Tag Archive: batteries


My computer screen lit up with a message Tuesday morning. Your Bluetooth mouse could quit at any time — change the batteries. Fine – I’ve finally figured out how to change the mouse batteries with the computer on, though it does require attaching my old USB mouse to re-connect to the Bluetooth mouse with fresh batteries. (If there’s a keyboard command for find Bluetooth mouse I haven’t found it.) The problem is that I had changed the mouse batteries the day before.

I use rechargeables, and I try to keep some plugged in and charging all the time. Now rechargeable batteries eventually reach the point where they won’t hold a charge, and I think mine have reached that point. I checked them out on the battery tester. The two I took out of the mouse, which just came off the charger yesterday, tested as weak, and I added them to the sack of dead batteries. (I’m not sure dead batteries are actually recycled locally, but I do turn them in separately to try to keep them out of the landfill.) Guess I’d better put rechargeable batteries on my shopping list; I’m going to have problems the next time the keyboard needs batteries. (It takes three.)

Battery tester–good, fresh battery, but my insulin pump won’t accept it.

That was not my only battery problem recently. My insulin pump runs on one AAA battery. This powers not only the pump itself, but also the backlight, the warning beeps and the vibrator if I don’t respond to the beeps, which I generally don’t hear. The manufacturer recommends non-rechargeable alkaline Energizers, simply because the pump is programmed to respond to their power loss curve as they slowly wear out, in order to give me a timely warning. Because I go through so many and have to have them on hand, I purchased a couple of large packages recently. (I didn’t need a twenty-pack and a twenty-four-pack, but I put the twenty-four pack away and then couldn’t find it until after I bought the twenty-pack.) Both had manufacture dates of 2010. Both claimed a shelf life of seven years. Last time, when neither of the two I tried from the twenty-four-pack worked, I managed to find one that my health supplier shipped. Recently I was out of the extras, and tried two more from the twenty-four-pack. Then three from the twenty-pack. The third one worked, but I now have six AAA batteries that show up as good on the tester but won’t work in my insulin pump. (They are working just fine in my anti-mosquito clip-on.)

I know the pump is picky, but only one battery out of seven? Shall I call Medtronics, or Energiser?

Are we getting too dependent on batteries?

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I need to replace the bulbs in my outdoor lights—the porch light, the old dog run light, the lights over the garage door, and the light on the Arctic entry off the bedroom. And I find myself in a quandary.

Ordinary incandescent bulbs work at the outdoor temperatures we have up here in Alaska — below -40°F most winters, and not uncommonly below -50 or even -60°F. Their lives are probably shortened when they’re turned on at these temperatures, but they do turn on.

Incandescent bulbs, however, are being phased out. The idea is to replace them with fluorescents, and I’ve done that wherever possible indoors. I even replaced the hanging fixture over the kitchen table with a ceiling-mounted fluorescent.

Outdoors, however, is another story. Fluorescents (or rather their ballasts) simply will not work at the winter temperatures found in interior Alaska – or the northern tier of states, for that matter. Even low temperature ballasts only start working when it warms up to -20°F – and warms up is the way we think of it up here.

LED’s do work, and I’ve had outdoor LED Christmas lights for several years now. Over the last year, I’ve begun to see a few screw-in LED bulbs. But they are either very low light output (useful for replacing the bulbs in night lights) or highly directional – useful in some, but not all, of my outdoor fixtures. Yes, there are self-contained outdoor LED lights. They use batteries. See my earlier post on indoor-outdoor thermometers, and the problem with the outdoor sensor being battery-powered – even lithium batteries are questionable at temperatures below -40°F. And a size “C” lithium battery? Just try to find one! They’re available on line, but they are obviously a very expensive specialty item, and I’m not at all sure they’ll work at temperatures colder than -40°F.

It’s not the first time national policy has failed to take Alaskan temperatures into account.

I am reminded of my first new car – bought the year Congress mandated seat belt interlocks, which required that you have the seat belt buckled before the car would start, and which activated a blaring alarm if the seat belt was not buckled. 1973, I think. Fine, I thought. I put on my seat belt as a reflex. My father drilled holes in the frame of our old Woody so he could install seat belts. I’d never be bothered by failure to do something as automatic as that.

Turned out the car I got had two switches to implement the Federal requirement. One was in the seat, and turned on the seat belt safety mechanism if there was weight in the seat. The other was in the buckle, and told the car whether the seat belt was buckled.

The switch in the buckle did not work if the temperature of the buckle was below about 0°F.

I did not have a heated garage then.

I finally figured out that I could start the car at low temperatures by bracing myself between the back of the seat and the floor, so no weight was on the seat. Once the interior warmed up, the alarm would quit.

That worked until the temperatures got below -40°F, and the rather poor heater was unable to bring the interior temperature of the car above 0°F. At those temperatures, the alarm screamed constantly – a serious distraction while trying to drive in ice fog with frosted windows. I would never have heard a siren, for instance.

The dealer said sorry, federal law prohibited them from touching the interlock system, never mind that it wasn’t working properly and was a safety hazard rather than a safety feature.

Cars are not my thing. I lived with that alarm for the next couple of months, until the ban on interfering with the system was removed January 1.

It got disconnected January 2.

I have a new thermometer.

Now there is nothing new about having a thermometer. As an atmospheric scientist, I have several. The big one out in the old dog pen seems fine in the winter, though it is useless when the summer sun is shining on its back. (I know it doesn’t get to 120° F up here, even in summer!) The one next to the front door reads suspiciously high in the winter, and I suspect it is influenced by heat leakage from the house wall.

I had an indoor outdoor pair, with one outdoor sensor, well located on an outside corner on the north side of the house, and two indoor stations, one in the kitchen and one in the bedroom, but the two receivers did not agree on temperature. (I don’t mean a degree or two; I mean they could be off by 20°, reading the temperature from the same sensor.) They needed replacing, I thought. What’s more, the outdoor sensor was battery-operated, and batteries don’t work very well at sub-zero temperatures. Even when they worked, the indoor stations quit even trying to show outdoor temperature at -20°F, which could mean for weeks at a time.

Then about a week ago I was idly checking the thermometers at Fred Meyers. They’re generally good for a laugh — who in their right mind would buy an outdoor thermometer that only reads to 40 below (let alone to only 20 below) in Fairbanks? They had the battery-operated indoor-outdoor sets as well, and for the first time I noticed that while they had an alleged range from -40°F to 158°F, the alkaline batteries I’d been using were only good to -4F. Lithiums were supposedly good to -40°F. (There’s a lot of difference between -20°F and -40°F, or for that matter between -40°F and -60°F, but below -40°F I just stay indoors.)

Old and new outdoor temperature sensors. Outside NE corner, N side, under roof overhang.

The sets, indoor display unit and outdoor sensor, were on sale for under $10, and I decided to get two — at that price, I could just keep one sensor in reserve. Of course to use them, I had to get them out of their plastic bubble packaging.

When possible, I try to recycle. It’s not easy up here, and until recently about the only things you could recycle were aluminum cans, but it is now possible to recycle #1 and #2 plastics (soft drink bottles and milk bottles.)

Not the stuff they use to package electronics. At least it does not have a recycle symbol – I looked. After I had just about cut my fingers off trying to open the blasted thing. Why is it that you have to carry the equivalent of a box cutter and pliers to get anything open nowadays? Even airline snacks (if you can find an airline that still has them.) And then you have all that plastic cluttering up the landfill.

Well, I did finally get the new stations and sensor out of their hermetically sealed plastic coffins and talking to each other. I used lithium batteries in the sensor, and let the sensor and both stations sit side by side overnight, verifying that all four of the temperatures displayed were within a couple of degrees of each other. Then I hung the new sensor (which had a hanging loop) from the old sensor with a piece of string. Now I have base stations in the kitchen and bedroom again, and – surprise, the old stations are showing outdoor temperatures within a degree of the new ones. Guess they just needed the competition.

And lithium batteries come in AAA size, which is what the old sensor needs.  I could have base stations all over the house!

Cheep.
Did I hear something?  The clock radio is on, news of Iraq, of Afghanistan, music…  I drift back toward sleep.
Cheep.
Could the radio have a beep in the program?  Not likely.  My insulin pump?  It doesn’t quite sound like the familiar warning, but I grope the pump out, thumb the button.  No warning, only the sensor showing my blood sugar—normal—for the last three hours.
Cheep.
This time I listen, look around, consider possibilities.  Wristwatches—possible, but not likely.  I haven’t moved any in months.  Pedometers, ditto.  I can rule out a cell phone, at least I think I can—mine hasn’t been used for a couple of years and must be totally discharged by now.
Cheep.
I look around the bedroom.  The older Sheltie, whose hearing is almost gone, snoozes; the younger, the one whose rear end is nearly paralyzed, shifts and whines nervously in her crate.  The KUAC posters and the arrangement of artificial flowers in a gift basket hang as usual on the white walls, and in any event are not subject to bouts of cheeping.  The radio…  Come to think about it, I once traced a cheep to another clock radio, in another room.  But that was an inadvertently set clock chime, once an hour, on a clock that I have not managed to set since I lost the instructions.  And that radio is not in this room—is this sound?  I look at the closed wooden door to the hall as another cheep sounds.
It’s time to get up in any event; might as well open the door and see if I can locate the sound.  I struggle out of bed and hobble over to the door.  Of course whatever it is isn’t cheeping just now.  I close the door and care for the dogs and myself, trying to ignore the cheeps.
They are definitely louder in the hall, but the cheeps are too brief to locate.  I call the older dog to the kitchen door, at the other end of the hall.  Uncharacteristically, the younger leads him, so eager to get out into the run she almost trips me.  I work my way back down the hall, waiting for the cheeps and trying to judge where they are loudest.  Near the door to the office, I think.  That narrows it down to the uninterruptible power supplies, neither of which shows a warning light, and the smoke alarms.  Probably one of the smoke alarms saying it needs its backup battery replaced, but which?  The one in the hall, or the one four feet away in the office?  In either case, I will need the stepladder–both alarms are on the ceiling, far above my reach.  Do I even have the right kind of battery?
I drag the stepladder in from the garage, and call the dogs in for their breakfasts.  The younger dog clings to my ankles, clearly demoralized by the cheeping.  I finally shut her in the back room, stand in the hall under the smoke alarms, and shut the office door.
Cheep.  But it’s softer this time, so the smoke alarm in the office is probably the culprit.  Now all I have to do is remember how to change the battery without the instructions the previous house owners took with them.
Just climbing the stepladder is a problem, with a bad knee and an impaired sense of balance.  I manage to unscrew the alarm from the ceiling, where it hangs from the house wiring.  I see something I think is the battery compartment, but how does it open?  The instructions, if they are instructions, are molded into the white plastic over my head.  Have you ever tried to read small, faint print, over your head, through bifocals, while trying to balance on a stepladder?  I finally give up and try Googling the brand name on the Internet.  All I can find out is that my smoke alarm is so old it should have been replaced.
Cheep.  The last time this happened, I wound up breaking the battery connections and had to replace the alarm.  As long as I don’t electrocute myself, I can’t do any worse this time.  And if I break this one, I’ll have the electrician replace all of them with models I can replace the battery in.  I climb the stepladder again, the good leg always higher, determined to find that battery.
The compartment cover won’t come off as I pry at the edges, but pulling at the place where the wires go into it seems to have some effect.  I persist, working awkwardly over my head, teetering on the ladder, until the cover finally gives and I see the 9 volt battery with its silly little snaps.  Carefully I pry the snaps off the battery, still reaching awkwardly over my head–this is how the other battery connection got broken, with one of the snaps coming off the connector rather than off the battery.  Success!  Now if only the replacement battery I’ve found is good…
It takes both hands to fasten the snaps on the new battery, while I teeter on the stepladder.  I hold my breath, waiting for another cheep to tell me that the new battery is dead or that the sound was coming from somewhere else.  Blessed silence.  Even the dogs seem to draw a breath of relief.
Now all I have to do is get the wires tucked back into a too-small space and screw the wretched smoke alarm back into the ceiling.