Decisions Made Easy

Data makes decisions easier. Let’s look at an example:

  1. We recently got solar panels on our house. We’re producing power and all is good.
  2. The electric company (Xcel) recently made an optional billing rate available called Time-of-Use metering (TOU). Our current flat-rate (tier 1, <500KWh/month) billing is roughly 9¢/KWh. TOU rates charge you differently depending on what time of day it is, since “peak” power costs them more to deliver. Here are the approximate wintertime TOU rates:
    1. 8¢/KWh Off-Peak 21:00-09:00
    2. 10¢/KWh Shoulder 09:00-21:00
    3. 14¢/KWh On-Peak 14:00-18:00 weekdays (non-holidays)
  3. Xcel will credit us into a virtual “solar bank” for electricity at the rate and time we generate it under TOU metering, or a simple KWh solar bank under flat-rate metering.
  4. Which plan would be worth more to us?

A lot of factors go into this calculation. With flat-rate it’s easy, just look at the net meter at the end of the month and see whether it’s positive or negative to find out whether you owe money or built up your “solar bank.” With TOU it’s not so easy. You have to calculate your net usage depending on summer/winter, time of day, and the cost for that time of day.

Fortunately I wrote a program to figure that out. Combined with a home energy meter, SmartThings, and a logging server, I was able to calculate the difference.

We only have data for a few days so far but the results are telling:

2017-11-12 Sun: TOU $-0.48 vs flat-rate $-0.25
2017-11-13 Mon: TOU $-0.71 vs flat-rate $-0.31
2017-11-14 Tue: TOU $-0.31 vs flat-rate $ 0.00
2017-11-15 Wed: TOU $-0.37 vs flat-rate $ 0.11
2017-11-16 Thu: TOU $-0.19 vs flat-rate $ 0.12
On-peak:  $  -1.51
Shoulder: $  -5.19
Off-peak: $   4.65
TOU Sum:  $  -2.05
Flat Sum: $  -0.33

Switching to TOU net metering shows a >6x increase in profitability (given immediate monetization) over the past 5 days.

Now, things could (and will) change. It’s not always sunny in [where I live]. Xcel could (and will) raise its rates in the future which would make the flat-rate KWh bank worth more (…but by >6x)?

Still, the data doesn’t lie. It may be inaccurate — and the home energy meter I used to collect this data does show some drift compared to Xcel’s power meter — but it doesn’t demonstrate bias. Data has no emotional investment or opinions.

Not that Data (sorry).

So… we’ve applied for TOU pricing. Combined with solar generation it’s a no-brainer, although making the decision does require some smarts. Were we not solar producers, the decision might be more difficult.

I’ll have to run that scenario for fun.



Where Will You Land?

As Facebook comes crumbling down and the mass exodus begins, what platform will people move to that doesn’t control them so algorithmically?

I looked at Diaspora a while ago. It’s worth another look. From a technical perspective I like that it’s decentralized and owned by the users. Plus all the users legally own their own data.

It doesn’t need ad revenue to survive, so that’s good.

Also I could run my own server on the network if I wanted to.

Or — hey — there’s always the original social network, ham radio.


When taking a video on your cellphone, hold it sidewaysNobody likes to watch videos with a vertical aspect ratio on a horizontal screen. And it looks ridiculous on the front page of the New York Times when somebody’s cell phone video has gigantic black bars on either side of it, making it completely tiny and unwatchable.


Film Production M.F.A.

P.S. Do this for still images, too.

Comcast Gigabit Pro No-Go

I was intrigued to see if Comcast had Gigabit Pro fiber Internet service in my area, so I called to enquire about it. The CSR opened an inquiry ticket for me and someone called me back within two days and indicated that yes, they did have fiber in my area. The cost would be $300/month + $20/month equipment rental with a 2-year contract, a $500 install fee, and a $500 activation fee. For that I would get 2 Gbps symmetric Internet access! But they would need to do a “walk survey” to verify that my location was suitable for installation. I said go ahead. At this point I was getting excited and starting to plan for all of the great usage I would get out of this awesome bandwidth.

About a week later I got another call back from my rep and he said that the walk survey indicated I was good to go. He would set up a construction survey and within two to three weeks someone would get in touch with me to look at my residence and determine the best way to run fiber into my house! I decided to go ahead and order the network equipment I needed to be able to utilize 2 Gbps symmetrical Internet.

Two days later I got my final call back from Comcast and my rep said that when he submitted the construction ticket, the team got back to him and said there was “not a clear route to be able to provide services to your home.” The voicemail ended with him asking me to call them back in 6 months. 😦

This makes me sad. I realize that the service is kinda stupid expensive but would have been hella awesome nonetheless. I was talking it up to all of my coworkers, friends, and family, and would have been a bit of a word-of-mouth free marketing person (and Comcast desperately needs all the good PR it can get). Unfortunately it is not to be. I don’t believe I was told the whole truth on the telephone as to why Comcast doesn’t want to run fiber to my house. From my bedroom window I can see a marked Comcast fiber location less than 200 feet from my house! The feed into my residence is aerial (on a pole) so there wouldn’t even be a need to dig a trench. And to add insult to injury, I watched three of the four Comcast Metro-E area techs install the Gigabit Pro service at a nearby location on very the same day I got the rejection voicemail! It was apparently only their second install of the service in the area, and I was looking forward to working with them on my install.

It looks like my only alternative now is to get involved with my local government and support the build-out of our own municipal fiber service. In this last election the voters overwhelmingly approved the ability for my town to provide municipal broadband service, and from what I read, we have a feasibility study budgeted for next year. I will be pushing hard for this service to happen. When that happens, Comcast will be permanently losing a subscriber who could have been an early adopter of what could have been an awesome fiber Internet service.

UPDATE 2016-12-12:

I got some more information from inside Comcast via a colleague: the node that supports my house is a secondary node and not capable of supporting Gigabit Pro service, so it turns out the initial survey was in error. However, they will be upgrading it to a primary node sometime in 2017, so we will revisit next year….