Review of APC Back-UPS RS 1300 G

Some people feel that a surge suppressor is enough protection for their computer. It is if you never have any sort of power failure, line noise, brown out, or other disruption. Yes, a surge suppressor works fine when you don’t do anything of significance on your computer—when you can honestly say that losing data won’t matter even a little to you. Unfortunately, most people, even home users, can’t truly make that claim any longer. Because my livelihood depends on the availability of my computers and the integrity of the data they manage, I’ve always attached them to an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). Using a UPS ensures that even if the power goes out, my systems will stay up long enough for me to save my data and perform an orderly shutdown. More importantly, the UPS provides an immediate stopgap until my generator comes online so that I can continue working in the worst possible weather conditions. A UPS also tends to reduce the damage to your system from all sorts of electrical problems, including both brownouts (something your surge suppressor can’t handle) and surges.

A UPS contains a battery that you must replace every three to five years. The UPS will tell you that the battery is going bad—a fact you can confirm by running a self test. I recently upgraded my UPSs, rather than replace the batteries, because the UPSs relied on an older serial cable connection to the computer for monitoring purposes and the batteries were becoming as expensive as buying a new UPS. After reviewing my choices, I purchased three American Power Conversion (APC) Back-UPS RS 1300 G UPSs.

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The new UPS has a Universal Serial Bus (USB) connector that’s a lot easier to connect to the computer than the old serial cable. In addition, the monitoring software on my system was able to find the UPS immediately. In the past, I had to configure the serial port and even then there was a chance the software wouldn’t find the UPS immediately. So, installation was a real pleasure this time because I spent considerably less time doing it and everything works immediately on all three test systems.

The UPS is significantly lighter than my older UPS, even though it provides the same amount of battery backup time. If you tried to work with a UPS in the past and found it a back breaking experience, you’ll find the new battery technology used in modern UPSs a real blessing. The battery also installed without the use of any screws or the need to perform error prone direct terminal connections. Getting the UPS into place was quite a bit easier because the form factor is easier to manage than my older UPS.

This UPS has an informative front panel display. You can check the input voltage, output voltage and frequency, number of line events, estimated run time, and UPS load in watts and as a percentage of battery backup capacity. My older setup never had these features, so I always had to rely on the software supplied with the UPS to learn about the power conditions. The display is bright enough to see that the information is visible in most conditions.

The product comes with APC PowerChute Personal Edition, which is more than enough for most home and small office scenarios. The software does require administrative privileges to run, so you’ll be bothered by one of those UAC message boxes during start up. I’m going to determine whether there is some way around this annoyance.

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The display tells you the current status of the UPS, along with important information like the current run time. I also like the fact that I can plug in the cost per kWh for my utility and get an estimate of how much it costs to run my system. The options control issues such as the amount of time the UPS will run during a power failure before performing an orderly shutdown of your system. You can also perform a self test of the unit, which is an important task to perform to ensure that the UPS is working as anticipated.

One of the new features of this software is that you can control when the UPS notifies you about a power failure or other problem. Gone are the days when the UPS will go off in the middle of the night when I’m sleeping. It’s also possible to set the UPS sensitivity, which is nice because now I won’t hear the UPS clicking off and on while running the generator. Overall, the new software is a vast improvement over the older software that came with my previous unit.

There have been a few complaints about this UPS online. All of the complaints I could find were from a year or two ago and I can only conclude that APC has corrected any problems. These UPSs have installed without any problem at all, work quietly, and haven’t caused me any problems at all during their first weeks of operation. However, as with any equipment purchase, make sure that the UPS you get matches your equipment. I normally try to load the UPS to no more than 25 percent of its capacity to ensure I have plenty of run time and the life of the UPS is as long as possible.

 

Review of Weather Proof Rubber Pan

In my post entitled, “Working with Chicken Tractors,” I discuss some of the requirements for helping meat chickens grow quickly, but also in a healthy environment. It’s important to treat the chickens with respect—no animal should have to live in substandard conditions. With this in mind, we’ve been using short metal pans to provide the chickens with food and water. There are a number of reasons to use this sort of pan:

  • Ease of access for the chickens
  • Easily recycled
  • Low cost
  • Readily available


However, the pans do rust out quickly. We normally start using the pan for water, but after two years, the bottoms rust enough that the pan won’t hold water any longer and then we use it for food for another two or three years before we have to recycle it.

We recently tried a new type of rubber pan. The Little Giant 3 gallon rubber pan is made of 100 percent reclaimed rubber using recovered energy sources. This means that the pan uses resources that would normally be wasted. However, it does cost about twice as much as the metal pans we’ve used in the past. You’d need some good reasons to trade up to these pans:

  • Lasts a lot longer
  • Chickens are less likely to get hurt
  • Chickens are far less likely to suffocate under one
  • Fewer contaminants used in construction
  • Easier to clean


I’ve talked with a number of people who use these pans and haven’t met anyone yet who hasn’t received a lot more usage out of one than the metal pans. The fact that these pans don’t corrode means that you won’t be replacing them due to rust.  I’ll report back when one of them wears out.

One of the problems with the metal pans is that they’re rigid. The chickens have a tendency to trip over them or get partially caught under one while the other chickens are stomping about. The result is a broken limb or other, more serious, injury. These rubber pans are flexible to an extent, which means that the chickens don’t get hurt as easily when using them.

We’ve also had a number of chickens suffocate under a pan when it gets flipped over. The problem again is the rigidity of the pan. It makes it impossible for the chicken to get out from under the pan. I’ve already seen chickens easily get out from under these pans when they get flipped.

The metal pans are galvanized, which means that they’re coated with zinc. The zinc provides protection from rust for some period of time. However, the chemicals used in the galvanization process, along with the protective oils used on the pan, are hard to get off. They add to the toxins the chickens ingest (and that you eventually ingest). So far, I’m not finding any contaminants associated with these rubber pans and would certainly like to hear about any you find.

One of the biggest issues in maintaining healthy chickens is keeping their environment reasonably clean. This means moving the chickens so that fecal matter doesn’t pile up. It also means washing their pans daily (or more often for water pans on hot days). So far, these rubber pans are proving incredibly easy to clean. Knock out the big dirt and shower them down with a bit of soap and water. The metal pans usually require scrubbing to get them clean.

Overall, these new rubber pans are a better deal long term than using similar metal pans. About the only area in which you might find fault is that the flexible rubber sides do allow more water to escape, so you’ll end up watering the chickens a little more often. Even so, this is a minor point that most people will find that the rubber pans save time and money, and end up producing better chickens because it’s easier to keep things clean.

Fun is Where You Find It (Part 5)

Last year about this time, I posted the original Fun is Where You Find It! where I discussed the egg decorating kit we purchased for Easter. Of course, it’s a fun activity, so we did it again this year with Paas Basket Buddies egg decorating kit. Imagine seeing the cutest kittens and puppies on your Easter eggs and you’ll have an inkling of the results of using this kit. The online price of $4.99 is a little more than the $3.99 price we paid at our local store. The kit is on par with last year’s price. Eggs are a lot more expensive though at $1.59 for large eggs.

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The dyes used in this kit are a bit better than last year’s kit—I’m not sure why. It could be that the tie dye kit instructions were designed to produce better mixed results. We did use the vinegar method described on the box and soaked the eggs for around thee minutes each to obtain the results shown here.

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For once, our results actually matched those on the package for the most part. The six colors are: red, blue, green, yellow, orange, and pink. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the pink to turn out right. You can see the single pink egg in this dozen is speckled. It’s a pretty egg, but not the results we anticipated.

This is the kit to use if you have young children and don’t want any kind of a mess. Except for dipping the eggs, there really isn’t much risk of creating any sort of damage to clothing or furniture and an adult could perform the dipping part. The kit does come with 9 Eggarounds, which are wraps you put around your eggs, and then shrink into place. The Eggarounds look like this initially.

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Notice the somewhat tight fit. You have to use large eggs with the Eggarounds because they won’t shrink enough for medium eggs. On the other hand, some large eggs proved a little too large. Still, in the two dozen eggs we made up, there were plenty of eggs the right size. The box talks about two methods of working with the Eggarounds—the water shrinking method is messy and proved unsatisfactory. Using a blow dryer works as advertised. Here are the results we obtained from our eggs:

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You can see that our first egg has a few ripples in the surface. Playing some with the technique produced smoother results as we went along. I don’t think it’s possible to get a completely smooth surface without a lot of practice. However, the results are eye pleasing and fun to work with.

The kit also comes with 90 stickers. The Eggarounds took care of the decorating needs for 9 of the 24 eggs we cooked up. That left 15 eggs or six stickers per egg, which really isn’t enough to do the job. We decided to leave the pink eggs as they were, speckled, because they really are eye pleasing that way. Using eight to ten stickers per egg produces a nice result. Here is a typical result using eight stickers:

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Overall, we found this kit extremely easy to use. It required about 2 hours worth of effort for us to complete the 24 hard boiled eggs—making for some extremely cheap fun that we can benefit from later. The kit won’t support more than 24 eggs unless you don’t mind having some undecorated eggs at the end (colored, but without stickers). What sort of results do you get out of the egg decorating kits that you’ve tried? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Resources for Rod Stephens’ Visual Basic Programming 24-Hour Trainer

I had previously reviewed Rod Stephens’ Visual Basic Programming 24-Hour Trainer. As part of that review, I had mentioned that Rod provides videos as one of the training methods. These videos add an element not found in most books—a real human talking with you about a particular technique.

For at least some people, the video is probably the most important addition to the learning environment because they actually learn better by watching someone else perform the task. Computer books now have the equivalent of cooking or woodworking shows on television. The popularity of these shows tells just how much people like them and you’ll like Rod’s videos quite a bit.

Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for it, which is the purpose of this post. Rod has graciously made a number of these videos available online. As long as you can access YouTube, you can see the videos. Here’s the links:

 

Give these links a try to determine whether the video method works well for you. If you have any questions about the videos, you can direct them to Rod at http://lists.topica.com/lists/VBHelperQA. Make sure you check out Rod’s main Web site at http://www.vb-helper.com/ for additional resources. Normally, I won’t revisit a review, but in this case, I thought the additional information helpful and chose to share it with you.

 

Quick Sugar Free Cupcakes

I don’t cook every day, but I can cook. My specialties are meat dishes and vegetables. Until now, I haven’t done much with deserts. Normally, when it comes time for my wife’s birthday, I’ll go to the store, buy a premade sugar free angel food cake, and decorate it for her with sugar free whipping cream and fruit as shown here:

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It’s a perfectly wonderful way to enjoy a birthday together, but I wanted to try something else this year. Unfortunately, as I previously stated, my cooking skills are of a highly practical nature and tend toward meat and vegetable dishes (such as the Brussels sprouts recipes in my Making Brussels Sprouts Palatable), so I decided to try a mix for my first baking attempt. I found a perfectly wonderful Pillsbury Sugar Free Classic Yellow mix and the accompanying Sugar Free Chocolate Fudge frosting at my local store.

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In looking at the ingredient list, I did find that there is a certain amount of sugar alcohol in both products, in addition to the Splenda. When I compared the other ingredients, I didn’t see any significant differences. So, what you’re getting is a cake mix and prepared icing that has a number of artificial sweeteners in it. The calorie content of both products is lower per serving, but this is most definitely not a low calorie food. There isn’t any free lunch when it comes to excess calories.

I decided to make cupcakes instead of a cake. Making cupcakes will allow us to freeze what we can’t eat immediately and take them out a little at a time for deserts. The directions on the back of the package are easy to understand. The batter turned out nice and smooth. Spooning it into the individual cupcake cups took a bit of practice, but I got the job done. I used a toothpick to check whether the cupcakes were done. When the toothpick is clean, the cupcakes are ready to go. Here’s a picture of me putting the frosting on.

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I did cheat a little and added some sprinkles to the cupcakes. So, they did end up having a modicum of sugar on them after all. Here’s the final result:

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As you can see, I had a little trouble keeping the cupcakes an even size. I’m sure that I’ll get better with practice. We ended up with 21 cupcakes instead of the 24 that the package said we were supposed to get. Even so, some of the cupcakes were a bit on the small side. Rebecca says she usually gets 18 cupcakes out of a package and I must admit that if mine had been more evenly sized, I probably would have gotten 18 too. Unless you want truly pathetic looking cupcakes, you won’t get 24 out of the package.

So, what did they taste like? The cupcakes turned out moist and I didn’t notice any difference from any other packaged cupcake I’ve eaten (I tried one without frosting so I could check the cupcake, rather than the cupcake with frosting). There wasn’t any difference in consistency either. Overall, I think someone would be hard pressed to tell the difference between these cupcakes and any other mix.

The frosting is a little smother than canned frosting with sugar in it and a bit less sweet. The frosting lacked any sort of aftertaste though, so you couldn’t really taste the artificial sweeteners. Even so, if someone thought it might be a sugar free product, they’d probably be able to tell the difference in the frosting. It doesn’t taste bad (quite the contrary), it’s just a little different.

My first experiment with sugar free baking has been a success, so I’ll try it again in the future. The next time I’ll try baking a cake. If you’re on a diet or diabetic, I can recommend this combination though as a sweet alternative to losing control over sugar.