Friday, December 30, 2011

The street view of solar panels on the Myers house

I blogged about solar results two days ago and people inquired about the appearance of the house and roof from the street. That's easily solved with a few photographs.

The first picture is the overall street view. There are panels on the part of the house on the left, as well as over the garage: neither are visible because they are in profile. The panels on the main body of the house, over the kitchen on the far right, are visible from the street, but not when you walk up the front walk. Ann had some significant comments on aesthetics, "I don't want our house to look like the space station." The last three pictures give a bit more detail of each array.

These five panels are over the kid's bedroom. It turns out that they are the most consistent producers on the house, as there is little shading from trees.
This is a closeup of the arrays over the garage (left) and kitchen (right). They get a bit less light because of shading from our neighbor's trees. During the winter solstice, even a distant tree can shade late in the day.
And finally the array over the garage.
You can see that they are unobtrusive. Now we just have to get rid of the DirecTV dish on the front left of the garage.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Homemade peppermint faux oreo cookies

I need some tangible distraction from the world of resumes, LinkedIn and Twitter. One of the ways I have been spending my time is with recipes that I would never have tried in "normal" times. The latest concoction came from my favorite King Arthur Baker's Companion Cookbook, called Faux-reos. I didn't have black or dutch process cocoa and had to do the filling with red food dye and peppermint extract rather than crushed peppermint pieces. But they were wonderful. And yes, the filling for the cookies would count as a "double stuff" cookie.

One note to the wise: every recipe I have done from the cookbook was wonderful. However, you will not find low fat or other recipes here: they are all wonderful buttery recipes that call for the finest ingredients. It all shows in the results.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Results of a full year of solar electric (photovoltaic) panels on our house

It's been sixteen months since we installed solar panels on our house. A number of people have asked what our experience has been and I'd like to report this in figures and pictures as an update from my blog in September 2010. Here are the key figures:
  • The system was estimated to produce 4.73 megawatt-hours; actual production was 6.56 megawatt-hours. I believe that much of this is due to the Enphase microinverter technology.
  • Our electric bill dropped from 2,244.25 to 465.57, a savings of 1,778.68. Note that the $465 number is a bit more than the PG&E bill I copy below: there is a $12.03 monthly access fee as well.
The bottom line is that this system will pay for itself in approximately 13 years.
I've attached a bit of backup information below for those of you that enjoy the detail or are considering taking the plunge yourself.

First is the summary bill from PG&E for a year of electricity. You move to an annual cycle with a true-up at the end of the year. Note that we were still overall consumers, but provided electricity back to the grid during peak times in the summer: those are the negative numbers in November through May.

The summer solstice is peak generation time. I have captured a graph of my energy production on that top day and show the panels at the peak production time of the day.

Below is a graph of the total energy production of the array. Note that the graph is sinusoidal, except for the days that clouds moved in to cut production.

The figures go on to say that we have saved 5.6 tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere. While that certainly does not put us at a zero carbon footprint, it is good to know that I'm helping to save the environment while saving money.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The tower on Mt. Umunhum is back in the news

One of my favorite topics(1),(2),(3) has been back in the news in the past few weeks. A massive cold war relic rests atop the Santa Cruz mountains on the west side of the valley near the southern limits of San Jose.

The news first appeared on December 14 in the Mercury News which described multiple scenarios of cleanup and access. Scott Herhold added to this on December 21, as he realized that the report was biased towards the demolition of the tower.

I did not live in Silicon Valley when the dish was active atop the tower. I have, however, learned of the dark history of the cold war. We had nuclear-tipped missiles around all of our major cities, including some on the Chicago lakeshore, to defend against an attack from the Soviets. These missiles were not small: their warheads was as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. People forget that we once had 31,225 warheads and would like to believe that the problem is over: out of sight, out of mind. But we still had 5.113 warheads in 2009 and the New Start Treaty reduces that to 1,550. That is still massive destructive power. I also recommend an article from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about the nuclear threat and what our Secretary of State staff, among others, are doing about it.

We have our Nike missile museum in Marin that can remind aficionados how close we were to the brink; I do recommend watching the video on this site: Almaden AFS' part of this comes four minutes into the video. As Scott suggests, we should maintain this cube as a reminder of the cold war period in a way that is visible to everyone in the valley. I suppose we could demolish it when we achieve nuclear disarmament.

It's time to write your letters and be ready to appear at the hearings. And there is an online survey at the Mercury News where you can vote to keep it or tear it down. And I look forward to the day that I can ride my bike all way up to the cube.

Upgrading an older MacBook to a new Seagate hybrid drive: it was easy

My daughter has had a MacBook for four years that was sufficient in CPU but underwhelming in disk space. [Claire is a musician and has a large music library]. Life as a struggling musician does not allow new computers every two to three years, so we looked for an upgrade to increase the disk space and, if possible, improve the system speed. A solid state disk drive (SSD) was a possibility, but the price of more that $1,000 for 600GB was out of the ballpark: it was also beyond the requirements.

I'd seen blogs from other folks such as Greg Wilson blog about how simple the upgrade was. And I'd heard about, which gives great instructions on the process. I was convinced that it was easy, although I have some fear of opening up Apple devices. and Greg convinced me that this was very easy.

I'd seen Seagate's hybrid drives for a while, but never found the excuse to try them. If you don't know, a hybrid drive adds 4GB flash drive in front of the rotating disk, so you get SSD performance for the recently used files. This was the time to take the plunge, as we needed at least 500GB and our budget was low. We settled on a Seagate Momentus XT 500GB 2.5 Inch Solid State Hybrid Drive ST95005620AS from Newegg, which we took away for under $100 thanks to special discounts. The upgrade process was easy, especially with the use of SuperDuper!; we finished the process in an afternoon.

But the important test is the timing benchmarks. The times before (all seconds):
  • Boot time: 121
  • GarageBand Launch: 30
  • Photoshop CS5.5 Launch: 30
and after the upgrade:
  • Boot time: 100
  • GarageBand Launch: 5
  • Photoshop CS5.5 Launch: 6
That's only a 17% improvement in boot time for this old mac, but the 5-6x application launch time was the big winner.

I recently heard the story of how they came to be a content-centric site; I will blog on it in the future. For now, they have my vote of confidence and a willingness to take on other Apple repairs.

A word from your waiter, a person

My daughter Claire is a waitress at Willow Street Pizza in between musical engagements. We do hear tales from the server occasionally so that I've become more sensitized to these issues. For example, I was unaware that the waiter splits the tips with the hostess, bus boy, bartender and others.

Saturday I was going through old programs on our Tivo and found a CBS Sunday morning segment from November titled "Waiters are people too!" from an anonymous waiter.

This is a good educational video for all of us, especially folks like me who have never had to wait tables for a living.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Word spaces should be dropped at page boundaries in the NY Times iPad application

This may seem like a small thing if one isn't into type. But the New York Times iPad application has an interesting flaw at page boundaries. It didn't show up on the iPhone, as it just has continuous text.

But what you can see in the picture below is that there is a word space at the beginning of the first line on the page (and the page is page two of a multipage article). It is there just to the right of the big red box, in front of the first word of body copy "will."

Note that this would not generally be blog material, but I had to have a reference with the image to include in my email to the Times. So you all now have a bit of typography education.

I love the application, especially the iPad edition. I just wish they'd fix this minor bug.

Note that the NY Times fixed this bug sometime in May or June, 2012. I didn't see release notes, but was pleased to notice the clear left alignment when I opened my iPad recently.