the pathway?

I have two solar panels and some 12v deep cycle batteries that aren't being used for anything and I could use those to provide the energy for the lights. Below is a rough sketch of the idea:
On the left is the power setup and on the right is how the lights might be laid out along the driveway. Notice that the wire will be direct burial so I won't have to install conduit to the lights. 

So, here's the scenario of how everything will work: During the day, the solar panel(s) will charge a 12 volt battery bank via charge controller (to prevent overcharge and generally protect the batteries). The circuit will be controlled by a timer switch programmable with ON/OFF times as indicated starting ON at 7pm and then OFF at midnight. This circuit will run the six LED lights along the driveway for hours providing enough light for adequate illumination. 

Let's say each LED light is a 12 volt input at 0.1 amps. Below is some math to determine how much power I will actually need for this setup:
This is all dependent of what type of light fixture I choose to install and it's operational wattage. 

Hopefully, I can find a good light to use for this project

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Network Project

Today I spoke with my parents about a vision I had for improving their digital luxuries by installing data cable in their home and setting up a home network server to host data, printing, scanning, and so on. Surprisingly, the planned date to do all this is right around the cornerspring break to be exact. I sketched a draft of what my project is going to include. Here it is below:
I have some experience in Wide Area Networking (WAN), but I have never set up a server before. Really, the most complex networking I have really done so far is setting up a wireless bridge (and that was tough and time-consuming enough!). However, I am really excited about this project because I'll be installing the data cable in their house so not everything has to be wireless. I don't condemn wireless, I just don't like how it seems to be unreliable at times and how hard it is to maintain a good signal. Sure there are many ways to accomplish this, but the truth is, there is no better signal than to wire everything. 

Anyways, as you can see from my sketch, there are 3 rooms that will have wired connections: my dad's room, the server room, and the play room. The reason why my dad has a hub is because he has some electronics that are network reliant such as an internet radio. The play room has 3 computers and the TV will be a future project that will include creating digital copies of all my parent's movies, and compiling all other audio/visual media. The server will have the printer, scanner, data storage (of course!), security cameras (another future project), and whatever else to be added in the future. Data will also have the capability to be transmitted wirelessly as well for other electronics such as an iTouch, or laptop computer. 

I came up with this project to satisfy both my mom and dad's needs/wants in their digital media. My dad loves movies, so the ability to play a movie without having to turn on another electronic and insert a disk, he can browse through a whole library and watch it on his computer or even have it connected to his TV via HDMI. My mom is crafty and needs to use the printer, but for a while (until recently purchasing a wireless network printer) all her printing had to be done on my dad's machine, which was a hassle because she would either have to find the website on his computer or email the stuff she wanted printed to my dad, and then print. 

So, where does my excitement come in? Well, to be honest, I enjoy designing and building. This project will be my treat, being able to install and set up everything will be a lot of fun. Plus, when I have a LAN party (if I EVER do one again. I don't game much these days.) all my friends could easily plug in and get gaming right away. But, my mom watches over some neat 13 year olds after school before their parents get home from work, so they'll be able to enjoy the benefits of all the multiplayer capabilities through the network.

There are so many capabilities it would be almost impossible to go over everything I want to do with this project now. For now, I will prepare by studying what needs to be done to accomplish this, and will then wait patiently until the day comes when I get to start cutting holes in my parent's walls and making a mess (haha!! Just kidding!). 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Solar Engine

I built a solar engine a while ago. The circuit is really fascinating how it gathers electricity and stores it until it reaches a point sufficient enough to power a heavier load than its source input. I found this circuit the other day and thought I would share it (plus it will help me remember where it is if I post it here).

Below is the solar engine schematic:

Here's the link to the page: Solar Engine

This gentleman also has a lot of other schematics. I haven't looked through all of them, but there are some pretty interesting circuits.

Here's his main link: Here

On my spare time I'm going to look through these and build one. I'll post the creation later!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What is Engineering?

Ever since I began college, I've always wondered what engineering really is. If I'm going be an engineer someday I would like to know what's expected of me. I found a lot of definitions on the internet for engineering.

Webster defines engineering as "the application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/engineering def. 2 (a)).

Georgia Institute of Technology defines engineering as "the practical application of science and math to solve problems"  (http://www.ece.gatech.edu/academics/outreach/engineering.html).

The idea of engineering seems to be very broad. "...To solve problems" could mean a hundred or even thousands of things, and actually, when people ask me what engineers do, I usually tell them "engineers solve problems." I suppose even an accountant could be considered a engineer because their purpose is to improve efficiency and maintain finances--so a financial engineer. I have even heard of a mother being considered a domestic engineer and a garbage man a sanitation engineer. I reckon whatever your trade is could be considered an engineer. 

My idea of being an engineer includes the ability to use obtained knowledge in practical applications to improve the efficiency or conditions thereof. This also is not limited to applying future knowledge gained through observation or data. In my general view, the engineer is to be an individual who never stops learning and trying to improve or make better.  

I'm sure I'll have more to add on this subject later, but for now, these are my thoughts on what engineering is to me. Please feel free to comment and add your opinions. I would love to hear them!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Do-It-Yourself Solar Panel

Since the fall semester has ended, I have met up with one of my good engineering friends and designed and built an ~18 watt solar panel. The project took around 40-50 hours total and was a complete success!

The finished panel looks great (see picture on the right). Of course, like most do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, we (mostly me) ran into some problems. The day the bus wire was to be installed I accidentally broke 5 solar cells! Breaking the solar cells would have been no big deal, however, the cells were already joined to the base of the pegboard. In order to remove the broken solar cell, a de-soldering was necessary, but also careful removal of the silicon, not to break any other nearby cells. Then, after preparing a new solar cell, the cell had to be soldered together with the other solar cells, along with placing another blob of silicon to bond the cell and pegboard. About an hour was taken because of the breakage. Although, it did bring up some laughs. 

Other problems included were accidentally cracking the plexiglass from drilling a hole for the screw to go in, as well as placing a solar "chain" (six solar cells soldered together in series) backwards. The latter error caused a lot of troubleshooting and confusion. We noticed this problem when we tested our connections with a multimeter and found that the voltage was around 13 volts instead of the theoretical ~18 volts. After finding the backward chain, my friend and I thought it would be easiest to run a bus wire in between the adjacent chains to be correctly wired—because the chain was placed backwards, it was being connected in parallel instead of the being connected in series. You can see the bus wire towards the bottom of the panel.

Having a 12 volt sealed lead-acid hobby battery, diode , and DC to AC (Direct Current to Alternating Current) inverter on hand, we built a small electrical power system. The intent of the solar panel is to charge the 12 volt battery thereby storing energy for later use. The diode is used to "block" the electricity going into the solar panel from the battery, otherwise the battery would discharge into the panel during the night or low light levels. The DC to AC inverter is necessary to power AC loads such as lamps or computers. 

This panel is perfect for small loads such as charging your cell phone, camera, mp3 player, or anything that requires 5 volts, as well as LED (light-emitting diode) lighting. I have used this same setup for lighting my room with LEDs. It did not output the same amount of luminosity as a compact fluorescent or incandescent, but was satisfyingly enough.

Unfortunately, the panel is not powerful enough to provide enough power for ideal loads, such as your computer. Here is an example with this particular panel:
My ASUS EP121 tablet PC requires 120 volt AC at 1.5 amps. A watt is volts * amps. Therefore, 120 * 1.5 = 180 watts. Let's say I've used it long enough that it requires 3 hours of charging. If the watts and time are multiplied, a watt-hour is obtained. So, 180 watts * 3 hours = 540 Wh, or 0.540 kWh. This is how much energy is required. 
Now, a short lesson on electro-chemistry. Because my tablet requires AC for charging, power from the battery will go from the battery through the inverter and to my computer's battery. Through this process the 12 volt DC power from the battery gets converted to 120 volt AC power. Carefully considering the converting process, for every 1 AC amp, 10 DC amps are required. Why? For the battery: 12 volts * 10 amps = 120 watts. For the inverter: 120 volts * 1 amp = 120 watts. This process is very important because of the battery's ability to provide the required amps necessary in the conversion. If the battery cannot supply 10 amps, then the inverter cannot supply 1 amp of AC
Since 180 watts are required to charge my tablet, an approximately 15 DC amps from the battery are required to provide the 1.5 AC amps. The battery would also be required to provide that amperage for the 3 hours. 
Because the battery is small (about 5 or 7 amp-hours) the capacity of the battery cannot provide the total needed amps. Therefore, the computer cannot be charged with this particular system—it needs a larger battery bank. 
Here is a website that gives a lot of information about lead acid batteries and will also give you a better understanding of how batteries work: http://www.vonwentzel.net/Battery/00.Glossary/
As mentioned, a large enough battery bank would provide the needed power; then again, the small panel would take days to charge the batteries to max. 

All in all, this project was extremely fun, informative, and educational. I would love to build another sometime again. If you're interested in building your own, here are a few links to get you started:
Here are some pictures during the project:
(Solar Cells I broke)
(Cutting the plexiglass)

(Soldering the solar cells)

(My friend and I after completing the solar panel)

Welcome to Electo Danno!

Hi, I'm Daniel. Allow me to introduce myself briefly to you. I am currently a full-time student majoring in electrical engineering in the Phoenix, Arizona area. I plan to transfer to Arizona State University (ASU) after completing a few core classes at junior colleges to save some money. 

I have always been fascinated with electricity since I can remember. It first started with my dad teaching me about computers and then really caught my attention later after visiting the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant for a boy scout activity. There really wasn't much effort put into studying the topic, however, as most of my time and focus was put into music where I played piano and trumpet. 

Years later, after viewing a simple YouTube video reviewing a small solar-powered circuit, I was inspired to build a solar panel. After about 4-5 months of research, building, installing, and testing, I successfully built a stand-alone solar powered system. This gave me great confidence in my ability to obtain a degree in electrical engineering as I will be the first in my family. It has now been about 2 years since that project (and it still works!) and now feel prompted to begin a record of my learning as it would have been beneficial to have started it earlier. 

The intent of this blog is to share the knowledge I learned through experiments, reading, work, or other sources. Feel free to comment, share ideas, or even criticize my work. I want to learn as much as I can.

I am hoping that thorough documentation and feedback from others on this blog will help me to become a better and a more well-rounded electrical engineer. 

Again, welcome to my blog!