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Fuquay Varina, North Carolina, United States
A guy finding out if life really does begin at 50.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bummed about some Google Decisions

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Google. I'm sitting here watching a Google TV as I type this post into Google Blogger as I wait for my Google ChromeBook to arrive. I use Google Docs for my spreadsheets and other office documents, and Google Picasa to share my pictures. I can see by looking at my Google Chrome browser that I have no new notices on Google+. Google PowerMeter tells me I've used 13.4kw of electricity today which is a little under the usage for this same time last week. And Google Health tells me my A1C is trending downward (which is a good thing).

PowerMeter? Health? Never heard of them? Exactly, which is a shame since most people care about their health and the energy they use. Google in a blog release said they “didn’t catch on”, so both projects are being sunset. Both failed for more or less the same reason - no easy access to data. Power companies weren't interested in making the data from the electronic meters available to their customers. The electronic power meter was not installed for you to know your energy usage - it was installed for your power company to know, and for you just to get the bill. I had to buy a $200 device and install it in my breaker box, and the device and not the meter sends the data to Google. The device does allow me to also display the data on my PC. +1 for Big Business and secrecy, -1 for empowering each of us by making the information we need easily accessible.

Google Health on the other hand was free, but it required you to manually input your health data. Again all the data Google Health needs is locked up in your doctor or medical provider's office. Each health care provider is 'doing their own thing', and the only attribute they all have in common is they don't give you access to your data - Again you just get the bill.

Both PowerMeter and Health used my data and provide me information. A common 'data model' for my energy usage and medical data that allowed me to track and monitor - over a long timeframe in one place. Quick when was your last Tetanus/Diphteria (Td) shot? Mine was 12/9/2009. You better call your doctor. I used 59kw last Friday which is 10Kw above my average; Why? Oh right it was 102 on Friday.

Google was just ahead of it's time. Smart devices that monitor their energy usage and wireless send that to your energy computer (I have one) are still standalone and not built into the appliance/device. Bill and Hillary Clinton attempted to streamline medical records and failed, so it's no surprise that Google failed too. Doctors and Insurance companies have no interest in standards. They prefer À la carte solutions, after all we are all individuals right?

The loss of these 2 applications will have an impact on me and my desire to rid myself of Windows once and for all, and use Chromebook and the cloud to keep and access my data. I'm different than most people. I'm less interested in the cloud as an entertainment supplier, and more interested in the cloud as a place where I live my electronic life - medical, banking, government, and yes, purchase goods and services - which is what Google's new CEO said is their core business - ads. Bummer that changing the world by innovating ways for us all to easily access information is now less important.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

1996 Hawaii Bicycle Adventure

This weekend I helped a friend setup a few year old desktop computer. You remember desktops right? Those big boxes with diskette and CD-DVD drives? I cabled it up and it booted. Sweet. I installed a current Anti Virus and ran Windows Update. Several Service Packs later we were done. Then I noticed it had 6 ~ 40 gig partitions scattered across 2 hard drives. Yuck - got to redo that. I called it a day and went home. I returned today with my partition tool and some 3.5 diskettes with pictures on them. I consolidated one HD into one big C: partition. then using this 'Old School' desktop computer copied the pictures disks to a USB thumb drive. The pictures are of a month long bike trip to Hawaii. Seeing, riding, pedaling, and camping on Maui, the Big Island (Hawaii), and Molokai. This Hawaii trip was the first time I opted for the then 'new' service of pictures on disk.

Since I spent about a week of the month trip at my brother JB's place on Maui, I decided 3 rolls of 24 exposure film would be MORE than enough. Roll a week or 3-4 pictures a day - in Hawaii. Sounds about right.

I dropped the rolls of film in the mail as I exposed them, and the prints and diskettes with the pictures were waiting for me when I got home. Back in 1996 I viewed the pictures once or twice on the diskettes, but since I had prints there was no need to mess with the disks. I put the disks in the dresser, and now years later I have no diskette drive to read them. UNTIL today! Quick... How many 3.5 inch floppy disks will a 4 gig thumb drive hold?

Times up... 2844. That's about a 31 ft high stack of them. Hope you enjoy the pictures and remembrances of that trip. Click the picture and be sure to read the captions and leave comments!
Hawaii Bicycle Trip 1996

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Merry Month of May

This last May was really different for me. I've lived by myself for over 20 years. I've visited and have hosted visitors over the years, but since Gale is now retired she came and spent the month of May with me. Somehow she avoided "Work'n my nerve" on her visit. You can check out the pictures.
Work'n My Nerve - NOT!
We took day trips and on those we pigged out on North Carolina BBQ, visited civil war battleground, a car show, and even saw a Bulls game. I hope Gale had a good time on her visit, I know I did.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Space Shuttle or Bust

I'm home for awhile and it's time for me to catch up on my blog posting. In April I went to Florida to see the shuttle launch. They scrubbed the shuttle launch the day we headed to the cape, and we didn't make the scheduled. But here are the pictures from that day and the April trip to JB's.
Exploring Florida on Shuttle Scrub

I told JB I'd be back after Gale's visit to help him with his pole barn. I'll blog about that soon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sap is Boiling!

Ever since my trip to new Hampshire to see the fall foliage in 2009 I've wanted to come back to New Hampshire. John has been telling me about how he makes his own maple syrup, so when he asked if I like to come up for a visit during syrup making season I got my chance. I had a good time with John and Gail, and met some really nice syrup making people when John took me around to near by Sugar Houses. I have to say I now understand why those little bottles of Maple Syrup cost so much. It's a lot of work to make syrup, but well worth it.

Many thanks to John and Gail for letting me stay with them and being such great hosts. I hope you enjoy the pictures and videos. If you are ever in New Hampshire over a weekend in late winter or early spring be sure to stop and visit one of the New Hampshire Maple Sugar Houses.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Running 2011

I started running in 1980 when I lived in Auburn. I've stopped and started five or six times over the years. I would say that I have been an active runner for about 15 out of those 30+ years. This current period of active running started October 1, 2006. What I like about running is it's effective, efficient, and easy. All you really need is a pair of running shoes and 30 minutes. Running also travels well. I've ran on beaches in Hawaii, the Arizona desert, and Welsh country side. But the bulk of my running has been near my house.

The reason I have ran so long is because I've used a heart monitor from almost the very beginning. I got my first heart monitor from DAK in 1982. What a heart monitor does is stop me from exercising TOO hard and avoid getting burned out. I don't care about how fast I run. I run at whatever pace that keeps my heart in the 'target zone' (70-75% of your maximum heart rate of 220 minus your age). That 1st DAK monitor was a digital watch that you activated by putting your finger on a metal sensor on the face of the watch. In about 5 seconds it started showing your current pulse rate, and would continue to update every few seconds as long as you held your finger on the metal sensor. That 1st one was tricky to read as I ran, but I could. The next few monitors used a chest strap that had a transmitter that sent data to a receiver built into the watch. They continuously showed my pulse rate on the face of the watch. My latest heart monitor is also the chest strip type, but it transmits to my 6th generation iPod Nano and not a watch.
The monitor snaps on and off of a washable chest strap. I can replace the battery which is nice since my prior Polar chest straps used non replaceable batteries. The Nano does not have a built in receiver, and requires a small device plugged into it (white rectangle in the next picture) . I mounted my Nano in a LunaTik watch band, so I don't wash this Nano like I did my 1st one. I had left that 1st gen Nano in my running short's pocket and washed it. I found out a Nano is not machine washable :-(
The device that plugs into the Nano is actually a dual receiver, and besides the heart monitor it receives the signal from the shoe sensor that I installed in my New Balance (NOT NIKE!) running shoes.
In the past I have used a holder that attached the shoe sensor to my shoe laces, but this time I cut a 'pocket' using my Dremel rotary tool. You can too. Just be careful, and make sure the sensor is a tad below the surface. I had it just barely proud and I noticed it when I ran. Another 1/16 of a inch did the trick. I cannot feel it at all now.

What I like about the Nano is it uploads my 'work out' data to the web, and will even post it to Facebook.

If you click that run data image it will take you to the details that shows the heart rate also. I really like that Nike+iPod tracks all my workouts. The Nike site will chart your progress and has challenges and groups activities you can participate in.

The Nano lets you set your heart rate target zone, but it does not alert you when you are above or below it like my old watch did. I think that is a MAJOR issue. The reason I wear the heart monitor is for it to nag me when I run too slow and caution me when I run to hard. If I press the button on the Nano the 'voice' says all the details including current heart rate and pace, but that really is not the same as having it beep in real time when you get out of the target zone.

All this technology is 'OK', but I have to say the fact that that I can't use the chest strap with my Touch is another draw back. Of course Nike, Apple, and Polar are in business to sell product so they aren't going to ever sell something that makes the ideal 'work out' companion. They want you to have a iPhone, so the Touch and Nano do not have a GPS. The chest strap does not work with the iPhone, so you have to have a Nano. The Touch has the receiver built in for the shoe sensor since it does not have GPS, but the receiver does not support the chest strap. Personally I think the Nano is the 'right size' for a work out companion. A future Nano might have a built in receiver for the chest strap and shoe sensor, but it will never have GPS. Nike provides the web side to track your runs. Nike needs the sensor so there is a reason for people to buy Nike shoes with the pocket for the sensor built in. I'm sure that soon Nike will sell the sensor built into the shoe and the external sensor will go away. That will stop non Nike runners from using the Nike site. Oh well, I'll enjoy the freedom to choose my own brand of shoes while I can. Come on Android!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Would you like to...

Couple weeks ago I found yet another USPS delivered package sitting next to my mail box. Sometimes a package is just sitting there on the ground and sometimes the package is inside an overturn mail tub to keep it dry. A mail tub looks like a recycle bin except it's white and has "US Mail" printed on it. I just take the package and leave the tub for the letter carrier to retrieve the next service day. Not real happy that my sometimes expensive packages are just sitting out at the street.

That's the original steel box and pole the builder put up as a 'thank you' when I bought the house in December 1988. I took it down and put up a cypress post and plastic box my little sister Karen gave me when she visited in the spring of 1989. The cypress post rotted and broke off at grade level after 8 or 10 years. I had put the original pole and box in my crawl space resting on a couple bricks. It is dry under there and the bricks kept it from making ground contact, so the original box and post were still like new. They have been back up now for 10-12 years. Only problem with the box is it's standard size and not big enough to hold packages. I needed something bigger. I could get a large box locally, but ....

I used the Internet and got a 'Super Size' one for a few dollars more! I even ordered custom numbers and letters! Ain't Internet shopping great?

Ironically the UPS driver delivered it to my back step Monday. I put it up today. Those numbers & letters are reflective, and should make it an easy target at night for a brick or bat. If that happens I still have the old box I can put back up - again. I'll just smile if I have too that. We're leaving those young'ins $30-40 trillion in public debt, so they'll be paying plenty for our fun.
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Who's That Coming Down the Drive?

I've been in this house since 1989 and I like that it's set back from the street and surrounded by woods. I have a 400ft driveway that I had paved back in 2009. The way the windows in my house face I see mostly woods. It's hard to see cars that come down the drive except for one window in the back bedroom. At one time I had a inexpensive wireless motion detector to detect cars as they came down the drive. It was triggered by anything, cars, wind, sun, deer, you name it. False alarms continued even after I relocated it several times. I finely gave up on it.

I spotted a solar powered wireless 'metal detector' type drive way alert on Amazon, but the reviews were hit and miss at best. That got me thinking about about a system I first saw in the mid 80s when I was still in Florida. I remember seeing the Winland Electronics Vehicle Alert System in catalogs all those years ago and from time to time ever since. The Winland system requires you to install a sensor next to the drive way and run (plus bury) a cable to a console installed inside your home. It's still around because it works.

The Winland system was always more expensive than what I wanted to pay, especially since I needed more than the supplied 100ft cable. Now days $400 isn't as expensive to me as it used to be. I'm older and I don't like surprise visitors as much, so I ordered one with a 350ft cable. You can click the picture above and see and read about my installation of the system.

I have to say making a trench 330 ft long and a few inches deep is a bit more work than I expected. The tree roots and crossing two creeks using flexible metal conduit added to the effort. I worked at it 3-4 hours a day until it was done. I used my hammer drill with a bit borrowed from Wally, and put the cable through the foundation below grade.

I made a counter out of a inexpensive pedometer to keep track of how many vehicles come in and out my drive. The counter works well. My idea of using a wireless doorbell to alert me if I'm working in the garage didn't work due to RF interference. I'll install a wired buzzer next time I'm pulling cable through the conduit to the detached garage, so I can be alerted if I'm out there.

I'm hoping for many years of trouble free service from this system. I'm sure sooner or later something will break the cable. Hopefully by then they be cheap wireless systems that work and I'll just get one of those.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


In a prior post Fresh New Year I mentioned I installed and starting using GnuCash. It's been over a month now and I have reconciled a bank statement. I'm no GnuCash expert, but I do now have the basics down.

Since my first post I've added another 25 accounts (mostly for expense). Accounts are easy to create - just a couple clicks. You can edit accounts after creating and rename or move from one parent account to another which is handy. Accounts are hierarchical and you can nest sub accounts. I have a top level account called Expenses, with many sub accounts. For example under Expenses I have an Auto account with a sub account of Gasoline which has two sub accounts xB and GMC which are my two vehicles. Auto has other sub accounts for Maintenance, Insurance, and Fees. The names of these accounts can be whatever I like, and I can have as many as I wish. The Summary page rolls up the accounts showing balances at each level. So it's a snap to see that I've spent $311 on Auto expenses this year, and $83 of that was for Gas, with $56 worth of Gas for the GMC, and $27 for the xB. All of that was shown on the account summary without actually looking at any account register.

Entering transactions is easy. Simple check register style. You 'transfer' money from one account (your checking account) to another account, Expense>Auto>Gas>GMC or example. The from account (Checking) balance decreases and the other account increases. So the core concept is you are moving money around. Your paycheck transfers money from an Income account to your checking account. Income accounts like expense accounts can have as many sub accounts as you wish. All the base accounts (Asset, Liabilities, Expenses, Income, and Equity, Trading, Banking, Receivable, and Payable) can have as many sub accounts as desired.

GnuCash allows importing from QFX/QIF so I was able to easily import my downloaded Credit Card transactions and my banking account transactions. You can schedule reoccurring transactions. It uses memorized transactions to pre-fill accounts and fields as you enter new transactions which saves typing. You enter Walmart with account Expenses>Groceries once and the next time you start a new transaction and type a 'w' it suggests Walmart with the account Expenses>Groceries.

Split transactions let you transfer money to multiple account in one transaction. For example, a paycheck gross amount is transferred from an Income account, then taxes and other deductions transfer to other accounts, and the net is transferred to your checking account. The split transaction was a bit confusing at first. After mastering it, it turned out to be a lot like Quicken's split transaction.

I need to use GnuCash Budgeting next and then I'll take a crack at setting up my Investment accounts. So at this point I'd say GnuCash did have a bit of a learning curve, but so far so good.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Watson on Jeopardy

In case you not heard, an IBM computer named Watson will take on the Jeopardy champs February 14-16. What you may well witness on Jeopardy could be the event that leads to the computer being the third leg of technology equal to fire and the printing press.

Those of you old enough to have used a slide rule in high school or college (I am) will remember very well being in total awl when you held your 1st pocket calculator. I bet you still remember when you got it - I do. I had to wait for the prices to come down before I was able to buy my first one in 1975, a HP-21 Scientific Pocket Calculator. Since we today take calculators for granted and they are so cheap that we discard them when the battery is depleted, you might like to know I paid $139.00 for it in 1975. That $139 is the same buying power as $578.36 today.

I believe Watson, with it's ability to process Human Natural Language will in time take us from the 'computer as a slide rule age' we are in today to the 'computer as a Pocket Calculator age'. Future inexpensive Watsons will take the drudgery out of using computers the same way the pocket calculator took the drudgery out of finding the cubed root of 2197.

I realize this might be a big yawn on the why brother scale for most people, but I believe this TV event will be remembered as is man's landing on the moon. Maybe not as well or by as many, but shame on you that miss it. I saw the moon landing and with luck and a TV I'll see this important first too.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Fresh New Year

Well each December I notice my pile of receipts getting bigger. I used to enter my purchases into Quicken, but stopped just after tax time in 2008. I used Quicken for 10+ years ever since the mid 90s when Parson's Technology and their MoneyCounts (which I loved) got purchased by Intuit. Intuit provided Quicken for free to me as a replacement for MoneyCounts. I dutifully upgraded yearly through Quicken 2007 for ~$50 a year. Quicken kept getting flashier and flashier but it really never added features that I used. I tried two 'online' web based finance packages, but one reminded me too much of Quicken, and the other wouldn't let me track credit card purchases. I really just wanted the simple (to me) double entry system MoneyCounts had.

Well a couple weeks ago I found GnuCash, a free open source double entry finance program that reminds me a lot of MoneyCounts. GnuCash runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac. I downloaded and in less than an hour I had my accounts set up ready for a fresh start in the new year which is the best time to start using finical software. GnuCash is worth giving a try.

Speaking of New Year - I hope all have a happy and prosperous one!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Getting things in sync

You may not know it but over the last few weeks I've been sorting out my HD and surround sound setup. Basically I had cables all over the place since I got that new HD TV in June. It's now nice and neat and everything is hooked up.

But I now have a BIG issue with lip sync when I use the surround sound (digital 5.1). There has always been a slight lip sync issue, but inserting the Google TV box between the Satellite receiver and the the TV made it way noticeable (worse).

The 5.1 audio signal from the Satellite receiver uses fiber optic cable to connect to the Surround sound with the 5.1 decoder. Next the decoded signals are amplified and sent to the various speakers. That decode does not take long. My guess is a millisecond.

But for the video the path is not so direct. The HDMI cable runs from the Satellite receiver to the Google TV box. The Google TV box de-interlaces the 1024i and rescans that to 1024p and sends that video to the TV using second HDMI cable. The TV then decodes the video again and displays it. It takes 1/15th of a second (2 1/30th second frames) to rescan 1024i to 1024p and it takes another 1/30th of a second to display a frame on so that's at least 1/10th of a second (100 millisecond) delay in the 'picture' relative to the audio. When viewing actors on screen I hear the audio long before their mouths open - their lips are out of sync.

Lip-sync is not an issue when using the simple stereo speakers built into the TV. The digital audio sent with the HDMI data is delayed by each box so that it stays in-sync. Also in reading the forums for my Satellite receiver it has some non customizable lip sync correction built in. But based on the forums, lip sync is still an issue. I suspect that's due to the differences in the Surround sound decoders people own.

To fix the lip-sync I bought a digital audio delay device.

I installed the device. The delay to correct the Satellite lip-sync turned out to be 200 milliseconds, and the Blue-Ray was 50 milliseconds. Each of the 4 inputs can have a different delay which is remembered across power on-offs. If can provide up to 680 milliseconds of delay. My guess is 50-250 ms delay is more than enough to handle typically lip-sync problems.

The audio delay device is made by Felston. Model DD740. It's an excellent, but pricey solution at $250. The 'more expensive' surround sounds have an audio delay capability you can adjust. I highly recommend that you check the specs before you buy a surround sound to make sure it has an adjustable audio delay. This delay is not the room balance adjustment. This is delay specifically to allow you to adjust for lip sync. I had to weigh the expensive delay device vs just buying another surround sound with delay capability built in. There is no 'cheap' delay device that I could find. In the end the device won because it can handle 4 sources, and it fixes the problem once and for all.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Google PowerMeter

I've been interested in home automation ever since I read about X10 for the first time in Byte Magazine in May of 1980. I purchased a X10 starter kit that had two lamp modules and one appliance module in the early 80s. In the mid 80s I had X10 devices turning on the outdoor flood lights and inside lights when the garage door opened (which my ex appreciated). By the early 90s here in North Carolina I was controlling my lights, water heater, and heat pump. I even automated closing the garage doors at 11pm if the doors happen be left open. Opening and closing a garage doors that swings like barn doors was a feat, but that's another story.

One reason I automated was to save money. All during this time I wanted to be able to measure the power being consumed. To paraphrase Lord Kelvin "What you can measure you can improve." With that in mind years ago a found an old power meter (with the dials and spinning wheel), and had the dream to wire it into my home and install a sensor to track the spinning wheel. Due to all rewiring and software that would be needed my dream never came true. Then Google came along. Google is investing $5 billion into Atlantic Wind Connection which I think is good for the planet. But buried in that article was this little tidbit "It (Google) also offers home energy management software via Google PowerMeter." PowerMeter! What's that? Well $200 + shipping, and about 30 minutes of install I now have Google tracking my energy usage. There not much data yet as you can see from the image. Stay tuned.

The $200 device I installed is a TED5000-G. No software to install or keep running on a PC. The TED has two devices. The first device is a sensor installed in your power panel that transmits over your house wiring to the 2nd device. The 2nd device is plugged into standard outlet and into your router using an Ethernet cable. The 2nd device called a gateway is running a web server that creates web pages with graphs and gauges showing your power usage. The gateway will optionally send data to Google so you can share it with those you choose. The devices monitors your power usage once a second, and stores the data locally:
  • 60 Minutes of second data
  • 48 Hours of minute data
  • 90 Days of hourly data
  • 10 Years of monthly data
All of that you can export to a spreadsheet (Google exports data also). Google has only the basic graphs, but your data is rolled up and compared to other PowerMeter users. Right now it says I use 2% more power than others with similar size house. I'm sure that is due to the limited data collected so far. I'll blog more as I learn more.

FYI - Since this is all browser based it displays nicely on my iPod Touch.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Security for Who?

We all love our key less remotes for our cars. Super convenient, great invention. One thing is now there are actually two things that have to be replaced when we "lose our keys." The remote and the key attached to it. They can be very expensive to replace if we own one of those 'newer' cars.

The remote that unlocks the doors you can get on eBay/internet for most cars fairly cheap, even if you have a high end car. You can then program it yourself to unlock the doors. So losing or replacing a bad remote is at worst inconvenient. It's optional, and maybe not even worth doing.

The actual 'key' can be tricky if you have a newer car that has a key with a 'chip' in it. That chip (a form of RFID) is called a transponder and is separate from the key less 'remote'. These chips can look like a gain of rice, or a piece of foil. Normally the transponder chip is embedded in the plastic handle of the key. The transponder is there to prevent theft by removing the lock tumbler and then turning the switch. Possibly they also prevent thief by hot wiring, but serious if a thief is smart enough to hot-wire a newer car I don't think defeating a transponder key would even slow him up.

You can get the key 'blanks' on the internet or local locksmith. You can get the metal key 'blank' cut to match your car's locks. BUT... The locksmith might not be able to set the transponder chip in the replacement key, so that replacement key will not start the car. In that case you end up going to the dealer anyway and paying the gun held to your head price for a new key. Well there is a cheap solution that is worth a try and works with no programming.

You probably have (had) two factory transponder keys given to you when you purchased the car. Instead of ordering one key blank to replace the lost one, order two and have both of them cut. Then tape the remaining 'factory' transponder key under the steering column out of site. It might have to be kept close (inches) away from the switch - you might be able to have it feet away - experiment. The hidden transponder key will respond to the car's security ping and allow the replacement key to start the car. Use the two (or more!) replacement keys from now on to start the car. Lose one of them it's no big deal.

The best thing about this is that you probably won't lose that 2nd factor key since it's attached to the car. Sure this hidden key could make your car easier to steal. You have insurance for thief, and serious how many cars have you had stolen in your life? Now, how many of you have lost a key? If you are really concerned about thief, after awhile of using the replacement keys cut the actual metal working end of the hidden key off or dig the chip out of it. Trying to remove the chip should be tried while you still have both factory keys in case you damage the chip trying to remove it. Then just tape the chip or plastic handle in place. Remember we are taking about the key here. Not the remote.

FYI - There has been no proof from the auto insurance industry that transponder keys have reduced car theft. A teacher once told me that locks are to keep honest people honest. A thief is going to have something to take care of that lock. A car thief (verses a smash and grab the contents) is not going to try and steal your car unless he already knows he can start it (or has a tow truck). So the fact that the thief knows your model of car has a transponder is enough to prevent its thief - until he has the hack to get around the transponder and then it's worthless.

The only thing that has been proved is that transponder keys provide financial security for the dealer. Today it's the $200+ for a new key and remote, maybe another $100 for towing the car to the dealer to 'reprogram' it. But the real security that transponder keys provide goes like this:

"Oh so sorry... The key code for your car is no longer available...Your car is too old...You'll have to buy a new car, and pay us to dispose of that worthless hunk of metal."

Think about it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Community Day at the Harris Nuclear Plant

Today Progress Energy hosted Community Day at the Harris Nuclear Plant. I live with in the 10 mile radius of the plant and the Harris Plant has been a good neighbor of mine for the 21 years I've lived here. Progress Energy mails me safety information each year which I scan and leave next to the phone in the kitchen. Progress Energy also supplies clean low cost carbon free energy to my home, and along with the other nuclear plants, 40% of the electricity to homes in the carolinas (nuclear power supplies about 20% nationally).

Years ago I had went to the Harris visitor center and viewed the displays. The control room simulator where they train nuclear plant operators was closed on that too long ago visit. The simulated control room is an exact copy to the actual one in use at the Harris plant. Now days the control room simulator is only open to the public this one day a year (generally the last Saturday in August)
, so the chance to take the control room simulator tour made today's visit a must do. The tour is available by reservation for schools and clubs. Kids get to have all the fun!

As luck would have it they were rebooting the simulator during my tour so all the dials, gauges, lights, and displays in the simulator control room were off. I didn't get many pictures this time, but I did get to ask a lot of questions. I also got to see the the computer room that runs the simulator.

Today while I waited for the control room simulator tour to start I visited the booths they had and spoke to the Progress Energy representatives. I learned that their certificate to operate the current reactor at Harris plant has been renewed for another 40 years of operation. I also found out there is 140 years of wet storage in place at the Harris plant. That after 5 years in wet storage that the spent fuel can be moved to dry storage. There is no dry storage at the Harris plant, but I believe that the spent fuel storage problem will be solved in the next 100 or so years. A Traveling Wave Reactor which Bill Gates spoke about at the 2010 TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conference seems to be very promising solution to the spent fuel problem.

I was pleased to see the solar voltaic sign in front of the visitor center along with a PHEV (Plug in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) Ford Escape. As a BEV (Battery EV) owner I'm a big supporter of EVs and I'm very interested in carbon free ways to produce the electricity needed to charge them. Carbon free renewable energy like the solar voltaic are a part of the answer, but for that enormous base power we need nuclear. Period. So get over it. Go visit a nuclear plant near you. They are a good neighbor and will welcome you and keep you warm on a cold windless winter night.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Burning Up

So it's been hot lately. I've been burning up in this heat. I've never liked the heat and humidity we have here in the south even though I've grown up with it. All the heat has made it difficult to run in the evening. It was still 85F (29.44C) at 9PM last night, so I've been running on a tread mill I purchased from Larry a couple years ago before he moved to Arkansas. It's a good, powerful, full size tread mill and it easily handles me. It has some nice features:
  • digital speed and incline controls
  • time and distance traveled
  • calorie burned
It also allows you to set a calorie burn goal, and when you reach your goal the belt slows, and in a few seconds, stops. Since my favorite part of exercise is when it is over, I like anything that will get me to my favorite part. So I set the burn goal for a whole box of mac & cheese (2 servings, or 500 calories) and started jogging. I was surprised when the thread mill shut off in about 25 minutes, way short of the 40 minutes I was expecting.

So is the 75 calorie for 6 minutes of jogging I used wrong, or is it the calorie counter on the tread mill? Well they are both wrong, and probably for the same reason. Both assume some weight value and chances are I'm not that weight. Well there are calorie calculators all over the web. But very few provide the formula. I found a formula that most scholarly pages site is from Energy Expenditure of Walking and Running, from Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, Dec. 2004.
Your Total Calorie Burn/Mile Your Net Calorie Burn/Mile
Running (>5mph) .75 x your weight (in lbs.) .63 x your weight
Walking (3-4mph) .53 x your weight .30 x your weight
Total Calorie Burned (TCB) includes your basal metabolism (what you burn just sitting there), and the Net Calorie Burned (NCB) is just what the exercise burned and is what typically gets shown by calculators.

So just how long do I have to spend on the tread mill to burn up 500 (total) calories? Ever how long it takes me to go 3.12 miles if I run, or 4.4 miles if I walk. So 37.5 minutes based on 12 minutes per mile pace which is about right or me. When walking your center of gravity does not move (up and down) as much as when you run, so you don't burn as many calories. That is an overly simple explanation. How Many Calories are You Really Burning? is a good place to start reading if you want specifics. Also exercising on a tread mill or on a track is about the same. But a flat track and the hills in your neighborhood are of course, different. Proving once again your mileage will vary!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What would you do for some Macaroni & Cheese?

So, I'm trying to lose a few pounds (a stone or so for you Brits, not money) and was wondering what was a calorie that I see on those labels all the time. I knew that a calorie was a unit of energy so with a little searching I found a handy California Energy Commission web page What is Energy?
The California Energy Commission web page says a piece of buttered toast contains about 315 kilojoules (315,000 joules, or 75.28 food calories) of energy. With that energy the web page says you could:
  • Jog for 6 minutes
  • Bicycle for 10 minutes
  • Walk briskly for 15 minutes
  • Sleep for 1-1/2 hours
  • Run a car for 7 seconds at 80 kilometers per hour (about 50 miles per hour)
  • Light a 60-watt light bulb for 1-1/2 hours
  • Or lift that 5 lb (2.26 kg) sack of sugar from the floor to the counter 21,000 times!
Sort of helps you picture just how much effort it takes to burn off a 250 calories candy bar - like lift that sack of sugar 70,000 times.
I can't confirm or explain their numbers. I did the metric-English conversions for this post, but I've heard before that running a hour is about 700-800 calories burned, so I suspect they are in the ball park (on the pitch). I suspect 75 calories is low for a piece of butter toast, but 315K joules is 75.28 kilo-calories (aka food calories).
I think on food labels they should put "Jog 20 minutes after eating this" or other depressing (but meaningful) warnings on the labels.
For me? What will I do for mac & cheese? I'll just take a 5 hour nap.

Monday, July 12, 2010

2010 Peachtree

Peachtree 2010
I'm sure you all noticed I've not posted much this year. Not a lot going on. Just work mostly. I did run in the Peachtree this year. This was the 2nd time for me. I cut 10 minutes off my time this year. Mostly because it was cooler and much less humid. That and I drank more before and during the race. I think last time I struggled because I got a bit dehydrated.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Again with the Cables

Hello and Happy New Year!
For Christmas I got myself and new Blu-Ray DVD player with internet video streaming (aka Netflix). Beside watching Blu-Ray and regular DVDs I can also watch movies streamed 'on demand' from the internet. The Blu-Ray player is connected to the internet using the the Wired Ethernet port I installed next to my 'media cabinet.' But to hook up to the plasma I needed to run a second HDMI cable from the Blu-Ray in the media cabinet to the plasma.

The media cabinet is actually in a closet that shares a wall with the den. In the den my plasma is mounted on the fire place hearth. The picture shows the plasma just after I hung it a couple years ago. If you look closely you'll notice there are no cables connected to it in that picture. Sort of reminds you of those commercials where a handsome couple sit watching their flat screen hanging cable free on a perfectly clean wall. If you read the disclaimer that flashes up during the commercial it says 'simulated picture shown' - most people believe they say that to make an excuse for why their super HD picture looks so bad on your crappy TV. But I know different. They 'simulate' the picture because you can't get a real picture on a flat panel without running lots of cables to it! And cables showing can really spoil the picture - which I'm sure some readers know too well.

Well over the last couple years as I hooked up various devices to my flat screen plasma and cable (mis) management got to be a real problem. No perfect picture here.

On the lower left you can see the hole in the wall the cables use to pass through to the closet on other side. I never finished the opening. I have enlarged the hole as I ran more cables through it.

The Blu-Ray used the last remaining connection on the plasma's input panel, so with no more cables possible I decided it was time to finish off 'the hole.' I also wanted to hide the cables. The next picture shows the finish outlets with the new connectors. 2 HDMI, 2 component video, 1 video, external antenna, 3 speakers cables, sub-woofer, and power cords.

Not bad. Much neater for sure. I ended up adding a 2nd opening for speaker wires for the surround sound. The black bundle of (13) cables snakes up the side of the bricks. Way better than it was, but I was still not happy.

While staying with Dexter and Jan in Atlanta for the Peachtree Road Race I noticed Jan had put their cables inside of a tube she made out of fabric. It was gathered fabric and I thought it looked nice and did a good job of hiding the cables. I don't have access to a sewing machine, so Gale suggested I just make the hem using glue. Then use hook-and-loop along the edges of the fabric so when fasten it would form a tube. So I took a shot at it and made my own cable tube!

I don't have Jan's sewing skills so it does not gather as nice as hers. My fabric also does not match the wall paper like hers (Wall paper? What wall paper? I anit got no wall paper in my house!). But, I think it turned out pretty good. Doesn't look like a snake crawling up the wall now.

So after about $150 in cables and connectors, a bit of fabric and glue I'm having a Happy New Year!