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Brett Wynkoop

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How I bought a NEW PRIUS for $2100    
Image for Entry 1569992416I was an early adopter of Hybrid Cars. I actually owned the first Gen 1 Prius delivered to a customer in the United States, or so the dealer told me. Sadly that car was totaled in a flash flood at the corner of Carol Street and 4th Avenue while I was rehearsing an opera a block away.

I replaced it with a brand new 2006 Generation 2 Prius which 110K miles and 13 years later started to show traction battery troubles.

In addition to the reduced MPG I was seeing issues I had come to know from my experience with NiMh batteries in 2 way radio service. Discharge was happening quicker, even self discharge when parked. Often the battery would become fully charged (according to the dash display) in a very short drive, and then be down in the purple 1 or 2 bar danger zone after being parked for a very short time. The issues seemed to be worse in warm weather. I could leave the car parked showing fully charged and return in as little as an hour to find the battery down in the danger zone. Clearly it was time to do something before I got stuck someplace with a non-functional car.

I hold an Extra Class Amateur Radio Operators License and a Commercial General Radio Telephone Operators License with Radar Endorsement, so one can say I know a thing or two about the flow of electrons in circuits and the ways of batteries. Armed with my knowledge in the field of electricity and electronics I hit the web for answers on Prius Generation 2 battery replacement.

I found rebuilt batteries for as little as $400 from a small time operator in the Rochester, NY area all the way to New 8AH (1.5 AH more than stock) at $2149 without installation.

The advantage of the larger than stock battery is the ability to capture more regenerated energy and a higher MPG in normal operation. While I was very tempted to order an 8Ah battery from the west coast the realities of trying to do the install parked on the street in Brooklyn and it being my first time tearing the car apart that much had a big influence on my decision. I decided to opt for a BRAND NEW battery of 6.5 Ah, just as when the car was new. A big plus was that I could get it installed in nearby New Jersey.

I ordered a new 6.5 Ah battery from Greentec Auto for drive in installation at their Livingston, NJ location.

Knowing I would be driving to NJ, I of course ran my gas tank down to bare minimum in anticipation of a cheaper fill up on the other side of the Holland Tunnel.

Stopping in NJ for fuel proved to me that I was not getting my 13 year old battery replaced too soon! In addition to my usual milage being down to between high 30s to low 40s and the fast self discharge, now after a fast fuel stop, the hybrid system refused to come back on line. Eventually after 3 attempts the system came on line, showed me the pump jockey did not fill my tank, but rather gave me a 1/4 tank, and the system was READY but at the dreaded 1 purple line on the battery meter.

On arriving at the Greentec Auto location I met a personable gentleman named Amir who asked me why I thought the battery was in need of replacement. He then checked the codes out of the diagnostic port from the onboard system and asked me if I changed my own oil and if I had been resetting the codes. It seems no battery faults were showing in the system in spite of all the obvious symptoms. It seems that when I have taken the car to PEP Boys they have been clearing all the codes with each oil change. This little nugget has convinced me to get a code reader so I can regularly check codes and note them in the car log book.

After confirming to Amir that in spite of the lack of computer log data in support of a battery change I wanted to change the battery I signed the work order and Amir pulled the car halfway into the garage bay. He said he was going to leave the back out of the garage because it was a nice day and he could tell that I wanted to watch how the job was done.

In short order the two of us moved my storage box out of the back of the car and I removed all my ham radio antenna cables and the cable from the 12 volt battery to my radios in the front of the car. Amir next removed the carpet in the back and the cover over the spare tire as well as the small cargo tray that sits on top of the spare tire.

Once that was done Amir unbolted the seat backs of the rear seat and removed the trim over the traction battery. Once the battery case was totally exposed he removed the high voltage interlink on the port side of the battery to allow unbolting the HV cables with no voltage on the terminals. He also removed all the trim from the rear of the car and disconnected the 12 Volt battery. Then it was time to make heavy use of his power driver removing the multitude of screws that held covers over the various wires and air ducts leading to the battery as well as the screws that held the battery in place.

In short order, while we listened to a podcast by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Amir had the old battery out of the car and sitting on a cart ready to be wheeled away to the outbound recycling pile. Amir then swapped in a battery that consisted of NEW 6.5 Ah cells in a Toyota battery frame that had been painted green. I was pleased to see that Green Tec paints the battery cases they install as there was surface rust on every piece of unpainted steel in the rear of the car. I see another teardown in my future to clean and paint much non-painted steel.

In short order Amir had the new battery bolted down, ventilation ducts reconnected and wires firmly screwed down. He then connected the 12 volt battery and installed the BIG ORANGE INTERLINK to allow my 13 year old Prius to come back to life. Amir then stepped up front and started the hybrid system. The Prius lived!

In an amazingly short amount of time Amir had the car put back together. I connected my radio antenna and power cables and we put my big box in the back of the car. We were ready for a test drive.

Amir explained that we needed to run the AC at MAX with the windows down to really put a strain on the system while we drove 7 to 10 miles and observed the way the car operated.

On getting on the road out of the shop I saw an immediate improvement in operation. The battery did not slump down on acceleration and when we hit the highway the battery climbed steadily from 1/3 to 2/3 on a combination of ICE operation and regeneration. When we turned around to head back to the shop I floored the accelerator and quickly ran up to 60 MPH. This was a test to see if the battery was "stiffer" than the old battery. It was, the battery did not show any change on the in dash metering.

On returning to the shop I paid the $2132.50 bill, which included the new battery, installation, and taxes. I then reset the onboard computer to zero miles and zero mpg so I could monitor my performance on the trip home. The results are in the photo attached to this posting. The display shows 56.2 MPG on the return trip while the trip to Livingston was only 42 MPG.

It is worth noting the best millage I got when the car was brand new was 54 MPG.

So for the price of a new Green Tec battery installed by a nice, knowledgable professional who listens to Neil DeGrasse Tyson podcasts I have a Prius that is preforming like a new car.

Considering that the only other work the car has required in 13 years has been one replacement of brake pads and oil changes the cost of ownership for a Prius makes the investment in a battery, that I will probably get another 13 years out of, a win.

If you have a Prius that is showing the signs of battery fatigue I highly recommend Green Tec Auto. Tell Amir I sent you and he may play Neil DeGrasse Tyson for you as well.


Baofeng UV5R - Every ham should have one, but not as their only radio.    
In the last several years there has been an influx of cheap Chinese radios making their way to our shores. One of the most popular with hams is the Baofeng UV5R. This article will describe why every ham should have one of these radios in their communications tool kit.

The UV5R is cheap, coming in at about $25 for the HT with standard battery, rubber ducky, ear phone, and desktop charger. The radio covers VHF HI and UHF bands from 136-174MHz and 400-520Mhz with 128 memory channels, repeater offset, dual watch, pl, and dcs. Baofeng combines that with a transmit power of 1 watt low and 4 watts high.

The radio has a nice solid feel and a tough case. It also has a full compliment of accessories to make it even more versatile.

The price makes this the perfect radio to carry when you might accidentally damage a hand held, like climbing a tower and dropping it, or around the water where it might be dropped or you might fall in and flood it.

With 128 memory channels which are easy to program via CHIRP software this radio will cover the communications needs of most hams in the VHF/UHF range.

In addition the radio is FCC approved under Part 90. This is the single best reason that every ham should have it in their kit. Officially marketed as a commercial radio for part 90 land mobile services,
think fire, police, ambulance, taxi and such.

The part 90 approval is very important to 2 segments of hams.

The first is the ham who works in a job where he has to make use of a part 90 radio. This means that he can either carry one radio that will do double duty, or his ham rig can back up his official radio.

The second segment is the ham who serves his community in times of need providing emergency communications. If this ham is working with a served agency or Non-Governmental-Organization which is part 90 licensed he can, upon approval of the license holder, come up on the assigned commercial frequencies to pass traffic directly to them as the situation requires.

It is important to not that as of this writing all commercial land mobile FM in the United States of America has switched to 2.5 Khz deviation, so if you are a volunteer firefighter, before bringing up your UV5R on your volunteer fire fire department's channel make sure you have set the deviation to narrow for that channel.

Why should a fine cheap chinese radio not be your only radio?

Well for starters in emergency preparation the old adage is if you have one, you have none, and if you have two you have one.

These radios have some weaknesses and quality control issues. I first purchased one at the ARRL National Convention in Hartford a couple of years ago. The reverse sma connector needed to be tightened repeatedly, but I thought the issues were eventually solved with a little lock-tite on the retaining nut. Living in New York City it is pretty easy to hit a repeater with very low power, so I did not realize until comparing the radio to a friends unit that she was hearing and hitting the repeaters better than me. A quick check against an output meter showed my radio was putting out 1/10 the power of her radio. Opening the radio up showed the antenna connector to be no longer soldered to the circuit board. Soldering it back seemed to fix things all up and the radio seemed to be at full power on both VHF and UHF. I was once again in possession of a working radio. My joy did not last long. A few weeks later the radio stopped producing power on UHF, but VHF still worked. Well it was cheap, so I just bought another.

I have since gotten reports from other hams of antenna connectors not soldered to the circuit board.

The UV5R also seems to overheat when operated for prolonged periods on the DC adapter. The over heating causes the radio to blank it's display and stop transmitting.

If you live in a high RF zone like New York City you may find it impossible to receive if you move up to a better antenna or even on the rubber ducky in certain areas. The radio has no tuned circuits in the front end and it's wide band operation means that it gets overloaded by off frequency signals very easily. With the radio connected to my mobile antenna and my car within one mile of a local repeater I was unable hear the repeater. At first I thought the the repeater was off the air, then I swapped out the mobile antenna for the rubber duck and bingo I could hear the repeater. The 10db difference in gain and having the radio inside the steel cage of the car attenuated whatever strong signal was overloading the receiver to the point where I could hear the repeater.

One other point that needs to be mentioned is that these radios are not part 95 or Part 80 accepted. This means they can not be used on FRS, GMRS, or MURS, which are all Part 95 services. They are also illegal to use on the Marine Band which is governed by FCC Part 80.

Just because a radio can operate on a frequency does not mean it is legal to do so!

So while the UV5R, and similar radios are good to have in your tool kit they should not be the only VHF/UHF radio in your kit.


Brett Wynkoop

A Day To Remember    
Today dawned grey and cool in Brooklyn. A far cry from this same date in 2001, even so I am given to reflection. On that day the first thing that went through my head when I heard there was a fire at the World Trade Center was that getting to The Medowlands and the Citibank email team where I was consulting on Sendmail was going to be difficult as I had to drive right past the twin towers to reach the Holland Tunnel. As I watched the news report on TV I saw the second plane hit the tower. That is when I knew I was not going to work that day.

My next move was to head outside and see what I could see, but from street level my view was blocked. I quickly climbed to the roof of my building and saw thick black smoke streaming out of both towers of the World Trade Center. I kept an eye on the situation via the local cable news as over the air broadcasts went off line. It seems almost all the local TV stations had their transmitters on the WTC. The City of New York had also made the mistake years earlier of putting all their Police, Fire, and EMS repeaters on the now blazing towers. I knew communications would be crippled within the city.

I went into my office and connected my Yaesu VX-5 to the roof mounted antenna and checked into the local Ham Radio Emergency net. I was asked if I could make my way to lower Manhattan with equipment for communications to support the Red Cross. Having a good bike, and loads of batteries and portable antennas I made my way through the thick black acrid smoke that had come to blanket The Holy City of Brooklyn. What I did that day was nothing more than what was done by many, but the BBC Radio 4 chose to interview myself and other Ham Radio Operators in a piece called "Unsung Heros". Today dear reader I offer you a link to the interview.

Unsung Heros in mp3 format

This Old Mac    
From time to time old hardware comes my way. Often this is hardware that clients are done with after an upgrade cycle. Most of the time this hardware still has plenty of life in it for home use by the average home user.

When this is the case I try to recycle the hardware either for my own use, or for use by family or friends. Last week an Intel Mac from 2008 with Mac OS-X 10.6 crossed my path. After a quick reset of the admin account password and a clean out of the old accounts/files I was ready to install all the standard tools and toys, including the excellent LibreOffice suite. Much to my dismay the current version of LibreOffice does not support any version of Mac OS-X before 10.8 (I have no idea what animal or geographic location that is). After much searching I stumbled across this link:

which provided the older version I was in search of. While I understand the LibreOffice developers wanting everyone that can to upgrade to the latest and greatest there are many perfectly good computers that can not upgrade to the latest OS release for any number of reasons. The users of these computers should also have easy access to Free Software and it should not be hidden from them. I urge all developers of Free Software, not just The Document Foundation, to make it easy to find older versions of their software. This will benefit end users, the environment (fewer computers destroyed and burried), and the Free Software movement in general.

Hopefully this posting will help others find old versions of LibreOffice faster than I was able.

Some Quick Tools for OS X    
I was recently asked by a client to set up an old Mac G5 he had to be the mail and web server for his office. No problem I told him and after he did a fresh install from his 10.5 install disk, created an administrative account, and turned on SSH via the GUI, I fired up ssh from an xterm on my MacBook and went to work.

I quickly determined with Apples use of it's own LDAP server, /usr/sbin/DirectoryService, command line administration was going to be a bit painful for certain functions. Back when Apple used Netinfo a quick nidump/edit/niload cycle allowed for fast and easy modification of both passwd and groups. DirectoryService changed all that and the command line tools Apple provides for interacting with DirectoryService are not as well documented as they could be. In some cases the only documentation is the help message from a utility, or a very poorly written man page which leaves out options the help message includes. To top this off Apple offers no support for any command line operations in OS X.

Some research on the net showed me that just to create a user account was a multi-step process using dscl repeatedly and following on with the use of createhomedir. Not only was creating users from the command line time consuming there were many chances for errors due to the many times dscl had to be invoked with different options and arguments. What is a systems administrator to do? AUTOMATE is the answer, and that is just what I did.

The two operations I decided to attack first were adding users and adding existing users to groups. For adding users I opted for the interactive method where the user was prompted for needed information. For one off user additions I find it an easier model to use than something that takes several options and arguments from the command line.

For group additions I opted for a single command line invocation "addtogroup user group".

So in short order I had the adduser and addtogroup written, doing what I needed, and no more. There is room for enhancement in both of these programs, but they might be useful. You can find them, and any other OS X specific utilities I produce in the future at


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