Saturday, July 31, 2010

I realize I've been kind of quiet about it on my blog, but for the next few months, I will be in Belize learning electronics from my Uncle, who works quite a bit with electronics. Today is close to my third week in Belize, and it's been pretty busy so far. I don't have much opportunity to use the internet, so that's why I'm just now writing for the first time.

Living out here in the jungle, there are no public utilities, so my Aunt and Uncle provide their own infrastructure. For electricity, the house is powered off of two large arrays of solar panels, which charge an array of 12 lead-acid batteries. The DC voltage is converted into 120 V AC supply using a converter and inverter. During cloudy days and days during heavy energy demand such as when the washer and dryer are being used, a gas generator is used to power the house up. I've found I have to be very careful to turn off lights behind me and unplug all unused electronics, because it is easy to overload the system and cause it to shut down. I simply need to plug in my laptop sometimes, and the entire house loses power.

Water is collected from rain water. The roof of the house is designed so all the water that hits the roof flows into gutters, and is collected in large tanks. The water is then heavily filtered and supplied to the house at 40 psi. There is no hot water, so all my showers have been cold lately; it's not a big deal in this climate, anyway. Right now, I'm staying in the guest house, which is its own separate building apart from the main house, consisting of a bedroom and bathroom. The house has it's own separate water collection system, and the electricity is supplied using an extension cord from the main house.

The first few days here, I worked through a few Electrical Engineering problems, refreshing myself on concepts that have been taught to me during my time at the University of Washington. After my crash refresher course, I was put on a project of getting a 6502 microprocessor emulator device my Uncle built before I was even born to work again, and to upgrade the memory on the board. Originally, the project entailed just getting the circuit working. I was a bit intimidated looking at the tangled mass of wires, some of which have become disconnected, so I need to figure out where they used to go. Also, I was relatively new to soldering when I came down, and the last couple weeks has been a crash course into how to solder together prototype circuits. Soon, the project evolved into modifying the circuit to include an updated SRAM, since they evolved since he designed the circuit. Later, I found there were major revisions to the circuitry I needed to make to cause the circuit to run properly, so I ended up taking a lot of the circuitry apart and rebuilding it, and improved on the design quite a bit. I'm in the process of testing the logic and rewiring the circuit, and I have a feeling this project might take a while longer before I'm even ready to start programming it with Forth (a stack-based microcontroller programming language which very few people use, because it was oversold in the 1970's). After that, I might design a control circuit for a gas generator, which automatically starts and shuts down the generator to ensure adequate battery voltage. Also, one of the Mennonites at a hardware store is requesting a microprocessor-based grain dryer controller, which might become one of several entrepreneurial opportunities I'll have while down here in Belize.

Being here with my Uncle is like having a personalized electronics tutor. I have been learning about electronics pretty much non-stop the last few days, and my brain has sometimes been in information overload mode. I have been learning all sorts of things about power electronics lately, which my uncle is currently writing a book on.

Anyway, I have a lot more to say, but I'll save it for a future post. I will at least attempt to write once in a while, and I'll try to upload images some time.