Information Echo

Welcome to Information Echo...formerly "Pilots Licence 101".

This blog chronicles my experiences beginning in the summer of 2004 as a student pilot, aiming to achieve my lifelong goal of obtaining my pilots licence.

Now, having completed my training and achieved my dream, I will continue to share my experiences henceforth.

Join me, won't you?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


It's something we've all become accustomed to. Our lives revolve around it, even though few of us stop to think about what life would be without it in todays modern times.

I was walking through my favourite guy-store today and came across the line of power Inverters. For those not in the know, a power inverter takes 12 Volts DC and converts it to 120 Volts AC - basically, household current.

The advantages? Places where there is no access to AC current (camping, cottage, in your car) you can now have the luxury of such.

Why was I thinking about this? Well, the upcoming trip to Oshkosh will be pretty much devoid of electricity at our campsite, as I understand it.

Is this a big issue in the broad scheme of things? Not really - I'm used to camping without power, and not being able to bring along all the "Creature comforts" of home isn't a huge deal for the duration of the Oshkosh trip. Besides, getting away from all of the technology of everyday life is what camping is about, no?

As long as I can keep my PDA/Cellphone charged, and have a few sets of extra batteries on hand for my digital camera, it's all good. For me, and for the nature of this trip, those two items are necessities.

But, I'm considering getting a new inverter (or a generator) for use outside of camping.

Inverters are pretty common now, with small inverters being available for the $20 to $30 range. I own a 300 Watt version myself, which is compact enough to not be overly bulky, yet powerfull enough to run some light equipment. It will not, however, power larger household items such as appliances - it simply does not output enough power.

It also requires a 12 Volt power source - be it a car, or a battery bank.

I have another "backup power" device in my garage - a Motomaster Powerbox, which is an 'all-in-one' power solution. It too, however, is too small to power large appliances, although it is convenient for camping and travelling. I suspect this little unit will come along for the trip to Oshkosh to at least provide a few days of (albeit limited) 120 Volt power for us to keep our digital cameras and phones charged up.

During the blackout in 2003 that plunged the entire eastern seaboard of the USA and Canada into darkness for a full day (up to 2 or 3 in some areas), our small inverter came to the rescue, powering some essential equipment at my workplace for many hours, and then running flat-out again in the evening here at home to provide us with at least minimal power. While everyone else was sitting in their pitch black houses trying to make their way from room to room, we had our living room lights on, the TV and satellite box up and running to stay on top of the news, and believe it or not, we were surfing the internet for a short while.

Then, we turned it all off, and went outside to mingle with all of the neighbours who were out socializing in the pitch black dark.

It was really a unique situation, as anyone who experienced it could attest to. The sense of community was amazing as everyone mingled out into their backyards, and up and down the street socializing. I met people on my street that I had never met before. And of course, it was amazing to be able to actually see the night sky in all it's glory in the usually light-polluted city.

Anyhow.. back on topic. The inverter did come in extremely usefull regardless of the fact that for the limited number of hours we were in the dark, we could have done without it.

However, when it came to plugging in our fridge or chest freezer, we were out of luck - 300 watts was simply not enough.

Thankfully it was rather moot - our electricity came back on at about the 17 hour point, so we didn't loose anything in either or fridge or freezer. Others were not so lucky.

So, todays trip through the guy-store had me thinking about the luxury that we have all come to appreciate - electricity. I was thinking that perhaps it was time to invest in a larger inverter, or perhaps a small generator.

If the power goes out again, it's less of a problem - plug the inverter into one of the cars in the driveway, run an extension cord to required electical item, and plug it in. For a few hours of outage, it's not worth bothering with backup power, but for a day or more, the losses start to mount, so a backup power source would quickly pay for itself.

Is something as serious as the 2003 blackout likely to happen again? It's difficult to say - the blackout back then was due to the "perfect storm" of failure througout the grid which resulted in a massive failure and shutdown of generating stations everywhere. I was in Pickering Ontario at the exact moment of the failure here in Ontario. Pickering is home to the Pickering A and Pickering B Nuculear generating station - 8 reactors - a massive facility. I was within sight of it when things went dark.

Shortly after the lights went out, the next thing I heard was massive roars from the nuclear facility as they vented steam to the atmosphere. The clouds were amazing to see, although a little concerning - It was the first minutes of what was clearly a major blackout, and then seeing a sight like that from the nuclear facility was a little disconcerting.

The reactors were Scraming due to the completely uncontrolled nature of the grid collapse. It was a real mess, but at least it was safe.

The following days were an adventure as the grid slowly came back online. A nuclear reactor takes up to 48 hours to restart after shutdown, and with the majority of Ontario relying on these nukes, it meant several days of power shortages.

Anyhow, the long and the short of it was that although we had power, we didn't have much of it. Those who didn't conserve (AKA leaving the air conditioners off) threatened to throw the rest of us who *did* back into darkness.

Additionally - with the way that the government of Ontario has bungled our energy policy and failed to think ahead, it's entirely possible that temporary blackouts may become more common. Anyhow who lives here has become accustomed to hearing frequent "Energy Appeals" during the summer months as the grid strains under the load of humming A/C units. At several points last summer Ontario Hydro warned us that we were bordering on system failure due to the loads, and they resorted to voltage reductions (Brownouts, basically) to keep the system up and running.

Sad...and somewhat scary. Our hydro system here in Ontario is extremely fragile right now, and due to the rapid pace of expansion versus the foot-dragging on the energy policy by our government, a crisis is very near.

Having some sort of standby or backup power beyond my tiny little inverter would be nice.

I've noticed a signifigant increase in people with generators or large inverters in their garage since the blackout. "Be prepared" is the story. Most of us still remember the blackout, and it was a wakeup call for everyone, making us all realize that even something as 'routine' as electricity can dissapear.

I didn't jump on the "Buy a generator" bandwagon then, but I'm thinking about it now.

If the power went out this time of year, we would be in serious trouble within a matter of hours - the house would be getting increasingly cold, we'd have no method of cooking or heating, and the pipes would start freezing solid within 24 hours or so, depending on the outside temperature.

In the summer, the lack of A/C is not a huge deal, but loosing hundreds of dollars worth of food in our Fridge/Freezers is a big deal. Shivering in the cold in the winter is a big deal as well.

So, backup power has a year-round appeal.

And it would also lend itself to trips like Oshkosh (or camping) where power isn't immediately available, but would still be handy.

So, I'm looking very seriously at the possibilities...


At 2/22/2006 08:37:00 PM , Blogger Paul Tomblin said...

Speaking of the Powerbox, I think I might get my own as well. My cell phone should keep a charge for that amount of time, but I'll probably need the charge either the iPod or my laptop to download pictures from the camera, and my camera needs hideously expensive rechargable batteries so I only have one.

At 2/22/2006 09:05:00 PM , Blogger Oshawapilot said...

My own cellphone PDA doohickey is a notorious power pig - it will last about a day and a half assuming light usage, although it's constantly sync'ing to the backend service even when it seems otherwise idle, so it consumes battery power fairly rapidly even when one is not emailing, surfing, or IM'ing on it. I'll use it sparingly, so it should only need a change once, twice tops, depending on how much data we should happen to use it for.

The camera and iPod and such are no problem though - the powerbox will supply many hours of power for low draw items like battery chargers and such. The father-in-law has another (larger, yet compact enough to travel with) powerbox that I could easilly borrow as well, which would provide us (between the two of them) more then enough power for the duration of the trip.

It would save you buying one...unless your thinking like I am, and always appreciate a little backup power at home in the future. :)

But between the two of them, we could probably bring a laptop at that point for dumping off memory cards, etc, and not have any worries about power.

At 2/22/2006 09:30:00 PM , Blogger Paul Tomblin said...

After the big power outage, I got a honking big UPS for my main computer because the previous one hadn't lasted long enough for me to hear the alarm and get down the stairs to shut down the computer. This one even has a serial port so that it can shut down my computer before it runs out of power. At least I hope so - I've never have the nerve to test it.

But yeah, I'm thinking another power backup might be a good idea.

At 2/23/2006 07:38:00 AM , Blogger Oshawapilot said...

I'm not that worried about my desktop upstairs shutting down gracefully, so I don't have a UPS on it. If I start using my webserver for more then it is now, I may change my mind about that.

My Laptop will run for about 4 hours after any outage, so it survives just fine.

I did buy a UPS to provide backup to my VoIP hardware, and my router/cable modem...during any blips or short outages (Which thankfully are rare, despite my post) it keeps our phone line alive.

...the one downfall of VoIP - when the power dies, unless your backed up, your phone dies with it. Since we no longer have a traditional phone line, and have switched completely to VoIP, this is an important consideration.

At 4/14/2006 03:29:00 PM , Blogger Donna said...

Hello: You seem to be knowledgeable in 2 areas that I am desperately lacking in and I am wondering if you can help me with a few minutes of your expertise. I have a test report & recertification from BAE Systems for 10Kva power inverters / rectifier control units and I do not understand it. They are supposed to be 3 phase units for the C-130 J-series and also selected E & H series aircraft, to provide clean power for the co-pilots controls. Would you be willing to let me email the report to you for your interuptation? I also have photos I could send. I would appreciate it more than words can say. I have 10 of these and desperatly need to sell them on, but cannot speak intelligently about them or answer questions about them. The units tests are by LOCKHEED MARTIN / BAE SYSTEMS

PART 8002250G001 (8002250G1) - ATP8002250


Very best regards,


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