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rwandering.net

The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

Recording your Energy Attention

Attention applied to Internet and media use has come to mean the what, where, and how you do and don’t spend time.  For example, are you reading your news on Google or NYT? Do you use a portal like MSN or Yahoo? What do you do on Facebook?  Such information, or attention data, can be quite valuable, especially when correlated with other information.  Many companies rely on this concept, both implicitly and explicitly.

This use of the word attention, though, doesn’t apply only to the Internet and media.  It also applies to plain-old products too – which cereal you eat and where you vacation, etc. – in fact, it can apply to everything.

So, it follows, that energy attention is the subset of your attention as it applies to energy:  what, where, and how, you do and don’t use energy.  Just like the more general attention data, such data can also be quite valuable, both to you in reducing your energy use and costs, but also to third-parties for marketing and sales purposes (note that carbon attention overlaps with energy attention, but I am not going into that now).

Electric and Gas utilities record one major aspect of your energy attention today:  your electricity and gas usage data.  Most utilities provide these data back to their customers in summary form on bills, and many provide it in more detail.  My local utility, PG&E, provides me with hourly electricity and gas usage data through their Web portal.

While functional, I wanted real-time usage data.  My first thought was to use the GE SmartMeter that PG&E installed.  While the data could be retrieved from there, my access to it is on an unknown schedule with an unknown feature set.  The California Public Utilities Commission, utilities, vendors, and other stakeholders have been wrangling over issues central to the ownership and sharing of such energy attention data.  Both the Commission and PG&E have good reasons to be careful with this data:  PG&E installed and owns that meter and paid for it with rate-payer monies.  There is a decent (though somewhat dated) overview at Giga OM.  And while the Commission released an update to their proposed decision (PD) yesterday (here), the wrangling isn’t over.

So instead of waiting for this to all get resolved, I followed Jon Udell’s lead and installed The Energy Detective 5000 (TED 5000).  This monitors my home electricity usage in real time, giving me immediate access to my own energy attention data.  This to me, is exactly in the spirit of the Attention Trust (AT), an organization that I did some pro-bono work for in the past along-side of Steve Gillmor.

Now what does this have to do with attention and the AT?

Back in 2005, the AT was formed to assert user rights over attention data, specifically as it related to that data collected by Internet  services.  For example, Google tracks user attention (through clicks and time on pages, etc.) and uses that  information for operating their various services.  You consent to their right these data  through their Terms of Service (TOS).   The AT asserted that the user also owns these data.  To assert this ownership, the AT provided the Attention Recorder with which a user could record their own attention data from the browser.  The act of capturing such data from the user side of the firewall ended the discussion of who owned the data.  Yes, the Internet service has their copy and can use it based on the TOS, but the user owns the data too.

So, the TED 5000 is my own personal Energy Attention Recorder.  I assert ownership over the data and authority to do anything I want with it – including exposing it to any third-party service I so choose.

Interestingly, the PD issued yesterday names the TED 5000 specifically (although in reference to a utility comment).  This is in response to one of the CPUC questions (paraphrased):

Does the Commission have authority over entities that receive information on a consumer’s energy usage from meter sources other than a utility?

While the Commission has deferred this question, it is clear that they will face an up-hill battle on protecting consumers from their own
actions.

I, for one, claim ownership of my own energy attention.

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Use the marginal kWH cost for efficiency savings!

I haven’t done a survey on how green home products present savings to consumers, but my guess is they are generally doing it wrong.  Granted, this might be some mandate from some industry group or governmental body, I don’t know, but it is key that consumers see the difference.

Here is an example, but first some background.

I recently picked up a Kill-a-Watt and have been measuring different devices in the house while on standby.   I want to get a handle on how much vampire power is being wasted.

It turns out that around 60 watts is bleeding from our main home entertainment system when on standby.  That is about 60 watts * 8760 hours = 525 kWH per year.

Aside from a classic power strip with a switch, there are solutions now that supply controlled outlets that only make power available when some master component is on.  One solution is the Zuni Digital smart powerstrip.  Another is the is the Belkin Conserve, though the latter doesn’t have enough outlets (disclosure: those our Amazon links).

So what am I on about?  If you look at the Belkin information, they present a very similar scenario as mine and conclude that the Conserve power strip can save up to $67 / year!  Unfortunately, they are using the wrong price:

Dollar figure based on US Department of Energy average retail price for residential electricity of $0.1132 per killowatt-hour.

Residential electricity rates are often more complex than that, though, and here in the PG&E territory, such a low rate only applies to your baseline usage.  The rates go up based on your usage.  The top rate is actually $0.40352.

If you are a consumer making a decision on saving 525 kWH per year, you should be looking at your top rate — i.e., the top rate you are actually paying to your utilty based on your circumstances.  Because if you shave off kWH, you are saving the money on the top rate, not on the bottom rate.   I’m embarassed to admit it, but our rate is 40-cents.  If I save 526 kWH that saves me $212.    (Of course, if your energy savings drop you to a lower rate, the calculation changs).

The Zuni sells for $39 — that pays for itself in just over two months.  Now, granted, our entertainment system is actually used sometimes, but I estimate it is unused 94% of the year, so that still nets nearly $200.

So, what is the marginal rate you pay?

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One Windows to rule them all

Jason Hiner from ZDNet gives some credit to Microsoft for the new approach, but shares my opinion that the one-size fits all approach is a tried and failed:

I would have thought Microsoft learned its lesson here. It has already tried to take the full version of Windows 7 and run it on tablets. These “slates” — as Microsoft calls tablets — have gotten trounced by the iPad. Now, Microsoft has decided to take the full version of Windows and make sweeping UI changes so that it’s much more tablet-friendly and then apply all of those changes to the standard desktop/laptop version of Windows as well. Say what?

My comparison to the old Windows Mobile world, although not technically “One Windows to rule them all”, covers similar ground.

As a developer, I love the idea of write once and run everywhere, but in today’s world that applies to only one technology HTML5 and JavaScript.  It just doesn’t apply to the OS.

The users have already spoken on this.  And they are right on so many levels.

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Thoughts on Windows 8

Here are various thoughts I have about Windows 8:

On the name:

  • I hope this “codename Windows 8″ stuff is just a joke.  Just call it Windows 8.  Every other OS that I can think of has first and foremost a number associated with it.  In fact, I think this must just be a joke, because Microsoft is more and more coming around to the “Windows” name as the brand.  Calling it Windows Flambe or Windows Azule or Windows Enchilada doesn’t help with the brand.  8.
  • Now, of course, this ignores the fact that Windows 7 is a name, not a version.  So implicit in my plea for Windows 8 is that it actually be version 8, not just named 8.  Sorry if that is confusing, but I’m not the one who decided that Windows version 6.1 would be called Windows 7.

On the new interface:

  • Looks kind of interesting, but I’m concerned about the “one interface to rule them all” approach.  Remind anyone of the original Windows Mobile?  Just a small form-factor Windows machine with Start menu.  That seemed logical, but it turned out that it was nearly unusable.  The Windows Phone 7 Metro UI is pretty cool for a phone.  It would work well for a tablet.  It seems wierd for a desktop/laptop, but maybe not.
  • The bigger problem is that I hope Microsoft gets that standard Windows applications don’t become productive tablet applications with the addition of touch.  I have a convertible laptop.  It would be interesting to have Metro on it, but that will only solve one piece of what makes it nearly unusable in tablet form.

On Silverlight:

  • So, unlike Windows Phone 7, Windows 8 won’t use Silverlight for the Metro UI.  This isn’t surprising.  Microsoft has eschewed .NET for core Windows development from day 1.  OK, from day 2, because on day 1 they said .NET would be the new Windows API.  It never happened.  And this is just another indication that it never will.
  • That said, I think it makes total sense for them to use HTML 5 and not Silverlight for Windows.
  • This begs the question: if HTML 5 and JavaScript are good for Windows 8, then how long until these replace Silverlight for Windows Phone?
  • Which begs another (future) question: what will Silverlight be good for then?

A little snarky, but I’m feeling snarky today.

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ConnectivityWeek 2011

I’ll be presenting at Connectivity Week on Monday, the 23rd on this panel. I’ll be talking about experiences in California integrating retail DR in the wholesale market.

Update: I’m filling in for Rizwaan at the CAISO on another panel. This time I’ll be speaking about ISO perspectives on DR.

If you are at that conference, look me up. Also, they provided a discount code. Email me at robert at rwandering dot net, and I’ll give you the code.

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Updating Windows Phone 7 to “nodo”

I had one hell of a time updating the Windows Phone 7 LG Optima 7 from PDC 2011.

It seems like many people have had some form of this problem: When the zune software reboots the phone before the update, the phone gets stuck with the “connect your phone” picture.

Some people seem to get errors of some kind or a timeout, but on my machine I never got any error. It just didn’t work. I went through all of the troubleshooters I could find but just couldn’t get it to work.

The solution turned out to be to perform the update on a different computer. I did this with the February and March updates.

Note that I tried to update on the original computer after the February update, hoping the problem was gone, but no luck. I had to do both updates on the second machine. Who knows, maybe when the next update comes it will work on the original machine (or maybe Microsoft will fix this with Windows Update or a Zune software update).

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Mudslinging at InsideHPC

Read the open letter to insideHPC readers.

Pure mudslinging about conflicts of interest based on things that don’t seem to be true. I won’t mention the mudslinger, but I can tell you that if I bothered to read that other blog — which I don’t — I would unsubscribe.

Build your brand on merit like InsideHPC did, not on publicity stunts.

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When VPC Integration Components Upgrade Fails

So I never forget this again. When an upgrade of Virtual PC Integration Components fails,
Delete %windir%\system32\drivers\wdf01000.sys.

Educating Customers about Smart Meters

Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm has a good piece today about Why the Smart Meter Backlash Story Isn’t Going Away.  Taking her points together (except for “hard times”, which the utilities can’t do much about), it really comes down to poor customer education.  I’ll get back to the “People don’t like PG&E” point later.

In general, the utilities should have answered these questions for their customers before starting the changeover:

  • How does a smart meter help the customer?
  • Are meters read more frequently and/or read at finer intervals?
  • What is being done to protect that data?
  • Will the utility sell that data to others?
  • (How) Will the utility provide that data to the government / law enforcement?
  • How are the meters tested for accuracy?
  • How do we know if my old meter was accurate?
  • Why might my bill change and what do I do if I think there is an issue?

I don’t think it is sufficient to have a bill insert that explains these things.  I have a new PG&E smart meter, and have never seen any literature about the smart meter change.  I was out of town when PG&E came knocking at my door, and again I was away when the installer showed up.  I might be able to go find some of this information on the PG&E site, but my point is that I don’t think I should have to go look for it.

And, I certainly don’t mean to pick on PG&E.  I actually don’t know that “People don’t like PG&E”.  My relationship with them has always been a good one.  For example, some foundation contractors knocked my gas meter out of whack (and left the house with an audible gas leak), PG&E came right away to fix it and turn the gas back on.  No charge, friendly and professional. 

My personal opinion about the reports of inaccuracies is that it has a lot more to do with the meter being replaced than the new meter.  I have talked with others in the utility business who have experienced this over the years (e.g., the customer is complaining about their meter, so we replaced it and now their bills have gone up).  Utilities must know this in the metering department, so why didn’t they lead with this in customer education instead of just hoping it wouldn’t come up?

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BizSpark Graduation Offer

Wow. 

Somesegar just announced that Microsoft is letting BizSpark Startups keep their production licenses after they graduate. 

The program is designed to get people hooked on the Microsoft platform.  They just removed a major hurdle for companies who were worried about what happens after they exit the program (not that the licensing issue goes away, mind you).  Anyway, BizSpark was already a great deal for startups with a Microsoft bent and now it is a lot better.

Great move by Microsoft.  The Microsoft developer story is truly a great one, and getting better all the time.

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