I “MacGyvered” It! (or why you should never throw anything out)

I moved off the grid with no practical skills to speak off, other than the ability to lay out newsletters and other printed materials. This is not a necessary skill to live off the grid.

I am surrounded by people with skills. My neighbor Ken is an electrician, and an all-round Jack-of-All-Trades. My neighbor Sandy is an electrical engineer who builds techno electronic thing-a-ma-bobs. My friend Bill Kemp was building his own inverters when I met him. But Michelle and I are big believers in lifelong learning and I think I’ve absorbed a fair amount of information in 15 years of having to do stuff for myself.

In the midst of our “powerdown” after we were struck by lightning (see previous post), we were without a proper inverter or phone. Luckily we had shut off our satellite internet before we went to bed that night and so it was working fine (as long as we were able to get power to it.) This allowed Michelle to stay up to date on the wedding planning and it gave me a way to call out using the “call phone” function of GMail. At one point I had to leave to pick up our new inverter but wanted to make sure that Michelle could continue to use the internet. The problem was that the cheap inverter I was working with only had one outlet working and I was using it to power the fridge and freezer and other house loads. I wanted a redundant system because I didn’t trust that inverter. I had a 300W 12Volt inverter that I could hook up to a battery, but the satellite internet would draw it down quickly. So I needed to be able to charge it. I have various 12V solar panels around so I grabbed one that had a car/trailer adapter on it. I found some alligator clips, wired them onto the other end of the trailer adapter, hooked it up to the solar panel, put the alligator clips on the battery, hooked on the inverter, tested it, and then hooked up the internet to that inverter.

I “MacGyvered” it!  MacGyver was an 80’s TV show where the star (played by Richard Dean Anderson) would defuse a bomb with a penknife and build a small supercomputer out of some gum, a paper clip, and an old Cheetos bag.  (Or something along those lines)

This was a landmark moment in my life. It’s so cool to finally “get” something. This was a Red Letter moment in an otherwise crappy period of chaos at our house.

Once the inverter was replaced I set my sights on fixing the phone. Sandy mentioned that he might be able to figure out what was wrong so I took the “Tellular” box over to his house. He quickly discerned that it was just the power supply. The DC Rectifier or black box on the power cord that converts AC from the wall outlet to DC for the electronics was toast. It urns out that there are thousands of combinations for voltage and amperage on these devices. My phone required 7.5 Volts at 1.7 Amps. Sandy showed me where I could order one on-line, but there are so many combinations of adapters and things I was sure I’d get it wrong. So Sandy suggested all I had to do was find another rectifier with the same output and we could use that.

You know all of those old printers and scanners and camera chargers and “e-Waste” that you are encouraged to recycle? Well after seeing the movie “Manufactured Landscapes” I have been hanging on to these items and it turns out that when you need to replace a DC rectifier, these old things come in handy. It took several hours and I tried everything I had, but they weren’t close enough. Then I remembered an old Sony Handicam that I leave around the office hoping that thieves will think it’s valuable and steal it if they break in. It broke 12 years ago but I kept is around as a “sacrificial deception” electronic. So guess what its power output is? Exactly! It was a perfect match. I raced over to Sandy’s, he tested it, cut and stripped the wire and soldered it and low and behold my $700 specialized off grid cell phone system was repaired. Do you have any idea how great it feels when you save $700 and fix something with a part that you’ve been hassled about for years to send to the landfill?

Yup, it’s pretty awesome! It’s a pretty big deal! We’re going to need even more storage space around here because I am never throwing anything out, ever, again! I think this is how people end up on those hoarder shows!

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Michelle’s Note: Thanks to Linda for showing us some love last week! Much appreciated!

6 Responses to “I “MacGyvered” It! (or why you should never throw anything out)”

  • Susan:

    My husband saves everything for just that reason. Problem is he is also unorganized so when he needs to find something he can’t. Guess it would be a good idea to at least have things labeled and organized so you don’t have to go buy what you are looking for just because you can’t find it in the mess.

  • Pam W:

    Cool! You and my husband are a lot alike. I often mention ole “MacGyver” to my husband as he’s working/fixing something. You did neglect to mention however what a hunk Richard Dean was while doing all those things!!

  • Gerrit:


  • Shoot! and I was just encouraging Jerry to get rid of “stuff” from our garage which is now so full after only 7 years of living here that we have to build a shed! Guess we are building the shed, or two…
    I imagine you were doing your happy dance!!!

  • I loved watching that show! Thanks for the reminiscing clip.
    Now you’ll need to get yourself a new ‘sacrificial deception’ item for the thieves. My husband is the MacGyver-ish type and we often avoid paying big bucks for something that he was able to rig up from odds and ends laying around – of course we all need a little wisdom to be able to avoid the hoarding mentality. I can see that being a problem for our property, rather than inside our house. It’s looking like it might be time for a trip to the scrap yard.

  • Jaeson Tanner:

    That’s wildly impressive man! I’m probably sitting on a goldmine!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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