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

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Entertainment Boxes and Power Drain

I've read a couple articles about energy usage around the home. One article Atop TV Sets, Cable Boxes and DVRs Drain Power - states that a DVR might use "... 446 kilowatt hours a year, about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found." Since I have Kill-a-Watt energy monitor I decided to see what my home entertainment setup used.

I have a UPS plugged into the wall outlet and I have the following devices plugged into the UPS:

  • DVR
  • Google TV
  • Wireless Router
  • DVD player
  • Wii
  • Digtial delay device
  • 46 inch LCD TV
  • Surround Sound
The Wii, DVR player, Digital Delay, and Surround Sound was not used during this sample. I only use the Wii when it's too hot to run, and the other items when I'm watching a DVD movie. So I would say the DVR, TV, and Google TV devices are my typical viewing set up.

Over 72 hours (3 days) my setup used 8.24Kwh or 2.75Kwh per day and just over 1000 Kwh per year. That's about $110 a year at 11 cents a Kwh. When 'off' 85 watts per hour (2Kwh per day) is used , and the 'on' usage is 142 watts per hour (3.4Kwh per day). Like the article says you don't save much when turning the devices off. 2.75Kwh - 2Kwh = 750 watts per day for me which is less than 9 cents a day to have them 'on' for just over 13 hour per day. 750 / (142 - 85) = 13.16

The NY Times article never actually stated what a typical household used. The study the NY Times linked to never said either, but there was a table that showed 617 Kwh per year. Based on what I am using I would say that 617 Kwh is conservative when you add in the TV and the internet access needed to stream video.

I think a Kill-a-Watt device is well worth the $30 since it gives your real time and accumulated watts (watt hours) and the amount of time it has been measuring which is all you need to understand the energy usage. Kill-a-Watt are available online and home improvement stores.

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.