Tesla Solar Panels: One Year Later

I wrote a long post last year about our saga getting solar panels installed on our house and approved for activation by the local electrical utility.1 While the panels were installed in the spring of 2018, we weren’t able to turn them on until August 2018. So one year later, how is it going?

Pretty awesome, to be blunt. In July 2018, our last full month on the grid, we used about 1 ,200 kWh of electricity from the utility, costing us about $286 in charges2.

This July 2019, our solar panels covered all of our electricity usage (in a massive heat wave) and generated an excess of 500 kWh to put back in the grid, generating a credit of $100. The Tesla solar panel lease is about $130, meaning we paid about 1/10th the amount for electricity this July over last.

Our current total credit balance for the year is about $450 so far and if current trends match last year’s, we should be on track to cover most, if not all, of our winter usage.3 I am very, very happy with this.

Read More and Comment

Completing Crossword Puzzles on iPad with Apple Pencil

I’ve long been a crossword puzzle fan. When we were first married, Melanie and I would do the puzzle at dinner together as a fun couple activity. But as children came along that became impossible to continue at dinner. And then when I quit getting the physical newspaper in favor of a digital version, I gave it up entirely. But last year, when I started working from home, I decided to start doing the crossword during lunch during the week and on Sundays during brunch. At first, I printed them out from the digital newspaper and used a pencil, but that used too much paper and ink and seemed wasteful. But what if I could do the puzzle with my Apple Pencil on iPad?

Sure, there are plenty of crossword puzzle apps for iPad, from ones of questionable value up to the New York Times daily puzzle, but they all seemed overkill since I already had a newspaper subscription and they all used frustrating keyboard interfaces for completing them instead of the natural writing of the Pencil. So here’s what I did, first in my description of the steps and then with a video to illustrate.

First, I subscribe to the Boston Globe e-Paper1. Yes, the Globe website has a puzzle, but it’s not downloadable; it’s the same “complete it in a window” as the ones I didn’t want. However, the e-Paper is available both as an app in a web browser and as iOS and Android apps.2

Second, you should own the GoodNotes app for iOS (and an Apple Pencil). This is an excellent writing and notetaking app that is useful for a lot more than just this puzzle function, but it’s part of my workflow here.

Second, I open the app each day, go into today’s edition and go to the comics section.

Third, I tap on the crossword itself, which opens it in Article view, which is a full-page view.

Fourth, I hit the Print icon in the top right, but I don’t print it. This part is key: Do a reverse-pinch3 in the print preview window in the middle of the screen. This will open another screen that will have a Share icon in the top right.

Fifth, tap the Share icon and the Share sheet will open. If you do not see an option to “Copy to GoodNotes” on the top line here, keep scrolling to the right until you do. Tap on “Copy to GoodNotes.”

Sixth, GoodNotes should now open. If this is the first time doing this, you can import the puzzle as a new document. On subsequent imports, you can choose to import into the same notebook. If that notebook is open, you can append it right to the end or you can “Change Location” and select the correct notebook to append to.

Seventh, you are now ready to complete your puzzle. Obviously, unless you have a very large iPad, you will need to pinch and zoom to read the clues and write in the little boxes, but that’s what iPads are good at. Frankly, it’s superior to pencil and paper puzzles since when I erase, it never smudges and I can always ensure it’s at least legible as my handwriting allows.

Obviously, this can work with any puzzle (or any document that you want to write on really) as long as you have a way to print it on iOS. Once you have it in the print dialog, then turning it into a PDF that gets sent to GoodNotes is the key.

Enjoy!

  1. This is the first caveat: You have to be a paying subscriber. Support local journalism. Read the paper.
  2. Second caveat: the iOS app is of spotty quality. Sometimes they forget to format it correctly so one of these steps doesn’t work. In that case, I have to use the website to “print the PDF”.
  3. Reverse-pinch: Place two fingers (thumb and forefinger usually) together on the screen and then move them apart, like you’ve got some taffy on your fingers and you’re stretching it.

My Podcasting Workflow: Research and Preparation

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. This is the second in a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first post described my hardware setup.

Before I record a podcast, there’s a certain amount of work that needs to be done. I keep track of all our shows and the individual episodes and where they are in the process using the relational database tool AirTable. The database is broken down into a series of views either by show title or specific filters like “In the edit queue” or “in the release queue”.1

AirTable

Each record has the episode title, episode number, the date and time that the recording is scheduled (if any), the release date of the show, current status (i.e. idea, scheduling guests, recording scheduled, edit queue, posting scheduled, posted), series title, assigned editor, host, guests/co-hosts, episode description, editorial notes, link to the episode on the SQPN site, and then specialized fields related to particular shows (e.g. which Doctor is it, the Doctor Who season, Doctor Who or Star Trek original air date; the Mysterious World category; the Star Trek series and season, etc.) There’s also a database of the podcast panelists and guests and their contact information as well as databases for tracking the picks of the week for The Secrets of Technology and Let’s Talk.2

Read More and Comment

Going iPad Only is Stupid

iPad on top of MacBook Pro

Sorry for the clickbait headline, but this does encapsulate some of the frustration I’ve been feeling lately. I listen to a lot of Mac/iOS/tech podcasts and read a lot of blogs in that space as well and one of the common trends I’ve seen lately is how many people have declared that the age of the PC is over and that the new touchscreen tablet era has begun.

Time and again, I see these pundits exclaim that they have eschewed their Macs, with their clunky keyboards and massive screens in favor of the simplicity of a touch interface and Apple Pencil, which has simplified their workflows and allows them to focus on getting their work done. Sure. Perhaps. But it sounds like a lot of hipster baloney to me.

I’m no neophyte with technology, but whenever I try to do my work on an iPad instead of my Macs, I feel like I’m trying to swim through a pool of pudding with one arm tied behind my back. It’s not that I can’t do my work there (although there are some things that are still not possible on an iPad), but that trying to do it there takes longer and is harder. So why do it? To prove a point? Read More and Comment

My Podcasting Workflow: Hardware Setup

Dom sitting at his desk with his computer gear

I’m sometimes asked about my podcasting workflow, how SQPN goes about recording, editing, distributing, and promoting our shows. Right now, for the most part, this is a one-man operation. However, we’re growing to the point where I’m going to need to start bringing on some help and handing off some of these elements to other people. So what follows is a series of posts that explain the multiple steps that take me from the beginning to the end of the process for each show we produce. The first step involves the hardware setup.

My office at home is where I do my podcasting. I have a big Ikea desk on which sits my computer and a second monitor and microphone. Actually “sit” isn’t technically true. Both the 27″ iMac and the 27″ secondary display are on separate swing arms that allow me to move and reposition them independently as needed. On a small rolling cart to my right sits my Mackie ProFX8 mixer. It’s a bit overkill for a single microphone setup, but I anticipate doing multiple microphone recordings in my office in the future and this will work well for that. The Mackie is connected to my Mac via USB.

My microphone, an Audio-Technica ATR2100, is connected via XLR to the mixer through a Cloudlifter CL-1 microphone pre-amplifier. The microphone hangs off of a Rode PSA1 boom arm and a shock mount along with a pop filter.

Hanging from an Elevation Lab AnchorPro headphone hook under my desk is my Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones which are directly connected to my iMac’s audio-out port.
Read More and Comment

Gen Xers Reliving Apple II Nostalgia

A guy about my age found his old Apple IIe in his parent’s attic, posted his nostalgia on Twitter, and got the world agog about his 30-year-old computer nostalgia. I have to admit, I’m nostalgic too.

John Pfaff tweeted about finding the computer and then followed with a series of tweets and photos of the computer running various old programs from the floppy disks that still worked.

I’ve written before about my history with Apple computers, and I would love to go back and see some of those great early computers we had. I would love to have that Apple //c or Apple IIGS again and all that great software. Pfaff plays with some of the software I used back in the day, including Olympic Decathlon. Happily, you don’t need to find an ancient, still running Apple II computer to revisit that old software as the Internet Archive has a lot of it online and usable in a browser-based emulator. However, it won’t uncover the old personal files, like the letter from his late father that Pfaff found.

But it can still be a fun walk down memory lane. I do wish I had that Apple IIGS though.

Podcasting Equipment For Beginners

As someone who has been involved in podcasting for almost a decade and who podcasts as a full-time job now, I often get asked for recommendations for podcasting equipment for beginners. I wish I had a good quick answer for that, but I don’t. That’s because there is a lot to consider first.1 But before we get into the equipment, first dispose of any ideas that podcasting is like what you see on TV shows like God Friended Me. Just no.

What kind of podcast?

Is this going to be informal for a few friends? Are you going for a wide audience? Are you planning on commercializing it? Are you podcasting for your business or organization?

Where will you record it?

At your desk? In the car? On the go? Coffee shops? At a podium or lectern? In a lot of different places?

Who will you record it with?

Are you making a solo podcast? Are you doing a podcast with a co-host? A group of people? The same people or a changing panel?

How will you record it with them?

If you’re recording with other people, will they be joining you in your office? Via Skype or other remote service? In a car? Outside? On the road?

How much is your budget?

You can spend almost nothing up to thousands of dollars, although a decent setup that can last you through several advances in expertise can be had for a couple hundred dollars.

How long do you think you’ll be doing this?

Are you not sure if you want to make a commitment? Are you looking to experiment? Or do you plan on doing this years with a regularly scheduled show?

Starting small

Read More and Comment

Easier iPhone 6 Battery Replacement

iPhone 6

You might remember from earlier this year a so-called scandal over Apple throttling CPUs to save battery life in certain models of iPhones, particularly the iPhone 6, leading to a battery replacement program. What you might not know is that there’s a better way to get an iPhone 6 battery replacement than standing in a store.

While claims of nefarious intent are somewhat overblown,1 Apple did agree to replace batteries at a steep discount until the end of 2018. The price before the deal was $79, but for now it’s $29. (After January 1, it’s only going up to $49, which is better than before.)

Unfortunately, everyone forgot until the last minute and Apple Stores, which are always jammed before Christmas, are even more jammed with people looking for appointments to replace their batteries. (Also keep in mind that only Apple is officially doing repairs. You may see other places offering battery replacement deals, but these aren’t part of the official plan and may charge you more.)

Last weekend, during some clean up I found that I still had an iPhone 6 that I’d forgotten about. I recall now that we’d been using it as a glorified iPod for use in the car, but—you guessed it—the battery life was a problem and we’d forgotten about it. So now, I was faced with the question of whether to bother braving the crowds to get in the deal before the end of the year.

But I found that it wasn’t necessary. Apple has a mail-in program for the replacement. I went on their website and filled out a form, they sent me a box and packing materials and instructions overnight to my house, I packed up the phone, and I dropped it off at a Fedex dropbox the same day, and the phone got to Apple’s repair depot the next day. That’s pretty fast!

Now, I don’t know how long it will take to get the phone back. I’m expecting it to take a few days, but that doesn’t bother me as this isn’t my primary phone. But it sure beats going to a mall and fighting the crowds while racing the end of the year clock to get my iPhone 6 battery replacement.

Update: I got the iPhone back in just three business days (dropped at Fedex on Thursday, December 13, and received it back on Tuesday morning, December 18). That’s pretty fast! And it’s good as new.

  1. At worst, Apple was guilty of a failure of transparency. Fevered claims of planned obsolescence and manipulation don’t match the facts. All phone manufacturers use forms of throttling to stretch battery life. But Apple should have acknowledged that the iPhone 6 battery did not live up to their expectations for its service life and should have told users that they would experience throttling effects unless they replaced their batteries. And they should have allowed people to turn off the worst throttling if they needed better performance in the short term versus battery life.

My Backup Strategy in 2018

It’s been six years since I wrote about my strategy for safeguarding my irreplaceable data with good backups, and I think I’m due for an update.

In the main, much of what I wrote hasn’t changed much. I still do multiple backups, onsite and offsite, to ensure that my data always exists in at least three places, but some of the details have changed. Some of that is because of the introduction of new cloud services and some because my own situation has changed.

I still run a Time Machine backup of my primary computer, which is now an iMac. I also do daily clones of this computer to an external hard drive, although I do not daily do two daily clones1. Because I work from home, there’s no offsite location for the second clone to reside. I do a weekly backup of the second hard drive in my MacBook Pro2, but because I keep all my important data in Dropbox, that all gets backed up when I back up my iMac. Likewise, I still do a Backblaze offsite backup of all my data from my iMac.

Additions to my backup scheme include iCloud Photo Library and iCloud backups for my iPhone and iPad. I pay for the iCloud 2TB storage tier, which may be a bit of overkill, but I’m also backing up Melanie’s iPhone and my Mom’s iPhone and some hand-me-down iPads that the kids use and that puts us over the 200GB of the next lowest plan.3 The iCloud Photo Library ensures that my photos are not only backed up from my iMac (where I have set the preference to “Download Originals to this Mac”) on my clones and to Backblaze, but also in Apple’s cloud.4
Read More and Comment

Next Page →