A Great Lawnmower
article #1426, updated 32 days ago
Our lawnmower finally wouldn’t start this year. I suspect it needs electrical cleanup or something, but it’s an extremely heavy Menard’s special which was a gift from a friend of Sweet Lori’s, and I just didn’t want to put money or time into it. So I put money into a new Toro 21” battery-operated mower. And I am flatly amazed.
It is lighter than anything I know of comparable in gas, even though its construction is nice steel; its maintenance is hose it off and charge the batteries; it folds vertical for storage (it’s set up well for this, and no liquids, no hot parts…); there’s absolutely no lack of power; and it mows our whole yard in half a battery. It’s a Toro 60V (same as my very happy leaf blower bought last year), so I have two more batteries if I need them. We have wonderful neighbors who have mowed our yard before, so I’m going to have that kind of fun soon.
But the most intriguing part for me, was what happened when the mower pulled us to denser growth. Immediately that thing knew it and increased the power output. The first and second time it happened I thought something might be wrong, but no, it knows, and it drives that power up and down according to need of the moment, immediately, no hesitation at all. (This is why well-implemented brushless motors are a very good idea.) For ages, some gas mowers have had “regulators” that are claimed to do the same thing, and I’ve used a number of them, but they’re nothing like this. It was “vroom!!!” and then wonder and look to see what was going on, and only then, “Oh, now isn’t that nice!” The only slight “gotcha” is that overall result tends to pull the walker occasionally, but for me that’s almost more of a plus than anything, it keeps me going at a good pace; I tend to be a slacker at mowing!
It was also interesting to see the result. I do the mulching thing, and not bagging or shooting, because I flatly don’t want the bother and the bags. Every other mulching mower I have ever seen work, leaves some larger bits as it addresses denser growth. Not this one. I walked around the whole yard after I was done, I had had the mower set on quite short, and I saw absolutely zero sign of cuttings. Zero. Amazing.
Once upon a time, there was a rather self-confident boy, nine or ten years old, who managed to convince his parents to buy him a ten-speed bicycle for his birthday. The family went to Sears, then a rather good place for such things, and the boy spotted his bicycle, a beautiful red-and-blue model, the latest one. The boy set his heart immediately, and it was good. But the boy also saw, in the corner of his eye, his dad very carefully quietizing a reaction to the sprocket-derailleur gearing which was just in that year starting to be sold to most people, rather than to just mostly esoteric racing folks. The boy enjoyed the bicycle for a long time, and replaced it eventually with another not very different, and then another. But he never forgot.
And he noticed, that that gearing tended to do odd things. After a number of years this became very understandable to him. In this now most common of bicycle gear shifting, the chain is literally yanked off of one sprocket, onto another, in mid-air. Somehow, theoretically, this is supposed to be reliable, and is said to be so by lots of people! But after a lot more years, the boy, now a bit older, noticed that the friends and others who were talking the most about reliability, all not only had very expensive bicycles, but also, had devoted their whole garages to their upkeep, with expensive tools and liquids and whatnot. They washed the chains at least every week and sometimes every day, examined the sprockets for wear very often, et cetera, et cetera, devoting much precious time.
And the boy remembered his dad’s bicycle, and his parents’ tandem bicycle. The first had three speeds, in a sealed hub, and it was working well and steadily, without washing chains, and certainly without sprocket replacements or any other major work, for decades. The second had five speeds, similar hub, similar results.
So he looked into it, as there now was an Internet. He found that those hubs are still made, even well-known in some places, and now in eight-speed and higher…and are very highly recommended by those who know them. The highest were very expensive, but eight-speed was within reach. So he brought this information to local bike shop mechanics…all of whom gently but firmly steered him away from this. They gave lots of reasons. They were clearly not happy with the idea of such a project, so he decided to let it go, at least then.
But the thought would not go away. So, years after that, the boy finally called in a wider radius, and found a really good and creative bicycle mechanic about 50 miles away, named Ron, and his amazing wife Lorena, who run Eclectic Bikes in Emporia, Kansas; they were intrigued with the idea. They set up a Shimano Nexus 8 for me, with a chain tensioner, and now I have a Real Bicycle :-) And it is simply marvelous!!!!
A good way to see it, is to consider what happens when a bicycle reaches a busy intersection which is at the top of a hill. We’re already pedaling hard to get there, applying force on that chain and sprockets. We have to downshift, in order to do either of two necessary things: first, to be low enough to take off fast into the traffic at the top, and second, to be low enough to get up the hill still rolling as traffic builds towards the intersection. So we downshift with everything under great stress, which is the worst time for this, and one of three things happens. One, it shifts. Two, the chain goes somewhere bad, and you’re not going anywhere until you pull that (dirty and greasy) chain up by your hand and put it where it needs to go. Three, something worse happens, and there is worse out there, including a broken chain.
And one can find hundreds, not unlikely thousands, of web pages out there, which explain why those things happen. They don’t tell you when you buy the things, but you really are expected by the component-manufacturers to clean the chain (any one of a few dirty, stinky, time-consuming, unpleasant procedures) and the sprockets before any very long ride. And of course, if such a hill comes at the end of a very long ride, we can imagine the situation.
The contrast with the internal hub, takes my breath away. The shifts just work. There is none of the pull-and-hope. You change the gears and they change, and you have what you need, for hill or traffic or sharp corner. And not only that, but you can shift perfectly well while standing still. Sprocket-and-derailleur can’t do that, you can only shift while pedaling, because it’s the pedaling which works with the derailleur to yank the chain – but it also means that stress situations, especially at the end of a ride, are the times you’re most likely to wipe yourself out if you need to shift for safety. Hub gearing is marvelous this way; for one example, if I’m at a stop light which is built onto a hill, and I need to change my direction from up to down, sprocket-and-derailleur can be very difficult, both because of the need to pedal to shift and because of the risk. But for this or any other difficult situation, with my gears, I just shift, whether standing still or moving slowly or coasting, and I’m immediately using everything I Ihave to get in there and out of there safely and smoothly!
Sweet Lori and I have rather hard water from our city supply, lots of dissolved mineral content which until recently has gradually coated bathtub and kitchen fixtures et cetera, slowly but very steadily over time. We have had to replace three bathtub faucets, at least two shower heads, and two or three kitchen faucets, over the last twenty-plus years, and every time it was quite shocking to look in the business ends and see the light brown layering of hard-water deposit. I have looked at water softeners, but the space, effort, and expense just did not quite seem worth it, and also I have liked the taste and feel of “softened” water even less than the test of our water! I have looked at osmosis systems and other things, but always the expenses, both initial and ongoing; and with many of them, if you delay the maintenance you can put yourself and your family in some danger, and there’s no easy bypass unless you put in extra pipe or redo what you have. Bleaugh.
Yesterday (2019-12-15) though, I happened to remember that in March of this year, I had begun to try something, a simple derivative of something else I had found online which looked conceivably good. It turns out that this is working well: my best test is the business end of our kitchen sink sprayer-faucet (), and lo and behold, there is no new hard water scale, and what there is is slowly and steadily going away!:
In March that same end was getting to the point of needful replacement, there was layering, significant blockage, and related behavior. Any effective attempt to scrape, clearly would have damaged the device, but now slowly the gunk is going away! I am rather happy about the prospect of not replacing this among other potentially difficult things anytime soon!!!!
So the question is, how is this happening. Well, at first, in March, I was on the verge of buying one of the “electronic hard water descalers” which are made by quite a startling number of companies out there now. A simple Amazon or Qwant search will show you what I’m talking about. I noticed the large size of the plethora, and decided to dig in to see what these things are doing. I did not find nitty-gritty details, but I found enough to convince me that all of these things are driving electrical power or signal of some sort, through one or more coils wrapped around copper or PVC (and not iron) pipes. And the one thing which is absolutely consistent, is that doing this shall generate a magnetic field through that water, regardless of further detail.
And then I happened to blunder into two little companies, out of the huge throng, which were selling strong permanent magnets for exactly the same purpose. They were charging a good bit for those magnets.
So, thought I, permanent magnets are a whole lot simpler than electronic widgets, they need no power, they don’t burn out or short out or any of the other relevant concerns. So let’s try it, and no need to go the expensive specialist route, magnets are magnets, and powerful ones in very relevant shapes abound.
It turns out that a lot of small electric motors these days, are made using rings of “arc magnets”. I found that in our basement (which was subject to some plumbing creativity before we arrived), the city supply 3/4” is reduced quickly to 1/2”, so I bought two sets of ten of these:
from Apex Magnets.
The above picture shows eight of these arc magnets in a circle, but we need 10 to go around our standard 1/2” copper pipe. These are very strong magnets, they can easily do major harm to fingernails and even fingertips; if you don’t have strong hands, get someone with strong hands to do this for you, there is a certain amount of real danger. These are very strong.
And here is how our sets look in place:
Most house supply pipe is 3/4”, more of these will be indicated for this. The results are most happy over here! I am likely to get more, so I can put them on the street-side of the house valve, that should keep the scaling out of that valve. I’ll be looking for other arc magnets sized to hug 3/4” pipe better, too.
Deep reengineering of recent car and truck engines is probably not a good idea in the general case; the things are tweaked to the gills these days, with sensors upon sensors, wires everywhere, and the computer the master of all. Certainly I’m not going to try it. But what about something simple, that might never have been done before?
Well, it’s in and a-building, and has been more and more interesting since December of 2018. I’ve set up for discussion on Facebook
, and have built a new web site at https://enginefun.ponderworthy.com;
most detail will go there from now on.
A negative ion generator, is a widget commonly used to improve air quality intended for human consumption. It “ionizes” molecules and atoms in air, giving them negative electrical charges. This observably coalesces dust particles, which fall; and also destroys odors. One can find more health-related reports about them too. Reportedly, right after a thunderstorm, most of the “invigoration” one encounters in the air, is negative ionization.
There used to be “negative ionizer” things which were little bricks that plugged in and hung onto wall power sockets. These did help, but the dust tended to coalesce and adhere around a few inches radius of the device, on the wall et cetera, which is why we don’t see those much anymore! But the electronics are being built into quite a few air conditioners now, even the window air conditioner we bought a year or two ago has one inside it. Little ionizer appliances with fans, suitable for desks and auto dashboards, are now available from quite a few different companies.
And I do enjoy testing the walls of my current box. So, thought I, I wonder what would happen, if we charged the air going into our friendly household truck engine. I have a 1998 Tahoe, 5.7L EFI V8, which underwent some mods before she asked to come into our life (her name is Bertha, she is a big girl with a very low voice)…and she has a certain amount of airspace available in her engine compartment, so I thought, why not. I remember just enough physical chemistry (which I mostly failed) to be dangerous, and the idea of adding electrons to air bits to make them more reactive, sounds like a way to get a very nicely helpful sort of energy into her heart. After all, it’s not how much energy you have, it’s the preparation of that energy into usable form. We have enormous amounts of unused chemical energy in every engine cycle: if we can bleed off a little engine power electrically to get a noticeably helpful net result, that’s a definite gain.
So I ordered one of these,
after a lot of looking around, from Alanchi on AliExpress. The pic is for the 12VDC version, it comes in 110VAC and 220VAC too; I ordered the 12VDC of course, to wire straight into existing electrical. It is advertised as a 30 million particle per cm3 negative ionizer, which appears to be much more powerful than any of the others I could find, except one which is 220VAC-only from the same source. That one is at 100 million particles per cm3…but I’m not going to try to engineer 220VAC under Bertha’s hood ☺ Also unlike what I had seen in the past, this class of ionizer throws its output off little carbon brushes, rather than rows of thin and sharp metal needles. I have seen the metal needles degrade over time, due to corrosion and possibly more interesting behaviors (I saw what looked like a slow-moving, brightly glowing spark, rising off a needle, on at least two or three occasions); the carbon brushes strike me as a very good idea.
If you are in the U.S., you’ll spend a lot of money on shipping from AliExpress unless you are willing to wait a long time; I waited a long time ☺ and I don’t regret it, it gave me time to think about setting this up in as durable a fashion as possible, which we really do want in an engine compartment. We don’t want to cause ourselves electrical problems of any sort, bad ones are very bad; we have to be careful, and this is my daily driver. One nice thing, this 30 M/cm3 ionizer element is only using 1 watt of power, just a tiny sip.
Do note that what we want is explicitly not an “ozone generator”. Ozone is a peculiar and less stable molecular form of oxygen, and it is both poisonous and corrosive. We do not want any noticeable amount of this, in regular contact with anything we care to keep. It is used sometimes as a cleansing agent, to kill invasive bugs and other unpleasantries, but it is not what we are after here. Most if not all electronics produce very tiny amounts of ozone, thunderstorms produce more; the devices we want for this purpose explicitly produce only infinitesimal amounts, and they are explicitly rated for this as well, because years ago this was not done so carefully, there was confusion.
I have been just a tad concerned with possible corrosion. Ionization means reactivity: various components of air are being made more likely to do chemical reactions with things they encounter, than they would otherwise. But as of this writing, 2019-08-15, the project has been going about eight months, and no evil signs yet, and quite a lot of definite good. I’ll be updating as I learn things and encounter things happening; see the “results” section at the bottom if you wish ☺ One idea which did come up recently, was checking the spark plugs, this can be one way to find badness in the cylinders. Haven’t done it yet, but will sometime soon. But I deliberately used two metal screw-eyes in the securing of widgets four, five, and six; there is absolutely zero sign of trouble on them, and they are sitting right next to the brush-electrodes.
So back to work. I set up the electricals as well as I know how, with crimp-on terminals for every wire, because I intend to run with it in the long term, and Kansas sometimes (and never always) gets very cold winters, very hot summers, wet springs, etc. We could wire straight to the battery, but that would mean opening the hood to switch it on and off every time. Since we want this widgetry to always have power with the engine, we use something called a “fuse tap”,
which I learned about through web-searching. You take out an existing fuse in the engine fuse-box, plug the fuse tap in that socket, and then plug the old fuse and a second new fuse into the fuse tap’s own sockets. The fuse tap has a wire end to crimp onto, and that runs to the widget needing the power. These are very commonly used, I am told, for custom electronics.
But local auto retail had only 10-amp fuse taps for Bertha, and she has just one 10-amp fuse socket which turns on and off with the engine, marked “IGN” (Ignition I believe). There is a certain amount of web-advice against using this (in general one does not want anything to touch ignition besides ignition), but I ran with it for a while until the nagging in the back of my head got to me. Then I found a very few in web-retail rated to 20 amps, and she has a few appropriate sockets like that, so I chose one and we’re off :-)
So I ran a new wire from the fuse tap, all the way around the back of the engine compartment, threading through items which don’t get hot to hold it in place, to a little switch with a light in it, so I could know for certain when the widget is powered, and so I could shut it off if anything happened within certain categories ☺ I followed the simple wording on the switch (+12VDC here, alien widgetry [translated: accessory] wire there, ground there), and grounded both the device and the switch directly to the battery. Then I drilled four small holes, one for each of the carbon brushes, in the casing for the air filter. This is emphatically pre-filter, not post-filter, because I don’t care how strong those brushes are, I don’t ever want bits of them going into Bertha’s engine! Here’s the first result:
Everything sat in that little cavity just under the switch, I pulled it all out for the pic. You’ll notice the four wires going into the air filter casing. I used a very nice epoxy from JB Weld advertised to bond any plastic; it works very well, highly recommendable. Unlike other products, it does not make you wonder how much destruction you are doing to your lungs, or potentially, to your sense of reality; very good stuff, just works, and I have been using it for lots of different other things too.
It is true that I may end up regretting using epoxy if/when I eventually have to replace the ionizer units. But that’s fine, that’s what cordless electric drills are for ☺ Also I still don’t know what I would/will use instead of the epoxy. It seems important to hold those wire ends so they don’t get sucked onto the air filter surface, or flap around a lot; they’re sticking through only about an inch.
I can imagine a little metal screw-in stud with a hole in the middle for the wire, but I don’t know what it’s commonly called, or if anyone is actually making them right now ☺ They probably are, these days. If it becomes desireable, I’ll probably send up a RFQ (request for quote) to MFG or AliExpress or something. Wording is the problem then, and the fact that although I might have seen one or two of these in the dim mists of memory, I don’t have precision for it, and my drawing skills aren’t great. I once taught myself rudiments of the DOS version of AutoCAD though, maybe I could revisit that kind of graphics; someone must have an open-source CAD these days, right…?
Lots of them. All of them good so far!
The device has been in place for about 8 months as of this writing. It went in in the dead of a very cold winter, ranging from -5 to +35 F (-21 to +2 C) or so. The first set of results came using just one of the negative ionizer widgets discussed above:
- Cold running. In the extremer cold, Bertha used to sound a bit strained until warm, like many other engines I’ve heard. Not anymore. Even stone cold, at minus five, the gas pedal seemed to have about as much juice as warm. She burned a bit more gas doing it (until she heated up), but was much happier to run than without.
- Starting. Bertha has never had real trouble starting once I gave her a really good (and pricey) battery and new starter, just normal behavior. But now it’s not normal. Hot or dead cold, she takes off, probably turning over once.
- Idle has an interesting sound change (she does have glasspacks…), very very regular, and when hot quite a lot less in volume, clearly doing more with less.
After about two months, I put in two more ionizer elements, a total of three. Just one of the electronic widgets are visible in the pic below, there is actually some good space down there.
- Definitely more power at all times. My sweet Lori, who is not often very impressed with my occasional forays into unusual creative [some might say bizarre] engineering, actually commented on this as we hit the freeway together for the first time after the third went in.
- Sweet Lori and I did two careful fillups at the same pump at the same station and exactly the same route and approximate speeds, and ran two there-and-backs to Lawrence, Kansas, about 30 miles away. There was about 3% (half a gallon) of gas less used with the widgets on, than off. I won’t say that’s clear and present advantage, because 3% isn’t huge, and you’d really want to do testing on a dyno. But it’s not nothing, and it was a rainy day with very wet air, the very condition most likely to hinder the air chargers. Very much looking forward to more testing.
- I was actually surprised at how little change there was when the air chargers were turned off, given the initial experiences of three. I am theorizing that a lot of the overall effects at this point, may have been due to a simple general cleaning effect of having the charged air running through.
A few months ago, I installed air chargers four, five, and six ☺ She now has a cute little harness connecting all of those wires to the switch. Nice and clean though!
- Improvement in horsepower is immediate and noteworthy. Ponderworthy had a gig a few days after, about thirty miles away, which was a great first long-ride test; I was amazed at how interesting it was holding Bertha down to the speed limits ☺
- Overall engine smoothness, and idle tonality, is improved also.
- Now it being August, we finally have had 70’s and 80’s and the occasional 100’s in air temperature; and so far, the warmer it’s been, the better the behavior. In 80-degree-plus weather Bertha actually idles in a quiet murmur once hot. Amazing.
- Starting with air charger #3, stone-cold idle became sometimes a bit grumbly, as if the computer was trying to figure out what was going on. As of now, four through nine only start up after a temperature switch on the upper coolant fitting on the engine registers more than 60 F. This has eliminated some, but not all, of the variable idle. I’m going to play with this more over time to see what appears best, and probably set the temperature switch to kick from three on up, given that three is where this first began. Also will probably use a lower temperature switch, maybe even as low as 40 F.
- Have installed air chargers #7 through 9. One more notch of performance. Sweet Lori noticed too.
Haven’t run a rigorous fuel use check since the previous, but that will come!
Do drop me a line if you have questions, are interested, or try it!!!
This post is not for all or even most, certainly :-) But if you want suspenders which snap onto belt loops, rather than the usual variations on alligator clips or buttons, they really exist and work very well, from here:
Here’s a pic:
Admittedly this is a bit of a contraption, but it has worked wonderfully. I type a whole lot at work, and over time tried a large number of ways to get rid of hand and arm stresses. Eventually, having got my positioning right, I found that an enormous remaining stress was my mouse and most especially the left-click, which we all do a very large number of times per day. So I bought this:
which is a nice big trackball for multiple fingers or palm (I found the small ones worse, not better, than my mice), and more importantly, those three jacks. It’s one jack per mouse-button. Originally I had thought to bring left and right buttons to foot, but I ended up doing just the left, which has done me just fine and dandy. I initially bought two of these:
because they were not expensive; I destroyed the first one (with my foot, they’re not exactly designed for stomping) in a few months, which gave me enough time to figure out what to do. Soon I received a marvelous inspiration, and looked into a “ribbon switch” or “tape switch”. These are industrial components used on conveyor belts to detect items, and safety applications where one wants to stomp on something to get it to stop. So I bought one of these:
in the one-foot length to save at least a bit of money, with the aluminum channel for mounting (I think this is needed), mounted it on a 48”×6”×3/4” piece of wood, had my friendly neighborhood electronic musical instrument shop solder me a 1/4” mono phone plug on its wire, ran a long wire from that plug to the 1/8” jack on the trackball…and it works!!!
There is a bit of technique I have had to learn for it to work easily, a kind of bounce of my heel to mimic a rapid left-click; and I do sit now with one shoe off, tread does not help; but I have zero pain in my hands after work these days, which is quite the joy.
Admittedly the trackball and ribbon switch are not inexpensive. On the other hand this trackball looks and feels, inside and out, that it will work for decades, and the ribbon switch is an industrial component, so unless I mounted it badly it will do for a nice long time. The only thing I might have done differently is to get a longer ribbon switch, probably two feet long, though that is luxury, not necessity!
At your own risk!!! For the brave and the risk-tolerant only, put five grams per liter of Hexagonal Boron Nitride, also called HBN:
in your engine oil. Smooth power, like wow :-) The stuff is actually very non-toxic, it is the primary ingredient in many women’s cosmetics. An extremely fine powder, and extremely slippery. Do NOT put it in any transmission…
Lately I (Jonathan) have been taking old laptops no longer worthwhile for Microsoft Windows, and setting them up for some friends of mine who travel to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea and other places. They go bearing gifts, digging freshwater wells for people suffering the lack quite a lot; and they go bearing the joy of the Lord.
So far Linux Lite has been the best of several distros for the purpose. It is extremely reliable and hardware agnostic, installs quite rapidly, and has the available breadth of Ubuntu, including helpful language support, while being a very nicely lightweight OS.
Here is my install outline at this writing.
- 32-bit DVD
- User / user
- Install updates
- Install drivers
- Install language support
- Menu / System / Lite Software
- Restricted Extras
- Chromium Web Browser
- Menu / System / Install/Remove Software
- Xiphos Modules
- Biblical Texts
- Central Sama
- Wikang Tagalog
- 10th from bottom: Malayam
- Dictionaries / English
- Commentaries / English
- Xiphos Index, all modules
- Icons on desktop:
- Chromium Browser
- Home Folder
When ReadyNAS firmware is upgraded, snapshots can become invisible, losing much space. To fix that:
- Turn on SSH, in System / Settings / Services.
- Using putty, SSH to root@nas , where “nas” is the IP of the NAS, using the admin password.
- Do this:
systemctl restart readynasd
- The GUI will report upgrade in progress. Wait for it.
- We have now fixed it so we can do things to the snapshots. Let’s make them visible in the filesystem. Browse to Shares, click on the share name (often Backup), click the gear icon on the right, and check Allow Snapshot Access, Apply and OK.
- We can now see them at \\NAS\Backup\snapshots. If we create a blank directory on the Windows server’s hard drive, say C:\B, and do the following, we will wipe all of the snapshots on that share and begin recovery of all of the space:
ROBOCOPY C:\B \\NAS\Backup\snapshots /MIR /R:1 /W:1
Full recovery of the space actually takes a bit more, there are automatic elements which initiate after the above is done, and also after the next step is done.
- Then we run a Balance operation which Netgear recommends. Browse to System, then Volumes, and then click the Gear icon inside the NAS object, and choose Balance. This will take a while, and more space will be recovered. A weekly Scrub and Balance are both recommended. Scrub actually takes longer.
If you bicycle much using the most common shifting systems, you’ll need these. Thus far I am finding the instructions on Liv’s Cycling to be best for the rear, and wikihow or madegood.org for the front. The most important thing yet learned: instructions often get the “H” and the “L” limit screws reversed for whichever bicycle you’re on. Got to check it for each derailleur, by seeing the slight movement per half-turn of each screw. General thoughts:
- Mounting position has to be right. This is not very confusing in the various web resources studied.
- Each derailleur, front and rear, has an H screw and an L screw. On each, one screw sets the max deflection towards the frame, the other sets the max deflection away from the frame. These are called limit screws.
- Cable tension can simulate one of the limit screws. Use the tension caps on the gear control, or (when they are there) the caps on the derailleurs themselves, to relieve tension, to verify that you are seeing reality of limit screws, not the simulation of the cable tension :-) Which screw tension simulates, also varies by make and model and type of derailleur.