Destroying My Garage

by Ben N on October 20, 2016

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but today I finally DESTROYED my garage! And no, not with a Solar Death Ray, nor dropping a bowling ball on it!

My whole secret master plan (If Elon Musk can have a master plan, so can I) is to rebuild my garage, but FAR better than it is now. Improvements will include a slightly larger footprint, an upstairs, insulation, a heated floor, a second electric car charging station, and 5,000 watts of solar power.

But first, I needed to make the garage go away. We already had our construction dumpster arrive. The other day, I removed the garage doors. And last night, somebody through Craigslist dragged them away. (God bless the “Free Stuff” section!)

Today, my brother, Wayne, stopped over for the big push of demolishing the garage. First thing was to decide HOW we would tear it down. Without the garage doors, the whole garage was already somewhat wobbly. It seemed better to bring the garage completely down to the ground, rather than working up on the roof. Come to think of it, I only used a ladder at all to hold my video camera!

IMG_1697We braced the structure from the outside by lag-bolting some long 2x4s to the frame and then to each other to make some giant triangles. That kept the garage from going anywhere while we removed all the cross-bracing – which was really only the siding on the back of the garage. After that, we removed the “downhill” brace.

As Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand (with a lever) and I can move the world.” We both grabbed our levers and lifted. Thankfully, the trick worked exactly as planning, turning the garage into a parallelogram flat on the ground.

After that, it was just A LOT of work, cutting off pieces and making them fit like Tetris into the dumpster.

Once we cleaned up, there was plenty of space to park an electric car. Unfortunately, no place to charge it. Not to fear, I already rewired the old garage breaker box on my back porch, and the EVSE cable can reach the driveway.

There’s still lots of work to be done. Next will be removing the old concrete. Then, plenty of digging, new concrete, and building the actual garage, followed by installing solar panels. It will be hard work, but exciting too.

Til Next Time, Stay Charged-Up! I know I am!



Fixing a Mouse

by Ben N on October 13, 2016


This morning, I fixed something. No, it wasn’t an engine, a motorcycle, or an electric car. I fixed my computer mouse… and I’m PROUD of it.

Earlier this week, I was doing some work as a “data wrangler” at a tech conference. I was at my computer all day, moving around and backing up camera footage of the event, which is now all solid state media, SD cards, and ones and zeros. However, I was getting extremely frustrated, as my computer was acting up. I finally tracked it down to my MOUSE button having gone bad. The second day, I brought my OTHER mouse, which worked considerably better, but the scroll wheel has a weird lump in it, which can make that mouse a little frustrating to use.

Both computer mouses are a very plain Logitech brand corded USB optical devices, which I have had FOREVER. (I remember bringing it to a class that I took 15 years ago.) I like that they are simple and work well, but maybe it’s time to replace them. So, I did a quick look online to see what was out there. Unfortunately, the same model mouse is no longer available. But I like THIS mouse!

That’s when I decided that I would just fix it. How hard could it be!?

IMG_0669I flipped my mouse over. This is the first one, which had the bad button. On the bottom is a single Philips head screw. Not a weird “anti-tamper” screw. Not a “Warranty Void if this seal is broken” sticker. Just a plain old screw. I unscrewed it and pulled the mouse cover apart. The front edge had a lip, holding the case together. With one small tug, the top cover was removed.

Inside, I could clearly see the micro-switches for the left and right mouse buttons, as well as the scroll wheel. I tested the left button micro-switch, and sure enough, it didn’t feel like it clicked as solidly as the right switch did. Upon inspecting the scroll wheel, I also noticed that it came right out, simply by lifting it. In a clever bit of design work, whoever created this mouse did so in such a way that the single screw and cover pretty much held together EVERYTHING. I was able to simply lift the wheel out.

IMG_0666On the other mouse, the one with the bad wheel, I took it apart and removed the scroll wheel. Sure enough, the wheel itself was out of round. I pulled off the rubber cover and could see that the plastic of the wheel was damaged. I think this mouse got slammed in a hard case once upon a time, which actually physically damaged the wheel. With the old wheel out of the mouse, I slid the new one it, plugged the mouse into the computer and tested it. The mouse worked great!

After that, it was just a matter of putting the cover back on and the screw back in place.

Instead of sending two mice to the electronics graveyard, paying good money for a new one, along with the embodied energy and environmental costs on new manufacturing, I had a like new mouse for just a little curiosity, a screwdriver, and five minutes of work.

So, no, this post isn’t about electric cars, but I think it still shows how we can go a whole lot farther on a whole lot less.

Till next time, Stay Charged-Up!



PS: What should I do with the first mouse? It no longer has a the wheel, and the main button is only intermittent. However, it’s still a USB-powered laser! I’m thinking that in itself could be a whole lot of fun for a project!


Maker Faire Milwaukee & the Worlds Largest Doodle

by Ben N on September 29, 2016


This past weekend, I presented at Maker Faire Milwaukee, showing off an electric lawn mower, an electric mini-bike, and Solar Death Ray. But probably the best part was helping hundreds of kids have fun LITERALLY coloring on the floor!

Besides my booth, I also volunteered to provide paper and crayons for an interactive exhibit entitled THE WORLDS LARGEST DOODLE.

I rolled out 400 square feet of paper. This was “Seamless Paper” which is used as photographic backdrops. I ended up purchasing a large lot of it at an auction some time ago. I’ve used some of it for video backdrops, but many of the rolls of paper are short lengths or slightly odd colors. Some of the other paper was already covered in footprints on one side. Long story short, this paper is recycled/reused and wasn’t going to get used for it’s original intended purpose anyways.

The paper is 9 feet wide. So, I made sort of a patchwork of paper to fit the 20′ x 20′ exhibit space. Next, I put out over 800 crayons.

There were no directions for the kids, other than “Please Draw Something” and “Have Fun”. I didn’t put out any signs saying “Make sure to share” or even “Don’t write any naughty words!” Nope. No direction like that*. I figured it would be interesting to see what happened. What would they draw? Would kids write dirty words everywhere? Would there be political commentary? I looked forward to finding out.

(*Once I had everything set up, I did make a few small signs asking people to please remove their shoes. I noticed that just with me walking on the paper how quick and easy it was to accumulate dirty footprints on the art space.)

I also set up a time-lapse camera to see what would happen. Unfortunately, the camera didn’t work for the morning (a bad SD Card!) so I only got time lapse of Saturday afternoon.

The paper looked nice and full far before the end of the day. People crammed doodles in all available space. There were quite a few scribbles, but I think that’s because there was a rather large amount of very young children. Parents appreciated just being able to set down their toddlers to let them play freely for a while. The First Robotics students also used the space as a way to promote their own teams by drawing up their logos. Overall, there were robots, unicorns, video game characters, and other recognizable characters from pop culture, along with simple shapes and objects like an eye or a fish.

IMG_1383Unfortunately, at the end of day one, not ONE SINGLE CRAYON made it back into a box! Perhaps I SHOULD have given a little more direction… After about an hour of picking up crayons and sweeping, I was able to roll out fresh paper over the top of the first doodle, in preparation for Sunday.

On Day Two, I had the time lapse camera running the whole time.

The second day’s doodle was a little different. I noticed a few people were trying to promote themselves on social media by writing down hash-tags and snapchat handles. There was also a few more Doctor Who references (A Dalek army was right on the other side from the Doodle!) and there were some very nice doodles done by talented adults. I think I saw more adults doodling on the second day than on the first. Nowhere did the exhibit specifically say that adults COULD or COULDN’T participate. However, we tend to think of coloring with crayons as a children’s activity. Part of why I titled this project as a “Doodle” was to imply that neither what was drawn or the artist’s skill level was important; just start drawing!

My projects tend to be about recycling. I’ve been doing quite a bit with electric vehicles and renewable energy lately. But at the center of everything I’m doing, it’s really about education and ENCOURAGEMENT. Don’t think you can build an electric car? I didn’t think I could either. Don’t think you can draw? No problem. Grab a crayon, nobody will know whose doodle is whose anyways.

For a lot of things in life, we really don’t know what the end result is, but if you just get started… whether that’s picking up a wrench or a crayon, the end result can be amazing!

‘Til next time, stay charged up!

*PS. A big “Thank You” to all of the organizers and volunteers that help make Maker Faire Milwaukee happen!



iMiEV Trailer Wiring Installation

by Ben N on September 12, 2016


Not long ago, I got the Torklift Central hitch installed on my car. As is, the car is ready for a hitch-mounted bike carrier or cargo tray, but to properly tow a trailer, I need a wire harness to connect to the trailer lights. So, I got out my wire strippers and set to work…

To start with, the Mitsubishi iMiEV is NOT a particularly common car, so there wasn’t any stock wiring that I could simply plug in. When I went to add a trailer connection to my S-10 truck, I simply bought a harness that plugged right in to the tail-light quick connect. No such luck being able to purchase something similar for this car. Instead, I mail ordered a Curt brand powered taillight converter. That device takes a signal from the tail-light, turn-signals, and brake light (3-wire system) and converts is down to the two-wire system a typical trailer uses.

IMG_1153I ordered a Curt 56146, which was a little more than twenty dollars on It also required a separate wiring kit, which is simply another piece of wire and a fuse. I already had those materials around, so I didn’t even bother to order the Curt 55151 kit that would match.

In the rear-right corner of the car, there’s a removable panel, which gives access to the right tail-light connection. It’s also a great spot to place the Curt adapter and to roll up and store the trailer flat-four wiring. While I could access the tail-light connection from there, it was a tight fit, and I quickly realized that I should simply remove the plastic interior body panel.

With that out of the way, I had an easy view of the connection to the tail-light.

I also needed to know which wires performed the turn-signal, brake, and tail-light functions. One way would be to consult a repair manual wire diagram. However, I found a forum post at the MyiMiEV group where a user there had already identified which color wires were required.

I unplugged the tail-light connection and used a multi-meter to test the pins. That way, I could confirm that I had the wires correct. For example, I could put the positive connection of the multimeter onto the blue wire, connect the negative of the multi-meter to ground, and then activate the car’s right turn signal. On the multi-meter, I could see the voltage jump back and forth between 0V and 12V, indicating the car was flashing the right blinker.

IMG_1211With confidence that I had the colors right, I pinched the wires from the converter into the existing wires with the included “vampire clips”. Although this style connection is notorious for corrosion, all connections are on the INTERIOR of the car, where they will be out of the weather, and should hold up fine. The color codes of the car’s wires are as follows:
2012 Mitsubishi iMiEV (American Market)
Light Green = Right Tail Light
Violet = Brake Light
Blue = Right Turn Signal
(Dark) Green = Left Turn Signal

IMG_1201The Left Turn Signal is a Green Wire, but it’s located over on the left (Driver’s) side. I pulled back the interior body panel on that side, found the green wire, and tapped into it with a length of separate wire that I used as an extension to get the signal back over to the passenger side. There, I used a butt-splice connector to attach the wire to the Curt adapter.

With that, all of the cars wires were connected to the adapter. The adapter itself still needed 12V positive power and a ground connection. The ground was simple, I just pulled out one bolt that was already going into the sheet-metal body, slid it into the ring terminal on the ground connection, and then reinstalled the bolt. 12V positive power was more complicated.

IMG_1204The Curt powered converter requires 12V+ power of up to 10 amps. That means I needed to run a wire all the way to the front of the vehicle, through a fuse, and straight to the battery. I unrolled some 14 ga stranded wire, with a white jacket (which is also what I used to get the left turn signal to the right side.) I ran the wire from the back of the vehicle to the front, making sure I would have plenty of length. I removed the various lower interior plastic body panels, and ran this wire along side the existing wire harness in the car. I found that on the passenger side “B-Pillar” that I would have had to uninstall the seat belt to remove the panel. Instead, I simply removed the panels on either side, and fished the wire through.

I continued to bring the wire up under the passenger side of the dashboard. I have previously installed a “parking heater” on this car, and I needed to pass some wiring through the fire-wall. I did that at a penetration that’s on the floor right behind the center console, just below the HVAC controls. I reused this location by passing my wire though it.

IMG_1208Under the car, I pulled through the extra wire.
Next, from outside the front of the car, I ran a heavy piece of wire from near the battery, down through the maze of pipes and wires under the hood to my white wire, so that I could fish it back up. It’s much easier to try to pull a wire up and out than to try to push it!

Next, I crimped on a solderless wire connector butt-splice from the wire to a dedicated automotive fuse holder. On the other end of the fuse holder, I crimped on a ring terminal of an appropriate size to go to my battery.

With NO FUSE in the holder, I connected the ring terminal to the battery. Then, I headed back to the rear of the car, gently tugged out any slack, cut my 14 ga wire, and connected it to the Curt converter. Once all that was done, and I knew I wouldn’t accidentally have the wire grounded, I put the fuse back in the fuse holder at the front of the car.

Light_testerAt that point, all the electrical connections were made. I attached a trailer light tester to my new trailer wiring and tried it out by turning on the car, pressing the brake, using the turn signal, turning on the lights, and even remembering to test the hazard lights. The appropriate lights always came on the tester, so I knew I was ready to go.

After that, it was simply a matter of reinstalling all the plastic interior body panels.

All in all, the actual installation was very straight-forward. By far, the most complicated and time-consuming aspect was to run the 12V wire to the front of the vehicle for power. On a vehicle which has the battery in the rear (like a Prius or a Volt,) the installation would actually be VERY easy.

I also really like how the trailer wires can just be rolled up and set inside the small panel in the back corner. It’s a great way to keep everything out of the way when I’m NOT trailering!

I look forward to doing some towing with this car. I already tested pulling my Teardrop Camping Trailer, and was really pleased with how well it all worked (although that was with a jerry-rigged trailer light connection!) I think I’m going to get plenty of use out of my old utility trailer with this car. I’m working on rebuilding my garage, and need to transport quite a few items from my garage to a temporary storage facility while I work on the project.

Lots of short trips?! Sounds like a perfect job for an electric car! This time, with a trailer!

‘Til Next Time, Stay Charged Up!



LEAF Mower

by Ben N on September 4, 2016


Yesterday, I was doing some yard work, including mowing my lawn. However, the batteries in my old electric push mower were really running down. Time for an upgrade. I looked around and realized that I had nearly all the parts needed to not just replace the batteries, but to upgrade them to Lithium…

I got this mower a few years back from my friend, Rob, when he was moving. At the time, it worked pretty well, running on two 12V, 17AH sealed lead-acid batteries. The batteries have slowly been losing capacity, and the mower noticeably bogs down when pushing too fast or going through extra long grass. I checked the batteries. At the point where I could really feel the mower slowing, I stopped and checked the voltage. It was at 12.5V per battery, which should be fine, but seeing as how the voltage drops under load, it was time to replace them.

I already had four Nissan Leaf cell modules around. I bought them because I was able to get a good deal – they were the last four modules from a group buy that a friend of a friend did. I had really gotten them for use in an electric mini-bike, but I really needed to mow my lawn right now a lot more than I needed to zip around the yard on a cycle.

IMG_1047The first step was to remove the old batteries. Those were surrounded by a hunk of foam, which I pulled out, and then by a strap, which held the batteries in place. I removed the screws holding down the strap. Next, I removed the two screws holding the power wires to the battery terminals. After that, I could simply push the wires out of the way, and take out the batteries.

Next, I set a Leaf cell module in the mower. Holy Cow! I couldn’t believe how good the fit was! The mower’s battery bay is nearly a foot wide – just enough for the Leaf batteries to run crosswise with enough room for the terminals on the end.

IMG_1053The whole bottom of the mower is plastic. While there’s plenty of structure there to hold the batteries, it’s not exactly flat or even. I cut a piece of corrugated plastic to fit the bottom of the mower. That also covered up a hole worn through the bottom of the mower, which could let cut grass in to the battery compartment. I also notched the two corners of the coroplast so that I would be able to get threaded rod down into the corners of the mower to mount down the batteries.

Nissan Leaf cell modules are rectangular aluminum cans with four lithium pouch cell inside, two in series, two in parallel. The cans stack on top of each other, just like tuna cans in a cupboard. In each corner is a hole and the cans are held together with rods through the corners, then tightened down to compress the modules to each other. I looked through my pile of project materials and found four pieces of scrap 1/4-20 threaded rod and some matching nuts and washers.

IMG_1058One thing that I DIDN’T have was a full set of spacers. The Leaf modules are not completely flat. In the Leaf electric car there is a pair of 1/8th” thick steel spacers between each pair of modules. It helps line them up, and there are holes in the spacers for the threaded rod as well. I DID have some spare 1/8″ angle aluminum. After cutting and grinding one of those to make a pair of flat spacers, I ended up going to the hardware store to grab some actual flat stock, which ended up being much easier to work with. To mark the holes in the spacers, I just set them on a cell module and stuck a marker right through the hole. After that, I drilled a hole in the aluminum with a 1/4″ drill bit.

With all four modules stacked up, with spacers between them, I ran the 1/4-20 threaded rod through, and put nuts and washers on both ends.

IMG_1063Since the cells were now physically bolted together, I could add the bus bars. I had a few kicking around, but they were too long. (I believe these were from the salvaged Mitsubishi iMiEV battery pack.) I put a bus bar into my vise, cut off the extra length with the angle-grinder, and drilled a new 1/4″ hole. After testing to make sure the new bus bar was right, I made two more of them the same way, then put them on the battery pack and hand-tightened them down. Tightening screws into battery terminals is one place where you don’t want to use an impact wrench!

IMG_1065Next, I lifted the battery pack into the mower, and marked where the two threaded rods on the rear side of the mower would line up. I drilled holes in those locations, so that the threaded rod would poke through the bottom of the mower to be bolted into place. I also weighed the battery pack, as I had my new battery pack, the original battery pack, and my bathroom garage scale handy. The original battery (2x17AH 12V) weighed in at about 33 lbs. The new battery weighed 38 lbs. 5 pounds heavier! Yipes! I thought lithium was supposed to be lighter! Well, it is for the same capacity. The Nissan Leaf cell modules are rated at 60A, and I needed at least 3 of them to get to the appropriate 24V range of the mower. I had four, so I figured that would give me around 30V and higher capacity. The trade off is that the mower gained a few pounds.

I had to make the electrical connection BEFORE fully inserting the battery, as I wouldn’t have easy access to the bottom negative terminal once the battery was fully in. Also, the existing wires were a little short, so it was a bit of wrestling to get all the wires to reach, but I was able to do with with no other modification other than drilling out the ring terminals slightly to fit the larger screws used on the new cells. Once connected, I lowered the battery the rest of the way in, making sure the threaded rods ran through the bottom.

IMG_1097At that point, I flipped the mower up on the side and put on washers, lock washers, and nuts. I realized that the extra threaded rod was longer than my deep sockets, and had to trim down the rod by a few inches. The cut off disc on my angle grinder made quick work of it. I tightened down the nuts on the threaded rod and could feel the battery pack pull down into the mower.

With the mower on its side, I also used a “flapper disc” to touch up the blade. A sharp mower doesn’t just cut better, it’s also more efficient and draws less current than the battery.

IMG_1078With the mower together, I took it was a test run. Wow! When I fired it up, I could instantly tell that the mower spun faster. The new battery pack was about 6 volts higher. On DC motors, speed is generally proportional to voltage. Higher Voltage means Higher Speed.

The mower cut great! A faster spinning blade cut better. It did weigh a LITTLE bit more, which wasn’t so bad, as I figure it’s just good exercise.

I checked the battery voltage before and after cutting my entire side yard. it was just below 31V when I started and a little below 30V when I finished. That’s a lot of mowing for only a 1 volt drop!

IMG_1067Looking at the cover I have for the mower, I realized that I might actually be able to fit the cover back on, pretty much unmodified! I set the cover in place, but it couldn’t go down all the way because of the extra threaded rod sticking up. With the cover in placed, I smacked the cover with a rubber mallet so that the threaded rod would indent on the plastic. I then pulled the cover off and drilled two 1/4″ holes through it.
IMG_1113I placed the cover back on, slid it all the way down, and fastened it in place with a pair of fender washers and wing nuts. The cover was originally held in place with a number of odd screws. I never liked those. They were hard to line up and had a non-standard head. Two wing nuts makes replacing the cover much easier.

Now with the cover in place, I mowed my entire front yard. Overall, the mower works great! I will likely make a few more modifications still. I don’t have a dedicated charging system yet. The original charger is based on a 26V AC adapter. I need higher voltage than that for a full charge on the new battery pack. I have both a bench power supply and a “Cell Pro 6″ charger which I could charge with, but I’ll want some sort of a quick-release adapter.

I’d also like to have a digital volt meter right on the mower. Perhaps I can order a small, inexpensive panel meter, cut a hole right in the cover, and mount it there.

There’s also some potential for DIRECT solar charging of this mower.

That’s it for now. I gotta get back to mowing the rest of the lawn.

‘Til next time, stay charged up!

PS: What’s the battery capacity? The original was 2 x 12V x 17AH or 408 watt-hours. The new modules are rated at 500 watt-hours each, or 2,000 wh total. The new battery is nearly 5 times the capacity of the original. Come to think of it, if this mower were instead a motorcycle, it would have about a 20 mile range.

PPS: Out of pocket cost for this project was about ten bucks for some aluminum from the hardware store. While I wouldn’t necessarily encourage people to spend several hundred dollars on lithium batteries to upgrade mowers, this was built almost entirely with materials I already had on hand! Use what ya got!