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Comcast Cable made me mad.  I could not seem to get on a permanent cable/internet package that was less than $150 a month.  Too much.  I looked into DirecTV and found that they have an F rating from the BBB.  Yikes.  And like DirecTV, Dish starts with a low price and then as you add DVRs and rooms and features… you’re back up near $100 for TV only.

Well, I hate bad business, and I’m just the sort of dork to try to figure out a way around it.  So I did it.  I’m off the cable/dish teat.  And, I am NOT one of those people who decided that I just won’t watch TV… I still watch a ton of TV.

Media centers and streaming video stuff can be complex, and I didn’t want this to seem like using a computer… so one of the major requirements of the system was that it needed to be 100% operable from a remote control (no keyboards or mice), intuitive enough that babysitters and visiting grandmothers can use it, and stable enough that I’m not getting dirty looks from my wife as I fix the TV.

So here’s what I’ve got:

  • 12 Channels of broadcast HD television: ABC, CBS, FOX, CW, NBC, NBC Weather, Universal Sports, 3 PBS, 2 Independents. I am seriously considering pointing another antenna in the other direction, because Longmont has 4-5 more independent stations that show movies, DIY shows and more.
  • A fully functioning DVR to record all my favorite broadcast shows for adults and kids (probably 20 different shows at this point)
  • Integrated Netflix streaming which I use for kids shows and movies, Mythbusters, Dexter, Firefly, History Channel documentaries, indie movies, anything from the BBC archives, Spongebob, and more.
  • Integrated Hulu (free version) – Slightly aging network and network partner shows.  We’ve watched Hell’s Kitchen on it, and I watch Always Sunny and old NFL Films stuff.  But, as Hulu moves to a pay model and networks start freaking out, the selection here keeps getting worse over time.
  • Integrated Boxee – A different home theater software that aggregates a large selection of web-streaming services from Comedy Central, Networks, and more.  Also has an API for 3rd party apps so you can use Pandora and other radio services, Photo services, RSS readers, and other web services right through the Boxee app using a remote.
  • Media Browser – a tool for playing any ripped, downloaded, or homemade video content through the interface… so if you have ripped in your own movie collection or downloaded movies or seasons of a TV show… you can play them.
  • Photo Browser – I have all my family pictures on this computer, and we can call up albums and pictures quickly.
  • Music Player – play albums, artists, genres, and playlists through the TV alongside a slideshow of your family pictures or other visualizations.

I pay for DSL (currently $20/mo, but may go up to $40 after an intro period), and Netflix ($8.99/mo), and that’s it.  That’s $100-$120/mo in savings.  The hardware cost me about $400… so since this summer, I’ve made my money back easy… never mind the satisfaction I get from sticking it to the man.

Wanna see it?

Here's the setup. The smallish PC is underneath, the remote, and the Vikings losing again.

 

Here's the somewhat customized main interface for the system. Big friendly icons to select.

 

My Beefy 12 channel program guide. I already see a few things I want to watch.

 

Recorded TV sorted by show title. We record a lot. Live TV is for chumps.

 

Media Browser for the TV series and movies I have acquired on the hard drive.

 

Netflix through WMC is really easy to use, and look at all the great content you can stream for $8.99/mo.

The Hulu interface. I'm kinda losing interest in Hulu as it keeps removing features, and I record broadcast shows anyway. Non-premium users get huge delays before you can watch new episodes of good shows. We haven't gotten a new Always Sunny since September, so I quit looking.

Pandora as seen through Boxee. Beautiful interface, really. "Vampy Spacy Mellow" is my default life-soundtrack station.

What’s really amazing about this setup is that I don’t feel like I’m cutting back.  I have traded some things for other things… like I can’t watch cable shows as they air… but I can watch the cable shows from years before that I never watched.  Is that trade down worth $120/mo?  Durr… Easily.  I can’t watch cable sports which might be a deal killer for some, but I still get 4 broadcast football games a week and local baseball (and I can find ways to watch other events if I really want to).

Cable and Dish companies are feeling the squeeze right now because of competition from internet sources, and because people are cutting costs during the recession.  They’ve reacted to this by trying to squeeze more dollars from paying customers for a product that is worth less.  They are cutting off access during big events like the World Series as a means of ransom, and acting like there is nothing you can do about it except capitulate and pay more.  I highly recommend showing them that they are wrong.  :)

Coming soon: How to build your own!

The guys at Wilderness EV (e-volks)  say that the D&D electric motor can be repaired… might be $90… might be $200.  This is significantly better than buying a whole new motor.

Although, I suspect that I will pay at least that much just to ship this heavy sominabish back to the factory.  It’s got to be 100 lbs of dead weight in an awkward shape.

So… the next step is to take the motor back off the drive shaft.  Uck… now I have to undo and then redo this stuff from back in November 2008?  http://evguys.wordpress.com/2008/11/15/mounting-the-electric-motor/

I wonder if I should reconsider having a clutch when I have it all disassembled.

Anyway, I also asked the Wilderness guys for their input on the cause of my problem.  I’ll report back if they give me any tips.

Update on the Meltdown

I’ve been putting this off, because it’s a lot more fun to give good news than bad news, but I’ve had a major setback.

So I hooked up the 12th battery and charged up my vehicle to a full charge, and took it out on the road, expecting 45-50 mph.  But, I fell very short.  I was still topping out at 30 mph in 4th gear with the pedal to the floor.

I know I was actually at a charge of 113V, and I know that with the pedal to the floor, my ammeter was pegged at 400 amps, which should have been plenty of power, but also should have been a big red flag that something was wrong.

All of a sudden, total loss of power and an electrical burning smell.  Ack.  Broken down on the side of the road.  A short tow back to the house and some testing shows that I have somehow fried the motor.  The very expensive motor.  As far as I can tell, this motor is a closed system, and requires replacement, not repair.  When I press the pedal, it does not turn… but it does glow in a firey orange way.

Luckily, I met up with Dave from Duke’s Garage in Westminster (http://www.dukesgaragellc.biz), which is a shop that builds really nice electric vehicles.  And although they really don’t do kits or repairs for homebuilds… he offered to come over and take a look.  The good news is that most of my components are good quality and installed correctly.  But, he strongly recommends a new beefier motor, a clutch kit, and several more fuses so I don’t blow expensive components when something goes wrong.  Sound advice.

Anyway… The cost to continue is currently just out of reach, so I have to put this project on hold for a little while.  Total Bummer.  I will continue, and I have a plan to do so… but I’m actually typing this from the waiting room of a Honda dealership where I’m about to write a 5K check for a minivan.  Priorites.

I have been justifying this extra cost in my head by thinking back to when I bought the kit… the e-volks kit was like $5K, whereas better kits were $10K… and now it looks like I’m going to have to pay several thousand dollars to get my cheap kit up to being better.  That’s a lesson for anyone shopping around for EV kits:  Buy cheap, get cheap.

So I got the 12th 8V battery Friday from Commerce City.  All the US Battery dealers in Colorado were sold out for a few weeks which was a big bummer.

I also bought a cheap capacitive charger from the e-volks.com site that supports a 96V system.  I didn’t get a really good charger because I’m back to thinking that this is a temporary solution, and that I’ll eventually put 3 more batteries in front to get it to 120V total.

So I installed the battery today, and I’ve been charging for the past 6 hours constantly checking the total voltage.  This seems counter-intuitive… but my 96V battery pack needs to measure 120V to be done (8V batteries actually charge up to 10V, kind like how your car’s 12V battery actually charges to 15V).  It’s taking a really long time to charge, so I think I was really on the low end of the spectrum with these batteries the last few times I drove the car.

Here’s my new optimistic plan…

1) Having a fully-charged 96V system will dramatically affect my speed, which previously maxed out at about 30 mph.  Reading the manual for my controller seems to confirm this… when the voltage level is very low, the speed is intentionally very bad to prevent damage to the batteries… so my speed improvement should be exponential instead of just proportional.

2) Having successfully speed tested it, I will get the car insured and registered this week.

3) Having a street-legal car… I will take it to a service place this weekend and get a tuneup:  Transmission fluid, brakes, greased axles, inspection.

Booya.  Drive to work Monday.  Well, not Monday because I take the kids in that day.  Wednesday?  Soon.  Soon my pet.

As you may have gathered from the last post, which was just a video, the car made it’s maiden voyage yesterday!  It was the unlikely goal, but we pulled it off!

It started early on Sunday, and Dave said he would come over in the afternoon to help out.  Mainly, I wanted someone to spot-check the work and then be there to help wire up the batteries to keep me from doing anything patently stupid, and knock me off the batteries with a 2×4 if I started getting electrocuted.

So before he came, I wanted to wrap up all the loose ends:

Double-check the wiring diagram against what I had done – good thing I did, I found I was a missing a low-voltage wire between the controller and the shunt.  Also, I found that my ignition ground was temporarily wedged into place… I had forgotten to secure it.

Then, tighten up all bolts with washers and lock washers.  Some of the connections fit better than others, so I disconnected the bad ones and made sure they fit right, then tightened them down like heck.

Then, cut and crimp all the battery cables.  I had made a lot of drawings of the best cabling path, and I kept getting confused, so I marked up the garage floor with my kids’ chalk and starting laying out cables.  Genius!

I am an artiste

So, Dave got here and we ran out for supplies… rubber gloves and some properly sized nuts…. then we got started.  We taped up the end of the wrench to keep it from arcing in case of accidental contact… covered all the batteries I wasn’t working on with wood… eye protection, gloves, keep the bald spot from touching the roof in case it’s a ground.   I started at the farthest point away from the door that we could access, connecting the terminals.

The first connection

Working around the top and then across the bottom, knowing that every connection I made from positive to negative was increasing the total voltage carried on the line and feeling very nervous.  Did I mention that I have a tendency of electrocuting myself?

Finally I got to the last connection and tapped it against the terminal to see if it would spark.  Nothing.  This was surprisingly undramatic considering how nervous I was.  So, we locked it down.

The final connection

So… wow!  I guess… uhh… I guess we press the accelerator down and make it go.  We fumbled around a bit trying to get the car up on jacks before we finally said screw it and just put the car in neutral and hit the pedal.  The motor turned.  Whoa.  Grab the camera, I’m putting this thing in first and seeing where it goes.  (see video for this).

Well… heck!  So we threw the charger on it to give it an hours worth of juice-up.  But the readings on the charger were all wrong.  Turns out the charger for a 120V system is not supposed to work on the 88V we have hooked up right now.  But we didn’t know that.  Anyway… after about 40 minutes we got impatient and pulled the charger off.

This here charger says we have 102 volts and 5% complete. Isn't this an 88V system?

We drove the car out of the garage, and pumped up the flat tire.

Waiting for the tire to pump up. Very excited.

And the rest is history (see video parts 2 and 3).

Top speed was 20 mph at this charge level… which I’m estimating to be just over 70 volts.  Whatever it was was not enough to register on my volt meter which starts at 80V (or the volt meter is broken).  But, the torque was enough to chirp the tires at a stop sign.  Crazy!

So here’s what I need to do now:

  • Get a 12th battery to get it to 96V.  Hook it up without electrocuting myself.
  • Get a proper 96V charger that will actually charge up my battery pack
  • Register, license, insure the car
  • Get a radio, replace windshield wipers, maybe get new brakes

Booya

Drive Around the Block

 

More to follow about what we did yesteray, but I wanted to post this here now.

I remember my Uncle Walter telling me once about how he was working on a van for a very long time and then one day he was surprised to realize he was done and it was ready to drive.  You get so buried in loose ends that you don’t realize how close you are to finishing.  Well, that’s me today!

I installed the backup spring for the throttle.  That should give me some peace of mind as I hurtle down the road, knowing that it should retract when I take my foot off the pedal.

I ran heavy duty 2/0 cabling between all non-battery parts, and I connected all the low-voltage wiring to amp and volt gauges, ignition, and controller with permanently crimped and heat-shrunk ends.  That should wrap up the whole trunk area.  Really.

Everything back here is wired up... correctly, I hope.

And I routed two cables from the trunk in through the now unused heating ducts to the place where the batteries are all waiting.

Here's where the battery cables come in

So here’s my piddling checklist to complete the project:

  • Read the directions – Make sure I haven’t skipped a step or done something counterindicated by the instructions.
  • Get correctly fitting washers and tighten all bolts and screws (loose connections cause meltdowns)
  • Connect charger to batteries (easy)
  • Inflate tire (Really?  This is what I’m down to?)
  • Bring in at least one, but hopefully two people to idiot-check my work.  (“Whoa!  That there don’t look right!”)
  • Hook up batteries to each other with 12 short cables
  • Drive around the block, save a whale, praise Earth Goddess, await medal from Al Gore.

This is nothing!  Honestly!  I’m really a few weeks from driving this thing.

Of course… that may bring up a whole new checklist of problems, but I will be able to go claim my tax credit even if the brakes need some work.

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