Gear review- Harbor Freight 5W solar kit

test materials

The image above shows what I used for this review. The 5W foldable solar kit, an iPad, an OEM Apple charger cord, and a length of 550 paracord.

Alright, so many of you know I’m going to be doing some traveling this spring. One of the things that have changed over the last twenty years are our devices. They need power. I plan on bringing a cell phone, an iPad, and I’ll pick up a burner cell phone in-country. I’d rather stay somewhat self-sufficient, so just in case I’ll have some light camping gear. Thinking along these lines, of course the Harbor Freight 5W foldable solar power array caught my eye.

In theory, how flipping cool. A lightweight, very portable set of solar panels to supply all of my vacationing power needs. As you can see from the image above, the panels power a USB, all you need is sun.

“All you need is sun.”

Those turned out to be fateful words when I gave the panels a test, because of course I bought them. Then I brought them home and started messing around with them, my intent was to power my 5th generation (2017) iPad.

How did it go?

Well, the first thing to do is to throw away the instructions. They are useless. Besides, they are unnecessary. Open the panels. Orient towards the sun. Plug in a device. Wait.

Day one.

This was not exactly a serious day. With high expectations from an old calculator of mine  (a Texas Instruments. The solar panel on it would work in a mine shaft, I swear) and Harbor Freight’s 100W solar array, I busted open the panels, vaguely oriented them toward the sun, plugged in my cell phone and walked away. Came back a couple of hours later, the panels were in the shade and I had gained a few percentage points of charge.

portable solar panel

Not good enough. By the way, a little light on the USB plug glows red when the panels are getting ideal charge. I figured this out when I started propping the device up against old dictionaries, etc.

It was obvious that this thing needed real sunlight, and my haphazard technique was to blame. It was time to get serious, so I watched YouTube and came up with the set-up below.

550 cord rig

Day two.

550 cord, a window facing south, and all should have been well. As you can see from the photo, it was not. The sun had disappeared. But when it was out, the iPad took a decent charge. For half of an hour. Welcome to February in Ohio. Have I said before this thing needs REAL direct sunlight? If not, let me emphasize that again. I charged from 0830 to 1430, six hours, and bumped up the iPad’s charge by a measly 5%.

Not good enough.

OK, I needed sun and a new plan. And have I mentioned that at this point I started to sour on the Harbor Freight panels? Because a tool that needs ideal circumstances to work is not a tool. It is a toy. But, I forged onward. Maybe it was my methodology, and yes, it was very overcast (it even snowed).

I was determined to make this work. Probably mostly because I didn’t want to spend 80 bucks on a real portable power unit. But I digress.

I brainstormed and came up with a technique for a long car ride to a friend’s party. And so Day Three’s misadventures were born.

Day Three.

I figured for sure that I could get a decent charge on my iPad on day three, check out the forecast.

forecast

Cold, but ample sun. So I rigged up the 550 cord/southern window setup again (see above), plugged everything in and went for my morning walk. The iPad started the day at 65% charge. By 1015 it was at 71%, so it was charging at twice the rate of yesterday. Then I switched things up for my road trip. See photo below.

road trip

I got back from the road trip at 1700 and the iPad was at 80%.

So there you have it. Under pretty ideal but real-world conditions, the HF kit will charge an iPad 15%. I’m sure this could be increased by constantly monitoring it and tinkering around. But as I said, real-world usage. Who has time to be messing about all day?

Not I.

Is this enough? I don’t know. It is probably true that this setup is meant for cell phones, an iPad is probably a stretch. So I hate to say it, but tool or toy- I guess it depends. For true heavy usage, try something else. For intermittent use, it should do the job.

Will I take it overseas?

Probably. It ain’t fancy, but it’ll do.

“I did my job.”

rpg 2

The photo above was taken in Afghanistan, 2011 with Advisor Team 1.6. Closest, left is Pete the Ranger.

I attended a remarkable gathering today, it was a celebration of the past career of Pete the Ranger. I’ve written at some length about this gentleman, he was my old Team Sergeant in Afghanistan. If you look back at 2017, you can find some of his pieces. Ham Slice, The Girl, The Tiger and the Monkey, Pete’s Ranger School Overview, Limits.

Now his time in the Army is through. He started off as a fresh eighteen year old before the First Gulf War. Pete went straight to the Ranger Regiment out of Basic and AIT, then directly to the Gulf. He attended many schools, fought on many fronts, was promoted and thrived. But you can find a lot of this stuff in the articles mentioned above. Today I took some pretty cool pictures of stuff I’ve never seen before, it was laid out on a display for family and friends, comrades.

Here’s Pete after the Gulf War.

young mike 2

Today’s article is going to be a bit of show and tell. Something I’d like to zoom in on is Pete’s old-school black Ranger beret. It is pure hell to earn the right to wear one of these.

flash

The colorful fabric “flash” is for the Ranger Regiment (the 75th). It has one horizontal red bar for 1st Battalion, Pete’s unit. Worn superimposed upon the flash is the enamel Regimental crest for the 75th with its distinctive red lightning bolt. This is worn only by these elite soldiers. Period.

Something else I chose to zoom in on is boots.

jungles

Nothing tells the story of an infantryman like his boots. The pair above is a worn almost to destruction pair of Vietnam-era jungle boots, they were still being issued through about 1992 or so. I used to have a pair. Mine went to Turkey, Mike’s went to South America and other garden spots.

And how could I miss his desert jungles?

deserts

There is no better boot, in my opinion. A shame the Army quit issuing them. They were replaced by an inferior product, of course. Hidden in the cracks of this pair is moon dust from Iraq and Afghanistan. The stuff never goes away, no matter how hard you scrub. Kind of like Lady MacBeth’s bloody hands.

There was a lot of stuff.

Here’s another hat, and my favorite picture.

tab pc

Readers, it is hard to describe what a total badass you are as a junior enlisted soldier to wear a hat like this. Pete passed Ranger School as an E-3(!), his rank on this hat is E-4 (Corporal). He eventually made it to Master Sergeant, E-8.

Well done, Pete.

He was asked to give a speech. Pete doesn’t do speeches. Today was no exception. What did he say, as a reflection on 30 years of long and painful service? Distinguished service that really was distinguished? What did he say to the nine present members of Advisor Team 1.6?

He looked us over, shook his head and spoke.

“I did my job.”

Freshly.com meal service- a review

ideal freshly meal

OK- foodies have not taken over my site; as I have said before this blog looks at technology, space, the future of things, entertainment and pretty much whatever I feel like talking about. Right now I’m trying out something which is going to be very big; internet just-on-time food services. In a few days I’ll be reviewing a bit of solar-powered travel gear, so keep an eye out for that, too.

So let’s get down to it. Does freshly.com deliver the goods?

Yes. And here’s why.

First, ease of ordering. I’m not the best in the world about this stuff, so the so-easy-to-use website was a definite plus. There were forty-odd menu choices for the week of February 18th, all I had to do was choose a couple. We went for the Peppercorn Steak and the Cod Cakes. I’m reviewing the Cod Cakes today, we’re eating the steaks on Monday. Spoiler: if the steaks are as good as the Cod Cakes, all will be well. I put in my payment stuff, and voila! The food was on its way.

Freshly assured me that it would arrive on Tuesday the 18th, it did. The order was correct, too. Stuff came in a cardboard box with biodegradable insulation and frozen gel packs. All was cool as a cucumber, and I think in August it would be OK, too. A concern of mine is the junk and clutter. Well, nearly everything is recyclable, including the food trays. And I thought of something to do with the insulation- I’ll save it and use it as… insulation on construction projects. It’s really good stuff. But I digress.

The box had six of these in it.

front

There is a meal in each one, these ones were 670 cal units. The back had the usual handy nutritional data.

back

As you can see, mostly natural good stuff with few additives. Quality food. The preparation was a snap, super simple, just follow the instructions on the packaging. I went a little conservative and eased up on the microwave time, nuked it for thirty seconds less. Worked fine.

But how did it look, smell, and taste? Was it satisfying?

I won’t keep you waiting.

Here’s what it actually looked like cooked, you can compare it to the ideal image above (forgive my humble plating skills).

how it actually looks

I should have taken the time to have arranged it exactly like Freshly’s stock photo.

It’s not as bright as the idealized image above, but then again the lighting wasn’t great and I used a cheap Samsung phone camera. But I think it looked pretty good, tasty. The meatball looking things are the Cod Cakes.

It smelled wonderful.

And the taste? Excellent. The potatoes tasted as they should have, their texture was perfect. Not rubbery or starchy, just good. The succotash was tasty, spicy, and very filling. The hero of the dish, the protein, was very nice. Flavorful, although I’ve never had Cod prepared quite like this.

The meal was a real hit, and it did exactly as intended for the two nights of the week where everything is too chaotic for a sit down, let alone cooking. It was filling, convenient, nutritious, and healthy.

No McDonalds required for- get this- less money.

Freshly.com. So far, highly recommend.

 

Crazier by the day

Screen Shot 2020-02-13 at 6.55.05 PM

So maybe I’m a sucker. For weeks I’ve been seeing an ad on Facebook for freshly.com, a subscription meal service. The first few times I saw it, I thought “how freaking ridiculous, too lazy to cook a meal.” Then I gave it some thought. A couple of nights a week it’s tough to get something out there, a lot of time on those busy nights we do take out. And how healthy is that? Also, if you compare costs it is comparable. Visit the site, check it out.

The fascinating thing for me is that this is something only possible in the last few years. For Pete’s sake, ordering food for everyone in the family and having it delivered here to the hinterland fresh? Unthinkable in my childhood, unworkable but a few years ago. You never see the people you pay, the food shows up fresh and on time. Hell, you don’t have to leave the house at all.

Jaw-dropping stuff.

There are some drawbacks that I can see. One is what to do with the packaging. I’m going to have to figure out some kind of recycling arrangement. But seriously, that’s about it. The prices are comparable, the food is safely prepared and healthy. Really, amazing stuff.

I was talking this over with an old friend today, our conversation ranged from Neuralink to Starship and all the stuff in between. We looked over the events of the past ten years, and wow has a lot happened.

For example, there is the realistic prospect of true Mars colonization by the time I die; the prospect for interstellar travel is out there as well. And speaking of death, there is the chance that we can be digitized. Whether that technology shows up in time for yours truly, I don’t know. Guess I’ll have to take my chances like my ancestors for the time being. By the second our cell phones and computers grow more powerful, our transportation more eco-friendly, safer and autonomous.

This is crazy stuff. Science fiction come to life, and we are living in an unbelievably exciting time.

It’s the Jetsons. Really.

If you want to be excited, there is no shortage of good, crazy news.

If you want to be frightened, that news is out there too.

Sometimes it’s the same.

 

NASA, Boeing, and the killer drone

killer drone

Read an interesting article today about the fraying relationship between NASA and Boeing. Really I don’t have much to add to the article except to say that it looks as if NASA is finally done with being fleeced and they are increasingly turning to people in private industry who are serious about exploration as opposed to milking the taxpayer for more guvvermint’ money.

Another article I encountered touches upon a theme that has reoccured in these pages; namely that we are wasting an enormous amount of money in manned aerial combat systems. You all know I’m talking about the F-35, the 150mil per pop waste of time.

This makes me want to tear my hair out when I look at that figure- 150,000,000 USD per base aircraft on what is essentially an expendable end item.

I know it sounds harsh, but weapons of war ARE expendable, and ultimately so are the operators. Looking at fairly recent history, I quail to think how US industry would replace a Midway Task Force, or the one that was sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea. Or how about Eighth Air Force losses mid 1943? Or even losses over Vietnam? If you scale those campaigns to the modern cost of our equipment, it would be disastrous, unsustainable.

It couldn’t happen again, you say.

LOL, prior to 1914 the then-fashionable wisdom was that the modern world was too economically interconnected for major warfare to crop up.

Well, we saw how that ended up. An entire generation lost in the mud and barbed wire.

So yeah, it can happen again.

Why are we busy fighting the last war? I think the next war will be the swan song of the manned aerial combat platform. I could hear the echoes of this future conflict while crouching in an old Soviet fighting position in Afghanistan, with the whispery voice of the Predator drone overhead.

Ten years ago it was actually a thing in the Air Force, debating combat awards for drone operators in Nevada.

I wonder how that ended up.

Going forward it is going to be the exception, looking your enemy in the eye. Actually, it already is.

That drone you see above? It’s real, and it’s stealthy. Does it cost 150mil USD? Hell no. and there’s no dead pilot to mourn, either. Send waves of them at another dinosaur, the US Navy carrier task forces, and for pennies on the dollar you send billions to Davy Jones’s Locker, along with thousands of dead sailors.

Armored Infantry in powered suits with top cover via drone- it’s not just pie-in-the-sky stuff in my books. It’s going to happen, and Boeing, et al can cry rivers of tears.

No, scratch that. Boeing won’t be crying, and neither will their upper management. They will have made their money.

The crying will be done by the families of our servicemen and women.

We need imagination and intelligent spending now. Not when it’s too late.

Because when the stealth drones appear in waves over our bases, the bill will come due.

 

The Antipodes

house winter 2020

The image above is what my house looks like today, the ninth of February, 2020. There’s ten centimeters / four inches of snow on the ground and it’s below freezing, of course. Winter is not my favorite time of the year, to say the least.

However, this year there is really little to complain about. Here we are in the middle of February and this is the first real snowfall we’ve gotten. There have been far harsher winters within recent memory, this one has been a pussycat so far.

But I still hate the cold. Maybe it was the falling snow that drove me to the computer, and to a travel website.

I researched tickets to Australia, the price in the timeframe I identified was actually very reasonable. Especially considering that it’s 9200 (!) miles from my house to Brisbane, a bit further to Sydney.

Well, I’ve been threatening this for a while. As the snow fell, I pushed the big red button on the travel website.

The button said “Pay Now.”

And just like that it was done.

Dates locked in, destination established, I booked my first overseas vacation since, well, an incredibly long time.

australian flag

So it’s going to happen, readers. I am going to Australia for the first time ever.

This is novel in so many ways. I’ve never been on a real overseas vacation as a civilian. My overseas experiences were all in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and South America. Never to the Pacific, and rarely beneath the equator. Not traveling on an official passport on orders, no weapons or war stuff.

Nope. I’m going to Oz as a strict gawking tourist, fresh off the boat.

My point of arrival in country and my base of operations on this iteration will be Brisbane.

I am very much looking forward to this; at the same time there’s a bit of trepidation. This really gets me out of my comfort zone; travel unrelated to duty.

Who knows, maybe I can get in some book/author stuff too.

After all, that’s the whole point. If it wasn’t for you all, readers, I would have never had this idea. In a few months I’ll sling my duffel over my shoulder and head south with Air Canada. As road trips go, this will be my longest one ever.

Australia or bust. Finally.

And this time it’s not on the King’s shilling.