Smartmeters: Radiation & Other FUD

Our local, city owned, electricity utility has been working on a project to upgrade all our electricity meters to smart meters. For those that have not heard of these before, a smart meter is essentially the same as a modern digital electricity meter (so none of the moving parts of the classic electricity meter) with the addition of a radio that allows it to send data back to the utility periodically.

In most cases, they record the meter’s value every 15 minutes and then upload blocks of data to the utility periodically.

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UPS: More Excuses, Less Deliveries

[Updated November 21, 2017; see below]

Back in August 2016 I wrote about UPS and the repeated delivery failures I was seeing. Things have not really improved this year at all. My most recent UPS failure was a tablet ordered for work that we needed quickly, so I paid extra to get 1-day shipping (ordering on a Friday with a delivery expected on Monday).

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Common Networks

Those who have been following along here (or on Twitter) might recall all the strange issues we were having with Comcast’s internet service, specifically abysmal performance during the late evenings. For most of that time, and it was over a year I was trying to get them to fix the issue, they were sadly the only option we had for internet access. They had previously priced our city owned cable TV & ISP out of business, and then bought the customers. While that was happening, AT&T decided to simply drop out of providing internet service to the almost 500 homes in our neighborhood.

Then one day a friend posted information about a new wireless ISP starting up here in Alameda: Common Networks. I signed up to be on their waiting list immediately. Not long afterwards I was surprised by the email requesting information & selection of a date to install. They were still in beta at the time and suggested I keep Comcast as a backup for a little while, but with just one brief outage in the first two months they were easily more reliable than Comcast. Not to mention being faster. Here’s a speed test result from my phone:

Latterly with Comcast I was paying the same as Common charges, but getting max 25Mbps down and 5Mbps up.

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Apple Watch

I’ve had my Apple Watch now for a few months and I’ve become comfortable with it in that time, although there are still things I miss from my Pebble. With the Pebble support waning, and Fitbit not seeming to understand anything about those of us who want a smart watch rather than a fitness tracker, the switch to the Apple Watch came at a good time.

This is a very quick summary of what I like and what I do not like, but I will prefix this by saying overall I am very happy with the Apple Watch experience.

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B Class Electric: Initial Reactions

Since all the electric car options I am considering are at least 18 months out, but my lease was up at the end of August, I needed to pick a replacement car that made sense, but also that didn’t commit me to another 3 year lease. As luck would have it, an off lease 2014 electric Mercedes B Class that was in great shape was listed on my dealer’s website. So, that’s what we did; swapping my fun roadster for an electric 5 seat family car. This is my initial reaction to both the B Class and owning an electric car.

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Jeep Compass

While in Hawaii, we rented a Jeep Compass from Hertz. Partly because when traveling with a three year old there are lots of extra things to lug around, and partly because it was priced so competitively. Sadly, the week we had with it only served to convince me I would never buy a Jeep Compass.

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Mercedes Benz New Lease Return Process

It has been a little while now, but I still feel that the new pre-inspection process that Mercedes Benz Financial Services have imposed at the end of their leases is a huge mis-step. Perhaps other people have had different experiences with lease returns, but mine have always been very smooth & trouble free. This new process changes that, and not positively.

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Hilton Waikoloa Village

We have stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, on Hawaii’s Big Island, three times now, and it is always a great experience overall, though not a cheap one. And where else can you stay in a hotel/resort large enough to justify both a train and a boat for getting between buildings?

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Thoughts: Internet of Things

Much of the IoT hype is really just the final arrival of the promised connected devices – something that was being touted as imminent while I was at Wind River, but which really needed Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to come of age first. Today, connected devices are everywhere. Even cars are connected.

Now we live in a world where devices can be connected to a home or office network without requiring cabling. And we can wear lightweight devices that can take advantage of the more powerful computer in our pockets (aka a smartphone) for Internet connectivity using just low power Bluetooth connections. In some cases, even permanent devices, like smart door locks, can be battery-powered and use Bluetooth to connect to a local "bridge" device.

In addition to that always on connectivity, these devices needed simpler controls. Whether touch screens that can adapt, or, more recently, voice control, without more natural controls, many IoT devices would be too complex.

Finally, the arrival of meaningful AI is helping make many of these devices at least seem smarter, and be easier to interact with. Often with natural language, or by having the device simply observe & learn.

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