Well, I have to say I didn't quite expect this one.
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A while back I got myself a Davis Vantage Pro 2 weather station so I might measure the winds at Tanglewood to figure out whether or not we've got enough to support power generation with a wind turbine (plus of course it's a great geeky thing that I'd always wanted to have anyway). There's some awesome software for your PC that collects all kinds of data from the weather station, lets you download it to Excel for analysis, and if you wish you can even share it on the Internet with other weather geeks. Very cool.
I absolutely love this thing. I've been working with it in town here at Wyrdhaven for a while now and it's time to move it up to Tanglewood, but I ran into a problem as I got ready to take it down and relocate it. There's no power yet at Tanglewood (heck, that's what the weather station is for), so what exactly am I going to use to power the PC to collect the weather station info?
My first thought was solar power, but it may not be dense enough. Laptops draw way less power than desktops, to be sure, but not enough to remain on continuously without running down their battery. Solar for a house works because there are so many panels--a single panel for my laptop probably isn't going to cut it, and in any event that wasn't in my budget (I may use solar down the road, but that will be part of an integrated system). I also have to figure out some way to have this thing charge a couple of batteries so they can run the laptop in the dark...and that might not be too easy either. Very frustrating, but it all requires more research.
My next thought was to use one of those battery jump-start packs you can carry around in your car (at least I do). I figured if it would power the laptop for at least two days I could just swap out an exhausted one with a recharged one on a regular basis--not a bad way to go. Unfortunately we again ran into power issues. When I tested my HP with a battery pack and an inverter, I got about 3 hours out of it--not all that much considering the laptop battery by itself provided about half that. Dang.
Then I thought about a PC that used less power, even while active--and that got me thinking about Pocket PCs. These little puppies aren't terribly popular, as near as I can tell (none of the local stores carry them at all, in fact), but they run a version of Windows and might be able to work with the weather software. A friend of mine who reviews hardware had a spare one that he was willing to loan me (an HP iPaq, entirely solid state storage), so I repeated the jump pack and laptop experiment I did before.
This time I had much better results. As of this writing the Pocket PC is going on 50 hours straight and to judge from the battery indicator it's going to make it to at least 60. The lack of moving parts is undoubtedly a big driver here since hard drive mechanisms use so much power compared to solid state memory. This is a very good thing, if I can get the weather software to run on it and transfer data via the USB cable. We'll see.
Definitely not a problem I'd thought I'd have!