Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Batteries

Rain Bird SST 600S Irrigation Controller
We have a sprinkler system that automatically waters the lawn. There is a electronic controller hanging on the wall in the garage that determines when the lawn gets water. It is just a fancy timer. This combination worked well enough for the last 20 years or so, but this summer things got a little out of control. For one thing, we had some very hot weather, and for another, we had several power outages. Neither was a big problem by itself, but put together and things started looking dicey for the lawn (our pretty green lawn).
    Every time there is a power outage, whether it is for hours or just a blip that lasts a fraction of a second, the irrigation controller loses its mind. When that happens, and if no one notices, the lawn doesn't get watered. In a couple of days it starts to look a little brown.
    We've been here for 20 years and there have been a couple of power outages, but not many, until this year. This year we have had a rash of them. Some of them were so short I wasn't sure if it really happened or whether I just blinked, but every time it happened the controller would lose its mind and I would have to reprogram it.

     This spring I was talking to my neighbor and he was telling me about this fancy new irrigation controller he got that the city was paying for on account of it saved water. At the time I poo-poo-ed it. Just what I need, a project to replace a perfectly good piece of equipment. Yes, the city might pay for it, but it's going to be a hassle getting the refund, and who needs another hassle?
    But now with power being so flakey and the lawn turning brown, I'm thinking okay, maybe a new controller isn't such a bad idea, so I look on the internet and find bupkis. Well, not bupkis exactly, but the solution doesn't leap off of the net. There is no end to controllers, but if you want to get a refund, you need to get one that is on the EPA's 'approved list', and that cuts it down considerably.
    My neighbor got a Rain Bird unit for a claimed price of $80, but he must have gotten one of last year's models because Rain Bird doesn't make that controller anymore. They have new controllers, but they cost $250, which is over the $200 refund limit, so that would mean $50 out of my pocket to replace something that isn't technically broken. You can see that wasn't going to fly with me.
    More poking around, more searching. The EPA's list is long, but I haven't heard of most of the companies. One outfit, HydroPoint, has a bunch of controllers on the list, so I start looking for one. Can't find one on the net, so I call them. They give me the names of two distributors, neither one of which knew what I was talking about. Okay, fine.
    Root around some more and finally find the last (last-year's-model) Rain Bird controller for sale from Fly-By-Night enterprises. $125, new, but the box is 'shopworn' (battered is what they mean). The price is under the limit, so I should be able to get it all back, so I go ahead and order it.

    The new controller arrives a few days later and I set about installing it. First step is to remove the old controller, and when I open it up to get to the mounting screws, what do I find? A connector for a 9 Volt battery. Huh, didn't know that was there. I'm glad I didn't know about it because if I had I might have tried to alleviate the power problem by installing a 9 Volt battery. What's wrong with that you might ask?
     A 9 Volt battery might seem like a reasonable way to keep an electronic clock running when the power fails, but in my experience they are nothing but trouble. We have smoke alarms in our house. They are wired to the electrical power system and to each other, so if one goes off they all go off. They also all have 9 Volt batteries, you know, in case the power fails AND you have a fire. All very reasonable and not a problem. But one smoke alarm kept eating batteries. They would last a few months or maybe a year and then it would start with that annoying intermittent beeping telling me that the battery was dead. So now I've got to get the step stool out, step up and take down the smoke detector, drive to the store and buy a stupid 9 Volt battery. I don't keep a supply of them at home like I do double-A's and triple-A's because the only thing that uses them is this one stupid smoke detector. Besides, they cost like $4 each, which is kind of a rip. I eventually took that smoke alarm down.
    You know, it would have been worthwhile if it every saved us from a fire, but all it ever did was complain about my cooking. Stupid smoke detector.

9 Volt Battery
    Actually, the smoke alarms aren't the only thing that uses 9 Volt batteries. Most of the half dozen alarm clocks in our house have this 'feature' as well, but it doesn't work very well. By the time the power fails the battery has lost it's charge and the clock loses its mind. One way to alleviate this problem is to replace these batteries on a regular schedule, like once a year, but with half a dozen clocks and three smoke detectors, that's nine batteries, and at four bucks a piece that starts to look like real money. Every year. And the power hardly ever fails! Forget you, buddy.

    While we are contemplating our irrigation controller problem, we notice that something has started beeping in the garage. It doesn't happen often, maybe once every few hours. Had no idea what it was until we started working on the controller in earnest and we were in the garage long enough to track it down. Turns out it's our FIOS-Internet-Cable TV-Telephone connection box. Seems it has a battery that needs to be replaced. This one is more the size of a motorcycle battery. I look on Amazon, but they want to sell me something similar, something that doesn't have this particular model number. Also, their dimensions are a little sketchy, and the battery compartment doesn't have any extra room. I don't want to 'adjust' the compartment, I want a battery that fits, so I go to the local battery store where they have exactly the right animal. It's $35, roughly twice what Amazon wants, but we get it now and be done with it.
    The annoying part of this is that I suspect that the battery is only a backup for the land-line phone system, which we no longer have. The TV isn't going to work without power, and while laptop computers will, all the internet connections go through the router, which gets its power from a wall socket.

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